this one can go in my faq since i’ve apparently neglected this issue so far w/r/t asks
humanism, to me, is defined by a few key traits:
- the belief that our existence as humans is what’s more important than anything and that to be human is something uniquely special in that we have reason and aren’t simply at the whims of natural forces beyond our control; we’re sentient, and, for example, the hegelian version of humanism points out that we are able to shape our environment through individual will
- humans have individual autonomy and can exist in a state which is unique and free of outside pressures and social forces. this one stems from kant, largely, and the idea of a sovereign individual is in line with the other kantian notion that there’s a categorical imperative based in duty
- the existence of a human nature which is fixed and unchanging and defines us as beings.
there’s lots of angles to attack this ideology from:
- the idea of “humans” as a group who should be unified and treated exactly the same ignores and erases the fact that all humans haven’t had identical experiences and come from groups which are treated differently. to claim that “we’re all human” and to hold that as the ultimate axiom ignores the fact that people are oppressed because of their class, race, gender identity, sexual orientation, ability and many other factors too numerous to list. there is no universal human experience; human beings are cultural, social and historical beings who are shaped by their circumstances.
- "reason" is an empty yay word with little real substance, when one properly analyzes how it is applied. what one can observe is a kind of regimenting and disciplining which seems to stem from the idea of reason; as foucault indicated, the idea of "reason" as the ultimate good meant "unreason" was evil, and thus wrought the persecution of the mentally ill and their stigmatization.
- the idea of a unified individual will has been fragmented by the fact we know so many processes belong in the unconscious and that, the more research comes to light, the more we find people frequently act “irrationally”. in addition, our wills and thoughts are constricted by language and by consciousness, as both wittgenstein and lacan highlighted.
- humans don’t have an unchanging nature. aside from the fact evolution obviously means that the definition of what defines “human” gradually changes over time anyway, how humans act is fundamentally shaped by their environment, and in particular if we’re to critique humanism from a marxist pov, material conditions. it’s all very well claiming human are “naturally” greedy, but capitalism forces people to be greedy and selfish to survive. post-structuralism also indicates the extent to which “meaning” itself is unstable and that there are fundamental discontinuities which mark the beginning of new epochs in human history and can’t be explained in terms of an unchanging nature.
- humanism itself is actually in many ways based in western thought and in christianity. the liberal idea of “human nature” as being based in evil and greed is basically christian original sin stripped of its theological connotations and turned into a secular notion.