What Is Humanism?
If you’re into the rational pursuit of love and truth, you just might be a humanist.
Humanism is the belief in the capacity of our species to be rational and kind, and in our ability to see ourselves and each other as the infinitely complex and miraculously improbable organisms we all are without anticipation of eternal punishment or reward. Humanistic psychology is an approach that prioritizes a holistic understanding of an individual and seeks to aid them in living an authentic, meaningful life. It emerged out of the convergence of two philosophical disciplines: phenomenology and existentialism (Buhler, 1971).
Let’s dig into some of the primary components of humanism a little more.
Humanistic Psychology: Phenomenology
The primary tenet of phenomenology, particularly when applied to psychology, is that the whole subjective human experience is more important than its parts. In other words, to try to understand ourselves solely in terms of mechanisms or according to various theoretical frameworks is a little like trying to describe the colors of the Grand Canyon at sunset by talking about wavelengths of light and what happens when photons hit your retina. The mechanisms of color vision are really fascinating and knowing how it works can certainly be useful, but it doesn’t help you to understand the most important part, which is what it’s like to experience the colors of the Grand Canyon at sunset.
Humanistic Psychology: Existentialism
The question of “what shall I do about it” is one of the primary concerns of existentialism. Existentialism is a little like phenomenology in that for both disciplines the reality and primacy of the human experience is a central theme, but existentialism places a particular emphasis on action, on how you should respond to existence. Existentialism also stresses the importance of the context in which a person exists. Martin Heidegger, a 20th-century existential-phenomenological philosopher, termed this notion being-in-the-world, by which he meant that an individual and the world in which they live are inextricably linked. We’ll get back to the idea of being-in-the-world a little later on.
The convergence of these two schools of thought produced the basic questions from which humanistic psychology proceeds (Schneider & Längle, 2000):
Humanism is an approach to life—a framework to guide our behavior—that prioritizes understanding yourself, your reality, and those around you through inquiry, reason, and experience, with the aim of living a meaningful life and being fully human. A humanist perspective grants an individual the autonomy to purposefully move through the world in search of beauty and connection, and the responsibility to accept reality honestly and compassionately as it really is. In essence, a humanist is anyone who is curious, open-minded and has a compelling belief in the goodness and potential of humanity.
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Pamela (Pami) Parker currently serves as a holistic practitioner, coach and teacher. Her intention is to be a compassionate guide to those who choose to experience a healthier, happier and more peaceful way of life.