Humanism or Eudaimonia, that is the question

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humanism holisticHumanism is a philosophical and ethical stance that emphasizes the value and agency of human beings, individually and collectively, and generally prefers critical thinking and evidence (rationalism, empiricism) over established doctrine or faith (fideism). The meaning of the term humanism has fluctuated, according to the successive intellectual movements which have identified with it. Generally, however, humanism refers to a perspective that affirms some notion of a “human nature” (sometimes contrasted with antihumanism).

In modern times, humanist movements are typically aligned with secularism, and today “Humanism” typically refers to a non-theistic life stance centred on human agency, and looking to science instead of religious dogma in order to understand the world.

The word “Humanism” is ultimately derived from the Latin concept humanitas, and, like most other words ending in -ism, entered English in the nineteenth century.

However, historians agree that the concept predates the label invented to describe it, encompassing the various meanings ascribed to humanitas, which included both benevolence toward one’s fellow humans and the values imparted by bonae litterae or humane learning (literally “good letters“).

Davies acknowledges that after the horrific experiences of the wars of the 20th century “it should no longer be possible to formulate phrases like ‘the destiny of man’ or the ‘triumph of human reason’ without an instant consciousness of the folly and brutality they drag behind them”. For “it is almost impossible to think of a crime that has not been committed in the name of human reason”. Yet, he continues, “it would be unwise to simply abandon the ground occupied by the historical humanisms. For one thing humanism remains on many occasions the only available alternative to bigotry and persecution. The freedom to speak and write, to organize and campaign in defence of individual or collective interests, to protest and disobey: all these can only be articulated in humanist terms.”

Humanistic psychology is a psychological perspective which rose to prominence in the mid-20th century in response to Sigmund Freud’s psychoanalytic theory and B.F. Skinner’s Behaviorism. The approach emphasizes an individual’s inherent drive towards self-actualization and creativity. Psychologists Carl Rogers and Abraham Maslow introduced a positive, humanistic psychology in response to what they viewed as the overly pessimistic view of psychoanalysis in the early 1960s. Other sources include the philosophies of existentialism and phenomenology.

Polemics about humanism have sometimes assumed paradoxical twists and turns. Early 20th century critics such as Ezra Pound, T. E. Hulme, and T. S. Eliot considered humanism to be sentimental “slop” (Hulme) or “an old bitch gone in the teeth” (Pound) and wanted to go back to a more manly, authoritarian society such as (they believed) existed in the Middle Ages.

Postmodern critics who are self-described anti-humanists, such as Jean-François Lyotard and Michel Foucault, have asserted that humanism posits an overarching and excessively abstract notion of humanity or universal human nature, which can then be used as a pretext for imperialism and domination of those deemed somehow less than human.

Philosopher Kate Soper notes that by faulting humanism for falling short of its own benevolent ideals, anti-humanism thus frequently “secretes a humanist rhetoric”.

In his book, Humanism (1997), Tony Davies calls these critics “humanist anti-humanists”. Critics of antihumanism, most notably Jürgen Habermas, counter that while antihumanists may highlight humanism’s failure to fulfil its emancipatory ideal, they do not offer an alternative emancipatory project of their own.

Petrarch: “Father of Humanism” ► Petrarch was a scholar and poet who was responsible for the recovery of manuscripts and works of Greek and Roman writers.

In 1925, the English mathematician and philosopher Alfred North Whitehead cautioned: “The prophecy of Francis Bacon has now been fulfilled; and man, who at times dreamt of himself as a little lower than the angels, has submitted to become the servant and the minister of nature. It still remains to be seen whether the same actor can play both parts”.

humanism each otherOthers, like the German philosopher Heidegger considered themselves humanists on the model of the ancient Greeks, but thought humanism applied only to the German “race” and specifically to the Nazis and thus, in Davies’ words, were anti-humanist humanists. Such a reading of Heidegger’s thought is itself deeply controversial; Heidegger includes his own views and critique of Humanism in Letter On Humanism.

Modern Humanists, such as Corliss Lamont or Carl Sagan, hold that humanity must seek for truth through reason and the best observable evidence and endorse scientific skepticism and the scientific method. However, they stipulate that decisions about right and wrong must be based on the individual and common good, with no consideration given to metaphysical or supernatural beings. The idea is to engage with what is human. Contemporary humanism entails a qualified optimism about the capacity of people, but it does not involve believing that human nature is purely good or that all people can live up to the Humanist ideals without help.

If anything, there is recognition that living up to one’s potential is hard work and requires the help of others.

653px-Pietro_Cavallini_011Matriarchy is a social organizational form in which the mother or oldest female heads the family. Descent and relationship are determined through the female line. It is also government or rule by a woman or women. While those definitions apply in general English, definitions specific to the disciplines of anthropology and feminism differ in some respects.

Most anthropologists hold that there are no known societies that are unambiguously matriarchal, but some authors believe that exceptions are possible, some of them in the past. Matriarchies may also be confused with matrilineal, matrilocal, and matrifocal societies. A few people consider any non-patriarchal system to be matriarchal, thus including genderally equalitarian systems, but most academics exclude them from matriarchies strictly defined.

In 19th century Western scholarship, the hypothesis of matriarchy representing an early stage of human development—now mostly lost in prehistory, with the exception of some so-called primitive societies—enjoyed popularity. The hypothesis survived into the 20th century and was notably advanced in the context of second-wave feminism.


Feminism is a range of movements and ideologies that share a common goal: to define, establish, and achieve equal political, economic, cultural, personal, and social rights for women. This includes seeking to establish equal opportunities for women in education and employment. A feminist advocates or supports the rights and equality of women.

Feminist movements have campaigned and continue to campaign for women’s rights, including the right to vote, to hold public office, to work, to fair wages or equal pay, to own property, to education, to enter contracts, to have equal rights within marriage, and to have maternity leave. Feminists have also worked to promote bodily autonomy and integrity, and to protect women and girls from rape, sexual harassment, and domestic violence.

Feminist campaigns are generally considered to be one of the main forces behind major historical societal changes for women’s rights, particularly in the West, where they are near-universally credited with having achieved women’s suffrage, gender neutrality in English, reproductive rights for women (including access to contraceptives and abortion), and the right to enter into contracts and own property.

Although feminist advocacy is and has been mainly focused on women’s rights, some feminists, including bell hooks, argue for the inclusion of men’s liberation within its aims because men are also harmed by traditional gender roles.

Feminist theory, which emerged from feminist movements, aims to understand the nature of gender inequality by examining women’s social roles and lived experience; it has developed theories in a variety of disciplines in order to respond to issues such as the social construction of gender.

Some forms of feminism have been criticized for taking into account only white, middle-class, educated perspectives. This led to the creation of ethnically specific or multiculturalist forms of feminism.

Different groups of people have responded to feminism, and both men and women have been among its supporters and critics. Among American university students, for both men and women, support for feminist ideas is more common than self-identification as a feminist.

The US media tends to portray feminism negatively and feminists “are less often associated with day-to-day work/leisure activities of regular women.” However, as recent research has demonstrated, as people are exposed to self-identified feminists and to discussions relating to various forms of feminism, their own self-identification with feminism increases.

Roy Baumeister has criticized feminists who “look only at the top of society and draw conclusions about society as a whole. Yes, there are mostly men at the top. But if you look at the bottom, really at the bottom, you’ll find mostly men there, too.”


Patriarchy is a social system in which males hold primary power, predominate in roles of political leadership, moral authority, social privilege and control of property; in the domain of the family, fathers or father-figures hold authority over women and children. Many patriarchal societies are also patrilineal, meaning that property and title are inherited by the male lineage.

The female equivalent is matriarchy.

Patriarchy is a social system in which society is organized around male authority figures.

womens_independence_quotesIn this system fathers have authority over women, children, and property. It implies the institutions of male rule and privilege, and is dependent on female subordination. Most forms of feminism characterize patriarchy as an unjust social system that is oppressive to women. Carole Pateman argues that the patriarchal distinction “between masculinity and femininity is the political difference between freedom and subjection.”

In feminist theory the concept of patriarchy often includes all the social mechanisms that reproduce and exert male dominance over women. Feminist theory typically characterizes patriarchy as a social construction, which can be overcome by revealing and critically analyzing its manifestations. Some radical feminists have proposed that because patriarchy is too deeply rooted in society, separatism is the only viable solution. Other feminists have criticized these views as being anti-men.

Historically, patriarchy has manifested itself in the social, legal, political, and economic organization of a range of different cultures.

“There was a time when men wandered about in the manner of wild beasts. They conducted their affairs without the least guidance of reason but instead relied on bodily strength. There was no divine religion and the understanding of social duty was in no way cultivated. No one recognized the value inherent in an equitable code of law.”(Cicero, De Inventione, I. I: 2, quoted in Quentin Skinner, Visions of Politics, Volume 2: Renaissance Virtues [Cambridge University Press, 2002], p. 54.)

Egalitarianism is a form of political philosophy that advocates all human beings are fundamentally equal and therefore equally entitled to resources (e.g., food, shelter, respect, social status).

Egalitarianism, for all its merits, has some distinct limits in applied practice. Equality was originally conceptualized as a means to give everyone the same things, the same means as it were, and although concepts and theories of equality morphed and grew from that starting point, the fact is you can give everyone the exact same items and still have not alleviated inequality and/or unfairness. For example, stating that everyone is entitled to two apples and then handing out two apples to every person does not address the inequity of resources that pre-existed the handing out of apples (in other words, some persons might have already had two apples while others had none, some people are allergic to apples, and some people were more in need of blanket than an apple).

Egalitarianism, while a fundamental ethical concept, often fails to address inequities through an intersectional lens.

Egalitarianism is not currently an active socio-political movement.

Humanism and Egalitarianism are important intellectual movements whose philosophies inform Feminism as well as global human rights legislation. But Feminism is the only movement actively advocating for gender equality. Feminism is called Feminism because it began as a socio-political movement to achieve gender equality for females and, through its own logic and rhetoric, therefore is a socio-political movement to achieve equality for all persons regardless of gender (or any other demographic characteristic). By logical extension, Feminism supports Equity Theory.

Equity Theory recognizes various and intersectional spheres of power dynamics that create locations of domination/subordination based on value-judgements assigned to various concepts or actualities (e.g., race, gender).

Is a Genderless Society the Answer?

In recent years, there have been many groups popping up with the concept of ‘genderlessness’. Is this truly the answer?

Drew Cordes says it well: “At first blush, this hypothetical can sound appealing to many of us (both trans and cis) who often feel disadvantaged or persecuted because of our sex/gender. If there’s no more gender, women and trans people can’t be marginalized! No more pay inequality! No more clothing restrictions! No more nightmares in bathrooms, Customs, the DMV, etc. You can imagine the possibilities.

What many of us gloss over in this daydream scenario is that we’d be throwing out the baby with the bathwater.

gender equalityThere are restrictive things about gender roles we hate, but there many aspects of gender expression that we love dearly. Without our constructs of gender, your nail polish would no longer make you feel “pretty;” a suit and tie would bestow no swagger; pairing a dress with combat boots would no longer result in the oh-so-entertaining furrowed brows of onlookers.

Stripping away gendered meanings would certainly eliminate a tool of oppression, but it also would eliminate an essential part of identity. Part of the reason many people transition is that the gendered meanings assigned to our bodies militate against our very sense of self. Our identification with the opposite or nontraditional gendered meanings is so strong that we undergo surgeries, terrible pain, emotional turbulence, social stigma, alienation from family and friends… the list goes on. We do these things to be able to express the gender we wish. That’s how much gender means to us – that’s the empowering side. We’re willing to fight to possess it.

The trick, and a particularly difficult one at that, is to banish the stigmas and disadvantages associated with certain gender expressions, while maintaining the associations that resonate within us as joyful, empowering, and meaningful. The dress can still be “pretty,” but “pretty” should not be linked to subjugation or political and economic inequality. The suit and tie can give the wearer some added swagger, but it should not cross any lines into misogyny or patriarchal social dominance.

A genderless society is a fascist society. Your unique gender expression, and those of everyone else, would cease to exist, instead replaced with uniformity. To indiscriminately banish the meanings associated with gender expression is to annihilate an essential part of the self. I’ll keep my gender, thanks. Despite all the struggles, I love it too much not to.”

What is the Answer?

The concept of Character and Culture may be the solution to ‘bridging the gap‘ in our modern society’s dilemna on gender. If both sexes can accept a constant changing role and extrapolate the best in both sexes, a modern civil society can be born, maintaining the grace of ‘gender’.

Let’s not toss the beauty and embrace of our birth rights, both as men or women.

“The path between the onset of the good letters and the modern humanist as freethinker or simply as scholar is circuitous but unbroken. If we look for what is common to the Humanists over the centuries we find two things: a body of accepted authors and a method of carrying on study and debate. The two go together with the belief that the best guides to the good life are Reason and Nature.” (Jacques Barzun, From Dawn to Decadence :500 years of Western Cultural Life [New York: HarperCollins, 2000], p. 45)

human flourishingEudaimonia (Greek: εὐδαιμονία [eu̯dai̯moníaː]), sometimes anglicized as eudaemonia or eudemonia /juːdɨˈmoʊniə/, is a Greek word commonly translated as happiness or welfare; however, “human flourishing” has been proposed as a more accurate translation.

Etymologically, it consists of the words “eu” (“good“) and “daimōn” (“spirit“). It is a central concept in Aristotelian ethics and political philosophy, along with the terms “aretē”, most often translated as “virtue” or “excellence”, and “phronesis”, often translated as “practical or ethical wisdom”.

In Aristotle’s works, eudaimonia was (based on older Greek tradition) used as the term for the highest human good, and so it is the aim of practical philosophy, including ethics and political philosophy, to consider (and also experience) what it really is, and how it can be achieved. Discussion of the links between virtue of character (ethikē aretē) and happiness (eudaimonia) is one of the central concerns of ancient ethics, and a subject of much disagreement. As a result there are many varieties of eudaimonism. Two of the most influential forms are those of Aristotle and the Stoics.

Aristotle takes virtue and its exercise to be the most important constituent in eudaimonia but acknowledges also the importance of external goods such as health, wealth, and beauty. By contrast, the Stoics make virtue necessary and sufficient for eudaimonia and thus deny the necessity of external goods.

The ultimate goal is human flourishing; making life better for all humans, and as the most conscious species, also promoting concern for the welfare of other sentient beings and the planet as a whole. The focus is on doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world a better place for those who come after.


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