[Note: Speakers from HAT are willing to talk to your group or organization about Humanism. Please send enquiries to our: Spokesperson]
"Humanism is a philosophy or life-stance based upon a profound respect for human dignity and the conviction that human beings are ultimately accountable to themselves and to society for their actions. It is a deity-free worldview that affirms our ability to lead ethical and meaningful lives without reliance upon a belief in the supernatural. Humanists are guided by reason and scientific inquiry, inspired by music and art, and motivated by ethics, compassion and fairness."
"Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethics based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.”
The Minimum International definition of Humanism, from the International Humanist and Ethical Association
Humanism can be traced from Classical Humanism, Plato and Aristotle, to the rediscovery of these writers in the Renaissance, and to modern philosophers who discuss the ethical behaviour of human beings in the world we live in. Humanism is a way of looking at the world, and our place in it. As a philosophy, there are no prescribed tenets or creeds, but most local Humanists and those who wish to be affiliated with the International movement subscribe to the above definition.
See also the International Amsterdam Declaration, including the excerpts below:
- Humanism is ethical. It affirms the worth, dignity and autonomy of the individual and the right of every human being to the greatest possible freedom compatible with the rights of others. Humanists have a duty of care to all of humanity including future generations. Humanists believe that morality is an intrinsic part of human nature based on understanding and a concern for others, needing no external sanction.
- Humanism is rational. It seeks to use science creatively, not destructively. Humanists believe that the solutions to the world's problems lie in human thought and action rather than divine intervention. Humanism advocates the application of the methods of science and free inquiry to the problems of human welfare. But Humanists also believe that the application of science and technology must be tempered by human values. Science gives us the means but human values must propose the ends.
- Humanism supports democracy and human rights. Humanism aims at the fullest possible development of every human being. It holds that democracy and human development are matters of right. The principles of democracy and human rights can be applied to many human relationships and are not restricted to methods of government.
- Humanism insists that personal liberty must be combined with social responsibility. Humanism ventures to build a world on the idea of the free person responsible to society, and recognises our dependence on and responsibility for the natural world. Humanism is undogmatic, imposing no creed upon its adherents. It is thus committed to education free from indoctrination.
Humanism is an evolving philosophy, but there are some mutually supported documents and declarations. We have listed TEN PRINCIPLES OF HUMANISM below, as well as links to the Amsterdam Declaration, and other important Humanist documents.
Most Humanist organizations use the symbol of the "Happy Human", designed for the British Humanist Association in 1956.
It's useful to note that Humanists come in many forms: all are non-theists, most are atheists, though not all atheists are Humanists; some Humanists identify themselves as spiritual, but non-theistic. (All are secularists. See a definition of these terms from the GALHA website, below)
Modern Humanism is very strong in Europe, particularly in the Netherlands, since the time of Erasmus. The modern Universiteit voor Humanistiek (University for Humanistics) founded in 1989, has a staff of 100. It's mission is to
"contribute to a humane society and a meaningful existence for every human being through academic research and education from a humanist point of view, in light of which social responsibility and individual autonomy are intertwined. The university has been active in carrying out academic research relating to social, ethical and worldview-related issues. It also supports the practical application of the knowledge acquired as a result of this research".
As a group, Humanists support equality for all people, the separation of the theological realm from civic life, and they work in their local communities and internationally to support freedom of expression, social justice, equal rights, and the principles expressed in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, (UDHR), the International Code of Human Rights .
The UDHR is a Humanist view of how to achieve a just and compassionate world. It was drafted by a Canadian, John Peters Humphrey, and brought to fruition by Eleanor Roosevelt and other Human Rights activists in 1948. The UDHR is the first non-religious "Bill of Rights of the World" an ethical statement (without reference to religion) of how we should all treat each other in the Global Village.
Here are some guiding principles, which have been endorsed by the Humanist Association of Canada and the Ontario Humanist Society:
TEN GUIDING PRINCIPLES OF HUMANISM
- Humanism aims at the full development of every human being.
- Humanists uphold the broadest application of democratic principles in all human relationships.
- Humanists advocate the use of scientific methods, both as a guide to distinguish fact from fiction and to help develop beneficial and creative uses of science and technology.
- Humanists affirm the dignity of every person and the right of the individual to maximum possible freedom compatible with the rights of others.
- Humanists call for the continued improvement of society so that no one may be deprived of the basic necessities of life, and for institutions and conditions to provide every person with opportunities for developing their full potential.
- Humanists support the development and extension of fundamental human freedoms, as expressed in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and supplemented by UN International Covenants comprising the United Nations Bill of Human Rights.
- Humanists advocate peaceful resolution of conflicts between individuals, groups, and nations.
- The humanist ethic encourages development of the positive potentialities in human nature, and approves conduct based on a sense of responsibility to oneself and to all other persons.
- Humanists affirm that individual and social problems can only be resolved by means of human reason, intelligent effort, critical thinking joined with compassion and a spirit of empathy for all living beings.
- Humanists affirm that human beings are completely a part of nature, and that our survival is dependent upon a healthy planet that provides us and all other forms of life with a sustainable environment.
There is even a 'philosophical' term to describe Ethical Humanism, EUPRAXSOPHY
Paul Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy to refer to philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism and Confucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural. A eupraxsophy is a nonreligious lifestance or worldview emphasizing the importance of living an ethical and exuberant life, and relying on rational methods such as logic, observation and science (rather than faith, mysticism or revelation) toward that end.
The word is based on the Greek words for "good", "practice", and "wisdom." Eupraxsophies, like religions, are cosmic in their outlook, but eschew the supernatural component of religion, avoiding the "transcendental temptation," as Kurtz puts it. Although critical of supernatural religion, he has attempted to develop affirmative ethical values of naturalistic humanism. Kurtz's Eupraxophy, then, is a practical analysis of morality that has much in common (if it is not identical to) the philosophy behind the Science of morality.
For more information, visit:
- Ontario Humanist Society
- International Humanist and Ethical Union
- Canadian Humanist Association
- Humanist Association of Toronto
- American Humanist Association
For a good discussion of the relationship between the terms SECULARISM, ATHEISM and HUMANISM, here is an article from GALHA, the Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association of Britain.
Is the absence of belief in a personal god, or gods. As such it is usually taken to encompass not just the idea that there is definitely no god, but the notion that the existence of a god is highly improbable (broadly the Richard Dawkins position) or not one that is seriously worth entertaining. Some religions, for example Buddhism, can be seen as atheistic given the absence of a personal god or gods from their creed. Some philosophies have argued that the notion of God is actually meaningless. Such a position, while not strictly atheistic carries similar implications in practice.
It is sometimes argued that if the existence of God (or gods) cannot be disproved then atheism is ultimately as much a 'faith' based position as, say, Christianity or Islam. Against this there are many ideas which cannot be disproved, but where disbelief would not be taken as a sign of faith. (I may need "faith" to believe in fairies, but is my lack of belief in them also an expression of "faith"?). Some atheists will advance arguments against the existence of god, such as occam's razor, where God is held to add complexity without ultimately explaining anything. The Problem of Evil is also often seen as an argument against the existence of a perfect and all-powerful god.
In terms of ethics and morality, atheism effectively precludes morality based on religious authority (although some atheists argued that even as a false idea, religion can still be socially useful). Some atheists of course also see value in certain religious injunctions (e.g. Christ's "Do unto others...") but do so on non-religious grounds, often arguing that these predate the religion in question anyway.
However a lack of belief in a god or gods carries no direct implications as to what moral system an atheist positively ascribes to. Hence there can be no single moral or political order that is synonymous with atheism. On the contrary, atheists can and have followed wildly diverse moral and ethical systems from Marxism to socialism, utilitarianism, social liberalism, conservatism and right wing authoritarianism and social-Darwinism, with different, and usually mutually incompatible, arguments used to defend each.
Is a broad belief system founded on the basic notion that moral values and actions can only be grounded in recognisably human attributes, including reason, experience and a natural sense of empathy towards humans and other living beings, rather than any form of instruction or "revelation". Some religious believers may describe themselves as humanist in stressing the value of human reason and experience as gifts from God, and the origins of humanism (going back at least to the 15th century) predate widespread acceptance of atheism. However in the 21st century the term is normally applied to atheists and agnostics adhering to humanistic values.
Because it is so broadly based, and because it lacks a "set text", followers of humanism adopt many different positions on social and moral issues, but will normally see reason and argument based on evidence as the path to resolvingconflicts. Humanism values individual autonomy and happiness and self-expression, much more so than most religious beliefs - such as Christianity where the will of God is paramount, or other atheistic systems such as Marxism (at least as implemented in many societies), where in practice individual interests may be sacrificed to the idea of "progress".
Humanism is sometimes accused of being overly optimistic, as far as human nature or social progress are concerned. In fact humanism does not depend on any such "faith" in humanity, merely on the pragmatic calculation that human reason and experience and feeling are the best guides to action that we currently happen to have available.
Similarly, humanism does not necessarily mean privileging human beings at the expense of other living things or the natural environment. On the contrary, the same principles of empathy and a duty of care apply.
Humanism has been notably supportive of gay rights, and was so long before these became mainstream, seeing LGBT equality essentially as a question of personal freedom and happiness, which also brings benefits to wider society. This contrasts markedly both with most religious positions (especially traditional Christianity and Islam and Orthodox Judaism), and with many non religious ones - such as the versions of Marxism implemented in the Soviet Union and in China.
Is broadly the belief that all religious beliefs and non-religious beliefs should enjoy equal protection under the law - provided that they do not impinge on the rights of others. In consequence, no religion (and normally no non-religious belief-system) should hold a socially or politically privileged position. Secularists have for example argued that the head of state should not be linked to a particular religion (as with the British Monarch in England), that religious bodies should not have special representation (as with Anglican Bishops in the House of Lords) and that schools run by religious bodies should not be funded by the state.
Many secularists go beyond this in seeing intrinsic value in a "shared space" in society. This would, for example, militate against the presence special schools for particular religious groups, even if all other religions, and all non religious groups (such as Humanists) also had access to the similarly exclusive facilities. This interpretation of secularism sees intrinsic social value in encouraging people from different cultures and belief systems to mix together rather than being divided even on a notionally "equal" basis.
Whilst atheists and humanists will by definition be secularist, secularism is also widely supported - to varying degrees - by religious believers, especially where a number of religions coexist in a society. And even adherents of a dominant religion may wish to avoid social conflict by granting equality to followers of other religions and to non believers. Further some religions stress the importance of free will, which sits ill with any social pressure applied on that religion's behalf.
Secularism is sometimes accused of seeking to suppress the freedom and interests of religious believers. On the contrary, followed to the letter, secularism will only impinge on religious freedom where this adversely affects others - as for example where religious beliefs are used to "justify" discrimination against women or gay people. There will in practice be some genuine conflicts of interest, but the secularist will try to resolve these by applying considerations that do not bias the decision in favour of one side - often the most challenging aspect of secularism.
Likewise there can be no "morality of secularism" as secularism is in essence a means of existing different belief systems to coexist as harmoniously as possible.