Skip main navigation

Making things better: Summary

Watch Alice Roberts round up what we have learned about the humanist motivations to build a better world
Congratulations, you’ve completed Week 6. Over this week we met humanists who in diverse ways and through different means, are all working to make things better. We learned about their motivations and goals and explore the different channels through which they work, charity, politics and education via schools or the media. We learned about a significant progress that has been made through history in many areas that have benefited human wellbeing and flourishing. And we learned about the roles that science, reason, and humanism have played in that progress. But progress is not inevitable and humanists believe that we must not be complacent.
Every ounce of progress requires work to maintain, and constant vigilance against those that might try to pull us in the opposite direction. Threats don’t only come from those seeking to turn back the clock but also from new technologies which could create more problems and more inequality in society, if not used wisely. But humanism is forward-looking and flexible not dogmatic and this approach may help us to address some of the dramatic challenges that humanity might face. We also learned that humanists are certainly not utopian. They accept that we may never have a perfect world but they do believe that we can have a better one.
Progress is often made not through grand visions but through small steps, and by making the effort to carry others with you. No one can predict the future, but humanists believe that we can all play a role in helping to shape it. We all share that responsibility.

This week

This week we met individual humanists describing the sense of responsibility they feel to make the world a better place. They share the same goals as many people, but we learned about what it is in particular about a humanist approach to life that motivates them: the belief that this is the one life and world we’ve got, and the recognition that the problems we face can be solved by us alone.

Let’s summarise what we have learned:

  1. Significant progress has been made in many areas of human wellbeing over our history.
  2. Humanists believe that much of this progress can be credited to science, reason, and humanism.
  3. Individual humanists work for a range of causes. Often these will differ from those that humanist organisations tend to focus on.
  4. Humanists do not believe our responsibilities are limited to enhancing human wellbeing. A scientific understanding of what we share with non-human animals and empathy with their suffering places a responsibility on us to consider their welfare.
  5. Many humanists believe that dialogue is essential to living in a plural society and we should find opportunities to work together on shared goals.
  6. Education is of central importance to many humanists. They believe it is essential for individual freedom and for human beings to live full and flourishing lives.
  7. Our capacity to share ideas gives human beings great potential to shape the world around them. Humanists will argue that we should be open to listening to ideas that we disagree with, and we should be aware of the technological changes that are making it increasingly difficult to discern fact from fiction.
  8. What many humanists find enriching in their work is the opportunity to make connections with other people.
  9. The future will bring humanity new challenges to face; humanists believe that an approach to life that is forward-looking and flexible will provide us with the best chance of negotiating these.
  10. Humanists are not utopian. They do not believe we will ever have a perfect world, but are optimistic that we can have a better one.

Question: Should we be hopeful about the future for humanity? How much will humanism be of help?

This article is from the free online

Humanist Lives, with Alice Roberts

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now