- A very wide-ranging set of philosophies that have at their core the belief that human interests and dignity should be of primary importance. Its roots are usually traced to ancient Greece, but seeds are also observed elsewhere: in the Renaissance concern with directing attention away from God and spirituality towards the study of ‘men’ and their work in art, literature, and history; in the progressive Enlightenment concerns with rationality ; and in the Modernist movement with its belief in the death of God.With variations, the humanist philosophies stress with Protagoras that ‘man is the measure of all things’, or with Pope that ‘the proper study of mankind is man’. Most commonly, humanism involves a rejection of religions which place a God at the centre of their thought. Humanist Associations throughout the world (as embodied, for example, in the journal the Humanist) affirm that ‘the nature of the world is such that human intention and activity may play the determining role in human enterprise, subject only to the conditioning factors of the environing situation’ (, The Meaning of Humanism, 1945).Humanism appears in many forms in contemporary social science. For example, there is a Marxist humanism usually associated with the early writings of Karl Marx, and particularly his concern with alienation . Humanistic psychology, sometimes called the Third Force, stands in contrast to both behaviourism and psychoanalysis , and focuses upon the self and its potential, as for example in the work of Gordon Allport , William James , and A. H. Maslow . There is also a humanistic sociology , identified with the works of C. Wright Mills , Alfred McClung Lee, and others.From the 1970s onwards a strong critique of humanism emerged in the writings of structuralists and deconstructionists . The work of Michel Foucault , for example, provided an ‘archaeology’ of the growth of the knowledges which centred themselves upon a human subject; the semiological work of Jacques Derrida and Roland Barthes proclaimed the death of the author, and the ‘decentred’ nature of things, thus removing the human subject from the centre-point of creativity; and Louis Althusser claimed that a belief in the human being was an epistemological disaster, an ‘idealism of the essence’, and a ‘myth of bourgeois ideology’. However, despite such attacks, humanism has remained a pervasive influence on Western thought.
Dictionary of sociology. 2013.