Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Emptiness of Humanism

The authors, Jacques Thiroux and Keith Kraseann of "Ethics: Theory and Practice" lay out their five point plan of how ethics should be viewed.  They approach ethics from the standpoint of humanism.  What is humanism?  Humanism is an ethical way of life, in which humanity decides what is best for all.  Some of the tenants of humanism include: the non-existence of God, ethics are derived from human experience and are situational, human dignity is the highest value, any sexual behavior between consenting adults should be tolerated, and reason and compassion should be the ultimate guide for all decisions made by the human race.  This generalization of humanism comes from the "Humanist Manifesto II."  [1] 

What are the 5 points of ethics according to Thiroux and Kraseann?  1.)  The Value of Life Principle - Humans should value life and accept death.  2.)  The Principle of Goodness or Righteousness - We should strive to do good and avoid the bad.  3.)  The Principle of Justice or Fairness - The distribution of of good and bad on a just and fair basis.  4.)  The Principle of Truth Telling or Honesty - Necessary for meaningful communication.  5.)  The Principle of Individual Freedom - Individuals must have the freedom to choose their own way of being moral within the framework of the first four basic principles.  Can the world operate ethically by using these five principles?

In order for the ethical system presented to be considered valid it must be a system that the world could live with and be structured in a way that is fair to all individuals.  Can the world live with such a system?  No.  The overarching problem from which the whole five point system collapses, is that it falls victim to relativism.

If humanist ethics is situational and these five points are the correct way to do ethics, then who gets to decide what conforms to the five points?  In other words, point one deals with the value of life, but what is to be done with the unborn?  Are they to be considered alive?  It seems that the system of Thiroux and Krasemann fails here, in that, the person or persons in power get to decide the criteria for what is alive and what is not.

If humanism is the way to go, who decides the basic human principles?  Why should anyone accept what Thiroux and Krasemann have to say?  Though the five principles seem to be good principles, the problem arises when trying to ground the principles.  There is simply nothing to ground the five principles in.  Why these five points and not my own system?  Any humanist system of ethics turns out to be nothing more than personal belief without the ability to justify why anyone should believe that way.

Humanism fails to produce any type of justifiable system.  In the end, those in power decide what  others should believe.  In essence, humanism can lead right down the road of totalitarianism.  Once humanism throws off the existence of God, it has no way to find any foundational grounding.  If God does not exist, then why should anyone pledge allegiance to humanistic ethics?  Besides, how does this humanistic system justify "The Principle of Goodness?"  What is good on the humanistic ethical system and who gets to decide?  The "Humanist Manifesto", and even Thiroux and Krasemann indicate a moral law exists, but they have no answer from where this law comes.  It seems the ethics of humanism is empty because it has absolutely nothing to ground the system in.  As Fyodo Dostoevsky once said, "If God does not exist, everything is permissible."

[1]  Humanist Manifesto II

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