Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsWell done! You’ve completed Week One. I hope you’ve enjoyed the week and it has made you keen to learn more about humanism. This week we have learned about some of the humanist beliefs and values that we will be exploring in greater depth throughout the rest of the course. We have also explored
Skip to 0 minutes and 22 secondsa humanist understanding of human beings: our origins, our mortality, and our naturally derived capabilities. These are the scientific facts about human beings. Humanists take them seriously. We have learned that a humanist understanding of human beings exposes our nature as physical and finite creatures. But we have also learned that there is still the potential for wonder in this view. Not every possible universe would have allowed atoms to combine. Not every planet can harbour life. Not every living thing gets to procreate. Not every sperm makes it to the egg. There have been so many opportunities for things to turn out differently. The odds of my existence are tiny. And yet here I am. A conscious, reasoning, creating agent.
Skip to 1 minute and 16 secondsA biking, baking, bunny-knitting being. What fun. If you consider the whole universe, then as far as we know, human beings are rare. Other creatures may share some of our capabilities, but none share them all in the same capacity. It is hard not to be in awe of what can be built from such simple ingredients. For me, the fact that human beings are the product of purely biological and physical processes makes the results more wonderful. The alternative explanation, requiring some sort of magical creation takes away some of the… well, magic. As conscious creatures we have needs, desires, and passions, and we need to live in a way that acknowledges and embraces them.
Skip to 2 minutes and 10 secondsMost human beings feel the need for connection, for meaning, and for purpose in our lives. The humanist approach, must therefore be able to satisfy these needs if it is to offer itself as a potentially fulfilling way of life. We have also learned how, for humanists, our natural capacities give us responsibilities, towards ourselves and towards others. As a humanist, I believe it is up to us to make the most of our human potential in the one life we know we have. We’ll explore more about how humanists believe we can do that during the rest of the course. I look forward to seeing you next week. Thanks for taking part.
Summary of Week 1
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We began this week with an introduction to some of the beliefs and values commonly shared by humanists and some of the questions that these raise.
We then explored a humanist understanding of human beings.
Let’s summarise what we have learned:
- A humanist understanding of human nature recognises that we are animals; we were not created, nor was this universe made for us, but we are the result of natural, purposeless, physical and biological processes
- Humanists believe all the evidence points towards us being material and mortal creatures; there are many good reasons to be sceptical of any notion of an afterlife
- There are ways that human beings stand out from the rest of the natural world - things we can celebrate about being human - for example, our capacities for communication, imagination, creativity, empathy, and problem solving
- Consciousness provides us with an ability to understand the world around us and ask questions about it, the opportunity to become the authors of our own lives, and the potential to be moral beings
- Our capacity to share our ideas with each other is what has allowed us to develop knowledge and culture, and to create many things which enrich our lives
- A humanist believes our human capacities are all natural
- These distinctive human capabilities bring a responsibility to consider how we should live
Why did we begin the course with an exploration of our nature as human beings? As we said at the beginning of this week, humanism is an attempt to answer the question ‘How should I live?’. An understanding of what kind of thing we are is essential in order to make rational claims about how we should live our lives. We need to find a way of living that makes sense in accordance with our knowledge about our human nature and capacities. That is the humanist goal.
‘[Humanism] is an attitude towards the task of thinking about how to live a life worth living, both for the person living it and for its impact on others. And the attitude is this: do this thinking on the basis of the best, most sympathetic, most generous and realistic understanding of human nature and the human condition that we can muster.’
AC Grayling, Handbook of Humanism
Throughout the rest of this course we will investigate whether it is possible for humanists to develop a rational, ethical, and fulfilling approach to life based on such an understanding of human beings. We will explore some of the challenges to the humanist view, and examine whether it can answer the questions we raised earlier this week.
Firstly, however, we need to explore the justifications for a humanist understanding of human beings and the rest of reality. We need to explore how humanists might respond to the question ‘How can we know anything at all?’. That is the question we’ll be exploring next week.