Dogmatic, and Dogmatist
Dogmatic, and Dogmatist. These words are used in a variety of senses,
not unconnected, however, with each other. They come from the verb
δοκέω, to think, to seem—ὡς
ἐμοὶ δοκεῑ, as it seems to me, as I think;
also as it seems good to me, as I determine. Hence a dogma like the
Latin placitum means both a decree and a pronounced opinion.
It is in the former sense that the word is used in the New Testament.
In the latter sense, it implied in the philosophical language of the
ancients, the real or supposed possession of a true knowledge of the law
or principle on which phenomena are grounded. Hence when the sceptical
school arose, philosophers were divided into dogmatists and empiricists;
the later Academics, who denied the possibility of such knowledge, dogmatising
negatively as much as their opponents did positively. The empiricists or
Pyrrhonists on the other hand ventured on neither position, but
retreated on the ἐποχή, refraining, prescribed by their
Phenomena, matters of experience, were the sole objects in their view of
legitimate study. Hence their title of empiricists.
The distinction seems to have been expanded from medical to all polemic.
The school of physicians who grounded their practice entirely on rule
and principle were called methodists, and their opponents who would
trust all to observation and experience, empiricists, from
ἐμπειρία. Between the two
there arose the intermediate school of dogmatists, headed by Galen, who
contended for the union of the two modes of inquiry and practice. When,
however, we extend our view to philosophy, it is plain that we have but
two sides to choose between. Unless we can adopt unqualified scepticism,
there must be something of which we think and speak with undoubting
certainty. Hence Bacon says that all philosophers before him were either
dogmatists or sceptics, and Pascal that every man must be one or the
other. Pure Pyrrhonism or scepticism is, however, impossible, since, as
I have just said, the doubter must at least be certain that he is, and
that he doubts.
A dogma. The following explanation has been given of the words
dogma and dogmatical.
"By dogmatism we understand, in general, both all-propounding
and all-receiving of tenets, merely from habit, without thought or
examination, or, in other words, upon the authority of others; in short,
the very opposite of critical investigation. All assertion for which no
proof is offered is dogmatical." This I think rather a conversational
than an accurate use of the term.
In theology a dogma means the formulated presentation of that which is
considered revealed truth. This is quite in harmony with the
philosophical sense of the word. The man who should merely read his
Bible, and speak of its disclosures
in no language but its own, would be an empiricist, recognising only the
phenomena of Revelation. This is a state which no man has ever succeeded
in maintaining; nor, however great the evil of excessive or unwarranted
dogma, is it desirable that any man should.
The earliest fathers used the words the Divine dogmas to denote the
whole of revealed truth. Subsequently the word was employed in the sense
which we have just been considering, and meant the scientific theology
alike of the Church and of the heretics. In the present Church of Rome
it seems to have sometimes a more limited signification, and to denote
not every formulated statement, but such as is authoritatively imposed,
and its reception made part of necessary faith. "It may be true or not,
but is it dogma?"
Dogma then is the logically formulated and peremptorily enunciated
statement of the law and principle of that which apart from it is but so
much phenomenon, is seen but not understood. The results of science are
thus dogmatic, though the investigations by which we hope to arrive at
such ought to be the reverse. The great truths of the faith are set
forth dogmatically; nor could this have been avoided, if the bonds of
Christian communion were to be cognisable and fixed, or if Christian
worship was to be offered with distinct purpose and meaning. More dogma
than is required for these ends is enforced on their teachers by nearly
every religious community;
but be such additions to their dogmatic stores advantageous or
disadvantageous, their enforcement ought to be confined to the teaching
class, not extended to the private worshippers. And few but will admit
that there may easily be an excess even with this limitation, that there
may be an amount of dogma rashly arrived at, the enforcement of which
tends to discord and division among the many, and to hardness and
stiffening of heart and thought in the individual; over and above the
evil which must be involved in all premature dogma, that of obstructing
instead of promoting our arrival at truth.
In conversational use, dogmatic, dogmatiser, and dogmatising are terms
of reproach, denoting a love and habit of what is called laying down the
law, a man's regarding his own ipse dixit on the subject as sufficient.