On Dogmatics in Philosophy

In chapter 2 of Mind: A Brief Introduction Searle dismisses the views of modern dualists because they seem to be ad hoc maneuvers. “The authors are convinced in advance of the truth of dualism and are trying to find some way, any way, that will make dualism consistent with physics.” He rejects these arguments, not on any logical grounds, but only because the conclusion of the argument is believed before the explanation was conceived.

This sort of dogmatism is looked down upon in academia, but it is actually quite common. A few pages later, Searle writes “The history of materialism is fascinating, because thought the materialists are convinced, with a quasi-religious faith, that their views must be right, they never seem to be able to formulate a version of it that they are completely satisfied with and that can be generally accepted by other philosophers, even by other materialists.” Again philosophers are committed to a view and then devise explanations for how it must work. The various versions of materialism are met in the book with summaries of their logical downfalls. But have they not committed the same fallacy as the dualists? It seems that the materialists could be dismissed just as easily. If an introductory text calls for brief arguments against materialists, shouldn’t it call for just as much discussion of dualist thought?

Searle continues, “I think this is because they are constantly running up against the fact that the different versions of materialism seem to leave out some essential feature of the universe, which we know, independently of our philosophical commitments, to exist. The features they generally leave out are consciousness and intentionality.” How is a philosophical commitment any different from ‘everyday’ belief? Searle is committed to the existence of consciousness and intentionality and is now searching for an explanation for it.

I’m not saying that dogmatics of this sort are okay because everyone does it. I’m saying that dogmatics are the only way to do philosophy. It is impossible to develop a proof without already having in mind that which is to be proved. To recognize some observation as evidence requires that it be judged to be evidence for or against something. We must have some theory or claim in mind to even recognize it as evidence. It is possible to see some phenomenon as evidence for some theory not yet articulated, but when it is articulated it will do so with the said phenomenon in mind. It will proceed just like the dualists Searle disregards. As the new theory is articulated that which must be explained will serve as the base commitment, and an explanation that seems consistent with all other phenomena judged to be relevant will be devised.

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