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Humanism vs. Objectivism

Humanism vs. Objectivism

January 26, 2011

Question: How does Objectivism differ from Humanism?

Answer: Humanism is the doctrine that there is only the real world, that reason is our means of knowledge, and that human well-being in this life is the proper aim of human action.

In these general terms, Objectivism is a humanist philosophy, because all of these doctrines are true of Objectivism as well. Because Objectivists are humanists in this sense, Objectivism and Humanism can profitably make common cause, particularly in advancing the most fundamental premises they share.

However, Humanism is a broad camp, one that accepts a variety of epistemological, ethical, and political doctrines. It has had a strong collectivist tendency, advocating a kind of utilitarian ethics and socialist politics. You can see this in these “ Affirmations of Humanism .” The values expressed there are pro-reason and anti-religion, but they embrace the ethical and political outlook of left-liberalism and environmentalism.

Objectivism is an individualist philosophy, one that recognizes that as each person must think for himself, so is each person a moral end in himself and not to be sacrificed to the needs of others. In politics, Objectivism advocates laissez-faire capitalism as the system which respects the freedom of individuals and makes it most possible for people to achieve happiness.

Objectivism is a well-developed positive philosophy, one with substantive positions in all the major areas of philosophy. Its moral code is quite distinctive, being an ethic of “rational selfishness,” and its principles are tightly integrated with each other, so that each relates to many others and changing one would often require alterations throughout the Objectivist system.

Humanism is not a tightly developed system like that. I have the impression that Humanism is, in essence, a negative philosophy. It is more the denial of the supernatural and the mystical than any particular positive sense, beyond a vague advocacy of happiness and science, of what the good life consists in. For example, I don't think advocating individual rights and a generally libertarian politics makes one not a humanist, whereas denying them certainly makes one not an Objectivist.

I am an Objectivist, so it is perhaps unremarkable that I find Humanist literature at times frustrating in the vague, sometimes self-contradictory principles it espouses and its willing embrace of collectivism.

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History of Philosophy
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