" a devastating critique of liberal humanism " (Will Self, New Statesman, 2 Dec 2002)
Gray believes that "Humanism means belief in progress. To believe in progress is to believe that, by using the new powers given us by growing scientific knowledge, humans can free themselves from the limits that frame the lives of other animals. This is the hope of nearly everybody nowadays, but it is groundless. For though human knowledge will very likely continue to grow and with it human power, the human animal will stay the same: a highly inventive species that is also one of the most predatory and destructive." The rest of the book debunks the whole idea of progress. Progress is not impossible in principle: "A high-tech Green utopia, in which a few humans live happily in balance with the rest of life, is scientifically feasible; but it is humanly unimaginable."
To me, Humanism is not dependent on this belief in progress - " assume that he [Gray] is right: humanity's days are numbered. Somewhere out in eternity lie apocalypse and oblivion. Does this mean we should cease striving for greater social equality, more environmentally careful technologies, effective birth control and peace in the Middle East? Hardly. Gray's fire and brimstone may or may not make us shudder, but after it, we must return to our daily tasks, our minds and souls more alert to the chances which lie before us." (Ian Hargreaves, New Humanist, 1 Sept 2002)
Gordon Peckham, Exeter