Why is Philosophy Important? Why Should Atheists Care About Philosophy?

Why 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:

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 hard, skeptical questioning. Irreligious atheists need to learn how to analyze concepts, definitions and arguments in a way conducive towards developing solutions for particular problems. If an atheist is good at this, they can have greater assurance that their beliefs may be reasonable, consistent and well-founded because they have examined them systematically and carefully.
Communication Skills: A person who excels at communicating in the field of philosophy can also excel at communication in other areas. When debating religion and theism, atheist need to express their ideas clearly and precisely, both in speaking and in writing. Far too many problems in debates about religion and theism can be traced to imprecise terminology, unclear concepts, and other issues that would be overcome if people were better at communicating what they are thinking.
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. 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. 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, but the more you know about yourself, the easier it will be.
Persuasive Skills: The reason for developing problem solving and communication skills is not simply to gain a better understanding of the world, but also to get others to agree with that understanding. 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. It is obvious that irreligious atheists seek to persuade others that religion and theism are irrational, unfounded, and perhaps even dangerous, but how can they accomplish this if they lack the skill for communicating and explaining their positions?
Remember, 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, meaning, society and morality. Thus, the question is not really "Who cares about doing philosophy," but rather "Who cares about doing philosophy well?" Studying philosophy isn't simply about learning how to ask and answer these questions, but about how to do it in a systematic, careful, and reasoned manner — exactly what irreligious atheists say isn't typically done by religious believers when it comes to their own religious beliefs.
Everyone who cares about whether or not their thinking reasonable, well-founded, well-developed and coherent should care about doing this well. 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. These are qualities which the study of philosophy can bring to a person's questioning and curiosity, and that is why the subject is so important. We may never arrive at any final answers, but in many ways it is the journey which is most important, not the


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