Anti-philosophy in the atheosphere

I just got done writing two posts which explicitly apply philosophy to the practical issues of gender and orientation. Meanwhile in the atheosphere, PZ Myers wrote two posts defending philosophy as a field, to the disagreement of many commenters. Anti-philosophy sentiments in the atheist movement are nothing new, but I continue to find them strange since the atheist movement is more dependent on philosophy than literally any other social movement I know of.

A lot of this has to do with what people consider to be the central example of philosophy. My central example of philosophy is modern analytic philosophy, particularly 20th century philosophy of language and logic. Most atheists, on the other hand, seem to think the central examples of philosophy are anti-scientific skepticism and religious apologetics.

If you’ve had bad experiences with philosophy, obviously there’s nothing I can do to eliminate those experiences. But for what it’s worth, there was a survey of professional philosophers which found the following views:

External world: non-skeptical realism 81.6%; skepticism 4.8%; idealism 4.3%; other 9.2%.
God: atheism 72.8%; theism 14.6%; other 12.6%.
Science: scientific realism 75.1%; scientific anti-realism 11.6%; other 13.3%.

 
Roughly, that means most philosophers believe there is no god, that there is an external world, and science is a good way to study it. It’s also worth noting that philosophers who disagree with these points often simply disagree on obscure details. For example, under “antirealism”, the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy lists empiricism and historicism, which sound reasonable at a glance.

It’s also worth noting that “philosophy” is a heterogeneous concept, and that it is incoherent to generalize over the whole thing. I mentioned in my last post the distinction between the “analytic” and “continental” traditions of philosophy, the former being taught in philosophy departments, the latter being taught in English departments (according to my boyfriend, who studied philosophy).

Frankly I don’t care for continental philosophy. That’s where anti-scientific extreme social constructivism comes from. Even when continental philosophers are trying to be pro-science, I still don’t like it.

But hey, even if continental philosophers are categorically bad, that says nothing about analytic philosophers. Going further, even if analytic philosophers of metaphysics are categorically bad, that says nothing about analytic philosophers of language.

Moving away from academic philosophy, there’s also the informal philosophy that people employ for everyday use. I’m talking about really basic things, like discerning between good and bad arguments. Obviously this is very different from academic philosophy, but I think it’s important to recognize it as a distant relative.

The thing is, atheism is supposed to be an intellectual movement, yes? We are atheists because we think atheism is more true? Then we should hold intellectual elitism as a value. I mean, don’t go overboard, because accessibility and effective social action are also values. All I’m saying is, if you have the interest and ability, you should go ahead and learn what experts say on a subject. Sometimes those experts are philosophers. Do you like to talk about the cosmological argument? Philosophers have a nice catalog of rebuttals to it. Do you argue over definitions all the time? Philosophers have thought a lot about what makes a definition tick. You know, look it up on Wikipedia, same as you would for many other topics of conversation. On rare occasions you may find it worthwhile.

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8 thoughts on “Anti-philosophy in the atheosphere

  1. luvtheheaven March 10, 2016 / 3:01 pm

    “PZ Myers wrote two posts defending philosophy as a field, to the disagreement of many commenters. ” Lol wow. Count me surprised this is an issue. I haven’t been involved in most online atheist discourse for half a decade, but still… I think I always hung out in corners that appreciated analytic philosophy and considered that to be what philosophy was. 😛 And were aware that the majority of philosophers were atheists.

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  2. Trav Mamone March 10, 2016 / 3:44 pm

    I’m a philosophy minor myself, and while I’m debating whether or not to go further into the field once I get my BA in English, studying philosophy has helped my argument skills. As far as my philosophical theories, feminist pragmatism is probably the best description.

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  3. epochryphal March 11, 2016 / 7:54 am

    *stares into the distance thinking about atheism as an intellectual movement, rather than a belief descriptor, and how that makes sense of a lot of felt dissonance and is a useful framing*

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  4. Siggy March 11, 2016 / 8:15 am

    @epocryphal,

    I have long advocated the view that atheism is a modern social movement. The trouble is that many atheists are not part of the social movement, and those who are have a tendency to deny that any such movement exists. Here’s a good article on that topic.

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  5. luvtheheaven March 11, 2016 / 11:28 am

    Also, in the Asexual Agenda Linkspam on December 18th: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2015/12/18/linkspam-december-18th-2015/ Nancy Leong published a paper in the Southern California Law Review on asexuality and other negative identities. That PDF was an amazing read and spoke in detail about how atheism is so much more than just not believing in any gods and the same goes for all 4 of the negative identities explored there. (I’m so grateful that it was in that linkspam!)

    Also… I am pretty sure I never saw this post of yours, Siggy, before: https://asexualagenda.wordpress.com/2013/12/02/negative-may-be-better-than-the-alternative/ but… relevant. 😛

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  6. Siggy March 11, 2016 / 12:48 pm

    @luvtheheaven,

    I bookmarked Nancy Leong’s paper intending to read it, but after a while I decided that I would never start. Someone needs to write a summary.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. epochryphal March 11, 2016 / 3:34 pm

    oooo. so many links. thanks a bunch!! it sounds like atheist is sorta the umbrella name, rather than secular, which is super interesting. and that the atheist/agnostic distinction was maybe more externally imposed? mmmm gotta read up on my history this is a great start, way better than the library books on Yay Secularism i’ve been finding

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  8. Siggy March 11, 2016 / 5:21 pm

    Atheist is sort of the umbrella term? The word “atheist” has been a stronger rallying point than any other words, even when individuals may more strongly identify with agnostic or humanist. But there’s also the Secular Student Alliance, which uses “secular” as their umbrella term.

    Atheist label politics are super fascinating, particularly since they seem to have developed without the same degree of introspection as orientation & gender terms.

    Liked by 1 person

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