What kind of thing is Humanism?
We said at the beginning of the course that to learn about humanism it is often better to look at its content, at the beliefs and values shared by humanists and examples of the way they live their lives, than it is to spend time trying to define what kind of thing it is. However, although not all humanists worry about the question, it is one that is worthy of exploration. That will be the focus of the next several steps. By now you may already have formed some conclusions for yourself.
The question ‘What kind of thing is humanism?’ is one that sociologists and philosophers are fond of asking. We have seen that it is something that involves a particular ethical approach. It is also something that contains a particular understanding about the nature of reality. It also, for many humanists, implies particular consequences for society. For humanists it can provide orientation, stability, and purpose in their lives.
Some ask if humanism is a religion. We will explore this question in the following steps. Others define it as a ‘philosophy’, a ‘worldview’, a ‘lifestance’ or a ‘meaning frame’. Each of these phrases has aspects to recommend it; however, for some humanists these words feel clumsy or cumbersome, and none of them satisfies everyone.
Some humanists prefer to describe humanism as an ‘approach to life’, an ‘attitude’, or a ‘way of life’. These phrases perhaps imply that humanism is open to adjustment. It is not something set in stone, but is an approach which can change as you move through life. They perhaps give more of a sense that humanism is not about the specific answers to questions, but a way of tackling them: more of a method than a conclusion. And although many humanists will reach similar conclusions to questions about how to live, and will share many of their beliefs, humanism allows for a breadth of opinion and embodies and embraces the possibility of disagreement.