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Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) [Paperback]

Stephen Law
3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
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Book Description

27 Jan 2011 Very Short Introductions
Religion is currently gaining a much higher profile. The number of faith schools is increasingly, and religious points of view are being aired more frequently in the media. As religion's profile rises, those who reject religion, including humanists, often find themselves misunderstood, and occasionally misrepresented. Stephen Law explores how humanism uses science and reason to make sense of the world, looking at how it encourages individual moral responsibility and shows that life can have meaning without religion. Challenging some of the common misconceptions, he seeks to dispute the claims that atheism and humanism are 'faith positions' and that without God there can be no morality and our lives are left without purpose. Looking at the history of humanism and its development as a philosophical alternative, he examines the arguments for and against the existence of God, and explores the role humanism plays in moral and secular societies, as well as in moral and religious education. Using humanism to determine the meaning of life, he shows that there is a positive alternative to traditional religious belief. ABOUT THE SERIES: The Very Short Introductions series from Oxford University Press contains hundreds of titles in almost every subject area. These pocket-sized books are the perfect way to get ahead in a new subject quickly. Our expert authors combine facts, analysis, perspective, new ideas, and enthusiasm to make interesting and challenging topics highly readable.

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Humanism: A Very Short Introduction (Very Short Introductions) + Humanism: A Beginner's Guide (Beginner's Guides)
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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (27 Jan 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199553645
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199553648
  • Product Dimensions: 4.4 x 6.8 x 0.5 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (10 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 117,646 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Product Description

About the Author

Stephen Law is Senior Lecturer in Philosophy at Heythrop College, University of London.

Inside This Book (Learn More)
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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Customer Reviews

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27 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Reasons to be cheerful 11 Mar 2011
By Sphex TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Stephen Law hits the ground running with this excellent introduction to humanism, exactly what is needed when space is limited and life is short. Within a religious context, the "big questions" - Does God exist? What makes for a meaningful life? What makes things morally right or wrong? Is there an afterlife? - often invite interminable and confused responses that can make you wish you hadn't bothered asking. No wonder many people are indifferent to organized religion, as falling church attendance shows. While the pressures to conform to a particular religious tradition may have largely gone away (at least in modern Europe), the questions haven't. For those with a taste for this kind of inquiry and who don't want to be fobbed off with supernatural explanations, humanism provides a satisfying framework, and this book a rigorous and readable guide.

There is no single snappy definition to which all humanists sign up. Indeed, a lack of doctrine is part of its appeal, but this does not mean that anything goes, or that humanists turn to intellectual mush when faced with questions about ethics or the existence of gods or angels. It's the approach to these questions that matters. Humanists "believe science, and reason more generally, are invaluable tools we can and should apply to all areas of life". Reason is the bedrock of humanism as it can never be for religion, which ultimately appeals to faith, and often takes pride in faith trumping reason. An emphasis on reason does not have to diminish human emotional experience or eliminate love, hope, purpose and everything else that goes to make life worth living: humanists value these aspects as well.

Law continues his "seven-point characterization of humanism": "humanists are either atheists or at least agnostic...
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24 of 27 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars A good overview 7 Feb 2011
This is a lucid and accessible account of modern-day humanism, marred slightly by some repetition. The author, Stephen Law, is a philosophy lecturer who knows his subject well and who acts as an advocate rather than as a neutral observer.

In the introductory chapter, he outlines a "minimal, seven point characterization" of the humanist worldview. He suggests most humanists: believe science and reason are invaluable tools that can be applied in all areas of life; are sceptical about the existence of gods and other supernatural beings; don't believe in an after-life; take a strong moral stance; encourage individual moral autonomy; consider that life can be meaningful without recourse to religion; and "favour an open, democratic society in which the state takes a neutral position with respect to religion". Subsequent chapters deal with: the history of humanism; arguments for and against theism; humanist views on morality, education, secularism and 'the meaning of life'; and humanist ceremonies.

Several general points occur to me. First, humanism comes across as 'sensible' rather than 'inspiring'. Second, it tends to be presented as an alternative to Christianity rather than as a worldview standing in its own right. Third, it is not clear whether humanists share a common view on environmental issues and on the treatment of animals. Perhaps the author might have anticipated and responded to misgivings such as these.
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36 of 48 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Epic, Epic Fail 4 April 2011
By Dr. Bojan Tunguz TOP 500 REVIEWER
Imagine you are in a bookstore or are browsing Amazon book pages and you come across a book that aims to introduce you to vegetarianism. The book is published by a reputable academic publishing institution with a long list of similar highly regarded books to its name. You are intrigued. Maybe you are a vegetarian who has never really read up on vegetarianism from an academic perspective. Maybe you are interested in becoming a vegetarian and would like to know more about it. Maybe you have a vegetarian friend, colleague or a loved one and would like to know more about vegetarianism so you can better relate to their lifestyle. Or you could simply be a voracious reader who wants to keep himself well informed on all sorts of subjects. So you buy the book and start reading it, and after a few pages you discover that the book is really not about vegetarianism. Over 90% of the content of the book is dedicated to a polemic on why meat is bad for you, how terrible animal husbandry is, why you shouldn't eat meat, all sorts of dangerous diseases that you can acquire from eating meat, why all the supposedly good things about meat consumption are actually childish superstitions, why butchers are some of the most evil people imaginable, etc., etc. In addition, all the concrete examples of meat-eating avoid any mention of particularly unhealthy fatty red meats, and instead talk mostly about white meat and poultry. After a while you start screaming (hopefully only in your head): OK I GET IT, MEAT IS REALLY, REALLY BAD! COULD WE PLEASE NOW MOVE ONTO DISCUSSING VEGETARIANISM!

The above scenario is exactly what I went through while reading "Humanism: A Very Short Introduction." This book hardly provides any real concrete information on Humanism. The Wikipedia article on Humanism is way more informative.
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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars What is Humanism? 14 Mar 2011
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
If you want to know what humanism is, read this book. It is clear, it is concise, it is cheap.
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