Individual and Social Responsibility

Humanists respond to contemporary ethical issues using the tools of reason and empathy. These do not, however, always lead to the same conclusions; for example, some humanists are pacifists while others would support a humanitarian war or a war of self-defence. But humanist responses are usually liberal and permissive on issues such as voluntary euthanasia, sexuality and abortion. They do not tend to believe that all human life from conception to death is “sacred” or inviolable, and set great store by personal autonomy on issues such as the expression of sexuality or the value of one’s own life and when to end it, as long as one’s actions do not harm others. Thus this apparent license is constrained by respect for others and the desire to do as much good and as little harm as possible.

Humanism and human rights have both been influenced by Enlightenment thinking which stressed the commonality of human beings, regardless of race, culture or religion, and therefore the universality of moral values, because they are based on shared human nature and needs. Social justice, the equal treatment of all citizens and the protection of citizens from abuse by powerful institutions all fall into the category of universal human needs. Humanists have championed “the open society“ (essentially liberal democracy), as the best way of securing personal freedom, happiness and fulfilment.

Humanists do not on the whole set up their own separate humanist organisations to work towards progress on these issues, preferring to work with others for the common good, to support some of the many excellent organisations already working in these fields, and not to discriminate amongst those who need help on grounds of belief.

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