In response, Jeffrey Lipshaw offers a critique of Leiter's definition, and attempts to argue against the sensibility of blaming (or not respecting) religious belief for being dogmatic. He takes aim at Leiter's commitment to a principle like the following:
"All beliefs must [should] be revisable in light of evidence and reasons."
(Let's call this the Principle of Doxastic Revisability.) In Leiter's telling, this is the Principle on which religious believing specially fails, and for which religious believing can therefore be blamed. Lipshaw asks and answers: "Is it Leiter's position that [the Principle of Doxastic Revisability] could be revised in light of evidence and reasons? I think not." Lipshaw goes on: "Any exercise in conceptual thinking requires some foundational belief that is both categorical and insulated, for all practical purposes, from evidence and reasons."
With this, Lipshaw means to question something like the Principle of Doxastic Revisability. Put in its strongest form, I think the key move involves making (or trading on) a denial like this:
It is not possible that all beliefs could be held revisable in light of evidence and reasons (because, supposedly, there must be some wholly arbitrary starting point from which to launch the revisionary work of evidence or reasons).
If so, then a fortiori, there can be no basis for criticizing a set of beliefs (like religious beliefs) for failing to be revisable; hence (to make a long story short), shame on Leiter.
On Lipshaw's account, there is, at the end of the day, merely different coherent systems of thought in which, for each system, some arbitrary points will be fixed and beyond revision. But then, again, blame becomes impossible, and the failure to respect becomes unprincipled:
"If we have neither divine voices nor random chance as our practice, but instead a coherent set of concepts in religion or philosophy that cashes out in choosing among conflicting demands for action, why is it any less worthy of respect that one coherent set comes from religion and the other from science or common sense?"
Now, to explain why I think Lipshaw wrong and confused:
Lipshaw is wrong to suppose that "[a]ny exercise in conceptual thinking requires some foundational belief that is both categorical and insulated, for all practical purposes, from evidence and reasons." This "requirement" of insulated foundational belief may be true for any particular "exercise in conceptual thinking," but what reason do we have to think it is true in all cases? It is true, of course, that if we are puzzling over something, our puzzling, if it is to be productive at all, will need to take some things as a given. But such "givens" need only be given then, in that particular instance of reasoning or evidence-giving. At other times, those "given" things can certainly themselves be questioned. It is only for the sake of convenience (and our own practical limitations) that we do not try to resolve all problems all at the same time. And so, yes!- even Leiter's Principle of Doxastic Revisability may be subject to itself. If, for example, Lipshaw could articulate a real reason why the Principle of Doxastic Revisability is not possible, then Leiter would be bound to respond to such reasons in some appropriate way-- either by abandoning or revising his Principle. And moreover, if Leiter dogmatically stuck to such a principle in the face of a strong reason to abandon it, he would surely deserve some measure of blame or loss of reputation. We may all have 'fixed' points from which we reason in some sense, but that does not mean that we all have 'fixed' commitments in the crucial sense of being dedicated to holding those commitments come any (perhaps unknown) reason or evidence.
In other words, Lipshaw hasn't given a reason that the Principle of Doxastic Revisability is false or impossibile. And if it is possible, and if it is true, then it seems like a perfectly fine ground from which Leiter may blame (or fail to respect) dogmatic religious belief.
I think this is enough for the main point, but I am also slightly bothered by Lipshaw's apparent thought that everyone has some crucial element of arbitrariness in his or her beliefs (of the kind that makes every coherent web of belief the equal of every other coherent web).
Undoubtedly, it is true that we all have starting points when reasoning or offering evidence about something, and true also that, for most of us, many of these starting points will remain perpetually unexamined. But do these facts necessarily make those starting points "arbitrary"? In the sense that most of us lack any conscious awareness of the justification vel non of those starting points, yes. But this merely psychological sense of "arbitrary" is uninteresting; what Lipshaw really needs to support a claim that we are all in the same unprincipled boat is something stronger, a sense of 'arbitrary' that means something is not justified, legitimate, or principled at all. And, in this sense of 'arbitrary,' I don't see any reason to think that we are all of us most of the time 'arbitrary' in reasoning or in offering evidence. Lipshaw certainly hasn't offered such a reason.
An illustration: suppose it is the case that the Principle of Non-Contradiction (PNC) is a legitimate, justified, true principle. In what that legitimacy consists, we will not say here; only that it is a legitimate and true principle. Then, in using PNC as a "starting point" or ground in reasoning about something, it does not impugn our reasoning at all to say that our use of PNC is arbitrary in the psychological sense. The reasoning still stands--whether it is consciously appreciated so to stand or not--as legitimate (to some crucial extent, assuming we haven't misapplied PNC). There is no theoretical need here for talk of coherency or webs of belief, no need for epistemological relativism ("each coherent web of belief is the equal of every other"), no need for a pernicious rejection of any idea of legitimacy in thought--which is what epistemological relativism amounts to at the end of the day.