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The term humanity or humanity (Latin: humanitas ) has a broader and a narrower meaning.

  1. The term refers in its broader meaning to "everything that belongs to or belongs to humans " (in particular to that which distinguishes humans from animals). In this sense, “human behavior” means “any empirically observable or possible human behavior”. Describing and explaining this behavior is primarily the task of human ethology .
  2. The term “human behavior” (with emphasis on the attribute “human”), on the other hand, has a normative content, i.e. it is based on ideas about how humans should be or supposedly according to their true nature or ideal destiny. Under this condition, the word “humanity” in a narrower meaning denotes human traits that are objectively considered right or good, for example compassion, charity, kindness, mildness, tolerance, benevolence, willingness to help. In contrast, the pursuit of a harmonious balance between sensuality and morality is mentioned as the subjective goal of self-improvement.

The idea that it is the task of every state to guarantee the dignity and rights of every person who resides on its territory is constitutive for constitutional states according to natural law .

Dealing with the terms “humanity” and “inhumanity” in an evaluative sense


In the tradition of humanism, philosophers use various moral criteria to define a certain subset of people's behavior as "human". In the 18th century it was about topics such as the question of “what makes a person” or how a person should be. The goal was peaceful, kind, cultivated intercourse. Johann Gottfried Herder , for example, spoke of the fact that humanity is only partially innate and only needs to be developed after birth: education for it is “a work that has to be continued incessantly, or we sink [...] to raw animality, to brutality back."

A person can - according to theory - reduce or increase the rank of his humanity through his respective actions. The humanistic theory of humanity encompassed “good” ends such as acts of kindness, philanthropy, charity, mercy, and compassion. In addition, the doctrine of “inalienable human rights” was established in the 18th century.


The conceptual counterparts to “human” behavior are in the tradition of humanism, “undesirable behavior” and “ inhumanity ” ( Latin in humanitasdt. Also “ inhumanity ” as a counterpart to “humanity”). Cicero already stated that “he is a ruthless person who is not interested in other people”, “not humane”, but “inhuman”. This dichotomy into “humanity and inhumanity” was not only related to the concrete behavior of people, but also interpreted as an expression of the “nature” of “inhuman doers”, according to which they were “inhuman”.

The question of who decides which behavior should be considered "inhuman" has proven to be of central importance. De facto, this question boils down to the question of who in a state has the power to define judgmental terms in a binding manner.

Erich Mielke , former GDR Army General and Minister of State Security , who was convicted of murder after the fall of the GDR (1993), justified the killing of political opponents as an act of "humanism":

“We are not immune from the fact that we will one day have a villain among us. If I knew that now, he wouldn't be alive tomorrow. Short process . Because I'm a humanist. That's why I have such a view. Better to save millions of people from death than to let them live like a bandit who then brings us the dead, so that I can explain correctly why you have to be so tough. All the rambling about not execution and not death sentence - all cheese, comrades . Execution - if necessary without a court judgment . "

- Erich Mielke

Implementation of the principles of humanism

The idea of ​​humanity includes the fundamental equality of all people of all origins and all sex, general human dignity and the outlawing of wars of aggression. In a broader sense, humanity also demands religious and political tolerance and respect for fellow human beings and their convictions , in a broader sense also respect for animals and the protection of nature .

Humanity is the basis of human rights and humanitarian international law as the basis of positive law as well as legal practice in the individual states. In connection with the crimes against humanity , the idea of ​​humanity is central. In the constitutions of the democratic states , humanity is firmly anchored in the laws (see, for example, the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany , the Austrian Constitution , the Federal Constitution of the Swiss Confederation , the Constitution of the Principality of Liechtenstein ).

Humanity and the concept of solidarity are closely linked to the virtue of helpfulness and its implementation as help . Examples are engagement in social institutions such as Caritas or Diakonie , in an aid organization for the observance of human rights, neighborhood help or the intra-state principle of helpfulness and neighborhood help as humanitarian aid . Here the will to humanity is expressed through concrete assistance such as relief goods, e.g. B. in the form of medical help.

At the same time, there is a legal obligation to provide assistance: failure to provide assistance does not only represent a morally condemnable violation of humanity; Criminal codes define failure to provide assistance as a criminal offense .

Exemplary application in the School Act

Section 2 of the Lower Saxony School Act describes the educational mandate of Lower Saxony schools as follows:

“Following the pre-school education, the school should develop the personality of the pupils on the basis of Christianity , European humanism and the ideas of the liberal , democratic and social freedom movements . Education and instruction must comply with the Basic Law for the Federal Republic of Germany and the Lower Saxony constitution; the school has to convey the values ​​on which these constitutions are based. "

All teachers in Lower Saxony are therefore officially obliged to educate their students in an attitude and behavior that is based on the ideas of humanity that were developed in the currents of intellectual history mentioned. Similar regulations can also be found in the laws of other countries .

historical development

For Cicero it was a term for holistic human education. It was in this spirit that the studia humanitatis were run during the Renaissance . This is why people speak of Renaissance humanism . Especially during the Enlightenment and the German Classical era ( Johann Gottfried Herder , Johann Wolfgang von Goethe , Friedrich Schiller ) and after the Second World War , the idea of ​​humanity revived.

Then the meaning of the term changed.

Since December 10, 1948, the day the Universal Declaration of Human Rights came into force , all signatory states have been legally obliged to guarantee compliance with human rights on their national territory. According to more recent interpretations of international law, humanitarian interventions are no longer regarded as illegal and illegitimate "meddling in internal affairs " of the state that is guilty of massive human rights violations.


Self-righteousness of the (supposedly) "good people"

Helmuth Plessner , a main representatives of philosophical anthropology , criticized the " values construct " of humanism is that it implies the "arrogant opinion," other cultures to proselytize and "humanity only teach" to want. Plessner thus implicitly ties in with Jesus of Nazareth's criticism of the self-righteousness of the “ Pharisees ”. It should be noted that according to the Christian view all people are " sinners ". Logically, according to the Bible, Jesus admonishes: "Whoever is without sin of you, let him throw the first stone [...]!"

"Master morality" instead of "slave morality"

In the tradition of Friedrich Nietzsche , clinging to the pair of opposites “good / bad” is assessed as an expression of slave morality . As in the times of the aristocracy (= literally: the “rule of the best”) it must be replaced by the pair of opposites “good / bad”, whereby a “bad person” is not a “bad person” but a simple one , simple man who lacks the skills and strength of aristocrats. Because of his nobility, the “ master man ” is authorized to do everything that “glorifies” him.

As “master people”, the National Socialists did not attach any importance to being “humanists” and mocked pacifism and Christian charity as an expression of “ humanity drudgery ”. So "promised" Fritz Sauckel , Gauleiter of Thuringia during the time of National Socialism and coordinator of the use of forced laborers as the "General Plenipotentiary for Labor Deployment" : "We will cast off the last slag of our humanity drudgery." Sauckel was one of the leaders of National Socialism the Nuremberg Trials and a. were charged and convicted of "crimes against humanity" and subsequently executed.

See also


Web links

Wiktionary: Humanity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: Inhumanity  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. JG Herder: Letters for the promotion of humanity. Third Collection , 27th paragraph (accessed December 19, 2012)
  2. Joachim Walther: Erich Mielke - A German hunter. (incl. audio document), homepage of Eva-Maria Hagen; (last) accessed on March 14, 2014.
  3. ( School and Law in Lower Saxony ): Lower Saxony School Act in the version of March 3, 1998, Section 2, Paragraph 1, Clause 1 ( Memento of the original of May 10, 2015 in the Internet Archive ) Info: The archive link was inserted automatically and not yet checked. Please check the original and archive link according to the instructions and then remove this notice. @1@ 2Template: Webachiv / IABot /
  4. Cf. for example Friedrich Hölderlin : On the humanity of Homer in regard to the war and the belligerents of his Iliad. In: Paul Stapf (ed.): Friedrich Hölderlin, Complete Works. Berlin / Darmstadt 1956, pp. 1078-1083.
  5. ( John 8: 1-11  ELB )
  6. Friedrich Nietzsche: Beyond Good and Evil . 1886, aphorism 260
  7. ^ Kurt Petzold / Manfred Weißbecker (eds.): Steps to the gallows. Life paths before the Nuremberg judgments , Leipzig 1996, pp. 297–443.