The Philosophy of Humanism

Corliss Lamont Philosophical Library

Humanism has been the core of philosophy throughout recorded history. It puts mankind first and argues that this life is all that there is. Reduced to its fundamentals, it is a philosophy of reason and believes in naturalistic metaphysics (pantheism) and views all forms of the supernatural as myth. As Immanuel Kant observed, “The supernatural is a couch upon which the intellect slothfully reclines.” Humanism draws on the laws of science and expects no survival after death. It places its ultimate faith in man and man’s ability to solve his own problems, and it rejects fatalism, while accepting man’s freedom of choice. It believes that high standards of ethics and morality lead to happiness. Finally, humanism follows Socrates, Bacon, Emerson and others (including Einstein who claimed to be a humanist), who question all assumptions and remain open to new and better data, always embracing the “Scientific Law of Parsimony”, which holds that all conclusions should be based on the least possible assumptions. Humanism offers a comfortable sanctuary for the bulk of mathematicians, physicists and other scientists, agnostics, atheists, and myriad others who, like Mitya in Dostoyevsky’s Brothers Karamoz, lament, “All that I seek is an answer to my questions.”

Lamont, quoting Thomas Jefferson, notes, “All mankind, from the beginning of time, have been quarrelling, fighting, burning, torturing one another for abstractions unintelligible to themselves and to others…” Fear, ignorance and wishful thinking comprise the cornerstone of the beliefs of these violently competing theists. Somerset Maugham offered this interesting test: Would you embark on any endeavor (a business, building a bridge, etc.) based on hearsay, dated texts that have been re-copied, edited, even rewritten by endless clergymen, without one shred of objective data?

Humanists live in the moment, like Faust, who traded his immortal soul for a better life here. Shelly’s Prometheus Unbound represents the human mind and will and gives his powers to the god, Jupiter, who then enchains Prometheus and enslaves the race of man. Jupiter is finally overthrown, freeing mankind. The symbolic meaning is that the anthropomorphic god of theology is a man-spun creation, who will exist until man takes salvation into his own hands by creating an earthly millennium to supplant Christian heaven.

Most philosophers directly or indirectly subscribe to humanism. The endless list of prominent devotees includes: Protagoras, Erasmus, Epicurus, Lucretius, Montaigne, Thomas Moore, Bacon, Wm. James, John Dewey, Freud, Santayana, Einstein, Kant, Thos. Hobbs, Spinoza, Voltaire, Spencer, Sartre, Thos. Huxley, Newton, Emerson, Franklin, Thos. Paine, Jefferson, Bertrand Russell, and the Unitarians.

The Philosophy of Humanism is a book that I read in the 1950’s and again in 2007. It was friendly and comfortable territory for me. For those who want to consider the possibility that there is no supernatural force and who wish to explore the logic in support of that view, PoH is lovely place to begin that journey.