Please visit Thinking Skills for the Digital Generation by Athreya and Mouza at Springer.com

Friday, October 19, 2012

Dogma



According to the Nyaya philosophy of Gauthama,  there are two kinds of dogma. One is called dhrishtantha, one about which a common man and  expert can agree on. The other is called siddhantha, an established dogma or tenet resting on the authority of a school of thought.

Since one of my interests is to bring old writings in line with current knowledge, let me restate these two dogmas with examples. The root word for Dhrishtantha is dhrsh, to see. When this word was coined, most discussions were based on rules of logic and not empirical evidence. Therefore, it was acceptable to say that if a common man also can come to the same conclusion as an expert, it is dhrishtantha.

Drishtantha cannot follow this definition in this time in history because science has proofs for many things which only experts can interpret and understand. Common man, even an educated one, cannot understand some facts unless he works in that specific field. Therefore, common man will have to accept items that most experts in a specific field can agree on based on solid scientific evidence and without outside pressures, political, religious or monetary. 

This brings us to dhristantha defined as scientific dogma, which is an oxymoron. Unfortunately many conclusions arrived at by scientific methods do get ossified as dogmas. This is against the entire principle of scientific enterprise. The common man has to accept (dhrishtantha) a statement of fact if all or most experts agree on that view based on currently available evidence. But, that is just a plateau. It is not a dogma. It has to be challenged and will be challenged so we can reach a higher level of understanding.

The best example that comes to my mind is peptic ulcer disease. I remember the various theories that were generated based on science such as hyperacidity and stress. When it was considered as secondary to hyperacidity, the treatment was antacids. When it was considered psychosomatic, counselling was the mode of therapy. Someone questioned these dogmas which made it possible to investigate further and show that an infectious agent is the culprit. Now, the treatment is more specific, based on solid facts.

Siddhantha is based on a school of thought. It is just that, a thought, an idea followed by proponents of that thought. I have no problem with our developing our own ideas on philosophical issues. My problem comes when we become fanatic, insist that mine is the only correct concept and start pushing it on others. In my view the word dogma, should be confined to such concepts.

True dogmas as defined above may be one of four kinds, says Gautama:

          A dogma that is claimed by at least one school and not opposed by any other school is called sarvathanthra siddhantha. In other words, it is accepted by all schools of thought. “Every individual is entitled to freedom of thought” is one such concept.
          A dogma that is peculiar to one school and rejected by some other school is called prathi siddhantha. Karma concept of Hinduism is an example.

          A dogma that is hypothetical and if accepted will lead to acceptance of another tenet is called adhikarana. For example, Karma concept leads to concepts of rebirth.

          A dogma that is not explicitly declared ( only implied) is called apyubhagama. I do not have an example and I do not know what Gautama had in mind.
     

No comments: