Introduction to Philosophy: Defining, Studying, Doing Philosophy is Important Why Do Atheists Need Philosophy?

We Need to Reason Well Defining and explaining philosophy is no easy task — the very nature of the subject seems to defy description. The problem is that philosophy, in one way or another, ends up touching upon nearly every aspect of human life. Philosophy has something to say when it comes to science, art, religion, politics, medicine, and a host of other topics. This is also why a basic grounding in philosophy can be so important for irreligious atheists. The more you know about philosophy, and even just the basics of philosophy, the more likely you'll be able to reason clearly, consistently, and with more reliable conclusions. First, any time atheists get involved in debating religion or theism with believers, they end up either touching upon or getting deeply involved with several different branches of philosophy — metaphysics, philosophy of religion, philosophy of science, philosophy of history, logic, ethics, etc. This is inevitable and anyone who knows more about these subjects, even if it's just the basics, will do a better job at making a case for their position, at understanding what others are saying, and at arriving at a fair, reasonable conclusion. Second, even if a person never gets involved in any debates, they still need to arrive at some conception about their life, what life means to them, what they should do, how they should behave, etc. Religion typically presents all of this in a neat package that people can just open up and start using; irreligious atheists, however, generally need to work a lot of these things out for themselves. You can't do that if you can't reason clearly and consistently. This involves not just the various branches of philosophy, but also various philosophical schools or systems where gods are unnecessary: Existentialism, Nihilism, Humanism, etc. Most people and most irreligious atheists manage to get by without any specific or formal study of anything in philosophy, so obviously it isn't absolutely and unquestionably necessary. At least some understanding of philosophy should make it all easier, however, and will definitely open up more options, more possibilities, and thus perhaps make things better in the long run. You don't need to be a philosophy student, but you should familiarize yourself with the basics — and there's nothing more basic than understanding what "philosophy" is in the first place. Defining Philosophy Philosophy comes from the Greek for "love of wisdom," giving us two important starting points: love (or passion) and wisdom (knowledge, understanding). Philosophy sometimes seems to be pursued without passion as if it were a technical

subject like engineering or mathematics. Although there is a role for dispassionate research, philosophy must derive from some passion for the ultimate goal: a reliable, accurate understanding ourselves and our world. This is also what atheists should seek. Why is PhiWhy should anyone, including atheists, care about philosophy? Many think of philosophy as an idle, academic pursuit, never amounting to anything of practical value. If you look at the works of ancient Greek philosophers, they were asking the same questions which philosophers ask today. Doesn't this mean that philosophy never gets anywhere and never accomplishes anything? Aren't atheists wasting their time by studying philosophy and philosophical reasoning? Certainly not — philosophy is not simply something for egghead academics in ivory towers. On the contrary, all humans engage in philosophy in one form or another because we are philosophizing creatures. Philosophy is about gaining a better understanding of ourselves and our world — and since that is what humans naturally desire, humans quite readily engage in philosophical speculation and questioning. What this means is that the study of philosophy is not a useless, dead-end pursuit. It is true that remaining with philosophy does not afford an especially wide range of career options, but skill with philosophy is something which can be readily transferred to a wide variety of fields, not to mention things we do every day. Anything which requires careful thinking, systematic reasoning, and an ability to ask and address difficult questions will benefit from a background in philosophy. Obviously, this makes philosophy is important for those who desire to learn more about themselves and about life — especially irreligious atheists who cannot simply accept the ready-made "answers" typically provided by theistic religions. As Simon Blackburn stated in an address he delivered at the University of North Carolina: [blockquote shade=yes] People who have cut their teeth on philosophical problems of rationality, knowledge, perception, free will and other minds are well placed to think better about problems of evidence, decision making, responsibility and ethics that life throws up.

These are some of the benefits which irreligious atheists, and just about anyone else, can derive from studying philosophy: Problem Solving Skills: Philosophy is about asking difficult questions and developing answers which can be reasonably and rationally defended against


because removing philosophers’ answers from their historical and cultural context causes something to get lost. both in speaking and in writing. they can have greater assurance that their beliefs may be reasonable. unfounded.hard. Far too many problems in debates about religion and theism can be traced to imprecise terminology. the easier it will be. Communication Skills: A person who excels at communicating in the field of philosophy can also excel at communication in other areas. It is obvious that irreligious atheists seek to persuade others that religion and theism are irrational. If an atheist is good at this. and reasoned manner — exactly what irreligious atheists say isn't typically done by religious believers when it comes to their own religious beliefs. at least whenever possible. It probably shouldn't be used exclusively. This means taking on an issue of debate and discussing the ways in which philosophers have offered their views and the various approaches they have utilized. well-developed and coherent should care about doing this well. etc. Irreligious atheists who are critical of the way believers approach their religion are being at least a little bit hypocritical if they themselves don't approach their own thinking in an appropriately disciplined and reasoned manner. Because atheists tend to find themselves engaged in specific debates about the nature of the mind. In books which use this method you find sections about God. meaning. careful. and other issues that would be overcome if people were better at communicating what they are thinking. Government. including atheists. academic pursuit. If you look at the works of ancient Greek philosophers. When debating religion and theism. Morality. the question is not really "Who cares about doing philosophy.. These writings were not. atheist need to express their ideas clearly and precisely. For irreligious atheists. definitions and arguments in a way conducive towards developing solutions for particular problems. a philosopher’s ideas are best understood when read along with his or her writings on other issues — and that is where the historical or 2 . Thus. society and morality. losophy Important? Why should anyone. everyone already has some sort of philosophy and already "does" philosophy when they think about and address issues which are fundamental to questions about life. Knowledge. care about philosophy? Many think of philosophy as an idle. but in many ways it is the journey which is most important. The systematic or topical method is based upon addressing philosophy one question at a time. but the more you know about yourself. though. not the destination. Irreligious atheists need to learn how to analyze concepts. never amounting to anything of practical value. Persuasive Skills: The reason for developing problem solving and communication skills is not simply to gain a better understanding of the world. but about how to do it in a systematic. the focus should probably be more on the topical than on the biographical method because that will provide clear overviews of relevant issues. skeptical questioning. Good persuasive skills are thus important in the field of philosophy because a person needs to defend her own views and to offer insightful critiques of the views of others. created in a cultural and intellectual vacuum. unclear concepts. they were asking the same questions which philosophers ask today. after all. Self-Knowledge: It isn't just a matter of better communication with others that is helped by the study of philosophy — understanding yourself is improved. These are qualities which the study of philosophy can bring to a person's questioning and curiosity. but also to get others to agree with that understanding. though. Sometimes. the existence of gods." but rather "Who cares about doing philosophy well?" Studying philosophy isn't simply about learning how to ask and answer these questions. this topical method will probably prove most useful most of the time. Everyone who cares about whether or not their thinking reasonable. consistent and wellfounded because they have examined them systematically and carefully. the role of religion in government. The very nature of philosophy is such that you get a better picture of what you yourself believe simply through working through those beliefs in a careful and systematic fashion. Doesn't this mean that philosophy never gets anywhere and never accomplishes anything? Aren't atheists wasting their time by studying philosophy and philosophical reasoning? Studying and Doing Philosophy: The study of philosophy is usually approached in one of two different ways: the systematic or topical method and the historical or biographical method. but how can they accomplish this if they lack the skill for communicating and explaining their positions? Remember. well-founded. or solely in the context of other documents on the same topic. We may never arrive at any final answers. Why are you an atheist? What do you really think about religion? What do you have to offer in place of religion? These aren't always easy questions to answer. and that is why the subject is so important. and perhaps even dangerous. etc. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and it is often beneficial to avoid focusing on one to the exclusions of the other.

com/od/aboutphilosoph1/a/bran ches. Simply pointing out things like violence committed in the name of religion isn't good enough. Both have their strengths and weaknesses and it is often beneficial to avoid focusing on one to the exclusions of the other. Many of the resources on this site are designed to help you go through those steps: defining terms. and especially when it comes to debates over religion and theism. Some potential answers might seem absurd and some very reasonable. the focus should probably be more on the topical than on the biographical method because that will provide clear overviews of relevant issues. If you're going to look at "Does God exist?" for example. we have to rely upon the work done by colleagues and predecessors. in turn. you’ll never feel confident that what you have settled on is the most reasonable conclusion." This requires a precision of language not normally expected in ordinary conversations (and which may at times seem annoying and pedantic). but you do need to know how to do philosophy in order to properly study philosophy. This is an idealized description of doing philosophy. starts with understanding the terms and concepts involved. concepts.about. About Life & Society http://atheism. This engagement. and so forth.biographical method proves its strengths. though. This method explains the history of philosophy in a chronological manner. etc. The study of philosophy is usually approached in one of two different ways: the systematic or topical method and the historical or biographical method. but the more careful and systematic a person is." After that. only comes about through an active engagement in the philosophical study. and how to construct your own sound and valid arguments on some philosophical topic. but if they are going to debate any particular claims they should spend at least some time on as many of the steps as possible. You need to know how to analyze arguments. You don’t need to know how to paint in order to be an art historian. Medieval and Modern philosophy. Whatever you finally decide upon will probably not be “right” in any final sense. how to ask good questions. After all. in supporting and critiquing different arguments. Simply memorizing facts and dates from a book isn’t good enough. major influences. You cannot answer the question “What is the meaning of life?” if you don’t understand what is meant by “meaning. people do imagine that they have arrived at final answers with little work done to seriously weigh the various arguments involved. and can only be demonstrated through the sound use of reason and language. weighing those arguments.htm Instead of being treated as a single. 3 . This. relationships. school or period of philosophy in turn and discussing the questions addressed. you need to understand how it might be answered in different ways depending on what one means by "God" and "exist. Without some assurance that you have at least brought up all of the possibilities. and it is rare that any one person goes through all of the steps independently and fully. For irreligious atheists. failures. but it is crucial because ordinary language is so rife with ambiguities and inconsistencies. This is especially important for irreligious atheists who want to be able to critique religion or religious beliefs. Although this method can seem dry at times. This means that an irreligious atheist can't be expected to investigate every religious or theistic claim to its utmost. it is necessary to weigh the arguments for and against the different positions — this is where much philosophical discussion takes place.being an expert on all of philosophy would entail being an expert on all of the most fundamental questions which life has to offer. unified subject. This is why the field of logic has developed a symbolic language for representing the various terms of arguments. on British Empiricism and American Pragmatism. philosophy addresses complex issues from all facets of life . and the reasoning process itself. In books using this method you find presentations of Ancient. of course. Philosophy depends not so much on regurgitating facts but on understanding — an understanding of ideas. Much of the time. and reaching some reasonable conclusion based upon the evidence at hand. reviewing the sequence of philosophical thought shows how ideas have developed.” You cannot answer the question "Does God exist?" if you don't understand what is meant by "God. taking each major philosopher. but it is important to try and determine what the various positions may be. and you don’t need to be a politician in order to study political science. but by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the different arguments. of course. you will at least know just how sound your position is and where you need to do further work. successes. Too often. Doing Philosophy One important aspect of the study of philosophy is that it also involves doing philosophy. examining various arguments. A further step involves investigating the various ways in which the question can be answered. answers offered. at least whenever possible. the closer their work will reflect the above. philosophy is typically broken down into a number of specialties and it is common for contemporary philosophers to be experts in one field but know little about another.

This is an often neglected field of philosophy and is often addressed only be in educational programs designed to train teachers . and how are we to understand it. Metaphysics In Western philosophy this field has become the study of the fundamental nature of all reality . instead.there is often much overlap between some fields. Epistemological studies usually focus upon our means for acquiring knowledge. Logic and the Philosophy of Language These two fields are often treated separately. Philosophy of History The Philosophy of History is a relatively minor branch in the field of philosophy. focusing on the study of history. etc. This is can be referred to as Critical. the differences between science and other activities. thus modern epistemology generally involves a debate between rationalism and empiricism. in fact. The word comes from the Greek aisthetikos. while metaphysical questions are common topics in the philosophy of religion. the the of of Philosophy of Mind The relatively recent specialty known as Philosophy of Mind deals with the consciousness and how it interacts with the body and the outside world. Philosophy of Religion Sometimes confused with theology. both proper and that context. It asks not only what mental phenomena are and what gives rise to them. what relationship science should have with society. political and legal philosophy often crosses with ethics and morality. or the sublime. Ethics Ethics is the formal study of moral standards and conduct and is also often called "moral philosophy." What is good? What is evil? How should I behave and why? How should I balance my needs against the needs of others? These are some of the questions asked in the field of ethics. even though that may be rarely evident. religious arguments and religious history. but also what relationship they have to the larger physical body and the world around us. but the primary difference is that theology tends to be apologetical in nature. what the goals of science should be. but that isn't actually true. Philosophy of Science This is concerned with how science operates. Political and Legal Philosophy These two fields are often studied separately. the study of all of reality. or Formal Philosophy History. but they are presented here jointly because they both come back to the same thing: the study of force. Logic is the study of methods of reasoning and argumentation. religious doctrines. Epistemology Epistemology is the study of the grounds and nature of knowledge itself. which is learning how to teach. and what impact history has upon present day. how history progresses. the Philosophy of Religion is the philosophical study of religious beliefs. and what the ultimate purpose of education should be for society. For example. The line between theology and the philosophy of religion isn't always sharp because they share so much in common. Some only regard metaphysics as the study of "higher" reality or the "invisible" nature behind everything. whether in the form of the comic. what they should be educated in. why is it. Sometimes even deciding which branch of philosophy a question properly belongs in isn't very clear.what is it. Philosophy of Education This field deals with how children should be educated. the tragic. The Philosophy of Language involves the study of how our language interacts with our thinking. writing about history. Politics is the study of political force in the general community while jurisprudence is the study of how laws can and should be used to achieve political and social goals. Aesthetics This is the study of beauty and taste." Aesthetics has traditionally been part of other philosophical fields like epistemology or ethics but it started to come into its own and become a more independent field under Immanuel Kant. Everything that happens in science has some relationship with the Philosophy of Science and is predicated upon some philosophical position. it is a part of pedagogy. committed to the defense of particular religious positions.This doesn't mean that each branch of philosophy is entirely autonomous . but they are close enough that they are presented together here. or the question of whether knowledge can be acquired a priori or a posteriori. whereas Philosophy of Religion is committed to the investigation of religion itself rather than the truth of any particular religion. Analytical. as well as the Philosophy Historiography. 4 . It is. visible and invisible. "of sense perception.

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