Humanist Philosophies & Understandings

Course Overview

Syllabus provided upon registration.

Course Description

If you are not religious, how do you answer the great questions of life? Who Am I? Why am I here? How do I know what is true? How should we treat each other? These are questions religions exist to answer – but if you are not religious, is there anything to say? Humanist philosophy can be understood as an attempt to provide nonreligious answers to these questions, answers which question traditional assumptions about God and the soul and embrace a secular, this-worldly view.  In this course we will explore these existential and spiritual questions through a Humanist lens, clarifying the nature of Humanism by seeing how different Humanist philosophers respond. You will be invited to dialogue with their ideas, and in the process develop your own. 

Course readings are selected to be provocative rather than comprehensive – this is not a survey course, but should leave you with an appreciation of the essence of Humanist philosophy. As well as traditional philosophical texts, novels, articles, clips from films and TV, and other media are used to convey ideas and encourage thought. Each class begins with a short presentation drawing out themes from the week’s readings and other material. Then a moderated discussion will follow, in which you can advance, defend, abandon, and develop your own ideas.

This course covers:

  • Who Am I?
    • What is a Human?
    • Individuality
    • Group Identity & Culture
  • Why Am I Here?
    • Meaning
    • Purpose
    • Life Before Death
  • How Do I Know what is True?
    • Truth Without Absolutes
    • Science & Faith
    • Truth & Possibilities
  • How Should We Treat Each Other?
    • Our Responsibilities to Others
    • Government & the People
    • Humanist Marxism and Socialism
  • Philosophy Through the Art of Presentations

Primary Course Learning Outcome

Write an original philosophical argument that addresses an existential, spiritual or ethical question from a Humanist perspective that effectively engages in dialogue with multiple other appropriate Humanist philosophical perspectives using analysis and evaluation.

Supporting Learning Outcomes

  1. Interpret philosophical texts accurately, with the ability to understand the intended meaning of a philosophical argument.
  2. Articulate different Humanist philosophical responses to a range of existential, spiritual, and ethical questions.
  3. Articulate how Humanist responses to the Big Questions differ to many religious ones.
  4. Articulate the significance of the main strands of Humanist philosophical thought in their own life, especially Pragmatism.
  5. Write a cogent analysis of a Humanist philosophy or an expression of their own philosophical thought in a Humanist mode.
  6. Reflect on the consequences of philosophical argument, to see how they might affect the choices we make in life.
  7. Critically evaluate a philosophical argument, with an eye to epistemic virtues such as coherence, precision, and scope.
  8. Create a new philosophical argument that addresses one of life’s questions in light of Humanist responses.