Dogmatism and Strife

Dogmatism is different from conviction. Dogmatism is the failure to recognize assumptions as assumptions, whether or not this is accompanied by other vices. It was famously denounced by Kant.

To simply blame all the world’s ills on dogmatism would be an intellectualist error, but it does play a very great part in them. Every kind of arrogance and evil also involves a kind of dogmatism.

Some kinds of “dogmatic” behavior are benign. In the course of living our lives, we make countless practical assumptions about the regularity of the world that help us, without causing any harm. Even in interactions with others, we make countless assumptions that facilitate communication, without causing any harm.

Nonetheless it is safe to say that where there is conflict, some dogmatism must be involved. If we are not dogmatic on the question of the moment, we are at least willing to sincerely listen to reasonably presented alternatives, even if we are quite strongly convinced we are already right. We should also have some patience in answering questions about the basis of our own conviction.

Sometimes but not always, our willingness to listen or to answer questions may encourage others to be more willing to reciprocate than they might otherwise be. Sometimes something good comes just from listening, even if the other is initially not very reasonable. Of course, this does not mean we should just let others walk all over us. Also, using Kantian terms of obligation, we are only obligated to listen to what is reasonable, although the Leibnizian principle of charity — doing more and demanding less than what is nominally required of us — suggests that within reason, we should go some distance beyond that. An example of something that calls for Aristotelian practical judgment is deciding when we have sufficiently met our responsibility to avoid prejudice in judging that the other’s presentation is unreasonable. This can only be done on a case-by-case basis. (See also Copernican; Dialogue.)