Humanism is an inclusive philosophy that welcomes people of all backgrounds, including those who may not identify with any particular religion. As a non-religious approach to understanding the world and finding meaning in life, humanism is based on human values and human potential rather than any kind of supernatural or divine authority. It emphasizes the importance of reason, ethics, and human experience.
Humanism is a positive and life-affirming approach to living that often helps people develop a greater sense of purpose and fulfillment without appeals to supernatural power. As humanists, we explore and appreciate the wonders of the world around us. We seek answers to life’s big questions through observation, analysis, and critical thinking.
Is Humanism a Philosophy?
Humanism is generally considered a philosophical and ethical approach to understanding the world and addressing complex problems.
Humanism has a long history, dating back to ancient Greek and Roman philosophy; it has also evolved and developed over time. Today, humanism encompasses a broad range of perspectives. While there is no “official” humanist doctrine or set of beliefs, certain core values and principles are commonly associated with humanism.
What are Humanist Values?
While there is no single agreed-upon set of values that all humanists hold, most humanist organizations identify values along the following lines:
- Rejection of the supernatural
- Humans can lead ethical lives
- Humans can aspire to the greater good without the supernatural
- Human experience and rational thought provide the foundation for moral values
- The pursuit of science and reason
- Creation of a more free, just, equal, and democratic society
Overall, humanists hold a positive and life-affirming view of the world. They seek to promote human well-being and the flourishing of human life through the application of reason, empathy, and human values.
Finding Meaning in Life Through Humanism
Humanists find meaning in life through a variety of sources, including personal experience, relationships with others, engagement with the wider world, and a sense of connection to something greater than themselves.
One important source of meaning for humanists is their relationships with others. Humans are social creatures, and our connections with others are essential to a fulfilling and meaningful life. This might involve close relationships with family and friends, engagement with social and community groups, or working towards social justice and environmental causes.
Another source of meaning for humanists is engagement with the wider world. This might involve pursuing a meaningful and fulfilling career, engaging in artistic or creative pursuits, or exploring the natural world and its wonders.
Humanists also find meaning through a sense of connection to something greater than themselves. This might involve a connection to the natural world, a sense of wonder at the mysteries of the universe, or a commitment to a set of ethical or moral principles.
Ultimately, humanists believe that the search for meaning is a deeply personal and subjective journey and that each person must find their own path toward a fulfilling and meaningful life. Humanists reject the idea that there is a single “right” way to find meaning and instead encourage people to explore their own experiences, values, and passions to find what is most meaningful and fulfilling to them.
Promoting Well-Being and Flourishing Through Humanism
Human well-being and flourishing are central concepts in humanist philosophy. They refer to the idea that humans should live fulfilling, meaningful, and enjoyable lives.
Human well-being encompasses a range of physical, emotional, and social factors that contribute to a healthy and fulfilling life. There are many factors that contribute to human well-being. However, frequently cited by humanists include good physical health, emotional stability, a sense of purpose and meaning in life, positive relationships with others, access to education and knowledge, economic security, and a safe and supportive environment.
Human flourishing goes beyond simply being healthy and content. It encompasses the idea of living a life that is meaningful and purposeful. When speaking of human flourishing, humanists will give examples of developing one’s talents and abilities, pursuing a rewarding and fulfilling career, making meaningful contributions to society, or engaging in activities that bring joy and fulfillment.
As humanists, we believe that the pursuit of human well-being and flourishing is a fundamental aspect of human life and that we are responsible for creating a society that supports these values. To unlock human well-being and flourishing, we work to promote access to education & healthcare. We work toward greater social and economic justice. We believe in protecting the environment and creating a world where everyone can lead fulfilling and meaningful lives.
Humanism is a Life-Affirming Philosophy
Humanism is an optimistic and positive approach to living that emphasizes the potential of human beings to create meaning, purpose, and happiness in their lives. It encourages us to celebrate the beauty and complexity of the world around us and to find joy in the experience of being alive.
As humanists, we believe that this life is the only one we have, and therefore we should strive to make the most of it. Humanists tend not to believe in an afterlife as a kind of divine reward or punishment, so we see our time here on Earth as precious and valuable. Therefore, we focus on empowering and inspiring ourselves and others to live life to the fullest and positively impact the world around us.
Morality without God or the Supernatural
Morality is not something that is handed down from a divine authority. Humanists believe that morality arises from human experience and human values. As such, humanists believe morality is based on reason, empathy, and a commitment to the well-being of all human beings.
The humanist approach to morality is based on empathy and recognizing our shared humanity. Through humanist core principles as well as modern scientific findings about human nature, humanism provides a framework for ethical behavior that is not dependent on any kind of divine authority.
Morality is a natural and necessary aspect of human life. To humanists, it is grounded in our shared humanity, experiences, reasoning, and judgment.
Human Experience, Reasoning, and Judgement as the Basis of Morality
Humanists believe in the importance of individual reasoning and judgment. That doesn’t mean that humanists make decisions about right and wrong in a vacuum, without any regard for the opinions or needs of others. In fact, humanists often stress the importance of dialogue and engagement with others as a means of arriving at ethical and moral decisions.
Humanists believe in the importance of critical thinking and rational inquiry. They encourage individuals to question assumptions, challenge beliefs and evaluate evidence to arrive at well-reasoned and informed decisions. Crucially, humanists believe in the importance of ethical decision-making, which often involves considering how one’s actions impact others.
Humanism is not a free-for-all where anything goes, but rather a philosophy that stresses the importance of individual autonomy and responsibility while recognizing the importance of ethical decision-making and engagement with others.
The Differences Between Humanism and Atheism
Humanism and atheism are related concepts, but they are different. While many humanists are also atheists, not all atheists are humanists. Atheism is simply a lack of belief in gods, while humanism is a broader philosophical and ethical worldview that is grounded in the value and potential of human beings.
Atheism refers to the absence of belief in gods or supernatural entities. Atheists do not believe in a higher power or deity. They often view the world through a scientific and rational lens. However, atheism does not necessarily entail any particular ethical or moral philosophy. It is simply a lack of belief in gods.
Humanism encompasses a wide range of beliefs and values and is not limited to any particular religious or spiritual beliefs. It is a philosophical worldview that emphasizes the well-being, flourishing, and agency of human beings, individually and collectively. Humanists focus on reason, science, and the pursuit of knowledge to understand the world and make informed decisions.
Humanism and Secularism
Humanists are often associated with secularism because they focus on non-religious approaches to understanding the world and solving problems. Humanists also tend to share a commitment to the separation of church and state, which is another defining characteristic of secularists.
As we’ve noted in many other sections on this page, one of the core values of humanism is the importance of reason and evidence-based thinking. Humanists believe we should rely on scientific inquiry, critical thinking, and rational analysis to understand the world and address complex problems. This approach stands in contrast to many religious perspectives, which often rely on faith, revelation, and tradition as sources of knowledge and guidance.
Many humanists believe that public policy and decision-making should be based on secular principles rather than being influenced by religious dogma or belief. This means that humanists often advocate for the separation of church and state and the protection of individual freedoms and human rights. Overall, while humanists may not be explicitly anti-religious, they place a high value on secularism to promote reason, evidence-based thinking, and the protection of individual freedoms and human rights.