Rules and Ethical Guidelines

Like many of the world’s religions, humanism values human happiness and flourishing and the morality of the ‘golden rule’: “Treat other people as you would like to be treated yourself”. The 20th century humanist philosopher, A J Ayer, described the basis of humanist values in ‘The Humanist Outlook’, 1968: “The only possible basis for a sound morality is mutual tolerance and respect: tolerance of one another’s customs and opinions; respect for one another’s rights and feelings; awareness of one another’s needs.”

Humanists see the source of all moral values in shared human nature and needs. Human nature includes the abilities to understand and empathise with others and to learn from experience, and human needs include security and friendship. Even those values that are not directly concerned with human relationships, for example those that influence how we treat other species or the environment, are founded in human needs – for a safe and sustaining Earth, for the pleasures of seeing and interacting with the natural world.

Many humanists agree with the utilitarian principle expressed by 19th century philosopher John Stuart Mill: “Actions are right in proportion as they tend to promote happiness, wrong as they tend to produce the reverse of happiness.”

Within humanism there are few, if any, rules, just the hope or expectation that humanists will try to live by the general principles outlined above and base their values and behaviour on reason and experience rather than on unthinking obedience, prejudice or fear. In the wider community, humanists have been influenced by the concept of human rights, which supports the humanist viewpoint that there are universal moral values shared by everyone, regardless of race, culture or religion. Many humanists, for example, support Amnesty International and other human rights organisations.

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Humanist worldview traditions


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