Corliss Lamont's Definition of Humanism

August 24, 1997. Corliss Lamont's definition of Humanism.

Recently I sent in my dues to join the American Humanist Association. They sent me a "welcome packet" including the Humanist Manifestos I and II, and a book, THE PHILOSOPY OF HUMANISM, by Corliss Lamont. First published in 1949, considered a classic. (Copyright currently held by Half-Moon Foundation, Inc; all rights reserved.)

There is a lot in that book, but I thought I would provide his definition of Humanism for everyone's reference. Beginning on page 13:

First, Humanism believes in a naturalistic metaphysics or attitude toward the universe that considers all forms of the supernatural as myth; and that regards Nature as the totality of being and as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness.

Second, Humanism, drawing especially upon the laws and facts of science, believes that we humans are an evolutionary product of the Nature of which we are a part; that the mind is indivisibly conjoined with the functioning of the brain; and that as an inseparable unity of body and personality we can have no conscious survival after death.

Third, Humanism, having its ultimate faith in humankind, believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems, through reliance primarily upon reason and scientific method applied with courage and vision.

Fourth, Humanism, in opposition to all theories of universal determinism, fatalism, or predestination, believes that human beings, while conditioned by the past, possess genuine freedom of creative choice and action, and are, within certain objective limits, the shapers of their own destiny.

Fifth, Humanism believes in an ethics or morality that grounds all human values in this-earthly experiences and relationships and that holds as its highest goal the this-worldly happiness, freedom, and progress- economic, cultural, and ethical- of all humankind, irrespective of nation, race, or religion.

Sixth, Humanism believes that the individual attains the good life by harmoniously combining personal satisfactions and continuous self-development with significant work and other activities that contribute to the welfare of the community.

Seventh, Humanism believes in the widest possible development of art and the awareness of beauty, including the appreciation of Nature's loveliness and splendor, so that the aesthetic experience may become a pervasive reality in the lives of all people.

Eighth, Humanism believes in a far-reaching social program that stands for the establishment throughout the world of democracy, peace, and a high standard of living on the foundations of a flourishing economic order, both national and international.

Ninth, Humanism believes in the complete social implementation of reason and scientific method; and thereby in democratic procedures, and parliamentary government, with full freedom of expression and civil liberties, throughout all areas of economic, political, and cultural life.

Tenth, Humanism, in accordance with scientific method, believes in the unending questioning of basic assumptions and convictions, including its own. Humanism is not a new dogma, but is a developing philosophy ever open to experimental testing, newly discovered facts, and more rigorous reasoning.

Corliss Lamont concludes: "I think that these ten points embody Humanism in its most acceptable modern form.... Humanism is the viewpoint that people have but one life to lead and should make the most of it in terms of creative work and happiness; that human happiness is its own justification and requires no sanction or support from supernatural sources; that in any case the supernatural, usually conceived of in the form of heavenly gods or immortal heavens, does not exist; and that human beings, using their own intelligence and cooperating liberally with one another, can build an enduring citadel of peace and beauty upon this earth."

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Some commentary:
There have been many attempts at defining Humanism, some shorter than the above, some longer. I think the above is as good an effort as any. Humanists think for themselves, therefore there will never be a definition that all are happy with, or even agreed on.

The above statement is obviously vague in several places. It is definite in metaphysics (an all-natural universe, without any Cosmic Mind or supernatural realms) and epistemology (we learn about the universe by applying reason and the scientific method to the evidence of the senses). In ethics and politics, is is less definite; it sets conditions that a proposed ethical or political view must satisfy to be called "humanist", but the conditions are such that many different views might qualify. Ayn Rand might qualify, though admittedly at one edge of the possible spectrum; Karl Marx might also, at the other edge. Vladimir Lenin and Immanuel Kant would not. John Stuart Mill would land smack in the center of the range. There is a lot of variety, and debate, among Humanists on ethical and political questions.

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Tags: Humanism, Lamont, definition

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