In philosophy dogmatism is totally inappropriate.

Most people use the word "dogmatism" in its dyslogistic sense.  They forget that the word "dogma" has a good meaning in dogmatic theology, referring to the articles of religious faith.

In philosophy, however, dogmatism is totally inappropriate.  Everything that is asserted or denied must be submitted to rational inquiry that seeks to establish it with certitude or probability.

There are some philosophical positions the affirmation of which are beyond the power of reason to establish.  An example is the main thesis of ontological materialism, that nothing really exists except bodies and their physical transformations.  That thesis, being a denial, therefore is a negation, and as such it is indemonstrable.

Most of the contemporary scientists and professors of philosophy who embrace materialism unquestioningly do so without a logical qualm.  They mistakenly think that the evidence of their senses tells them that all observable phenomena are physical.  Of course this is correct, but it does not prove that only observable phenomena are real.  There is no evidence that reality does not and cannot include the immaterial and the nonphysical.  To assert that it does not and cannot is sheer dogmatism, of a kind that should be avoided in philosophy.




Mortimer J. Adler. "Dogmatism." excerpt from Adler's Philosophical Dictionary: 125 Key Terms for the Philosopher's Lexicon (New York: Touchstone, 1996): 80-81.

Reprinted courtesy of the Center for the Study of Great Ideas.


Mortimer J. Adler (1902-2001) was chairman and cofounder with Max Weismann of the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas and Editor in Chief of its journal Philosophy is Everybody's Business.  He was, in addition, the founder and Director of the Institute for Philosophical Research, Chairman of the Board of Editors of Encyclopaedia Britannica, Editor in Chief of the Great Books of the Western World and The Syntopicon:  An Index to the Great Ideas, Editor of The Great Ideas Today (all published by Encyclopaedia Britannica), Co-Founder and Honorary Trustee of The Aspen Institute, past Instructor at Columbia University, and Professor Emeritus at the University of Chicago (1930-52).

Ongoing programs started or developed by Dr. Adler include:  The Great Books Foundation (with Robert Hutchins), the Basic Program of Liberal Education for Adults at the University of Chicago (with Robert Hutchins), the Executive Seminars of The Aspen Institute, the Paideia Project (a plan for major reform of public school education), and The Great Ideas seminars at the Center for the Study of The Great Ideas — all promoting liberal education through an understanding of great works of philosophy, literature, history, science, and religion.  He was the author of over 50 books, including Adler's Philosophical Dictionary: 125 Key Terms for the Philosopher's Lexicon, How to Read a Book, How to Speak/How to Listen, How to Think About The Great Ideas, and Aristotle for Everybody.

Copyright © 1996 Mortimer Adler

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