Philosopher and Patron of Humanists UK
“It seems to me that Humanism has as much to do with the defence of Enlightenment values as it does with the critique of religion.”
Alan Haworth was born in 1944 and brought up in North London, attending Preston Park Primary and Haberdashers’ Aske’s schools. He went on to study Philosophy and English Literature at Keele University, where he also took courses in French and Physics; he was attracted to Keele by the breadth of its curriculum, which was unusual for those times. He went on to specialise in Philosophy and was awarded postgraduate degrees by London University (M.Phil and Ph.D. by Birkbeck College and University College respectively). He spent the greater part of his working life at London Metropolitan University – formerly the Polytechnic of North London – where he developed and taught courses in Ethics, Political Philosophy, and the History of Ideas.
Alan Haworth first became involved with Humanists UK, when he was invited to join the Humanist Philosophers Group a few years ago. That was when he had to ask himself precisely what he understood “Humanism” to be, and he says:
“It seemed to me that Humanism has as much to do with the defence of Enlightenment values as it does with the critique of religion. (At any rate, it is the former feature in which I take the most interest.) In the pursuit of knowledge – in science, for example, or history – ‘Enlightenment values’ include the requirement to take a tentative approach, and to be prepared to test all claims of fact against publicly recognised standards of reason and evidence. In morality they require toleration and a recognition of every individual’s right to live his or her own life in his or her own way, not in accordance with some plan or project which has been imposed from outside by others.
As a philosopher, I make it my business to take ideas seriously. I try to analyse and evaluate arguments and, if possible, to formulate arguments which are better than the ones we already have. Some philosophers do other things as well, but these are things that all philosophers do. When applied to Humanism, this adds up to keeping the argument for Enlightenment values under constant critical review, stating and re-stating fundamental principles in terms which are as clear as one can possibly make them, and defending one’s position against rival arguments.
Since 1945, we in ‘the West’ have lived through a period of relative stability and calm. As a result, it has become all too easy to be complacent and to overlook the necessity for maintaining a critical stance. But you only have to go back to the Europe of the 1930s to find yourself in a world in which values such as toleration and respect for the liberty of others did not seem so unexceptionable. In those times, predominating ideologies, strongly laced with irrationalism – a mysticism of nation, soil, and blood – promoted an inegalitarian narrative involving a struggle for survival between ‘inferior’ and ‘superior’ nations and races. Nothing is guaranteed and , should those sinister scarecrows re-emerge from their subterranean caverns and return to haunt us – the odds are that they will – we will need to know precisely what we are defending and why.”
Alan Haworth was one of the 43 scientists and philosophers who in March 2002 signed a letter to Tony Blair and relevant Government departments, deploring the teaching of Creationism in schools.
He has written a number of books, two of which may be of particular interest to the general reader:
Understanding the Political Philosophers: From Ancient to Modern Times (Routledge 2012) This is now in its second edition. One critic stated, ‘It is my view that this book will be of interest to a very wide audience (Essays in Philosophy). Another found himself ‘reading it for pure intellectual pleasure’ (Times Higher Educational Supplement)
Free Speech: All That Matters (Hodder and Stoughton, forthcoming 2015), a brief introduction for the intelligent general reader.
For more information about Alan Haworth and his publications, look out for his new website.