I’ve been having conversations with friends and acquaintances for a while as to what they think being a humanist actually means. I’m not doing a survey or a poll of any kind, just that when the idea of humanism comes up in a conversation, I’ll ask those same people what they consider as being a humanist.
I did write on this a while back and of course came to no conclusion overall, but then I really hadn’t had many conversations with people I know before I wrote that piece and mainly focused on my own life to define what I may consider humanism.
I’m not obsessed with this topic, it just comes to mind when I see people on social media declaring themselves as a humanist. What does that actually mean? Do we all have to agree on a set of principles to be included in the class of humanism? I actually don’t know and the conversations I’ve had over the past few months have been enlightening.
When we discuss being a humanist, for me, the first thing I want to know is what defines a humanist. Not the official definition, but what some think a humanist is. The answer comes back as being a good person. Okay. What does that mean though because I know several people that I personally would question whether or not they fit into that category. But that’s my interpretation of their character and may have no basis in reality.
Mostly what I her is that a good person is someone that doesn’t harm others. Again, okay. But then there’s different types of harm isn’t there? Of course when most people think of harm, they are referring to some sort of physical abuse toward another person. But that may be subjective. Instigating physical harm against someone I think everyone might agree is not being good. But what if the harm committed to the other is in defending oneself or family from an aggressor? I’ve actually had some tell me the later is just as bad. Really.
What about emotional harm? Can we truly be good by inflicting emotional distress on someone else even if we, at the time, do not believe what we are doing is wrong? Maybe the excuse is that this is being done for that persons best interest but who is anyone to decide what’s in another’s best interest?
See where I’m going here? It all seems a bit subjective to me. I may think that something I am doing is perfectly ethical while someone else my view the same actions as being completely unethical.
In the post linked above, I said that I sometimes refer to myself as a humanist, but on further thought, I think I may reject the appellation. It’s meaningless.
3 thoughts on “To Be or Not to Be a Humanist”
I find that it depends greatly on which of the various definitions one uses. There are some that would clearly make me a humanist and others that might not. But mostly, I’m not sure I like people enough to be a good humanist!
There is Future Learn course on Humanism going on now (it ends soon). There was a interesting thought experiment by a philosopher John Rawls. It is called “the veil of ignorance” where you are to design a society in which you will have to live, but you don’t know where in that society you will be. You don’t know your gender, health, wealth, physical condition, etc. Would we want an overseeing God in that society? What would we like our society to be like? GROG
I’m not a fan of the term, mostly because so many people who tend to wear it seem to think humanity is special and we’re not. We’re just a bunch of semi-smart animals on an unimportant planet in the middle of the asshole of the universe. We don’t matter to anyone but ourselves. It’s great if people want to be good, I applaud that, but that doesn’t make you a humanist, it makes you a decent person. We need more decent people without massive egos.