Why Humanism: Part 1

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This blog’s official philosophical position is secular humanism.  We do, however, carry a quite a mixed bag of ideals and values. Mainly because we understand the dangers of labels. College education and self study has made me fortunate enough to come across at least a few philosophies that this blog now reflects.  Hopefully they are interesting enough to warrant reading about.

Humanism (General)

It’s difficult and perhaps unfair to name any one person as responsible for defining humanism. It has a rich history steeped in the intellectual revolution of the renaissance.  Humanism is a primarily a secular philosophy that makes human needs and concerns its primary position

“Since the earliest days of philosophic reflection in ancient times in both East and West thinkers of depth and acumen have advanced the simple proposition that the chief end of human life is to work for the happiness of humans upon this earth and within the confines of the Nature that is our home.”Corliss Lamont, The philosophy of Humanism

Some humanists still carry a belief on God or the supernatural, some of them even go to church (i.e. Unitarians). Religious humanism really only differs from other forms humanism in this regard. Worth mentioning because this reflects the flexibility of the philosophy. Humanism has no dogma or rigid rules that must be followed. Humanism can define you as a person, or not.  As a humanist you are free to go your own way and be your own person free from threats of hell and the pressures that come with the institutionalization of religions and creeds.

Secular Humanism

Secular humanism shares many of the values , ideals  and principles of other forms of humanism but rejects theism and all forms of superstition and the pseudosciences. It endorses reason and science as a means to better the human condition and looks to nature for hope and meaning.

The philosophy that best describes this blog’s position is the one defined by The Council for Secular Humanism.

“We can now attempt our definition of secular humanism. Secular humanism begins with atheism (absence of belief in a deity) and agnosticism or skepticism (epistemological caution that rejects the transcendent as such due to a lack of evidence). Because no transcendent power will save us, secular humanists maintain that humans must take responsibility for themselves. While atheism is a necessary condition for secular humanism, it is not a sufficient one. Far from living in a moral vacuum, secular humanists “wish to encourage wherever possible the growth of moral awareness and the capacity for free choice and an understanding of the consequences thereof.”

Secular humanism emerges, then, as a comprehensive nonreligious life stance that incorporates a naturalistic philosophy, a cosmic outlook rooted in science, and a consequentialist ethical system.” Tom Flynn

In the declaration there is a more specific set of principles: Free inquiry, separation of church and state, the ideal of freedom, ethics based on critical intelligence,  moral education, religious skepticism, reason, science and technology, evolution, education.

For a quicker version try The Affirmations of Humanism: A Statement of Principles. I have included the printable version I now have framed and hanging on my living room wall.

IHEU (International Humanist and Ethical Union) and The American Humanist Association also have eloquent definitions of humanism.

Transhumanism

This is one of the most recent forms of humanism and it has one significant difference from other forms of humanism: an emphasis on technological progress and evolution.

“Transhumanism is a class of philosophies of life that seek the continuation and acceleration of the evolution of intelligent life beyond its currently human form and human limitations by means of science and technology, guided by life-promoting principles and values.” (Max More 1990)”

The Transhumanist Declaration

In 2003 Max More formulated the philosophy of Extropy, a close cousin of transhumanism, and defined it as follows:

“The Principles of Extropy do not specify particular beliefs, technologies, or policies. The Principles do not pretend to be a complete philosophy of life. The world does not need another totalistic dogma. The Principles of Extropy do consist of a handful of principles (or values or perspectives) that codify proactive, life-affirming and life-promoting ideals. Individuals who cannot comfortably adopt traditional value systems often find the Principles of Extropy useful as postulates to guide, inspire, and generate innovative thinking about existing and emerging fundamental personal, organizational, and social issues.” (Max More 2003)

Within this introduction More writes (emphasis mine):

“The Principles do not pretend to be a complete philosophy of life. The world does not need another totalistic dogma… . Individuals who cannot comfortably adopt traditional value systems often find the Principles of Extropy useful as postulates to guide, inspire, and generate innovative thinking about existing and emerging fundamental personal, organizational, and social issues.”

This blog takes this view on all philosophies.

A couple of other interesting philosophies and worldviews:

Progressive Humanism: “Progressive Humanism is fortified by an optimistic attitude toward our long-range future. It is based on four principles: We are one species (the essential unity of humanity), We are masters of our own fate (no passing the buck to some deity), Truth changes (the situational nature of values and other verities), Progress is inevitable (eventually).”

Universal Unitarianism: A form of religious humanism that “..celebrates diversity of belief and is guided by seven principles. Our congregations are places where we gather to nurture our spirits and put our faith into action through social justice work in our communities and the wider world.”

In Part 2 of this essay will answer the question: Why not any other worldview or philosophy?

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