What is Humanism?
|Humanism is an ethos, attitude or way of life
centered on human interests or values, stressing an individual's
dignity and worth and capacity for self-realization through reason
and other human skills. It usually rejects supernaturalism, but
some religious people consider themselves humanists.
(from Humanism - Wikipedia,)
|This series of pages is an attempt to find out
whose ideas and what ideas over the centuries lead to the current
humanist movement. Each person on these pages contributed in many
ways to Humanism through their ideas, concepts and thought processes.
Some famous Philosophers and Humanists
Born: 384 BCE - Stagirus on the coast of Thrace Died:
322 BCE - Chalcis in Euboea
|Famous for: Aristotle studied under Plato
but later diverged from some of Plato's ideas. During his years
of teaching, he expanded his ideas on Rhetoric. He wrote "The
Categories" - a classification of Words. He felt Logic was
the equivalent of verbal reasoning. He wrote "Ethics"
explaining the aspirations and desire behind man's desire for happiness.
|Humanist Ideas: Aristotle saw the universe
as form evolving to matter. He had form without matter on one end
and matter without form on the other. Everything in nature could
be shown on this scale. He also developed a scale of being. The
higher being on this scale has more worth, is more organic and cannot
evolve. The lower being on this scale has less worth, is more inorganic
and can evolve over time.
|Noted Sayings: "A man is the origin of
his action." (Nicomachean Ethics Bk III, Ch 3) "To be
conscious that we are perceiving or thinking is to be conscious
of our own existence." (Nicomachean Ethics Bk IX, Ch 9) "The
actuality of thought is life." (Metaphysics Bk 1 Ch 7)
Aristotle -- Overview [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook - Aristotle's " Ethics"
Ebook - Aristotle's "The Categories"
Born: 341 BCE - on Samos an Athenian Colony Died:
270 BCE - Athens, Greece
|Famous For: Saw atoms as the basic constituent
of the world - "uncuttable" units of matter that made
up everything. Most of his ideas were considered "ungodly"
and destroyed after his death. But, Epicurean communities continued.
Most of what is known about his ideas comes from other writings
about them by authors such as Leartius, Lucretius and Cicero.
|Humanist Ideas: One gains knowledge by
relying upon the senses. The gods have no influence on our lives.
Pleasure, meaning tranquility, can be achieved by limiting our desires
and not fearing the gods or death. His "gospel of freedom"
was very popular during his life time. He highly valued the virtues
of justice, honesty, and prudence which he thought of as the balancing
of pleasure and pain. He believe in the freedom of will.
|Noted Sayings: "Death is nothing to us
since when we are, death has not come and when death has come we
are not." (From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers,
Bk X, Sec 125.) "Pleasure is the beginning and the end of living
happily." (From Diogenes Laertius, Lives of Eminent Philosophers,
Bk X, Sec 128.)
[Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook Poem by Lucretius "Of Nature of Things" based on
the ideas of Epicurus
Desiderius Erasmusof Rotterdam
Born: October 27 about 1466 Rotterdam, Holland Died:
July 12, 1536 Basel, Switzerland
|Famous For: Even though he was an ordained
priest, he never assumed priestly duties. Instead devoted his life
to scholarly study and writing. He was most noted for not taking
sides on any issue and advocating education at an early age.
|Humanist Idea: Throughout his life, Erasmus
maintained a life that was independent of country, academic ties,
as well as religious ties. His aim was to have a freedom of intellect
and literary expression. As a result, he as both admired and feared
by both the religious and the reformers of his day. He also felt
that education should be started before the age of seven and continued
by encouraging a method of scholarship that was free from medieval
traditions which were formal and rigid. His primary goal in life
was in the pursuit of pure scholarship. He was against all ignorance
and superstition instead wanting to find the truth with out allegiance
to anyone or any instititution.
- Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Erasmus of Rotterdam
Ebook - The Praise of Folly
Born: 1548 - Nola, Italy Died: February 17,
1600 - Rome, Italy
|Famous For: He was a Dominican
Friar and wandering teacher who stayed a step ahead of the
inquisition. He agreed with Copernicus and was burned
at the stake during the inquisition for it. He was also
famous for his skills with memory. So much so that most
people thought of it as magic.
|Humanist Ideas: Giordano agreed
with Copernicus that the earth was not the center of the
universe - the sun was only the center of our solar system.
However, he took things further by saying that there is
no center or circumference to the universe. He also stated
that there were lots of Sun/earth planet stars throughout
the universe. Each on under its own power and rotation.
This Sun/Earth planet system was his idea of the "fundamental
unit of the universe." According to him it is "Platonic
love that joins the soul to God through wisdom."
|Noted Sayings: "Time takes all and gives
all.""The Candle Bearer" 1582 dedication) "There
is in the universe neither center nor circumference."("On
the Infinite Universe and Worlds" 1584 Fifth Dialogue)
Giordano Bruno - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Giordano Bruno The Forgotten Philosopher
Benedict (Baruch) Spinoza
Born: November 24, 1632 in Marrano, Portugal Died:
February 21, 1677 in The Hague
|Famous For: One of the three major Rationalists
of the time along with Descartes and Liebniz. For acquiring knowledge,
he moved away from the sense of perception and replaced it with
a "purely intellectual form of cognition." As a model
for philosophy, he used idealized geometry.
|Humanist Ideas: Believed in a species
of monism but claimed there is only one substance.
A few of his definitions of this substance are:ID3: By substance
I understand what is in itself and is conceived through itself,
that is, that whose concept does not require the concept of another
thing, from which it must be formed.ID4: By attribute I understand
what the intellect perceives of a substance, as constituting its
essence.ID5: By mode I understand the affections of a substance,
or that which is in another through which it is also conceived.ID6:
By God I understand a being absolutely infinite, that is, a
substance consisting of an infinity of attributes, of which each
one expresses an eternal and infinite essence.
|Monism - the doctrine
that all of reality is, in some significant sense, one.
(Baruch) Spinoza [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook - by Spinoza "The Ethics"
Born: March 31, 1596 La Haye, Touraine, France Died:
February 11, 1650 Stockholm, Sweden
|Famous For: Along with Galileo, he provided
the foundation for Analytic Geometry. He is credited with the Cartesian
coordinate system used in Geometry as well as use of X, Y &
Z to identify unknowns in equations. He is also often called the
father of modern philosophy.
The philosophical ideas of Descartes consisted of a method of "Hyperbolic
Doubt" and the idea that he cannot doubt his existence
but can have doubts about anything else. He had doubts about the
authority of the philosophy who came before him and which he rejected.
He also doubted what his own senses told him. His search for truth
and philosophical foundation was in that which was "clearly
and distinctly" doubtless. He sees that he himself must be
able to think but that thinking is separate from what the body senses.
For him it is possible to gain knowledge and understand the material
world through mathematics. To gain this true and doubtless knowledge
he had a set of methodological rules.1) Never accept anything as
true if preconceptions are present in the mind.2) Divide an issue
into as many parts as possible in order to resolve them.3) Impose
an orderly manner of thought that begins with the simplest and work
towards the most complex issues. 4) Completely include all enumerations,
and all comprehensive reviews - "leave nothing out."
- a systematic process of doubt which determines if a class
of knowledge can be doubted in anyway to arrive at a list of beliefs
that are true and doubtless.
|Noted Sayings: "All that is very clearly
and distinctly conceived is true." (Meditation III p 142) "Cogito,
ergo sum --- I think, therefore I am." (Le Discours de la Methode,
pt 4.) "It is not possible for there to be in us any thought
of which at the moment it is in us, we are not conscious."
(Oeuvres de Descartes Vol. VII p 246)
René Descartes [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook - "The Principles of Philosophy"
Ebook - "Discourse On The
Method Of Rightly Conducting The Reason, And Seeking Truth In The
Born: August 29, 1632 Wrington, Somerset, England Died:
October, 28, 1704 Oates, Essex, England
|Famous For:He was trained in the medical arts
and was active in the English political arena with the Earl of Shaftesbury.
He founded the school of empiricism. He wrote an unused constitution
for the proprietors of the Colony of Carolina in 1669.
|Humanist Idea: For Locke, "all objects
of understanding" can be called ideas which are in the mind.
The origin of these ideas comes from human experience. The mind
understands these experiences through ideas of it's own operation. "When
the mind acts, it has an idea of its action, that is, it is self-conscious,
and as such, is assumed to be an original source of knowledge."
These ideas come in two different varieties. Simple ideas come from
sensation or observation of mental operations as these sensations
take place. Complex ideas come from the "processes of combination
and abstraction carried out by the mind." These ideas have
primary and secondary qualities. He sees the simple idea as a test
and standard of reality. "All relation terminates in, and is
ultimately founded on, those simple ideas we have got from sensation
or reflection." (Essay Bk 2:28:18) "General and certain
truths, are only founded in the habitudes and relations of abstract
ideas." (Essay Bk 4::12:7)
"Let us then suppose
the mind to be as we say, white paper, void of all the characters,
without any ideas; How comes it to be furnished....To this I answer,
in one word, from Experience. In that, all our knowledge is founded
and from that is ultimately derives itself." (An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding Bk II, ch I, p 104)
"I think nobody can,
in earnest, be so sceptical as to be uncertain of the existence
of those things which he sees or feels."(An Essay Concerning
Human Understanding Bk IV, ch II, sec. 3, p 631)
"Thinking consists in
being conscious that one thinks." (An Essay Concerning Human
Understanding Bk II, ch I, sec 19)
Locke [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook "An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding Vol. I"
Ebook "An Essay Concerning Humane Understanding Vol II
Born: May 7, 1711 in Berwickshire, Scotland Died:
August 25, 1776 Edinburgh, Scotland
|Famous For: Hume was known to be very
skeptical of religion. His thoughts and writings influenced the
development of both the school of skepticism and the school of empiricism.
As a philosopher, he focused on ethics and political economy.
|Humanist Ideas: One of Hume's philosophical
positions was that there was a difference between reason and sensation.
He tried to prove that "reason and rational judgments are merely
habitual associations of distinct sensations or experiences."
He also states that "reason can never show us the connection
of one object to another, tho' aided by experience, and the observation
of their conjunction in all past instances. When the mind, therefore,
passes from the idea or impression of one object to the idea or
belief of another, it is not determined by reason, but by certain
principles, which associate together the ideas of these objects
and unite them in the imagination. He also denied the existence
of the individual self, maintaining that because people do not have
a constant perception of themselves as distinct entities, they "are
nothing but a bundle or collection of different perceptions."
Hume offered one of the first purely secular moral theories, which
grounded morality in the pleasing and useful consequences that result
from our actions
|Noted Sayings: "Generally speaking, the
errors in religion are dangerous; those in philosophy only ridiculous."
(A Treatise of Human Nature (1739) Bk I, pt iv, sec vii) "Opposing
one species of superstition to another, set them a-quarreling; while
we ourselves, during their fury and contention, happily make our
escape in the calm, though obscure, regions of philosophy."
(The Natural History of Religion (1757))
David Hume -- Life and Writings [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook - "Dialogues Concerning Natural Religion"
Born: April 24, 1724 - Kaliningrad, Russia Died: February
Kant was a professor of logic and
metaphysics who was very unorthodox in his ideas on religion. He
based his view on rationalism over revelation. This prompted King
Frederick William II of Prussia to forbid Kant from teaching religious
subjects. Kant complied until the king died 5 years later.
Idea: In Kant's key piece called
the Critique of Pure Reason(1781),he examines the bases of
human knowledge. In it he specifies two modes of thinking: analytic
and synthetic. To Kant an analytic mode of thinking is determined
by a proposition in which the truth is self-evident for the reverse
would be self-contradictory. The synthetic mode of thinking is determined
by a proposition that results from ones experiences.He goes further
to add two other types of propositions: empirical and a priori.
An empirical proposition depends entirely on one perception through
the senses. A priori propositions are not perceived through the
senses but are fundamental propositions. Kant considered all objects
of the material world as "fundamentally unknowable from the
viewpoint of reason." These objects are "merely raw material
from which sensations are formed." Kant says that theoretical
reason makes it possible to cognize what is as well as practically
determining what ought to be. He believed that "Human reason
is by it's nature is architectonic." "Reason thinks of
all cognitions as belonging to a unified and organized system. Reason
is our faculty of making inferences and of identifying the grounds
behind every truth."If the statement "Tom is a man"
is true and "all men are mortal" is true, then one can
infer that the statement "Tom is mortal" is true. This
set of references can be continued using reason, to provide higher
and higher levels of generality to explain the way things are. We
do this by connecting each state with the previous state and the
state that follows according to a rule. Combining these into a hierarchy
can provide us with a conception of the whole system of nature.
|Noted Sayings: Two things fill the mind with
ever-increasing wonder and awe, the more often and the more intensely
the mind of thought is drawn to them: the starry heavens above me
and the moral law within me." (Critique of Practical Reason
(1788)) "Morality is not properly the doctrine of how we may
make ourselves happy, but how we may make ourselves worthy of happiness."
(Critique of Practical Reason (1788))
Immanuel Kant -- Metaphysics [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
Ebook - "The Critique of Pure Reason"
Ebook - " The Critique of Practical Reason"
Born: February 15, 1748- Houndsditch, London, England
Died: June 6, 1832 - London, England His estate financed the
new University College in London.
He was one of the founders of utilitarianism.
Spent most of his life writing about legal reform issues. He developed
and proposed projects that used "practical" ideas for
the reform of some social institutions.
|Humanist Idea: "The greatest happiness
principle" also known as" the principle of utility. He
Felt that the primary motivators for humans are pleasure and pain.
The principle of utility is something to which individuals, in acting,
refer either explicitly or implicitly, and this is something that
can be ascertained and confirmed by simple observation If the pleasure
is good, then it is good irrespective of whose pleasure it is. The
advantages of this are:- the principle of utility is clear, - allows
for objective and disinterested public discussion, - enables decisions
to be made where there seem to be conflicts of legitimate interests.
|Noted Sayings: "By the principle of utility
is meant that principle which approves or disapproves of every action
whatsoever, according to the tendency which it appears to have to
augment or diminish the happiness of the party whose interest is
in question: or, what is the same thing in other words, to promote
or to oppose that happiness." (Introduction to the Principles
of Morals and Legislation (1789))
Bentham [Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
John Stuart Mill
Born: May 20, 1804 London, England Died: 1873 - Avignon
|Famous For: Early in his life, Mill known
for having formed a Utilitarian Society. Later he was know for his
ideas and writings on the System of Logic which added the theory
of inductive proof to the current ideas on terms, propositions and
|Humanist Idea: Utilitarianism - According
to Mill there were two types of moral theories: intuitive (without
appeal to experience) and inductive (based on experience and observation).
Mill came up with the "Highest Normative Principle: - Actions
are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness: wrong
as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness." Happiness
is meant as intellectual pleasures as well as sensual pleasures.
To him the principle of Utility was used to assess the consequences
of actions but not the motives or character traits behind those
actions. Logic -Most of Mill's reputation was for
his analysis of inductive proof. The empirical sciences used his
set of formula and criteria provided more precise arguments with
references to questions of proof or evidence. He developed five
methods of induction: the method of agreement, of difference, double
method of agreement and difference, of residues and of concomitant
variations. The common thread of all these methods was elimination. "We
deduce the law or cause of a complex effect from the laws of separate
causes whose concurrence give rise to it. Religion
- Mill applied his ideas of Utilitarianism and Logic to the question
of Religion. He says "In sober truth, nearly all the things
which men are hanged or imprisoned for doing to one another, are
nature's every day performances" (Essays on Religion,
p28). "Let is be remembered that if individual life is short,
the life of the human species is not short; it's definite duration
is practically equivalent to endlessness; and being combined with
indefinite capability of improvement, it offers to the imagination
and sympathies a large enough object to satisfy any reasonable demand
for grandeur of inspiration. (ibid p 106)
|Noted Sayings: "If all mankind minus one
were of one opinion, and only one person were of the contrary opinion,
mankind would be no more justified in silencing that one person
than he, if he had the power, would be justified in silencing mankind."
(On Liberty (1859) ch 2) "The individual is not accountable
to society for his actions, insofar as these concern the interests
of no person but himself."(On Liberty(1859) ch 5) "Ask
yourself whether you are happy, and you cease to be so." (Autobiography
(1893) ch 5)
Born: January 29, 1737 - Thetford, Norfolk, England Died:
June 8, 1809 - New York City, New York
|Famous For: During the American Revolutionary
War, Paine wrote pamphlets entitled The American Crisis. It is said
George Washington impressed enough to have the pamphlets read to
the troops hoping they would also be inspired enough to endure.
This included the famous phrase: "These are the times that
try men's souls...."
|Humanist Idea: Some would say with a
mother who was a member of the Church of England and a father who
was a Quaker, it is no wonder Paine advocated a liberal world view.
He had no use for royalty and viewed government as a "necessary
evil." He was an outspoken critic of organized religion. His
pamphlet, Age of Reason (1794) was written while he was in
prison and thought he would soon be put to death. It is his assault
against organized religion. "The opinions I have advanced....are
the effect of the most clear and long-established conviction that
the Bible and the Testament are impositions upon the world, that
the fall of man, the account of Jesus Christ being the Son of God,
and of his dying to appease the wrath of God, and of salvation by
that strange means, are all fabulous inventions, dishonorable to
the wisdom and power of the Almighty; that the only true religion
is Deism, by which I then meant and mean now,
the belief of one God, and an imitation of his moral character,
or the practice of what we moral virtues--and that is upon this
only (so far as religion is concerned) that I rested all my hopes
of happiness." (Age of Reason - 1794) The story goes
that when he was in prison, having been sentenced to death, a prison
guard went around marking the cell doors with chalk for those to
be put to death. Paine's cell door was open because a physician
was treating him. The physician left closing the cell door behind
him. The chalk mark ended up on the inside. Paine was thus spared
because there was no chalk mark on the outside of his cell.
|Deism - the belief
in a God or First Cause based on reason rather than faith,
distinguishing it from theism. Deism is usually synonymous
with "natural religion" in 18th century Enlightenment
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
|Noted Sayings:"These are the times that
try men's souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will,
in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he
that stands it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and
woman." The American Crisis no. 1 (December 23, 1776)) "‘Tis
the business of little minds to shrink; but he whose heart is firm,
and whose conscience approves his conduct, will pursue his principles
unto death." (The American Crisis no. 1 (December 23, 1776)) "My
country is the world and my religion is to do good." (The Rights
of Many Pt II (1792), ch 5) "When authors and critics talk
of the sublime, they see not how nearly it borders on the ridiculous."
(The Age of Reason (1793), Pt II, Note.)
Thomas Paine - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Ebook - Common Sense
Ebook - The Age of Reason
|Ebook - The
Ebook - The Rights of Man
K'ung Fu Tzu or Confucius
Born: 551 BCE Lu in northeastern China Died:479 BCE
|Famous For: Sayings and biographical
fragments contained in the Analects (Chinese: Lunyu) which heavily
influenced Chinese, Korean, Japanese and Vietnamese thought as well
as Western thought. These sayings have been re-visited and re-discovered
many times over the centuries.
Most of us have seen some of the sayings of Confucius at one time
or another. However, a closer look at the collection of his writings
called the Analects shows us four of his views that are often thought
to be in conflict but in reality are quite complimentary. These
four sets of complimentary concerns are Theodicy, Harmonious Order,
Moral Force and Self-Cultivation. Theodicy. Confucius seems
to view a force called Tian as the absolute power in the
universe in three ways: (1) it's alignment with moral goodness;
(2) its dependence on human agents to actualize its will; (3) the
variable, unpredictable nature of its associations with mortal actors.
Harmonious Order. According to Confucius there are three
different kinds of interlocking kinds of order; aesthetic, moral,
and social. "The instrument for effecting and emulating all
three is li (ritual propriety) Moral Force. In Chinese
this is known as De. It is the quality of a successful ruler
which is allied with morality. Without De a ruler could not
rule at all. Self-Cultivation. In the world of Confucius,
while every human being is alike at birth, there are two different
ways people develop their potential. They are junzi (profound
person) and xiaoren (small person). To properly cultivate
one's potential, a person looks within and compares itself to the
aesthetic, moral and social canons of tradition. "Confucius'
vision of order unites aesthetic concerns for harmony and symmetry
with moral force in pursuit of social goals: a well-ordered family,
a well-ordered state, and a well ordered world. Such an aesthetic,
moral and social program begins at home, with the cultivation of
Encyclopedia of Philosophy]
|Noted Sayings: "There is no one who recognizes
me....I neither resent heaven nor blame humanity. In learning about
the lower I have understood the higher. The one who recognizes me
- wouldn't that be heaven?" (Analects 14.35) "One who
rules by moral force may be compared to the North Star -- it occupies
its place and all the stars pay homage to it." (Analects 2.1) "The
profound person understands what is moral. The small person understands
what is profitable." (Analects 4.16)
Encyclopedia of Philosophy]