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Humanism is a perspective common to a wide range of ethical stances that attaches importance to human dignity, concerns, and capabilities, particularly rationality. Although the word has many senses, its meaning comes into focus when contrasted to the supernatural or to appeals to authority.[1][2] Since the nineteenth century, humanism has been associated with an anti-clericalism inherited from the eighteenth-century Enlightenment philosophes. Twenty-first century Humanism tends to strongly endorse human rights, including reproductive rights, gender equality, social justice, and the separation of church and state. The term covers organized non-theistic religions, secular humanism, and a humanistic life stance.[3]


Members of twentieth-century and 21st Century Humanist organizations disagree among themselves as to whether Humanism is a religion or not, categorizing themselves in one of three ways: religious humanists, in the tradition of the earliest Humanist organizations in the UK and US, saw Humanism as fulfilling the traditional social role of religion.[4] Secular Humanists consider all forms of religion, including religious Humanism, to be superseded.[5] In order to sidestep disagreements between these two factions recent Humanist proclamations define Humanism as a life stance. See Humanism (life stance). Regardless of implementation, the philosophy of all three groups rejects deference to supernatural beliefs and addresses ethics without reference to them recognizing ethics as a human enterprise. It is generally compatible with atheism[6] and agnosticism[7] but being atheist or agnostic does not make one a Humanist.[8]


Modern Humanists, such as Corliss Lamont or Carl Sagan, hold that humanity must seek for truth through reason and the best observable evidence and endorse scientific skepticism and the scientific method. However, they stipulate that decisions about right and wrong must be based on the individual and common good. As an ethical process, Humanism does not consider metaphysical issues such as the existence or nonexistence of immortal beings. Humanism is engaged with what is human.[9]


Contemporary Humanism entails a qualified optimism about the capacity of people, but it does not involve believing that human nature is purely good or that all people can live up to the Humanist ideals without help. If anything, there is the recognition that living up to one's potential is hard work and requires the assistance of others. The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better for all humans, and as the most conscious species, also promoting concern for the welfare of other sentient beings and the planet as a whole. The focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world a better place for those who come after, but Humanists hold humanity as the primary concern of humanity. In 1925 the English mathematician and philosopher, Alfred North Whitehead cautioned that "The prophecy of Francis Bacon has now been fulfilled; and man, who at times dreamt of himself as a little lower than the angels, has submitted to become the servant and the minister of nature. It still remains to be seen whether the same actor can play both body parts."[10]


The term "humanism" is ambiguous. Around 1806 humanismus was used to describe the classical curriculum offered by German schools, and by 1836 "humanism" was borrowed into English in this sense. In 1856, the great German historian and philologist Georg Voigt used humanism to describe Renaissance Humanism, the movement that flourished in the Italian Renaissance to revive classical learning, a use which won wide acceptance among historians in many nations, especially Italy.[11] This historical and literary use of the word "humanist" derives from the 15th century Italian term umanista, meaning a teacher or scholar of Classical Greek and Latin literature and the ethical philosophy behind it.

In the mid-eighteenth century, however, a different use of the term "humanism" began to emerge. In 1765, the author of an anonymous article in a French Enlightenment periodical spoke of "The general love of humanity . . . a virtue hitherto quite nameless among us, and which we will venture to call ‘humanism’, for the time has come to create a word for such a beautiful and necessary thing.”[12] The latter part of the eighteenth and the early nineteenth centuries saw the creation of numerous grass-roots "philanthropic" and benevolent societies dedicated to human betterment and the spreading of knowledge (some Christian, some not). After the French Revolution the idea that human virtue could be created by human reason alone independently from traditional religious institutions, attributed by opponents of the Revolution to Enlightenment philosophes such as Rousseau, was violently attacked by influential religious and political conservatives, such as Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre, as a deification or idolatry of man.[13] Humanism began to acquire a negative sense. The Oxford English Dictionary records the use of the word "humanism" by an English clergyman in 1812 to indicate those who believe in the "mere humanity" (as opposed to the divine nature) of Christ, i.e., Unitarians and Deists.[14] In this polarized atmosphere, in which established ecclesiastical bodies tended to circle the wagons and reflexively oppose political and social reforms like extending the franchise, universal schooling, and the like, liberal reformers and radicals embraced the idea of Humanism as an alternative religion of humanity. The anarchist Proudhon (best known for declaring that "property is theft") used the word "humanism" to describe a "culte, déification de l’humanité" ("cult, deification of humanity") and Ernest Renan in L’avenir de la science: pensées de 1848 (The Future of Knowledge: Thoughts on 1848") (1848-49), states: "It is my deep conviction that pure humanism will be the religion of the future, that is, the cult of all that pertains to man — all of life, sanctified and raised to the level of a moral value.“ [15] At about the same time the word humanism as a philosophy centered around man (as opposed to institutionalized religion) was also being used in Germany by the so-called Left Hegelians, Arnold Ruge, and Karl Marx, who were critical of the close involvement of the church in the repressive German government. There has been a persistent confusion between the several uses of the terms:[16] philosophical humanists look to human-centered antecedents among the Greek philosophers and the great figures of Renaissance history, often assuming somewhat inaccurately that famous historical humanists and champions of human reason had uniformly shared their militantly anti-theistic stance.

Greek humanism

Sixth century BCE pantheists Thales of Miletus and Xenophanes of Colophon prepared the way for later Greek humanist thought. Thales is credited with creating the maxim "Know thyself", and Xenophanes refused to recognize the gods of his time and reserved the divine for the principle of unity in the universe. Later Anaxagoras, often described as the "first freethinker", contributed to the development of science as a method of understanding the universe. These Ionian Greeks were the first thinkers to recognize that nature is available to be studied separately from any alleged supernatural realm. Pericles, a pupil of Anaxagoras, influenced the development of democracy, freedom of thought, and the exposure of superstitions. Although little of their work survives, Protagoras and Democritus both espoused agnosticism and a spiritual morality not based on the supernatural. The historian Thucydides is noted for his scientific and rational approach to history.[17] In the third century BCE, Epicurus became known for his concise phrasing of the problem of evil, lack of belief in the afterlife, and human-centered approaches to achieving eudaimonia. He was also the first Greek philosopher to admit women to his school as a rule.

Ancient Asian humanism

Human-centered philosophy that rejected the supernatural can be found as early as 1000 BCE in the Lokayata system of Indian philosophy. In the sixth century BCE, Taoist teacher Laozi brought such philosophy to China, where Confucius also taught secular ethics. The "silver rule" of Confucianism, from Analects XV.24, is an example of ethical philosophy based on human values rather than the supernatural. Also in the sixth century BCE, Gautama Buddha expressed, in the Pali literature, a skeptical attitude toward the supernatural:

Since neither soul nor aught belonging to soul can really and truly exist, the view which holds that this I who am 'world,' who am 'soul,' shall hereafter live permanent, persisting, unchanging, yea abide eternally: is not this utterly and entirely a foolish doctrine?[18]

However, it can be said Buddha meant that such things as the soul do not exist in the conventional sense. It could be a reference to the inherently inhuman aspect of death. Buddha's answers are typical of the cryptic words often spoken by "enlightened" individuals. Many, sometimes contradictory, meanings can be found in their words.

Renaissance humanism

Renaissance humanism was an intellectual movement in Europe of the later Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. It was the nineteenth century German historian Georg Voigt (1827–91) who identified Petrarch as the first Renaissance humanist. Paul Johnson agrees that Petrarch was "the first to put into words the notion that the centuries between the fall of Rome and the present had been the age of Darkness.” According to Petrarch, what was needed to remedy this situation was the careful study and imitation of the great classical authors. For Petrarch and Boccaccio the greatest master was Cicero, whose prose became the model for both learned (Latin) and vernacular (Italian) prose.

Once the language was mastered grammatically it could be used to attain the second stage, eloquence or rhetoric. This art of persuasion [Cicero had held] was not art for its own sake, but the acquisition of the capacity to persuade others — all men and women — to lead the good life. As Petrarch put it, 'it is better to will the good than to know the truth.' Rhetoric thus led to and embraced philosophy. Leonardo Bruni (c.1369-1444), the outstanding scholar of the new generation, insisted that it was Petrarch who “opened the way for us to show how to acquire learning", but it was in Bruni’s time that the word umanista first came into use, and its subjects of study were listed as five: grammar, rhetoric, poetry, moral philosophy, and history.”[19]

The basic training of the humanist was to speak well and write (typically, in the form of a letter). One of Petrarch's followers, Coluccio Salutati (1331-1406) was made chancellor of Florence, "whose interests he defended with his literary skill. The Visconti of Milan claimed that Salutati’s pen had done more damage than 'thirty squadrons of Florentine cavalry.'”[20] Contrary to a still widely current interpretation that originated in Voigt's celebrated contemporary, Jacob Burckhardt[21] and which was adopted wholeheartedly, especially by those moderns calling themselves "humanists"[22], most specialists do not now characterize Renaissance humanism as a philosophical movement, nor in any way as anti-Christian or even anti-clerical. A modern historian has this to say:

Humanism was not an ideological programme but a body of literary knowledge and linguistic skill based on the “revival of good letters”, which was a revival of a late-antique philology and grammar, This is how the word “humanist" was understood by contemporaries, and if scholars would agree to accept the word in this sense rather than in the sense in which it was used in the nineteenth century we might be spared a good deal of useless argument. That humanism had profound social and even political consequences of the life of Italian courts is not to be doubted. But the idea that as a movement it was in some way inimical to the Church, or to the conservative social order in general is one that has been put forward for a century and more without any substantial proof being offered.

The nineteenth-century historian Jacob Burckhardt, in his classic work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, noted as a “curious fact” that some men of the new culture were “men of the strictest piety, or even ascetics.” If he had meditated more deeply on the meaning of the careers of such humanists as Abrogio Traversari (1386-1439), the General of the Camaldolese Order, perhaps he would not have gone on to describe humanism in unqualified terms as “pagan”, and thus helped precipitate a century of infertile debate about the possible existence of something called “Christian humanism” which ought to be opposed to “pagan humanism”. --Peter Partner, Renaissance Rome, Portrait of a Society 1500-1559 (University of California Press 1979) pp. 14-15.

The umanisti criticized what they considered the barbarous Latin of the universities, but the revival of the humanities largely did not conflict with the teaching of traditional university subjects, which went on as before.[23]

Nor did the humanists view themselves as in conflict with Christianity. Some, like Salutati, were the Chancellors of Italian cities, but the majority (including Petrarch) were ordained as priests, and many worked as senior officials of the Papal court. Humanist Renaissance popes Nicholas V, Pius II, Sixtus IV, and Leo X wrote books and amassed huge libraries.[24]

In the high Renaissance, in fact, there was a hope that more direct knowledge of the wisdom of antiquity, including the writings of the Church fathers, the earliest known Greek texts of the Christian Gospels, and in some cases even the Jewish Kabbala, would initiate an harmonious new era of universal agreement.[25] With this end in view, Renaissance Church authorities afforded humanists what in retrospect appears a remarkable degree of freedom of thought.[26][27] One humanist, the Greek Orthodox Platonist Gemistus Pletho (d. 1952), based in Mystras, Greece (but in contact with humanists in Florence, Venice, and Rome) taught a Christianized version of pagan polytheism.[28]

Back to the sources

The humanists' close study of Latin literary texts soon enabled them to discern historical differences in the writing styles of different periods. By analogy with what they saw as decline of Latin, they applied the principle of ad fontes, or back to the sources, across broad areas of learning, seeking out manuscripts of Patristic literature as well as pagan authors. In 1439, while employed in Naples at the court of Alfonso V of Aragon (at the time engaged in a dispute with the Papal States) the humanist Lorenzo Valla used stylistic textual analysis, now called philology, to prove that the Donation of Constantine, which purported to confer temporal powers on the Pope of Rome, was an eighth-century forgery.[29] For the next seventy years, however, neither Valla nor any of his contemporaries thought to apply the techniques of philology to other controversial manuscripts in this way. Instead, after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Turks in 1453, which brought a flood of Greek Orthodox refugees to Italy, humanist scholars increasingly turned to the study of Neoplatonism and Hermeticism, hoping to bridge the differences between the Greek and Roman Churches, and even between Christianity itself and the non-Christian world.[30] The refugees brought with them Greek manuscripts, not only of Plato and Aristotle, but also of the Christian Gospels, previously unavailable in the Latin West. After 1517, when the new invention of printing made these texts widely available, the Dutch humanist Erasmus, who had studied Greek at the Venetian printing house of Aldus Manutius, began a philological analysis of the Gospels in the spirit of Valla, comparing the Greek originals with their Latin translations with a view to correcting errors and discrepancies in the latter. Erasmus, along with the French humanist Jacques Lefèvre d'Étaples, began issuing new translations, laying the groundwork for the Protestant Reformation. Henceforth Renaissance humanism, particularly in the German North, became concerned with religion, while Italian and French humanism concentrated increasingly on scholarship and philology addressed to a narrow audience of specialists, studiously avoiding topics that might offend despotic rulers or which might be seen as corrosive of faith. After the Reformation, critical examination of the Bible did not resume until the advent of the so-called Higher criticsm of the nineteenth-century German Tübingen school.

Consequences of the Renaissance humanist movement

The ad fontes principle also had many applications. The re-discovery of ancient manuscripts brought a more profound and accurate knowledge of ancient philosophical schools such as Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism, whose Pagan wisdom the humanists, like the Church fathers of old, tended, at least initially, to consider as deriving from divine revelation and thus adaptable to a life of Christian virtue.[31] The line from a drama of Terence, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (or with nil for nihil), meaning "I am a man [i.e. human, not 'male'], I think nothing human alien to me", known since antiquity through the endorsement of Saint Augustine, gained renewed currency as epitomizing the humanist attitude.[32]

Better acquaintance with Greek and Roman technical writings also influenced the development of European science (see the history of science in the Renaissance). This was despite what A. C. Crombie (viewing the Renaissance in the nineteenth-century manner as a chapter in the heroic March of Progress) calls "a backwards-looking admiration for antiquity", in which Platonism stood in opposition to the Aristotelian concentration on the observable properties of the physical world.[33] Renaissance humanists, however, who considered themselves as restoring the glory and nobility of antiquity, had no interest in scientific innovation. By the mid-to-late sixteenth century, however, even the universities, though still dominated by Scholasticism, began to demand that Aristotle be read in accurate texts edited according to the principles of Renaissance philology, thus setting the stage for Galileo's quarrels with the outmoded habits of Scholasticism.

Just as artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci -- partaking of the zeitgeist though not himself a humanist—advocated study of human anatomy, nature, and weather to enrich Renaissance works of art, so Spanish-born humanist Juan Luis Vives (c. 1493-1540) advocated observation, craft, and practical techniques to improve the formal teaching of Aristotelian philosophy at the universities, helping to free them from the grip of Medieval Scholasticism.[34] Thus, the stage was set for the adoption of an approach to natural philosophy, based on empirical observations and experimentation of the physical universe, making possible the advent of the age of scientific inquiry that followed the Renaissance.[35]

It was in education that the humanists' program had the most lasting results, their curriculum and methods:

were followed everywhere, serving as models for the Protestant Reformers as well as the Jesuits. The humanistic school, animated by the idea that the study of classical languages and literature provided valuable information and intellectual discipline as well as moral standards and a civilized taste for future rulers, leaders, and professionals of its society, flourished without interruption, through many significant changes, until our own century, surviving many religious, political and social revolutions. It has but recently been replaced, though not yet completely, by other more practical and less demanding forms of education.[36]

Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries

The phrase the "religion of humanity" is sometimes attributed to American Founding Father, Thomas Paine, though as yet unattested in his surviving writings. According to Tony Davies:

Paine called himself a theophilanthropist, a word combining the Greek for "God", "love," and "man", and indicating that while he believed in the existence of a creating intelligence in the universe, he entirely rejected the claims made by and for all existing religious doctrines, especially their miraculous, transcendental and salvationist pretensions. The Parisian "Society of Theophilanthropy" which he sponsored, is described by his biographer as "a forerunner of the ethical and humanist societies that proliferated later" ... [Paine's book] the trenchantly witty Age of Reason (1793) ... pours scorn on the supernatural pretensions of scripture, combining Voltairean mockery with Paine's own style of taproom ridicule to expose the absurdity of a theology built on a collection of incoherent Levantine folktales.[37]

Davies identifies Paine's The Age of Reason as "the link between the two major narratives of what Jean-François Lyotard[38] calls the narrative of legitimation": the rationalism of the eighteenth-Century Philosophes and the radical, historically-based German nineteenth-century Biblical criticism of the Hegelians David Friedrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach. "The first is political, largely French in inspiration, and projects 'humanity as the hero of liberty'. The second is philosophical, German, seeks the totality and autonomy of knowledge, and stresses understanding rather than freedom as the key to human fulfillment and emancipation. The two themes converge and compete in complex ways in the nineteenth century and beyond and between them set the boundaries of its various humanisms.[39] Homo homini deus est ("Man is a god to man" or "god is nothing [other than] man to himself"), Feuerbach had written.[40]

Victorian novelist Mary Ann Evans, known to the world as George Eliot, translated Strauss's Das Leben Jesu (The Life of Jesus, 1846) and Ludwig Ludwig Feuerbach's Das Wesen Christianismus (The Essence of Christianity). She wrote to a friend:

the fellowship between man and man which has been the principle of development, social and moral, is not dependent on conceptions of what is not man . . . the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of goodness entirely human (i.e., an exaltation of the human).[41]

Eliot and her circle, who included her companion George Henry Lewes (the biographer of Goethe) and the abolitionist and social theorist Harriet Martineau, were much influenced by the Positivism of Auguste Comte, whom Martineau had translated. Comte had proposed an atheistic culte founded on human principles—a secular Religion of Humanity (which worshiped the dead, since most humans who have ever lived are dead), complete with holidays and liturgy, modeled on the rituals of a what was seen as a discredited and dilapidated Catholicism.[42] Although Comte's English followers, like Eliot and Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity. Compte's austere vision of the universe, his injunction to "vivre pour altrui" ("live for others", from which comes the word "altruism"),[43] and his idealization of women inform the works of Victorian novelists and poets from George Eliot and Matthew Arnold to Thomas Hardy.

The British Humanistic Religious Association was formed as one of the earliest forerunners of contemporary chartered Humanist organizations in 1853 in London. This early group was democratically organized, with male and female members participating in the election of the leadership and promoted knowledge of the sciences, philosophy, and the arts.[44]

In February 1877, the word was used pejoratively, apparently for the first time in America, to describe Felix Adler. Adler, however, did not embrace the term, and instead coined the name "Ethical Culture" for his new movement – a movement which still exists in the now Humanist-affiliated New York Society for Ethical Culture.[45][46] In 2008, Ethical Culture Leaders wrote "Today, the historic identification, Ethical Culture, and the modern description, Ethical Humanism, are used interchangeably."[47]

Active in the early 1920s, F.C.S. Schiller labeled his work "humanism" but for Schiller the term referred to the pragmatist philosophy he shared with William James. In 1929 Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York whose advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Potter was a minister from the Unitarian tradition and in 1930 he and his wife, Clara Cook Potter, published Humanism: A New Religion. Throughout the 1930s Potter was an advocate of such liberal causes as, women's rights, access to birth control, "civil divorce laws", and an end to capital punishment.[48]

Raymond B. Bragg, the associate editor of The New Humanist, sought to consolidate the input of L. M. Birkhead, Charles Francis Potter, and several members of the Western Unitarian Conference. Bragg asked Roy Wood Sellars to draft a document based on this information which resulted in the publication of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. Potter's book and the Manifesto became the cornerstones of modern humanism, the latter declaring a new religion by saying, "any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present." It then presented fifteen theses of humanism as foundational principles for this new religion.

In 1941 the American Humanist Association was organized. Noted members of The AHA included Isaac Asimov, who was the president from 1985 until his death in 1992, and writer Kurt Vonnegut, who followed as honorary president until his death in 2007. Gore Vidal became honorary president in 2009. Robert Buckman was the head of the association in Canada, and is now an honorary president.

After World War II, three prominent Humanists became the first directors of major divisions of the United Nations: Julian Huxley of UNESCO, Brock Chisholm of the World Health Organization, and John Boyd-Orr of the Food and Agricultural Organization.[49]

In 2004 American Humanist Association, along with other groups representing agnostics, atheists, and other freethinkers, joined to create the Secular Coalition for America which advocates in Washington, D.C. for separation of church and state and nationally for the greater acceptance of nontheistic Americans. The Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America is Sean Faircloth a long-time state legislator from Maine.

Humanism (life stance)

Humanism (capital 'H', no adjective such as "secular")[50] is a comprehensive life stance that upholds human reason, ethics, and justice, and rejects supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition.

The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world union of more than one hundred Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries. The Happy Human is the official symbol of the IHEU as well as being regarded as a universally recognised symbol for those that call themselves Humanists (as opposed to "humanists"). In 2002 the IHEU General Assembly unanimously adopted the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 which represents the official defining statement of World Humanism.[51]

All member organisations of the IHEU are required by IHEU bylaw 5.1[52] to accept the IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism:

Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.

Other forms of humanism

Educational humanism

Humanism, as a current in education, began to dominate U.S. school systems in the 17th century. It held that the studies that develop human intellect are those that make humans "most truly human". The practical basis for this was faculty psychology, or the belief in distinct intellectual faculties, such as the analytical, the mathematical, the linguistic, etc. Strengthening one faculty was believed to benefit other faculties as well (transfer of training). A key player in the late 19th-century educational humanism was U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris, whose "Five Windows of the Soul" (mathematics, geography, history, grammar, and literature/art) were believed especially appropriate for "development of the faculties". Educational humanists believe that "the best studies, for the best kids" are "the best studies" for all kids. While humanism as an educational current was widely supplanted in the United States by the innovations of the early 20th century, it still holds out in some preparatory schools and some high school disciplines (especially in literature).

Inclusive Humanism

Humanism increasingly designates an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives. While retaining the definition of the IHEU with regard to the life stance of the individual, inclusive Humanism enlarges its constituency within homo sapiens to consider Man's broadening powers and obligations.

This accepting viewpoint recalls Renaissance Humanism in that it presumes an advocacy role for Humanists towards species governance, and this proactive stance is charged with a commensurate responsibility surpassing that of individual Humanism. It identifies pollution, militarism, nationalism, sexism, poverty and corruption as being persistent and addressable human character issues incompatible with the interests of our species. It asserts that human governance must be unified and is inclusionary in that it does not exclude any person by reason of their collateral beliefs or personal religion alone. As such it can be said to be a container for undeclared Humanism, instilling a species credo to complement the personal tenets of individuals.

It contrasts with contemporary American and British Humanism, which tend to be centered on religion to the extent that "Humanism" in these societies is too often being equated with simple atheism, especially by novitiates. This over-identification with a singular non-belief is now seen to be an unwarranted truncation of one of Humanity's most valuable and promising intellectual traditions, possibly damping out Humanism's wider and deserving adoption.

Humanism may be the only philosophy likely to be adopted by our species as a whole - it is thus incumbent on inclusive Humanists to not place unwarranted or self-interested conditions on its prospective adherents, nor associate it with religious acrimony. [53]

See also

Template:Too many see alsos

  • List of Humanists
  • Natural rights

Manifestos and statements setting out Humanist viewpoints

Related philosophies


  • American Humanist Association
  • British Humanist Association
  • Humanist Association of Canada
  • Society for Humanistic Judaism
  • Counseling Association for Humanistic Education and Development
  • Council for Secular Humanism
  • Ethical Culture
  • European Humanist Federation
  • Humanist Association of Ireland
  • Humanisterna, the Swedish Humanist Association
  • Human-Etisk Forbund, the Norwegian Humanist Association
  • Humanist International
  • Humanist Movement
  • Humanist Society of Scotland
  • Institute for Humanist Studies
  • International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU)
  • North East Humanists, the largest regional Humanist group in the United Kingdom
  • Rationalist International
  • Sidmennt, the Icelandic Ethical Humanist Association



  1. Compact Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press. 2007. "humanism n. 1 a rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. 2 a Renaissance cultural movement that turned away from medieval scholasticism and revived interest in ancient Greek and Roman thought."  Typically, abridgments of this definition omit all senses except #1, such as in the Cambridge Advanced Learner's Dictionary, Collins Essential English Dictionary, and Webster's Concise Dictionary. New York: RHR Press. 2001. pp. 177. 
  2. "Definitions of humanism (subsection)". Institute for Humanist Studies. Retrieved 16 Jan 2007. 
  3. Edwords, Fred (1989). "What Is Humanism?". American Humanist Association. Retrieved 19 August 2009. "Secular and Religious Humanists both share the same worldview and the same basic principles... From the standpoint of philosophy alone, there is no difference between the two. It is only in the definition of religion and in the practice of the philosophy that Religious and Secular Humanists effectively disagree." 
  4. Wilson, Edwin H. (1995). The Genesis of a Humanist Manifesto. Amherst, NY: Humanist Press.  This book quotes the constitution of the Humanistic Religious Association of London, founded in 1853, as saying, "In forming ourselves into a progressive religious body, we have adopted the name 'Humanistic Religious Association' to convey the idea that Religion is a principle inherent in man and is a means of developing his being towards greater perfection. We have emancipated ourselves from the ancient compulsory dogmas, myths and ceremonies borrowed of old from Asia and still pervading the ruling churches of our age."
  5. Kurtz, Paul (1995). Living Without Religion: Eupraxophy. Amherst, NY: Prometheus Books. p. 8. 
  6. . The world coordinating body, the International Humanist and Ethical Union, London, recommends use of "Humanism," with no qualifying adjective at all, and with the capital "H" befitting a well-defined worldview clearly established after three quarters of a century of scholarly study and exposition. Baggini, Julian (2003). Atheism: A Very Short Introduction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. pp. 3–4. ISBN 0-19-280424-3. "The atheist's rejection of belief in God is usually accompanied by a broader rejection of any supernatural or transcendental reality. For example, an atheist does not usually believe in the existence of immortal souls, life after death, ghosts, or supernatural powers. Although strictly speaking an atheist could believe in any of these things and still remain an atheist... the arguments and ideas that sustain atheism tend naturally to rule out other beliefs in the supernatural or transcendental." 
  7. Winston, Robert (Ed.) (2004). Human. New York: DK Publishing, Inc. p. 299. ISBN 0-7566-1901-7. "Neither atheism nor agnosticism is a full belief system, because they have no fundamental philosophy or lifestyle requirements. These forms of thought are simply the absence of belief in, or denial of, the existence of deities." 
  8. Note: The topic of this article has a small initial character as Wikipedia guidelines prescribe for the name of a philosophy. The life stance named Humanism is capitalized as prescribed for the name of a religion in its dedicated article, but left lower-case elsewhere to encompass life-stance, religious, and secular "humanism."
  9. Lamont, Corliss (1997). The Philosophy of Humanism, Eighth Edition. Humanist Press: Amherst, New York. pp. 252–253. ISBN 0-931779-07-3. "Conscience, the sense of right and wrong and the insistent call of one's better, more idealistic, more social-minded self, is a social product. Feelings of right and wrong that at first have their locus within the family gradually develop into a pattern for the tribe or city, then spread to the larger unit of the nation, and finally from the nation to humanity as a whole. Humanism sees no need for resorting to supernatural explanations, or sanctions at any point in the ethical process." 
  10. Science and the Modern World (New York: Simon and Schuster, [1925] 1997) p. 96.
  11. As J. A. Symonds remarked, “the word humanism has a German sound and is in fact modern” (See The Renaissance in Italy Vol. 2:71n, 1877). Vito Giustiniani writes that in the German-speaking world “Humanist” while keeping its specific meaning (as scholar of Classical literature) “gave birth to further derivatives, such as humanistisch for those schools which later were to be called humanistische gymnasien, with Latin and Greek as the main subjects of teaching (1784). Finally, Humanismus was introduced to denote ‘classical education in general' (1808) and still later for the epoch and the achievements of the Italian humanists of the fifteenth century (1841). This is to say that ‘humanism’ for ‘classical learning‘ appeared first in Germany, where it was once and for all sanctioned in this meaning by Georg Voigt (1859)", Vito Giustiniani, "Homo, Humanus, and the Meanings of Humanism", Journal of the History of Ideas 46 (vol. 2, April-June, 1985): 172.
  12. L’amour général de l’humanité . . . vertu qui n’a point de nom parmi nous et que nous oserions appler ‘humanisme’, puisque’enfin il est temps de créer un mot pour une chose si belle et nécessaire"; from the review Ephémérides du citoyen ou Bibliothèque raisonée des sciences morales et politiques, (Jan. 16, 1765): 247, quoted in V. Giustiniani, op. cit., p. 175n.
  13. Although Rousseau himself devoutly believed in a personal God, his book, Emile: or, On Education, does attempt to demonstrate that atheists can be virtuous. It was publicly burned. During the Revolution Jacobins instituted a cult of the Supreme Being along lines suggested by Rousseau. In the nineteenth century French Positivist philosopher Auguste Comte (1798–1857) founded a "religion of humanity", whose calender and catechism echoed the former Revolutionary cult. See Comtism
  14. The Oxford English Dictionary. VII (2nd ed.). Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1989. pp. 474–475. 
  15. "Ma conviction intime est que la religion de l’avenir sera le pur humanisme, c’est-à-dire le culte de tout ce qui est de l’homme, la vie entière santifiée et éléve a une valeur moral.”, quoted in Giustiniani, op. cit.
  16. An account of the evolution of the meaning of the word humanism from the point of view of a modern philosophical humanist can be found in Nicolas Walter's Humanism – What's in the Word.Walter, Nicolas, 1997 Humanism – What's in the Word, Rationalist Press Association, London, ISBN 0-301-97001-7.
  17. Potter, Charles (1930). Humanism A new Religion. Simon and Schuster. pp. 64–69. 
  18. "Lesson 1: A brief history of humanist thought". Introduction to Humanism: A Primer on the History, Philosophy, and Goals of Humanism. The Continuum of Humanist Education. Retrieved 21 August 2009. 
  19. Johnson, Paul (2000). The Renaissance. New York: The Modern Library. pp. 32–34 and 37. ISBN 0-679-64086-X. 
  20. Johnson, Paul (2000). The Renaissance. New York: The Modern Library. p. 37. 
  21. The influence of Jacob Burckhardt's classic masterpiece of cultural history, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy (1860) on subsequent Renaissance historiography is traced in Wallace K. Ferguson's The Renaissance in Historical Thought: Five Centuries of Historical Interpretation (1948).
  22. For example, the Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, adhering to the tenacious nineteenth-century narrative (or myth) of the Renaissance as a complete break with the past established in 1860 by Jacob Burckhardt, describes the liberating effects of the re-discovery of classical writings this way:

    Here, one felt no weight of the supernatural pressing on the human mind, demanding homage and allegiance. Humanity—with all its distinct capabilities, talents, worries, problems, possibilities—was the center of interest. It has been said that medieval thinkers philosophized on their knees, but, bolstered by the new studies, they dared to stand up and to rise to full stature.""Humanism"". "The Cambridge Dictionary of Philosophy, Second Edition. Cambridge University Press. 1999. 

  23. "The term umanista was associated with the revival of the studia humanitatis "which included grammatica, rhetorica, poetics, historia , and philosophia moralis, as these terms were understood. Unlike the liberal arts of the eighteenth century, they did not include the visual arts, music, dancing or gardening. The humanities also failed to include the disciplines that were the chief subjects of instruction at the universities during the Later Middle Ages and throughout the Renaissance, such as theology, jurisprudence, and medicine, and the philosophical disciplines other than ethics, such as logic, natural philosophy, and metaphysics. In other words, humanism does not represent, as often believed, the sum total of Renaissance thought and learning, but only a well-defined sector of it. Humanism has its proper domain or home territory in the humanities, whereas all other areas of learning, including philosophy (apart from ethics), followed their own course, largely determined by their medieval tradition and by their steady transformation through new observations, problems, or theories. These disciplines were affected by humanism mainly from the outside and in an indirect way, though often quite strongly."Paul Oskar Kristeller, Humanism, pp. 113-114, in Charles B. Schmitt, Quentin Skinner (editors), The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy (1990).
  24. See their respective entries in Sir John Hale's Concise Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance (Oxford University Press, 1981).
  25. To later generations, the Dutch humanist, Desiderius Erasmus, epitomized this reconciling tendency). According to the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, "Enlightenment thinkers remembered Erasmus (not quite accurately) as a precursor of modern intellectual freedom and a foe of both Protestant and Catholic dogmatism."[ Erasmus himself was not much interested in the Kabbala, but several other humanists were, notably Pico della Mirandola. See Christian Kabbala.)
  26. Bergin, Thomas; Speake, Jennifer (1987). The Encyclopedia of the Renaissance. Oxford: Facts On File Publications. pp. 216–217. 
  27. "Only thirteen of Pico della Mirandola's nine hundred theses were thought theologically objectionable by the papal commission that examined them.... [This] suggests that, in spite of his publicly expressed contempt in his Apologia for their intellectual inadequacies, the Curial authorities hardly saw these theses as the work of a dangerous theological modernist like Luther or Calvin. Unorthodox though they were, most of the issues raised in them had been the subject of theological dispute for centuries and the commission . . . condemned him not for innovations but for 'reviving several of the errors of gentile philosophers which are already disproved and obsolete.'” Davies (1997), p 103.
  28. Richard H. Popkin (editor), The Columbia History of Western Philosophy (1998), p. 293 and p. 301.
  29. More than a hundred years earlier, Dante in the Divine Comedy (c. 1308-1321) had pinpointed the Donation of Constantine (which he accepted as genuine) as a great mistake and the cause of all the political and religious problems of Italy, including the corruption of the Church. Although Dante had thunderously attacked the idea that the Church could have temporal as well as spiritual powers, it remained to Valla to conclusively prove that the legal justification for such powers was spurious.
  30. Ironically, it was a humanist scholar, Isaac Casaubon, in the seventeenth century, who would use philology to show that the Corpus Hermeticum was not of great antiquity, as had been asserted in the fourth century by Saint Augustine and Lactantius, but dated from the Christian era. See Anthony Grafton, Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800 (Harvard University Press, 1991).
  31. "Humanism". Encyclopedic Dictionary of Religion. F-N. Corpus Publications. 1979. pp. 1733. ISBN 0-9602572-1-7.  "Renaissance humanists rejoiced in the mutual compatibility of much ancient philosophy and Christian truths", M. A. Screech, Laughter at the Foot of the Cross (1997), p. 13.
  32. The statement, in a play modeled or borrowed from a (now lost) Greek comedy by Menander, may have originated in a lighthearted vein -- as a comic rationale for an old man's meddling -- but it quickly became a proverb and throughout the ages was quoted with a deeper meaning, by Cicero and Saint Augustine, to name a few, and most notably by Seneca. Richard Bauman writes: "Homo sum: humani nihil a me alienum puto., I am a man: and I deem nothing pertaining to man is foreign to me.' The words of the comic playwright P. Terentius Afer reverberated across the Roman world of the mid-second century BC and beyond. Terence, an African and a former slave, was well placed to preach the message of universalism, of the essential unity of the human race, that had come down in philosophical form from the Greeks, but needed the pragmatic muscles of Rome in order to become a practical reality. The influence of Terence’s felicitous phrase on Roman thinking about human rights can hardly be overestimated. Two hundred years later Seneca ended his seminal exposition of the unity of mankind with a clarion-call:

    There is one short rule that should regulate human relationships. All that you see, both divine and human, is one. We are parts of the same great body. Nature created us from the same source and to the same end. She imbued us with mutual affection and sociability, she taught us to be fair and just, to suffer injury rather than to inflict it. She bid us extend or hands to all in need of help. Let that well-known line be in our heart and on our lips: Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto". --Bauman, Human Rights in Ancient Rome, Routledge Classical Monographs, 1999, page 1).

  33. A. C. Crombie, Historians and the Scientific Revolution, p. 456 in Science, Art and Nature in Medieval and Modern Thought (1996).
  34. Gottlieb, Anthony (2000). The Dream of Reason: a history of western philosophy from the Greeks to the Renaissance. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. pp. 410–411. 
  35. Alleby, Brad (2003). "Humanism". Encyclopedia of Science & Religion. 1 (2nd ed.). Macmillan Reference USA. pp. 426–428. ISBN 0-02-865705-5. 
  36. P.O. Kristeller (op cit.), p. 114.
  37. Tony Davies, Humanism (Routledge, 1997) p. 26-27.
  38. In La Condition postmoderne
  39. Davies (1997), p. 27.
  40. ibid, p 28
  41. quoted in Davies (1997), p. 27.
  42. "Comte's secular religion is no vague effusion of humanistic piety, but a complete system of belief and ritual, with liturgy and sacraments, priesthood and pontiff, all organized around the public veneration of Humanity, the Nouveau Grand-Être Suprême (New Supreme Great Being), later to be supplemented in a positivist trinity by the Grand Fétish (the Earth) and the Grand Milieu (Destiny)" According to Davies (p. 28-29), Comte's austere and "slightly dispiriting" philosophy of humanity viewed as alone in an indifferent universe (which can only be explained by "positive" science) and with no where to turn but to each other, was even more influential in Victorian England than the theories of Charles Darwin or Karl Marx.
  43. ibid p. 29
  44. Morain, Lloyd and Mary (2007). Humanism as the Next Step. Washington, D.C.: Humanist Press. pp. 109. ISBN 978-0-931779-16-2. 
  45. New York Society for Ethical Culture
  46. "History: New York Society for Ethical Culture". New York Society for Ethical Culture. 2008. Retrieved 2009-03-06. 
  47. "Ethical Culture". American Ethical Union. Retrieved 2009-02-23. 
  48. Stringer-Hye, Richard. War "Charles Francis Potter". Dictionary of Unitarian and Universalist Biography. Unitarian Universalist Historical Society. http://wWorld War Retrieved 2008-05-01. 
  49. American Humanist Association
  50. Doerr, Edd (November/December 2002). "Humanism Unmodified". The Humanist. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  51. "Amsterdam Declaration 2002". International Humanist and Ethical Union. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  52. "IHEU's Bylaws". International Humanist and Ethical Union. Retrieved 2008-07-05. 
  53. Jones, Dwight (2009) Essays in the Philosophy of Humanism,Volume 17 (1)


  • Bauman, Richard. Human Rights in Ancient Rome. Routledge Classical Monographs, 1999 ISBN 0415173205
  • Berry, Philippa and Andrew Wernick. The Shadow of Spirit: Post-Modernism and Religion. Routledge, (1992) 2006. ISBN 0415066387
  • Burckhardt, Jacob. Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy'. 1860.
  • Davies, Tony. Humanism The New Critical Idiom. Drakakis, John, series editor. University of Stirling, UK. Routledge, 1997 ISBN 0415110521
  • Ferguson, Wallace K. The Renaissance in Historical Thought. Five Centuries of Interpretation. New York: Nachdruck: AMS, 1981 (Boston: Mifflin, 1948)
  • Gay, Peter. The Party of Humanity: Essays in the French enlightenment. New York: W. W. Norton (1971). OCLC 11672592
  • Gay, Peter. Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1996 ISBN 0393313662
  • Giustiniani,Vito. "Homo, Humanus, and the Meanings of Humanism", Journal of the History of Ideas 46 (vol. 2, April – June, 1985): 167 – 95. [1] [2]
  • Grafton, Anthony. Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450-1800. Harvard University Press, 1991
  • Grendler, Paul F. '"Georg Voigt: Historian of Humanism", in: Humanism and Creativity in the Renaissance: Essays in Honor of Ronald G. Witt. Christopher S. Celenza und Kenneth Gouvens, Editors. Leiden 2006, pp. 295-326 ISBN 90-04-14907-4
  • Hale, John. A Concise Encyclopaedia of the Italian Renaissance. Oxford University Press, 1981 ISBN 0500233330.
  • Johnson, Paul. The Renaissance. Modern Library Chronicles. New York: Modern Library, 2002 ISBN 0812966190
  • Kristeller, Paul Oskar. The Renaissance Philosophy of Man. The University of Chicago Press, 1950.
  • Kristeller, Paul Oskar. Renaissance Thought and its Sources. Columbia University Press, 1979 ISBN 0231045131
  • Partner, Peter. Renaissance Rome, Portrait of a Society 1500-1559 University of California Press 1979
  • Proctor, Robert. Defining the Humanities. Indiana University Press, 1998 ISBN 0253212197
  • Vernant, Jean-Pierre. Origins of Greek Thought. Cornell University Press, (1962) 1984 ISBN 0801492939
  • Schmitt, Charles B. and Quentin Skinner, Editors. The Cambridge History of Renaissance Philosophy. Cambridge, 1990.
  • Wernick, Andrew. Auguste Comte and the Religion of Humanity: The Post-theistic Program of French Social Theory. Cambridge University Press, 2001 ISBN 0521662729

External links

Manifestos and statements setting out humanist viewpoints

Introductions to humanism

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