Rune Engelbreth Larsen
Contributing to a new humanism

What is humanism?

Humanism is a worldview that dawns in the European Renaissance, especially the Italian Renaissance, although the word itself wasn't coined untill the early nineteenth century. However, from the roots of the socalled renaissance humanism stems an accentuation of education and skills within several fields of knowledge, as well as a pluralistic approach to culture that revives and reevaluates aspects of classical culture in a synthesis with various christian traditions.

Rather than an ideology it was a cultural frame of ideas with an emerging non-absolutistic approach to any truth. It emphasized the uniqueness of the individual and often unfolded an intimate connection between man and nature, in which Amor was depicted as a natural or cosmic principle.

At the core of Renaissance humanism we find the concept of humanitas that in many ways unites and elaborates these elements:

»Humanitas meant the development of human virtue, in all its forms, to its fullest extent. The term thus implied not only such qualities as are associated with the modern word humanity - understanding, benevolence, compassion, mercy - but also such more aggressive characteristics as fortitude, judgment, prudence, eloquence, and even love of honour. Consequently the possessor of humanitas could not be merely a sedentary and isolated philosopher or man of letters but was of necessity a participant in active life. Just as action without insight was held to be aimless and barbaric, insight without action was rejected as barren and imperfect. Humanitas called for a fine balance of action and contemplation, a balance born not of compromise but of complementarity. The goal of such fulfilled and balanced virtue was political in the broadest sense of the word. The purview of Renaissance humanism included not only the education of the young but also the guidance of adults (including rulers) via philosophical poetry and strategic rhetoric. It included not only realistic social criticism but also utopian hypotheses, not only painstaking reassessments of history but also bold reshapings of the future. In short, humanism called for the comprehensive reform of culture, the transfiguration of what humanists termed the passive and ignorant society of the 'dark' ages into a new order that would reflect and encourage the grandest human potentialities. Humanism had an evangelical dimension. It sought to project humanitas from the individual into the state at large.«

This is the definition of Encyclopaedia Britannica, and not only does it reflect the meaning of a word, but to some extent the very spirit of the Renaissance - and thereby also characterizes the inheritance of humanism.

One of the key purposes of this website is to emphasize the need for a new and genuine humanism in the twenty-first century, inspired by the historical foundations of the Renaissance, for which humanitas is essential.

A humanism that is concerned with the diversity of all mankind as a source to cultural renewal as well as respect for cultural traditions. Dedicated to the dignity of any individual, regardless of political, philosophical or religious views and values - but at the same time sticking to and fighting for precisely such humanistic values that allows for the greatest possible individual liberty, while opposing any law or dogma that limits freedom beyond the necessesary protection of another individual's freedom.

Or as stated in the French Declaration of Human Rights in 1789, »thus, the exercise of the natural rights of every man has no bounds other than those that ensure to the other members of society the enjoyment of these same rights«.

A humanism which neither denounces nor prescribes religious beliefs as such, but in accordance with the individualistic outset of this frame of ideas places Man - rather than e.g. God or gods - at the fulcrum.

Thus, any religion, ideology or science will inevitable have to be experienced, acknowledged or believed by man to become the basis of any life-experience or worldview. Whether one person's life or worldview is believed to revolve around God(s) or not is up to that person's own beliefs - but either way, man is at the beginning of the equation in a humanistic view.

Since man is not one man, but all men, and because no two people are alike, man cannot be at the fulcrum of existence, unless this fulcrum is comprised of man's individual diversity.

By using the term panhumanism as a common denominator for humanistic implications of these basic principles, I wish to stress a humanism that calls for a pluralistic view on modern society as well as an individualistic view on man as the basis of cross-cultural understanding and respect in a globalized world.

For this reason man's individual diversity becomes the starting point of this particular humanism.

And for this reason also, the struggle for encouragement and respect of human and cultural diversity becomes a goal as well as a consequence of humanism.

June 2006