Paul Kurtz describes the secular sources of the meaning of life.

September 7, 2009 | By | Reply More

80-year old Paul Kurtz is still upbeat about civilization.   Kurtz, “the father of secular humanism,” should probably be considered one of the “old atheists.”   For decades before anyone ever heard of Sam Harris and Christopher Hitchens, Kurtz worked tirelessly to promote the virtues of secular humanism, the duties each of us owe to our communities and the need for critical thinking and skeptical inquiry. In addition to being a prolific author and philosophy professor, Kurtz is also founder and chairman of the Committee for Skeptical Inquiry, formerly the Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal (CSICOP), the Council for Secular Humanism (publisher of Free Inquiry Magazine), and the Center for Inquiry.

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Image by Wikimedia Commons

Kurtz coined the term eupraxsophy (originally eupraxophy) to refer to “philosophies or lifestances such as secular humanism and Confucianism that do not rely on belief in the transcendent or supernatural.”  As the foundation for the practice of eupraxsophy, Kurtz stresses that it is not a simplistic pitting of religion against science.  Though scientific reasoning is a cornerstone of his world view, Kurtz also designates three basic virtues: caring, cognition and courage.  One of his biggest concerns is that many religions have lost faith in the ability of human beings to identify and solve the problems facing them, causing them to attempt to look beyond the real world for real-world solutions.

“Secular humanism” is often criticized by people who have never studied it’s guiding principles, which includes the need for a common moral decency and deep caring for the welfare of others.  If only the critics of secular humanism would actually take the time to consider the principles of secular humanism, most of them would find substantial overlap with their own guiding principles.  Consider these principles of humanism:

  • We believe in an open and pluralistic society and that democracy is the best guarantee of protecting human rights from authoritarian elites and repressive majorities.
  • We cultivate the arts of negotiation and compromise as a means of resolving differences and achieving mutual understanding.
  • We are concerned with securing justice and fairness in society and with eliminating discrimination and intolerance.

The overlap among the religous and the non-religous goes far beyond enumerated principles, however.  In the August/September 2009 issue of Free Inquiry, Kurtz eloquently pointed to the locus of the meaning of life from the perspective of those who don’t believe in God (and, arguably, for those who do).  Here is an excerpt from his well-written essay:

[W]e create our own meanings. The meaning of life is not to be found in secret formulas discovered by ancient prophets or gurus who withdraw from living to seek quiet release. Life has no meaning per se; it does, however, present us with innumerable opportunities, which we can either squander and retreat from in fear or seize with exuberance. These can be discovered by anyone and everyone who has an inborn zest for living. They are found within life itself, as it reaches out to create new conditions for experience.

The so-called secret of life is an open scenario that can be deciphered by anyone. It is found in the experiences of living: in the delights of a fine banquet, the strenuous exertion of hard work, the poignant melodies of a symphony, the appreciation of an altruistic deed, the excitement of an embrace of someone you love, the elegance of a mathematical proof, the invigorating adventure of a mountain climb, the satisfaction of quiet relaxation, the lusty singing of an anthem, the vigorous cheering in a sports contest, the reading of a delicate sonnet, the joys of parenthood, the pleasure of friendship, the quiet gratification of serving our fellow human beings—in all these activities and more.

It is in the present moment of experience as it is brought to fruition, as well as in the memories of past experiences and the expectations of future ones, that the richness of life is realized. The meaning of life is that it can be found to be good and beautiful and exciting in its own terms for ourselves, our loved ones, and other sentient beings. It is found in the satisfaction intrinsic to creative activities, wisdom, and righteousness. One doesn’t need more than that, and we hope that one will not settle for less.

The meaning of life is intimately tied up with our plans and projects, the goals we set for ourselves, our dreams, and the successful achievement of them. We create our own conscious meanings; we invest the cultural and natural worlds with our own interpretations. We discover, impose upon, and add to nature.

In the following video,Paul Kurtz discusses eupraxsophy in greater detail, as well as the alleged inability of non-religious persons to base their actions upon a legitimate moral foundation:


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Category: Community, Culture, Good and Evil, Meaning of Life, Media, Religion, Science

About the Author ()

Erich Vieth is an attorney focusing on consumer law litigation and appellate practice. He is also a working musician and a writer, having founded Dangerous Intersection in 2006. Erich lives in the Shaw Neighborhood of St. Louis, Missouri, where he lives half-time with his two extraordinary daughters.

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