Can someone fooling themselves still be intellectually dishonest?

Certain people may be dogmatic theists and believe that 'D' (for dogma) is true, and would really believe that D is true no matter what evidence they might find to the contrary. For such a person to engage in philosophical (or scientific, etc.) inquiry is somewhat perfunctory, because no matter what logical conclusion (s)he may come to, even if it contradicts D, would still believe that D is true. This is not necessarily a usual case of intellectual dishonesty or the like where someone looks for arguments to support his/her foregone conclusion, because in this case the person has honestly believes that D is true.

For example, someone I know is planning on writing a paper for his Master's degree in bioethics on the subject of circumcision, but he himself believes - for dogmatic/religious reasons - that circumcision is morally permissible (or even obligatory, I wouldn't put that past him) and he will write a paper supporting this dogmatic position. However, I don't think that this is for political or any other reason other than the fact that, no matter what he reads or reasons, he will continue to honestly believe in this opinion.

Is that still intellectually dishonest?

  • 1
    Define intellectually honest is dogmatic just a euphemism for religious?
    – Neil Meyer
    Jul 3, 2014 at 4:58
  • 1
    @NeilMeyer not necessarily, a person might be religious/theistic but open to the possibility that their religion can be disproven, and that they would abandon it if it was
    – That Guy
    Jul 3, 2014 at 13:21
  • In a strict sense then, you're using the word "dogmatic" incorrectly. See eg newadvent.org/cathen/05089a.htm. You're using a colloquial version of the term. Jul 3, 2014 at 16:03
  • @JamesKingsbery but most dictionaries give a definition that is appropriate here, as it is colloquially. what would be the correct term here then?
    – That Guy
    Jul 3, 2014 at 16:33
  • How does Richard Dawkins Perplexed by High Number of Jewish Nobel Prize Winners jibe with your question?
    – labreuer
    Jul 8, 2014 at 4:48

3 Answers 3



An example I am aware of is the Torah Codes, in which the birth and death dates of important Rabbis are supposedly encoded close to their names in the Bible. Some very intelligent researchers found extraordinarily strong evidence using recognised statistical techniques, and their results were published in a secular peer-reviewed journal. It had many people convinced for a time, until other researchers demonstrated methodological problems that were the probable source of the amazing evidence. It is likely that the researchers "tuned" their experiment, settling on a sample which confirmed their hypothesis, and then presenting their tuned sample as an independently compiled sample.

When you disregard confounding evidence, as is common with religious belief, any statistics that you use as justification for your beliefs is automatically useless. Based on this, I think it is extremely hard to take seriously research done by people with religiously predetermined opinions.

Meaning of "Intellectual Honesty"

The standard of intellectual honesty is more rigorous than just having knowledge.

For instance, true belief does not consititute knowledge. For knowledge it is necessary that a believer have justification to support their belief. But the believer must only be aware of the justification for their belief for it to be knowledge. The belief need not be caused by the justification.

In contrast, I don't think that simply having justification constitutes intellectual honesty. It is not just necessary that the believer is aware of the justification, I think they must believe an assertion because of the justification, or at least be open to disbelieving it should the evidence point in the opposite direction.

While an (hypothetical) entirely irrational person may have true beliefs and untrue beliefs, none of their beliefs constitute knowledge because the truth of their beliefs is accidental. They do not know (or understand) the difference between their true and untrue beliefs.

Likewise, a person with an overriding faith may have justified beliefs and unjustified beliefs. Although they know and understand justification, this time they simply do not care about it. Whether their beliefs have justification or not is accidental, and so the truth of their beliefs is still accidental.

Such a person may be very intelligent, and may in other ways be honest, but as the truth of their beliefs is still fundamentally accidental, it can be difficult to trust them. Even without lies, if they do not believe because of justifications, and would not be able to be swayed by justifications, they are still intellectually dishonest.


If a person has access to good arguments and advice on how to avoid fooling himself and chooses not to use them he may be dishonest. In the context you have described it is not clear to me whether the person in question is being dishonest. I am an atheist and I think that circumcising babies without their consent is a bad idea and I think it is almost always a bad idea for adults too. However, I recognise that for various reasons many atheists argue for their position using arguments that don't stand up to serious critical scrutiny, see my answer here for an example starting in the third paragraph. If the person you describe has only been given rubbish arguments then his rejection of your position may be appropriate.


TLDR: Dogma is entirely unrelated to proof or disproof but rather concerns the centrality of certain doctrines in a given worldview or religion.

Let's be clear on the meaning on the word 'dogma.' You use a Jewish example but this is primarily a Roman Catholic concept, with a specific technical meaning. Before we get to that let's examine the word's etymology:

a. L. dogma philosophical tenet, a. Gr. δόγµα, δογµατ-, that which seems to one, opinion, tenet, decree, f. δοκεῖν to seem, seem good, think, suppose, imagine. At first used with Gr.-L. plural; the forms dogme, dogm, represented F. dogme (16th c. in Hatz.-Darm.).
source: OED

So if we're being pure etymologists then everyone has 'dogmas' (opinions) don't they? But that isn't what you mean.

You didn't define your term and as I said 'dogma' is a technical term in Roman Catholic theology. The Catholic Encyclopedia defines it as:

a truth appertaining to faith or morals, revealed by God, transmitted from the Apostles in the Scriptures or by tradition, and proposed by the Church for the acceptance of the faithful

Your question belies your own definition of the word, i.e. "something accepted without evidence." That is not the Catholic definition. It has nothing at all to do with lack of evidence or preponderance of evidence, but with whether something is central to the Catholic faith, or a matter of debate about which Catholics can disagree.

For example, Jesus Christ rose from the dead is a dogma. By 'dogma' Catholics do not at all mean that someone must accept it without evidence or in spite of contrary evidence. Rather, it means that if you don't believe that Jesus Christ rose from the dead, you can't really call yourself a Catholic. It's a central tenet of the faith.

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