restricted access Second Thoughts about Humanism
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614 ] Second Thoughts about Humanism1 In July, 1928, I published in The Forum the note on the Humanism of Irving Babbitt which appears on the foregoing pages.2† I understand that Professor Babbitt considers that I misstated his views: but as I have not yet received detailed correction from any Humanist, I am still in the dark.3 It is quite likely that I am at fault, because I have meanwhile heard comments, from sympathetic friends, which indicate that they have misunderstood me. The present essay is therefore inspired rather by desire to make my own position clearer, than by desire towards aggression. Here, I shall find it more useful to refer to Mr. Norman Foerster’s brilliant book American Criticism, than to Mr. Babbitt’s works.4 Mr. Foerster’s book, as the work of a disciple, seems to give clearer hints of what Humanism is likely to become and do, than the work of Mr. Babbitt, which is more personal to himself. My previous note has been interpreted, I am afraid, as an “attack” on humanism from a narrow sectarian point of view.5 It was not intended to be an attack. Having myself begun as a disciple of Mr. Babbitt, and feeling, as I do, that I have rejected nothing that seems to me positive in his teaching , I was hardly qualified to “attack” humanism.6 I was concerned rather to point out the weak points in its defences, before some genuine enemy took advantage of them. It can be – and is already7† – of immense value: but it must be subjected to criticism while there is still time. One of the criticisms which I have heard of my criticism is this: that my criticism is all very well from the point of view of those who “believe”; but if I succeeded in proving that humanism is insufficient without religion, what is left for those who cannot believe? Now I have no desire to undermine the humanist position. But I fear that it may take on more and more of the character of a positive philosophy – and any philosophy, in our time, is likely to take on the character of a substitute for religious dogma. It is Humanism’s positivistic tendencies that are alarming. In the work of the master, and still more in that of the disciples, there is a tendency towards a positive and exclusive dogma. Conceive a Comtism from which all the absurdities had been removed – and they form, I admit, a very important part of the Comtist scheme – and you have something like what I imagine Humanism might become.8 [ 615 Second Thoughts about Humanism In the actual Humanist position there is, as I have tried to show, on the one hand an admission that in the past Humanism has been allied with religion, and on the other hand a faith that it can in the future afford to ignore positive religion. This curious trick of identifying humanism and religion in one context, and contrasting them in another, plays a very large part in the Humanist formulation. Mr. Foerster says: This center to which humanism refers everything, this centripetal energy which counteracts the multifarious centrifugal impulses, this magnetic will which draws the flux of our sensations toward it while itself remaining at rest, is the reality that gives rise to religion. Pure humanism is content to describe it thus in physical terms, as an observed fact of experience ; it hesitates to pass beyond its experimental knowledge to the dogmatic affirmations of any of the great religions. It cannot bring itself to accept a formal theology (any more than it can accept a romantic idealism) that has been set up in defiance of reason, for it holds that the value of supernatural intuition must be tested by the intellect. Again, it fears the asceticism to which religion tends in consequence of a too harsh dualism of the flesh and the spirit, for, as we have said, humanism calls for completeness, wishing to use and not annihilate dangerous forces. Unlike religion, it assigns an important place to the instruments of both science and art. Nevertheless, it agrees with religion in its perception of the ethical will as a power above the ordinary self, an impersonal reality in which all men may share despite the diversity of personal temperament and toward which their attitude must be one of subjection. This perception, immensely strengthened for us by Christianity, was already present in the humanism of the Greeks, who...


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