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This content is taken from the Humanists UK's online course, Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig. Join the course to learn more.

The possibilty of change

‘There is no humanist party line. What humanists today share in common, however, are a concern for humanity, a belief that moral values must be removed from the mantle of theological dogma, and a conviction that our moral ideals must be constantly re-examined and revised in the light of present needs and social demands.’

Paul Kurtz, The Humanist Alternative

Whatever humanism is, it is not something set in stone. It is a fluid, rather than fixed, way of thinking about how we should live, and it is continually informed by our developing understanding of the world and each other. It embraces disagreement and the potential for improvement. Few humanists would say that humanism today was the ‘finished article’, but rather that it was a work in progress or an ongoing conversation.

Allowing your beliefs to be open to change can be a good thing. We have learned earlier in the course about how both knowledge and morality can evolve over time, and how this can allow us to make progress towards the truth and towards knowing what is right.

The Amsterdam Declaration

Is it possible to state any fundamental principles of something that defines itself as open to change and development? In 1952, at the first World Humanist Congress, the founders of the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) agreed upon such a set of principles that they felt best described humanism. It was called the Amsterdam Declaration. In the spirit of an approach to life that is open to change, they returned to the same task fifty years later and updated the declaration.

In the further reading you will find both these declarations.

Read the two declarations and discuss your answers to the questions below with your fellow learners.

  1. Why might the International Humanist and Ethical Union have wanted to write such a declaration? Do you think this was a good idea?
  2. Do you think it was a good idea to update the document?
  3. Compare the two versions: How has it changed and how does it reflect the ways our understanding of the world and morality might have changed in the 50 years in between?
  4. How do you imagine it might change in the future?

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This article is from the free online course:

Introducing Humanism: Non-religious Approaches to Life, with Sandi Toksvig

Humanists UK