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Margaret Knight’s Humanist Anthology was a groundbreaking sourcebook of the humanist philosophy, tracing the ideas central to humanism right back to the ancient world. Knight had first made headlines in 1955, when her BBC Home Service broadcasts on the subject of ‘morals without religion’ drew a mixture of horror and admiration. In them, Knight called for the education of the young based on the values of scientific humanism, suggesting that as religion became less of a certainty for many adults, society needed firmer ground on which to place its moral ideals. With the Humanist Anthology, she sought to demonstrate that far from being an invention of the modern world, the humanist worldview was as old as humanity itself, and to remove the illusion ‘that love and human brotherhood are purely Christian conceptions’. Featuring extracts from Lao Tzu in the 6th century BCE, through to Nye Bevan and Barbara Wootton in the 20th century, Knight demonstrated her assertion that when it came to humanism ‘though the terminology has altered, there is… nothing new in these doctrines’.

Anticipating its publication in 1960, Hector Hawton welcomed the opportunity to address the misconceptions surrounding humanism, through the literary and creative content of the book, as well as with proof of humanism’s venerable tradition:

I am tired of being told either directly or by implication that humanism—the goal of which is the development of the whole man—is indifferent to emotion and imagination. The charge that we have no basis for morals also crops up with monotonous regularity.

In a later edition, revised by James Herrick and published in 1995, new additions included Gora and David Attenborough. Writer and broadcaster Edward Blishen contributed a foreword, revelling in the ‘dancing, witty nature of humanism’, as well as the evidence of ‘a long tradition of facing life with all possible courage and honesty of mind’. ‘At fourteen’, he wrote, ‘I would have given anything to have the Humanist Anthology: at 74, I am deeply glad to have it’.

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