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The Humanist Manifesto III August 13, 2007

Posted by Joe in Humanism.

The Humanist Manifesto is apparently in its third version since the original in 1933. All three version are available on the AHA website.

So the question is: do I agree enough with the manifesto to consider myself a Humanist.

Knowledge of the world is derived by observation, experimentation, and rational analysis.

Bingo! I am in complete agreement here. The methods of science are the best ways to gain knowledge of the universe.

Humans are an integral part of nature, the result of unguided evolutionary change. Humanists recognize nature as self-existing. We accept our life as all and enough, distinguishing things as they are from things as we might wish or imagine them to be. We welcome the challenges of the future, and are drawn to and undaunted by the yet to be known.

I agree that humans are the result of unguided evolutionary change, but I do not think that humans are “an integral part of nature”. I don’t believe we are of any inherent significance at all. Nature did and will do just fine without us.

Ethical values are derived from human need and interest as tested by experience.

I’ve never though of ethical values being derived from human needs or interests, but I certainly see some truth to it. I don’t understand how ethical values can be tested by experience.

Life’s fulfillment emerges from individual participation in the service of humane ideals.

It seems to me that fulfillment can come in many ways, but this is certainly one of them.

Humans are social by nature and find meaning in relationships.

Working to benefit society maximizes individual happiness.

These I believe are the bases for human morality. We need and want to live with one another, and to be able to do so requires maintaining positive relationships between individuals and groups. It is these ideas that make Humanism a positive philosophy that says much more about what it means to be human than any religion.

The last bit is worth quoting:

Thus engaged in the flow of life, we aspire to this vision with the informed conviction that humanity has the ability to progress toward its highest ideals. The responsibility for our lives and the kind of world in which we live is ours and ours alone.

We are responsible for our mistakes and our victories. We have ultimate responsibility for the present and future of human society. We must learn from the lessons of the past and do what we can to improve the world of the future.

I guess I am a Humanist.



1. Francis Mortyn - August 14, 2007

You seem to be reacting to “humans are an integral part of nature” as if it says “humans are a necessary part of nature” but it does not say that.

The idea that humans are separate from nature is quite clearly promoted by the Judaic-Christian scriptural tradition, beginning with the Garden of Eden story.

Charles Darwin showed that in fact there is no Berlin Wall separating man from nature. We are changing along with the rest of the natural world and we are biologically part of the animal world.

Astrochemistry today makes it known that we are made of the same chemical elements as the rest of the universe. We are, as Carl Sagan says, made of star stuff.

When you view the Perseid meteor shower tonight, when you look at the magnificence of the stars in the sky, you no longer need to think of them as being in the realm of the gods. You and they share the same heritage and the same destiny. They are natiral, and so are you.

When you see that your own body’s chemical make-up is pretty much the same as the chemical make-up of the surface of our own planet, you can see that we humans are right where we belong at present.

So when St. Paul says “Ye are in the world and not of it,” you can smile at him and shake your head and say “Sorry, Paul. We know better now. We humans are of this planet Earth as well as in it. The Christian view of mankind as separate from its environment just doesn’t hold up. Your Christian story is an epic like the sagas of the Icelanders, and it is great poetry and drama, but you have to content to be ignorant if you want to perceive it as science or as an accurate or adequate account of the relationship of mankind to the universe.”

2. Francis Mortyn - August 14, 2007

How are ethical values tested by experience?

Well, as Karl Popper, Felix Adler and others have pointed out, you can begin by asserting that it is good to minimize avoidable and unnecessary human suffering.

Then you can observe what happens when choices are made. You evaluate the morality of a decision by looking at its consequences. This consequential ethical view was understood by John Dewey, the most eminent name among the signers of the original Humanist Manifesto.

Adherents of Judaic-Christian ethics claim that the morality of an act is determined in advance by some code of law. Consequentialists in ethics say that you can call the act good or bad afterwards by looking at what its results were.

Example: Is it moral for a dentist to inflict pain on a child by drilling into a diseased tooth?

A code-based ethics may say – It is wrong to inflict pain on a child so the dentist’s act is evil.

Consequentialist ethics says: The act is necessary to avoid greater harm, and its consequences are that there will be less pain and the child will enjoy better health. The dentist’s act is a morally good act.

Does this matter in real life? Yes, it does. There are religious parents governed by code-based biblical ethics who try to prevent hospitals from giving a blood transfusion to their child.

There are religious people who think that adequate and appropriate medical care is given when practitioners pray over the sick person.

If the Bible is considered a complete and adequate guide to human behavior, then it is quite clear how illness should be treated. There is no mention of penicillin. No polio vaccine. Nothing to deal with plague and smallpox.

As to anesthetics, these were vigorously opposed by Christian teachers. In childbirth, the Bible says, woman is supposed to suffer, so don’t even think about analgesics and epesiotomies. Even the Caeserean section was invented by the pagan Romans, not by the Hebrews or the Christians.

No no. When a person is sick, you must call in the elders to pray over him. Anoint him with oil. What if there’s an open wound from an injury? Then pour in oil and wine. That’ll do it. Hallelujah.

Oh – he dies? Shucks, it’s the will of God.

Thanks, believers. When I need a doctor I’ll be quite satisfied if he’s a Humanist – all that matters is his ability to give expert medical care.

And every competent doctor today rejects the witch doctor dependence on spells and incantations. Instead, the doctor uses science and humanistic thinking and evolutionary biology. how do we know it’s morally right to rely on science? Because it works best. That’s knowledge of what’s right derived from experience.

3. Joe - August 15, 2007

“You seem to be reacting to “humans are an integral part of nature” as if it says “humans are a necessary part of nature” but it does not say that.”

That’s the way the word integral sounds to me. It would almost make more sense if it said that nature was an integral part of humans. Really I think they should just drop the word “integral”. But maybe

“How are ethical values tested by experience?”

I agree that one can evaluate the consequences of actions taken to fulfill values, but the values themselves seem axiomatic to me. In the example you use I would identify the value of the philosophers as “it is good to minimize avoidable and unnecessary human suffering.” There is no way to test whether or not that is a good value, except in respect to other values held.

I see morality sort of as a Euclidean framework, where the most basic values are the starting axioms and all valid moral rules can be derived from them.

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