What is humanism?
What is humanism?

What is humanism?

What is humanism?

What is humanism? Are you a humanist?

Find out more about the rational, ethical worldview that is humanism.

Across the world, the number of non-religious people is growing all the time. It is estimated there are 1.17 billion people in the world who are religiously unaffiliated, which means they identify as atheists, agnostics or describe their religion as “nothing in particular.”

  • Humanists are non-religious people who strive to lead fulfilling, meaningful and ethical lives, using reason and empathy to guide their decisions and actions.
  • Humanists base their understanding of the world on reason and science, rejecting supernatural or divine beliefs.
  • Humanists reject all forms of racism and prejudice, and believe in living in harmony with one another, respecting everyone’s human rights, including the right to freedom of religion and belief.
  • Humanists believe we have a responsibility to respect and care for one another, and to protect the natural world.

While the definition of humanism may vary slightly between organizations and groups, the Amsterdam Declaration serves as the definitive guiding principles of modern humanism for everyone in our global community.

Download your free guide: What is humanism?

If you hold similar values, we would encourage you to sign up for the Humanists International newsletter to find out more. You can also find your local humanist group or organization below. Often people who are new to humanism don’t realize there is a global community of like-minded people out there to connect with.

Humanists International is made up of more than 130 Member organizations and associated groups across the globe. You can find your nearest group here.

Definitions of humanism from around the world

What does it mean to be a humanist?

Knowledge, ethics, value and meaning

Who counts as a humanist?

Humanist organizations

Interested in getting involved?

Find out more about how you can support the international humanist movement


Aspects of Humanism

There are several aspects or components of Humanism. Most of these elements can also stand alone (for example, you can be an atheist but not believe in right and wrong, then you wouldn’t be a humanist). Humanists are likely to agree with most of the following claims, at least in their broad intent.

We live in a natural world

There are no gods or ghosts, disembodied spirits or immortal souls. There is no divine realm. Of course there are strange or as yet unanswered questions about the world, but as we gain knowledge and understanding then previously unexplained phenomena are always brought into the “natural world”, or can be understood “under the laws of nature” (or however you like to think of it). This view is also sometimes known philosophically as naturalism.

Naturalism usually entails atheism (dissent from the existence of a God or gods) or at least some form of agnosticism (the idea that the existence of gods is unknown or unknowable, or even a meaningless question).

“Isn’t it arrogant to rule all these things out?”

“But don’t we sometimes learn amazing new things?”

We learn about the world using conjecture, reason and experience

Humanists agree that we can learn about the world through the use of reason and scientific method, or conjecture tested against logic and empirical evidence. In other words, the world is amenable to rational investigation. This position is sometimes called rationalism.

As rationalists, humanists value free inquiry, in that they reject artificial limits on investigation. Rationalism also embodies freethought: it focuses on knowledge which people can share and test as one community, rather than the acceptance of authority, tradition, or dogma.

“So you think you know it all, then!”

“So you think you’re purely rational all the time, Mr Spock!”

We must make the most of the one life we have

We give our lives meaning and purpose. Not believing in an afterlife, or any “divine purpose” for the universe, humanists focus on making meaning and purpose for themselves, on living a good life in the here and now.

“Doesn’t that mean you can do whatever you want?”

“If the universe has no absolute or divine meaning or purpose, then how can individual lives have a meaning or purpose?”

Morality arises from human nature and culture

Human beings were not suddenly blessed with love and reason at some point in the past by an external power! Rather, our nature as deliberating, social beings evolved over time. We are able to empathise with others, and reason about fairness, and justice and how societies work (or when they don’t work!).

“Doesn’t that mean you’re moral relativists?”

What is morally right promotes welfare and fulfillment

What is the moral sphere (or “right and wrong”, “good and bad”, morality or ethics)?

For humanists, there are moral ‘rights and wrongs’ because of who we are as human beings, including the needs and desires we share, and the needs and desires of individuals; because we interact with each other, and can deliberate over what we do; and because our actions affect both ourselves and others normatively. In other words: we can hinder or help others, make people sad or happy, we can impoverish the lives of others or enrich them, live life with dreary fatalism or with human flourishing. The answers to moral questions are here in the world, in ourselves, others, and our relationships, not in some mystical beyond.

“But I heard that without God nothing would have any moral worth?”

“Is this some sort of human supremacism?”

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