What Is Humanism

Humanism involves any concern with humans first and foremost.

Tina S
Tina S
Mar 21, 2010
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Humanism is a way of thinking and living that aims to bring out the best in people, so that all people may have the best in life. Humanists reject all supernatural and authoritarian beliefs and believe that we must take responsibility for our own lives and for the community and world in which we live. The humanist life-stance emphasizes rational and scientific inquiry, individual freedom and responsibility, and the need for tolerance and cooperation.

                                                                         --The International Humanist and Ethical Union

"My country is the world and my religion is to do good."

—Thomas Paine

"There is one mind common to all individual men. Every man is an inlet . . . . What Plato has thought, he may think; what a saint has felt, he may feel; what at any time has befallen any man, he can understand."

—Ralph Waldo Emerson


Humanism is a worldview and a moral philosophy that considers humans to be of primary importance. It is a perspective common to a wide range of ethical stances that attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, particularly rationality. Although the word has many senses, its current philosophical meaning comes into focus when contrasted to the supernatural or to appeals to higher authority.

Humanism is an approach to life based on humanity and reason – humanists recognize that moral values are properly founded on human nature and experience alone and that the aims of morality should be human welfare, happiness and fulfillment. Our decisions are based on the available evidence and our assessment of the outcomes of our actions, not on any dogma or sacred text.

• Humanism is a naturalistic view, encompassing atheism and agnosticism as responses to theistic claims, but is an active and ethical philosophy greater than these reactions to religion.

• Humanists believe in individual rights and freedoms, but believe that individual responsibility, social cooperation and mutual respect are just as important.

• Humanists believe that people can and will continue to find solutions to the world's problems, so that quality of life can be improved for everyone.

• Humanists are positive, gaining inspiration from our lives, art and culture, and a rich natural world.

According to Frederick Edwords Executive Director, American Humanist Association:

The word "humanism" has a number of meanings, and because authors and speakers often don't clarify which meaning they intend, those trying to explain humanism can easily become a source of confusion. Fortunately, each meaning of the word constitutes a different type of humanism -- the different types being easily separated and defined by the use of appropriate adjectives.

The different varieties of humanism in this way.

Literary Humanism is a devotion to the humanities or literary culture.

Renaissance Humanism is the spirit of learning that developed at the end of the middle ages with the revival of classical letters and a renewed confidence in the ability of human beings to determine for themselves truth and falsehood.

Cultural Humanism is the rational and empirical tradition that originated largely in ancient Greece and Rome, evolved throughout European history, and now constitutes a basic part of the Western approach to science, political theory, ethics, and law.

Philosphical Humanism is any outlook or way of life centered on human need and interest. Sub-categories of this type include Christian Humanism and Modern Humanism.

Christian Humanism is defined by Webster's Third New International Dictionary as "a philosophy advocating the self- fulfillment of man within the framework of Christian principles." This more human-oriented faith is largely a product of the Renaissance and is a part of what made up Renaissance humanism.

Modern Humanism, also called Naturalistic Humanism, Scientific Humanism, Ethical Humanism and Democratic Humanism is defined by one of its leading proponents, Corliss Lamont, as "a naturalistic philosophy that rejects all supernaturalism and relies primarily upon reason and science, democracy and human compassion." Modern Humanism has a dual origin, both secular and religious, and these constitute its sub-categories.

Secular Humanism is an outgrowth of 18th century enlightenment rationalism and 19th century freethought. Many secular groups, such as the Council for Democratic and Secular Humanism and the American Rationalist Federation, and many otherwise unaffiliated academic philosophers and scientists, advocate this philosophy.

Religious Humanism emerged out of Ethical Culture, Unitarianism, and Universalism. Today, many Unitarian- Universalist congregations and all Ethical Culture societies describe themselves as humanist in the modern sense.

Educational humanism

Humanism, as a current in education, began to dominate U.S. school systems in the 17th century. It held that the studies that develop human intellect are those that make humans "most truly human". The practical basis for this was faculty psychology, or the belief in distinct intellectual faculties, such as the analytical, the mathematical, the linguistic, etc. Strengthening one faculty was believed to benefit other faculties as well (transfer of training).

A key player in the late 19th-century educational humanism was U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris, whose "Five Windows of the Soul" (mathematics, geography, history, grammar, and literature/art) were believed especially appropriate for "development of the faculties". Marxists such as Terry Eagleton have criticized such views by pointing out the refined cultural tastes of some Nazi concentration camp guards.

It is one thing to observe that humans are not valued by the universe at large, but quite another to conclude that therefore humans are not really valuable after all. It is one thing to observe that humans are but a tiny aspect of the universe and even of life on our own planet, but quite another to conclude that humans can have no important role to play in how nature progresses in the future.

We can conclude then that a philosophy, world view, or system of beliefs is "humanistic" whenever it shows a primary or overriding concern with the needs and abilities of human beings. Its morality is based upon human nature and human experience. It values human life and our ability to enjoy our lives so long as we don't harm others in the process.


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