What is humanism?

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

“A rationalistic system of thought attaching prime importance to human rather than divine or supernatural matters.” (Oxford English Dictionary)
“The rejection of religion in favour of the advancement of humanity by its own efforts.” (Collins Concise Dictionary)
“…a non-religious philosophy, based on liberal human values.” (Little Oxford Dictionary)
“…seeking, without religion, the best in, and for human beings.” (Chambers Pocket Dictionary)
“…an appeal to reason in contrast to revelation or religious authority as a means of finding out about the natural world and destiny of man, and also giving a grounding for morality… Humanist ethics is also distinguished by placing the end of moral action in the welfare of humanity rather than in fulfilling the will of God.” (Oxford Companion to Philosophy)

Unlike religionists, humanists have no faith. Having “faith” means having a strong belief in something without proof. Humanists are essentially sceptics. Where religious people might offer supernatural answers to some of the fundamental questions about life, the universe, and everything, we prefer to leave a question mark. Humanists are atheist (meaning “without god”), or agnostic (a term coined by the 19th century biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley, to mean “without knowledge”, since Huxley said one cannot prove or disprove the existence of God).
Humanists reject the notion of an afterlife; we think that this life is the only one we have, and we must make the most of it.
Humanists don’t have the equivalent of the Bible or the Qu’ran, or a book of rules to guide us through life, though we may refer to great works of history, philosophy and literature. You don’t actually need to have read the history of Humanist ideas to be a Humanist, but most, being inquisitive, thoughtful people, will investigate the ideas that interest us.
We can trace Humanist influences over 2,500 years to the Chinese sage Confucius and to the philosophers, scientists and poets of antiquity. One was the Greek philosopher Epicurus, who, starting from Aristotle’s principle that human happiness depends on good conduct, defined the good life as one of pleasure and friendship, absence of pain and peace of mind. His disciples included women and slaves, which was almost unheard of at that time. Epicurus said, “Of all the means by which wisdom ensures happiness throughout life, by far the most important is the possession of friendship.”
For centuries, it was unsafe to openly express unorthodox views about religion, but with the dawn of the Age of Reason and the Enlightenment in the 17th and 18th centuries, it gradually became possible to do so, with caution. Some described themselves as “rationalists”, “secularists” or “freethinkers”, terms that are still used by Humanists today.
Charles Darwin, whose theory of evolution made a huge impact on our understanding of where we come from, has been a strong influence on Humanism. The scientist Marie Curie, the 18th century feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, the authors Thomas Hardy and George Eliot, the first Prime Minister of Independent India, Jawaharlal Nehru, and the American creator of the Star Trek TV series, Gene Roddenberry, are just a few of the influential people who’ve lived by Humanist principles.
Professor Richard Dawkins, a tireless advocate of secularism, said, “I arrived at my beliefs, as everybody should, by examining evidence.” Many Humanists have worked out their own beliefs and are delighted to find that others have reached similar conclusions. Because we are independent thinkers, Humanists differ about many things, but most of us agree about some basic principles. We believe that we should accept responsibility for our own behaviour and how it affects other people and the world we live in. Because we think that this is the only life we have, we believe it’s important to try to live full and happy lives, and to help others to do the same.
Humanists were involved with the establishment of the United Nations; we value human rights, freedom of communication, freedom from fear, want and suffering, and education free from bias and the influence of powerful religious or political organisations.
In his book Humanism, an introduction, Jim Herrick wrote, “Humanism is the most human philosophy of life. Its emphasis is on the human, the here-and-now, the humane. It is not a religion and has no formal creed, though humanists have beliefs. Humanists are atheists or agnostics and do not expect an afterlife. It is essential to humanism that it brings values and meaning into life.”
In 1996, the International Humanist & Ethical Union General Assembly adopted the following resolution. Any organisation wishing to become a member of IHEU is now obliged to signify its acceptance of this statement:
Humanism is a democratic and ethical life stance, which affirms that human beings have the right and responsibility to give meaning and shape to their own lives. It stands for the building of a more humane society through an ethic based on human and other natural values in the spirit of reason and free inquiry through human capabilities. It is not theistic, and it does not accept supernatural views of reality

Note: Taken from: http://suffolkhands.org.uk/humanism/, 27.09.2017

What defines a liberal mind?

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

I am proud to announce that PortVitoria is now entering its 8th year.
The main feature of this edition is an essay by the Spanish thinker Fernando R. Genovés explaining what defines the liberal mind. Genovés starts with the definition provided by Lord Acton (John Emerich Edward Dalberg Acton; 1834-1902), who wrote that the liberal mind is the mind of the individual to whom the idea of liberty means something sacred, such as life and property. He then covers the meaning of liberty, which boils down to ‘not to be subjected to the domain of others’, and shows that the sacredness of life and property points to the necessity of individuals to learn how to control themselves and their lives. Liberty is thus the main object of the liberal mind, that is, the mind of persons who make their own decisions and accept responsibility for them. This is even more relevant in a time of post-truths, characterised by false news and by the tricks of constructionism. According with Genovés, liberals are neither conservatives nor radicals, and much less extremists, and, that they tend to not get cosy in political parties.
The other essays of this edition are ‘Decálogo do livre pensador’ (The ten commandments of the free-thinker) by Miguel Ángel Fresdenal, and ‘El passaporte’(The passport), which was taken from my new e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (The reasonable man and other essays; 2016). Fresdenal’s article touches precisely the problem of how to deal intelligently with the daily bombardment of ideas. My article provides a summary of the history of the passport and also shows how governments sometimes use the passport to further their illiberal agendas.

My e-book El hombre rasonable y otros ensayos (7 November 2016, KDP, Amazon) was reviewed by Norman Berdichevsky, an American writer with a special interest in the Hispanic and Portuguese cultures. This review is presented in both Portuguese and Spanish.
Another review offered in this edition is of Milan Kundera’s Slowness, which was published in French in 1995. The book was launched in Portuguese, in a pocket edition, in 2011, by Companhia das Letras.
During 2016 I managed to complete the migration of PortVitoria from an old-fashioned format to a more modern and flexible one based in WordPress. The new format is much more user-friendly for it adjusts to all sorts of computer screens and hand held devices. Now you can bookmark PortVitoria in the home screen of your tablet or smartphone.

January 2017

Catalonia and the battle of ideas in the 21st century

Joaquina (Jo) Pires-O’Brien

As a magazine about the Iberian culture PortVitoria could not ignore the recent referendum for independence held in Catalonia on Sunday, 1st October 2017, in which only 42% of the eligible voters participated, but resulted in a 90 per cent ‘yes’ vote. The national administration in Madrid has declared it unconstitutional and Spain’s Constitutional Court outlawed the referendum. Our editor and contributor Norman Berdichevsky, a cultural geographer with extensive knowledge and expertise on Iberian history, discusses various angles of the problem in his paper ‘The Catalonian referendum and what lay behind it’.

Could Catalonia’s referendum rekindle similar movements elsewhere which in turn could trigger a war? Lets examine the two opposing arguments. The ‘no’ argument states that most people are against violence and would prefer the stability of a normal life, even if backwards and faulty, to the instability of a war. The ‘yes’ argument states that Catalonia’s secessionist movement could rekindle similar movements around the world; fuelled by nationalism and ethnic claims, the same type that caused the wars of the 20th century.

In the 21st century, many State-nations face the problems of secessionism as well as subcultural affirmation. These two are connected by a crave for identity, which is the ‘dish of the day’ in the battle of ideas of the 21st century. One thinker who has contributed greatly to enlighten the battle of ideas of the 21st century is Thomas Sowell, an American economist and a Senior Fellow of The Hoover Institution at Stanford University, California. Among his many books, Sowell wrote on subcultural affirmation in his book Intellectuals and Society (2009), where he calls attention for the dishonesty of self-serving intellectuals behind the single issue activism of the 21st century. He writes: “When you want to help people, you tell them the truth, When you want to help yourself, you tell them what they want to hear.” We are pleased to offer the review of Sorwell’s book by David Gordon, a senior researcher at the Ludwig von Mises Institute.
The compounding effects of the internet and the world’s super-population have brought the world’s ambiguities too close for comfort, making the battle of ideas in the 21st century much more volatile than of previous times. We in the 21st century should reflect upon the 20th century if we are to prevent the current battle of ideas from turning into war. No one depicted better the war of ideas of the 20th century and the mass movements it created than the Spanish philosopher José Ortega y Gasset (1883-1955). Ortega had a lifetime interest in capturing reality, and his books are still very relevant in the 21st century. His 1914 book Meditations on Quixote depicts the spirit of Spain itself in the character Sancho Panza. His 1929 book The Revolt of the Masses depicts changes as they were occurring all over Europe, describing the barbarism of looting, the coerciveness of the mass movements and the homogenization of ideas. Ortega showed that the right to freedom comes with the responsibility to think for ourselves and that there is a relation between thinking and surviving: “We do not live to think, but, on the contrary, we think in order that we may succeed in surviving”. The two essays by Fernando Genovés presented in the current edition of PortVitoria cover the themes of Ortega the thinker and the battle of ideas. They were taken from Genovés 2016 book La riqueza de la libertad, and are offered in their English translation.
December 2017