Monday, July 04, 2005

Secular humanism: a primer

Secular humanism is a life philosophy that holds that a naturalistic world view and the use of reason are the best tools humanity has to resolve problems of any sort. Generally, secular humanists detest fundamentalism, be it theological or ideological, and reject dogma in favor of free and scientific inquiry; they believe in the democratic ideals of individual liberty and universal equality. I've compiled here a list of articles/essays to serve as an introductory primer to the philosophy of secular humanism.

The Affirmations of Humanism:
This can be found on the inside cover of every issue of Free Inquiry, the official magazine of the Council for Secular Humanism. These affirmations are a collection of the most basic principles of humanism.

Humanist Manifesto(s) (I, II, III, 2000):
These manifestos are outlines of the scope, values, and purpose of humanism.

Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Adopted by the U.N. in 1948, this declaration represents the humanist ideals of basic universal liberties.

Re-enchantment: A New Enlightenment - Paul Kurtz:
Describes the original Enlightenment, its relevance to secular humanism, and calls for ideas presented in the humanist manifestos to be put forth into practice as a new Enlightenment movement.

Memorial and Remonstrance - James Madison:
This was written by Madison as an argument against a proposed bill to gather tax money for teachers of Christianity in his home state of Virginia. In this piece, Madison outlines the importance and necessity of the separation of church and state, a principle which he inherited from the Enlightenment and which is of central importance to the humanist (as it well should be to the theist, too)

A Skeptical Manifesto - Michael Shermer:
Shermer explains the importance of being a skeptic and how skepticism helps us to understand the world.

Methodological Naturalism and Philosophical Naturalism
- Barbara Forrest:
Warning: this an academic paper, so the prose may be a bit daunting. But if you can get past that this is an exemptional work delineating one of the foundational values of humanism: naturalism. Naturalism is important to the humanist since it is at the root of the scientific method.

Euthyphro - Plato:
One of the most commonly held beliefs is that without God there would be no morals. In this brief story Socrates argues that for there to be such a thing as good it must exist independent of divine fiat "Is that which is holy loved by the gods because it is holy, or is it holy because it is loved by the gods?"

The Secular Spinx: The Riddle of Ethics without Religion - Michael Shermer:
Here Shermer explains what he calls "provisional ethics," a secular ethical system which draws upon common sense, moral intuition, and scientific reasoning.

Can the Sciences Help us Make Wise Ethical Judgements - Paul Kurtz:
This essay compliments Shermer's provisional ethics, with Kurtz arguing that science and reason can help inform our moral choices.

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