Humanism is an approach in study, philosophy, or practice that focuses on human values and concerns. The term can mean several things, for example:
- A historical movement associated especially with the Italian Renaissance.
- An approach to education that uses literary means or a focus on the humanities to inform students.
- A variety of perspectives in philosophy and social science which affirm some notion of ' human nature' (by contrast with anti-humanism).
- A secular ideology which espouses reason, ethics, and justice, whilst specifically rejecting supernatural and religious dogma as a basis of morality and decision-making.
The last interpretation may be attributed to Secular Humanism as a specific humanistic life stance. Modern meanings of the word have therefore come to be associated with a rejection of appeals to the supernatural or to some higher authority. This interpretation may be directly contrasted with other prominent uses of the term in traditional religious circles. Humanism of this strand arose from a trajectory extending from the deism and anti-clericalism of the Enlightenment, the various secular movements of the 19th century (such as positivism), and the overarching expansion of the scientific project.
Humanist, humanism, and humanistic may also refer simply and loosely to literary culture.
The term "humanism" is ambiguous. Around 1806 Humanismus was used to describe the classical curriculum offered by German schools, and by 1836 "humanism" was lent to English in this sense. In 1856, the great German historian and philologist Georg Voigt used humanism to describe Renaissance humanism, the movement that flourished in the Italian Renaissance to revive classical learning, a use which won wide acceptance among historians in many nations, especially Italy. This historical and literary use of the word "humanist" derives from the 15th-century Italian term umanista, meaning a teacher or scholar of Classical Greek and Latin literature and the ethical philosophy behind it.
But in the mid-18th century, a different use of the term began to emerge. In 1765, the author of an anonymous article in a French Enlightenment periodical spoke of "The general love of humanity ... a virtue hitherto quite nameless among us, and which we will venture to call ‘humanism’, for the time has come to create a word for such a beautiful and necessary thing.” The latter part of the 18th and the early 19th centuries saw the creation of numerous grass-roots "philanthropic" and benevolent societies dedicated to human betterment and the spreading of knowledge (some Christian, some not). After the French Revolution, the idea that human virtue could be created by human reason alone independently from traditional religious institutions, attributed by opponents of the Revolution to Enlightenment philosophes such as Rousseau, was violently attacked by influential religious and political conservatives, such as Edmund Burke and Joseph de Maistre, as a deification or idolatry of man. Humanism began to acquire a negative sense. The Oxford English Dictionary records the use of the word "humanism" by an English clergyman in 1812 to indicate those who believe in the "mere humanity" (as opposed to the divine nature) of Christ, i.e., Unitarians and Deists. In this polarized atmosphere, in which established ecclesiastical bodies tended to circle the wagons and reflexively oppose political and social reforms like extending the franchise, universal schooling, and the like, liberal reformers and radicals embraced the idea of Humanism as an alternative religion of humanity. The anarchist Proudhon (best known for declaring that " property is theft") used the word "humanism" to describe a "culte, déification de l’humanité" ("cult, deification of humanity") and Ernest Renan in L’avenir de la science: pensées de 1848 ("The Future of Knowledge: Thoughts on 1848") (1848–49), states: "It is my deep conviction that pure humanism will be the religion of the future, that is, the cult of all that pertains to man—all of life, sanctified and raised to the level of a moral value.“
At about the same time, the word "humanism" as a philosophy centered around mankind (as opposed to institutionalized religion) was also being used in Germany by the so-called Left Hegelians, Arnold Ruge, and Karl Marx, who were critical of the close involvement of the church in the repressive German government. There has been a persistent confusion between the several uses of the terms: philosophical humanists look to human-centered antecedents among the Greek philosophers and the great figures of Renaissance history, often assuming somewhat inaccurately that famous historical humanists and champions of human reason had uniformly shared their anti-theistic stance.
6th-century BCE pre-Socratic Greek philosophers Thales of Miletus and Xenophanes of Colophon were the first to attempt to explain the world in terms of human reason rather than myth and tradition, thus can be said to be the first Greek humanists. Thales questioned the notion of anthropomorphic gods and Xenophanes refused to recognize the gods of his time and reserved the divine for the principle of unity in the universe. These Ionian Greeks were the first thinkers to assert that nature is available to be studied separately from the supernatural realm. Anaxagoras brought philosophy and the spirit of rational inquiry from Ionia to Athens. Pericles, the leader of Athens during the period of its greatest glory was an admirer of Anaxagoras. Other influential pre-Socratics or rational philosophers include Protagoras (like Anaxagoras a friend of Pericles), known for his famous dictum "man is the measure of all things" and Democritus, who proposed that matter was composed of atoms. Little of the written work of these early philosophers survives and they are known mainly from fragments and quotations in other writers, principally Plato and Aristotle. The historian Thucydides, noted for his scientific and rational approach to history, is also much admired by later humanists. In the 3rd century BCE, Epicurus became known for his concise phrasing of the problem of evil, lack of belief in the afterlife, and human-centered approaches to achieving eudaimonia. He was also the first Greek philosopher to admit women to his school as a rule.
Human-centered philosophy that rejected the supernatural can be found as early as 1000 BCE in the Lokayata system of Indian philosophy. Also in the 6th-century BCE, Gautama Buddha expressed, in Pali literature, a skeptical attitude toward the supernatural:
Since neither soul nor aught belonging to soul can really and truly exist, the view which holds that this I who am 'world,' who am 'soul,' shall hereafter live permanent, persisting, unchanging, yea abide eternally: is not this utterly and entirely a foolish doctrine?
In China, Huangdi is regarded as the humanistic primogenitor. Sage kings such as Yao and Shun are humanistic figures as recorded. King Wu of Zhou has the famous saying: "Human is the ling (spirit, soul, god, or leader) in the world (among all)". Among them, Duke of Zhou, respected as an initial founder of Rujia (Confucianism), is especially prominent and pioneering in humanistic thought. His words were recorded in the Book of History as follows (translated into English):
What the people desire, Heaven certainly comply.
Heaven (God) is not believable. Our Tao (doctrine) is moral (from former sage kings and to be continued forward).
In the 6th century BCE, Taoist teacher Laozi held natural humanistic philosophy. Confucius also taught secular ethics. The silver rule of Confucianism from Analects XV.24, is an example of ethical philosophy based on human values rather than the supernatural. Humanistic thought is also contained in other Confucian classics, e.g., as recorded in Zuo Zhuan, Ji Liang says: "People is the zhu (master, lord, dominance, owner or origin) of gods. So, to sage kings, people first, gods second"; Neishi Guo says: "Gods, clever, righteous and wholehearted, comply with human.
Many medieval Muslim thinkers pursued humanistic, rational and scientific discourses in their search for knowledge, meaning and values. A wide range of Islamic writings on love poetry, history and philosophical theology show that medieval Islamic thought was open to the humanistic ideas of individualism, occasional secularism, skepticism and liberalism.
Another reason the Islamic world flourished during the Middle Ages was an early emphasis on freedom of speech, as summarized by al-Hashimi (a cousin of Caliph al-Ma'mun) in the following letter to one of the religious opponents he was attempting to convert through reason:
"Bring forward all the arguments you wish and say whatever you please and speak your mind freely. Now that you are safe and free to say whatever you please appoint some arbitrator who will impartially judge between us and lean only towards the truth and be free from the empery of passion, and that arbitrator shall be Reason, whereby God makes us responsible for our own rewards and punishments. Herein I have dealt justly with you and have given you full security and am ready to accept whatever decision Reason may give for me or against me. For "There is no compulsion in religion" ( Qur'an 2:256) and I have only invited you to accept our faith willingly and of your own accord and have pointed out the hideousness of your present belief. Peace be with you and the blessings of God!"
Certain aspects of Renaissance humanism has its roots in the medieval Islamic world, including the "art of dictation, called in Latin, ars dictaminis," and "the humanist attitude toward classical language."
Renaissance humanism was an intellectual movement in Europe of the later Middle Ages and the Early Modern period. The 19th-century German historian Georg Voigt (1827–91) identified Petrarch as the first Renaissance humanist. Paul Johnson agrees that Petrarch was "the first to put into words the notion that the centuries between the fall of Rome and the present had been the age of Darkness.” According to Petrarch, what was needed to remedy this situation was the careful study and imitation of the great classical authors. For Petrarch and Boccaccio, the greatest master was Cicero, whose prose became the model for both learned (Latin) and vernacular (Italian) prose.
Once the language was mastered grammatically it could be used to attain the second stage, eloquence or rhetoric. This art of persuasion [Cicero had held] was not art for its own sake, but the acquisition of the capacity to persuade others — all men and women — to lead the good life. As Petrarch put it, 'it is better to will the good than to know the truth.' Rhetoric thus led to and embraced philosophy. Leonardo Bruni (c.1369–1444), the outstanding scholar of the new generation, insisted that it was Petrarch who “opened the way for us to show how to acquire learning," but it was in Bruni’s time that the word umanista first came into use, and its subjects of study were listed as five: grammar, rhetoric, poetry, moral philosophy, and history.”
The basic training of the humanist was to speak well and write (typically, in the form of a letter). One of Petrarch’s followers, Coluccio Salutati (1331–1406) was made chancellor of Florence, "whose interests he defended with his literary skill. The Visconti of Milan claimed that Salutati’s pen had done more damage than 'thirty squadrons of Florentine cavalry.'” Contrary to a still widely current interpretation that originated in Voigt's celebrated contemporary, Jacob Burckhardt, and which was adopted wholeheartedly, especially by those moderns calling themselves "humanists", most specialists now do not characterize Renaissance humanism as a philosophical movement, nor in any way as anti-Christian or even anti-clerical. A modern historian has this to say:
Humanism was not an ideological programme but a body of literary knowledge and linguistic skill based on the “revival of good letters,” which was a revival of a late-antique philology and grammar, This is how the word “humanist" was understood by contemporaries, and if scholars would agree to accept the word in this sense rather than in the sense in which it was used in the nineteenth century we might be spared a good deal of useless argument. That humanism had profound social and even political consequences of the life of Italian courts is not to be doubted. But the idea that as a movement it was in some way inimical to the Church, or to the conservative social order in general is one that has been put forward for a century and more without any substantial proof being offered.
The nineteenth-century historian Jacob Burckhardt, in his classic work, The Civilization of the Renaissance in Italy, noted as a “curious fact” that some men of the new culture were “men of the strictest piety, or even ascetics.” If he had meditated more deeply on the meaning of the careers of such humanists as Abrogio Traversari (1386–1439), the General of the Camaldolese Order, perhaps he would not have gone on to describe humanism in unqualified terms as “pagan,” and thus helped precipitate a century of infertile debate about the possible existence of something called “Christian humanism” which ought to be opposed to “pagan humanism.” --Peter Partner, Renaissance Rome, Portrait of a Society 1500–1559 (University of California Press 1979) pp. 14–15.
The umanisti criticized what they considered the barbarous Latin of the universities, but the revival of the humanities largely did not conflict with the teaching of traditional university subjects, which went on as before.
Nor did the humanists view themselves as in conflict with Christianity. Some, like Salutati, were the Chancellors of Italian cities, but the majority (including Petrarch) were ordained as priests, and many worked as senior officials of the Papal court. Humanist Renaissance popes Nicholas V, Pius II, Sixtus IV, and Leo X wrote books and amassed huge libraries.
In the high Renaissance, in fact, there was a hope that more direct knowledge of the wisdom of antiquity, including the writings of the Church fathers, the earliest known Greek texts of the Christian Gospels, and in some cases even the Jewish Kabbala, would initiate an harmonious new era of universal agreement. With this end in view, Renaissance Church authorities afforded humanists what in retrospect appears a remarkable degree of freedom of thought. One humanist, the Greek Orthodox Platonist Gemistus Pletho (1355–1452), based in Mystras, Greece (but in contact with humanists in Florence, Venice, and Rome) taught a Christianized version of pagan polytheism.
The ad fontes principle also had many applications. The re-discovery of ancient manuscripts brought a more profound and accurate knowledge of ancient philosophical schools such as Epicureanism, and Neoplatonism, whose Pagan wisdom the humanists, like the Church fathers of old, tended, at least initially, to consider as deriving from divine revelation and thus adaptable to a life of Christian virtue. The line from a drama of Terence, Homo sum, humani nihil a me alienum puto (or with nil for nihil), meaning "I am a man, I think nothing human alien to me", known since antiquity through the endorsement of Saint Augustine, gained renewed currency as epitomizing the humanist attitude.
Better acquaintance with Greek and Roman technical writings also influenced the development of European science (see the history of science in the Renaissance). This was despite what A. C. Crombie (viewing the Renaissance in the 19th-century manner as a chapter in the heroic March of Progress) calls "a backwards-looking admiration for antiquity," in which Platonism stood in opposition to the Aristotelian concentration on the observable properties of the physical world. But Renaissance humanists, who considered themselves as restoring the glory and nobility of antiquity, had no interest in scientific innovation. However, by the mid-to-late 16th century, even the universities, though still dominated by Scholasticism, began to demand that Aristotle be read in accurate texts edited according to the principles of Renaissance philology, thus setting the stage for Galileo's quarrels with the outmoded habits of Scholasticism.
Just as artist and inventor Leonardo da Vinci — partaking of the zeitgeist though not himself a humanist — advocated study of human anatomy, nature, and weather to enrich Renaissance works of art, so Spanish-born humanist Juan Luis Vives (c. 1493–1540) advocated observation, craft, and practical techniques to improve the formal teaching of Aristotelian philosophy at the universities, helping to free them from the grip of Medieval Scholasticism. Thus, the stage was set for the adoption of an approach to natural philosophy, based on empirical observations and experimentation of the physical universe, making possible the advent of the age of scientific inquiry that followed the Renaissance.
It was in education that the humanists' program had the most lasting results, their curriculum and methods:
were followed everywhere, serving as models for the Protestant Reformers as well as the Jesuits. The humanistic school, animated by the idea that the study of classical languages and literature provided valuable information and intellectual discipline as well as moral standards and a civilized taste for future rulers, leaders, and professionals of its society, flourished without interruption, through many significant changes, until our own century, surviving many religious, political and social revolutions. It has but recently been replaced, though not yet completely, by other more practical and less demanding forms of education.
From Renaissance to modern humanism
The progression from the humanism of the renaissance to that of the 19th and 20th centuries came about through two key figures: Galileo and Erasmus. Cultural critic, Os Guinness explains that the word humanist during the renaissance initially only defined a concern for humanity, and many early humanists saw no dichotomy between this and their Christian faith. See Christian Humanism
"Yet it was from the Renaissance that modern Secular Humanism grew, with the development of an important split between reason and religion. This occurred as the church's complacent authority was exposed in two vital areas. In science, Galileo's support of the Copernican revolution upset the church's adherence to the theories of Aristotle, exposing them as false. In theology, the Dutch scholar Erasmus with his new Greek text showed that the Roman Catholic adherence to Jerome's Vulgate was frequently in error. A tiny wedge was thus forced between reason and authority, as both of them were then understood."
19th and 20th centuries
The phrase the "religion of humanity" is sometimes attributed to American Founding Father Thomas Paine, though as yet unattested in his surviving writings. According to Tony Davies:
Paine called himself a theophilanthropist, a word combining the Greek for "God", "love," and "man", and indicating that while he believed in the existence of a creating intelligence in the universe, he entirely rejected the claims made by and for all existing religious doctrines, especially their miraculous, transcendental and salvationist pretensions. The Parisian "Society of Theophilanthropy" which he sponsored, is described by his biographer as "a forerunner of the ethical and humanist societies that proliferated later" ... [Paine's book] the trenchantly witty Age of Reason (1793) ... pours scorn on the supernatural pretensions of scripture, combining Voltairean mockery with Paine's own style of taproom ridicule to expose the absurdity of a theology built on a collection of incoherent Levantine folktales.
Davies identifies Paine's The Age of Reason as "the link between the two major narratives of what Jean-François Lyotard calls the narrative of legitimation": the rationalism of the 18th-century Philosophes and the radical, historically based German 19th-century Biblical criticism of the Hegelians David Friedrich Strauss and Ludwig Feuerbach. "The first is political, largely French in inspiration, and projects 'humanity as the hero of liberty'. The second is philosophical, German, seeks the totality and autonomy of knowledge, and stresses understanding rather than freedom as the key to human fulfillment and emancipation. The two themes converged and competed in complex ways in the 19th century and beyond, and between them set the boundaries of its various humanisms. Homo homini deus est ("Man is a god to man" or "god is nothing [other than] man to himself"), Feuerbach had written.
Victorian novelist Mary Ann Evans, known to the world as George Eliot, translated Strauss's Das Leben Jesu ("The Life of Jesus", 1846) and Ludwig Feuerbach's Das Wesen Christianismus ("The Essence of Christianity"). She wrote to a friend:
the fellowship between man and man which has been the principle of development, social and moral, is not dependent on conceptions of what is not man ... the idea of God, so far as it has been a high spiritual influence, is the ideal of goodness entirely human (i.e., an exaltation of the human).
Eliot and her circle, who included her companion George Henry Lewes (the biographer of Goethe) and the abolitionist and social theorist Harriet Martineau, were much influenced by the positivism of Auguste Comte, whom Martineau had translated. Comte had proposed an atheistic culte founded on human principles—a secular Religion of Humanity (which worshiped the dead, since most humans who have ever lived are dead), complete with holidays and liturgy, modeled on the rituals of a what was seen as a discredited and dilapidated Catholicism. Although Comte's English followers, like Eliot and Martineau, for the most part rejected the full gloomy panoply of his system, they liked the idea of a religion of humanity. Comte's austere vision of the universe, his injunction to "vivre pour altrui" ("live for others", from which comes the word "altruism"), and his idealization of women inform the works of Victorian novelists and poets from George Eliot and Matthew Arnold to Thomas Hardy.
The British Humanistic Religious Association was formed as one of the earliest forerunners of contemporary chartered Humanist organizations in 1853 in London. This early group was democratically organized, with male and female members participating in the election of the leadership, and promoted knowledge of the sciences, philosophy, and the arts.
In February 1877, the word was used pejoratively, apparently for the first time in America, to describe Felix Adler. Adler, however, did not embrace the term, and instead coined the name " Ethical Culture" for his new movement – a movement which still exists in the now Humanist-affiliated New York Society for Ethical Culture. In 2008, Ethical Culture Leaders wrote: "Today, the historic identification, Ethical Culture, and the modern description, Ethical Humanism, are used interchangeably."
Active in the early 1920s, F.C.S. Schiller labeled his work "humanism" but for Schiller the term referred to the pragmatist philosophy he shared with William James. In 1929, Charles Francis Potter founded the First Humanist Society of New York whose advisory board included Julian Huxley, John Dewey, Albert Einstein and Thomas Mann. Potter was a minister from the Unitarian tradition and in 1930 he and his wife, Clara Cook Potter, published Humanism: A New Religion. Throughout the 1930s, Potter was an advocate of such liberal causes as, women’s rights, access to birth control, "civil divorce laws", and an end to capital punishment.
Raymond B. Bragg, the associate editor of The New Humanist, sought to consolidate the input of Leon Milton Birkhead, Charles Francis Potter, and several members of the Western Unitarian Conference. Bragg asked Roy Wood Sellars to draft a document based on this information which resulted in the publication of the Humanist Manifesto in 1933. Potter's book and the Manifesto became the cornerstones of modern humanism, the latter declaring a new religion by saying, "any religion that can hope to be a synthesizing and dynamic force for today must be shaped for the needs of this age. To establish such a religion is a major necessity of the present." It then presented 15 theses of humanism as foundational principles for this new religion.
In 1941, the American Humanist Association was organized. Noted members of The AHA included Isaac Asimov, who was the president from 1985 until his death in 1992, and writer Kurt Vonnegut, who followed as honorary president until his death in 2007. Gore Vidal became honorary president in 2009. Robert Buckman was the head of the association in Canada, and is now an honorary president.
After World War II, three prominent Humanists became the first directors of major divisions of the United Nations: Julian Huxley of UNESCO, Brock Chisholm of the World Health Organization, and John Boyd-Orr of the Food and Agricultural Organization.
In 2004, American Humanist Association, along with other groups representing agnostics, atheists, and other freethinkers, joined to create the Secular Coalition for America which advocates in Washington, D.C. for separation of church and state and nationally for the greater acceptance of nontheistic Americans. The Executive Director of Secular Coalition for America is Sean Faircloth, a long-time state legislator from Maine.
Attitudes toward religion
The original signers of the first Humanist Manifesto of 1933, declared themselves to be religious humanists. Because in their view, traditional religions were failing to meet the needs of their day, the signers of 1933 declared it a major necessity to establish a religion that was a dynamic force to meet the needs of the day. (However, it should be noted that this "religion" did not profess a belief in any god.) Since then two additional Manifestos were written to replace the first.
In the Preface of Humanist Manifesto II, the authors Paul Kurtz and Edwin H. Wilson (1973) affirm that faith and knowledge are required for a hopeful vision for the future. Manifesto II references a section on Religion and states traditional religion renders a disservice to humanity. Manifesto II recognizes the following groups to be part of their naturalistic philosophy: “scientific,” “ethical,” “democratic,” “religious,” and “Marxist” humanism.
In the 20th century and 21st century, members of Humanist organizations disagree as to whether Humanism is a religion. They categorize themselves in one of three ways. Religious humanists, in the tradition of the earliest Humanist organizations in the UK and US, saw Humanism as fulfilling the traditional social role of religion. Secular Humanists consider all forms of religion, including religious Humanism, to be superseded. In order to sidestep disagreements between these two factions recent Humanist proclamations define Humanism as a life stance, despite the view expressed by the U.S. Supreme Court in a footnote addendum classifying, among others, Secular Humanism a religion that does not believe in God. Regardless of implementation, the philosophy of all three groups rejects deference to supernatural beliefs and addresses ethics without reference to them recognizing ethics as a human enterprise. It is generally compatible with atheism and agnosticism, but being atheist or agnostic does not make one a Humanist.
Modern Humanists, such as Corliss Lamont or Carl Sagan, hold that humanity must seek for truth through reason and the best observable evidence and endorse scientific skepticism and the scientific method. However, they stipulate that decisions about right and wrong must be based on the individual and common good. As an ethical process, Humanism does not consider metaphysical issues such as the existence or nonexistence of supernatural beings. Humanism is engaged with what is human.
Contemporary Humanism entails a qualified optimism about the capacity of people, but it does not involve believing that human nature is purely good or that all people can live up to the Humanist ideals without help. If anything, there is recognition that living up to one's potential is hard work and requires the help of others. The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better for all humans, and as the most conscious species, also promoting concern for the welfare of other sentient beings and the planet as a whole. The focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world a better place for those who come after. In 1925, the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead cautioned: "The prophecy of Francis Bacon has now been fulfilled; and man, who at times dreamt of himself as a little lower than the angels, has submitted to become the servant and the minister of nature. It still remains to be seen whether the same actor can play both parts."
Humanism (life stance)
Humanism (capital 'H', no adjective such as "secular") is a comprehensive life stance that upholds human reason, ethics, and justice, and rejects supernaturalism, pseudoscience, and superstition. Many Humanists derive their morals from a philosophy of Ethical naturalism, and some acknowledge a science of morality.
The International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) is the world union of more than 100 Humanist, rationalist, secular, ethical culture, and freethought organizations in more than 40 countries. The Happy Human is the official symbol of the IHEU as well as being regarded as a universally recognised symbol for those who call themselves Humanists (as opposed to "humanists"). In 2002, the IHEU General Assembly unanimously adopted the Amsterdam Declaration 2002 which represents the official defining statement of World Humanism.
All member organisations of the IHEU are required by IHEU bylaw 5.1 to accept the IHEU Minimum Statement on Humanism:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality.
Polemics about humanism have sometimes assumed paradoxical twists and turns. Early 20th century critics such as Ezra Pound, T.E. Hulme, and T.S. Eliot considered humanism to be sentimental "slop" (Hulme) or overly feminine (Pound) and wanted to go back to a more manly, authoritarian society such as (they believed) existed in the Middle Ages. "Post Modern" critics who are self-described anti-humanists, such as Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, have asserted that humanism posits an overarching and excessively abstract notion of humanity or universal human nature, which can then be used as a pretext for imperialism and domination of those deemed somehow less than human. Philosopher Kate Soper notes that by faulting humanism for falling short of its own benevolent ideals, anti-humanism thus frequently “secretes a humanist rhetoric”. In his book, Humanism (1997), Tony Davies calls these critics "humanist anti-humanists". Critics of antihumanism, most notably Jürgen Habermas, counter that while antihumanists may highlight humanism's failure to fulfill its emancipatory ideal, they do not offer an alternative emancipatory project of their own. Others, like the German philosopher Heidegger considered themselves humanists on the model of the ancient Greeks, but thought humanism applied only to the German "race" and specifically to the Nazis and thus, in Davies' words, were anti-humanist humanists. Davies acknowledges that after the horrific experiences of the wars of the 20th century "it should no longer be possible to formulate phrases like 'the destiny of man' or the 'triumph of human reason' without an instant consciousness of the folly and brutality they drag behind them." For "it is almost impossible to think of a crime that has not been committed in the name of human reason." Yet, he continues, "it would be unwise to simply abandon the ground occupied by the historical humanisms. For one thing humanism remains on many occasions the only available alternative to bigotry and persecution. The freedom to speak and write, to organize and campaign in defense of individual or collective interests, to protest and disobey: all these can only be articulated in humanist terms."
Humanism, as a current in education, began to dominate U.S. school systems in the 19th century. It held that the studies that develop human intellect are those that make humans "most truly human." The practical basis for this was faculty psychology, or the belief in distinct intellectual faculties, such as the analytical, the mathematical, the linguistic, etc. Strengthening one faculty was believed to benefit other faculties as well (transfer of training). A key player in the late 19th-century educational humanism was U.S. Commissioner of Education William Torrey Harris, whose "Five Windows of the Soul" (mathematics, geography, history, grammar, and literature/art) were believed especially appropriate for "development of the faculties." Marxists such as Terry Eagleton have criticized such views by pointing out the refined cultural tastes of some Nazi concentration camp guards.
Humanism increasingly designates an inclusive sensibility for our species, planet and lives. While retaining the definition of the IHEU with regard to the life stance of the individual, inclusive Humanism enlarges its constituency within homo sapiens to consider Man's broadening powers and obligations.
This accepting viewpoint recalls Renaissance Humanism in that it presumes an advocacy role for Humanists towards species governance, and this proactive stance is charged with a commensurate responsibility surpassing that of individual Humanism. It identifies pollution, militarism, nationalism, sexism, poverty and corruption as being persistent and addressable human character issues incompatible with the interests of our species. It asserts that human governance must be unified and is inclusionary in that it does not exclude any person by reason of their collateral beliefs or personal religion alone. As such it can be said to be a container for undeclared Humanism, instilling a species credo to complement the personal tenets of individuals.
It contrasts with contemporary American and British Humanism, which tend to be centered on religion to the extent that "Humanism" in these societies is too often being equated with simple atheism, especially by novitiates. This over-identification with a singular non-belief is now seen to be an unwarranted truncation of one of Humanity's most valuable and promising intellectual traditions, possibly damping out Humanism's wider and deserving adoption.
Dwight Gilbert Jones writes that Humanism may be the only philosophy likely to be adopted by our species as a whole – it is thus incumbent on inclusive Humanists to not place unwarranted or self-interested conditions on its prospective adherents, nor associate it with religious acrimony.