From The Art and Popular Culture Encyclopedia
- "...I created thee as a being neither celestial nor earthly, neither mortal nor immortal alone, so that thou shouldst be thy own free moulder and overcomer; thou canst degenerate to animal, and through thyself be reborn to godlike existence ... Thou alone hast power to develop and grow according to free will." --Oration on the Dignity of Man, 1486 by Pico della Mirandola
Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. The term has a complex history and is used to mean several things, most notably, (1) an educational movement, associated especially with the Italian Renaissance, that emphasized the study of Greek and Roman literature, rhetoric, and moral philosophy – the humanities – in the formation of character. Historically, this revival of Greek and Roman learning was seen as complementing rather than conflicting with religion. Today, the terms humanist, humanism, and humanistic in this historical sense have broadened in meaning to encompass all literary culture (not just Greek and Roman), and indeed, cultural activity in general. And (2) a secular ideology that espouses benevolence through the use of reason, ethics, and justice, whilst specifically rejecting supernatural and religious dogma as a basis of morality and decision-making. This latter use characterizes modern organized Secular Humanism as a specific humanistic life stance. Thus, in modern times Humanism has come to connote a rejection of appeals to the supernatural or to some higher authority. This development of Humanism arose from a trajectory extending from the deism and anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment to the various secular movements of the nineteenth century (such as positivism) and the overarching expansion of the scientific project. However, in traditional religious circles, humanism is still not seen as conflicting with religious dogma.
Polemics about humanism have sometimes assumed paradoxical twists and turns. Early twentieth century critics such as Ezra Pound, T.E. Hulme, and T.S. Eliot, considered humanism to be sentimental "slop" (Hulme) or overly feminine (Pound) and wanted to go back to a more manly, authoritarian society such as (they believed) existed in the Middle Ages. "Post Modern" critics who are self-described anti-humanists, such as Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, have asserted that humanism posits an overarching and excessively abstract notion of humanity or universal human nature, which can then be used as a pretext for imperialism and domination of those deemed somehow less than human. Philosopher Kate Soper notes that by faulting humanism for falling short of its own benevolent ideals, anti-humanism thus frequently “secretes a humanist rhetoric”. In his book, Humanism (1997), Tony Davies calls these critics "humanist anti-humanists". Critics of antihumanism, most notably Jürgen Habermas, counter that while antihumanists may highlight humanism's failure to fulfill its emancipatory ideal, they do not offer an alternative emancipatory project of their own. Others, like the German philosopher Heidegger considered themselves humanists on the model of the ancient Greeks, but thought humanism applied only to the German "race" and specifically to the Nazis and thus, in Davies' words, were anti-humanist humanists. Davies acknowledges that after the horrific experiences of the wars of the twentieth century "it should no longer be possible to forumulate phrases like 'the destiny of man' or the 'triumph of human reason' without an instant consciousness of the folly and brutality they drag behind them." For "it is almost impossible to think of a crime that has not been committed in the name of human reason." Yet, he continues, "it would be unwise to simply abandon the ground occupied by the historical humanisms. For one thing humanism remains on many occasions the only available alternative to bigotry and persecution. The freedom to speak and write, to organize and campaign in defense of individual or collective interests, to protest and disobey: all these can only be articulated in humanist terms."
Related concepts and philosophies
- Free thought
- Human potential movement
- LaVeyan Satanism
- Marxist humanism
- Objectivity (philosophy)
- Community organizing
- Humanistic psychology
- Social psychology
- Ten Commandment Alternatives - Secular and humanist alternatives to the Ten Commandments