Rationalism and Humanism

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John A Hobson
John Atkinson Hobson (1858 – 1940)
George Peabody Gooch
Dr George Peabody Gooch M.P. (1873 – 1968). Image by Walter Stoneman, 1930. Copyright: the National Portrait Gallery
Conway Memorial Lecture
Conway Memorial Lecture
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Moncure Conway photo by Edward Steichen, 1907. Courtesy of Dickinson College.
Delivered at Conway Hall 18 October 1933. Chaired by G. P. Gooch and presented by John A. Hobson.

Rationalism is an outlook which accepts the supremacy of reason, and seeks to establish a system of ontology and ethics verifiable by experience and independent of pre-experiential assumptions and doctrinal authority. On the ontological side, rationalism involves explaining every area of human thought and action.

Rationalism merges into humanism in three ways: 1) it applies the same scientific-explanatory approach to human beings as it does to the non-human world. 2) it concerns itself with social and ethical issues. 3) it discards super-naturalistic doctrines, and sees man as a product of biological and evolutionary processes.

As regards the place of reason in human life, rationality is not the servant of passion but its regulator. It produces reasonableness, self- control and co-ordination of volitions. This function relates not only to the individual’s private experiences but also to his collective and communal ones.

Further, rationalism accords with a causalist, deterministic outlook. One implication of this outlook is that it leads to a way of treating malefactors which is more understanding and humane than traditional, pre- scientific approaches. Another implication is that determinism, though it postulates pervasive causation, does not furnish predictability, since both the human and the non-human worlds constantly evince variation and novelty. These things, though caused, are unpredictable. The universe is ordered, but that order is creative.

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