Humanism Essay

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Humanism, a philosophical movement that affirms the dignity of the human being, originated in Italy in the second half of the fourteenth century. The early Humanists were Christians who believed that God ruled the world; a world which they saw in need of change that could be brought about by human reason. The ability to use the power of reason, they believed, would usher in a humane world.

Humanism spread throughout Europe over the next few centuries, culminating in the Enlightenment. It was a group of Scottish and French Enlightenment philosophers (or philosophes, as they are collectively known), influenced by Humanism who laid the foundation of what Auguste Come (1798—1857) called ”sociology.” The philosophes advocated a fusion of morals and science, a social science that sought to liberate the human spirit and ensure the fullest development of the person. Whereas these traditions of moral philosophy and empiricism are now seen by modern sociologists as separate, they were intertwined for the Enlightenment philosophes.

This tradition of a “moral science” has been overlooked by the majority of contemporary sociologists who instead focus on the empiricism of the philosophes. By their dismissal of the moral science” tradition and by almost unquestioningly embracing the positivism that Comte, Spenser, Durkheim, and the other early founders of sociology advocated, sociology as it began in Scotland, France, and England strayed from its humanist roots.

Humanist sociology today is associated with a small group of sociologists who are members of the Association for Humanist Sociology. Humanist sociology is explicitly based on moral precepts — the foremost of which is that of freedom, the maximization of alternatives” (Scimecca 1995: 1). This is assumed to be the most desirable state for human beings — and the goal of sociology is to work toward the realization of conditions that can guarantee this freedom. Humanist sociology is concerned with what type of society best ensures that the freedom of the individual is not thwarted by the institutions of the society. For the Humanist sociologist, there is one basic purpose — to develop a society where the best potential of all humans is most likely to be realized; in short, to develop a humane society” (Hoult 1979: 88).


  1. Hoult, T. F. (1979) Sociology for a New Day, 2nd edn. Random House, New York.
  2. Scimecca, J. A. (1995) Society and Freedom, 2nd edn. Nelson-Hall, Chicago, IL.

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