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Humanism in Europe and the Middle East

The Greek "discovery" Of Human Nature, Tenth-century Islamic Humanism, Twelfth-century Renaissance Humanism

The introduction of the term humanism is commonly attributed to the German pedagogical theorist F. J. Niethammer's 1808 book, which promoted reading of the ancient classics among secondary students as a counterweight to scientific and technological training. The word soon enjoyed wide currency in many European languages, in part because the much earlier Italian term umanista was already used to describe a person committed to the production or study of the artifacts of human culture. In turn, humanism contains echoes of the much earlier Latin ideal of humanitas, humanity or humaneness.

The application of the term humanism has been widely disputed. Some scholars, most notably Paul Oskar Kristeller, insist that it should be employed strictly to denote the intellectual and literary movement associated with Renaissance Italy, and especially Florence, during the fifteenth century and spreading thereafter to the rest of Europe. Others apply a less rigorous definition that permits a broader field of use, both culturally and chronologically. Joel L. Kramer has isolated three features that are germane to a capacious conception of humanism: the common kinship and unity of humankind; an emphasis on paideia, or the shaping of human mental and moral capacities through literary and philosophical education; and the recognition of philanthropia, that is, humane love or love of humanity. An even more general account of humanism permits its application to any position that ascribes intrinsic value to the activity of human beings or to their pursuit of happiness in a human way apart from extra-human considerations. All these ideas of humanism offer useful filters and standards on the basis of which to understand its history. The more capacious constructions of humanism may be best, however, because they enable scholars to find bases of comparative analysis between world cultures across time.

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