1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Humanism

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HUMANISM (from Lat. humanus, human, connected with homo, mankind), in general any system of thought or action which assigns a predominant interest to the affairs of men as compared with the supernatural or the abstract. The term is specially applied to that movement of thought which in western Europe in the 15th century broke through the medieval traditions of scholastic theology and philosophy, and devoted itself to the rediscovery and direct study of the ancient classics. This movement was essentially a revolt against intellectual, and especially ecclesiastical authority, and is the parent of all modern developments whether intellectual, scientific or social (see Renaissance). The term has also been applied to the philosophy of Comte in virtue of its insistence on the dignity of humanity and its refusal to find in the divine anything external or superior to mankind, and the same tendency has had marked influence over the development of modern Christian theology which inclines to obliterate the old orthodox conception of the separate existence and overlordship of God. The narrow sense of the term survives in modern university terminology. Thus in the University of Oxford the curriculum known as Litterae Humaniores (“Humane Literature”) consists of Latin and Greek literature and philosophy, i.e. of the “arts,” often described in former times as the “polite letters.” In the Scottish universities the professor of Latin is called the professor of “humanity.” The plural “humanities” is a generic term for the classics. In ordinary language the adjective “humane” is restricted to the sense of “kind-hearted,” “unselfish”: the abstract “humanity” has this sense and also the sense of “that which pertains to mankind” derived in this case with the companion adjective “human.”