Skip to 0 minutes and 7 seconds If we’re looking at humanism as a non-religious framework for thinking about the world and thinking about our lives, then one thing obviously that follows is that all we can appeal to is our own human capacities, our own human abilities, there is no supernatural intelligence that can tell us what the truth is, can tell us how to live our lives, there’s no god that can make our decisions for us, so we have no alternative but to draw on what it is to be human in order to decide how to act, how to think. Here’s my suggestion as to how we might define what it is to be human. We could say perhaps that human beings are animals who look for meaning.
Skip to 0 minutes and 59 seconds There’s two sides to that and I think it’s worth thinking about the balance between those two sides. Human beings are a species of animal, it’s not surprising therefore that in trying to understand what a human being is we can understand it partly in terms of the evolutionary past of our species and the way in which that marks what it is to be human and the limitations of what it is to be human.
Skip to 1 minute and 27 seconds We’re reliant on our senses, we’re reliant on our limited mental capacities which are limited by the physical nature of our brains, so all of those things we could see in a negative way, but on the other hand of course, like every species there are certain sort of distinctive features we have, human beings’ behaviour is not just limited to their immediate reactions to their environment, their immediate reactions to stimuli , human beings can stand back from their situation, stand back from their lives, and think about what it is that they’re doing, think about what the nature of the world they live in is, and it’s our possession of a complex language that enables us to do this.
Skip to 2 minutes and 22 seconds We can form theories about the world, we can form hypotheses about the world, we can test those hypotheses, we can look for evidence for and against them, we can try to arrive at as far as possible true rather than false beliefs about the world. It also makes it possible for human beings to think about values, to think about how they ought to act rather than simply acting, rather than simply reacting to their situation. Once you start raising the question ought, of how we ought to live, then you raise all sorts of difficult questions, but questions that make, colour our lives in crucially important ways.
Skip to 3 minutes and 5 seconds With those distinctive human capacities that we have, there comes inevitably the responsibility to think about how we use those capacities. Indeed the very idea of responsibility comes I think with the distinctive abilities that we have. The very fact we can raise those sorts of questions brings with it a responsibility to do it right, to think about what really is a good life, what really is the right answer to this or that moral dilemma. So those capacities have built into them certain responsibilities which are part and parcel of exercising those capacities to the full.
Richard Norman describes the responsibilities that come attached to our human capacities.