PDF Whats So Wrong with Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief

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In halls of learning where we least expect to find it, in governments, in religious temples, in businesses, in marriages and families, dogmatism is the arrogant voice of certainty that closes the mind, damages relationships, and threatens peaceful coexistence on this planet. Johnson presents a landmark theory that probes the psychological channels of dogmatism.

While other books describe the effects of specific types of ideological extremism, a wide-angle theory of dogmatism-in all its manifestations-has been lacking until now. Drawing from traditional and contemporary personality theories, biopsychology, social learning theory, Buddhism, and evolutionary psychology, Johnson explores major influences that shape the personality trait of dogmatism. She uses lively case studies to illustrate twelve characteristics of dogmatism, and suggests strategies for minimizing its harmful effects in our personal lives as well as our educational, political, and other social institutions.

Written in a clear, engaging style that is professional in tone yet accessible to a wide audience, Johnson's insightful work will enlighten readers on one of the most important issues of our time. Johnson ably confronts one of the most pressing dangers of our time, dogmatic thinking in all its forms. This important and timely examination of its roots, the processes involved, and possible societal remedies will be interest to all who value reason, and should be required reading for anyone dealing with the many enemies of reason on society's behalf.

In a career devoted to analysis of the logical fallacies and empirical misrepresentations underlying widespread beliefs that make no rational sense, I've often wondered about the reasons why so many people would hold such demonstratively false empirical beliefs. Therefore, neither our sense-perceptions nor our doxai views, theories, beliefs tell us the truth or lie; so we certainly should not rely on them. Rather, we should be adoxastous without views , aklineis uninclined toward this side or that , and akradantous unwavering in our refusal to choose , saying about every single one that it no more is than it is not or it both is and is not or it neither is nor is not.

The main principle of Pyrrho's thought is expressed by the word acatalepsia , which connotes the ability to withhold assent from doctrines regarding the truth of things in their own nature ; against every statement its contradiction may be advanced with equal justification. Pyrrhonists are not "skeptics" in the modern, common sense of the term, meaning prone to disbelief. The idea was to produce in the student a state of indifference towards ideas about non-evident matters. Since no one can observe or otherwise experience causation, external world its "externality" , ultimate purpose of the universe or life, justice, divinity, soul, etc.

The Pyrrhonists pointed out that, despite claims that such notions were necessary, some people ignorant of them get by just fine before learning about them. They further noted that science does not require belief and that faith in intelligible realities is different from pragmatic convention for the sake of experiment.

For each intuitive notion e. They added that consensus indicates neither truth nor even probability. Pyrrho's thinking subsequently influenced Plato's Academy , creating the Academic skepticism of the New or Middle Academy , Arcesilaus c.

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The Roman politician and philosopher, Cicero , also seems to have been a supporter of the probabilistic position attributed to the Middle Academy, even if the return to a more dogmatic orientation of that school was already beginning to take place. In the centuries to come, the words Academician and Pyrrhonist would often be used to mean generally skeptic , often ignoring historical changes and distinctions between denial of knowledge and avoidance of belief, between degree of belief and absolute belief, and between possibility and probability. Sextus' empiricism was limited to the "absolute minimum" already mentioned — that there seem to be appearances.

He developed this basic thought of Pyrrho's into lengthy arguments , most of them directed against Stoics and Epicureans, but also the Academic skeptics. The common anti-skeptical argument is that if one knows nothing, one cannot know that one knows nothing, and so may know something after all. It is worth noting that such an argument only succeeds against the complete denial of the possibility of knowledge.

Considering dogmatic the claims both to know and not to know, Sextus and his followers claimed neither. Instead, despite the apparent conflict with the goal of ataraxia , they claimed to continue searching for something that might be knowable. Empiricus, as the most systematic author of the works by Hellenistic sceptics which have survived, noted that there are at least ten modes of skepticism.

These modes may be broken down into three categories: Subjectively , both the powers of the senses and of reasoning may vary among different people. And since knowledge is a product of one or the other, and since neither are reliable, knowledge would seem to be in trouble. For instance, a color-blind person sees the world quite differently from everyone else.

What's So Wrong with Being Absolutely Right: The Dangerous Nature of Dogmatic Belief

Moreover, one cannot even give preference on the basis of the power of reason, i. Secondly, the personality of the individual might also influence what they observe, since it is argued preferences are based on sense-impressions, differences in preferences can be attributed to differences in the way that people are affected by the object. Third, the perceptions of each individual sense seemingly have nothing in common with the other senses: This is manifest when our senses "disagree" with each other: In that case, our other senses defeat the impressions of sight.

But one may also be lacking enough powers of sense to understand the world in its entirety: Given that our senses can be shown to be unreliable by appealing to other senses, and so our senses may be incomplete relative to some more perfect sense that one lacks , then it follows that all of our senses may be unreliable.

Fourth, our circumstances when one perceives anything may be either natural or unnatural, i. But it is entirely possible that things in the world really are exactly as they appear to be to those in unnatural states i. One can have reasons for doubt that are based on the relationship between objective "facts" and subjective experience. The positions, distances, and places of objects would seem to affect how they are perceived by the person: Because they are different features, to believe the object has both properties at the same time is to believe it has two contradictory properties.

Since this is absurd, one must suspend judgment about what properties it possesses due to the contradictory experiences. One may also observe that the things one perceives are, in a sense, polluted by experience. Any given perception—say, of a chair—will always be perceived within some context or other i. Since this is the case, one often only speaks of ideas as they occur in the context of the other things that are paired with it, and therefore, one can never know of the true nature of the thing, but only how it appears to us in context.

Finally, one has reason to disbelieve that one knows anything by looking at problems in understanding objects by themselves. Things, when taken individually, may appear to be very different from when they are in mass quantities: The most notable figure of the Skepticism revival in the s, Montaigne wrote about his studies of Academic Skepticism and Pyrrhonism through his Essais. His most notable writings on Skepticism occurred in an essay written mostly in —, "Apologie de Raimond Sebond," when he was reading Sextus Empiricus and trying to translate Raimond Sebond 's writing, including his proof of Christianity 's natural existence.

The reception to Montaigne's translations included some criticisms of Sebond's proof. Montaigne responded to some of them in Apologie, including a defense for Sebond's logic that is skeptical in nature and similar to Pyrrhonism. Marin Mersenne was an author, a mathematician, a scientist, and a philosopher.

He wrote in defense of science and Christianity against atheists and Pyrrhonists before retiring to encourage development of science and the "new philosophy," which includes philosophers like Gassendi , Descartes , Galileo , and Hobbes. A Pyrrhonist might refute these points by saying that senses deceive, and thus knowledge turns into infinite regress or circular logic.

Thus Mersenne argues that this cannot be the case, since commonly agreed upon rules of thumb can be hypothesized and tested over time to ensure that they continue to hold. Furthermore, if everything can be doubted, the doubt can also be doubted, so on and so forth. Thus, according to Mersenne, something has to be true. Finally, Mersenne writes about all the mathematical, physical, and other scientific knowledge that is true by repeated testing, and has practical use value. Notably, Mersenne was one of the few philosophers who accepted Hobbes ' radical ideology—he saw it as a new science of man.

During his long stay in Paris, Thomas Hobbes was actively involved in the circle of major skeptics like Gassendi and Mersenne who focus on the study of skepticism and epistemology. Unlike his fellow skeptic friends, Hobbes never treated skepticism as a main topic for discussion in his works. Nonetheless, Hobbes was still labeled as a religious skeptic by his contemporaries for raising doubts about Mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch and his political and psychological explanation of the religions.

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Hobbes' answer to skepticism and epistemology was innovatively political: As a result, it was out of political reasons that certain truth standards about religions and ethics were devised and established in order to form functioning government and stable society. Baruch Spinoza was among the first European philosophers who were religious skeptics.

He was quite familiar with the philosophy of Descartes and unprecedentedly extended the application of the Cartesian method to the religious context by analyzing religious texts with it. Spinoza sought to dispute the knowledge-claims of the Judeo-Christian-Islamic religious system by examining its two foundations: He claimed that all Cartesian knowledge, or the rational knowledge should be accessible to the entire population.

Therefore, the Scriptures, aside from those by Jesus, should not be considered the secret knowledge attained from God but just the imagination of the prophets. The Scriptures, as a result of this claim, could not serve as a base for knowledge and were reduced to simple ancient historical texts. Moreover, Spinoza also rejected the possibility for the Miracles by simply asserting that people only considered them miraculous due to their lack of understanding of the nature. By rejecting the validity of the Scriptures and the Miracles, Spinoza demolished the foundation for religious knowledge-claim and established his understanding of the Cartesian knowledge as the sole authority of knowledge-claims.

Despite being deeply-skeptical of the religions, Spinoza was in fact exceedingly anti-skeptical towards reason and rationality. He steadfastly confirmed the legitimacy of reason by associating it with the acknowledgement of God, and thereby skepticism with the rational approach to knowledge was not due to problems with the rational knowledge but from the fundamental lack of understanding of God.

Spinoza's religious skepticism and anti-skepticism with reason thus helped him transform epistemology by separating the theological knowledge-claims and the rational knowledge-claims. Pierre Bayle was a French philosopher in the late 17th century that was described by Richard Popkin to be a "supersceptic" who carried out the sceptic tradition to the extreme.

Bayle was born in a Calvinist family in Carla-Bayle , and during the early stage of his life, he converted into Catholicism before returning to Calvinism. This conversion between religions caused him to leave France for the more religiously tolerant Holland where he stayed and worked for the rest of his life. Bayle believed that truth cannot be obtained through reason and that all human endeavor to acquire absolute knowledge would inevitably lead to failure.

Bayle's main approach was highly skeptical and destructive: In his magnum opus, Dictionnaire Historique et Critique Historical and Critical Dictionary , Bayle painstakingly identified the logical flaws in several works throughout the history in order to emphasize the absolute futility of rationality. Bayle's complete nullification of reason led him to conclude that faith is the final and only way to truth. Bayle's real intention behind his extremely destructive works remained controversial.

Some described him to be a Fideist , while others speculated him to be a secret Atheist. However, no matter what his original intention was, Bayle did cast significant influence on the upcoming Age of Enlightenment with his destruction of some of the most essential theological ideas and his justification of religious tolerance Atheism in his works. Immanuel Kant — tried to provide a ground for empirical science against David Hume 's skeptical treatment of the notion of cause and effect.

Hume — argued that for the notion of cause and effect no analysis is possible which is also acceptable to the empiricist program primarily outlined by John Locke — So, for Kant, empirical science was legitimate, but metaphysics and philosophy was mostly illegitimate. The most important exception to this demarcation of the legitimate from the illegitimate was ethics, the principles of which Kant argued can be known by pure reason without appeal to the principles required for empirical knowledge.

Thus, with respect to metaphysics and philosophy in general ethics being the exception , Kant was a skeptic. This skepticism as well as the explicit skepticism of G. Schulze [28] gave rise to a robust discussion of skepticism in classical German philosophy, especially by Hegel. Hegel argued against Kant that although Kant was right that using what Hegel called "finite" concepts of "the understanding" precluded knowledge of reality, we were not constrained to use only "finite" concepts and could actually acquire knowledge of reality using "infinite concepts" that arise from self-consciousness.

Because Richard Popkin was one of the founding fathers of study in this area, the account of the history of Skepticism in his books are accepted as the standard. However, recent scholars have been suggesting an addition to Popkin's account. Instead of centering the history of Skepticism around specific figures who wrote key skeptical works, Skepticism is proposed to be a continuous engagement with works by ancients like Sextus Empiricus to modern thinkers like Hume.

The engagement with previous works were probably due to unwanted doubts about accepted episteme instead of purely due to classical writings becoming available at any specific time. They have been recorded in Buddhist and Jain texts. They held that it was impossible to obtain knowledge of metaphysical nature or ascertain the truth value of philosophical propositions; and even if knowledge was possible, it was useless and disadvantageous for final salvation.

Because the Buddha saw these questions which tend to be of metaphysical topics as unhelpful on the path and merely leading to confusion and "a thicket of views", he promoted suspension of judgment towards them. Later Buddhist Philosophy remained highly skeptical of Indian metaphysical arguments. The Buddhist philosopher Nagarjuna in particular has been seen as the founder of the Madhyamaka school, which has been in turn compared with Greek Skepticism.

According to Richard P. Hayes, the Buddhist philosopher Dignaga is also a kind of skeptic, which is in line with most early Buddhist philosophy. Much of Buddhist philosophy, I shall argue, can be seen as an attempt to break this habit of holding on to opinions.


  • The Nature Institute - Dogma and Doubt.
  • Vatican I: Dogmatic Constitution On The Catholic Faith.
  • Book Summaries;

Scholars like Adrian Kuzminski have argued that Pyrrho of Elis ca. This school was also known for being strongly skeptical of the claims of Indian religions , such as reincarnation and karma. According to this theory, the truth or the reality is perceived differently from different points of view, and that no single point of view is the complete truth.

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As reality is complex, no single proposition can express the nature of reality fully. This idea of omniscience was criticized by Buddhists such as Dharmakirti. Zhuang Zhou demonstrated his skeptical thinking through several anecdotes in the preeminent work Zhuangzi that was attributed to him:. Through these anecdotes in Zhuangzi, Zhuang Zhou indicated his belief in the limitation of language and human communication and the inaccessibility of universal truth which established himself as an skeptic. But Zhuang Zhou was by no means a radical skeptic, since he only applied skeptical methods partially in some of his arguments to demonstrate his Taoism beliefs while adopting these Taoism beliefs in a dogmatic fashion.

He introduced a method of rational critique and applied it to the wide-spread dogmatism thinking of his age like phenomenology the main contemporary Confucianism ideology that linked all natural phenomena with human ethics , state-led cults, and popular superstition. His own philosophy incorporated both Taoism and Confucianism thinkings, and it was based on a secular, rational practice of developing hypotheses based on natural events to explain the universe which exemplified a form of naturalism that resembled the philosophical idea of Epicureans like Lucretius.

The Incoherence of the Philosophers , written by the scholar Al-Ghazali — , marks a major turn in Islamic epistemology. His encounter with skepticism led Ghazali to embrace a form of theological occasionalism , or the belief that all causal events and interactions are not the product of material conjunctions but rather the immediate and present will of God. While he himself was a critic of the philosophers, Ghazali was a master in the art of philosophy and had immensely studied the field.


  1. Philosophical skepticism!
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  4. Philosophical skepticism - Wikipedia.
  5. After such a long education in philosophy, as well as a long process of reflection, he had criticized the philosophical method. Though appreciating what was valid in the first two of these, at least, he determined that all three approaches were inadequate and found ultimate value only in the mystical experience and spiritual insight he attained as a result of following Sufi practices. William James , in Varieties of Religious Experience , considered the autobiography an important document for "the purely literary student who would like to become acquainted with the inwardness of religions other than the Christian", comparing it to recorded personal religious confessions and autobiographical literature in the Christian tradition.

    Recordings of Aztec philosophy suggest that the elite classes believed in an essentially panentheistic worldview, in which teotl represents an unified, underlying universal force. From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.