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Summary of Week 1

Watch Sandi Toksvig round up what we have learned about the humanist understanding of human beings and the consequences for how we should live.

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This week

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:

  1. 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
  2. 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
  3. 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
  4. 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
  5. 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
  6. A humanist believes our human capacities are all natural
  7. 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

This summary step is a good space to ask any questions you still have in the comments area and to take the opportunity to help out your fellow learners with their queries.

Next week

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.

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

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