Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

Summary of Week 3

Watch Sandi Toksvig round up what we have learned about the humanist approach to making our lives meaningful and living a good life.

Congratulations on completing Week 3.

In Week 1 we explored the humanist understanding of human beings, of our limitations and our capabilities. This week we have learned how humanists attempt to base their approach to life on such an understanding of human nature, our needs and capacities, and a recognition of the responsibilities those capacities give us.

Humanists will argue that it is possible for human beings to lead happy, meaningful, and fulfilling lives without religion. We can create our own purposes in life. Through a recognition of our connections – with those close to us, with the rest of humanity, and with the rest of the natural world – we can feel part of something bigger, and that can provide us with a sense that our lives are of value.

‘We have lost religion but we have gained humanism.’
Jean-Paul Sartre

To conclude the week, let’s summarise what we have learned:

  1. Humanists believe that death is the end of our personal existence; however, that fact need not have negative consequences on our lives
  2. For humanists, the finite nature of life can be what gives it its structure, purpose, and value; we should seek to make the most of the one life we have in the here and now and support others to do the same
  3. In some sense, something of us can survive our death: our atoms, genes, ideas, and works
  4. Humanists do not believe in some ‘ultimate’ external meaning to live; meaning in our lives is something we must make for ourselves
  5. There is no single answer to what makes a good life; we have the freedom and the responsibility to decide for ourselves
  6. Spirituality, for humanists, can refer to a feeling of connection with something bigger than ourselves, to losing oneself in the moment, or to a sense of awe and wonder at the natural world or human creativity
  7. Stories have always been an important part of human culture; we have the capacity to look at our lives as a whole, and stories about others (both real and fictional) can support us to make sense of our own lives
  8. Humanists will accept that some lives can be tragic and without consolation; this can be a motivation to try to make things better

Reflect on what you have learned this week and share some of your conclusions in the comments box. In particular, you might want to think about the challenge we posed at the beginning of the week: Can humanism support human beings to fulfil their deepest needs?

Remember 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

We have learned this week that a humanist can recognise that not all lives are good, many are full of failure and suffering. We have also learned that for humanists this life is the one life we have. These facts can motivate humanists to do what they can to reduce suffering where they see it and to support others to lead happy lives.

We have also touched on one of the key questions humanists face: How can one balance the need to make the most of one’s own life, with a recognition that we should spend time supporting others to live fulfilling lives too? We have said that for a humanist these two goals are not necessarily mutually exclusive. It is possible to consider the second as an essential aspect of the first. Does this position hold up to scrutiny, or must the two goals always be in conflict? And if we can conclude that a flourishing life for the individual involves being good to others, then where can we find answers about how best to do this? That is what we will turn to next week.

This article is from the free online

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

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