Can Humanism Save Mankind and the Planet?

Philip Kotler
5 min readApr 15, 2024

Philip Kotler

Humans have a deep need to understand their individual lives and to understand the society in which they live. Why is there so much poverty? Why are there so many wars? Why can’t people work together and pursue the Common Good?

Many doctrines and “ism’s” have been proposed as answers to these problems: Capitalism, Socialism, Communism, Fascism, Libertarianism. Most of these ism’s have failed or made the problems worse.

I would assert that one “ism” would work better and should precede or be part of every other ism.

That “ism” is Humanism.

Humanism can be traced back to ancient Greek philosophers, ancient Indian thought, and Confucius. It represented an attempt to explain the world by focusing on human reason and natural law and abandoning reliance on myth or religion. Humanism’s best articulation occurred during the Renaissance (14th-17th century) when Italian scholars started to study the earlier Greek writings of Plato and Aristotle and schools started to teach the humanities of literature, poetry, and human history. Mankind transitioned from the Middle Ages to a period marked by advances in art (Michaelangeo, Leonardo da Vinci), science (Galileo, Copernicus), technology (metal movable type for printing, banking and accounting) and philosophy (rediscovery of classical Greek philosophy).

Humanism further bloomed in the age of Enlightenment (1715–1789) with the spiraling growth of science and industrialism. New ideas flourished such as the pursuit of happiness, sovereignty of reason, the evidence of the senses as the primary sources of knowledge and ideals such as liberty, progress, toleration, fraternity, constitutional government, and separation of church and state. During this period, Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill developed the moral philosophy of utilitarianism that centered its attention to human happiness and eliminating human and animal pain. Ethical societies were formed, paving the way for the contemporary humanist movement. The British Humanist Association (BHA) was formed. Humanist organizations flourished in Netherlands, Norway, and other European countries. The American Humanist Association (AHA) was established in 1941. Humanism attracted prominent public figures such as Isaac Asimov, John Dewey, Erich Fromm, Paul Kurtz, and Carl Sagan. Humanist organizations from all continents formed the Humanists International to promote the humanist agenda, via United Nation, UNESCO and UNICEF.

Humanism never received the visibility and force of other ism’s such as Capitalism, Communism, or Fascism. Perhaps it suffered from appearing to be too “utopian,” resting on principles of human compassion, collaboration and peace

Here I would like to answer three questions in the hope of spreading a broader interest in humanism and its potential to advance the Common Good. The questions are:

What is humanism?

How can humanism contribute to business and marketing?

How does humanism contribute to sustaining our Planet and humanity?

What is humanism?

Humanism is a doctrine, attitude, or way of life centered on human interests or values.

Humanism rejects supernaturalism. It prefers causal explanations to be born by reason and science, not myth and superstition. Humanists are mostly secular in their views. Humanists believe that people can achieve happiness and live well and morally without religion. Yet they may respect the great religions of the world for their positive aspects. Many humanists can live a religious life for the good and comfort and friendships that a religious community might add to their lives.

Humanists believe in the concept of human rights (free expression, right of assembly, self-determination and other rights).

Humanists also strongly believe in the concept of human responsibilities (do not kill or maim another human being, do not lie, cheat, or spread hate.) Follow the Golden Rule, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

Humanists have a strong interest and concern for human well-being and happiness, human values and human dignity. Humanists want to advance the Common Good.

How Can Humanism Contribute to Business and Marketing?

Mankind has established systems of markets and trades to produce and distribute goods and services to satisfy human needs and wants.

What would humanists think of the behavior of buyers and sellers? A humanist would want buyers to have good knowledge of goods and services (their features, performance, prices and availability). Buyers would need to know how selling and advertising work so that they avoid being manipulated. As for sellers, a humanist would want sellers to make good products and services, communicate them accurately and price them fairly. The sellers should not spread disinformation about their products or competitors’ products and services.

Humanists criticize the following marketing practices:

· Mass advertising that hits us with more ads than we care to see or hear.

· Misinformation or lies about a product’s performance.

· Base appeals to our emotions (fear, passion, guilt, etc.) to sell more (“you will be more sexually attractive”)

· Promoting unhealthy goods (cigarettes, guns, drugs) or excessive consumption.

· Encouraging waste. Pushing consumers to buy single use products.

· Introducing new styles and appliances aiming at planned obsolescence.

As I humanist, I collaborated with others to write a book to give a new view of marketing called H2H Marketing (Human to Human Marketing). Marketing is about people dealing with other people humanely. The good marketer aims to create and deliver value for buyers. He or she describes carefully, honestly and respectfully the value to prospective buyers. In return, the good consumer is honest and accurate in what he or she needs, wants and expects.

How Can Humanism Contribute to Sustainability

Humans are another specie living on the earth. As a specie, humans want to survive. Humans must develop a healthy ecological relation to the rest of nature made up of animals, plants, soil, water and air. Humans must oppose actions that would pollute air, water or soil.

Humans are now faced with a new problem, that of the earth’s temperature getting warmer. The need to meet a growing population’s needs for food, clothing and shelter requires increasing amounts of energy. Modern industry depends on burning coal, oil and gas. These fossil fuels emit carbon that is heating the planet. Can humans switch fast enough to natural sources like solar, wind, and hydroenergy to avoid temperatures rising to a level where humans cannot breathe. Huge number of people living near the equator will have to flee to cooler climates where they are not welcome. Wars and chaos will be the future of mankind.

Humanists are among the most ardent advocates of sustainability. Humanists support such policies as:

· Reduce the use of plastics in packaging.

· Stop single use packaging (such as throwaway bottles)

· Require products to be made more lasting.

· Oppose superficial restyling of products.

· Reduce city driving and air travel.

· Replace fuel driven cars with electric cars.

These policies energize a new movement calling for slower economic growth or DeGrowth.

Being a humanist doesn’t mean wanting to maximize the number of human beings in the world. Humanists wish for economic and social arrangements that maximize the number of people who are able to live good lives. Humanists favor a world where everyone can have enough food, clothing and shelter to live healthy, joyful and long lives.



Philip Kotler

Philip Kotler is the S.C. Johnson and Son Distinguished Professor of International Marketing, Kellogg School of Management, Northwestern University (emeritus)