Friday, June 20, 2008

What is meant by Humanism? by Center for Inquiry

The term “humanism” runs the risk of being defined either so broadly or so narrowly that it leaves the inquirer perplexed: How should she define a movement that can mean, and has meant, everything from the rediscovery of classical form during the renaissance to the first stirrings of anti-theism and rationalism during the eighteenth century?

What almost all significant definitions of humanism have in common is an emphasis on what human beings can accomplish without the assistance of “higher powers.” If this is the basic definition, then all of man’s accomplishments—in science, mathematics, politics, architecture, literature, and art—have something to do with the humanist perspective.
Many humanists also add to this list another important achievement: the creation of the secular state and representative government.
The monarchies of the ancient and medieval world were based on the belief that the sovereign ruled as God’s regent and issued laws supported by divine authority. Just as architecture in
the eighteenth century moved away from the building of great cathedrals and basilicas to the creation of great public and government buildings, so too the forms of government changed to embody the belief that people, not a deity, are the source of the justice—and injustice--and value of laws. The challenges to supernaturalism and certain dogmatic forms of religious belief became closely identified with the meaning of the term humanism.

In the modern era, humanism has become associated with championing the methods that the early practitioners of scientific method brought into being. The advances of the pure and applied sciences have immeasurably enlarged the sphere of human knowledge. By the same token, however, those methods are often badly misunderstood, poorly communicated to the public, and suspected by some of being harmful to the formulation of sound ethical principles. The
life-stance called “secular humanism” refers especially to the mission and vision of the Center for Inquiry, which is to champion freedom of inquiry, the use of reason-based ethics, and critical, scientific intelligence in all fields of human endeavor.

This is not a narrow “scientistic” worldview, but a frank acknowledgement that human beings are responsible for the world, their role in it, and the creation of the values that define human relationships. The humanist perspective is positive and affirmative; it is a celebration, and a critique, of the choices that human beings have made throughout history. But, like the ancient
philosophers, the humanist is involved in a quest for new understandings of her world.

The CFII is a unique place to begin this quest. We hope you will join us for this exploration of “the best that has been thought and said in the world.”

-R. Joseph Hoffmann, Director
Center for Inquiry Institute

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