Humanism and the Scientific Worldview

in Theoria
Author: David E. Cooper
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Among the general educated public, the question whether humanism and science are antagonists would receive various answers, primarily because the question itself would be variously taken. There are those who, echoing F.R. Leavis’s retort to C.P. Snow’s call for ‘two cultures’, would insist that science has little or no place alongside humane studies in the education of the civilised person. But there are those – members, perhaps, of the British or American Humanist Association – who would insist that humanism in the modern world just is scientific humanism. The appearance of a necessary opposition between these two groups would, however, be illusory. The followers of Leavis have in mind by humanism the pursuit of the literae humaniores and their descendants, such as history. This is the humanism intended when the word was coined, early in the nineteenth century, to refer to the pursuits of the Renaissance umaniste. Members of the BHAor AHAhave something different in mind: humanism as a practical concern with human well-being which eschews religious and other ‘supernaturalist’ doctrines. Clearly a humanist in this second sense need not exclude science from a central place in education. Conversely, a Leavisite humanist need not subscribe to the antireligious viewpoint of Humanist Associations.

Theoria

A Journal of Social and Political Theory

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