Mainly a reaction to and refutation of the dogma and fatalism associated with traditional religious philosophies, Humanism was a way of thinking that proposed that humans had free will, a capacity for instinctive ethics and an mandate to progress and evolve — all things which religious organizations tended to deny.
Though humanism today tends to be associated with secular movements, they often tend to harbor a “spiritual” component in the sense that they sympathize with the religious impulse and try to harness it. To this end, they often embrace the mythological and symbolic elements of traditional religion, even if they reject any notion that they are factually real. For many people, this serves as an adequate compromise, and mitigates any adversarial relationship to religion that might be implied by outright Atheism.
In general, Humanism is meant to be fundamentally optimistic towards humanity, believing it inevitable that humans will progress and gradually overcome their biological and tribal values and limitations. Humanists are also implicitly multi-disciplinary and democratic, looking at all aspects of human Creativism and rejecting nothing out of hand, even if they might be necessarily skeptical about all propositions.
The term Humanism originated during the French Enlightenment of the 18th and 19th centuries, representing a general exaltation of the achievements of humanity. As civilization was emerging from the middle ages and looking back on the achievements of the Greeks and Romans, an academic discipline called “The Humanities” emerged which emphasized literature from classical antiquity. Taken together, Humanism and the humanities presaged a resurgence of reason and an attempt to free humankind from the shackles of religion which had caused culture to stagnate during the long interval.
The primary practice of Humanists is study: reading widely from a broad variety of sources. A highly literate practice, Humanists are essentially eternal students of humanity. Consequently, there is no ultimate goal, and one is always inquisitive because the human project is never-ending. This continual broadening of the mind coupled with a fundamental skepticism leads humanists to develop great sympathy for variant worldviews, even when they consider them to be false. A Humanist develops positive social and rhetorical techniques to help facilitate communication and education, rather than trying to “win.”
Humanism is about the world, not about humanism.
– Harold Blackham
The secret of happiness is this: let your interests be as wide as possible and let your reactions to the things and persons that interest you be as far as possible friendly rather than hostile.
– Bertrand Russell
Of moral purpose I see no trace in Nature. That is an article of exclusively human manufacture – and very much to our credit.”
– T H Huxley
The four characteristics of humanism are curiosity, a free mind, belief in good taste, and belief in the human race.
— E. M. Forster
If those committed to the quest fail, they will be forgiven. When lost, they will find another way. The moral imperative of humanism is the endeavor alone, whether successful or not, provided the effort is honorable and failure memorable.
— E. O. Wilson