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Humanism is a philosophy or a way of thinking about the world. Humanism is a set of ethics or ideas about how people should live and act. People who hold this set of ethics are called humanists. Humanists prefer critical thinking and evidence (rationalism and empiricism) over acceptance of dogma or superstition.
In modern times, humanism is close to secularism. It refers to a non-theistic approach to life, looking to science instead of religious dogma in order to understand the world. The term was made widely known by scientists in the mid-20th century. Many wanted to recognise human values, but without depending on religion as the main source of values.
Views held by many humanists include:
- Humans deserve respect. Every human should be treated with respect and allowed to have dignity. If all people act with respect for others, then people will live in peace and trust.
- People should all be able to decide how they want to live their lives. They should use reasoning to make decisions and solve problems.
- Humanists decide what choices are good by whether those choices will help make human life better and the world around them.
Humanist ideas were discussed in Ancient Greece, from Thales to Anaxagoras and Protagoras. The teachings of Zarathushtra and Lao Tzu had strong elements of humanism, and there are many other examples.
The writings of the ancient Greeks were studied in the 1400s during the Renaissance. However, in this period the term "humanism" came to mean educated in the humanities, a rather different kind of idea. Petrarch is often cited as the first modern humanist, but he pointed backwards to classical authors. The modern meaning of humanism is more to do with using science to make the world a better place. A comment by the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead in 1925 was
- "The prophecy of Francis Bacon has now been fulfilled; and man, who at times dreamt of himself as a little lower than the angels, has submitted to become the servant and the minister of nature. It still remains to be seen whether the same actor can play both parts".
- Nicolas Walter, Nicolas 1997. Humanism – What's in the Word. London: Rationalist Press Association. ISBN 0-301-97001-7
- Norman, Richard 2004. On humanism: thinking in action. London: Routledge.
- See for example the British Humanist Association's definition of Humanism
- Biology and humanism, Chapter 10 of Dromnamraju, Krishna R. 1993. If I am to be remembered: the life and work of Julian Huxley with selected correspondence. Singapore: World Scientific.
- Whitehead A.N.  1997. Science and the modern world New York: Simon and Schuster, 96.