This is really the textbook for Humanism 101, a basic philosophy
course. Before all else the purpose of this book is to let us
acquire an accurate and thorough grasp of the ideas of
humanism. It is designed as a text or supplementary material
for a college course. Each chapter ends with study and discussion
questions, suggestions for research problems, and a list of further
readings. I would recommend this book strongly for anyone trying to
obtain a comprehensive view of humanistic thought.
The book is laid out exceptionally clearly.
Early on the authors provide 17 propositions which they intend to
investigate. Examples look like this: (p. 9)
we merely physical systems with brains, but devoid of immaterial
7. Morality cannot be based on
anything supernatural or on the nonrational.
12. Does science undermine supernatural
13. Is there any warrant for believing in
any of the traditional god or gods?
authors go out of their way to define the specialized terminology
needed for philosophy in general and specifically for an examination
of humanist thought. In fact, for humanism itself they give no less
than five definitions (p. 7.) Humanism is a worldview or life stance
which relies on science and naturalism and emphasizes human beings
as the actors and creators in the world. Human reason alone enables
us to make sense out of the real world, to develop democratic
societies, and to invent justice and ethics.
Although humanistic ideas undoubtedly
existed before classical antiquity in China and India, for us
humanism is generally thought to have begun with the ancient Greeks.
The Greeks were the first to investigate questions of nature and
mathematics as problems for their own sake, the
beginning of basic science, rather than knowledge for some practical
end. They also questioned the existence of the gods, and whence
derive our ideas of right and wrong. To Socrates (470-399 BCE) the
unexamined life was not worth living, and the questions of politics
and ethics were good and ends in themselves.
Humanism died or was suppressed during the
long ages of Christian church dominance when God and the Pope
dictated what was good and right. Only the Renaissance revived the
brilliant explosion of classical Greek thought and culture. In this
period also, the concept of humanism, as a culture made by man, was
invented. In the 18th century the Enlightenment enthroned human
reason as the great liberator which taught us to question the
dictates of church and government. To Emmanuel Kant (1724-1804) the
unreasoned life was a kind of slavery.
The authors of The Case for Humanism
carefully explicate the thought and arguments of
humanistic authors as they developed. They are meticulous to inform
us exactly who, that is which writers and philosophers of the past
and present, were opposed to humanist thought or contradicted the
ideas of humanism. In fact, the authors either summarize the
arguments of their opponents, or, extremely usefully, quote them at
length in side boxes. Thus, they gradually build up a general
history of philosophical thought to show exactly where humanistic
philosophy and arguments fit and interacted with related
philosophical ideas. We gradually learn to appreciate the great
extent to which humanist thought has shaped our modern world and
Major topics discussed in the realm of this
philosophy are: what is human nature, do we have freedom of choice
and how is that possible, what is the moral life, how can we discern
truth and knowledge. Through most of history humanism has struggled
with the god question, and with the contest between religion and
science. Is there any knowledge besides and beyond the knowledge
acquired by reason and with the bodily senses? A final chapter is
devoted to the very active and modern issue of humanistic thought in
society and politics.