Humanism is a broad category of active ethical philosophies that affirm the dignity and worth of all people, based on our ability to determine what is right using the qualities innate to humanity, particularly rationality. Humanism is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems.
Humanism entails a commitment to the search for truth and morality through human means in support of human interests. In focusing on our capacity for self-determination, humanism rejects transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on faith, the supernatural, sacred texts, or religious creeds. Humanists endorse a recognition of a universal morality based on the commonality of human nature, suggesting that the long-term solutions to our problems cannot be parochial.
In 2002 the International Humanist and Ethical Union (IHEU) General Assembly unanimously adopted the Amsterdam Declaration which represents the official defining statement of World Humanism. The Happy Human is the official symbol of IHEU as well as being regarded the official symbol of Humanism.
Humanism in some ways fulfills or supplements the role of theistic religion in people's lives, and, therefore, qualifies as a religion in itself at least in the United States where the religion has been granted tax exempt status.
Though the dominant forms of humanism are atheistic (and express a disbelief in the supernatural), not all forms of humanism are. In some instances humanism denies the importance of the supernatural in human affairs, regardless of whether or not it exists. In this way, humanism does not necessarily rule out some form of theism or deism. What humanism clearly rejects is blind deference to supernatural beliefs in resolving human affairs, not necessarily the beliefs themselves.
For that matter, atheism on its own doesn't necessarily entail humanism. For example, Objectivism and Soviet Communism are both wholeheartedly atheistic and yet strongly incompatible with humanism due to their ethical views.
According to humanism, it is up to us to find the truth, not wait for it to be handed to us through revelation, mysticism, tradition, or anything else that is incompatible with the application of logic to the evidence. In demanding that we avoid blindly accepting unsupported beliefs, it supports scientific skepticism and the scientific method, rejecting authoritarianism and extreme skepticism, and rendering faith an unacceptable basis for action. Likewise, humanism asserts that knowledge of right and wrong is based on our best understanding of our individual and joint interests, rather than stemming from a transcendental or arbitrarily local source.
Some have interpreted humanism to be a form of speciesism, mostly because of the word itself, but this doesn't appear to be the case. Humanism does exalt human traits, but doesn't necessarily insist that no other species could or do have the same, or that other species have no rights just because they are not human. For these reasons, humanism appears to be neutral with regard to issues of animal rights.
Humanism features an optimistic attitude about the capacity of people, but it does not involve believing that human nature is purely good or that each and every person is capable of living up to the humanist ideals of rationality and morality. If anything, there is the recognition that living up to our potential is hard work and requires the help of others. The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better for all of us. Even among humanists who do believe in some sort of an afterlife, the focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world better for those who come after us, not on suffering through life to be rewarded afterwards.
Contemporary humanism can be traced back through the Renaissance to its ancient Greek roots.
Renaissance humanism was a movement in Europe, beginning in Florence in the last decades of the 14th century. It revived the study of the Latin and Greek languages; and caused the resultant revival of the studies of science, philosophy, art and poetry of classical antiquity.
The "revival", or "re-birth" was based upon interpretations of Roman and Greek texts, whose emphasis upon art and the senses marked a great change from the contemplation upon the Biblical values of humility, introspection, and passivity, or "meekness". Beauty was held to represent a deep inner virtue and value, and "an essential element in the path towards God".
The crisis of Renaissance humanism came with the trial of Galileo; which forced the choice between basing the authority of one's beliefs on one's observations, or upon religious teaching. The trial made the contradictions between humanism and traditional religion visibly apparent to all, and humanism was branded a "dangerous doctrine".
Renaissance humanists believed that the liberal arts (music, art, grammar, rhetoric, oratory, history, poetry, using classical texts, and the studies of all of the above) should be practiced by all levels of wealth. They also approved of self, human worth and individual dignity.
There are many people who consider themselves humanists, and much variety in the exact type of humanism they believe in. There is some disagreement over terminology and definitions, with some people using narrower or broader interpretations. Not all people who call themselves humanists hold beliefs that are genuinely humanistic, and not all people who do hold humanistic beliefs apply the label of humanism to themselves.
All of this aside, humanism can be divided into secular and religious types.
Secular humanism is the branch of humanism that rejects theistic religious belief and, therefore, the existence of a supernatural. It is often associated with scientists and academics, although it is not at all limited to these groups. Secular humanists generally believe that following humanist principles naturally leads to secularism, on the basis that religious views cannot be supported rationally. There are secular humanistic organizations and are accurately described though not recognized as churches.
More often than not, secular humanism is what people are referring to when they speak of humanism in general, making it something of a default. Some secular humanists take this even further by denying that religious humanists qualify as genuine humanists. Others feel that the ethical side of humanism transcends the issue of religion, because being a good person is more important than supernatural beliefs.
Religious humanism is the branch of humanism that embraces some form of theism, deism, or supernaturalism, or considers itself religious (based on a functional definition of religion), without necessarily being allied with organized religion, as such. It is often associated with artists, liberal "Christian" s" , and scholars in the liberal arts. Other types of people that may be considered religious humanists are those who, despite believing in a religion, don't consider it necessary to derive all their moral values from it. Some feel that, because their religious beliefs are moral, and therefore humane, they are humanists. In particular, it is not uncommon for religious humanitarians to be referred to as humanists, although the accuracy of this usage is disputed.
A number of religious humanists feel that secular humanism is too coldly logical and rejects the full emotional experience that makes us human. From this comes the notion that secular humanism is inadequate in fulfilling the general human need for a philosophy of life. Disagreements over things of this nature have resulted in some amount of friction between secular and religious humanists, despite their commonalities.
Humanism is also sometimes used to describe "humanities" scholars, (particularly scholars of the Greco-Roman classics). As mentioned above, it is sometimes used to mean humanitarianism. There is also a school of humanistic psychology, and an educational method.
Humanism, as a current in education began to dominate school systems, in the 17th century. It held that the studies that develop our intellect are those that make us "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 W.T. Harris, whose "Five Windows of the Soul" (math, geography, history, grammar, and literature/art) were believed especially appropriate for "development of the faculties". Educational humanists believe that "the best studies, for the best kids" are "the best studies" for all kids. While humanism as an educational current was largely discredited by the innovations of the early 20th century, it still holds out, in some elite preparatory schools and some high school disciplines (especially, of course, in literature).
see the category Humanists below