Volume 1, Issue 1, Spring-Summer 1998
First Things First
Toward a Minimal Definition of Humanism
We need to clarify “humanist” and “humanism,” terms that have been open to considerable philosophical definition-mongering. I wish to propose a minimal core definition. Although this is normative, it is continuous with common usage. First, humanism expresses a set of values and virtues. emphasizing human freedom and autonomy. This ethical theory contrasts with divine-command ethics. Second, humanism, particularly secular humanism, rejects supernaturalism. Humanism should not be simply equated with atheism; however. it proposes a reflective form of agnostic or skeptical atheism. Third, secular humanism is committed to a key epistemological principle: a
method of inquiry that emphasizes reason and scientific objectivity. Fourth, it has a nonreductive naturalistic ontology drawn from the sciences. Last, humanist philosophers should not only be concerned with theoretical issues, but with the role of humanism in practical life as an alternative to theistic religion.