Skip to 0 minutes and 7 secondsPeople sometimes think about humanism as comparable to a religion, since it often presents itself as an alternative to traditional religions, people sometimes look for a creed, a set of doctrines that you have to subscribe to I don’t think that’s a useful way of thinking about what humanism is and i don’t think there’s any single definition that will capture it.Of course you can look in the dictionary and find a definition but it won’t tell you a great deal and it won’t give you a sense of what humanism is about. I think a useful analogy here is an analogy used by the philosopher Wittgenstein as a way of getting away from this obsession with definitions, Wittgenstein introduced the phrase ‘family resemblances’.
Skip to 0 minutes and 54 secondsVery often, many of our complex ideas are best defined not in terms of a simple definition but by recognising the overlapping similarities and resemblances that different uses have in common. Members of a family don’t all have any one thing in common, a certain physical feature or certain behavioural trait, but nevertheless you can find overlapping relationships and similarities which you can usefully describe as family resemblances, and I think the same thing is true of humanism really, that there are key themes, none of which is essential to humanism but which are between them typical of what we’re talking about when we talk about humanism, So i think the family resemblances analogy is quite a useful one.
Can we define humanism?
In this video Richard Norman addresses the question of whether we can define precisely what humanism is, or whether we are better trying to think about it in a different way.