What is Ethical Humanism?


In 1968, I became the Leader of the Ethical Humanist Society of Long Island and am now the Leader Emeritus. Over the years, people have asked me to explain what Ethical Humanism is and what it believes. I have written the answers to the questions in a simple format.

Here is the first of several installments of my answers to those queries.

1. What is the most important idea for an Ethical Humanist?

It is to love life.

2. Is that the whole thing?

There are other things that flow from this one idea.

3. Such as?

Life is to be enjoyed; the life of others should be respected and valued. It also means that life is to be lived as fully as you are able.

3. What does an Ethical Humanist believe about people?

We believe in the worth of all human beings. This means that nothing is more important than a single person. Within each person is a spark of possibilities. Some people may be bad by nature, but this is very rare. Mostly people learn to be good or bad.

4. What does this mean about how I should behave?

It means that everyone should be treated with respect. People should not be ridiculed or mistreated. No one should be humiliated. It means that everyone should be treated kindly and fairly.

5. What else do you believe?

It is the responsibility of each person to treat others in such a way to bring forth the spark of possibilities.

6. So what is the most important thing for an Ethical Humanist?

The most important thing for us is that we want all people to have a good life and that we live our own lives in such a way that we help them achieve it.

7. What is the point of all this?

To allow human beings to flourish.

8. What about those who are limited?

Everyone has limitations. We should attempt to do the best with what we have. It is also to be compassionate towards those who have little and help them as best we can.

9. There are bad people in the world. Do they also have worth?

We believe that most people who act that way do so because of how they were raised or the circumstances of their lives. Some people make bad choices and do bad things. Even so, these people must be treated as human beings, not like animals.

All people deserve to be treated as people. This is the basic ethical rule.

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5 thoughts on “What is Ethical Humanism?

  1. Because Humanists believe in science and evolution, I find it surprising that there is not a emphasis here on humans’ responsibility not only towards other humans, but towards the environment and other sentient beings that feel pain and can even communicate amongst each other. What does it mean to treat someone “like an animal”? I contend that humanists should not treat animals “like an animal” either—it diminishes us to inflict unnecessary harm and suffering on other beings.

    • Point well taken. Responsibility needs to include all that you mention.
      Still, shouldn’t there be a difference in treating humans and animals, with humans having priority, if there is a forced choice? I love my cat but this is qualitatively different than the love I have for my family. GIven a choice between rescuing a person or an animal, it would be the person. It is right that penalties for mistreatment of children is greater than mistreatment of pets.

  2. “Life is to be enjoyed.” This is mind-blower for me. Maybe it’s because I’m a guy and try to live up to some kinda manhood-ethic which prizes duty above all else. Appreciate your post here. It’s Saturday and I’ll try to include some enjoyment on my day off from work, even as I’m under-employed.

  3. Pingback: The Humanist Manifesto « Alchemy of the Word

  4. Pingback: The Humanist Manifesto | Alchemy of the Word

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