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Humanist Anthology Hardcover – August 1, 1995
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When this remarkable anthology was first compiled by renowned humanist and psychologist Margaret Knight in 1961, it brought together a wide range of humanist thought from classical China, Greece, and Rome; the Renaissance and Enlightenment; and the nineteenth- and twentieth-century rationalist tradition. This revised edition, by acclaimed writer and skeptic James Herrick, has updated and expanded an already impressive roster by adding Islamic skeptic Averroes; novelists Mark Twain, George Eliot, and E. M. Forster; and scientists J. Bronowski, Richard Dawkins, and David Attenborough. Herrick also includes contributions by A. J. Ayer, Antony Flew, Sidney Hook, Paul Kurtz, and Indian humanists M. N. Roy and Gora. Humanist Anthology, by bringing together the best thinkers, skeptics, and critics or religion, shows how rich is the tradition from which modern humanism derives. Its aim is to remove some misconceptions -- particularly the illusion that love and human brotherhood are purely Christian concepts that were unknown to the ancient world. The enlightening and stimulating readings in this volume provide ample ammunition for those engaged in arguments with religionists as well as a sustenance for those wishing to reconsider their own attitudes toward life. Margaret Knight was lecturer in psychology at Aberdeen University. James Herrick (London, England) is editor of the Rationalist Press Association (U. K. ), and editor of the journal New Humanist and International Humanist News. -- Midwest Book Review
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What this fine anthology does, however, is provide a broad context for understanding humanism's place in the realms of philosophy and religion (with a definitive Western focus). By collecting brief excerpts from writings dating back to Confuscious, the editors succeed in conveying that elements of humanism are almost as ancient as the many religious traditions with which it often finds itself in conflict.
But much more than that, the anthology also captures many of the core propositions that most self-described humanists would agree with. A few of the recurring themes in this anthology:
- Humans are responsible for improving the human condition
- Science and scientific method have proven the best means for understanding the world around us
- Supernatural religion is not required to live ethical, meaningful lives ("the good life")
If I have one criticism, it would be that many of the excerpts tend to focus on (and attack) what humanism is not (i.e., supernatural religion, especially of the organized variety) rather than what it is (or can be). But this may have more to do with the historical development of humanism as a philsophy (belief system?) than any specific editorial bent. Also, the last update to the anthology was over thirteen years ago, and I believe that it would benefit from a revised third edition.
The best-known humanists are present, including Bertrand Russell, Voltaire, and the rest, but one of the great accomplishments of this volume is the "outing" of humanists whose views on religion have been quietly buried or ignored by the historical record as it reaches most of us --- including such prominent figures as Thomas Jefferson and Mark Twain.
A fascinating read, reflecting solid scholarship and what must have been exhaustive research.