Remember Phlogiston! (Humanism as a Way of Thinking)

Photo by Jose Murillo on Unsplash

Humanism isn’t a faith or a belief system but rather a way of thinking and a set of core ethical commitments.

We know that human beings have many ways of knowing, many ways of discovering and expressing what it means to be human. All of these ways matter. After all, art is a universal phenomenon that has occurred across human history. One useful term to describe our species is homo aestheticus.

The picture of early humans cowering in caves and superstition a false one. The artifacts from the human past clearly demonstrate that people have always been engineers as well as artists. Science, mathematics, and scholarship are universal phenomena, testable and provable across human cultures.

Therefore, Humanists believe that reason and the scientific method are the surest ways of expressing that communal concept that we often call “reality.”

However, while Humanists attempt to use the best of human knowledge, history teaches that knowledge is contingent — the truism of today becomes the artifact of tomorrow. (Remember phlogiston and epicycles?)Consequently knowledge must be tempered with the humbleness of wisdom.

As a set of ethical principles, Humanism’s core value is that people matter more than ideas. Humanists see people as of central concern not because of our specialness as a species but because of our capacity to both heal and destroy ourselves, the planet, and all living things. Devotion to nature and life is a core value.

Since Humanists do not speculate concerning an afterlife, we focus on growing beyond systems of oppression here and now. These systems include race, gender, nation, location, class, patriarchy, and hierarchy. In other words, any boundaries that damage the human heart and mind or prevent the full expression of each individual to be fully human.

Humanist commitments are always both individual and communal because human beings can’t be fully human in isolation.

As a species, we’ve come a long way. We’ve discovered much about ourselves and the cosmos. We are creators and destroyers.

I won’t claim that the Xbox is in some sense better than a fishhook carved from bone. Both are products of the effulgent human mind. What I will say is that we human beings know how to create a better world than the one we currently inhabit. Those faiths and beliefs that stand in the way of that better world . . . need to be voted out of our cave.