The Humanist Philosophy
Humanism is a way of life that values human flourishing, freedom and the pursuit of knowledge. Humanists accept that we are responsible for our own futures and that this life is the only life we have. It is up to all of us to make the most of it and to help others do the same. Humanists inspire us to use our power of reason and our natural feeling of compassion to help create a better world in which each of us can reach our full potential.
This feeling of empathy extends not only to those alive today and to members of our own species and communities. Humanists implore us to show universal regard for all species that can suffer and for all people who will live after us.
Origins of Humanism
Humanist thought extends way back to the ancient Greeks who explored the nature of the good life and the value of free human enquiry based on reason and evidence. The Renaissance period in Europe saw a resurgence of humanist values in its downplaying of esoteric discussions about the supernatural in favour of paying more attention to literature and the exploration of the human condition.
Modern humanism arose as a reaction to the bloody religious wars that wreaked havoc in Europe in the sixteenth century and the untold horrors of the Second World War. As a result, in 1952 freethinkers in a number of countries formed the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU), now known as Humanists International.
The Humanist Approach
Humanists around the world hold a variety of beliefs and express their values in different ways. For Humanists, there is no holy book or canon that prescribes what a humanist must believe and value. None the less, Humanist beliefs and values coalesce around a common core that unify the movement and propel action around common causes. What Humanists are united in believing and valuing may best be described by principles espoused in IHEU’s (now Humanists International) Amsterdam Declaration 2002.
- 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 a response to the widespread demand for an alternative to dogmatic religion. The world’s major religions claim to be based on revelations fixed for all time, and many seek to impose their world-views on all of humanity. Humanism recognises that reliable knowledge of the world and ourselves arises through a continuing process of observation, evaluation and revision.
- Humanism values artistic creativity and imagination and recognises the transforming power of art. Humanism affirms the importance of literature, music, and the visual and performing arts for personal development and fulfilment.
- Humanism is a lifestance aiming at the maximum possible fulfilment through the cultivation of ethical and creative living and offers an ethical and rational means of addressing the challenges of our times. Humanism can be a way of life for everyone everywhere.
Above all, Humanists believe that through free inquiry, the power of science and creative imagination for furthering peace and compassion, we have the means to solve the problems that confront us all. Humanists call upon all who share this conviction to join with us in this noble endeavour.