INFORMATION

This website uses cookies to store information on your computer. Some of these cookies are essential to make our site work and others help us to improve by giving us some insight into how the site is being used. For further information, see our Privacy Policy. Continuing to use this website is acceptance of these cookies.

Humanism and Value

Enter here to explore ethical issues and discuss the meaning and source of morality.
Post Reply
Message
Author
User avatar
Kismet
Posts: 171
Joined: May 27th, 2012, 2:29 am

Humanism and Value

#1 Post by Kismet » May 29th, 2012, 6:26 am

I wish to present a beginners critique contra Humanism, specifically in its espousal of the Golden Rule. Hopefully this will be a good jumping off point for starting discussion and clear any misunderstandings at the outset.

First, let “humanity” describe the entire length and breadth of the human condition and its relationship to human beings. This includes both all that is magnanimous in it: love, compassion, joy, positive endeavor, etc. This includes also all that is regarded as deplorable: hatred, callousness, wars, atrocities, racism, and so forth.

Now, on the basis of our humanity, Humanism claims we ought to value various goods: altruism, justice, kindness and so on. (This I propose is the underpinning behind any accurate definition of ‘humanism’, else there is no real basis for any definition at all) But this at the very minimum is an apparent non-sequitur. For it does not follow that just because humanity is magnanimous in some respects, that it therefore should be all-around magnanimous. After all, it is also deplorable in various respects. One can, with the very same logic, argue that humanity should be deplorable, and humanism would cease to have any votaries, since the “good” occupies so privileged a place in philosophy and culture.

What then of the injunction to treat another as you would be treated? Well, first this assumes a human being values himself such that he would be averse to immorality inflicted on his person. Barring this exception to the general rule however, why should, more importantly, one’s own personal, particular concern necessarily extend outward towards a universal interest in others’ well-being? Extending indeed beyond parochial concerns, towards an all-encompassing love of all human persons? Is the Golden Rule viable simply as a secular proof of values?

This in my view is idealism. It has nothing to do with humanity as it really exists in truth. It has nothing to do with substantiating morals or values. It has nothing to do with justifying our goodness by predicating it on humanity. Indeed, humanity is neither good or bad, but neutrally houses both the good and bad, and history bears this out. How then, can you pin value on the human? Humanity is shifting, unpredictable, and liable to the pull and mercy of emotional faculties, whereas value has an absolute standing. What is necessary can never be founded on what is contingent. Something is after all absolutely right or wrong, regardless of anyone’s subjective preference, be he a philanthropist or psychopath. Both are human, thus are a part of humanity. If you say otherwise, you are merely stating your own individual prejudice that is likewise found in humanity.

Thoughts? Concerns? Vociferous disagreement? :smile:

Maria Mac
Site Admin
Posts: 9307
Joined: July 3rd, 2007, 10:34 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#2 Post by Maria Mac » May 29th, 2012, 10:43 am

See my (and Dave's) response to your other post saying basically the same thing here.

If I may say so, your manner of expression is unnecessarily convoluted and wearisome to decipher. I'm sure it would be appreciated by many here if you can prioritise putting your ideas across simply and clearly. :)

User avatar
Tetenterre
Posts: 3244
Joined: March 13th, 2011, 11:36 am

Re: Humanism and Value

#3 Post by Tetenterre » May 29th, 2012, 11:14 am

Athena wrote:If I may say so, your manner of expression is unnecessarily convoluted and wearisome to decipher. I'm sure it would be appreciated by many here if you can prioritise putting your ideas across simply and clearly. :)
+1
Steve

Quantum Theory: The branch of science with which people who know absolutely sod all about quantum theory can explain anything.

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#4 Post by animist » May 29th, 2012, 11:15 am

while echoing what Athena says about your rather obscure prose, I feel that you probably are trying to express what to you are serious ideas. I can't help wondering if you are some sort of theist. After all, you presumably think that some things are actually of value and contrast with the vagaries of humanity, so do you think values come from God?

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#5 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 29th, 2012, 12:09 pm

Kismet wrote:I wish to present a beginners critique contra Humanism, specifically in its espousal of the Golden Rule. Hopefully this will be a good jumping off point for starting discussion and clear any misunderstandings at the outset.
Sounds like a good idea, Kismet.
Kismet wrote:First, let “humanity” describe the entire length and breadth of the human condition and its relationship to human beings. This includes both all that is magnanimous in it: love, compassion, joy, positive endeavor, etc. This includes also all that is regarded as deplorable: hatred, callousness, wars, atrocities, racism, and so forth.
That's not an unreasonable definition, but of course it's not the only possible one. The word "humanity" is also the noun associated with the adjective "humane". So it can mean the quality of being humane: benevolence, kindness, mercy, things like that. When humanists talk about an ethical system "based on our shared humanity", I think there's a certain ambiguity there. Perhaps it's deliberate.
Kismet wrote:Now, on the basis of our humanity, Humanism claims we ought to value various goods: altruism, justice, kindness and so on. (This I propose is the underpinning behind any accurate definition of ‘humanism’, else there is no real basis for any definition at all.) But this at the very minimum is an apparent non-sequitur. For it does not follow that just because humanity is magnanimous in some respects, that it therefore should be all-around magnanimous.
I agree with you. If that is what humanists had to believe, then I would not be a humanist. In my view, though, that's not required. In my experience, most human beings do value things like justice and kindness and love and friendship, as well as happiness and pleasure and peace. When asked, they'll usually say that they value them more than things like the accumulation of wealth and power. And most human beings, in my experience, deplore things like violence and cruelty, and want to avoid pain and suffering, not only for themselves and those they love, but for others too. Even human beings who are sometimes cruel or violent, who sometimes cause pain to others, do not differ hugely in their understanding of what is valuable and what is deplorable, I have found.
Kismet wrote:After all, it is also deplorable in various respects.
Interesting that you have used that same word, "deplorable". Yes, people do things sometimes that other people, and sometimes the same people, deplore. The fact that they deplore them is not insignificant.
Kismet wrote:One can, with the very same logic, argue that humanity should be deplorable, and humanism would cease to have any votaries, since the “good” occupies so privileged a place in philosophy and culture.
It seems to me that you have answered your own question here. Yes, the "good" does occupy a privileged place in philosophy and culture. Great. Let's go with that. Let's work with that. Not because we "should" in some absolute sense, but because it seems to bring advantages. It seems to make life pleasanter, and we all, or nearly all, seem to value a pleasant life.
Kismet wrote:What then of the injunction to treat another as you would be treated?
I don't see it as an injunction, rather as a guidelines, a useful rule of thumb. Although I tend to elaborate a little on the Golden Rule, along the lines of "Treat other people as you would want to be treated if you were in their shoes."
Kismet wrote:Well, first this assumes a human being values himself such that he would be averse to immorality inflicted on his person.
Seems like a reasonable assumption to me.
Kismet wrote:Barring this exception to the general rule however, why should, more importantly, one’s own personal, particular concern necessarily extend outward towards a universal interest in others’ well-being? Extending indeed beyond parochial concerns, towards an all-encompassing love of all human persons? Is the Golden Rule viable simply as a secular proof of values?
I don't think so. For me, the Golden Rule expresses something that makes sense to me personally, both logically and emotionally. I know certain things about myself, and because I know that other people are human beings very similar to me, I feel I can assume certain things about other people. If, when people treat me in a particular way, I know that I can feel hurt, angry, frightened, sad, etc., then I have a pretty good idea that others will feel similarly in similar situations. If I dislike feeling that way, then I have a pretty good idea that others will. Because I am capable of empathy, then in certain circumstances, when others are hurt, angry, frightened, sad, etc., I will sometimes feel something akin to those emotions, or to a faint echo of them, something that is in itself undesirable to me. That's quite useful. But it's not always enough. In my view, ethical tools such as the Golden Rule are useful ways of supplementing our natural empathy. The Golden Rule was actively taught to me by my parents when I was very young. (My parents were agnostics, but they weren't knowingly humanists. That is, although I believe they fitted the definition of the word, they had never heard of it, or of any Humanist organisations.) What the Golden Rule did, and still does, is remind me that if I treat other people badly I can't complain about other people treating me badly and expect anyone to take any notice of me. That even if I'm the centre of my own universe, I am not the centre of everyone else's. The Golden Rule means that if one wants one's own well-being to be something that other people have an interest in, it makes sense, for practical as well as theoretical reasons, to have an interest in other people's well-being. If one doesn't give a damn whether other people have an interest in one's own well-being, then it's not going to be of any use. I've never come across anyone like that, though.
Kismet wrote:This in my view is idealism. It has nothing to do with humanity as it really exists in truth.
I think you're wrong. I think it's realism, and I think it has everything to do with human beings as they really are.
Kismet wrote:It has nothing to do with substantiating morals or values. It has nothing to do with justifying our goodness by predicating it on humanity.
On those points, I would agree. For me, that's not what it's about.
Kismet wrote:Indeed, humanity is neither good or bad, but neutrally houses both the good and bad, and history bears this out. How then, can you pin value on the human? Humanity is shifting, unpredictable, and liable to the pull and mercy of emotional faculties, whereas value has an absolute standing.
Says who? Value doesn't have an absolute standing in my view. And I would agree that human values are shifting and unpredictable. I do think, however, that there are some human values that are reasonably stable, reasonably predictable. They not universal, but they're not far off it. They're not absolute, but they're not arbitrary either. I've been referring to them elsewhere as intersubjective values, which might not be the ideal term but it's the best I can come up with at the moment.
Kismet wrote:What is necessary can never be founded on what is contingent.
What is sensible, reasonable and practicable can, though, can't it?
Kismet wrote:Something is after all absolutely right or wrong, regardless of anyone’s subjective preference ...
You seem very sure of that. Why?
Kismet wrote:... be he a philanthropist or psychopath. Both are human, thus are a part of humanity. If you say otherwise, you are merely stating your own individual prejudice that is likewise found in humanity.
Not merely my own individual prejudice, no. Maybe widely shared individual prejudices. Although preferences would be my preferred word. I don't think your view of humanity is the same as mine. I don't see the good and the bad as being equally prevalent. I think good has a distinct edge over bad. And in particular I think a preference for the good and a dislike of the bad are much, much more widespread than a preference for the bad and a dislike of the good. In my view, that's a pretty good starting point. But I can only speak for myself, not for all humanists, or for humanism.

Emma

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#6 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 29th, 2012, 12:15 pm

Athena wrote:If I may say so, your manner of expression is unnecessarily convoluted and wearisome to decipher. I'm sure it would be appreciated by many here if you can prioritise putting your ideas across simply and clearly. :)
It's probably because I'm a bit convoluted and wearisome myself, but I found Kismet's post fairly clear.

Emma

stevenw888
Posts: 694
Joined: July 16th, 2010, 12:48 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#7 Post by stevenw888 » May 29th, 2012, 1:35 pm

Kismet
Something is after all absolutely right or wrong, regardless of anyone’s subjective preference,
I cannot accept that this statment is accuarate. Homosexuality is a good example. In the 50s and early 60s, homosexuality was labelled as a crime and, more importantly, not accepted by society in general. People like Kenneth Williams and Frankie Howard had to keep their sexuality hidden from the public as their sexual orientation was not considered acceptable. Now, I'm very pleased to say, there is no such shamefacedness about being gay. When I was young, gay people were regularly "outed" by magazines such as Stonewall and others who had a political agenda. No such thing takes place now. In fact it is simply not an issue. Some of my friends may be gay and some may be straight but I am not in the slightest bit interested in knowing such intimate details about people.
Therefore "gayness" was absolutely wrong in 1958, and now it is absolutely right. Neither of these statements are true of course. Homosexuality just "is"; it's the attitude of society to it that decides whether it's acceptable or not.
"There are old pilots and there are bold pilots, but there are no old, bold pilots." - From the film "Top Gun"

User avatar
animist
Posts: 6522
Joined: July 30th, 2010, 11:36 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#8 Post by animist » May 29th, 2012, 1:44 pm

stevenw888 wrote:Therefore "gayness" was absolutely wrong in 1958, and now it is absolutely right. Neither of these statements are true of course. Homosexuality just "is"; it's the attitude of society to it that decides whether it's acceptable or not.
"acceptable" - this can mean either "accepted in fact" or "ought to be accepted". Gayness should have been accepted in 1958 but it was not

User avatar
Kismet
Posts: 171
Joined: May 27th, 2012, 2:29 am

Re: Humanism and Value

#9 Post by Kismet » May 29th, 2012, 8:12 pm

Athena wrote:If I may say so, your manner of expression is unnecessarily convoluted and wearisome to decipher. I'm sure it would be appreciated by many here if you can prioritise putting your ideas across simply and clearly. :)
That is certainly your opinion, but not all of us are good at perfect minimalistic expression. Some ideas are hard to convey and if I could make them easier, I would. As it stands, this is the best level of communication that I can muster, with all due respect.

User avatar
Kismet
Posts: 171
Joined: May 27th, 2012, 2:29 am

Re: Humanism and Value

#10 Post by Kismet » May 29th, 2012, 8:54 pm

Emma Woolgatherer wrote:In my experience, most human beings do value things like justice and kindness and love and friendship, as well as happiness and pleasure and peace. When asked, they'll usually say that they value them more than things like the accumulation of wealth and power. And most human beings, in my experience, deplore things like violence and cruelty, and want to avoid pain and suffering, not only for themselves and those they love, but for others too. Even human beings who are sometimes cruel or violent, who sometimes cause pain to others, do not differ hugely in their understanding of what is valuable and what is deplorable, I have found.
Look at it this way, though. Do humans value all these positive attributes and qualities because that is what is "natural" to them, or do they value them because it has been inculcated that they should value, due to the prevailing ethos of the times? Before one can say "yes! THIS is what Humanity REALLY wants!" You have to ask, "Is Humanity really being entirely honest with itself?" Furthermore, anyone can possibly value "human" goods, in-the-moment. When someone is a fresh youth, passionate about helping his fellow man, he or she is an instance of humanity. At the same time, the war-torn veteran who is guilty of crimes against humanity in the Congo is also part of humanity - his "conscience" has been addled, say to the point at which he is nowhere near the mental state of the compassionate youth. He may also not "differ hugely" in his understanding of what is "valuable and what is deplorable." Only, he doesn't really make as much of an inward distinction personally anymore. In this way, the humanist ethic is really a power move, describing what should be right over and against those whose felt-sense of proverbial "right" has withered away and slipped through their fingers. One may instead rely on a transcendent source of value, instead of humanity's own precepts, in that case, which are no longer adequate.
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Interesting that you have used that same word, "deplorable". Yes, people do things sometimes that other people, and sometimes the same people, deplore. The fact that they deplore them is not insignificant.
It is certainly not insignificant to those who are already on the bandwagon of what is morally, "obviously" correct. But it becomes increasingly insignificant to those who are "roughed" in such a way by life's slings (disaffected might be the better word) that what is "right" is for all intents and purposes bereft of any meaning. In a nutshell: who cares anymore? why should I follow what society and others tell me is the right thing to do? I am just as human as they are and my desires wholly differ from the standard credo." What can you say to those persons, who are no longer within the fold of a specific mental-emotional state?
Emma Woolgatherer wrote:Yes, the "good" does occupy a privileged place in philosophy and culture. Great. Let's go with that. Let's work with that. Not because we "should" in some absolute sense, but because it seems to bring advantages. It seems to make life pleasanter, and we all, or nearly all, seem to value a pleasant life.
Once again, the prejudice of humanism is here at center stage. Can someone "work with" being moral in the way you espouse if he lives in some neck of the woods where war and pain are the rule and not the exception? Or if he has desires, wants, ambitions, which conflict with those around him? There is a psychological dimension here that I sense is being entirely pulled beneath the rug. A psychological dimension which is just as part and parcel of humanity in its multifacetedness as any quaint idea of the good.

User avatar
Emma Woolgatherer
Posts: 2976
Joined: February 27th, 2008, 12:17 pm

Re: Humanism and Value

#11 Post by Emma Woolgatherer » May 30th, 2012, 5:28 pm

Kismet wrote:Look at it this way, though. Do humans value all these positive attributes and qualities because that is what is "natural" to them, or do they value them because it has been inculcated that they should value, due to the prevailing ethos of the times? Before one can say "yes! THIS is what Humanity REALLY wants!" You have to ask, "Is Humanity really being entirely honest with itself?"
No, I don't. I don't talk like that, Kismet. I don't refer to "humanity" as though it were an individual being. It makes no sense to me. Each of us has values that are derived from a wide range of things. They vary hugely. I've yet to meet another human being who shares my values exactly. I don't know the source of all of my own values, let alone anyone else's. They're clearly not all from "the prevailing ethos", since I seem to be at odds with what passes for the prevailing ethos about a lot of things. And they're clearly not all shared with most people. But some of them do seem to be, and I believe that those shared values are useful. It may well be that people are not entirely honest, with themselves or with others, about what their "true" values are. Some of them may say that they value kindness and love and deplore violence and cruelty while being secret misanthropes or sadists. I choose to be optimistic, though, and assume that such people are few and far between.
Kismet wrote:Furthermore, anyone can possibly value "human" goods, in-the-moment. When someone is a fresh youth, passionate about helping his fellow man, he or she is an instance of humanity. At the same time, the war-torn veteran who is guilty of crimes against humanity in the Congo is also part of humanity - his "conscience" has been addled, say to the point at which he is nowhere near the mental state of the compassionate youth.
Yes. And particularly tragically, the war-torn veteran guilty of crimes against humanity in the Congo may well be little more than a child himself.
Kismet wrote:He may also not "differ hugely" in his understanding of what is "valuable and what is deplorable." Only, he doesn't really make as much of an inward distinction personally anymore. In this way, the humanist ethic is really a power move, describing what should be right over and against those whose felt-sense of proverbial "right" has withered away and slipped through their fingers. One may instead rely on a transcendent source of value, instead of humanity's own precepts, in that case, which are no longer adequate.
If there were such a thing as a transcendent source of value, maybe it would be of help. However, I don't accept that there is such a thing. Those who claim that their values come from a transcendent source are no less human than humanists, and I can see no reason for believing their claims. And I'm not even a jaded ex-soldier, whose 'felt-sense of proverbial "right" has withered away'.
Kismet wrote:It is certainly not insignificant to those who are already on the bandwagon of what is morally, "obviously" correct. But it becomes increasingly insignificant to those who are "roughed" in such a way by life's slings (disaffected might be the better word) that what is "right" is for all intents and purposes bereft of any meaning. In a nutshell: who cares anymore? why should I follow what society and others tell me is the right thing to do? I am just as human as they are and my desires wholly differ from the standard credo." What can you say to those persons, who are no longer within the fold of a specific mental-emotional state?
I'm not sure what you mean by "within the fold of a specific mental-emotional state". But I think perhaps you've misunderstood me. I'm not suggesting that everyone should conform to a "standard credo". Far from it. What I'm interested in is building on what's already there, rather than imposing something that isn't. The starting point is always oneself. And one can learn from discussing these issues with others who are willing. But I have no desire to force moral lessons on other people, whether they're "within the fold of a specific mental-emotional state" or not.
Kismet wrote:Once again, the prejudice of humanism is here at center stage. Can someone "work with" being moral in the way you espouse if he lives in some neck of the woods where war and pain are the rule and not the exception? Or if he has desires, wants, ambitions, which conflict with those around him?
I don't know. But I don't think that such an approach is inherently inferior to one that relies on the assertion that there is a transcendent source of value.
Kismet wrote:There is a psychological dimension here that I sense is being entirely pulled beneath the rug. A psychological dimension which is just as part and parcel of humanity in its multifacetedness as any quaint idea of the good.
I'm not trying to sweep anything under the rug. I'm not trying to hide or ignore anything. This is a huge issue, and I can't be expected to to have covered all its dimensions in my first post on the subject, which was a response to the specific points you raised in your opening post. Also, as I said before, I'm not speaking for humanists or humanism, only for myself.

I think it would be very useful, Kismet, if you could answer the question I asked in my last post. Why do you believe that "Something is after all absolutely right or wrong, regardless of anyone’s subjective preference"?

Emma

Post Reply