Skip main navigation

What kind of thing is Humanism?

Read about some of the different labels that have been used to describe what kind of a thing humanism is.

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.

This article is from the free online

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

Created by
FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Our purpose is to transform access to education.

We offer a diverse selection of courses from leading universities and cultural institutions from around the world. These are delivered one step at a time, and are accessible on mobile, tablet and desktop, so you can fit learning around your life.

We believe learning should be an enjoyable, social experience, so our courses offer the opportunity to discuss what you’re learning with others as you go, helping you make fresh discoveries and form new ideas.
You can unlock new opportunities with unlimited access to hundreds of online short courses for a year by subscribing to our Unlimited package. Build your knowledge with top universities and organisations.

Learn more about how FutureLearn is transforming access to education