An Open-ended Quest

Introduction to Humanism

As this introduction shows, humanism seeks to provide answers to life’s questions based on the best available knowledge and philosophy. But sometimes, the best available knowledge still leaves a lot of unanswered questions!

From this continuing search emerges a humanism that is an open-ended lifestance: humanist views are open to change and are constantly evolving. Humanists don’t expect the one, final, absolute truth to be revealed to them. On the contrary, they hold that all opinions are fallible and provisional and that free inquiry and debate are essential to the process of learning and developing. Thus, humanists value tolerance, pluralism, and critical inquiry as positive and beneficial qualities in society — not simply as necessary evils.

And humanists embrace change: whether the personal change that comes from self-development or the changes in society that result from human enterprise and creativity. Indeed, the humanist focus on understanding and adapting to the world around us also helps individuals cope with a rapidly changing society.

Another result of the humanist reliance on science and common sense is that many people are humanists without realizing it! Hundreds of millions worldwide agree with the humanist philosophy of living a happy and productive life based on reason and compassion.

These tacit humanists reach similar conclusions without meeting like-minded people or reading particular texts. They work out their humanist lifestance independently by learning what science has discovered, examining supernatural claims, and sharing in the universal human values that have arisen in the global community of the modern world. It is often a surprise to these people to discover their personal lifestance is called “humanism” and that organizations exist to defend and advance their beliefs!

Although it is not necessary to belong to a humanist organization — or even to be aware of the humanist movement — to be a good humanist, individuals who do associate with humanist organizations may experience a welcome sense of belonging and community. These organizations may provide services that connect to a person’s lifestance: for example, rites of passage such as weddings and funerals, moral education for children, and some forms of counseling. They may offer a forum for discussion, social interaction, and activism with like-minded individuals. But many humanists support humanist organizations simply because they defend their rights, advance their beliefs, and translate their principles into practical projects to help people and improve society. (Humanist Activism explores how and why humanists can involve themselves in humanist groups and campaigns.)

Humanists are committed to investigating all areas of human life through the lens of critical inquiry. They see education and self-improvement as a life-long responsibility for all individuals. With this in mind, the AHA Center for Education seeks not only to explain humanism but also to apply the principles of humanism and critical inquiry to other areas of human knowledge. We encourage you to explore, debate and criticize the ideas presented in this growing continuum of courses.