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Humanism: A Very Short Introduction 1st Edition

3.6 out of 5 stars 12 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0199553648
ISBN-10: 0199553645
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Editorial Reviews

About the Author


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

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press; 1 edition (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: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (12 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #185,406 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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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Law is a good writer, although he commits a frequent grammatical error--pronoun/antecedent disagreement--on numerous occasions throughout this book. That aside, I liked this book, but I did find something about it troubling. As a humanist, I looked to it to it to learn more about what humanism is, hoping to find valuable ideas about human potential, flourishing, etc... But mostly it consists of a sustained argument for atheism. The author might have told us more about the human dimensions and less about disbelief in God.
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This is not Law's finest work, and the ideas he develops in another work (that annoyingly I cannot write here or the review will be deleted, but look for his book called, shall we say, "Believing BS") are more cogent and more entertainingly presented. But "Humanism: A Very Short Introduction" is perfectly fine introduction to how nontheists view issues of morality and meaning, for example.

Written in a highly conversational style with just a touch of dry British wit, "Humanism" is a breezy read that sacrifices depth for brevity, but as there is a great deal of misunderstanding about what any of the tenets of humanism might be, it still does service as a "very short introduction" to it--which is, after all, what the series is about. Much more fully developed works on the topic abound, but I am unaware of another book I would rather give to a religious friend who had asked me for something that might help explain my perspective to her.

I do wish, as another reviewer says, that there would have been less of a focus on atheism per se and more on a positive case for humanism. While there exists very substantial overlap, the overlap still resembles a Venn diagram more than it does two Lifesaver candies still in the roll. History in particular seemed to get fairly short shrift; while it was probably imperative to demonstrate that the seeds of humanism lie well within our past, some contemporary examples of, say, successful humanists might have been interesting. Also, while the last chapter is on a humanist approach to rituals such as weddings and funerals, I would like to have seen more about what a humanist does, how a humanist lives, and perhaps less on arguments against gods (which I came to the book already completely accepting).
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