“Atheism is a lack of belief in God or gods” is probably one of the most common definitions and phrases you’ll hear on social media, especially if you get involved with any sort of theological conversation.
It will be no surprise, then, that these same people will say things like “atheism is not a philosophy!” or “I can’t see how atheism can be a philosophy.”
Granted, if that is the only way you think of atheism and the only way you can conceive of atheism being defined then I can understand why you’d think that, though as we atheists often pride ourselves on our scepticism and rationality, I would hope that your thinking doesn’t stop there and you start to question why someone would think that.
If you do consider this fact, I hope you don’t get stuck, as many do, on a bias against philosophy due to how some apologists abuse the subject in the same way YECs often abuse scientific enquiry and explanation.
Philosophy has a much greater scope than bad apologetics or even philosophy of religion, much like science has a much greater scope than “change in kind” and the facts of biological evolution.
What is “a Philosophy”?
Philosophy itself might have a simplistic definition, especially when you google for it:
- the study of the fundamental nature of knowledge, reality, and existence, especially when considered as an academic discipline. See also natural philosophy.
- a particular system of philosophical thought:“the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle”
- the study of the theoretical basis of a particular branch of knowledge or experience:“the philosophy of science”
- a theory or attitude that acts as a guiding principle for behaviour:“don’t expect anything and you won’t be disappointed, that’s my philosophy”
Though not many things are as simple as a google definition.
Philosophy from Etymological Translation
We could get the definition from a translation of the etymology which essentially breaks down to “lover of wisdom”. We would then need to consider what wisdom really is. It is more than simply having knowledge but the ability to actively reflect on our knowledge and experience, learn from our mistakes, and have good judgement, which can lead to a conclusion that we should act or suspend our judgement in certain situations.
Philosophy from its subjects
We could consider how philosophy is described by its main pillars; logic, epistemology, ethics, value theory (or axiology), aesthetics, and metaphysics. Thus, philosophy is investigations into knowledge and truth, justifying our beliefs, examining our values and things valued, standards of behaviour and beauty, questioning what is possible and the nature of being, and the rules of logic. That in itself is a gross oversimplification of the topics, but it is just to give a general idea.
Philosophy by what it underpins.
We can consider how some define it, “the science of science” as it is the underpinning that makes science the effective tool that it is. If science is, at least in basic terms, the intellectual and practical activity encompassing the systematic study of the structure and behaviour of the physical and natural world through observation and experiment, then philosophy is the thought and justification that goes in the best ways to do that. To simplify this even further (to the point of another gross oversimplification) philosophy defines and refines the scientific method and science applies it.
Philosophy Questioned Through the Years
And we can consider how there are tonnes of books throughout the centuries asking that very question, “What is philosophy?”. Even a google on the topic will return thousands of results with slightly different takes, often explaining a variety of different takes, much like I have done above and often in more detail.
With this in mind, we could imagine that if we cannot pin down exactly what philosophy is, it can be hard to pin down what “a philosophy” is too.
Philosophy Is All of The Above and More
The thing is, philosophy is all of the above, and more. It is the love of wisdom, and what do you do for the things you love? You probably search for them. You try(or at least hope) to obtain them. What are the best ways to obtain the things you love? Well, within philosophy it is all the things that have become the main pillars and their subsequent topics that can all aid in the search for wisdom and help us check if we have said wisdom or have missed the mark.
How Does That Relate To “A Philosophy?”
“A philosophy” can relate to a few things too, whilst being any and all of them.
For example, it could be used to describe a “personal philosophy” – these are often summarised by simple quips like “live and let live” or “Be yourself; everyone else is already taken”. This includes certain tenants like ‘The Golden Rule’: “treat others how you would like to be treated”. It could even describe an amalgamation of these smaller philosophies into one “personal philosophy” that is a standard you expect at least of yourself, and might encourage in others.
“A Philosophy” could be referring to a worldview or something that has explanatory power like naturalism or idealism.
“A Philosophy” can also refer to a method of investigation, perhaps a particular form of scepticism or the scientific method.
“A Philosophy” might be used to describe a set of principles, for example, a set of business ethics that guide a company’s behaviour, or perhaps the rules and calculations for a particular ethical theory, like utilitarianism.
And, much like philosophy was “all of the above and more”, so too can “a philosophy” be. “A philosophy” can be an amalgamation of all the principles, methods of investigation, types of logic, and so on that help one come to conclusions and build a greater worldview.
So, How Can Atheism be a Philosophy?
The first consideration is how you are using the term[atheism], and the way you think about your atheism.
This still doesn’t make it “a philosophy” – just an ontological position.
The Logical Entailments of Atheism
However, from here there are all the logical entailments that follow from this position, and other things that might not be as simple as they would be under various forms of theism.
This could form one of those shorter personal philosophies mentioned before like, “There is no God or afterlife so we have to live the best life we can now!” or it could form something bigger.
The logical entailments of the conclusion god does not exist will feed into a number of areas that in turn may feed a worldview. Thus, the ontological position can feed a system of philosophical thought, and therefore be regarded as a philosophy.
The Journey To Atheism
To reach the conclusion of atheism, you will (usually) engage in philosophical thought even if you’re not intentionally doing so. The questions you ask yourself, the investigation you undertake, the consideration of various arguments, examination of that which is presented as evidence and maybe even questions of what constitutes as evidence.
The method to get to, and the logical entailments of, the proposition/conclusion of atheism is in itself “a philosophy” of sorts, even if it isn’t exactly the same for everyone. Atheism, the philosophy, leads to and from Atheism the position.
Atheism in Philosophy of Religion
Within the philosophy of religion, atheism is its own topic. It isn’t simply the ontological position, but the study of concepts of god, analysis of these concepts and various theologies, the arguments against these concepts such as divine hiddenness or the problem of evil etc. The opposition to theology is known as theology. Atheology can be considered a philosophy of atheism or atheists.
Principles of Atheism
Many atheists, especially those you find online, claim that atheism is the rational conclusion to theistic claims. They might also say things like atheists are smarter, more ethical, know more about the bible than theists, are more logical and rational than theists etc. Thus, even with the lack of belief atheists, they have created a sort of philosophy around what atheism represents. They may even be quite rigid in this to the point of dogmatism, though either way there are these principles that are philosophical in nature to form their overall idea of atheism. As such, even this could be regarded as “a Philosophy”.
Atheism as a Philosophy
Whilst atheism is most commonly seen as a position on a topic, it can also be regarded as “a philosophy”. Atheism as a philosophy, in its most simplistic form, can be described as the atheistic philosophies that lead to and are entailed by Atheism (as a position).
Thus atheism, as a philosophy, is not only the proposition gods do not exist, but also describing the logical entailments of accepting this proposition combined with the justification for accepting this proposition and arguments against various forms of theism, aka atheology.
I would personally argue that atheistic philosophy serves to inform and/or be part of a much larger philosophy or worldview much in the same way I think that atheism serves to be but a small component of an atheist’s overall being rather than their entire identity.
Atheism As a Philosophy Vs Philosophical Atheism.
There are some who speak of philosophical atheism. There are a number of things they could be talking about here but, usually, they are speaking of atheism as a proposition. even though atheism is polysemous, even within philosophy, it is the most common definition used.
However, they could also be speaking of those who engage in atheistic philosophy or at the very least, are referring to those who consider their atheism a bit more than “I only lack belief”, and have well-thought-out and reasoned positions, even if they do hold to the lack of belief definition of atheism, and don’t go around meme bombing threads, repeating erroneous catch phrases like “you can’t prove a negative” or blindly following the likes of Ra and Dillahunty without applying a heavy dose of scepticism to them, or themselves. In some regards, this could be seen in a similar light yo atheism as a philosophy.
I’m sure there are those that use it in an elitist fashion as well, in the same way “new atheist” can be used both to describe the new wave of outspoken atheism that was popularised in the early 2000’s (though roots date back further, the term was coined in ’06) or it can be used pejoratively to describe the behaviours of the online lack of belief atheist that seem to have turned atheism into an ideology.
Philosophical Atheism Summary
Philosophical atheism is usually just a way of implying you are speaking of propositional atheism instead of the more colloquial lack of belief atheism.
It could also be used to describe atheistic philosophy or those that engage with atheistic philosophy.
There is some crossover with atheism as a philosophy and sometimes it is used to either describe a more rational approach to atheism and/or is used in an elitist/derogatory way towards lack of belief atheists.
Summary of Atheism as a Philosophy
Atheism is not necessarily a philosophy, nor is it necessarily the belief or proposition gods do not exist, but when talking about atheism as a philosophy it refers to; the ontological position that god does not exist, the logical entailments of that position, the justifications for accepting that position and consideration of the arguments for and against that and a variety of a/theological positions.
To simplify things, atheism as a philosophy is atheistic philosophy whereas atheism as a position is a negative answer to the question, “Does God Exist?”
You don’t have to see atheism as a philosophy or proposition yourself to understand that some of us atheists do.
Atheism might be entailed by a worldview such as naturalism, or atheism can lead you to naturalism or any other worldview.
Atheism can be a position, a philosophy, be part of a larger philosophy, or can be regarded simply as an absence of a psychological state.
Final Thoughts on Atheists, Atheism and Philosophy
Hopefully, this has helped explain how atheism can be a philosophy, and even if you don’t see it that way yourself, will stop you from making foolish statements claiming it isn’t or that what atheists do has nothing to do with atheism:
And hopefully, if you came here with a bias against philosophy due to negative experiences with apologists in the past, I’ve piqued your interest a little and you might not be so resistant to learning more, at least when it comes to philosophical topics such as rationality, scepticism, critical thinking and logic, lest you might end up rejecting the rules of logic:
And if it is not funny enough that they outright claim the law of identity is meaningless when questioned if they understand the rules of logic, they react like this:
It’s ignorance and behaviours like this that show many of us atheists need philosophy, especially in the realm of logic, scepticism, rationality and critical thinking. Atheism alone doesn’t necessarily make you good at any of those things, and the rejection of philosophy often leads you down the path of some really bad atheist arguments.
- Can you prove a negative? 🤔 YES! 🤯You just NEED to KNOW how! 🤓
- If There’s No Evidence, It Doesn’t Exist
- Confused Claims, Contradictions and Incoherence
- Misunderstanding The Null Hypothesis and Knowledge.
- Scepticism, Dogma, and the Definition of Atheism
- There Can Be Only ONE!
- Bad Atheist Arguments – Vol:4 – Contradictory Claims and Statements
- Bad Atheist Arguments – Vol: 03 – Philosophy and Fallacies
- Bad Atheist Arguments – Vol: 02 – Beliefs and Logic
- Bad Atheist Arguments – Vol: 01 – The Bible and Evidence
I’m Joe. I write under the name Davidian, not only because it is a Machine Head song I enjoy but because it was a game character I used to role-play that was always looking to better himself.
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