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humanist, n. and adj.

Pronunciation:  Brit. /ˈhjuːmənɪst/ , U.S. /ˈhjumənəst/
Etymology:  < Middle French, French humaniste classical scholar (1539) < classical Latin hūmānus  human adj.   + Middle French -iste  -ist suffix. Compare post-classical Latin humanista   (a1606), Catalan humanista   (1490), Spanish humanista   (mid 16th cent.), Portuguese humanista   (1540), Italian umanista   (a1484 as humanista  ), all in sense ‘classical scholar’. In sense A. 1b   probably after German Humanist (1758 or earlier in this sense). Compare humanity n. 2, and later humanism n.   With use as adjective compare earlier humanistical adj., humanistic adj.
 A. n.

 a. A person who pursues or is expert in the study of the humanities, esp. a classical scholar. Also (Sc.): spec. a Latinist, a professor or teacher of Latin (now rare).

1589   A. Fleming in tr. Virgil Bucolikes Ep. sig A2v,   Considering the expositors drift to consist in deliuering a direct order of construction for the releefe of weake Grammatists, not in attempting by curious deuise and disposition, to content courtly Humanists.
1596   J. Harington New Disc. Aiax sig. E5v,   I might repute him as a good humanist, but I shoulde euer doubt him for a good deuine.
1605   Bacon Of Aduancem. Learning ii. sig. Kk4,   Antiquaries, Poets, Humanists, States-men, Marchants, Diuines.
1610   J. Healey tr. J. L. Vives in tr. St. Augustine Citie of God xv. viii. 542   The humanists cannot agree [L. inter prophanos scriptores..non convenit] about the first city-founder.
1670   S. Wilson Lassels's Voy. Italy (new ed.) ii. 361   Of this towne was Cœlius Rodiginus..and Bonifacius Bonifacij an other learned humanist.
1691   A. Wood Athenæ Oxon. II. 283   Jeremy Taylor..was a rare Humanist.
c1725   W. Orem Hist. Aberdeen in Bibl. Top. Brit. (1782) V. iii. 136   Patrick Gordon..was made civilist at the King's restoration; and..exchanged the said office with this office of humanist [= Professor of Humanity].
1755   Johnson Dict. Eng. Lang.   Humanist, a philologer; a grammarian: a term used in the schools of Scotland.
a1792   W. Beawes Hist. Spain & Portugal (1793) I. xvii. 378   Zerda found him so high, among the other Nations, in his Commentary on Virgil, that Pope Urban VIII, a great Humanist,..sent to ask for his Picture.
1817   J. Brown Gospel Truth Stated (1831) 70   What he was for a humanist..his translation of his own work..into good Roman Latin will abundantly testify.
1876   J. Grant Hist. Burgh Schools Scotl. ii. xiii. 366   In 1620 he [sc. the Master of the grammar School]..was nominated grammarian or humanist in King's college.
1959   Listener 5 Mar. 428/2   While the scientists press on regardless, the humanists go on worrying.
1960   Guardian 13 June 5/2   The innumerate humanist and the unliterate scientist were equally inadequate.
2002   N.Y. Rev. Bks. 26 Sept. 6/2   The institute formed a home for a wide variety of German-speaking humanists trying to continue or restart their interrupted careers in an Anglo-American environment.

1589—2002(Hide quotations)


 b. Freq. with capital initial. Any of the scholars or educators of the early modern period whose work depended on attentiveness to classical Latin (and, later in the period, Greek), as expressed in, e.g., the rediscovery, editing, or discussion of ancient texts, the imitation of their style in original compositions, and the dissemination of some or all of the wide range of cultural ideals which they were supposed to transmit. Cf. humanism n. 3b.Applications of the noun in this sense to classical scholars earlier than the generation of Petrarch (1304–74) or later than the early 17th cent. are rare, and tend to shade into sense A. 1a.

1797   tr. E. Gibbon Jrnl. in Misc. Wks. VI. 247   The humanists [1764 Fr. humanistes] of the fifteenth century revived the knowledge of the ancients.
1849   Times 23 Mar. 8/1   Every eminent Humanist in the North of Europe was, according to the measure of his uprightness and courage, a Reformer.
1870   J. R. Seeley Lect. & Ess. 135   Milton lived in antiquity as much as any fifteenth-century humanist.
1895   Dublin Rev. Oct. 318   A society of heathen-minded Humanists under the presidency of..Pomponius Laetus.
1926   Amer. Mercury July 348/1   The great humanists, such as More, Erasmus, Scaliger, and Rabelais, created a new home for the spirit.
1963   N. W. Gilbert Renaissance Concepts of Method i. iii. 68   The Humanists, in their struggle against the ‘useless disputations’ of the Schoolmen, offered their own educational programs.
2000   Renaissance No. 17. 65/1   He promoted laymen and Humanists to the cardinalate, gathering around him the key reforming intellectuals of the day.

1797—2000(Hide quotations)


 2. A student of human affairs, or of human nature; (in early use) spec. †a writer on secular rather than divine matters (obs.). Now rare.

1603   J. Florio tr. Montaigne Ess. i. lvi. 175   Divines write too humanely, then this other, that humanists write not Theologically enough.
1617   F. Moryson Itinerary iii. 11   The Humanist, I meane him that affects the knowledge of State affaires, Histories [etc.].
1653   S. Fisher Παιδοβαπτιζοντες Παιδιζοντες: Baby-baptism 587   How great is the multitude of meer Humanists, that feed onely upon the common Theory of that Theology they have framed to themselves, and relish nothing but what is of man?
1711   Ld. Shaftesbury Characteristicks I. iii. 272   But to a just Naturalist or Humanist, who knows the Creature Man,..it appears evidently that we British Men were as barbarous and unciviliz'd in respect of the Romans under a Cæsar.
a1734   R. North Examen (1740) iii. vi. §36 449   What a Discovery is it..that Vice raged at Court? Is it not the Hackney Observation of all Humanists?
1863   C. Cowden Clarke Shakespeare-characters ix. 215   The ample wisdom and bland morality of such a humanist as Shakespeare.
1892   Internat. Jrnl. Ethics 2 263   This book consists of an interesting series of lectures on Carlyle, Mill, Emerson, Matthew Arnold, Ruskin, and Herbert Spencer, regarded as humanists or critics of life.
1987   Contemp. Sociol. 16 77/1   McLuhan was a humanist turned from inscape to outscape. Where Hemingway reduced good wine and the green hills of Africa to a reflection of his own mean feelings, McLuhan connected subjective experience with its contextual, technological landscape.

1603—1987(Hide quotations)


3. Theol. A person believing that Christ's nature was human only and not divine; = humanitarian n. 1a. Cf. humanism n. 2. Obs.

1792   J. E. Hamilton Strictures upon Primitive Christianity II. 44   If the testimony of those Fathers, who support the modern Orthodox in their Trinitaran notions, be deemed by them to be conclusive against the Humanists; should not the testimony of the same Fathers be admitted to be conclusive evidence against.
1795   T. Howes Crit. Observ. on Bks. Antient & Mod. No. X. 18,   [For] those who maintain the mere humanity of Christ,..I shall hereafter..use the more precise appellations of humanists.
1824   Monthly Repos. July 404/1   The word ‘Humanist’ is used..to distinguish the Unitarian who believes only in the real and proper humanity of Jesus Christ.

1792—1824(Hide quotations)


 4. A believer in the principles of humanism (humanism n. 5); spec. (freq. with capital initial) a member or supporter of an organization devoted to the advancement of these principles; cf. sense B. 2b.

1853   Home Missionary May 144/2   This caused the Humanists to call a meeting, and by a majority..it was resolved that I should be no longer permitted to teach.
1860   J. Gardner Faiths World II. 76   Humanists, a class of thinkers which arose in Germany towards the end of the eighteenth century, originating chiefly from the diffusion of the writings of Rousseau..Their system..usually called Humanism..sought to level all family distinctions, all differences of rank, all nationality, all positive moral obligation, all positive religion, and to train mankind to be men, as..the highest accomplishment.
1888   B. R. Tucker tr. P. J. Proudhon Syst. Econ. Contradict. I. viii. 464, in Wks. IV   God, according to the humanists, is nothing but humanity itself, the collective me to which the individual me is subjected as to an invisible master.
1908   I. Babbitt Lit. & Amer. College i. 8   The humanist, then, as opposed to the humanitarian, is interested in the perfecting of the individual rather than in schemes for the elevation of mankind as a whole.
1929   N.Y. Times 28 Sept. 22/1   There are Humanists in Japan and India, as well as the United States. New groups are rising in this country every month.
1944   G. Murray Myths & Ethics 3   By a Humanist I mean essentially one who accepts it as the special duty of Man, whether he has a ‘Friend behind phenomena’ or not, to raise life to some higher level and redeem the world from its misery.
1957   A. Ellis Let. 28 Apr. in I. L. Reiss & A. Ellis At Dawn of Sexual Revol. (2002) 65   My impression, like yours, is that many Reformed Jewish congregations are no more deistic than the Unitarians, Humanists, or Ethical Culturists; and I note that many of the liberal Protestant clergy are rapidly giving up god in favor of ethics.
1961   L. Elvin in J. S. Huxley Humanist Frame 272   The Humanist is content to leave it to the free play of thought, so long as thought is kept free.
1968   A. J. Ayer Humanist Outlook 4   Present-day humanists are in fact the intellectual heirs of those nineteenth-century free-thinkers.
1986   Jrnl. Southern Hist. 52 108   Martin considers Douglass as abolitionist, race patriarch, and egalitarian humanist.
2005   New Internationalist Mar. 2/1   As a Humanist and a non-theist Quaker, I reject dogmatism, whether religious or secular.

1853—2005(Hide quotations)


 5. Philos. A proponent or follower of humanism (humanism n. 6). rare (now hist.).

1903   F. C. S. Schiller Humanism p. xxi,   A humanist philosopher is sure to be keenly interested in the rich variety of human thought and sentiment, and unwilling to ignore the actual facts for the sake of bolstering up the narrow abstractions of some a priori theory of what ‘all men must’ think and feel... The humanist, accordingly, will tend to grow humane, and tolerant of the divergences of attitude which must inevitably spring from the divergent idiosyncrasies of men.
1904   W. James in Mind 13 462   Bergson in France, and his disciples the physicists Wilbois and Leroy, are thorough-going humanists in the sense defined.
1997   P. Rae Pract. Muse i. 64   F. C. S. Schiller, the English humanist with whom James expressed a deep affinity.

1903—1997(Hide quotations)

 B. adj.

1. Theol. = humanitarian adj. 1. Obs. rare.

1790   J. E. Hamilton Strictures upon Primitive Christianity I. 65   Paul of Samosate was the first proposer of the humanist notion.

1790—1790(Hide quotations)


 a. Of, relating to, or characteristic of humanism (humanism n. 5); humanistic.

1854   T. Pearson Infidelity ii. iii. 390   Politically and socially they vary..from St. Simonianism with its somewhat hierarchical arrangement of classes, to the humanist theory, the latest form of socialism, with its intolerance of any vestige of inequality.
1891   Polit. Sci. Q. 6 635   The ‘philosopihe positive’ would be but a sorry fragment if left without a body of humanist doctrine to supplement biology.
1934   Theology 28 267   The humanist ethic..leads us to the blind alley of anthropocentrality.
1966   C. H. D. Clark Scientist & Supernatural v. 175   The humanist trust in reason alone is actually unreasonable, since logic would suggest that affluence and scientific advancement ought to be accompanied by increasing mental satisfaction.
1983   E. W. Said in R. Poirier Raritan Reading (1990) 307   Whether these alternatives for critical discourse are called ‘terrorist’ or ‘a new type of sublimity or an emerging transcendentalism’, there remains the need for the humanist critic.
2002   O. Figes Natasha's Dance (2003) vii. vii. 514   Zamyatin's science fiction drew from the Russian tradition to develop a humanist critique of the Soviet technological utopia.
2006   M. King & C. Thornhill Luhmann on Law & Politics iv. 94   His critique of humanist rationalism revolves around a quite fundamental opposition to the postulation of the rational human being as a prior source of political order.

1854—2006(Hide quotations)


 b. spec. Freq. with capital initial. Designating an organization promoting, advocating, or adhering to the ethical theory and practice of humanism (humanism n. 5b); of or relating to such an organization or its principles.

1929   Los Angeles Times 12 Jan. ii. 7/3   All Humanists, Ethical Culturists, Rationalists and Liberals generally who have no church affiliations are invited to co-operate in creating The Hollywood Humanist Society.
1929   Albuquerque (New Mexico) Jrnl. 30 Sept. 1/5   With prayer eliminated from the services and with God completely out of the picture, Dr. Charles Francis Potter Sunday led the first meeting of the First Humanist society.
1946   Sci. Monthly Apr. 315   One group, which organized what is now the American Humanist Association, issued in 1933 ‘A Humanist Manifesto’.
1965   Times 30 Aug. 5/1 (heading)    Humanist counsellors to offer pastoral care to unbelievers.
1991   Gay Times Mar. 26/2 (advt.)    The Gay and Lesbian Humanist Association... Join GALHA and help us promote a rational humanist approach to sexuality.
1997   N. Walter Humanism 86   Its admirably brief and clear statement of fundamental Humanist principle: Nothing above the human, and no human above another.

1929—1997(Hide quotations)


 c. Of a wedding, funeral, or other ceremony: conducted in accordance with the principles of humanism. Also: designating a person who conducts such a ceremony.

1929   Syracuse (N.Y.) Herald 3 Nov. i. 1/1 (heading)    Pair compose own vows at humanist wedding.
1947   C. Lamont (title)    Humanist funeral Service.
1987   Guardian (Nexis) 18 Nov.   Hours are spent..trying to personalise the proceedings, for a humanist ceremony depends utterly on this.
1991   Resurgence Jan.–Feb. 4/2   In the UK, humanist celebrants are available to conduct funerals.
2005   Independent on Sunday 19 June 3/3   Humanist weddings were legalised by the Registrar General for Scotland.

1929—2005(Hide quotations)


 a. Of or relating to the Renaissance humanists; (more generally) of or relating to the humanities.

1881   G. W. Kitchin in Encycl. Brit. XII. 412/2   Italy, that holy land of Humanist enthusiasm.
1884   P. Schaff et al. Relig. Encycl. III. 2033   Among the humanist predecessors of the Reformation.
1927   Observer 19 June 13/1   He [sc. Machiavelli] was too great a realist for his intellect to suffer imprisonment by humanist admiration for Rome, or, as we call it today, romanità.
2003   D. R. Woolf Social Circulation of Past x. 390   The neglect of oral sources..was thus not the mark of methodological progress magically conjured up by humanist philology.

1881—2003(Hide quotations)


 b. Palaeogr. Of, relating to, or designating a simplified style of script developed from medieval book hands by Italian scholars during the early 15th cent.; = humanistic adj. 1b.

1954   Times 13 Aug. 9/3   An Italian manuscript in Latin,..written about 1470 in a good humanist script.
1960   Motif 5 69/1   Ghiberti must have been one of the pioneers in the evolution of humanist lettering.
1976   D. Gerard tr. L. Febvre & H. J. Martin Coming of Bk. iii. 82   Gradually, the fashion for humanist scripts, and the wide diffusion of Italian editions in which roman was used, made its victory inevitable.
1996   P. T. Daniels & W. Bright World’s Writing Syst. xxiv. 323   Humanist Miniscule is usually written small, with lengthened ascenders and descenders... Humanist Cursive..was devised by Niccolò Niccoli, ca. 1420.
2006   P. F. Grendler Renaissance Educ. iv. 21   Humanist roman script and humanist cursive script did not become standard until chanceries adopted them in the second half of the fifteenth century.

1954—2006(Hide quotations)


This entry has been updated (OED Third Edition, September 2009).