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Critical commentary on Humanist Manifesto III.

In the brief time since the release of Humanism and Its Aspirations, and prior to any public signature campaign, numerous positive comments have been received in addition to a flurry of endorsements now approaching the first thousand. One of these communications of praise is of particular interest and we reproduce it as the first commentary, below.

We have also received a few negative comments from individuals who have declined to sign. In a spirit of openness and recognition of dissenting views, we offer a significant selection of these latter.

From all of this it seems clear to us that a document can be defined not only by what it says but by what it doesn't say, and not only by what it advocates but by what it doesn't. We hope Humanists all over the world will agree that Humanist Manifesto III speaks clearly for them.

Suzanne Paul

Being a "good" Humanist, I was fully prepared to find fault with this document. It is, after all, the Humanist way to be critical. However, I have now read it over three times and find it to be one of the finest descriptions of Humanism that I have ever read. It is everything that Humanist Manifesto I and II were not. It is sensitive, compassionate, readable, understandable, and concise. How did you ever get it on one page? I have not a single thing to add to this statement. It represents my thoughts and feelings and how I try to live my life. I am greatly impressed. Kudos to all involved in this project. It is really awesome.

Suzanne Paul is the Humanist leader/minister of the Community Unitarian Universalist Church in Brighton, Michigan. She is a past president of the American Humanist Association and a graduate of the first class of the Humanist Institute.

Brian Josephson

This is not an endorsement of Humanist Manifesto III but a critical comment. The manifesto mentions "rational analysis" but not intuition, which is however generally agreed to be a valuable tool in science. And from a much deeper point view, analysis in purely rational terms is essentially positivism, which was shown by later schools of philosophy to be unworkable in that it appears that a lot of accepted knowledge even in science cannot be derived by purely rational arguments, implying that the use of something akin to intuition is inevitable even in the thought processes of the most "rational" thinkers. (As I have put it in my own writings, "we think that we think clearly, but that is only because we don't think clearly.")

I also note much use in the manifesto of terms such as meaning, interests, joy, beauty, which don't seem to fit into the usual scientific framework. Are they part of the world, apparently best known through science, or not? How is the world defined? If they aren't part of the world, then what is the best way to understand them as accurately as possible? Should not this be spelt out further, in order that perceptive readers should not find the position of the manifesto an incoherent one?

Finally, a small technical point. The manifesto talks of the "inevitable finality of death," but this is hardly well demonstrated by science, the stated arbiter of knowledge. How would we know that the conscious observer doesn't move from the body elsewhere in the eleven-dimensional brane world (a product of rational science, I might point out) at death? Indeed, investigations into "children who claim to remember past lives" have rather pointed to the continuation of the individual in some form after death. (See Children Who Remember Previous Lives: A Question of Reincarnation, revised edition, by Ian Stevenson, McFarland and Company, 2001.) Why don't you simply delete that phrase, as it seems to me not to add anything significant to the manifesto?

Apart from these points, which I trust you will consider carefully, there is a lot I agree with in the manifesto, but I cannot add my support to it in its present form, which I feel contains a number of the dogmas that you claim to wish to avoid.

Professor Brian Josephson, recipient of the Nobel Prize in physics in 1973, is director of the Mind-Matter Unification Project of the Theory of Condensed Matter Group at the Cavendish Laboratory, University of Cambridge, England.

William Laubner Jr.

Your bimonthly periodical, the Humanist, not only focuses upon issues for which I have concerns but also endorses resolving those issues in a manner with which I agree. In addition, I find myself in almost complete agreement with the viewpoints to which the articles ascribe. However, I do have some difficulty with Humanist Manifesto III.

First, for those who support the positions your articles emphasize yet who also affirm a Judaic-Christian, participatory god, the phrase "without supernaturalism" is unacceptable.

Second, to state that, "values and ideals ... are subject to change" negates the view that certain moral values pertaining to good or evil and to right or wrong maintain an air of permanency.

The above two concerns create problems for those of us who reject the bigotry and shallowness of the extreme right religious/political family yet cannot accept a manifesto that excludes the opportunity of support from those who maintain a Judaic-Christian philosophical base.

William Laubner Jr. is a professor emeritus of English at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Arizona.

Dick Reichart

I am impressed with the general comprehensiveness of Humanist Manifesto III, though its writing bears some of the marks of all such documents written "by committee."

However, it reminds me of a criticism of Humanist Manifesto II expressed by the late Ethical Culture Leader George Beauchamp, which I feel applies as well to Humanist Manifesto III. I once told a group with whom George was visiting at my home that he was the only person I knew who had never lost his temper. He responded that I was wrong--there was in fact one such occasion, when he had been so angered by the totally secular, even anti-religious, tone of Humanist Manifesto II that he tore up his American Humanist Association membership card and resigned.

I won't do that, but I do feel the issue remains a shortcoming in Humanist Manifesto III. It is the failure to clearly acknowledge the validity of other worldviews which accept "right living in this world" as part of their responsibility to some being or force beyond themselves (or even of all humanity).

A large number--even the great bulk--of philosophical humanism's core concepts and values originated with people holding such "religious" views. In turn, the document fails to acknowledge the desirability of secular humanists working in harmony with people who hold those views today.

Dick Reichart, a semi-retired survey research professional, is a graduate of the Humanist Institute and has been an active member of the American Ethical Union for over twenty-five years and the Princeton Ethical Humanist Fellowship since its founding.

Peter Singer

I've now had a chance to read the document. I'm disappointed with the statement that "Humanists ground values in human welfare." I certainly don't. I ground values in the welfare of any sentient being. Why give special weight to human value, given that, as the manifesto itself states earlier, we just happen to have evolved alongside other species, many of whom also have a welfare?

I recognize the attempt to broaden this statement towards the end of the sentence, and also the remarks about planetary integrity towards the end of the manifesto, but in my view that doesn't do enough to overcome the fact that the grounding of human values is described as if only our own species really mattered. Indeed, I can't find anywhere an acknowledgement that the welfare of individual nonhumans--whether or not they are from an endangered species, and whether or not some humans are concerned about them--matters in itself.

Although there are many valuable points in this manifesto with which I am in full agreement, my disappointment with this key section means that I do not wish to endorse it.

Peter Singer is the DeCamp professor of bioethics at the University Center for Human Values, Princeton University, and is the author of numerous books on animal rights and other ethical concerns. i
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Title Annotation:Humanism and Its Aspirations
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2003
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