Humanism: The Concerns and Values of People

Humanism can be described as an approach in philosophy, study, and practice that is centered on human concerns and values. Free from religious and supernatural influences, Humanism suggests that all humans have the capacity to live fulfilling, ethical lives for the greater benefit of humanity. Rather than following some religious teaching or dogma, the Humanist uses rational thinking and analysis for the advancement of humanity.

During the Renaissance, Humanists reformed the cultural and educational landscape by emphasizing the studia humanitatis. Moving away from practical and scientific studies which traditionally prepared men to pursue careers as lawyers, doctors or theologians, the focus was shifted to subjects in humanities like literary studies, history, grammar, moral philosophy, and rhetoric. The study of the liberal arts was believed to be essential for a person to be truly free. Emphasizing on the need to live to the fullest in this world rather than the spiritual world, Humanists broke the Great Chain of Being which was the prevalent school of thought during the Middle Ages. To this end, Humanists championed the Latin and Greek classics which were believed to contain all the necessary lessons required by human beings to lead a full and moral life. One of the greatest proponents of the Humanist movement was Italian poet and scholar Petrarch who came to be known as the “Father of Humanism”. Some other famous Renaissance Humanists include Coluccio Salutati, Leonardo Bruni, Flavio Biondo, John Doget, Machiavelli, Lorenzo Valla, and Erasmus. Through their work, Humanism became the most dominant intellectual movement during the Renaissance, profoundly influencing the art, culture, and way of life.

One of the earliest champions of Humanism in the United States was famed essayist, poet, and lecturer Ralph Waldo Emerson who established the Free Religious Association in 1867. The New York Society for Ethical Culture was founded by Felix Adler in 1876 and similar societies were soon established in Chicago, St. Louis, and Philadelphia. The NAACP and the Legal Aid Society were founded as a result of the Ethical Culture movement. In 1933, John Dewey and 33 other national leaders collaborated to write A Humanist Manifesto. In 1941, the American Humanist Association was formed in place of the Humanist Press Association with the aim to spread secular Humanism in the United States. Since 1953, the American Humanist Association has been handing out the “Humanist of the Year” award. Some of the recipients include Jack Kevorkian, Joyce Carol Oates, Alice Walker, Katherine Hepburn, Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Abraham H. Maslow, Oliver Stone, Bill Nye, and Rebecca Goldstein.

Ancient civilizations like China and India had their own Humanists like Huangdi, King Wu of Zhou, Duke of Zhou, Laozi, and even Gautama Buddha. Yet, the Humanist movement in many countries around the world didn’t really flourish until Humanist organizations were founded around the world. Through the efforts of the International Humanist and Ethical Union and other organizations, there are now hundreds of Humanist groups in countries like Peru, India, Nepal, Belgium, Indonesia, New Zealand, the Netherlands, the UK, Ghana, and many others. These Humanist groups have their own agenda like protection of civil rights, abortion rights, women’s emancipation, sexual intolerance, defense of democracy but they share the same basic principles of Humanism. Some of the tools used by these organizations to advocate Humanism are seminars, conferences, workshops, broadcasting, publications, and the Internet.

Today, the human population is at its highest and it appears that it’s going to be growing even more. For this reason, there’s a greater need to embrace the values and philosophy of Humanism for the general benefit of humanity. Humanist movements around the world have helped to bring greater equality in third world countries where women and children occupied a lower status than men. There’s also a higher appreciation of human life and human rights. 

Here are some resources on Humanism.