Forum on the philosophy of Secular Humanism of Orange County Message Board › Much to our relief, Humanism is safe for now!‏

Much to our relief, Humanism is safe for now!‏

Juan B.
Group Organizer
Santa Ana, CA
Post #: 343
On Sunday, November 11, 2012, the retired philosophy instructor, Pablo Ricci, presented a talk critical of Humanism as a philosophy, or at least that what many of us thought. But a few days later when I criticized his argument as not at all an effective critique of Humanism, Mr. Ricci replied that he had not been out to present a well-developed critique of Humanism, but had only been “making a few observations on how people make moral decisions and the background from which they make them.” (See Ricci’s email of 11/16/12) So much to my surprise, I completely misconstrued Ricci’s presentation: For he now claims that he was not arguing that Humanism fails as a philosophy. (?) (A few others who attended the HAOC talk were also surprised by this abrupt "turn about" by Mr. Ricci.)

All right, I’ll accept that and relax a bit. Humanism is safe for the time being. Humanists have not been exposed as sadly devoid of any decent philosophical basis for their stated principles and have not been shown to have a pathetically inconsistent ethical philosophy. For, you see, Ricci was only “making some observations about how people make moral choices and from what background they make them.” Ricci’s “observations” are questionable, to say the least, but even if they could be seen as accurate, they don’t touch on the Humanist philosophy at all.

However, I did find much of what Ricci said to indicate a thinking best characterized as “strait jacket” thinking. When I suggested that the book, The Philosophy of Humanism, by Corliss Lamont , was a fair attempt to express one man’s version of the philosophy of humanism, Ricci replied in a rather condescending tone that surely I realized that no respectable philosopher had ever, or would ever, agree with the main ideas in the book. In other words, if we cannot find a general consensus from professional philosophers on the various ideas found in Lamont’s book, we must reject the book as an acceptable statement of humanist philosophy. Since when has this been the criterion by which we evaluate any book? I’ll bet you that the greatest work in philosophy does not get the consensus of all professional philosophers; yet we don’t reject the book as a result. Secondly, Ricci’s view that all philosophers would reject the views expressed by Lamont is highly questionable. It sounds more like Ricci’s personal view of Lamont, which he (Ricci) then tries to bolster by claiming that all philosophers agree with him. This thinking is of the “strait jacket” variety because it assumes the rigid idea that Ricci’s chosen experts must approve a work before anyone can say that work is competent.

His rejection of Kurtz’s Humanistic philosophy requires more detail than I can give here. But generally it consists of Ricci’s disappointment with what he finds to be shallow ideas – such as the idea that we discover moral values and principles of ethics in experience. Maybe Kurtz’s way of stating this idea could be improved. But the idea is one that a number of philosophers and scientists have argued for in the recent past. It is far from the crazy and shallow idea that Ricci insinuates. Dave Silva, in the Q&A period on Sunday, stated that he had read some of the works of Kurtz and found them to be logical and reasonable. I agree with Silva. And I regard Ricci’s summary dismissal of Kurtz as merely a statement of Ricci’s personal preference, nothing more.

Another example of Ricci’s strait-jacket thinking came when I stated that the philosophy of the great American philosopher John Dewey could be taken as another articulation of Humanist philosophy. Ricci replied that surely I knew that Dewey was a pragmatist, not a humanist. In other words, because Dewey is often included in the tradition of American pragmatism, along with CS Peirce and William James, we cannot consider Dewey as a humanist, This ignores the fact that many writers and commentators consider John Dewey to be a humanist , that he added his name to the Humanist Manifesto of 1933, and that each article of the Humanist Manifesto can be shown to be consistent with the philosophy of John Dewey. But for the strait-jacketed thinking, if Dewey has been labeled a pragmatist, he cannot be considered a humanist, despite the fact that pragmatism is consistent with the relevant features of Humanist thought. Again, Ricci’s claim that Dewey “does not represent the standard view of Humanism” is at best an expression of Ricci’s subjective assessment, nothing more.

Finally, Ricci’s presentation included shots at those who represent Humanism at our conferences (namely Michael Shermer and Ed Tabash) and who dare to debate theistic philosophers and theologians, I requested from Ricci a statement of the specific problem with Michael Shermer’s views and the specific strong points by the Christian apologist, William Craig, since Ricci had expressed dismay with Shermer’s performance in one of the Shermer-Craig debates on the issue of God’s existence. Ricci could not recall the specific points; all he seems to have is a vague, subjective impression that Shermer did not do so well. But he could not recount what Craig’s impressive argument might have been, an argument that so much outclassed Shermer. Likewise, I asked Ricci for specifics on his claim that Ed Tabash came across as such an amateur when he argued against a sophisticated theologian, that the Jewish Holocaust cast doubt on the goodness of an all-powerful God. Ricci suggested that the theologians have effective, cogent arguments to show that moral disasters like the mass killing of Jews, Gypsies, Slavs, and many other innocent victims do not indicate that probably there is no perfectly good God supervising human events, as Christians claim. (A damn powerful argument in my opinion.) But Ricci assures us that none of this proves that an omnipotent, perfect God does not exist. However, Ricci would not give me any specific points of theological arguments showing compatibility between genocides and God's goodness that so impressed him. All he did was to refer me to various books and philosophical journals to which he subscribes, and mention a few names of respected Christian philosophers. So much for his indictment of Tabash as an amateur taking on those impressive theologians! There out there folks! And they can give effective responses to specific uses of the argument from evil (which Tabash attempted); but we just cannot say how exactly those experts argue!

In short, whatever Ricci was doing at our November HAOC meeting (he claims that he was not presenting a critique of Humanism), his presentation was not effective at all in undermining Humanism as devoid of philosophical respectability. At most, we were given a dose of Ricci’s personal views concerning Humanism and philosophy, views which surely call for critical scrutiny.

Juan Bernal

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