What Are The Salient Features Of Liberal Humanism?

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Simply said, liberal humanism is a worldview that centres on the individual’s place in the greater social and natural order. It is a literary and philosophical trend that focuses on what man is capable of doing. The ideals of liberal humanism—including the rights to life, liberty, brotherhood, and the pursuit of happiness—can be traced back to the enlightenment age. Modern literary criticism often employs liberal humanism as an approach to works of literature. It rests on the rights bestowed upon man by nature and by society.

The liberal humanist tradition may be traced back to the first days of English studies in the 1800s, although its modern form did not emerge until the 1930s and 1940s. This concept was first advanced by F.D. Mauris in 1840, who argued that literature may serve as a window into the value of language. Literature, he argues, is the vehicle through which liberal humanist ideals might be realised in the world. In his 1929 treatise “Practical Criticism,” I.A. Richards discusses close reading without considering the text’s historical context. The contributions of philosophers like F.R. Leavis and philosopher-historian Q.D. Roch have also been crucial to the development of liberal humanism.

It is generally agreed that liberal humanism played a significant role in popularising individualism and the idea that all humans share fundamental characteristics. Through its emphasis on scientific rationality and the pursuit of truth as universal knowledge, liberal humanism educated the globe.

Ten tenets of liberal humanism

The ‘ten tenents’ of liberal humanism summarise key components of this philosophical position. Basically, these tenets are unseen standards that critics of literature keep in mind as they analyse a work of literature. Following is a list of them:

1) The first principle discusses how liberal humanists view literature. Liberal humanism holds that great works of literature have an enduring relevance because they are able to look past the specifics of their time and place to address universal truths about the human condition. Good literature transcends time and place. The relevance of a good work of literature from the seventh century is as great as it was then.

2) The second tenet follows from the first as an inevitable result. The literary work itself conveys its own significance. To get the most out of it, you should not read it with any preconceived notions about the historical, literary, or social context in which it was written. Critics should not try to extrapolate meaning from the text or waste time trying to give it a proper setting. Liberal humanists are firm believers that written text should take precedence. On-site close reading is the term for this method.

3)  In order to approach a text, it is necessary to remove it from these settings and read it on its own. A close linguistic analysis devoid of any ideological presumptions or political conditions will do the job. In-depth verbal analysis aims to reveal the object’s true nature. Unfortunately, ideological assumptions, political climates, and audience expectations may all get in the way of what really matters when it comes to criticism.

4) People do not change all that much. Over and over throughout human history, we witness the same driving forces: passions, emotions, and desires. So, consistency is more prized than novelty in literary works.

5. Our sense of self-identity, or what we would call our “essence,” is something we hold firmly within ourselves. This is independent of one’s upbringing and, while personality can evolve, it cannot be changed. It is based on the idea that the person (the transcendent subject) exists outside of and prior to the influences of culture, history, and language.

Liberal humanism

Liberal Humanism !

6) It is for this reason that literature exists: to improve one’s experience of life in an ad hoc manner. Sharing moral principles and making people’s lives better is literature’s true calling. However, this should not be done in a propaganda style. Overtly political writing or criticism crosses the line into propaganda.

7) Literature’s form and content must be integrated naturally. The two should naturally develop from one another. The shape of anything should not just be an afterthought added to the outside of the building.

8) The language chosen contains elements of sincerity. The idea is to say what you mean without using cliches or flowery language. The ability to represent an event in a credible way enables the language actually perform what it depicts, and this sincerity should appear implicitly in literary works. Truth and fiction have nothing to do with sincerity.

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9) It is more effective to demonstrate than to explain; actions speak louder than words. The sincerity of literary language allows ideas to emerge implicitly rather than directly, without resorting to preachiness. Literature places greater significance on the silent displaying and showing of something than the explication of the same. Without the tangible embodiment of ‘enactment,’ ideas are meaningless and have no significance in writing. The quality of an idea depends on the circumstances under which it was conceived. Pride and Prejudice is a great example of a book in which social position is not explained but rather expertly demonstrated.

10) The function of criticism is discussed in the following tenet. Literary criticism must act as an interpreter and intermediary between the author and the reader. A critic does not have to discuss the fundamentals of reading and literature because doing so would burden him with “preconceived ideas.” His role is limited to offering an interpretation of the text from a theoretical perspective that does justice to the text. Liberal humanists’ scepticism of dogmatic dogma is on full display in this tenet. English empiricism, the view that one should only believe in what can be seen or experienced directly, with solid supporting evidence.

Analysis of William Black’s ‘On A Poison Tree’ from liberal humanist perspective

The principles of liberal humanism can be applied to the study of any piece of literature. Since liberal humanists do not believe in putting literary works in historical context, they instead focus on the texts themselves. The text itself is the source of meaning for liberal humanism. Th following section is an effort to analyse the aforementioned poem through the lens of liberal humanism.

Reading the poem via a liberal humanism lens reveals a wealth of allegory, metaphor, paradox, and personification.

There are two primary icons: an apple and a tree. The poet’s hatred for his adversary blossoms like an apple on a tree, and then ripens to murder as the apple falls from the tree. The poet’s soul is represented by a garden.

Poets often resort to hyperbole when they feel the need to dramatise their points. The word ‘wrath’ is used by the poet to emphasise the intensity of his indignation.

In addition, the poet personifies inanimate objects, imbuing them with lifelike qualities. I told it not; my rage did swell, for instance. When the night had hidden the pole, the poet uses the term “When the night had veiled the pole” again to endow the night with a humanitarian quality.

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The poet uses a wide variety of metaphors. For instance, the speaker uses unfounded worries to fuel his anger. The act of “watered” one’s anger is a metaphor for sustaining that feeling.

The difficulty of forgiving one’s foes is a universal truth that the poem addresses as well.

Another didactic theme of the poem is that we should not harbour resentment or bitterness toward anyone, friend or foe.

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