What does humanism mean? humanism. Noun 1. The study of the humanities or the liberal arts; literary (especially classical) ; scholarship. 2. (historical, often capitalized) ; Specifically, a cultural and intellectual movement in 14th-16th century Europe characterised by attention to Classical culture and a promotion of vernacular texts, notably during the Renaissance. 3. An ethical system that centers on humans and their values, needs, interests, abilities, dignity and freedom; especially used for a secular one which rejects theistic religion and superstition. 4. Humanitarianism, philanthropy.