Positive humanism is an applied secular humanistic philosophy based on the scientific findings of positive psychology that focuses on personal, professional, and societal flourishing. As an applied philosophy its focus is on ideas that lead to increased well-being. As a secular humanistic philosophy, there are no appeals to the supernatural, the magical, or the mystical. The philosophy is founded on reason and critical thinking. The philosophy is science-based, meaning it is void of unsupported and/or exaggerated claims and the constant confusing or correlation with causality often found in the self-help genre. The philosophy is grounded in the theories of positive psychology, which is the study of the positive side of the mental health spectrum–human flourishing.
Positive humanism is not anti-religion; it is however anti-anti-humanism. There are many aspects of religions that are anti-humanism, such as denying gays’ rights to marry, the belief that humanity is sinful and worthy of eternal punishment, the denial of science on religious grounds, and several others. However, it would be fallacious and unreasonable to be against an entire religion or worse, against religion itself, because of its anti-humanistic elements without considering its pro-humanistic elements, as well. There are many atheistic philosophies that take a hard approach by attacking religion and calling attention to its harmful elements. This approach has its purpose, but this is simply not what positive humanism is about. Positive humanism’s focus is almost entirely on promoting positive humanism and defending it when necessary, but avoiding “attacking” religion (i.e., avoiding making aggressive arguments against religion). Abstaining from all arguments against all aspects of religious belief is not always possible, especially when such arguments are necessary to understand arguments for positive humanism. As a positive humanist, when I do make such arguments, I am committed to representing the religious argument as accurately as possible, and avoiding ridicule or other rhetorical devises that otherwise reasonably offend.
Positive humanism is not for everyone. Having been a believer for the first 38 years of my life, and a non-believer going on five years now, I can say from personal experience that my overall well-being has increased significantly in that time. There are countless others with similar experiences who have celebrated their new life of reason. However, from a sociological and psychological perspective, it is clear that not everyone can benefit as I and others like me did from such a life change. For example, people from highly religious families or communities can be ostracized by intolerant family members and friends, lowering their well-being significantly.
My goal is to provide an evidence-based, secular philosophy of well-being for the rapidly growing number of people leaving religion and embracing reason, or just contemplating a more secular worldview, who want a higher quality of life than they had under their religious world view.
Positive humanism is not the same as positive psychology. In the simplest terms, there are parts of positive psychology that overlap with humanism. However, there are also parts of positive psychology that are not only outside of humanism, but also quite contrary to humanistic values. For example, Martin Seligman, considered the founder of positive psychology, stresses the importance of personal agency and responsibility. While this is certainly important, this focus greatly underestimates and undervalues the biological and social factors that influence behavior. Critics of positive psychology (of whom I am one) argue that this focus on personal agency leads to a “blame the victim” mentality. Essentially, it is the issue of free will—perhaps the most complex philosophical issue of the last couple millennia. Positive psychology also fails to “secularize” the well-being benefits that arise from religious and spiritual practices, and keeps them in a religious or spiritual context. This is understandable considering positive psychology is an American initiative, and an estimated 90% of Americans work within these contexts. Positive humanism translates these benefits to the secular.
Positive humanism is not the same as humanism. Positive humanism is different from humanism; however, unlike with positive psychology, there is nothing fundamentally at odds with humanism within positive humanism. Positive humanism takes the subset of humanism where the focus is on living a great life within a secular context. Positive humanism does not focus on what is wrong with religions, the supernatural, government, and society; it focuses on what is right with positive humanism. Let me be clear in saying that these more “negative” aspects of humanism are in no way unimportant or destructive; they are necessary to provide the foundation for positive humanism just like war is necessary to ensure the continued freedom of a (free) country.
The following sections are a collection of essays that provide the foundation for positive humanism and address some of the most frequently asked, yet rarely satisfactorily answered, questions about a secular philosophy. Whether you adopt this philosophy as your own, incorporate parts of it into an existing philosophy, or just gain a better understanding of one example of a secular worldview focused on good, this short read will be well worth your time.