Religions And Dogmigions

The consistently acerbic, eloquent and interesting Rex Murphy recently had a piece in the National Post on something that I’ve been thinking about a lot over the past month or two, namely the idea that secular moral commitments can harden to the point of taking on the quality of religious dogma:

But in fact, as people have turned away from the religious framework, they have not jettisoned that inner certitude, that feeling of absolute confidence that used to be associated only with religious doctrine and belief. When people stop believing in God, they quickly find surrogate beliefs, construct surrogate values, and embrace a conviction that, in its force and depth, is no different, from that which had previously been supplied by religion.

I do think there are a couple of unfortunate things about the way Murphy develops this idea (apart from the unnecessary comma after “different” – tsk, tsk), and I’ll get them out of the way first. He doesn’t mention the fact that religions include metaphysical propositions about gods, souls and the like in addition to moral ones about proper conduct. Secular “surrogate beliefs” (and I’m not convinced, by the way, that “surrogate” is entirely fair) are often, though admittedly not always, confined to the moral realm except in the negative sense that they may be accompanied by an active rejection of the gods-and-souls stuff. To me the distinction between metaphysically laden convictions and purely moral ones seems far from trivial.

Murphy also kicks off his ruminations with recollections of his 1950s childhood in Carbonear, Newfoundland, which (to my shame) I had to look up on Wikipedia. It sounds like an interesting place with a deep colonial history and a 19th century reputation for political riots, but Murphy is mainly interested in its deep religiosity back when he was growing up and “young girls would not enter a church without some bandanna or scarf to (at least partly) cover their hair”. I don’t doubt his recollections, but he moves from them to an implicit suggestion that religion was the only possible source of moral certainty until quite recently. Tell that to the Bolsheviks, or to the French revolutionaries who eagerly espoused the Culte de la Raison! A significant contingent of irreligious Westerners has existed since at least the late 18th century, and some members of that contingent have always yielded to the temptation to embrace various secular convictions with levels of “force and depth” that are reminiscent of religious fervour.

Finally, Murphy’s actual examples of secular dogmatism all pertain to what might be described as the progressive province of the political map, which seems a touch unfair. For example, he says:

When I hear Justin Trudeau defending unfettered access to abortion – he uses, of course, the canonical phrase “a woman’s right to choose” – he speaks in those perfect accents of assurance and certitude that used to belong only to religion. He speaks of the Charter of Rights and Freedoms with something that sounds very much like Godly reverence.

I rather admire Murphy’s sly use of “canonical” there, but in fairness he could mention things that people with very different political commitments sometimes speak of with equal “assurance and certitude”. An obvious example would be the supposedly unparalleled virtues of capitalism, as asserted by Peter Foster and his fellow market fundamentalists. The fact of the matter is that dogmatic thinking of the secular variety is hardly limited to any one political persuasion.

With all that said, I agree with Murphy’s basic point that one doesn’t have to believe in the gods to be blinkered, inflexible and overzealous. One evening the word “dogmigion” popped into my head as a general term for both religious and secular systems of thought that exhibit those qualities. It’s etymologically nonsensical except as a portmanteau of “dogma” and “religion”, but it seems apt enough as a label for worldviews that elevate either dubious factual claims or subjective moral tenets to the level of unchallengeable doctrine.

Of course, it’s possible to be a passionate pro-choice activist or defender of capitalism without being dogmigious, given a touch of flexibility, humility and respect for the fact-value distinction. It’s also not dogmigious to insist vociferously that the Earth is approximately spherical or that evolution by natural selection is a real phenomenon because, well, overwhelming evidence supports those views. But if you’re strongly attached to a moral and political claim X, or indeed an empirical one for which the evidence is less than overwhelming, you might be a touch dogmigious if you think that no one could possibly reject X without being malevolent or perverse. You might be dogmigious if you find yourself wanting to shout down arguments against X instead of finding good counter-arguments, if you think expressing opposition to X should be punished, or if you think people who don’t pay sufficient attention to X are necessarily motivated by hatred of X instead of their own passion for Y or Z. You might be dogmigious if you’re incapable of agreeing to disagree with people who fail to be persuaded by your advocacy of X, for instance because they find your arguments unconvincing or simply don’t share your goals and priorities.

Some dogmigions are obviously more dangerous and problematic than others, and some could even be rather benign at a practical level – I don’t mind too much if people want to be dogmigious about the claim that one shouldn’t commit random murder while riding the subway, for example, though in theory I think anyone decrying the evils of subway murder should be prepared to respond to disagreement with reasoned arguments rather than just condemnation and derision. Perhaps we all actually need a smidgen of dogmigion in our lives in order to maintain a modicum of sanity and function as productive members of society. Nevertheless, we atheists tend to be well aware of the harm that can be done by religious certainty, and it’s surely appropriate to regard undue certainty about other claims that lack a strict logical and empirical foundation with the same wariness and suspicion. I’m not saying, of course, that we shouldn’t have moral and political commitments, or opinions about empirical questions that cannot yet be settled by available evidence – just that we should acknowledge the subjectivity of those commitments and opinions, even if they happen to be widely shared, and the legitimacy of dissent.

18 thoughts on “Religions And Dogmigions

  1. I’m deeply unconvinced to the point of crying BS.

    The problem with dogma (including religion) isn’t certainty, it’s certainty which is detached or even opposed to reality. It’s the blind faith.

    Imagine someone telling us that they think feminists are quasi-religious because they’re unwilling to entertain the idea that women may not be people or there shouldn’t be cases where women’s rights are less than those of men. What do we make of this argument? Do we feel ashamed because we’ve become dogmatic and we are no longer open to sexists? Hells no.

    Murphy’s arguments have this stench about them.

    • Very good.

      The fact that we were so un-influential in Afghanistan is related to our inability to take strong positions in favor of secularism. (There are lots of secularists in Tehran who could have been championed. Possibly all of the youth.) This may sound simplistic, but, what possible good is democracy to a majority of dogmatists? They are already organized.

      Conservative religionists have all but put their support for religious control of: education, health and the courts onto city square monuments. When secularists mention that newly arrived people, with equally emotional attachments to controlling all things civic, are apt to feel second class; these secularists are branded as dogmatic.

      Opposing religious intrusions into education and rehabilitation may seem dogmatic when actually this is more of a public safety issue. Shouldn’t all Canadians share a common first grade experience? One where separation from the neighborhood girls isn’t first experienced?

      Rex is the best supporter the Catholic Authorities have going for them, but his efforts are an embarrassment to an otherwise rational person.

      • I think taking stronger positions in favour of secularism in Afghanistan would probably have just got Canada and its allies into a far worse mess, actually. We’d have had more people deciding we were dangerous infidels who needed the Gandamak treatment sooner rather than later.

        Closer to home, I think the trick is to argue for a common first grade experience and so on without being dogmatic about it, and simultaneously point out the dogmatism of our religious opponents (as well as the implausibility of the theology that underpins their positions). The more it looks like we’re simply opposing a secular dogmatism to their religious dogmatism, the more people will think they’re being asked to simply substitute one unfounded belief system for another.

    • The problem with dogma (including religion) isn’t certainty, it’s certainty which is detached or even opposed to reality. It’s the blind faith.

      Thank you! That is exactly what I wanted to say.

      There’s nothing wrong with having a strong commitment to something you will not back away from. In fact, it is logically absurd to not have something like that. Anyone who mocks people for having principles they will not back away from is just a fool, because everyone has something they hold fast to and will not back down from – even if it is the idea that you will be open-minded and flexible about everything and not have any rigid principles; that, too, is a rigid principle. All morons like Murphy have to do to score cheap rhetorical points is figure out your fundamental principles, then point and laugh while crowing about how “ideological” you are. But if he’d use the dictionary rather than the thesaurus once in a while, he’d realize that “ideological” as a pejorative doesn’t just mean having an ideology, it means having an ideology that isn’t based on reality.

      “Certainty” is not religion’s crime, it is certainty despite or in spite of reason or evidence. Being certain of something is not a problem; being certain of something that has been proven wrong (or at least never proven right and cannot be reasonably justified) is. Inflexibility is not wrong; being inflexible by stubbornly ignoring reality is.

      Rex Murphy is a jackass – once you’ve been on the CBC a few years, it doesn’t matter how big a fool you are, you’re hailed as some kind of genius (cf. Don Cherry, among many others). That whole article is just a long-winded “tu quoque” fallacy, by someone who doesn’t even understand what the problem actually is.

      This whole concept of “dogmigions” is ridiculous. It’s just a club-word invented to scare people from having strong positions and standing up for them in the face of criticism. Well, fuck that noise – there is nothing wrong from having a strong position about something if you have the evidence and reason to back it up, and there is nothing wrong with brushing off people bringing the same foolish objections you’ve dealt with a thousand times unless they do the legwork to make it worth your while to take them seriously; you are not obligated to take seriously the 1001st jackass bringing the same old threadbare arguments. The last two paragraphs are all just damage control to weasel around the fact that the real problem is not having strong or inflexible beliefs, it is ignoring or denying reality, and frankly most of the arguments have nothing to do with the strength or inflexibility of the beliefs at all but rather the response to criticism – which is an entirely separate issue.

      • There’s nothing wrong with having a strong commitment to something you will not back away from.

        No, indeed not. But there’s a difference between saying “this is something I hold dear, and I will defend it to the death” and “this is correct, and anyone who disagrees is wrong”. The former properly acknowledges the subjectivity of all fundamental values, whereas the latter (unless we’re talking about something that really can be logically or empirically demonstrated, like the near-sphericity of the Earth) illegitimately uses the language of objectivity. It’s only the latter that strikes me as dogmatic. I don’t think, by the way, that any ideology worth the name can be based only on reality – it’s always reality plus values, as explained a bit further in my response to Alex T.

        Rex Murphy is a jackass…

        I’ve seen a fair bit of his writing over the years, and I think he’s pretty sharp and sensible about most things despite having some serious blind spots (including religion, of course). Your mileage clearly varies.

        This whole concept of “dogmigions” is ridiculous. It’s just a club-word invented to scare people from having strong positions and standing up for them in the face of criticism.

        I’m pretty sure I know why I invented it, and scaring people was not on the agenda.

        I’d be interested to know exactly what you’re objecting to. Let me spell out my reasoning, and you can tell me where you think I’ve descended into absurdity.

        1. Secular ideologies (or worldviews, belief systems – call them what you will) routinely include axiomatic principles that reflect subjective values rather than logically or empirically demonstrable truths. No mathematical formula is going to tell you whether animal suffering is more or less important than human suffering, or whether a human society should strive to maximise equality of outcomes, equality of opportunities, or something else entirely.

        2. Secular people sometimes slip into regarding those axiomatic principles as truths that everyone must either adhere to or else be wrong, stupid, evil, etc. “Dogmatic” is a good word for this attitude.

        3. Having got to this point, the word “dogmigion” becomes handy in two ways. It’s shorter and snappier than “dogmatically held system of beliefs”, and it brings out the parallel between trumpeting your subjective values as the will of Yahweh and trumpeting them as obvious, necessary and universal.

        The last two paragraphs are all just damage control to weasel around the fact that the real problem is not having strong or inflexible beliefs, it is ignoring or denying reality, and frankly most of the arguments have nothing to do with the strength or inflexibility of the beliefs at all but rather the response to criticism – which is an entirely separate issue.

        The last two paragraphs (and especially the first sentence of the penultimate one) actually describe an important part of my view of the matter at hand. The main thing I was trying to get across, perhaps not too successfully, was the distinction I made at the beginning of this comment between fighting for a position that one acknowledges to be subjective and elevating that same position to a quasi-religious and universal truth. Those two alternatives do imply different responses to criticism, or at least different ways of looking at opposition. If you acknowledge the subjectivity of your values, then your opponents are just the team that wears red instead of blue. You might be able to compromise with them, or you might feel like you have to fight them in order to bring about a state of affairs that you find bearable, but you don’t get to claim any legitimacy beyond what you’d extend to them in equal measure. If you get all dogmigious about your values, then suddenly the opponents become evildoers, and that’s the kind of attitude that makes reasonable compromise much harder to achieve. Worse yet, there’s no plausible justification for it.

        • But there’s a difference between saying “this is something I hold dear, and I will defend it to the death” and “this is correct, and anyone who disagrees is wrong”.

          Your interpretation of the difference between those two things is flawed, as you realized yourself, and as evidenced by the fact that you’re just as likely to hear the former come out of the mouth of a religious fundamentalist while kicking infidels off “holy land”, and the latter to come out of the mouth of a scientist discussing “1 + 1 = 2”.

          The *real* difference between them would appear to be your opinion of the speaker.

          I’ve seen a fair bit of his writing over the years, and I think he’s pretty sharp and sensible about most things despite having some serious blind spots (including religion, of course). Your mileage clearly varies.

          I have less experience with his writing, and more with his television experiences. He doesn’t come off well at all, either in his choice of topics, or his take on them. The few experiences i have with his writing actually only makes him look worse.

          1. Secular ideologies (or worldviews, belief systems – call them what you will) routinely include axiomatic principles that reflect subjective values rather than logically or empirically demonstrable truths.

          Wait, stop… that right there is the problem.

          You keep implying that anything related to morality or rights or any of those topics is mere… opinion. That is a position known as noncognitivism, and it hasn’t fared particularly well philosophically since at least the mid-1900s. (More technically, you are asserting that ethics are subjective because values are subjective, but that’s a category error. Values don’t determine what ethics are, values decide *whether you should care about ethics*. Values are not what tells you it’s wrong to murder indiscriminately, ethics are. And yes, no mathematical formula will tell you that it is *important* to not murder indiscriminately… but mathematics can and does show that if you want a stable society, you can’t do that… even if you place no value whatsoever on human life (the relevant value there is wanting stability, but even then that only determines whether you care about the ethic, not whether the ethic is correct – even if you don’t care about a stable society, it would still be true that you can’t allow indiscriminate murder and have a stable society). *NONE* of the debates you have mentioned are actually debates about values. The fact-value distinction is entirely irrelevant here – it’s just a red herring.)

          Virtually all modern philosophers and all modern work on ethics and rights (including every single justice system, constitution, human rights instruments, etc. that isn’t based on religious assertions) is built on the idea that these things are not “matters of fact”, but they *are* “matters of reason” (to use Humean language) – which means you can’t determine them empirically (there are no “ethics fields” or “rights particles” you can observe or measure)… but you *can* determine them by reasoning. As an analogy, consider the fact that π is irrational – there is nothing in the universe you can observe that will prove this empirically (because it would require an infinite observation), and it is not something anyone defined into π (in fact, quite the opposite, the original mathematicians were so insistent that π could not be irrational they might have murdered people over it, according to some stories)… yet it is unarguably so – the fact arises inescapably from what the concept of π even if you don’t actually define it to be irrational. You can’t observe anything to prove the fact, yet you can’t rationally conceptualize π without inescapably and automatically discovering it is true.

          So it goes with ethics and rights. They are not natural laws of the universe, but neither are they just people’s opinions. Once you discover certain concepts – like “person” – and reason about them, the facts of ethics and rights arise automatically and unavoidably. In fact, *denying* ethics or rights is irrational. And no, your values don’t matter: π is irrational whether you consider mathematics meaningful or not, and murder is immoral whether you value human life or not (and a dollar is worth 100 cents whether you value money or not, etc.).

          To use one of your own examples, paraphrased: “the rights of women should equal men’s”. You imply that that is a subjective statement, based merely on preference, because there is no empirical way to prove it true (ie, that’s simply based on how one values women and men). I say you’re making a category error. No one needs to prove that statement true because it is intrinsically true; it boils down to saying this: since rights are conceptually attached to persons (not specific genders (or species, or whatever, or even just specific persons)); and since a woman and a man are both persons (unless you can find a logical way to argue to the contrary); then both have the same set of rights (whatever those rights are is determined using other logical arguments unrelated to this). Values don’t matter at all (except to decide, now that you’ve determined that men and women *should* be treated equally, whether or not to care about that conclusion or to value your own misogyny or misandry over reason). To deny that men and women should have equal rights, you have to deny one of those two premisses (or show the argument form itself is invalid (it isn’t)). But of the two premises, the first arises tautologically from the concepts of “person” and “right”, and the second is trivially proven by observation. So, the conclusion is obvious and inevitable.

          In fact, consider what needs to happen to prove the *contrary* statement: that men should have more (or even less) rights than women. You will find you can’t do it using pure logic or observation. If you want to argue that women should have less/more rights, you need to either a) show that either men or women are not persons; or b) show that there are different “types” or “levels” of person, and men/women are not in the same category. Until you do that, you can’t simply assert “men should have rights and women should not (or vice versa)”; it defies logic.

          There are literally dozens of ways to frame ethical ideas and arguments non-subjectively, and logically generate prescriptive rules from them. There’s utilitarianism, neo-kantianism, Philippa Foot’s work… and that’s just three examples of the broad categories of consequentialism, deontological ethics, and virtue ethics.

          You may be tempted to think that with so many theories, gee we really don’t understand anything, right? Wrong. Because the reality is that virtually every single modern ethical theory agrees 99.999% of the time – it’s only in fringe cases where they differ. (For example, no theory suggests men have more rights than women.) The state of modern moral philosophy is not some wild west scenario where everyone’s armchair speculation is just as valid, it is quite analogous to the state of modern physics where we have several theories that explain just about everything we observe but disagree at the extremities. Saying that we can’t make conclusions about ethics because there are several competing moral theories is as disingenuous as saying we can’t calculate gravitational effects because we don’t know whether one of the M-theories, quantum loop gravity theories, or unparticle physics theories are correct.

          (And no, the fact that ethics and rights have been so variable across time and culture and applied in so many different ways does *not* imply that these things are not universal, any more than the fact that our understanding of physics has varied means that the existence of quarks is subjective, or that our changing understanding of math means that math is subjective. And no, i am not saying that we can be absolutely certain that our current theories of ethics or rights are absolutely correct, but so what? I don’t think our current theories of physics are absolutely correct either (in fact, i know they’re not), but they are the best understanding we have, so holding any belief that does not accord with current theories of physics (unless you have a metric fuckton of evidence to back it up) is irrational. Same goes with our current theories of ethics and rights – they may not be absolutely correct, and we may change them in the future as we learn more, but at the moment they are literally the best all of humanity combined has come up with, so denying them (without a metric fuckton of evidence) is irrational.)

          The bottom line is: your understanding of ethics and rights is flawed. It is not simply a body of subjective assertions. There are several theories of what ethics and rights are which all agree on the lion’s share of details and only diverge at the fringes (just as with modern physics) – most atheists seem to prefer utilitarianism in some form or another; i don’t – and in all of them ethics and rights arise logically and inevitably from the understanding of certain concepts (like “person” and “suffering”, etc.) You don’t need to have the same values to come to the same ethical conclusions any more than you need to have the same values to come to the same conclusions about whether quarks exist or not (values only matter when determining whether to care about these facts). And if you dig deep enough into the arguments of just about *all* secular activists (or feminist activists, or whatever), you will find they didn’t just wake up one morning and start yammering out random arguments that “feel” right – they all have a philosophical foundation supporting their claims and arguments. In other words, exactly zero of these people you accuse of just having strong subjective opinions is actually using a subjective basis for their arguments.

          (Incidentally, the same applies to many other ideologies. Take secularism for example. You will not find a secularist out there who says secularism is good because, ya know, they just prefer it. They will (almost) *ALWAYS* argue it from a consequentialist position, and justify it logically *without* trying to appeal to their personal preference – usually by pointing out that a secular society benefits everyone, even the religious. In other words, even if you value faith more than equality, a secular society is *still* the more logical choice. Hell, even anti-abortion advocates *try* to argue their case in a value-neutral way – they don’t merely stick to “life is precious” value arguments, they try (and fail) to find factual arguments to support their case (like that zygotes are humans, which means logically they should get the same legal protections as any other human – if that argument weren’t ridiculous, it would be true regardless of one’s values).)

          And because that premiss was wrong…

          2. Secular people sometimes slip into regarding those axiomatic principles as truths that everyone must either adhere to or else be wrong, stupid, evil, etc.

          … this, too, is wrong. Because you are not dealing with two groups of people who both have opinions and are acting like stubborn pricks about them. You are dealing with one group of people who has a couple hundred years of logical argument and reasoning to back their position up, built solely on observation and reason (no opinion, and no faith involved)… versus one group of irrational bozos.

          And the only reason they appear the same to you is because you couldn’t be arsed to dig deeper into the fundamentals behind their positions, or because you did but then flat out ignored them and “forgot” to mention that.

          Which, sure, yes, technically nothing really obligates you to dig into any group’s arguments if you don’t want to get involved…

          … but if you want to cast *judgement* on a group… which you apparently want to do so badly you invented a word for it… it’s a little arrogant, and a little ignorant, to do so without bothering to really dig into what their argument is.

          (It is theoretically possible to have two groups with philosophical foundations that are both sound, and both of them fiercely arguing for their own preference when there really is no objective way to prefer one over the other, leading to an endless, pointless argument. But that… never… happens. Like… *NEVER*. Not outside of academia, at least (and rarely even there). In *all* debates happening in society at large, there is *ALWAYS* either one side with a solid, rational base and another without, or both sides have no rational base.)

          And keeping all that in mind…

          3. Having got to this point, the word “dogmigion” becomes handy in two ways. It’s shorter and snappier than “dogmatically held system of beliefs”, and it brings out the parallel between trumpeting your subjective values as the will of Yahweh and trumpeting them as obvious, necessary and universal.

          … this is why that word is such a bad idea. It is a tool to insult and denigrate groups you don’t like, based solely on superficial similarities to other groups you don’t like (ie, religious fundamentalists). Whenever some group is passionate and outspoken about something, and they “bug” you in some way, you don’t need to bother to even give a cursory glance at the basis of their position… you can just wave them off as “dogmigious”, insulting them in the process, and feel superior.

          And the evidence for that? It’s that you just did it. All of your justification for calling groups “dogmigious” is based *SOLELY* on the fact that they “elevate their positions (which *you* think are subjective) to quasi-religious and universal truths”. At absolutely no point whatsoever do you even *consider* whether their positions *might actually be universal truths* (or even just that they *think* their positions are universal truths, which – even if they’re wrong – would at least justify their actions… in that case what would be wrong is not their “dogmigiousness”, but the fundamentals of their beliefs, so it’s not even the right term then!). You just dismiss all that out of hand, right out of the gate, without even bothering to consider it. Nope, they’re just dogmigious because you say they are.

          And here’s the really troubling part. Your position is a noncognitivist one – that rights and ethics are merely subjective; it’s not a popular one in philosophy, but, whatever, that’s not relevant here. What is important is that in dismissing those you have dismissed as “dogmigious”, you have simply asserted noncognitive principles as God’s honest truth, flat-out stating that those you are dismissing either accept that their principles are subjective or *SHOULD* accept that they are. That is *literally* your justification for labelling them this way.

          But as i’ve just explained, very few ideologies are noncognitivist, and the vast majority of philosophies that people stand behind – including secular humanism and most forms of feminism – explicitly *deny* being subjective, and back that denial up with good arguments. Good luck finding a feminist, for example, who says that equality is just personal preference, and that cultures without gender equality are just as legitimate as cultures with it (ie, your “red shirts and blue shirts” analogy).

          So to slap this “dogmigious” label on them, you have to not only just not be arsed to seriously take their position into consideration before judging them… you have to flat-out ignore their arguments, and simply just apply your own. That’s *exactly* the same kind of thing the religious do when they insist that atheists are all nihilists who hate God – completely ignoring what atheists actually say and just applying their open perspectives. The only way you can do that is if you are either ignorant of the way they *really* justify their position… or if you’re aware of it but don’t care, which would be dishonest because you’ve failed to state that’s what you were doing.

          That’s very troubling. Ultimately, by calling a group “dogmigious”, you are attempting to a) absolve yourself of the responsibility of considering their points before dismissing them; b) assert your own perspective as the only one that matters, either out of ignorance or arrogance (and if it is the latter, there is also an element of dishonest because you have failed to state that that’s what you were doing); and c) dismiss them because you don’t like their presentation or tone.

          Basically, “dogmigious” is merely a way to dismiss an argument based on its tone, without bothering to consider its substance.

          If you get all dogmigious about your values, then suddenly the opponents become evildoers, and that’s the kind of attitude that makes reasonable compromise much harder to achieve.

          Uh huh? And, hypothetically speaking, if you dismiss your opponents as “dogmigious” because of their passion and insistence – without any serious consideration of their points (which is the whole point of calling a group “dogmigious”) – how does that make reasonable compromise easier to achieve?

          Not to mention: why do you assume that compromise – in any form – must be a desirable goal? Sometimes, compromise is absolutely out of the question, and for good reason. If you have a minority that the majority wants to genocide out of existence, are you seriously implying that the minority would be wrong to be “dogmigious” about demanding equality in society? That they should find a compromise with the majority where they are allowed to live, but, ya know, as slaves or in ghettos with second-class rights or something? And i’m not being ridiculous, because one of the groups you implied is “dogmigious” is feminists, who are *literally* demanding nothing more than equal pay, opportunity, respect and protection in a society where they have none of those things… and you’re calling them “dogmigious” because they’re not interested in compromising those points. But why should they?

          It is one thing to dismiss arguments after considering their content and justification, and finding that they are based merely on opinions, empty assertions, and faith. It is quite another to dismiss arguments simply because you find the people making them are acting superficially similar to fundamentalist jerks, while giving no consideration whatsoever to the content of their arguments or whether they actually have justification for being uncompromising. Terms like “dogmigious” do the latter. It’s an insult to intelligence, and an attempt to silence discourse by telling other groups it can only happen on your terms, or they’re “dogmigious”.

          • Exactly. Seems rather all too cosily convenient to start off the premise by declaring that the only place moral values could possibly come from is some sort of ephemeral other plane, followed by a subsequent declaration that none was found there and cannot be found there, therefore what is said following all of that must be true.

            Sounds like some pretty hardcore logical fallacies going on there.

            Like being able to derive anything at all from a statement and the negative of that statement:

            –> All pigs are pink AND no pigs are pink.

            –> From All pigs are pink we can deduce that there are No pigs of any colour in the group of colours: [all colours, except blue and pink]

            –> From No pigs are pink AND No pigs of any colour in the group of colours: [all colours, except blue and pink] we can deduce that All pigs are blue.

            Therefore, we must have that All pigs are blue.

            Bit of an oinker.

  2. Most ideology comes from human intuition about things, not logic or evidence.

    What is a my right?

    It is what I arbitrarily decide is important and have a big enough stick to defend.

    • Well, yes. Although logic and evidence kick in once you’ve decided what is important, and need to figure out the best way to implement your vision.

  3. @Alex T

    The problem with dogma (including religion) isn’t certainty, it’s certainty which is detached or even opposed to reality. It’s the blind faith.

    But all moral claims are detached from reality in the sense that reality can’t provide a fundamental basis for them. There’s nothing in the fabric of the universe that tells us, to use your example, that there “shouldn’t be cases when women’s rights are less than those of men”. We can prefer equality between the sexes, and we can argue that it leads to better outcomes for society as a whole, but at some point in the process of deciding which possible outcomes are “better” we’re going to have to admit that our criteria are based on subjective preferences (or, if you prefer, on our values). If we mistake those preferences for objectively valid moral commitments that everyone must hold or be Wrong in some cosmic sense, then we have indeed slipped into blind faith of the dogmigious variety.

    Do we have to be “open to sexists”? Well, no, not exactly. If we think they’re simply mistaken about the likely consequences of equality between the sexes (if they’re convinced, for example, that any society in which the women are allowed to run around unveiled will descend into a state of chaos) we can try to explain where they’ve gone wrong using evidence and logic. If they simply want to live in a different kind of society, though, it’s their values against ours. We can oppose them as vociferously as we want, but we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking we’re doing anything more than fighting our own corner.

  4. There’s nothing in the fabric of the universe that tells us, to use your example, that there “shouldn’t be cases when women’s rights are less than those of men”.

    There’s actually plenty in the “fabric of the universe” that tell us that there shouldn’t be cases when women’s rights are less than those of men, namely when beating protesting women with sticks and batons becomes so expensive and fatiguing, that a more suitable solutions becomes desirable.

  5. Ever hear about values?
    Well the Catholic Church heard about it around the same time as everyone else did in the mid seventies when Robert Pirsig’s book, ‘Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ came out.
    This was a travelogue meditation about quality and values.
    Soon after a new slogan was coined, ‘Catholic Values’.
    Quality and values are unique to the observer. Naturally there will be ‘near universal values’ within every evolved society.
    For us secularists, this simply means that we have to champion our values and try to make them the values of all people. That is our mission.
    As an aside. The Catholic propaganda department discovered that they could covertly lead the evangelical Christians by infecting them with the ‘rights of the unborn’ value. They have successfully inserted a brass ring into the evangelical nostril and they have been leading them around ever since. They now have people outside of their faith supporting their health and education enterprises.
    See how it works?

    • Naturally there will be ‘near universal values’ within every evolved society.

      I’m not so sure. I think most societies probably contain several pockets of people that have quite different values, although the fact that some pockets are likely to be poorly represented among whatever “chattering classes” exist in any given society may well obscure some of the heterogeneity.

      For us secularists, this simply means that we have to champion our values and try to make them the values of all people. That is our mission.

      Surely it’s becoming obvious, though, that secularists don’t share all that many values beyond secularism itself – and even that one is problematic, once you start arguing about different ways of implementing secularism. (You may have seen some of the rather heated arguments that took place on this blog about the Quebec Charter of Values.) I’m quite prepared to argue for the version of secularism that I prefer, and for the other values I hold, but I don’t see myself as participating in a mission to convert everyone else. I take it for granted that some degree of compromise with people who hold different values, and aren’t amenable to conversion, is going to be necessary with respect to most issues.

    • -For us secularists, this simply means that we have to champion our values and try to make them the values of all people. That is our mission.

      Not my mission. Leave me alone and i’ll do the same for you. Dictating values is self righteous nonsense.

  6. You keep implying that anything related to morality or rights or any of those topics is mere… opinion. That is a position known as noncognitivism…

    The term I prefer is moral scepticism. I’m not saying that anything “related” to morality, rights, etc. is just opinion – the point is that digging into the foundations of any moral claim or system of moral philosophy reveals a bedrock of what might be called opinion sooner or later. The statement that random murder tends to undermine the stability of society is surely true, and relevant to moral philosophy, but it’s empirical in nature rather than ethical. The ethical question is whether one should murder people at random, which depends in part on whether or not one is committed to maintaining the stability of society. I think that kind of commitment is a subjective value that one might or might not hold, rather than something analogous to a universally valid logical or mathematical truth.

    Fortunately, a combination of enlightened self-interest and hard-wired social instincts ensures that nearly all people will have some fundamental values in common – things like an aversion to random murder, and an elementary sense of fairness. But once you get beyond the fundamentals, into the kinds of ethical questions that people actually argue about, it becomes obvious that many of the disagreements arise because different individuals prioritise different values – privacy as opposed to security, “freedom from” as opposed to “freedom to”, equal outcomes as opposed to equal opportunities, or whatever.

    Once you discover certain concepts – like “person” – and reason about them, the facts of ethics and rights arise automatically and unavoidably.

    There’s probably never been a civilisation that didn’t have some kind of concept of personhood, but different civilisations have obviously come to very different conclusions about ethics and rights. And yes, they’ve also come to different (and mostly wrong) conclusions about physics, but that’s another kettle of fish because progress in physics has always been driven by a combination of new data and new mathematical tools for analysing the data and then skipping slightly ahead to make predictions. Modern moral philosophers don’t have nearly as many advantages over Aristotle as modern physicists do.

    Because the reality is that virtually every single modern ethical theory agrees 99.999% of the time – it’s only in fringe cases where they differ.

    I don’t think that’s even close to being true. Deontological and utilitarian “theories”, for example, surely give different answers for any situation in which compromising a formal principle might lead to a better outcome (however “better” might be defined, which becomes a point of disagreement among different versions of utilitarianism). Such situations are hardly uncommon.

    …rights are conceptually attached to persons…

    Why? If I’m not allowed to knock down my house, because it’s a heritage building, then the house has a right not to be knocked down in the same sense that I have a right not to be murdered (or “right to life”, if you prefer). We just don’t normally talk or think about the issue in those terms, because there’s no practical benefit to doing so. Also, attaching rights to persons doesn’t mean that all persons must end up with the same rights. Frequently they don’t – consider children vs. adults, or citizens vs. non-citizens.

    Same goes with our current theories of ethics and rights – they may not be absolutely correct, and we may change them in the future as we learn more, but at the moment they are literally the best all of humanity combined has come up with…

    Which still doesn’t mean they have any intrinsic validity. The best astrology that all of humanity has come up with, for example, still isn’t good for much.

    I don’t think moral philosophy is like astrology, of course. It’s typically more like a vast exercise in working out the logical consequences of holding certain basic principles, such as “the greatest good for the greatest number”. What’s lacking is a basis other than subjective preference for choosing one such principle or combination of principles over another, or even for thinking in terms of principles rather than something more like a set of imperatives (compassion, loyalty, truthfulness, etc.) that must sometimes be balanced against each other. That’s where values rear their idiosyncratic head. Moral philosophy has value in clarifying alternatives, but it’s not going to actually tell us how to behave.

    Basically, “dogmigious” is merely a way to dismiss an argument based on its tone, without bothering to consider its substance.

    It’s not a question of tone. One could be quietly and politely dogmigious, or stridently opinionated in a non-dogmigious way. The critical distinction is whether people are prepared to acknowledge the subjective foundations of their moral claims or are trying to present those claims as inevitable truths. This becomes more or less moot in practice, though not in principle, if the subjective foundation is limited to a value that happens to be universally held among the people participating in the discussion.

    If you have a minority that the majority wants to genocide out of existence, are you seriously implying that the minority would be wrong to be “dogmigious” about demanding equality in society?

    In such extreme circumstances demanding equality might be pretty darn suicidal, depending on the specifics of the situation. If I were a member of the threatened minority I’d certainly want to consider the possibility of accepting some kind of second-class citizenship if the likely alternative were total annihilation. Rather than getting all dogmigious, it would be better to make a clear-headed collective strategic decision to either demand equality or compromise, taking into account both the likelihood that demanding equality would be successful and the important matter of what degree of oppression we were prepared to endure before deciding to risk dying on our feet rather than living on our knees. Again, it’s all about values!

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