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Environmental Philosohy’s Challenge to Humanism
Posted: 29 November 2009 03:03 PM   [ Ignore ]
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Hey everyone, just joined, first post. I know not everyone in this form subscribes to Free Inquiry, but I feel a need to comment on one of the articles in the recent Dec 2009 issue. The article is “Environmental Philosophy’s Challenge to Humanism” by Hugh McDonald. I actually found the article somewhat difficult to understand, but I believe the gist of it is that ethics that centers on humans is wrong; instead, ethics should center not on one species but all species. If that brief summation is wrong please let me know.

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about. I want to comment on this quote: “Humanism is any belief that involves the evaluation that humans are at the apex of creation or nature, the top of the hierarchy of beings.” Humm.

I consider myself a secular humanist, but I do not believe that. In the grand scheme of the universe, I am no more important than a dog or plant or speck of dust. Evolutionary speaking we might matter less than bacteria. I’m a humanist simply because I am a human. That is my vantage point that I view all that I see. It is not a matter of being better than this species or that species, it’s that I am a specific species, namely a human. If I was a dog, I would be a doggist.

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Posted: 29 November 2009 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 1 ]
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Humanism is by definition a human-centered philosophy/religion.  However it is an erroneous assumption for one to assert Humanists see humans as the “apex of Nature”.  Humanists see humans as part of Nature.  Our existence however is unlike any other form of life on the Earth because humans are the only creatures on the planet who are aware of their own eventual demise.  Humans created god(s) and religions, in part,  to deal with these issues.  Humans crreated god(s) to protect them and religions to codify how to worship the created gods to ensure their protection.

Humanism is by and large an atheistic/agnostic philosphy and therefore does not look to god for protection.  Even those Humanists who believe in god are most likely to be Deists.  Humanism focuses on Humans only to answer questions about the nature of ethics and morality, the purpose of one’s life on Earth, and to assert that the human brian, when using logic and reason is the best method for understanding the world around us.

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Posted: 29 November 2009 05:32 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 2 ]
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I agree with most of what has already been said.  I read the article and found it rather weak.  The author’s argument seemed to rely on strong, controversial premises not adequately supported.  You mentioned the one, which was his caricature of humanism; and, I thought his argument also relied on an unsupported assertion about an inherent connection between ethics and environmentalism (because it is more “cosmopolitan”).  The two premises seem to work together in his argument both to undermine human-centered ethical systems, and to replace them with what he at first calls “eccocentric cosmopolitanism” and later just “ecocentric cosmopolitanism” (one “c” rather than two—in contrast, it would seem, to “egocentric” ethics, though his true target is “anthropocentric” ethics). 

His mischaracterization of humanism assumes that it necessarily conflicts with environmentalism.  That seems obviously false to me.  In fact is appears to be the deliberate building of a straw man.  Humanism does see value as emerging from humans.  But it clearly does not follow from that that human beings are the only valuable things.  In fact an obvious argument in favor of environmentalism is that a clean environment and sustainable energy/consumption policy is a central value from the humanist perspective. 

Not only does McDonald falsely claim that humanism and environmentalism are incompatible, he also states that humanism and naturalism are incompatible!  For example, he states that “Philosophical humanism is opposed to naturalism in philosophy in that humans are placed at the apex of a hierarchy, replacing God” (FI, Dec/Jan 09/10, p. 37).  And that’s just one example; McDonald unleashes a flurry of similar outlandish claims.

Here is another example.  This one involves his perceived necessary connection between environmentalism and ethics: “Ecocentric ethics is the only universal ethic and thus the only one that can meet the test of universality required for a rational ethic” (p. 36).  How many mistakes can we find in this one sentence?  For one, it is simply not true that an ethics must be universal in order to be rational.  Secondly, it might not even be possible for a full-throated ecocentric ethics, like the one he proposes (which is not allowed to consider one species as ethically more valuable than any other), to be either rational or universal.  It might not be possible to formulate universal ethical prescriptions in a world in which living organisms are struggling to survive and where one organism’s survival competes with the survival of another’s.  Similarly, there is nothing intrinsically rational about equality and certainly nothing intrinsically rational about species-wide equality.

In short, the article is a mess.  Deliberately provocative, perhaps, but not solidly argued.  This is somewhat surprising, given that Hugh McDonald is a professional philosopher with multiple publications.  confused

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Posted: 29 November 2009 06:33 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 3 ]
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Since I have a short fuse, especially when I’m on the treadmill, I got about a half paragraph into that article then turned the page. 

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Posted: 04 December 2009 03:39 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 4 ]
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jimclay - 29 November 2009 03:03 PM

But that’s not really what I wanted to talk about. I want to comment on this quote: “Humanism is any belief that involves the evaluation that humans are at the apex of creation or nature, the top of the hierarchy of beings.” Humm.

I consider myself a secular humanist, but I do not believe that. In the grand scheme of the universe, I am no more important than a dog or plant or speck of dust. Evolutionary speaking we might matter less than bacteria. I’m a humanist simply because I am a human. That is my vantage point that I view all that I see. It is not a matter of being better than this species or that species, it’s that I am a specific species, namely a human. If I was a dog, I would be a doggist.

I fully agree, the proper study of mankind is Man. And of Humanism - it is “the philosophy of Man”. This can seem obvious unless you realize that most people equate H with atheism, the atheists have indeed run off with our standard, are wearing our clothes.

So I bang the drum for inclusive Humanism, wherein your religion is a private matter, and your involvement in species governance is not. Get involved in causes like world federalism and anti-militarism and be a practicing Humanist; let the atheists and fundies scrap in the alleys if they must.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 01:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 5 ]
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I fully agree, the proper study of mankind is Man. And of Humanism - it is “the philosophy of Man”. This can seem obvious unless you realize that most people equate H with atheism, the atheists have indeed run off with our standard, are wearing our clothes.


Your assertion that Atheists have run off with the standard and are wearing or clothes is totally without merit.  Atheists and Atheism have been an integral part of Humanism since the beginning. The Humanist Manifestos I & II both establish Atheistic viewpoints.

Atheism asserts that there is no god.  If there is no god then the universe could not be created by a god.

From Humanist Manifesto I

FIRST: Religious humanists regard the universe as self-existing and not created.

SECOND: Humanism believes that man is a part of nature and that he has emerged as a result of a continuous process.

THIRD: Holding an organic view of life, humanists find that the traditional dualism of mind and body must be rejected.


A self-existing universe that was not created by any god, a belief that human beings are part of Nature and evolved into existence and the rejection of a dualism of mind and body are far more compatible to Atheism than Theism.  In case you have any doubt that was the intentions of the writers of Humanist Manifesto I please refer to article 6:
 

SIXTH: We are convinced that the time has passed for theism, deism, modernism, and the several varieties of “new thought”.

Theism means a beleif in god.  Deism is a belief that god created the universe and then let it run without any interferance. Sounds pretty atheistic to me.


In Humanist Manifesto II Atheism is even more pronounced:

From the preface: As in 1933, humanists still believe that traditional theism, especially faith in the prayer-hearing God, assumed to live and care for persons, to hear and understand their prayers, and to be able to do something about them, is an unproved and outmoded faith.

From the First Article: As nontheists, we begin with humans not God, nature not deity. Nontheist is define by wikitionary as “One who is not a theist; an atheist or agnostic.”  http://en.wiktionary.org/wiki/nontheist

The term “Nontheist” may be a bit broader than “Atheist” but the point here is clear: Humanists do not believe in a traditional god.

Also from the First Article: But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.  Again this is much more of an atheistic viewpoint than a theistic viewpoint.

The fact is that current Humanist Atheists are not running away with anything.  We are simply continuing the work that earlier Atheists started with the Humanist Movement.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 02:11 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 6 ]
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abruzzo - 06 December 2009 01:51 PM

I fully agree, the proper study of mankind is Man. And of Humanism - it is “the philosophy of Man”. This can seem obvious unless you realize that most people equate H with atheism, the atheists have indeed run off with our standard, are wearing our clothes.


Your assertion that Atheists have run off with the standard and are wearing or clothes is totally without merit.  Atheists and Atheism have been an integral part of Humanism since the beginning. The Humanist Manifestos I & II both establish Atheistic viewpoints.

The fact is that current Humanist Atheists are not running away with anything.  We are simply continuing the work that earlier Atheists started with the Humanist Movement.

Atheist fashion comes and goes, Humanism endures. Before these Manifestos, religious Humanism held equal billing. It is ironic that atheists avow no affinity for religion yet seem completely concerned with it. Humanism accepts an atheist baseline, if you must, but moves on from there.

Here is Robert Grudin’s summary of the Humanist tradition from the Encyclopedia Britannica. Note the scant mention of atheism/religion within it. And this from an era when religion was more overwhelmingly present than today.

“Humanitas meant the development of human virtue, in all its forms, to its fullest extent. The term thus implied not only such qualities as are associated with the modern word humanity—understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy—but also such more aggressive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honour.

Consequently, the possessor of humanitas could not be merely a sedentary and isolated philosopher or man of letters but was of necessity a participant in active life. Just as action without insight was held to be aimless and barbaric, insight without action was rejected as barren and imperfect. Humanitas called for a fine balance of action and contemplation, a balance born not of compromise but of complementarity.

The goal of such fulfilled and balanced virtue was political, in the broadest sense of the word. The purview of Renaissance humanism included not only the education of the young but also the guidance of adults (including rulers) via philosophical poetry and strategic rhetoric. It included not only realistic social criticism but also utopian hypotheses, not only painstaking reassessments of history but also bold reshapings of the future. In short, humanism called for the comprehensive reform of culture, the transfiguration of what humanists termed the passive and ignorant society of the “dark” ages into a new order that would reflect and encourage the grandest human potentialities. Humanism had an evangelical dimension: it sought to project humanitas from the individual into the state at large.”

You can see immediately why true Humanists feel robbed. He may be discussing Renaissance Humanism, but the original cited by this respected scholar exposes the recent atheist-bastardized versions as gerrymandered,nihilistic mashups put together by social climbers with no ‘complementarity’ of their own to contribute.

[ Edited: 06 December 2009 02:48 PM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 06 December 2009 02:51 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 7 ]
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The “humanist” part of the “secular humanist” equation might be the more important. Certainly the starving child or adult doesn’t care who is helping them. I would also say that humanists of all types, secular and religious, could certainly work together to help those who are starving, or in some other need.

But that does not make the “secular” part of the equation unimportant. First, it says that atheists can be good too, which is good to know if you are an atheist. Second, it says religion is not necessary to make this world a better place, which is important if believe the foundations of religions are weak. Finally, if you believe religion is a hindrance to the future progress of civilization, then it gives hope that the world can still become better.

There are certainly more than one type of humanists. Most religious people do care about others and many of them would consider themselves religious humanists. I would just say it’s a shame they spend so much money and effort on the “religion” part of that that equation.

Secular humanism is one type of humanism.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 04:14 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 8 ]
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jimclay - 06 December 2009 02:51 PM

The “humanist” part of the “secular humanist” equation might be the more important. Certainly the starving child or adult doesn’t care who is helping them. I would also say that humanists of all types, secular and religious, could certainly work together to help those who are starving, or in some other need.

Jimmy:
All Humanists can and certainly must work together. Which is why I subscribe to inclusive Humanism. To my mind a man’s religion is his own private business - end of argument. So from that viewpoint I would accept any variant of Humanist, secular or religious, it’s not a deal maker or breaker for me.

Even if there is religious enmity among some Humanists, if they can keep that separate, that helps. But I guess my main concern with secular Humanism is that it is conditional, and seen to be snide that way, which, like a mother’s love, should not hold conditions outside of pure Humanism. What kind of a Humanist am I if I can’t get past a fellow Humanist’s religion to appreciate what else he/she can do for this world?

But that does not make the “secular” part of the equation unimportant. First, it says that atheists can be good too, which is good to know if you are an atheist. Second, it says religion is not necessary to make this world a better place, which is important if believe the foundations of religions are weak. Finally, if you believe religion is a hindrance to the future progress of civilization, then it gives hope that the world can still become better.

For my above reasons I would comment that you are being uncritical. Take the secular wrapper off the candy bar before eating? 

... Most religious people do care about others and many of them would consider themselves religious humanists.

Religious Humanism is its own religion, not a marriage of Christianity and Humanism. Pantheism with more people.

Kurtz sold out Humanism to the atheists when he coined “secular Humanism”. Same way Dawkins and the BHA wear the atheist shirt, for its commercial advantage due to the fact that atheists are a dime a dozen, Humanists somewhat rarer, and they’re all booksellers. I know, because I are one too wink

[ Edited: 06 December 2009 04:22 PM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 06 December 2009 04:57 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 9 ]
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Take the secular wrapper off the candy bar before eating?

I guess I would say that the “secular” isn’t the wrapper, it’s the flour the candy bar is made of.

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Posted: 06 December 2009 05:53 PM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 10 ]
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jimclay - 06 December 2009 04:57 PM

Take the secular wrapper off the candy bar before eating?

I guess I would say that the “secular” isn’t the wrapper, it’s the flour the candy bar is made of.

I would have to reply that Humanism is not about religion. My own definition:

Humanism is an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives.

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Posted: 07 December 2009 06:56 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 11 ]
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Maurtinus-

The passage by Robert Goudin does nothing to support your case.  Many Atheists would agree with Goudin’s description of Humanism and would engage in the world as he suggests.

Since you agree that Humanism “accepts an atheist baseline” I am not sure why/how you think atheists “bastardize” it.  You mention something about “moving on” but you fail to elaborate.

Perhaps this will put it in perspective for you:  Both Theism and Atheism make judgments on the existence of god.  Theism states god exists and Atheism says otherwise.  Neither the Theism nor the Atheism makes any judgments about morality, ethics or desirable human virtues.  They are not complete enough as philosophies/religions to do so. 

So Theists develop religions and philosophies that posit a belief in god as a central, core belief.  Such religions include Islam, Christianity, Hinduism, Sikhism etc.  Within these religions are often many denominations and sects each with its outlook and viewpoint.  The common thread in all of these groups is Theism. 

Atheism also develops religions and philosophies.  Humanism is one example of an atheistic religion.  Some others would include Ethical Culture, Unitarian Universalism, and organizations like The North Texas Church of Freethought.

Here is a definition of religion from Wikitionary:

1. A collection of practices, based on beliefs and teachings that are highly valued or sacred.

2.Any practice that someone or some group is seriously devoted to.
3. Any ongoing practice one engages in, in order to shape their character or improve traits of their personality.

4.Our ideological and traditional heritage.


Notice anything?  How about the absence of god in any of the definition.  Like many people you equate religion with theism.  That is a mistake.  Religion can be, and often is, godless.

I choose Humanism as my religion and I practice it through my Unitarian Universalist church.  Atheism is my view on the existence of god and that belief focuses my Humanism.  Without a god to save us, it is up to Humankind to save ourselves.  Is this a bastardization of Humanism?  Hardly, it is the proper practice of it.

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Posted: 07 December 2009 08:17 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 12 ]
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abruzzo - 07 December 2009 06:56 AM

Maurtinus-

The passage by Robert Grudin does nothing to support your case.  Many Atheists would agree with Goudin’s description of Humanism and would engage in the world as he suggests.

Many atheists do any of a thousand things. That says nothing about Humanism.

Since you agree that Humanism “accepts an atheist baseline” I am not sure why/how you think atheists “bastardize” it.  You mention something about “moving on” but you fail to elaborate.

Read my book released this month, “The Humanist” to get an idea of what I mean re: “moving on”. Download it free from smashwords.com using this coupon: YG88H

Atheism also develops religions and philosophies.  Humanism is one example of an atheistic religion.  Some others would include Ethical Culture, Unitarian Universalism, and organizations like The North Texas Church of Freethought.

Religious Humanism is fine in any guise, I support inclusive Humanism, you will recall.

Like many people you equate religion with theism.  That is a mistake.  Religion can be, and often is, godless.

Of course it can be, Pantheism sees God everywhere, i.e. not as a distinct entity. All immaterial to Humanism.

I choose Humanism as my religion and I practice it through my Unitarian Universalist church.  Atheism is my view on the existence of god and that belief focuses my Humanism.  Without a god to save us, it is up to Humankind to save ourselves.  Is this a bastardization of Humanism?  Hardly, it is the proper practice of it.

“Atheism…that belief focuses my Humanism” is what concerns me, Abruzzo. If you look over your track record at the UU, would you be a Grudin Humanist, keeping your atheism personal and quiet or a typical British Humanist completely concerned with hounding churches?

Humanists work on getting rid of the military and corruption ,e.g.  as our species cancers. They are not obsessed with churches and religion, stuck in some deathly pas de deux with the fundies. Is that something you do? Or did you simply join an atheist glee club? (No offence, just making myself plain). Many atheists proclaim their nonreligion as loud or louder than Evangelicals and are equally tiresome and clueless.

Too many “Humanists” are atheists and no more, can’t be bothered about the contributions when the plate comes around, just want the T-shirt. Sorry about the tone, but the misidentification of Humanism as just atheism is hurting us bigtime.

[ Edited: 07 December 2009 08:24 AM by Martinus ]
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Posted: 07 December 2009 10:28 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 13 ]
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Too many “Humanists” are atheists and no more, can’t be bothered about the contributions when the plate comes around, just want the T-shirt. Sorry about the tone, but the misidentification of Humanism as just atheism is hurting us bigtime.

I do agree with this. Being an atheist is not the same as being an humanist. I believe Stalin was an atheist.

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Posted: 07 December 2009 11:00 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 14 ]
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jimclay - 07 December 2009 10:28 AM

Too many “Humanists” are atheists and no more, can’t be bothered about the contributions when the plate comes around, just want the T-shirt. Sorry about the tone, but the misidentification of Humanism as just atheism is hurting us bigtime.

I do agree with this. Being an atheist is not the same as being an humanist. I believe Stalin was an atheist.

Very true, Lenin as well was seen as a Humanist, actually. With the worker movements and advent of communism emerging in the 20’s and 30’s, religious Humanism became uncool with the intelligentsia, and being an atheist became avant garde. It’s been that way ever since, accentuated first by Kurtz “secular” descriptor, then the reaction to the Bush era we see in popular atheism today.

Hopefully atheism and orthodox religion will in time fall asleep together, and the brotherhood of Man become noticed.

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Posted: 07 December 2009 11:02 AM   [ Ignore ]   [ # 15 ]
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I don’t see where the Stalin reference has any relevance to this discussion. The premise has been that Atheists have run away with Humanism and bastardized its original meaning.  This is wholly untrue.  That Stalin was an Atheist neither supports or detracts from this premise.

Humanism is an nontheist belief system.  It rejects belief in traditional gods.  In the Humanist Manifesto II it even warns against trying to incorporate traditional theistic religions into Humanism.

“Some humanists believe we should reinterpret traditional religions and reinvest them with meanings appropriate to the current situation. Such redefinitions, however, often perpetuate old dependencies and escapisms; they easily become obscurantist, impeding the free use of the intellect. We need, instead, radically new human purposes and goals.

We appreciate the need to preserve the best ethical teachings in the religious traditions of humankind, many of which we share in common. But we reject those features of traditional religious morality that deny humans a full appreciation of their own potentialities and responsibilities. Traditional religions often offer solace to humans, but, as often, they inhibit humans from helping themselves or experiencing their full potentialities. Such institutions, creeds, and rituals often impede the will to serve others. Too often traditional faiths encourage dependence rather than independence, obedience rather than affirmation, fear rather than courage. More recently they have generated concerned social action, with many signs of relevance appearing in the wake of the “God Is Dead” theologies. But we can discover no divine purpose or providence for the human species. While there is much that we do not know, humans are responsible for what we are or will become. No deity will save us; we must save ourselves.”

http://www.americanhumanist.org/who_we_are/about_humanism/Humanist_Manifesto_II”

Saying there are too many Humanists that are Atheists is like saying there are too many Christians (or Muslims or Jews or Hindus, etc…) who are Theists.  It is part of the Humanist religion to be a nontheist (Atheist or Agnostic) just as it is part of those other religions to believe in god.

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