As a species, human beings are highly complex, if for no other reason than the fact that the human mind gives the ability to think deeply, far beyond the needs of sustaining life and into the deeper issues that exist. From this consideration of deeper issues emerges a general outlook on the world itself; for example, why the world exists, what the meaning of life is, and what purpose human beings serve, among others. These varied outlooks will be the focus of this research- more precisely, how humanists and sociologists look at the world, and whether or not these outlooks are similar to each other.
Upon completion of this research, the question of whether humanists and sociologists have the same outlook on the world will have been answered, and as well, a better understanding of what has been universally referred to as “the human condition” will have been gained. Two Outlooks in Comparison Before humanist and sociological outlooks can be compared, they must first be individually understood and properly explained, beginning with that of the humanist.
When coming to an understanding of what humanism is, there is a broad definition of humanism, and from there, specific categories which contradict one another in certain situations. Broadly stated, humanism is a consideration and pursuit of the things that human beings need in order to exist in the world, akin to what some call a hierarchy of needs- food and shelter on the most basic levels of need, and security, enlightenment and the like on higher levels of need (Kurtz). From here, humanism gets somewhat complicated.
Traditionally, because humanism is focused on the here and now, there is little room for religious matters. However, there is such a thing as religious humanism as well as other specializations which stray from pure humanism itself. For ease of reference, therefore, one can fairly categorize humanists as secular or sacred. In its most basic sense, sociology is essentially the study of human social behavior; it is from this basic definition, that the complexity of sociology begins to take shape.
This is because of the fact that the sociologist, in order to understand the human being, must try to gather an understanding of the origins of the human psyche and the human form (Blasi). Regarding the former, in an effort to learn about human personality and behavior, sociology frequently revisits the debate of nurture versus nature, or whether the personality and mindset is constructed from the experiences of the person as they emerge from childhood into adulthood, or if it is merely the result of the unique chemistry of every human body.
Within sociology, there is also the larger issue of the human being in the world itself. Just as the person himself may be a product of experiences or mere happenstance, so too can the people in relation to the world. In other words, some sociologists look at the world as something that can be changed by people and their actions, in a sense, changing the world. Conversely, some sociologists look at the world as something which has already been set into motion and the human beings are essentially passengers on a planet that is already on a sort of karmic autopilot.
This, too, touches on the issue of religion or lack thereof. Sociologically, one way of looking at the world is that the human being is the main force in the universe and that no God or gods exist that influence or oversee everyday life, much like the viewpoint of pure humanism. When sociology looks into the interaction of people within religion, however, the mindset changes from secular to sacred, and the view of the world changes to a study of how people interact and live on a planet that is controlled by some sort of cosmic overseer.
Additionally, once the idea of religion comes into the scene, the existence of the soul works its way into the view of the world. When people, from either the humanist or sociological standpoint, begin to ponder the existence of a soul, the way that the world is viewed becomes vastly different because of the very real possibility that if there are eternal rewards for good deeds or punishments for bad behavior, the conduct of the person undoubtedly changes in many cases.
It is fair to assume, given the widespread existence of religions that advocate consideration for others, compassion and peace, that those who believe that a God or gods exist, and that they have an eternal soul that lives on for better or worse after the mortal life is over will see the world as fertile ground for good deeds and helping others, as well as living by rules and standards. Likewise, if the view of the world only goes as far as one’s own needs, and that what can be seen and heard is all that exists, the world can be looked at with a much more jaundiced eye.
Humanism and sociology, depending on the aspect of each that one chooses to embrace, do appear to have many similarities, especially in the pondering of what has been commonly called the meaning of life. The religious person tends to see the meaning of life as a vast opportunity to do good and to advance the cause of humanity in such ways as feeding the hungry, giving care to the sick and the like.
If anyone sees the meaning of life in a less optimistic way- for example, as a game of survival where one has to outwit others in order to survive as animals do in the jungle, then every day is seen as an enemy to defeat and the entire lifespan as a series of hurdles that need to be overcome if one is to live to see the next day (Baggini). This is quite similar to the old argument about a glass of water being half full or half empty, depending on the outlook of the person seeing it. For all of the forms that sociology and humanism take on, they still are often very similar.
Therefore, it is also logical to conclude that either one can in fact at times see the world in a similar way. These two disciplines, seemingly coming from different directions, do in fact converge at some points, and travel far apart in others. With this in mind, the similarities and differences between the two can be objectively presented and discussed. Similarities/Difference in the Two Outlooks Humanism and sociology, as has been seen, can often be a reflection of each other because of the many forms that each of them can assume.
Therefore, as we have seen thus far in the research, sociology and humanism are compatible in terms of a view of the world not because of the limitations of the two disciplines, but rather because of the diversity that can be seen in both of them. Take, for example, the sociological study of organized groups such as religion. It is within the practice and study of religions that people take on a view of the world that goes far beyond the limitations and circumstances of human existence and ventures into the possibility of spiritual life after physical life, the eternal nature of the human soul, and so forth.
If, in the same realm of thought, one embraces the mindset of religious humanism, it can be said that sociology and humanism are very similar in terms of the outlook on the world. Conversely, putting religion aside, both the sociological and humanistic mindsets can match in an outlook of the world if one views sociology within the gathering of people in the belief that nothing exists beyond the world we can perceive with our senses and that the human being is in fact as close to a supreme being that there is in all of the universe.
So, too can the humanist lean toward secular humanism and move away from any religious outlook on the world. What is seen in humanist and/or sociologist outlook on the world are two different approaches on the very basic levels, with the two coming together seemingly when the examination goes from the human to the spiritual and philosophical. If an individual is not of the religious persuasion, they may also look at the world as a series of scientific theorems to be proved or disproved.
Whatever the case, the study of both endures. Conclusion Ever since humans have possessed the ability to think and reason, they have pondered exactly why they are on this planet and what the meaning of life actually is. With this pondering in mind, sociologists and humanists have looked at the world sometimes in the same way, and with a greater meaning in mind, whether that meaning lies with the limits of the human being, or carrying forward into an eternal soul and accompanying afterlife.
In conclusion, by seeing that humanists and sociologists often have the same outlook on the world, the possibilities become endless for the two groups to interact and gain a better understanding of the world.
Baggini, Julian. What’s It All About? Philosophy and the Meaning of Life. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005. Blasi, Anthony J. , ed. Diverse Histories of American Sociology. Boston: Brill, 2005. Kurtz, Paul. The Courage to Become: The Virtues of Humanism. Westport, CT: Praeger, 1997.