What is Humanism?

34Throughout recorded history there have been non-religious people who have believed that this life is the only life we have, that the universe is a natural phenomenon with no supernatural side, and that we can live ethical and fulfilling lives on the basis of reason and humanity. They have trusted to the scientific method, evidence, and reason to discover truths about the universe and have placed human welfare and happiness at the centre of their ethical decision making.

Today, people who share these beliefs and values are called humanists and this combination of attitudes is called humanism. Many millions of people in Britain share this way of living and of looking at the world, but many of them have not heard the word ‘humanism’ and don’t realise that it describes what they believe.



15Defining ‘humanism’

Humanism is a broad worldview which describes a number of shades of opinion, but the core set of beliefs and values can be summarised as follows.

A humanist…

  • trusts to the scientific method when it comes to understanding how the universe works and rejects the idea of the supernatural (and is therefore an atheist or agnostic)
  • makes their ethical decisions based on reason, empathy, and a concern for human beings and other sentient animals
  • believes that, in the absence of an afterlife and any discernible purpose to the universe, human beings can act to give their own lives meaning by seeking happiness in this life and helping others to do the same.

For a number of dictionary and encyclopaedia definitions of the word ‘humanism’, click here.
















How many humanists are there?

According to the British Social Attitudes survey (2018) 52% of the population are non-religious. Recent polling from YouGov found that 5% of British adults primarily identified with the label ‘humanist’ (larger than any non-Christian religion in the UK), but many more (22%) share humanist beliefs and values.

One of the reasons many more people share humanist beliefs and values than use the label ‘humanist’ for themselves is simply because they have not heard of the word or are unaware of what it means.

‘I was a humanist without knowing it for many years before I found Humanists UK – when I did, it was like finding a sort of home.  Here were people with a range of views that matched my own, who shared my respect for life in all its forms.’

The late Humanists UK Vice-President, Claire Rayner



How old is humanism?

Humanist thought is as old as humanity. From the first millennium BCE in ancient China, India, and Greece; through the scientific revolution and the enlightenment; to modern secularisation and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, humanist ideas have helped to shape the world in which we now live.

You can find more information about how humanism has developed over time here.



Find out more about humanism

We have two free online courses that can support your understanding of humanism. Click here for more information.

UK schools can request a free copy of Michael Rosen and Annmarie Young’s What is Humanism? How can I live without a god? And other big questions for kids.

Humanists UK has a wealth of further information about humanism on its website. You can also download their free Short Course on Humanism eBook.

For further information see:

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