Recently I have had several people express curiosity about humanism. “What is humanism?” they ask. Off course, there’s a great deal of information available on the internet. Any search engine will turn up detailed information on and definitions of humanism. There are many websites dedicated to a variety of humanistic organizations. A few include the American Humanist Association,Corliss Lamont Website, and Paul Kurtz’s Council for Secular Humanism site. People who call themselves humanists come in a range of variety, from the secular humanist who is often an agnostic or atheist to the more inclusive type of humanist, such as many in the Unitarian Church, which even includes believers in some form of deity. The internet even gives you access to ‘Humanist Manifestos,’ of which my favorite is the first one composed in 1933. However, It refers to humanism as a religion, which many of us contemporary humanists would deny.
Because of the great amount of information floating about in the net on humanism, much of which might be confusing to someone trying to learn just a few basics about humanism, I have tried to summarize my view of humanism. Hopefully, this will not add to the reader’s confusion.
HUMANISM: (my personal view of humanism)
Humanism is simply a general philosophy of life which focuses on human reality and bases knowledge of our world on reason and the methods of science. In most forms, it rejects the theism of the major religions (belief in a deity who plays an active role in human life) and supernaturalism, or the belief in an otherworld, a reality separate from the natural reality, the world disclosed by science, ordinary experience and rational inquiry.
Some general points of this view of humanism include the following:
• humans are on their own; i.e., they build their world for better or worse, without any reliance on deities or the supernatural; and
• we gain knowledge of our world and our existence by our experience, use of reason, and use of scientific methods;
• such knowledge informs us that we have evolved into somewhat-intelligent, somewhat-rational beings in a physical environment, a world partly brought about by natural, evolutionary processes and partly created by cultural and historical processes.
• we lack knowledge of “supernatural realm”, including all gods, angels, or demons of much traditional religious culture.
Historically, humanistic thought focused on human reality instead of realm of God and theology.
• It dealt with human achievement, the sciences and the arts, human society and secular values.
• It left “other worldly” concerns to the churchmen, theologians, mystics and astrologers.
• The precursors of modern science: rationalism (the view that the human mind alone, without divine assistance, can discover truth) and empiricism (the view that careful observation and study of nature are the ways of learning about our world) involved elements of a naturalistic, humanistic philosophy.
Generally, humanism implies a secular, naturalistic perspective on reality:
• It focuses on this life: on happiness, fulfillment and meaning to be found in this life, not in some other-worldly paradise.
“Critical Humanism” or “Rational Humanism” implies a philosophy of critical thought that aims to explain reality, human reality and experience on the basis of reason, factual evidence, and scientific method, and not on the basis of religious faith or ancient scriptures.
Humanistic moral values include the following:
• Intellectual honesty – search for truth and understanding within a rational context;
• Concern with justice and fairness – moral imperatives that respect the value and dignity of human individuals;
• Moral evaluation of actions and policies based on the consequences of those actions; e.g. Utilitarian principles such as greatest happiness for the greatest number as a way of working to minimize suffering, hunger, deprivation and the disparity between rich and poor;
• Personal happiness by way of continuous striving, progress and achievement.
Humanity within a natural context . . . That’s all we have; that’s all we can really know.
The reality that we (human beings) can know and experience is comprised of the
natural realm, featuring natural processes, disclosed by physics, chemistry, geology and astronomy; the evolution of life and higher intelligence on this planet; the workings of the brain and the emergence of minds; the micro-universe disclosed by quantum physics, and so on;
and the cultural/social realm, a world brought about by human work, human thinking, historical and cultural processes.
This includes science, technology, engineering, the arts, literature, philosophies, religions, god(s), political states, governments, war, social institutions, laws, conventions, moralities, myths, legends, so on & so on….
This reality (created by human culture) also includes all “religious products” of human thought, work and experience (including mystical experience): religious doctrines, holy scriptures, so called “divine revelation,” and even the deity himself along with all other deities found in countless religious cultures.