What is Ethical Humanism?



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What is Ethical Humanism?

Ethical Humanism, also called Ethical Culture, is an evolving body of ideas that inspires Ethical Societies. Humanism is a progressive philosophy of life that, without supernaturalism, affirms our ability and responsibility to lead ethical lives of personal fulfillment that aspire to the greater good of humanity. For Ethical Humanists, the ultimate religious questions are not about the existence of gods or an afterlife, but rather, “How can we create meaningfulness in this life?” and “How should we treat each other?”

Ethical Humanism is clear about the essential role that ethical principles play in human relationships. Despite how uncertain we might feel about our personal standards—or how best to apply them—for an Ethical Humanist, there are unquestionably acts that are good and evil, right and wrong. In order for human beings to have good lives, love must prevail, truth must be respected, honesty esteemed, justice secured, and freedom protected. Learning how to realize these ideals in personal and political relationships is the purpose of Ethical Societies.

How is Ethical Humanism religious?

For those who view religion as a set of values to which people are committed and in terms of which they find a faith to live by, Ethical Culture is considered a religion. Ethical Societies serve as religious congregations in which members can build a community of friends, find inspiration and purpose, provide moral education for their children, celebrate seasons and life events, and clarify their world views. Professional Ethical Culture Leaders fill the roles of religious clergy, including meeting the pastoral needs of members, performing ceremonies, and serving as spokespeople for the congregation
Does Ethical Humanism have a creed?

No. We are not bound by any community creed or dogma. Rather, Ethical Societies emphasize the importance of developing a clear personal philosophy that makes your life understandable and meaningful. Learning to benefit from a diversity of viewpoints is one of our challenges. Members encourage each other to think freely and to disagree without being disagreeable. We do agree on “Deed before creed,” sometimes expressed as “Diversity in the creed, unanimity in the deed.”

What beliefs do Ethical Societies teach?


  • Freedom of Belief: When we stimulate our thinking with new insights and inspirations, our understanding of the world evolves, and we realize the full capacity of our human spirit.

  • Eliciting the Best: It is by acting in a way that encourages the finest characteristics in others that we bring out the best in ourselves.

  • Respect for Human Worth: We treat all people as having an inherent capacity for fairness, kindness, and living ethically.

  • Ethical Living: When we put into practice ethical principles such as love, justice, honesty, and forgiveness, we experience harmony within ourselves and in our relationships.

  • Reverence for Life: We cultivate the spiritual dimension in life by experiencing our interdependent connections to humanity, nature, and our inner values.

  • Is there a God? Ethical Culture is nontheistic and humanist in emphasis and members are not committed to any theology. We leave belief in a deity up to the individual.

  • Is Ethical Culture a religion to everyone? Some members associate the word "religion” with creeds and sectarianism. For them, Ethical Culture is a fellowship based upon a philosophy of life, emphasizing education, growth, and social service with the purpose of helping people live better lives.

What does ethics mean?

Ethics defines the elements essential to human well-being and proposes guiding principles to generate an ethical culture. Ethics also refers to the specific values, standards, rules, and agreements that people adopt for conducting their lives. Ethics, most broadly, is the study of human behavior and its consequences in the light of what is ideally possible. For example, ethicists might study a society’s mores or morals to determine what effect they would have on humankind if they were used as universal standards. Ethics are not merely social conventions, like table manners. Rather, ethics define the social conditions necessary for human beings to thrive.

What are some principles of an Ethical Society?

The Eight Commitments of Ethical Culture were written in collaboration with Leaders and members of the American Ethical Union, coordinated by Lois Kathleen Kellerman, Leader Emeritus of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture.



  1. Ethics is Central: The most central human issue in our lives is creating a more humane environment.




  1. Ethics Begins with Choice: Creating a more humane environment begins by affirming the need to make significant choices in our lives.

  2. We Choose to Treat Each Other as Ends, not Means:
    To enable us to be whole in a fragmented world, we choose to treat each other as unique individuals having intrinsic worth.

  3. We Seek to Act with Integrity: Treating one another as ends requires that we learn to act with integrity. This includes keeping commitments, and being honest, open, caring and responsive.

  4. We are Committed to Educate Ourselves: Personal progress is possible, both in wisdom and social life. Learning how to build ethical relationships and cultivate a humane community is a life-long endeavor.

  5. Self Reflection and Our Social Nature Require Us to Shape a More Humane World: Growth of the human spirit is rooted in self-reflection, but can only come to full flower in community. This is because people are social, needing both primary relationships and larger supportive groups to become fully human. Our social nature requires that we reach beyond ourselves to decrease suffering and increase creativity in the world.

  6. Democratic Process is Essential to Our Task: The democratic process is essential to a humane social order because respect for the worth of persons requires democratic process, which elicits and allows a greater expression of human capacities.



  1. Life Itself Inspires a Natural “Religious” Response: Although awareness of impending death intensifies the human quest, the mystery of life itself, and the need to belong,are the primary factors motivating human religious response.

How can I learn more?

The web site of the national organization, the American Ethical Union, “aeu.org” contains links to many resources including articles, blogposts and videos as well as the web sites of individual Ethical Societies around the country. Additionally Ethical Societies have platform talks and articles on Ethical Humanism on their individual web sites that are available for download. Featured Platforms can be viewed at:

http://aeu.org/what-we-do/sunday-platform-talks/


© 2015

The American Ethical Union



2 West 64th St., New York, N.Y. 10023

(212) 873-6500 www.aeu.org

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