Volume 21, Issue 1 (2013)
Evolutionary Ethics and Its Future
by Robert D. Finch
Historically humans have evolved by the addition of abilities to our behavioral repertoire. Values first developed in the time of the hunter gatherers featuring such traits as strength, bravery and endurance. Men and women often stressed different values. With the advent of civilization values began to include benevolence, fairness and then the growth of knowledge, natural sciences, engineering, medicine and law. Modern humanist ethics began with the work of Hume and the utilitarians. Early humanist ethical systems stressed individual responsibility and the use of social principles. Our principles have evolved through the exercise of reason, by scientific investigation, strategic planning and by including a sense of commitment. Humanism is to be found in a variety of institutions stressing different values, theories and strategic plans. Furthermore humanism is not a finished product, so that the expanding circle of the membership contemplates an evolving set of principles, as well as continuing narratives of our progress. We conclude that there is no quintessential humanist. How then should we strive to improve our definitions, manifestos, practices, reasoning and narratives?
Pragmatism and the Contribution of Neuroscience to Ethics
By Eric Racine
Neuroscience has been described as a revolutionary force that will transform our understanding of common morality and of ethics as a discipline. To such strong naturalistic claims, critiques have responded with an arsenal of antinaturalistic arguments, often negating any contribution of neuroscience. In this paper, I review the terms of the debate between strong naturalists and anti-naturalists and offer a moderate (pragmatic) naturalistic approach as a constructive middle-ground position. Inspired by Dewey’s moral philosophy, I offer an alternate account of how neuroscience broadens our understanding of ethics and moral situations and thus supports a deliberative and iterative process of wisdom-generation.
Ingersoll’s Voice, Adler’s Vision: Motivating Humanists
By James Croft
Humanism, in contrast to traditional religions, often seems to find it difficult to generate moral energy and motivation in adherents. How will Humanists generate sufficient “moral energy” to achieve our societal aims? I argue that Humanism has within it sufficient resources to motivate Humanists to high levels of moral action. I suggest that we must listen to the voice of Robert Ingersoll, learning how to appeal to the emotions and to the full range of “moral tastes” human beings are sensitive to. We should also remember the vision of Felix Adler as we build moral communities and foster moral leadership.
For the Love: The Amateur Humanist Intellectual
By Christopher J. Kazanjian
The twenty-first century has experienced a surge of intellectuals and specialists that dominate understandings of life and human phenomena. Reawakening the Gramscian definition of the organic intellectual, this paper problematizes ideas of intellectual qualification. It argues that an amateuristic mind will ultimately come to appreciate a humanistic intellectualism. The paper also argues that those working in institutions of education must allow their humanistic endeavors for facilitating the growth of others and the self to be driven by amateurism.
Utopian Visions and the American Dream
By Frederic March
Utopian narratives express a universal yearning for a better human society in response to each author’s perception of malfunction and malfeasance in his or her own society. The earliest one of which I am aware (other than the legendary folk tale of the Garden of Eden) is Plato’s Republic. I review and comment on selected utopian literature from Plato to the modern American dream and a humanist vision for a global social order. To its authors, utopian visions are not mere wishful thinking, but societal policy declarations that at least in principle can be implemented, if only in part.
Urban Sprawl and Existentialism in Thomas Pynchon’s The Crying of Lot 49
By Tracy J. Prince
The Crying of Lot 49 is Thomas Pynchon’s profound commentary on existentialism and on America’s increasingly generic, brutal, and isolating urban landscape. Pynchon weighs both topics as he depicts the existential angst of a commodified, market-driven life filled with marketing jingles, unplanned sprawl as far as the eye can see, soulless subdivisions, endless freeways, and the resulting breakdown of community where people feel disconnected and alone and their lives seem empty and meaningless.
Can We Afford to be “Post-Secular?”
By Bill Cooke
The notion of our moving to a “post-secular” age has become a topic of conversation. As has been seen with discussions of “secular,” “secularity,” and “secularism,” much depends on what is meant by the term in question. This article surveys what some of the “post-secular” thinkers are saying and looks at how far their views actually differ from those of avowed secularists over the past century and a half. In light of this, it is then asked whether a “post-secular” situation is desirable or even possible.
Atheism… Plus What?
By Richard Carrier
“Atheism+” or “Atheism Plus” was first promoted by atheist activist Jennifer McCreight, at the suggestion of one of her readers, to describe a movement that had been growing within New Atheism for several years. It is a movement for promoting moral values and the discussion of societal problems among atheists, and for making the atheist community more welcoming of, and responsive to, women and minorities.
Need Humanism Be Reasonable?
By Joseph Chuman
This address is dedicated to the life and memory of my esteemed colleague, Dr. Matthew Ies Spetter, who died on 30 December 2012 at the age of 91. Dr. Spetter was Leader Emeritus for the Riverdale Yonkers Society for Ethical Culture, where he had served for 40 years. He also was Leader Emeritus for the New York Society for Ethical Culture, and he had led the Department of Ethics for the three Ethical Culture schools.