The meaning of Humanism

Humanism has meant many things: “It may be the reasonable balance of life that the early Humanists discovered in the Greeks; it may be merely the study of the humanities or polite letters; it may be the freedom from religiosity and the vivid interest in all sides of life of a Queen Elizabeth or a Benjamin Franklin; or it may be the responsiveness to all human passions of a Shakespeare or a Goethe; or it may be a philosophy of which man is the center and sanction.” (Encyclopedia of the Social Sciences, New York: Macmillan, 1937, Vol. IV, p. 541)

The philosophy of Humanism represents a specific and forthright view of the universe, the nature of man, and the treatment of human problems. It is a many-faceted philosophy, congenial to the modern age, yet fully aware of the lessons of history. In his book The Philosophy of Humanism, (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing Co., fifth edition, 1965, pp. 12-14) Corliss Lamont, a 20th century writer, teacher and Humanist philosopher, described ten central propositions in the Humanist philosophy.

First, “Humanism believes in a naturalistic attitude toward the universe that considers all forms of the supernatural as myth; and that regards Nature as the totality of being and as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness.”

Second, “Humanism, drawing especially upon the laws and facts of science, believes that man is an evolutionary product of the Nature of which he is part; that his mind is indivisibly conjoined with the functioning of his brain; and that as an inseparable unity of body and personality he can have no conscious survival after death.”

Third, “Humanism, having its ultimate faith in man, believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems, through reliance primarily upon reason and scientific method applied with courage and vision.”

Fourth, “Humanism. . .believes that human beings, while conditioned by the past, possess genuine freedom of creative choice and action, and are within certain objective limits, the masters of their own destiny.”

Fifth, “Humanism believes in an ethics or morality that grounds all human values in this-earthly experiences and relationships and that holds as its highest goal the this-worldly happiness, freedom and progress – economic, cultural and ethical – of all humankind irrespective of nation, race or religion.”

Sixth, “Humanism believes that the individual attains the good life by harmoniously combining personal satisfactions and continuous self-development with significant work and other activities that contribute to the welfare of the community.”

Seventh, “Humanism believes in the widest possible development of art and the awareness of beauty, including the appreciation of Nature’s loveliness and splendor, so that the aesthetic experience may become a pervasive reality in the life of a person.”

Eighth, “Humanism believes in a far-reaching social program that stands for the establishment throughout the world of democracy, peace, and a high standard of living on the foundations of a flourishing economic order, both national and international.”

Ninth, “Humanism believes in the complete social implementation of reason and scientific method; and thereby in the use of democratic procedures, including full freedom of expression and civil liberties, throughout all areas of economic, political and cultural life.”

Tenth, “Humanism, in accordance with the scientific method, believes in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including its own. Humanism is not a new dogma, but is a developing philosophy ever open to experimental testing, newly discovered facts and more rigorous reasoning.”

Imposing Lamont’s ten points upon our Jewish heritage and culture creates Humanistic Judaism.