van Hooft, Stan 2012, The western humanist tradition. In Cobb, Mark R., Puchalski, Christine and Rumbold, Bruce (ed), Oxford textbook of spirituality in healthcare, Oxford University Press, Oxford, England, pp.43-48.
In this essay, I describe the development of at least three traditions of humanism: the Platonic, the Aristotelian, and the Promethean. These traditions have developed and intermingled so as to produce the complex and multifaceted face of humanism today. The first, Platonic tradition involves a turning away from the world in order to find wisdom and spirituality in a metaphysical realm. The Aristotelian tradition stresses the need to be at home in the world and happy in life even as we contemplate their unchangeable realities. It speaks of the perfectibility of human beings in muted tones and shows a reverence for the changeable world, as well as for the fragile, vulnerable, fallible, and mortal condition of being human. However, it is the Promethean tradition, with its celebration of science, progress, and technology, that has had the greatest effect upon modern civilization and spirituality. The culmination of these various streams of thought was the Enlightenment: a movement that its greatest philosopher, Immanuel Kant, interpreted as giving humanity permission, for the first time, to think for itself. But the Enlightenment leads to a disenchanted world in which spirituality seems to have no place. I argue that my subjectivity is a transcendent reality and that our very subjectivity becomes a real self and a social being insofar as it is drawn towards the Other. Accordingly, a humanist spirituality is possible in the form of reverence, love, and humility in the presence of transcendence. While religions give the names of their gods to this transcendence, humanism gives it other names: Subjectivity, the Other, Beauty, Goodness, and Truth.
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