It was mostly Marxists who developed this idea and ran with it. Louis Althusser coined the term anti-humanism. Forget the significance of the human individual, he argued, it is historical processes that make the difference. There is no such thing as intrinsic humanity, we are all the product of external forces. Everything that cannot be analysed structurally is false consciousness. Humanism itself is false consciousness.
There is a small but growing group of atheists that actually court those who also consider themselves non-humanists or anti-humanists. They say that just as God was a man made concept and will die, so is the idea of humanism. We are all products of external forces and there is nothing intrinsic about being a human being.
I have a hard time with this because I do consider myself a humanist. That is to say I believe in the idea that we share common attributes with every other homosapien on this planet. These are very basic and primitive attributes which include pain, joy, anger, sorrow, happiness, etc... I feel that regardless of these "external forces", environmental influences, social economic conditions etc...we all feel these things in the same way. It is through these common threads that I believe we can connect with and should treat each other. I would venture to say that many other atheists and freethinkers consider themselves humanists as well.
So I pose the question to the community, what are your thoughts about this? It seems to me to be an anti-humanist seems to be somewhat counter-intuitive to being on the path we are all on. Before you respond and to all the deep thinkers on this site, as I am in no ways a philosopher or even a deep thinker, please try to respond in a fairly simplistic manner so I can follow as I am a simple man!
I agree with you, nice.
On further review, I will now be an antihumanist, possibly a planetist.
Humans are destroying the dam planet, because they cannot control their reproduction, even though we have the tools to do so. This is the same thing atheists blame god for, he could stop evil but chooses not to do so.
I am an atheist, by the way.
A ramble, possibly interesting.
I feel like the piece sets up a Straw Man in its depiction of humanism. Whatever the theological commitments of the Enlightenment, for instance the supposed 'sunny optimism of the Enlightenment – not least its commitment to progress and a sense of the intrinsic goodness of human nature' only describes humanistic thought at a certain period.
The notion of humanism has been revised as new evidence has been collected. Indeed the Holocaust put a dent in the notion of natural human goodness, on the other hand, that was something that could have been picked up from the facts of human history for a long time. We have been killing each other for a while.
The key insight of humanism was to make the desires of the individual human at the center of moral concern. Morality then is no longer defined in terms of God, and as the author correctly points out 'The Enlightenment hadn't found another word for sin.' Indeed, problems with the notion of free will mean than sin is a difficult concept to adjust to in an humanistic ideal. As an example of this consider this next, which is the strongest segment of the piece:
'Forget the significance of the human individual, he argued, it is historical processes that make the difference. There is no such thing as intrinsic humanity, we are all the product of external forces. Everything that cannot be analysed structurally is false consciousness. Humanism itself is false consciousness.'
What if humanism doesn't argue for an intrinsic humanity? What happens to this critique of humanism. The enlightenment humanists may have had a rosy view of the world, but that is hardly the case for contemporary humanism. It is distinct from an anti-humanism in that it still agrees with the baseline supposition that the needs of the human being are the correct touchstone for moral discussion.
To see it's influence in this post-modern scientific world, one only has to look at the contrast, the thing humanism was critiquing, the moral force of the notion of sin, or in reality, blame. It was critiquing a moral code that focused the moral attentions of humanity on the interests of God.
This notion that humanism itself may be overturned is not an insult to humanism. It is obviously true. Things, even cultural moments do not persist. They change, they achieve new synthesis, new form and impact. However, what comes later still in oft part does depend on what came before. It should at least be uncontested that humanism is a change from the old style of placing other concerns than the human at the center of human moral judgement. The reason, however, that it is no insult to humanism to say it may be overturned is that it is may nonetheless contain within it the frame or structure of whatever follows. What else would replace it at this point? Our alternatives are all poorer than humanism, and so many of them have already adopted humanistic viewpoints even as they decry them.
Consider the difference between a Pope that declares that the only way to salvation is through acceptance of Christ and confession of sins, and a Pope that declares that all those who are good go to heaven. Why has that change happened? Why has being good become enough for many Christians. It is because they have moved the center of moral concern from God's instructions to notions of what is just and fair, which are notions internal to human morality.
My prediction then. Whatever the turn of history that comes to wipe humanism of the face of the earth, will be better and more geared towards the needs of the individual, or at least a redefinition of the 'correct' moral subject. It will not be a return to an arbitrarily defined code of morality. Humanism is a structure we have build, whatever comes next will be build upon it, renew it, and change it for the better, but it will not throw out the human being as the center of moral concern, however it ends up describing what it means to be human. Like all theories, it must be partially evaluated on its utility. What are its contributions? What new thought did it bring? What does and doesn't bring people happiness and joy will still be the subject of debate in the short term future. This is a humanistic concern. We may find a theory of greater utility in the future, but for now humanism does a better job than the alternatives. Its like democracy.
A final point to tidy up: Why should we consider the individual relevant if we are merely subjects of historical forces?
The individual is the only thing which experiences the world. We experience is through our culture for sure, but we are not blank slates. Our intuitions about what is right and wrong guide the historical movements of the times. These movements emerge from the composite of human views, not as structures coming from the outside. They are certainly dependent on the historical accidents of our evolution as well. The experience of the individual is at least partial evidence for the experience of the species. We are so similarly structured that to claim that NO understanding of other humans is possible seems a massive leap to me. Our evolutionary constraints at the very least lay out the same or similar sets of capacities for each person. The differences are fascinating, but they are tiny by comparison to the broader generalities that we share as a species.
The individual might be powerless, but to try understand a morality without considerations of his/her concerns seems futile. Can a collective be attributed a moral understanding, for instance, that we might say that the benefits to a nation should predominate the moral discourse? Of course not, not unless we are willing to reify those entities. The challenge to any anti-humanist is to demonstrate that a different touchstone for moral thought is relevent and can provide answers. Personally, God, or any essentialist system of values cannot be considered viable alternatives.
A fundamental challenge for instance is vegetarianism, which asks the moral concern to be expanded to the animal world. On the other hand, we see that the vegetarian movement has often borrowed arguments from the humanistic camp to make their point. An example then of a new synthesis.
In summary, I look forward to what comes next, without looking behind to see that which is obviously wrong.
The point of the original article was that atheists seem to want to avoid discussing the differences in people at all. While I'm sure this isn't the case, I was simply voicing the way I see things. It's true that at a biological level we are all very much the same, the point I was making is that we can not ignore the psychological differences. It changes the human experience and so also changes how we relate to the world and other individuals. The article makes the point that "Thus they dismiss the significance of philosophy just as much as they have always done of theology – as if the two were fundamentally in cahoots. But this is nonsense. Nietzsche, Marx and Freud attacked Christianity with passionate ferocity." Meaning that many atheists simply ignore or refuse to participate in philosophical discussion of what it means to be human. You seem to want to dismiss the way my illness effects how I relate to individuals and the human condition as a whole, but I can't dismiss it. I don't deny that on a purely scientific level we are, indeed, all the same, but there is a whole other side of being "human" that should be considered.
Sorry, my reading of the article is that it claims the humanistic position is flawed due to its failure to consider difference, and that atheists are culpable.
My position is merely stating that human similarity is sufficient for us to make a claim for it, and for us to base moral intuitions on SOME of those similarities. Those being the ones with the greatest claim to universality.
The difficulty of providing evidence for WHAT the differences are is one of the great scientific challenges of our day, and very poorly explored by what is known as evolutionary psychology, which really does seem to be sociobiology revisited.
'I don't deny that on a purely scientific level we are, indeed, all the same, but there is a whole other side of being "human" that should be considered.' Nor is this my position. In fact I would argue against this. We are not all the same, we are just similar.
I was not claiming your illness gave you a new perspective, only that that perspective is within the range of possible human thought, in a way that the motivations of a salmon willing to fight the river is not.