Monday, February 27, 2017

General Preface to Atheistic Philosophies

The (bibliography) to all sections in Atheist Philosophies is a separate web page.

Philosophy is a study of matters of foundational knowledge about life, morals, knowledge, language, reason and human values. It relies on what is known as the systematic approach and generally relies on rational arguments.[1]

Atheism is not considered a philosophy, nor is it a belief system.  However, many atheists embrace philosophies that have resonance with their secular world view.  There are many schools of philosophy, with different branches of inquiry.  This preface to Atheist Philosophies will focus on six major schools of thought, the important thinkers who defined and discoursed on philosophy and important books in each philosophic area.  The Preface will glance at Naturalism, Humanism, Existentialism, Objectivism, and Logical Positivism.  It will also briefly discuss Ludwig Feuerbach and Arthur Schopenhauer, because although they are not attached to the philosophic schools covered in atheist philosophies, both are very important in the history of atheist philosophy.

Philosophy is not necessarily a way of life, but a person’s actions are sometimes determined by the philosophic direction that has informed them.  At issue for atheists in the philosophic arena is the world view of the secular thinker vis-à-vis the view of the theist.  The nonreligious thinker sees the cosmos and all objects in it, including humans, as wholly material.  Metaphysical concepts such as the soul and immortality form no portion of atheist thinking.  The secular world view contains no room for supernatural concepts concerning a god who has caused the creation of the universe, the evolution of species, or who controls the physical world in any manner.

This Preface recommends two very accessible books for readers who do not have a general acquaintance with philosophy and philosophic terms.  It is recommended that beginning students read at least one before going on to the volumes recommended after each discussion of the various philosophic schools.

List of Books:

Popkin, Richard H. and Avrum Stroll.  Philosophy Made Simple. 2nd Rev. Ed. New York:Three Rivers Press, 1993.

Philosophy Made Simple is considered one of the best volumes to begin a study of Western philosophy.  The text covers ethics, political philosophy, metaphysics, philosophy of religion, the theory of knowledge, logic and contemporary philosophy.  Each area discussed begins with the earlier historical thinker and thought that exemplify it, and brings it up to the present. Many readers have found the chapter on contemporary philosophy the most helpful.  This volume does not make philosophy simple, but understandable.  Popkin is an excellent guide, but the atheist scholar might want to begin with Bryan Magee’s book, and then read Popkin and Stroll.

After absorbing the two books on this list, the secular reader will be well equipped to begin reading specific philosophies or works on schools of philosophy.  Popkin was a well-known expert on skepticism and a highly respected professor of philosophy.   (Note:  Popkin had some eccentric notions about the Kennedy assassination in his later years, but this in no way detracts from the rigorous scholarship of his work.)

Magee, Bryan. The Story of Philosophy. New York: DK Adult, 2001.

Magee is known as a great popularizer of philosophy.  He has created television shows on the topic.  Story is accessible, well written and beautifully illustrated.  Magee’s volume covers the Greek schools, Christianity and philosophy, the rationalists, the beginning of science, The empiricists, french thought, German philosophy, democracy and philosophy, and 20th Century philosophy.  The book is replete with gorgeous reproductions of art work and historic sites.  An advantage to this volume is the sidebars with additional information and colored boxes listing the “Key Works” of individual philosophers.

Readers who have become lost trying to understand the complex ideas and often tangled prose of many famous thinkers will appreciate Magee’s book.  He has a lively style.  An additional advantage for the secular reader is Magee’s prejudice against religion.  Philosophy is an excellent book for the beginning reader or the reader who wants a speedy review.  This is an easy to read text, so  more advanced students will not find it useful.

Further reading for students who are interested in General Philosophy:

Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher. (1998); Magee. The Great Philosophers (1998) Ted Honderich, (ed.) The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (1995); Bertrand Russell. History of Western Philosophy (1991 – considered outdated by many critics but still interesting);   Eliot Sober.  Key Questions in Philosophy (2008.)

The Teaching Company offers courses on Philosophy.  Most courses are in 12 to 24 class sessions of about a half hour each.  They are taught by some of the best University Professors in America. (    or 1 800 832 2412.  Some Courses offered are:  Modern Intellectual Tradition: From Descartes to Derrida; No Excuses: Existentialism and the Meaning of Life; Will to Power: The Philosophy of Friedrich Nietzsche; Quest for Meaning: Values, Ethics and the Modern Experience and more.

Professor Hubert Dreyfus offers a web course on Heidegger and one on Existentialism, which incorporates novels, specifically Dostoevsky’ Brothers Karamazov, and films, such as Breathless, with texts of existential philosophy.  These courses are on the University of California, Berkeley web site.  Please see this Atheist Philosophies section, Existential Philosophy: the Nietzsche section and the Heidegger section.  Dreyfus is a brilliant thinker and lecturer and the courses are free.

Works Cited:

[1] Wiki


 (See the bibliography) for all sections of atheist philosophies.  There are over 76 works listed.

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