Tuesday, May 24, 2005

Humanism

+JMJ+

From an article yesterday by the Houston Chronicle:

Born and brought up in the Jewish religion, [Dr. Ray Daily, an opthamologist who served for 24 years on the HISD board of directors] was not very religious, said her son, Louis Daily, jr. She embraced humanism, which has been called many things but perhaps is best described as a philosophy for those who think for themselves.

I do believe that I would have to take issue with this definition of "humanism". There are many brands of humanism, from Christian humanism to secular humanism, embraced by philosophers such as John Dewey (which would be part of the reason why religion and mythology are both in the same section in the Dewey decimal system). Given the context, secular humanism seems to be what is being referred to in this paragraph.

Generally, when humanism is left unmodified, the assupmtion may be made that the reference is to secular humanism, which is why the definition for secular humanism is usually included in any dictionary heading of "humanism", typically the last of three or four definitions.

The most basic definition of humanism, that which every variant of it has in common, is a particular emphasis for the individual value of the individual and any adherant to the system will have humanitarian concerns, with a belief in the inherent goodness and overall optimistic outlook on human nature. Given this, it is not hard to see how one could be a Christian humanist, or a humanist who professes religious belief in general.

Oftentimes, those who profess to be humanists will place greater interest in one's welfare in this life over the next, to a greater and greater degree until you arrive at secular humanism, which not only denies the importance of considering the afterlife during this life, but outright rejects any belief in the afterlife and dismisses all religion as mythology.

In addition to this, there would be two other reasons why "a philosophy for those who think for themselves" would be a poor definition:

1) There are people who, by the free use of their own intellect, possessing no inhibitions or other mental defects, who come to philosophical systems other than humanism, such as Platonism, Aristotelianism, Kantianism, Thomsim/neo-Thomism, etc. They have thought the issues out for themselves, and have come to something other than humanism. Therefore, since the property of thinking for oneself is not by necessity restricted to humanism, and since definitions of philosophies ought to distinguish them from other systems, which this does not do, it is a poor definition.

2) There are people who are humanists primarily for other than intellectual reasons, such as parental upbringing or cultural prevalence. Since there are those who are of this philosophy that did not "think for themselves" in a strict sense of the term but who meet the basic requirements of humanism (the definition above), and a definition of a philosophy should be able to apply to who hold to the philosophy, it is a poor definition.

Not to mention the rather insulting implication that those who adhere to a religious system are somehow incapable of thinking for themselves. I myself was born and raised Catholic. Nevertheless, there was a time where, while remaining in the Church, I critically examined the Catholic worldview and did find it to be the most logical one, a period which began around the 6th grade and came to an end last year upon gaining an in-depth knowledge of the system of St. Thomas. Not to mention those such as G.K. Chesterton who came into the Church after a similar examination conducted from the outside.

That's all on philosophy from me for the moment. The next time I post on philosophy, I'll have the re-write of the ethics paper.

+Ad Majorem Dei Gloram+

"There are those who hate Christianity and call their hatred an all-embracing love for all religions."
-G.K. Chesterton, in an article written for the Illustrated London News, January 13, 1906.

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