Being Human

Acg1 S.J. Fowler interviews A.C. Grayling over at 3:AM Magazine:

3:AM: In a meaningful sense, your atheism seems to refute the idea that atheism is a philosophical necessity that results in pessimism. To what extent must atheism and the fragility of human nature be taken as given for us to begin legitimately philosophising?

ACG: As has been well said, atheism is to religious belief what not collecting stamps is to stamp collecting. If instead of ‘atheism’ you use the word ‘afairyism’ or some such, to illustrate the fact that there is no real subject matter in play (whereas ‘religion’ – a man-made phenomenon that has been a massive presence in history – is a different matter) you see that all that talk of ‘atheism’ does is to close down certain absurdities that get in the way of doing metaphysics and ethics properly. Whereas talk of ‘religion’ requires us to address the questions of the place of religious voices in the public square; this is where secularism becomes important.

3:AM: Can it be said if we are not overarchingly religious, nor taken with project of self improvement and personal responsibility, then we are inhabiting an age of ambivalence rather than nihilism or religosity. Now it seems the question of meaning is not answered yes or no, but not asked at all, especially in the young. Do you think consumerism, isolation, distraction has taken the place of any stringent belief?

ACG: Given half an invitation to reflect philosophically on the value and direction of life, people quickly begin to do so. (The religions do not want people to think philosophically, because then they begin to question the one-size-fits-all pieties that the religions sell.) The ‘distractions’ of entertainment, consumerism and co have more of a point in them than we sometimes acknowledge, because fun, pleasure, beauty and recreation are significant aspects of experience. But they don’t entirely stop people thinking about questions of value, for human lives also have sorrow and loss in them, and difficult choices, and periods of depression, all of which remind people of the task of thinking and choosing, which is inescapable. Philosophy can provide materials and suggestions here, and encouragement to think; that is or should be one of its principal gifts.