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On Humanism (Thinking in Action) by [Norman, Robert]
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On Humanism (Thinking in Action) Kindle Edition

4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Length: 177 pages Word Wise: Enabled Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
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Review

Praise for the first edition:

'This outline of the humanist philosophy of life by Richard Norman is first class. It covers the history, philosophy, morality and meaning of humanism with extreme clarity ... a book of great lucidity, considerable thought and grace.' - New Humanist

'Balanced presentations like this are indeed welcome ... This is a good book: a book to make one think. It is enjoyable as such, but it might also be included as a reading for a Philosophy of Religion course.' - Philosophical Investigations

'A lucid account of humanism which combines the virtues of a fairly balanced discussion and a passionate polemic. It deserves to become humanism's unofficial manifesto - the only kind a freethinking movement can have.' - Julian Baggini, author of Atheism: A Very Short Introduction

About the Author

Richard Norman is Emeritus Professor of Moral Philosophy at the University of Kent, UK. His work has been mainly in the areas of ethics and political philosophy.


Product details

  • Format: Kindle Edition
  • File Size: 851 KB
  • Print Length: 177 pages
  • Simultaneous Device Usage: Up to 4 simultaneous devices, per publisher limits
  • Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (31 July 2004)
  • Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
  • Language: English
  • ASIN: B000OT7UY6
  • Text-to-Speech: Enabled
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  • Word Wise: Enabled
  • Enhanced Typesetting: Enabled
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: #588,802 Paid in Kindle Store (See Top 100 Paid in Kindle Store)
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Format: Paperback
Humanism "is an attempt to think about how we should live without religion". With this simple phrase, Richard Norman captures something of the tentative and rational nature of humanism as well as the central fact of its opposition to religion, all of which he explores in greater detail in this splendid book. The clarity of style and straightforward language are in themselves exemplary of an ideal humanism, which avoids fudging an answer out of platitudes or forcing one from a set of inflexible absolutes. Anyone looking for a "definitive set of beliefs" or moral rules will be disappointed: there is no such thing as a humanist doctrine and no equivalent of a divine commander telling us right from wrong.

Does that mean humanism is spineless and without substance? Of course not. As Norman shows again and again, humanism requires both intellectual and moral courage to stand up to the worst aspects of our species. To become a humanist in the first place involves a fundamental rejection of religion, hardly an easy step in most times and places. Norman's "objection to religious belief is not that it is universally harmful but, simply, that it is false." He takes the truth claims of religion seriously (in contrast to Alain de Botton, who recently wrote that the "most boring question to ask about religion" is whether or not it's "true"). In the second chapter he argues that, while science undermines religion, no single bit of science proves that there is no god. For example, Darwinian theory does not refute religious belief: what it does refute is the argument from design. Is that such a victory? Yes it is, and a huge one for science, since we no longer need a divine creator "to explain the intricacies of living things and their apparent design".
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I found this book an instructive read which covered the topic of Humanism in what I found a constructive and concise way. It put forward the salient features and constructs of this approach to life in a way I found illuminating and would recommend it as a good introduction to the topic.
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Richard Norman presents a lucid, accessible and compelling case for humanism. He rehearses familiar convincing arguments against religion as truth statement or doctrinal scheme. The exposition of his preferred Darwinian account is however somewhat incomplete. He mentions Gregor Mendel’s work on dominant genes in peas, but does not explain that this counters the challenge to Darwin’s theory of the possible blending of mutations back into host populations. He does not mention W D Hamilton’s work as the source of the ‘selfish gene’ theory, nor explain that this claims to refute altruism as a further challenge to Darwin. He also doesn’t respond to the challenge that there is no empirical verification of Hamilton’s hypothesis that only relatives bearing the same gene in a population demonstrate mutual altruism. He sets out William Paley’s watchmaker argument for a designer creation but surprisingly doesn’t directly confront this with David Hume’s counter argument that it fails to account for dis-functionality in nature.

Norman accepts the Darwinian account in a rather unquestioning way, much as he claims believers accept religion with insufficient challenge. Substantial challenges to Darwin include those of Darwin’s contemporary Richard Owen that the theory does not account for the total evolution of any one species, and the point that since species are defined by reproductive isolation (ie pairs of animals capable of reproducing fertile offspring), then a continuous theory has some difficulty explaining such a clearly discrete change. How does the first mutation to cross the species barrier find a mate for fertile reproduction of the new species? Mutations could be responsive rather than random, selection could be random rather than by a strict logic etc.
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I struggled with this book, and couldn't warm to the author's style. I felt it was somewhat padded out with example texts. Possibly just me! but I much preferred the Stephen Law book.
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