The politics of humanism

Bob Brecher

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This chapter argues against Frank Furedi’s urging of a ‘pre-political’ humanism. Having considered the possible bases of appeals to "human nature" as a starting-point for political claims, I argue that, unless we already have a pre-existent non- or anti-humanist commitment, the movement in appeals to "human nature" is from our philosophical/political commitment to our view of it. But since that is precisely what the call for a pre-political humanism opposes, it founders on two difficulties. First, in what sense might a humanism – a commitment to humanity and a confidence in humanity’s capacity to improve its state – be ‘pre-political’at all? Second, since no humanism can be founded on some purely factual conception of what human beings are, since in that case no normative recommendations could be drawn from that conception, the ‘pre-political’ has to be understood as ‘non-normative'. But how could it be? What other normative conception than a political one of what human beings are could there be? Precisely to the extent that we have a conception of our species at all, we are already a political species. To distinguish, for example, between ‘human being’ and ‘person’ – between ourselves as members of a specific biological species and ourselves as moral and political beings – is to imply a notion of people as some sort of moral-political beings, even if that sort remains (as yet) unspecified. So if by a ‘pre-political’ humanism is intended a humanism which is non-political, then it cannot be a humanism at all.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationDebating humanism
EditorsD. Cummings
Place of PublicationExeter
PublisherImprint Academic
Number of pages9
ISBN (Print)184540069
Publication statusPublished - 2006


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