portait of protagoras by jose de ribera, found on

portait of protagoras by jose de ribera, found on

my profile on gravatar (and linkedin and any number of other places) describes me as a humanist

so what exactly does that mean or does that imply?  the answer is astonishingly available–serendipity! the very first page of this binder full of video lecture outline notes right here beside me has it: “human being is the measure of all things—of things that are, that they are, and of things that are not, that they are not.”  this basic premise of humanism was written by “the first humanist” in the fifth century before the current era. his name was protagoras of abdera.  one of the lecture notes catches me eye: “for protagoras, human beings were the center, the ‘measure,’ of all reality.”

taking the last point first: reality. is it true that all we know about the world is the reality we construct to represent what actually exists and happens “out there” by way of the senses?  the eiffel tower doesn’t exist inside my head, but a representation of it does. “the map is not the territory.” 

protagoras was a relativist. on a question of right or wrong, he wanted to know who was considering the question.  different groups of people might well have differing answers.  an 18th century shopkeeper in london would consider stealing an apple wrong, whereas the homeless 8 year-old orphan who stole it might consider it simply a matter of survival.  on the other hand are the absolutists, who believe there to be an absolute Right and Wrong, perhaps decreed by a deity.  naturally, relativists have been unpopular with absolutists for millennia…

from the very inception of humanism, then, it has been associated with relativism — and unpopular with the dogmatists.  so i’m grateful for anyone who has an open mind, a willingness to challenge the conventional, the patience to put up with… you know what i’m saying…. thank you dear readers!!!


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