Let's define humanism

@thatoneguy I move thic topic on a corresponding thread.

Please find this thread Humanism: Beliefs and Practices* for a more factual discussion on humanism.

My definition of secular humanism in plain terms is here Let's define humanism - #30 by lozenge.

This is incorrect.

Secular humanism comes from the Enlightenment humanism, I would say even from Renaissance humanism (drawing upon a rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy), which was rationalist, materialist or deist, and hedonist. This is the humanism I adhere to, and this is the secular humanism as defined and defended by CFI, see their humanist declaration A Secular Humanist Declaration | Free Inquiry.

This declaration absolutely does not say things like “just vague ideas, e.g. be nice to others, live life to the fullest”. On the contrary. They are consequentialist, they are not here to moralize people.

There is another tendency in humanism called religious humanism, which comes, indeed, from a liberalization of Christianism (Catholicism at the very origin).
Religious humanism is the movement embodied by the American Humanist Association, organized at the beginning by protestants (Unitarians).
I think they are indeed more around ideas like, “e.g. be nice to others, live life to the fullest”.

In France, there is very brutal split between the “science emphasis” aspect of secular humanism (which was taken by French humanist associations caring exclusively about the defense of modern science, like “L’Union rationaliste” and “Association française pour l’information scientifique”), and the “philosophical” aspect of secular humanism which was taken charge of by the state (see Jules Ferry, the 1905 law, etc.).

So rarely “humanist” (ethical aspect) people in France will first an foremost self-identify as “humanist”, rather, they will self-identify as proponents of “laïcité”, “universalisme Républicain”, etc. See the Franc-Tireur network (Fourest, Enthoven, etc.), or ConspiracyWatch (Rudy Reichstadt, etc.), even Charlie Hebdo to some extent. In general, these public intellectuals have ties with the government (something which also greatly differentiates these French “humanists” from their Anglo-Saxon counterparts). See also the political movement Printemps Républicain. And so there, it’s almost like humanism goes really from being a philosophy, an ethics, to being a political philosophy (separation of Church and state, how which which phenomenon (e.g. the veil) should be tackled politically, etc.).

Personnally, I think humanism is a philosophy, so I suscribe to the Anglo-Saxon secular humanist movement, in particular the American one, that of Paul Kurtz and the CFI. But I am also interested in the French fringes I describe above. I have nothing to see with religious humanism.

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@thatoneguy I don’t understand what motivates you to bring everything back to ethnic identity, even skin color (e.g. “It’s a unique thing designed by and for White liberals.”)…

To me, this kind of logic and rhetoric can act as self-fulfilling prophecy: if one keeps repeating that we are completely different and so we can’t communicate each other on common grounds, yes, at one point, naturally, it will become the case.

Again, it depends on which direction we decide to take.


Maybe, this remark could make me think of one (secular) humanist, A. C. Grayling, and the way he speaks, examples are videos like “A.C. Grayling on making the most of this life”, “A.C. Grayling: what makes a great life?”

Grayling belongs both to a secular humanist association, the “National Secular Society”, and a religious humanist association “Humanists UK”. He was academically trained by a logical positivist (so Enlightenment culture). This explaining maybe that.
This “mix” is not rare at all in Anglo-Saxon humanist culture.

Could you indicate what precisely makes you fell that secular humanism was about vague ideas, e.g. be nice to others, live life to the fullest?

Okay, that’s a lot. The thread title is targeted and concise. But the posts beg for drawn out philosophical histories. I love the enthusiasm but would much prefer discussing the here and now.

Many definitions of humanism have been provided and are readily accessible. Choosing one definition might be useful. Or not. For example, the dictionary provided by the American Psychological Association (APA) gives a definition of humanism. That definition has a link to phenomenology, which in turn provides a link to existentialism which then has a link to existential phenomenology and on and on. It’s turtles all the way down.

Summing up humanism might just be to recognize it and every other human endeavor (e.g., science) as an evolution from the APA explanation of existentialism:
" Existentialism represents a turning away from systematic philosophy, with its emphasis on metaphysical absolutes and principles of rational certainty, and toward an emphasis on the concrete existence of a human being “thrown” into a world that is merely “given” and contingent. Such a being encounters the world as a subjective consciousness, “condemned” to create its own meanings and values in an “absurd” and purposeless universe. The human being must perform this task without benefit of a fixed essence or inherent nature, and in the absence of any possibility of rational certainty."

And just to keep my comments to a single post, I do see a possible benefit to religious humanism. A “church” where humanists could regularly meet, and that people could drive by and say to themselves, “Hmm, maybe that’s a good place to go as I need help with this sometimes brutal life.”

Existentialism is anti-science. It is an outgrowth of European Romanticism. I know they might consider themselves as humanist Existentialism Is a Humanism - Wikipedia, but this is because humanism can have very general meanings.

As I said elsewhere, there are also different forms of individualism, many of them are hurtful. Same for humanism.

The point is to find which form of humanism brings to the highest goal.

And, IMO, it’s secular humanism.

Somehow, you confirm here @thatoneguy impression (quoted above).

Oh, I hope not. Nowhere do I say humanism is just a set of vague ideas. What I said was that definitions already exist. Pick one that you like and let’s progress from there.

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I said that because of “And just to keep my comments to a single post, I do see a possible benefit to religious humanism. A “church” where humanists could regularly meet”

My definition of secular humanism is that of the secular humanism declaration by CFI. I referred and linked to it in my original post.

“The origins of existentialism have been traced to a range of thinkers, including French philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal (1623–1662)…”
He knew a thing or two about science.

Nah, Pascal had two lives, the first one is science, the second one is christianity.

In 1646, he and his sister Jacqueline identified with the religious movement within Catholicism known by its detractors as Jansenism.[10] Following a religious experience in late 1654, he began writing influential works on philosophy and theology.
Blaise Pascal - Wikipedia

The Pensées (Thoughts) is a collection of fragments written by the French 17th-century philosopher and mathematician Blaise Pascal. Pascal’s religious conversion led him into a life of asceticism, and the Pensées was in many ways his life’s work.[1] It represented Pascal’s defense of the Christian religion, and the concept of “Pascal’s wager” stems from a portion of this work.[2]
Pensées - Wikipedia

Existentialism is mainly traced back to theologican Kierkegaard and to Nietzsche.

I’m aware. So did Newton. That doesn’t mean that they weren’t also scientists. They lived in a very different time. Because of that, I allow them some leeway.


To me, (secular) humanism should have nothing to do with religion. It should be based solely on philosophy.

By philosophy, I mean normal philosophy: classical Greek philosophy, Renaissance moralism, Enlightenment philosophy (and its heirs: freethought, analytic philosophy)

I agree so far as supernatural woo, but that “church” thing can be very powerful.
And strictly speaking, I think you mean specific philosophers, not philosophy in general. There were many supernatural philosophers. Hegel, for example.

Hegel is out of normal philosophy (classical Greek philosophy, Renaissance moralism, Enlightenment philosophy (and its heirs: freethought, analytic philosophy))

Your words recalls me Alain de Botton. Are you inspired by him, or something like that?

Botton also tends to drives from many different areas (existentialism, science, psychoanalysis, literature, religion, non-European cultures, etc.)

Never heard of him. I base my “definition” of humanism on reason. I find philosophy to often be a circular thing that makes me dizzy.

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But I think this anti-intellectualism is incorrect and even dangerous.

There are people out there which are very well read, and which goal is to use their knowledge to drive people in that or that direction.

This exists for any movement, from the left, to the right (see the “public intellectuals” of the Young America’s foundation for instance).

I know very intelligent people whom, for their anti-intellectual tendency are, IMO, drive into very bad directions, just because they don’t have the knowledge tools to dismantle the tricks by which they are intellectually/psychologically turned around.

Like it or not, by endeavoring into “humanism”, you are endeavoring in a philosophical, “human sciences” thing, and in any endeavor, we can not go on the rule of thumb, we must be very rigorous and precise.

This is my sincere opinion I would like to share with you.

Not wanting to delve into the seemingly countless philosophies proposed throughout time certainly does not make one anti intellect. I’ll have you know that my mathematical education went beyond differential equations. While true, that is meant to provide some slight humor. Humor can be an intellectual exercise.

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But this is philosophy!

I will think about that.

Problem is that if you don’t have the time to read full time all the time you’re stuck with articles and lectures, and from a couple years worth of attending a college Philosophy Club, I can certainly relate to the truth in this

That seems to be the consensus after most meetings.
There always seems to be a yeah but to any statement made.

Lozenge, I’ve read a lot of your posts and responses - I am impressed with your scholastic knowledge, and watching the folks with as much formal learning & reading spar with you - It’s fascinating. Still, it so often turns into words upon words with meanings being smeared out and running into each other so much that direction become increasingly indistinguishable. Of course, all I need is a few thousand hours worth of uninterrupted reading to get there. But, that begs the question how much good is it, if it can’t be reduced to manageable concepts?

Why am I now thinking of Russell and Whitehead and their proof for 1+1=2
and that it turned out to actually take even more than 300 pages to prove.

abresas2:19 PM, July 25, 2011

People say that they needed 300 pages to prove it because in page 379 it says “From this proposition it will follow, when arithmetical addition has been defined, that 1+1=2.” – Volume I, 1st edition, page 379 (page 362 in 2nd edition; page 360 in abridged version). They didn’t even prove it in the first 300 pages. The proof is actually completed in Volume II, 1st edition, page 86.

They weren’t actually trying to prove just that, but to define and prove the whole of mathematics based only on negation and conjunction, and in such a way that you don’t even have a universe of discourse. For example, they said stuff like “x is grandfather of y is equivalent to x is father squared of y” or that “one apple plus one apple equals two apples” which you can’t say in ZFC, and which is considered one of the basic flaws of PM (together with the axiom of reducibility, maybe), because it makes things ambiguous and harder to prove.

Oh dear I’ve gone off topic again, but defining humanism always takes us so deep into hairsplitting philosophy, so maybe it’s not that far a field.

I referred to the humanist declaration A Secular Humanist Declaration | Free Inquiry!!