Wednesday, September 16, 2009

The Philosophy of Humanism

The Philosophy of Humanism
© 1990 Corliss Lamont
326 pages

This is very straightforward book on the obvious subject, giving a history, description, and promotion of contemporary humanism. Author Corliss Lamont once headed the American Humanist Association, although he is perhaps better know for his political activities. After a short introduction, Lamont gives a history of the Humanist tradition, tapping both religious and scientific personalities as well as poets, politicians, and poetry -- for humanism is a grand tradition.

Subsequent chapters delve into humanist values and common beliefs -- he focuses on the importance of affirming life and using the scientific method as our guide whenever possible, and devotes a chapter to metaphysics. The chapter on the affirmation of life was interesting. Not only did he express a need for naturalistic mysticism -- the importance of losing one's self in the feeling of the sublime -- but he writes on ethics and politics. Lamont's socialistic political views do not seem to motivate the text: he writes that while Marxism and democratic socialism are themselves friendly to humanism, humanists need not be socialists.

Lamont's humanism is a kindler, gentler humanism, reminding more of Erich Fromm and Isaac Asimov than of the voices in the "New Atheism". Perhaps Greg Epstein's so-called "New Humanism" is merely a return to Lamont and Fromm's. While Lamont criticizes religious elements and maintains that humans must and should ground their lives in the natural world, he doesn't seem bitter or angry at it -- only at the abuses. He's also more open to emotional life than modern humanists are. Lamont is more passionate about what Humanism is and what it does than the failures of its rivals.

The book is quite readable, although the chapter on metaphysics may give some reades pause: it tends toward academic. My own copy of the book came with the first and second humanist manifestos, which were replaced in 2003 by the third. This is reccommend reading for humanists and those interested in a life of meaning and joy outside of religious belief.

Related Reading:
  • Erich Fromm's The Sane Society

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