Dictionary Definition

humanitarianism n : the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare [syn: humanism]

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. Humanitarian philosophy or practice.


Extensive Definition

There are a number of meanings for humanitarianism: humanitarianism, humanism, the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare.
Humanitarianism is a humanistic approach to the suffering of humanity. It has been used to describe a wide number of activities relating to human welfare.

An informal ideology

Humanitarianism is an informal ideology of practice, whereby people practice humane treatment and provide assistance to others; it is ''the doctrine that people's duty is to promote human welfare.
Humanitarianism is based on a view that all human beings deserve respect and dignity and should be treated as such. Therefore, humanitarians work towards advancing the well-being of humanity as a whole. It is the antithesis of the "us vs. them" mentality that characterizes tribalism and ethnic nationalism. Humanitarians abhor slavery, violation of basic and human rights, and discrimination on the basis of features such as colour of skin, religion, ancestry, place of birth, etc. Humanitarianism drives people to save lives, alleviate suffering and promote human dignity in the middle of man-made or natural disasters. Humanitarianism is embraced by movements and people across the political spectrum. The informal ideology can be summed up by a quote from Albert Schweitzer: "Humanitarianism consists in never sacrificing a human being to a purpose."

A universal doctrine

Jean Pictet, in his commentary on The Fundamental Principles of the Red Cross points out the universal characteristics of humanitarianism:
The wellspring of the principle of humanity is in the essence of social morality which can be summed up in a single sentence, Whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them. This fundamental precept can be found, in almost identical form, in all the great religions, Brahminism, Buddhism, Christianity, Confucianism, Islam, Judaism, Sikhism and Taoism. It is also the golden rule of the positivists, who do not commit themselves to any religion but only to the data of experience, in the name of reason alone..

Historical examples

Historically, humanitarianism was publicly seen in the social reforms of the late 1800s and early 1900s, following the economic turmoil of the Industrial Revolution in England. Many of the women in Great Britain who were involved with feminism during the 1900s also pushed humanitarianism. The atrocious hours and working conditions of children and unskilled laborers were made illegal by pressure on Parliament by humanitarians. The Factory Act of 1833 and the Factory Act of 1844 were some of the most significant humanitarian bills passed in Parliament following the Industrial Revolution.
In the middle of the 19th century, humanitarianism was central to the work of Florence Nightengale and Henry Dunant in emergency response and in the latter case led to the founding of the Red Cross.

Emergency response

Today, humanitarianism is particularly used to describe the thinking and doctrines behind emergency response to humanitarian crises. In such cases it argues for a humanitarian response based on humanitarian principles, particularly the principle of humanity. Nicholas de Torrente, Executive Director of MSF-USA writes:
"The most important principles of humanitarian action are humanity, which posits the conviction that all people have equal dignity by virtue of their membership in humanity, impartiality, which directs that assistance is provided based solely on need, without discrimination among recipients, neutrality, which stipulates that humanitarian organizations must refrain from taking part in hostilities or taking actions that advantage one side of the conflict over another, and independence, which is necessary to ensure that humanitarian action only serves the interests of war victims, and not political, religious, or other agendas.
"These fundamental principles serve two essential purposes. They embody humanitarian action’s single-minded purpose of alleviating suffering, unconditionally and without any ulterior motive. They also serve as operational tools that help in obtaining both the consent of belligerents and the trust of communities for the presence and activities of humanitarian organizations, particularly in highly volatile contexts.



humanitarianism in Spanish: Humanitarismo
humanitarianism in Polish: Humanitaryzm
humanitarianism in Chinese: 人道主义

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

BOMFOG, Benthamism, Christian charity, Christian love, agape, altruism, beneficence, benevolence, benevolent disposition, benevolentness, bigheartedness, brotherly love, caritas, charitableness, charity, do-goodism, flower power, generosity, giving, goodwill, grace, greatheartedness, largeheartedness, love, love of mankind, philanthropism, philanthropy, utilitarianism, welfarism, well-disposedness
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