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Humanism: A Very Short Introduction Paperback – February 11, 2011


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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press (February 11, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199553645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199553648
  • Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 0.5 x 4.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (11 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #653,903 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

About the Author


Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London.

More About the Author

Stephen Law (Oxford, England) is a senior lecturer in philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London; provost for the Centre for Inquiry UK; and the editor of Think: Philosophy for Everyone (a journal of the Royal Institute of Philosophy). He is the author of numerous books for adults as well as children, including The Greatest Philosophers, Companion Guide to Philosophy, The War for Children's Minds, and Really, Really Big Questions, among other works.

Customer Reviews

3.4 out of 5 stars

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Bojan Tunguz HALL OF FAMETOP 50 REVIEWER on March 3, 2011
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Imagine you are in a bookstore or are browsing Amazon book pages and you come across a book that aims to introduce you to vegetarianism. The book is published by a reputable academic publishing institution with a long list of similar highly regarded books to its name. You are intrigued. Maybe you are a vegetarian who has never really read up on vegetarianism from an academic perspective. Maybe you are interested in becoming a vegetarian and would like to know more about it. Maybe you have a vegetarian friend, colleague or a loved one and would like to know more about vegetarianism so you can better relate to their lifestyle. Or you could simply be a voracious reader who wants to keep himself well informed on all sorts of subjects. So you buy the book and start reading it, and after a few pages you discover that the book is really not about vegetarianism. Over 90% of the content of the book is dedicated to a polemic on why meat is bad for you, how terrible animal husbandry is, why you shouldn't eat meat, all sorts of dangerous diseases that you can acquire from eating meat, why all the supposedly good things about meat consumption are actually childish superstitions, why butchers are some of the most evil people imaginable, etc., etc. In addition, all the concrete examples of meat-eating avoid any mention of particularly unhealthy fatty red meats, and instead talk mostly about white meat and poultry. After a while you start screaming (hopefully only in your head): OK I GET IT, MEAT IS REALLY, REALLY BAD! COULD WE PLEASE NOW MOVE ONTO DISCUSSING VEGETERIANISM!

The above scenario is exactly what I went through while reading "Humanism: A Very Short Introduction." This book hardly provides any real concrete information on Humanism.
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9 of 11 people found the following review helpful By Brian J. Hendricks on August 22, 2012
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This turned out to be quite a frustrating read to say the least. The book seems to only attempt to focus on Humanism in the shadow of Christianity. One gets the feeling from the opening chapters that this book's main focus is not really to open up one's mind to the finer points of Humanism, but works to show the reader how much better Humanism is when compared to that dingy and ancient approach to life that is supposedly Theism.

Stephen Law writes the book in a tone of a man that finds himself on the defensive and feels that he does not need to only state a case for his own beliefs, but must constantly refute the views that someone may have to oppose his own point of view. Why was it necessary to devote two chapters and 41 pages (just less than a third of the book) to arguments for and against God? From what I know there were plenty of Christians that considered themselves to be both Humanists and Christians (Erasmus, Calvin, the early Anabaptists). Perhaps they were not Humanists in the mold that Law deems Humanists to fit into. But this cannot be true because he constantly tries to remind his reader that Humanism is a broad approach that allows each individual that identifies themselves as a Humanist to think about matters in their own way.

Needless, to say I really was hoping for more. A lot lot more than what was written here. Even the final chapters that promised to be the most interesting and should have allowed the reader to see how Humanism understands such major issues as the meaning of life and Humanist ceremonies dealt more with discounting Christian understandings instead of explaining the views that were supposed to be written about.

To end on a positive note, I especially liked Law's explanation of his own Humanist wedding toward the end of the book.
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17 of 23 people found the following review helpful By Mance Rayder on March 27, 2011
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I could not disagree more with an earlier review of this wonderful book that boils down Humanism to its essentials. I found this text to be somewhat unique in the approach that it takes to establishing meaning in a humanistic context. I feel well-read in Humanism, see myself as a Humanist, and have generally felt unsatisfied with where most books on the topic leave you, particularly when it comes to trying to find reasons to get out of bed in the morning if one is a Humanist. I was stopped in my tracks several times as I was reading this book by insights that I have not come across before. He uses a Wittgenstein games metaphor to describe the humanist perspective on the meaning of life. Most helpful to me was his metaphor of how children create a "bubble" by believing in Santa Claus that provides them a world view that is largely based upon illusion. When the bubble bursts, all that is left is a drab view of the world that can be disconcerting. The author teaches that it is better to see things as they are rather than how we would like for them to be. He notes a wonderful quote by Douglas Adams that states..."Isn't it enough to see the garden is beautiful without having to believe that there are fairies at the bottom of it."

He is very critical of religion, and Christianity in particular, as a book on Humanism must be since Christianity is a dominant religion in the West. He makes several strong arguments that there is little downside to living one's life by taking advantage of critical thought and reason rather than by living a worldview that is entirely dependent upon a structure of indoctrination that becomes very difficult to shake. He provides the usual examples of church prohibition against the use of critical thought throughout history.
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