The Roots of
Humanism: Part 1
about Humanism that seems to come up every time is, "Where did Humanism
come from?" Humanism, at the root, is a philosophy. It evolved from previous
philosophical thought, adopting bits and pieces that worked and made sense,
and discarding the stuff that didn't work. Two similar philosophies make up
90% of what we call Humanism; one is called Naturalism and the other is Materialism.
that nature is the only thing that exists and that anything considered outside
of nature, does not exist and is irrelevant. This rule out dualism, the separation
of mind and body, that Theism depends on for its belief structure, and of
course, immortality is out of the question since that would be outside of
of Naturalism include Aristotle, who lived in the 4th century. He developed
the laws of logic that we still use today and was the first to recognize that
science was made up of an interrelated body of facts. He also developed "Aristotelian"
psychology that was based on the unity of mind and body and ruled out immortality.
was a 17th century Dutch atheist who wrote, in his book "Ethics",
an entire philosophy of life that did not require any supernaturalism.
One of the best-known Naturalists is Charles Darwin, who wrote the classic
"The Origin of Species" in 1859. He showed, through a collection
of evidence, that life was part of nature and that supernaturalism had little
or no effect on anything.
of the 20th century include Professors John Dewey and Fredrick J.E. Woodbridge
of the United States who developed the ideas that the mind adapted for survival
through evolution and that intelligence, reason, and thought made up the scientific
method, which is used to investigate and test ideas about how the world works.
a philosophy, which explains that everything in the known universe is made
up of matter and has an atomic structure. Materialism finds order in Nature,
using the scientific method, which it expresses in scientific laws. Like Naturalism,
it does not depend on supernaturalism for any of its explanations. Materialists
include Democritus who, in 400 B.C.E., developed the Atomic Theory. Epicurus
wanted to see people live using reason rather than fear. He added to Democritus'
Atomic Theory by forwarding the idea that there were chance deviations which
allowed for free choice. Epicurus also said that negation of religious dogma
was required for a happy life here on earth. He defined Happiness as pleasure
guided by wisdom and adjusted to the hard realities of life.
The French "Encyclopedists"
of the late 18th century (La Mettrie, Helvetius, Holbach, and Diderot) used
Materialism as a weapon against superstition and the reactionary Catholic
Church. In the 19th Century, Germans came to the front of Materialist thought.
Jacob Feuerbach proposed that traditional religious mythologies were based
on unfulfilled human feelings, longings, and needs. Karl Marx and Frederick
Engles, influenced by Feuerbach, developed Dialectical Materialism, which
improved on Materialism by recognizing the interrelatedness of things in nature
a long history and one can see the influence of Naturalism and Materialism.
Each bases its philosophy on science and does not depend on supernaturalism
to make sense.
Humanism: Part 2
In the first part of this essay, I gave the philosophical roots of what we
know today as Humanism. Modern Humanism also owes a debt to religious dissenters,
who made room to replace faith with critical thinking.
During the Dark Ages...to be continued...