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A question about humanism
Posted: 23 November 2011 03:40 PM   [ Ignore ]
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I do not (yet) consider myself a humanist. Mostly because I don’t understand the logical basis for it. I understand that it can be a good philosophical position to hold, as an atheist, for the benefit of society. But of course, that’s just an appeal to consequences, not a real justification for it. What are some of your guys’ reasons for being a humanist?

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Posted: 23 November 2011 03:56 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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I am a humanist (and a liberal) by heart. Once I give it a deeper thought, though, all those feelings quickly disappear.

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Posted: 23 November 2011 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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Domo:

I am a humanist because I don’t believe in any big daddy in the sky to bail me out when things go bad (even when if one my screw-ups caused the problem to strart with.)
All we all have to help us out is each other.  There is no celestial reason for humans to exist, just evolution “experimenting’ with various life forms.  If we or some other thing destroys the human race, there is no consequence beyond ourselves.

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All the Gods and all religions are created by humans, to meet human needs and accomplish human ends.

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Posted: 23 November 2011 07:24 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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I believe we are a social species, and as such we all benefit as we help each other.  So, my behavior is to help others whenever I can and to avoid hurting anyone if possible.  That seems to be the basis for humanism as I see it.  Unfortunately, there has been a major thrust toward competition rather than cooperation, and this is, to my mind, severely damaging to our species.

Occam

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Posted: 23 November 2011 08:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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I don’t really consider myself to be a Humanist,although I do relate to some of the Humanist worldview.  The basis for it rests on whether a person feels comfortable with it or not, IMO.

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Posted: 23 November 2011 08:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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domokato - 23 November 2011 03:40 PM

I do not (yet) consider myself a humanist. Mostly because I don’t understand the logical basis for it… What are some of your guys’ reasons for being a humanist?

I’d start with AC Grayling’s definition of humanism:

“Humanism in the modern sense of the word is the view that, whatever your ethical system, it derives from your best understanding of human nature and the human condition in the real world”.

First, note how this definition is not loaded with any particular ethics: left/right, liberal/conservative, etc. Humanism simply means: human centred; derived from the human.

2nd, humanism includes two things:
1. an ethical system (values).
2. an understanding of self and the world (beliefs).

Most humanists/atheists agree that our beliefs should be determined by reason and science. No problem there.
But where most atheists trip-up is complete and utter idiocy regarding values.

In the absence of a god, where do atheists get our values from? There is only one place: our emotions/desires/feelings. Reason cannot give us values, reason is simply an inert model of the world. Reason can inform us, but only emotion can move us.

The answer to your question “what reason or logical basis is there for humanism?” lies in David Hume’s famous quote “reason is ... the slave of the passions” i.e. we are driven by emotional desires, and reason is simply a means to reliable beliefs about the best way to satisfy those emotional ends.

So, ironically, atheists have to acknowledge the primacy of emotional values for rule of their life. (Not emotional beliefs, that would be crazy). But this is not something that can be arrived at through logic/reason. Emotion is a force, and we can choose either to acknowledge its driving power, or end up in the looney bin looking for an alternative rational motivator - which is a nonsensical contradiction.

This is often a stumbling block, and the reason why many atheists never graduate from atheism to humanism. It’s also why the humanist movement tends to avoid introspection of its values, but prefers to assume their values are universal.

Emotion is the elephant in the room.

Complete humanism is thus: emotional values and rational beliefs.

[ Edited: 24 November 2011 05:44 AM by xntubes ]
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Posted: 23 November 2011 10:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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xntubes - 23 November 2011 08:57 PM
domokato - 23 November 2011 03:40 PM

I do not (yet) consider myself a humanist. Mostly because I don’t understand the logical basis for it… What are some of your guys’ reasons for being a humanist?

I’d start with AC Grayling’s definition of humanism:

“Humanism in the modern sense of the word is the view that, whatever your ethical system, it derives from your best understanding of human nature and the human condition in the real world”.

First, note how this definition is not loaded with any particular ethics: left/right, liberal/conservative, etc. Humanism simply means: human centred; derived from the human.

2nd, humanism includes two things:
1. an ethical system (values).
2. an understanding of self and the world (beliefs).

Most humanists/atheists agree that our beliefs should be determined by reason and science. No problem there.
But where most atheists trip-up is complete and utter idiocy regarding values.

In the absence of a god, where do atheists get our values from? There is only one place: our emotions/desires/feelings. Reason cannot give us values, reason is simply an inert model of the world. Reason can inform us, but only emotion can move us.

The answer to your question “what reason or logical basis is there for humanism?” lies in David Hume’s famous quote “reason is ... the slave of the passions” i.e. we are driven by emotional desires, and reason is simply a means to reliable beliefs about the best way to satisfy those emotional ends.

So, ironically, atheists have to acknowledge the primacy of emotional values for rule of their life. (Not emotional beliefs, that would be crazy). But this is not something that can be arrived at through logic/reason. Emotion is a force, and we can choose either to acknowledge its driving power, or end up in the looney bin looking for an alternative rational motivator - which is a nonsensical contradiction.

This is what I was thinking as well. However, how, then, can we judge sociopaths’ behavior? Their emotions do not lead them to the same values as secular humanists, yet presumably they should be judged according to our ethics. If we are using our emotions to guide our ethics, then how can we condemn them for doing the same?

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Posted: 23 November 2011 11:36 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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domokato - 23 November 2011 10:33 PM

... how, then, can we judge sociopaths’ behavior? Their emotions do not lead them to the same values as secular humanists, yet presumably they should be judged according to our ethics. If we are using our emotions to guide our ethics, then how can we condemn them for doing the same?

From memory, I think sociopaths have a deficit of emotion. I think I’ve read neuroscience/psychology saying that.

But speaking generally, yes there will be a diversity of desires/ideologies/lifestyles. It becomes a question of what you tolerate and what you exclude. Sometimes there will be no win-win situation and somebody has to lose. That’s why we lock people up. It’s a tough question…

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Posted: 24 November 2011 06:29 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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domokato - 23 November 2011 10:33 PM

This is what I was thinking as well. However, how, then, can we judge sociopaths’ behavior? Their emotions do not lead them to the same values as secular humanists, yet presumably they should be judged according to our ethics. If we are using our emotions to guide our ethics, then how can we condemn them for doing the same?

Well, I think you may be conflating two issues here, domokato. One is the substance of humanism, and another is the objectivity of ethics. Your problem comes up if all ethical claims are subjective in character: then humanism is just another way of saying “this is what makes me happy”.

If, OTOH, ethical truths are objective, and can be true or false for all, and if humanism is a (rough) way of expressing the correct way of acting, then it would follow that sociopaths are behaving unethically when they (e.g.) torture and kill innocent people.

IMO humanism as generally stated is supposed to be an objectively true ethical system; it’s something that’s supposed to be true for all humans whether or not they understand it or realize it.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 09:13 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Since there is no universal set of ethics, I believe a fundamental positive of humanism is in its use of secular ethics rather than theistic ethics. Granted, secular ethics are prone to error, but they derive from our evolution of mind rather than a stale old myth. I much prefer to trust an evolving standard over an old text.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 11:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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dougsmith - 24 November 2011 06:29 AM
domokato - 23 November 2011 10:33 PM

This is what I was thinking as well. However, how, then, can we judge sociopaths’ behavior? Their emotions do not lead them to the same values as secular humanists, yet presumably they should be judged according to our ethics. If we are using our emotions to guide our ethics, then how can we condemn them for doing the same?

Well, I think you may be conflating two issues here, domokato. One is the substance of humanism, and another is the objectivity of ethics. Your problem comes up if all ethical claims are subjective in character: then humanism is just another way of saying “this is what makes me happy”.

If, OTOH, ethical truths are objective, and can be true or false for all, and if humanism is a (rough) way of expressing the correct way of acting, then it would follow that sociopaths are behaving unethically when they (e.g.) torture and kill innocent people.

IMO humanism as generally stated is supposed to be an objectively true ethical system; it’s something that’s supposed to be true for all humans whether or not they understand it or realize it.

Then it follows that humanism cannot be based on emotions, because emotions are subjective.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 12:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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domokato - 24 November 2011 11:56 AM

Then it follows that humanism cannot be based on emotions, because emotions are subjective.

I don’t think any workable ethical system can be based solely on emotion. Emotionally we are much more invested in family and close friends, less in people who are different from us. And indeed emotionally we are prone to hatred and even violence.

Humanism tells us we should care about everyone, and often shun violence when emotionally we might want it.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 12:54 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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Corliss Lamont portrait

In 2004 I read Corliss Lamont’s book “The Philosophy of Humanism, Eighth Edition”, famous Humanist of Humanist Society of Metropolitan New York.  It really made me turn the corner.  Now that he’s past, his widow maintains the web site.  Corliss Lamont develops a very rich and deep description of Humanism, the history, the opponents, count-arguments and competing philosophies, and the evidence. smile

When I see people debating the meaning of “atheism”, it starts with a small one sentence definition, and then one person after another adds and expands on that idea.  They do this because the don’t know the history of Humanism, this is exactly what happened in the history of Humanism, one person after another expanding the Humanist (human and empirically centered) ideas more and more through the centuries, centuries dominated by religious devotion.  So in the end of that centuries long process, the philosophers have gathered the variety of ideas together, formalized the philosophy, and gave it the name Humanism.  So that’s why Humanism is a big fully developed formal philosophy, and why atheism is just a small idea, that’s why the CFI web site now says that Humanism goes beyond atheism, and agnosticism, humanism has already walked that path and it is good to learn that history.  Why re-invent the wheel?  smile

Humanism is based on a new idea that starts with the evidence rather than the old idea of starting with a religious claim, like the claim that humans have a soul.  The old dualist idea just isn’t well evidenced, re-starting the conversation with the monist idea is the more sensible place to begin.

Humanism is a loving and intelligent philosophy.  As empiricists, we find and follow the evidence.  As monists, we reunite humanity back together into one, body and brain permanently together again.  As naturalists, we look to this world to learn, discover, and also for solutions to our problems.  As humans we see humanity as it really is, one species, one of the Great Apes, united on a single planet.  When humanity suffers, so do we.  When humanity succeeds, so do we.  And that’s not the end of it.

And as agnostics and atheists, we doubt the religious claims, and move forward past the old religious devotions too.  smile  And Humanism has even more ideas than that, which is why I insist on mentioning Corliss Lamont’s book.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 02:34 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Upon reflection (and a little bit of research), my objection to humanism on the grounds that it makes an appeal to consequences appears to be invalid. I had a feeling that an appeal to consequences is valid in ethics, and wikipedia confirmed that to be the case wink.

Also, I think I was confusing “secular humanism” or “Humanism” (capital H), with “humanism”, the focus on human values. Also, this dictionary definition tripped me up:

An outlook or system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters. Humanist beliefs stress the potential value and goodness of human beings, emphasize common human needs, and seek solely rational ways of solving human problems

While, of course, I appreciate the distinction between human and supernatural matters, I feel the definition gave too much importance to humans and downplayed the importance of other lifeforms and the environment. At the present, life on Earth is a web of interdependent systems, so ensuring that it is habitable for humans includes considering other lifeforms and the environment (and that would be a humanistic endeavor according to that definition). But if animals are conscious at least to some degree, don’t they deserve ethical consideration as well, in and of themselves? Humanism, then, seems not to be the best word to describe such a philosophy.

dougsmith - 24 November 2011 12:33 PM
domokato - 24 November 2011 11:56 AM

Then it follows that humanism cannot be based on emotions, because emotions are subjective.

I don’t think any workable ethical system can be based solely on emotion. Emotionally we are much more invested in family and close friends, less in people who are different from us. And indeed emotionally we are prone to hatred and even violence.

Humanism tells us we should care about everyone, and often shun violence when emotionally we might want it.

But is it unethical to favor family and friends over strangers in, say, life or death situations? Similarly, humans share more genes with other mammals than non-mammals, and we tend to sympathize more with mammals than non-mammals, so is it unethical to treat mammals more favorably than non-mammals?

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Posted: 24 November 2011 03:20 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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domokato - 24 November 2011 02:34 PM

But is it unethical to favor family and friends over strangers in, say, life or death situations? Similarly, humans share more genes with other mammals than non-mammals, and we tend to sympathize more with mammals than non-mammals, so is it unethical to treat mammals more favorably than non-mammals?

Well, I think there are clear cases where it is unethical, and others where it’s less clear. For example, vulgar nationalism is a sort of favoring of friends and family over differently attired strangers, which appears to me clearly unethical. Deciding that anyone other than family and friends are fair game for killing or stealing is a similar, allied sort of approach that is clearly unethical, even if it feeds one’s emotions.

If the question is whether you save your child or a stranger’s child from a burning building, the case is less clear, and arguably depends on circumstances. (E.g., if you can only save one person, I don’t see there’s a problem with saving your own child).

But the basic issue is that you can’t just tell ethical and unethical by your emotional response. Sometimes emotion can lead you wrong. Any claim about something’s being ethical or unethical has to be at least partly based on reasoning.

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Posted: 24 November 2011 06:18 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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xntubes
Complete humanism is thus: emotional values and rational beliefs

IMO, that statement is not supportable as presented.

Emotion cannot be assigned a value, other than mild or intense subjective feelings.
Rationality cannot be assigned a belief, other than ability to come to logical conclusions based on factual information.

Intense emotion will often overcome rationality and compel us to act irrationally.
Disciplined rationality can assist us in overcoming irrational emotional responses.

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