A Review of ‘The Philosophy of Humanism’

  • post Type / Young Humanists International
  • Date / 6 July 2009

The Philosophy of Humanism is a scholarly work, tracing the influence of Humanism from the ancient Greek philosophers through the Enlightenment and the Bill of Rights to the twentieth century. It is very well documented with reference notes and bibliography for those who prefer sources, yet it is written in a most readable style.

I heartily recommend this book to anyone who truly wishes to investigate and understand this often misinterpreted philosophy. They will learn that Humanism certainly does not promote witchcraft or the worship of human beings, nor does it advocate selfishness, as in the “me” generation, or for conscienceless materialism and ruthlessness, as is often falsely asserted by those who fear and misunderstand the principles of Humanism.

Rather, as Dr. Lamont points out, it promotes ethical behavior and respect for others, yet with a freedom of conscience unfettered by traditional supernatural beliefs. Humanists oppose censorship and insist on full exercise of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech and access to information. Humanists are devoted to democratic principles, the employment of critical reasoning and scientific method, and the full recognition that we humans are products of continuing evolution.

The Creationists’ wish to hold the line against the teaching of evolution in the public schools is understandable. Open scientific inquiry does not promote acceptance on blind faith; the scientist searches for evidence. It’s a worrisome matter of indoctrination versus education.

Corliss Lamont was pleased to note, in the introduction to his sixth edition of this book, that so-called “moral majority” leader, Tim LaHaye, cited The Philosophy of Humanism 36 times in his own book The Battle for the Mind, which denounces Humanism as “amoral” and as “the most dangerous religion in the world.” An alarming “moral majority” pamphlet for parents asks: “Is Humanism molesting your child?”

Humanism is not taught in any public schools, contrary to the religious right’s accusation, but is synonymous with a scientific method, that of a questioning, open, approach to learning, using critical reasoning. This method itself is seen as constituting the great danger: that of encouraging a child to examine and articulate values and concepts in an objective way, rather than accepting with blind obedience that which has been asserted by a power or authority.

The Philosophy of Humanism is the definitive work on the subject of Humanism, used as a standard text, and even as a reference in the ongoing debate that swirls around the words “secular humanism.” This name, incidentally, (which is redundant inasmuch as humanism is already secular, being not-religious), was coined in a Supreme Court footnote (Torcaso vs. Watkins) that declared humanism similar to religions, like Buddhism or Hinduism, that do not worship a supernatural god.

However, Dr. Lamont insists that Humanism is not a religion, but a philosophy!

Instead of a personal salvation in some afterlife, Humanism emphasizes the present, the here and now, living to the fullest the only life we know we have. The Humanist projection into the future is not a wish for immortality, according to Dr. Lamont, or survival of the personality in some mysterious spiritual realm, but instead focuses on a commitment to the long-range benefit of those around us and those who live after us. The survival of the best of our human endeavors, our species, our families, our genes is consistent with the Humanist outlook.

Dr. Lamont traces the first written record of the philosophy of naturalistic Humanism to ancient Athens in the fifth century BCE in the words of Pericles, who gave a funeral oration championing the cause of democracy and saluting the bravery of those fallen in battle without reference to a deity or a promise of an afterlife reward for their sacrifice.

This book explores the development of our very human need to explain the mysteries of the universe, beginning with some of the most ancient concepts and leading up to present day philosophies. We share our human curiosity with our primate ancestors. In the absence of science in the childhood of humankind, we did what all children do: we made up stories to explain the phenomena which we observed, and which were incomprehensible to us, and therefore seemed akin to magic. Without science how could it have been otherwise?

Dr. Corliss Lamont describes Humanism as a philosophy of joyous service for the good of all humanity that advocates reason, science and democracy. This book is joyous reading! Enjoy!

Beth K. Lamont,  New York 

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