Humanism, in what sense?

Humanism implies a commitment to humanity, or more correctly to what might be called a common humanity shared with other persons across time and place. 

Some writers have challenged the idea of a “shared humanity” as a fiction that deflects attention from the injustices suffered disproportionately by specific groups, particularly minorities.  That is, those who live in relative comfort and security can easily slip into thinking of human or social problems in general terms and may lose sight of the ways in which suffering and injustice are commonly maldistributed – demographically, nationally, and internationally. In addressing such questions, therefore, critical humanists have pointed out that far from neglecting such injustices, humanism in general, and critical humanism in particular, can supply tools that are useful in combating these injustices –  including, for example, concepts like “human rights,” “universal rights,” and “crimes against humanity.” 

Others have noted the dangers of humanist anthropocentrism – that is, attempting to elevate human beings to a position that subordinates nonhuman species to a lesser status of neglect, exploitation, and destruction.  Indeed, the dangers associated with this attitude grow more alarming on a daily basis, as environmental destruction proceeds. Therefore, while the focus of this site is on issues directly concerning human beings, it is crucial to keep in mind that a properly critical humanism argues that ideas like “humanity” are best understood not as concrete and isolated categories but rather as conceptually and structurally defined by the larger ecosystem within which humans evolved and are sustained.  From this perspective, the success of humanity is understood to presuppose the well-being of other species, with whom our fate is deeply intertwined. 

In general, therefore, the term “humanism” has been interrogated from many perspectives in the writings of critical humanists, and this process of interrogation is an important one that needs to continue – particularly with the help of the critical standpoint.

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