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Dogmatism

Brief definition:

The psychological state in which metaphysical views are held, involving the repression of alternative views which then cannot be examined.

Detailed discussion:

Metaphysics consists in beliefs that offer false certainty, and can only be held in a dogmatic psychological state. Dogmatism in turn requires a metaphysical type of belief. There is thus a complete interdependence between metaphysics and dogmatism that provides the meeting point between philosophy and psychology that is the key insight of the Middle Way. If this ‘completeness’ sounds unlike the theoretical provisionality that the Middle Way requires, it needs to be remembered that this completeness is the property of the delusory metaphysical belief itself. It is because we desire certainty that we construct beliefs that can take a form that apparently offers certainty.

Metaphysical beliefs can only be held dogmatically, because openness to new information requires the possibility of competing beliefs. Where a belief is absolute, representational and dualistic in form no alternatives are possible, as any new experience can be explained in a way that is compatible with the metaphysical belief. That means that all doubts – beliefs that might compete with the metaphysical belief – are repressed. The state of dogmatism is one of repressive assertion, in which alternative beliefs cannot be seriously considered. Dogmatism offers a continual self-justifying positive feedback loop, whereby any new information is continually interpreted as confirming the initial belief, and negative feedback is repressed.

Dogmatism also requires a metaphysical belief as its basis, because a belief that could be changed would not serve its purposes. If any negative feedback occurred this would be disallowed by the dogmatic psychological state.

For example, suppose Burt has a metaphysical belief in the superiority of men over women. If this was just a provisional theory, he would be open to experiences that appeared to disprove his belief – for example, a women showing him to be wrong about something. However, his belief is both metaphysical and dogmatically held because he does not allow any such evidence. If a woman attempts to show him to be wrong about anything, he does not accept their point because of his belief that women are inferior.

About Robert M Ellis

Robert M Ellis is the founder and chair of the Middle Way Society, and author of a number of books on Middle Way Philosophy, including the introductory 'Migglism' and the more in-depth 'Middle Way Philosophy' series. He has a Christian background, and about 20 years' past experience of practising Buddhism, but it was his Ph.D. studies in Philosophy that set him on the track of developing a systematic account of the Middle Way beyond any specific tradition. He has earned his living mainly by teaching, and more recently by online tutoring.

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