Humanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated, according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it.[1] Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (sometimes contrasted with antihumanism).
In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism, and today “Humanism” typically refers to a non-theistic life stance centred on human agency, and looking to science instead of religious dogma in order to understand the world.
Humanism is practical. It motivates us to understand complex situations and to make decisions. If this were not true, humanism could not be the basis for an upbeat, constructive way of life. Although it provides no ready-made formulas, it gives a specific point of view. This view makes it easier to work problems through to solution. It prevents us from creating new problems in the process of meeting old ones. This approach to difficulties is made up of at least two elements.
In the first place it is a certain state of mind. This is one of self-reliance and confidence. People act as they do from perfectly natural causes. As these are natural causes rather than occult ones, there is hope of understanding and perhaps even of controlling them. Success or failure does not depend on the conjunction of Mars and Jupiter, on whether it is our lucky day, or on the configuration of crystals. It depends on whether we can see the chains of cause and effect leading up to the present situation and whether we act on the basis of this knowledge. This is both a disciplined and an encouraging philosophy. We are allowed no transcendental alibis and are freed from insoluble riddles. We are encouraged to feel that there is usually some kind of answer to a problem if we could but find it.
There are two major aspects to Hobbes’s picture of human nature. As we have seen, and will explore below, what motivates human beings to act is extremely important to Hobbes. The other aspect concerns human powers of judgment and reasoning, about which Hobbes tends to be extremely skeptical. Like many philosophers before him, Hobbes wants to present a more solid and certain account of human morality than is contained in everyday beliefs. Plato had contrasted knowledge with opinion. Hobbes contrasts science with a whole raft of less reliable forms of belief – from probable inference based on experience, right down to “absurdity, to which no living creature is subject but man” (Leviathan, v.7).
Hobbes has several reasons for thinking that human judgment is unreliable, and needs to be guided by science. Our judgments tend to be distorted by self-interest or by the pleasures and pains of the moment. We may share the same basic passions, but the various things of the world affect us all very differently; and we are inclined to use our feelings as measures for others. It becomes dogmatic through vanity and morality, as with “men vehemently in love with their own new opinions…and obstinately bent to maintain them, [who give] their opinions also that reverenced name of conscience” (Leviathan, vii.4). When we use words which lack any real objects of reference, or are unclear about the meaning of the words we use, the danger is not only that our thoughts will be meaningless, but also that we will fall into violent dispute. (Hobbes has scholastic philosophy in mind, but he also makes related points about the dangerous effects of faulty political ideas and ideologies.) We form beliefs about supernatural entities, fairies and spirits and so on, and fear follows where belief has gone, further distorting our judgment. Judgment can be swayed this way and that by rhetoric, that is, by the persuasive and “colored” speech of others, who can deliberately deceive us and may well have purposes that go against the common good or indeed our own good. Not least, much judgment is concerned with what we should do now, that is, with future events, “the future being but a fiction of the mind” (Leviathan, iii.7) and therefore not reliably known to us.
The English philosopher Thomas Hobbes (1588-1679) is best known for his political thought, and deservedly so. His vision of the world is strikingly original and still relevant to contemporary politics. His main concern is the problem of social and political order: how human beings can live together in peace and avoid the danger and fear of civil conflict. He poses stark alternatives: we should give our obedience to an unaccountable sovereign (a person or group empowered to decide every social and political issue). Otherwise what awaits us is a “state of nature” that closely resembles civil war – a situation of universal insecurity, where all have reason to fear violent death and where rewarding human cooperation is all but impossible. The term social order can be used in two senses. In the first sense, it refers to a particular set or system of linked social structures, institutions, relations, customs, values and practices, which conserve, maintain and enforce certain patterns of relating and behaving. Examples are the ancient, the feudal, and the capitalist social order. In the second sense, social order is contrasted to social chaos or disorder, and refers to a stable state of society in which the existing social order is accepted and maintained by its members. The problem of order or Hobbesian problem, which is central to much of sociology, political science and political philosophy, is the question how and why it is that social orders exists at all.
Thomas Hobbes is recognized as the first to clearly formulate the problem, to answer which he conceived the notion of a social contract. Social theorists (such as Karl Marx, Émile Durkheim, Talcott Parsons, and Jürgen Habermas) have proposed different explanations for what a social order consists of, and what its real basis is. For Marx, it is the relations of production or economic structure which is the basis of a social order. For Durkheim, it is a set of shared social norms. For Parsons, it is a set of social institutions regulating pattern of action-orientations, which again are based on a frame of cultural values. For Habermas, it is all of these, as well as communicative action.
Order does not necessarily need to be controlled by government. Individuals pursuing self-interest can make predictable systems. These systems, being planned by more than one person, may actually be preferable to those planned by a single person. This means that predictability may be possible to achieve without a central government’s control. These stable expectations do not necessarily lead to individuals behaving in ways that are considered beneficial to group welfare. Considering this, Thomas Schelling studied neighborhood racial segregation. His findings suggest that interaction can produce predictability, but it does not always increase social order. In his researching he found that “when all individuals pursue their own preferences, the outcome is segregation rather than integration,” as stated in “Theories of Social Order,” edited by Michael Hechter and Christine Horne.

The most consequential aspect of Hobbes’s account of human nature centers on his ideas about humanism, and this topic is therefore at the heart of many debates about how to understand Hobbes’s philosophy. Many interpreters have presented the Hobbesian agent as a self-interested, rationally calculating actor (those ideas have been important in modern political philosophy and economic thought, especially in terms of rational choice theories). It is true that some of the problems that face people like this – rational egoists, as philosophers call them – are similar to the problems Hobbes wants to solve in his political philosophy. And it is also very common for first-time readers of Hobbes to get the impression that he believes we’re all basically selfish. Principle of extensiveness
Another key factor concerning social order is the principle of extensiveness. This states the more norms and the more important the norms are to a society, the better these norms tie and hold together the group as a whole. Two different theories exist that explain and attempt to account for social order. The first theory is “order results from a large number of independent decisions to transfer individual rights and liberties to a coercive state in return for its guarantee of security for persons and their property, as well as its establishment of mechanisms to resolve disputes,” as stated in Theories of Social Order by Hechter and Horne. The next theory is that “the ultimate source of social order as residing not in external controls but in a concordance of specific values and norms that individuals somehow have managed to internalize.” also stated in Theories of Social Order by Hechter and Horne.

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• Berry, Philippa and Andrew Wernick. The Shadow of Spirit: Post-Modernism and Religion. Routledge, (1992) 2006. ISBN 0-415-06638-7
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• Davies, Tony. Humanism The New Critical Idiom. Drakakis, John, series editor. University of Stirling, UK. Routledge, 1997 ISBN 0-415-11052-1
• Ferguson, Wallace K. The Renaissance in Historical Thought. Five Centuries of Interpretation. New York: Nachdruck: AMS, 1981 (Boston: Mifflin, 1948)
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• Gay, Peter. Enlightenment: The Science of Freedom. New York: W. W. Norton & Co, 1996 ISBN 0-393-31366-2
• Giustiniani,Vito. “Homo, Humanus, and the Meanings of Humanism”, Journal of the History of Ideas 46 (vol. 2, April – June, 1985): 167 – 95. [1] [2]
• Grafton, Anthony. Defenders of the Text: The Traditions of Scholarship in an Age of Science, 1450–1800. Harvard University Press, 1991
• Grafton, Anthony. Bring Out Your Dead: The Past as Revelation. Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 2004 ISBN 978-0-674-00468-9

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