Humanism is a Renaissance movement in philosophy towards a more human-centred (and less religion-centred) approach. It has an ultimate faith in humankind, and believes that human beings possess the power or potentiality of solving their own problems, through reliance primarily upon reason and scientific method applied with courage and vision.
Rather than being a specific philosophical doctrine or school on its own (although see the section on the doctrine of Humanism and the doctrine of Atheism), Humanism is more a general life stance or attitude that upholds human reason, ethics and justice. It is a component of a variety of more specific philosophical systems, and is incorporated into some religious schools of thought. It is an optimistic attitude to life whose ultimate goal is human flourishing (see the section on Eudaimonism), doing good and living well in the here and now, and leaving the world better for those who come after.
In Ethics, it affirms the dignity and worth of all people and their ability to determine right and wrong purely by appeal to universal human qualities, especially rationality, and considers faith an unacceptable basis for action. It endorses a Moral Universalism based on the commonality of the human condition, and encourages secularism and freedom from religious rule and teachings.
In Metaphysics, Humanism considers all forms of the supernatural as myth, and regards Nature as the totality of being, and as a constantly changing system of matter and energy which exists independently of any mind or consciousness. It rejects the validity of transcendental justifications, such as a dependence on belief without reason, the supernatural, or texts of allegedly divine origin.
In Epistemology, it supports scientific skepticism (i.e. it questions the veracity of claims lacking empirical evidence) and the scientific method (the collection of data through observation and experimentation, and the formulation and testing of hypotheses).
In Political Philosophy, Humanism emphasizes individual freedom and responsibility, human values and compassion, and the need for tolerance and cooperation, and it rejects authoritarian beliefs.
Although some ancient Indian and Chinese philosophies, some individual elements of ancient Greek thought, and some medieval Muslim thinkers pursued humanistic, rational and scientific discourses in their search for knowledge, Humanism as an identifiable movement can be traced to late Medieval and Renaissance Europe in the 15th and 16th Centuries.
Renaissance Humanists were opposed to the dominant Scholastic philosophy of the day (derived from St. Thomas Aquinas), and this opposition revived a classical debate which referred back to Plato and the Platonic dialogues. Renaissance Humanists promoted human worth and individual dignity, and believed in the practice of the liberal arts for all classes.
Such Renaissance thinkers as the Italian poet Francesco Petrarch (1304 - 1374), the Dutch theologian Erasmus, the English philosophers Sir Thomas More and Sir Francis Bacon, the French writers Francois Rabelais (c. 1494 - 1553) and Michel de Montaigne (1533 - 1592), and the Italian scholar Giovanni Pico della Mirandola (1463 - 1494) can all be considered early Humanists.
In the 19th and 20th Centuries, various organizations were founded to promote humanist principles, including the Humanistic Religious Association (formed in 1853), the British Humanist Association (1896), the American Humanist Association (1941) and the International Humanist and Ethical Union (1952). Some famous 20th Century humanists include Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein (1879 - 1955), Albert Schweitzer (1875 - 1965), Isaac Asimov (1920 - 1992), Carl Sagan (1934 - 1996), Kurt Vonnegut (1922 - 2007), Gloria Steinem (1934 - ) and Richard Dawkins (1941 - ).