The principle of humanity, states that when interpreting another speaker we must assume that his or her beliefs and desires are connected to each other and to reality in some way, and attribute to him or her “the propositional attitudes one supposes one would have oneself in those circumstances” (Daniel Dennett, “Mid-Term Examination,” in The Intentional Stance, p. 343).

[From Wikipedia on the Principle of Humanity.]

It may be hard to imagine now, but if you ever find yourself with a distressing abundance of free time, reading about cognitive science and philosophy on Wikipedia will eat it right up. If there is any philosophical thought, more true than the Principle of Humanity1, then I haven’t discovered it yet. I’ll keep this short. Remember the Great Gatsby? “Whenever you feel like criticizing any one, just remember that all the people in this world haven’t had the advantages that you’ve had.” This is something to live by. It’s not about equality, it’s not about fairness. There’s no reason why everyone should live equally. But if we all take just a few simple considerations, there can be less conflict2.

If someone is being an asshole, assume they’ve been having a bad day. Acknowledge that they could be right. If something sounds wrong, assume it is right. Pretend their logic is infallible and continue without objection. Often times, complete adherence to rationality and unwavering realism is much too coarse. Assuming the best in others is not so much fantastic optimism as benefit of the doubt. It is nearly opposite to cynicism, more developed than optimism, and wiser than realism. Sometimes when the work starts building up, I put my head down and consider. I consider, the cosmos. Global consciousness, human achievement, and the wonderful complexity of systems on Earth. I put on a grin, and sit back up to continue. Then, maybe, I listen to some OneRepublic.


  1. There is a closely related Principle of Charity, which deals with a similar philosophical opinion. But I like the word Humanity better than Charity. The latter sounds unrelated to philosophy. ↩︎
  2. I feel like a hippie. ↩︎
  3. But we’ll have the heart not to lose it. ↩︎

1 CommentAdd one

Fri, 06 Mar 2015 14:57:51 GMT

Wonderful.. Absolutely what I try to live by. And people think I'm obnoxiously positive lol

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Mon, 15 Jul 2024 08:47:05 GMT