This will be a hopefully polite polemic in a meta-philosophical mode, as a recent thought has alighted on a lack of clarity as to why anyone would engage with or pursue philosophy as a discipline. And with typical impoliteness I won’t spend very long on dismissing those reasons which are not my own.
We can dispense with those who choose it solely as a career. And we also can with those who think it appears profound, or arcane, or any other mode which is primarily about how one is perceived. I will dispense with those who have overriding interests in one of the more technical areas, which is not to give them the same shrift as the first categories, simply because that is not my mode.
My mode is, frankly, not original. But it exists for reasons which seem to be missed even by those most naturally constituted to host it. It is serious. Far more serious than contingent fripperies such as survival, or happiness. That mode, once again, is atheism. And the word here is not meant as an affiliation meaning a rejection of specific religions, or religious concepts. It isn’t the banner term under which people like me will argue and debate with those not of the same type. It is about a basic understanding of the nature of the world, and so ourselves.
Atheism, proper atheism, is only a rejection of anything at all because of the need to reject falsities imposed upon it. Without those falsities it is neither a negative enterprise, nor is it an empty partisan stance. It still has to stand for certain things. It stands, for example, for the reality that any reason for the existence of ourselves or the universe we inhabit is not a reason in any human sense. There may be cosmological, or mathematical, ‘reasons’ why things happen to be, and why they happen to be this way, but this is not what is meant when people generally refer to there being a reason for things.
This is noted, and accepted by many, though a dismayingly small cohort for a word like ‘many’, especially in such an advanced period. But even then, few of that many realise what it means. Because it means everything is, in a very strong sense, false. Everything you are, everything you believe, everything you attach to history, morality, tradition, folk psychology, is false and unjustified. No religion is true, or any truer than any other. No tradition or culture is better in any sense. No choice is better than any other. No evaluation or judgement is any more cogent than any other. No action is more effective. No belief is any more worthy.
This is why atheists are reviled. Historically it is why they have been killed or excluded. So much so that even today most atheists do little but pander to the less realistic, trying endlessly to reconcile the above with the asinine traditions humans seem unable to rise above, as if they had any more justification or truth-bearing nature than how a bird decorates its nest, or how it dances to attract interest. Because it does undermine everything. It does mean that how people lives their lives, the lives they often imagine are divinely sanctioned or guided, is empty and false.
And this is a crisis. It is the fundamental crisis, so fundamental that almost no one can see it. And, of the few who can, most cannot bear it, or bear to spare the real effort it takes to understand it. It is not some intellectual dilettante stance; it is not some childish excuse to indulge in immorality. It is not an excuse to read dense books in foreign languages and affect to be superior. It is the most pressing reason to dwell in philosophy. And it is the least regarded, least rewarded, always misunderstood and denigrated.
To torture a metaphor, a one-eyed man is not a king in a world of the blind. Or if he is it is also a deeply republican world itching only to gouge that eye. In this world of the blind it is denied that there could be eyes, or anything to see. And so the task to respond to that crisis, the crisis of unanticipatedly and unintentionally being here is not allowed, it is not respected or even recognised in the main. The bitterest of ironies is to have the one thing that might approach being called true ignored and rejected by everyone, in the name of unending lies.