Edited by Jan Peil and Irene van Staveren
Chapter 32: Humanism
Mark A. Lutz Humanism through the ages The concept of ‘humanism’ has, through the ages, defied easy specification. Where definitions, or even a clarifying description, have been attempted, they have quickly attracted controversy. Nevertheless, three meanings tend to be generally applied. ● ● ● First, humanism is the name given to the intellectual movement of the fourteenth to sixteenth centuries which characterized the culture of Renaissance Europe. Second, humanism is a particular worldview rooted in a distinctly human nature which emphasizes the person as capable of reason, autonomy and self-knowledge. As such, virtually all humanists share a belief in the possibility of man’s perfectibility, which, regardless of whether they believe in the need for God’s grace, they see as largely dependent upon man’s own efforts. Moreover, everyone is viewed as having a rightful claim to be treated with dignity and to have an opportunity for a life of human flourishing and authenticity. Third, and most recently, humanism has been appropriated as a label by those who reject religion or spirituality of any kind, thereby giving the term a fully naturalistic and secular flavour. Let us take a closer look at these three alternative meanings. The humanism of the Renaissance In the centuries following the first thousand years after the birth of Christ, the Church was seen as increasingly corrupt. Kingships were awarded for donated land, leading to the creation of a papal state with popes behaving more like lay princes than ecclesiastical rulers. In the fourteenth century, the ecclesiastical meddling in politics ended...
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