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The Philosophy of Humanism Paperback – April 1, 1997

3.6 out of 5 stars 8 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


"Both readable and persuasive." --The New York Times

From the Back Cover

"In a work that has a standard text and reference in the ongoing national debate that swirls around secular humanism, Lamont offers a vigorous argument for a philosophy that advocates happiness in this life rather than hope for a heaven in an afterlife."

(The New York Times)

Born in Englewood, New Jersey, in 1902, Dr. Lamont graduated first from Phillips Exeter Academy in 1920, then magna cum laude from Harvard University in 1924. He did graduate work at Oxford and at Columbia, where he received his Ph.D. in philosophy in 1932.

He was a director of the American Civil Liberties Union from 1932 to 1954. Then, until 1995, he was chairman of the National Emergency Civil Liberties Committee. A leading proponent of individual rights under the Constitution, he won famous court decisions over Senator Joseph McCarthy and the CIA. In 1965 he secured a Supreme Court ruling against censorship of incoming mail by the U.S. Postmaster General.

Dr. Lamont has long been associated with Humanism, authoring the first edition of The Philosophy of Humanism in 1949. It has since become the standard text on the subject. He taught at Columbia, Cornell, and Harvard Universities, and at the New School for Social Research. Corliss Lamont was the honorary president of the American Humanist Association at the time of his death in 1995.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 371 pages
  • Publisher: Humanist Press; 8th edition (April 1, 1997)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0931779073
  • ISBN-13: 978-0931779077
  • Product Dimensions: 7.9 x 5.4 x 0.9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12.8 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (8 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,207,598 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
The Philosophy of Humanism is a scholarly work, tracing the influence of Humanism from the ancient Greek philosophers through the Enlightenment and the Bill of Rights to the twentieth century. It is very well documented with reference notes and bibliography for those who prefer sources, yet it is written in a most readable style.
I heartily recommend this book to anyone who truly wishes to investigate and understand this often misinterpreted philosophy. They will learn that Humanism certainly does not promote witchcraft or the worship of human beings, nor does it advocate selfishness, as in the "me" generation, or for conscienceless materialism and ruthlessness, as is often falsely asserted by those who fear and misunderstand the principles of Humanism.
Rather, as Dr. Lamont points out, it promotes ethical behavior and respect for others, yet with a freedom of conscience unfettered by traditional supernatural beliefs. Humanists oppose censorship and insist on full exercise of the freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights, including freedom of speech and access to information. Humanists are devoted to democratic principles, the employment of critical reasoning and scientific method, and the full recognition that we humans are products of continuing evolution.
The Creationists' wish to hold the line against the teaching of evolution in the public schools is understandable. Open scientific inquiry does not promote acceptance on blind faith; the scientist searches for evidence. It's a worrisome matter of indoctrination versus education.
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Format: Paperback
The author's approach of explaining what is humanism is to contrast it against other schools of thought. This author did so in a concise way with clarity, which is quite rare amongst philosophers. I have been confused for the longest time what IS humanism? Not to mention materialism, naturalism, unitarinism, universalism, Deism...etc, which were not covered in my two college level philosphy classes. The level of discussion in this book is simple enough that someone with my background can understand.

The 6th edition I own contains the author's introductions of previous editions, which could actually be interesting and entertaining to read. They are basically the author's sometimes condescending, sometimes logical, defense against the smearing of humanism by different religous groups. Although this book is quite old (1960s), given the increasing level of religious conservatism in US, this book still have relevance.

The reason why this book would not get a 5 star from me is that a large part of this book is devoted to proving why God does not exist and that only scientific method produces Truth. Such topic for this intro text is just too ambitious and the arugement used is probably less sophisticated that other books that attempts to disprove the existence of god. It feels like there is cherry picking of examples. The author used examples, perhaps too many of them, to explain why things like natural moral law, miracles, after life, mysticism..etc does not makes sense. I agree with one reviewer that the author's tone is dogmatic. I expect this author, as an academics, to sound less opinionated and more open minded.

After understanding what humanist means, I agree with the author that many forms of beliefs has qualities of humanism. However, I am not persuaded by the author that other forms of beliefs are necessarily wrong. I think I am 50% athetist and 50% agnostic. This book did not manage to suade me to the athetist camp.
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Format: Paperback
FYI for those looking for a digital version of this book, the writer's own website hosts a free digital copy in PDF format:

The comment attached to the first page of the document graciously declares:
"We encourage free, not for profit, personal and educational distribution of this copyrighted electronic text document, so feel free to print and distribute it, but first please read the special copyright notice on the third page following for additional information."

There are also free digital copies of some of his other works listed on his homepage [...]
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Corliss Lamont has wonderfully organized the philosophical views of humanism in a systematic manner by presenting the general humanist view in different fundamental subjects of life such as naturalism, ethics, free-will vs. determinism, personal identity, political philosophy, and science. This voluminous exposition of different subjects from the humanist point of view is also very useful in explaining what humanism is essentially about to the curious readers who wants to understand humanism. Despite the fact that this book is very long, it is not very difficult to read if the reader decides to consistently spend portion of his or her spare time to concentrate on reading.

Even though Corliss Lamont has successfully provided a general humanist view on many subjects that approximately reflects the views among secular humanists, which is something he intended to accomplish, the "answers" or "solutions" to some of the subjects are at least open to dispute. For example, Lamont insisted that humanism is not dedicated or committed to any ethical theory such as deontology or utilitarianism, and Lamont himself argued that there should be a balance between "means" and "ends". While this is a interesting position, I feel as though Lamont has not clarified what this "balance" consists of, and why commitment to any one ethical theory is something humanism avoids. The avoidance of ethical theory would, in general, make it apparent that humanism has a very vague position on the theory of ethics, but a strong view on applied ethics. While I am not demanding any specific view of ethical theory on humanism, I am inclined to think that any ethical theory is needed to explain why we hold certain ethical opnions/views in everyday life.
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