Albert Schweitzer


URL Resources for Albert Schweitzer:

Brief Bio

I think Albert Schweitzer is the bridge from Christian Fundamentalism towards a Natural Moral Humanism-- well rooted and argued from a convincing natural phenononological viewpoint for morality.


I am life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live. As in my own will-to-live there is a longing for wider life and pleasure, with dread of annihilation and pain; so is it also in the will-to-live all around me, whether it can express itself before me or remains dumb. The will-to-live is everywhere present, even as in me. If I am a thinking being, I must regard life other than my own with equal reverence, for I shall know that it longs for fullness and development as deeply as I do myself. Therefore, I see that evil is what annihilates, hampers, or hinders life. And this holds true whether I regard it physically or spiritually. Goodness, by the same token, is the saving or helping of life, the enabling of whatever life I can to attain its highest development.

The man who has become a thinking being feels a compulsion to give to every will-to-live the same reverence for life that he gives to his one. He experiences that other life in his own. He accepts as being good: to preserve life, to promote life, to raise it to its highest value life which is capable of development; and as being evil: to destroy life, which is capable of development. This the absolute, fundamental principal of the moral.

... there flashed through my mind unforseen and unsought the phrase Reverence for Life. The iron door had yielded: the path in the thicket had become visible.

But man to-day is in danger not only through his lack of freedom, of the power of mental concentration,...he is in danger of losing his humanity.

The normal attitude of man to man is made very difficult for us. Owing to the hurry in which we live, to the increased facilities for intercourse, and to the necessity for living and working with many others in an over crowded locality, we meet each other continually, and in the most varied relations, as strangers.Our circumstances do not allow us to deal with each other as man to man, for the limitations placed upon the activities of the natural man are so general and so unbroken that we get accustomed to them, and no longer feel our mechanical , impersonal intercourse to be something unnatural. We no longer feel uncomfortable that in such a number of situations we can no longer be men among men, and at last we give up trying to be so, even when it would be possible and proper. was a mistake. Rules for treaties of peace, however well intentional and how ably they are drawn up, can accomplish nothing. Only such thinking as establishes the sway of mental attitude of reverence for life can bring to mankind perpetual peace.

Wherever there is lost the consciousness that every man is an object of concern for us just because he is man, civilization and morals are shaken , and the advance to fully developed in humanity is only a question of time.

Judging by what I have learned about men and woman, I am convinced that there is far more in them of idealist will power than ever comes to the surface in the world. Just as the water of the stream we see is small in amount compared to that witch flows under ground, so the idealism which becomes visible is small in amount compared with what men and woman bear locked up in there hearts, unreleased or scarcely released. To unbind what is bound, to bring the underground waters to the surface mankind is waiting and longing for such as can do that.

The only conceivable way of bringing about a reconstruction of our world on new lines [institutions] is first to become new men our selves under the old circumstances... everything else is more or less wasted labor, because we are there by building not on the spirit, but on what is merely external.

I am life which wills to live, in the midst of life which wills to live.

You know of the disease in Central Africa called sleeping sickness....There also exist sleeping sickness of the soul. It's most dangerous aspect is that one is unaware of it coming. That is why you have to be careful. As soon as you notice the slightest sign of indifference, the moment you become aware of the loss of a certain seriousness, of longing, of enthusianism and zest, take it as a warning. You should realize that your soul suffers if you live superficially.

The terrible truth that with the progress of history and the economic development of the world it is becoming not easier, but harder to develop true civilization, has never found utterance.

The development of civilization comes about- to put it quite generally- by individual men thinking out ideals which aim at the progress of the whole, and then so fitting them to the realities of life that they assume the shape in which they can influence most affectively the circumstances of the time, depends, therefore, on his being a thinker and on his being free.

Entering on the question as to what is the real essential nature of civilization, I come to the pronouncement that this is ultimately ethical. I know that in thus stating the problem as a moral one I shall surprise and even disgust the spirit of our times, which is accustomed to move amidst aesthetic, historical, and material considerations…"  "I have come to the conviction that… the essence of civilization … depends on the mental disposition of the individuals and nations who exist in the world.  All other things are merely accompanying circumstances of civilization, which have nothing to do with its real essence.

Creative artistic, intellectual, and material attainments can only show their full and true effects when the continued existence and development of civilization have been secured by founding civilization itself on a mental disposition which is truly ethical. It is only in his struggle to become ethical that man comes to possess real value as a personality; it is only under the influence of ethical convictions that the various relations of human society are formed in such a way that individuals and peoples can develop in an ideal manner. If the ethical foundation is lacking, then civilization collapses, even when in other directions creative and intellectual forces of the strongest nature are at work.

The second point which I desire to obtain currency is that of the connection between civilization and our theory of the universe…." Our loss of real civilization is due to our lack of a theory of the universe.

Only as we succeed in attaining a strong and worthy theory of the universe, and find in it strong and worthy convictions, shall we again become capable of producing a new civilization…

Civilization, put quite simply, consists in our giving ourselves, as human beings, to the effort to attain the perfection of the human race and the actualization of progress of every sort in the circumstances of humanity and of the objective world…. Firstly, we must be prepared to act affirmatively toward the world and life; secondly, we must become ethical.

Only when we are able to attribute a real meaning to the world and to life shall we be able also to give ourselves to such action as will produce results of real value. As long as we look on our existence in the world as meaningless, there is no point whatever in desiring to affect anything in the world. We become workers for that universal spiritual and material progress which we call civilization only in so far as we affirm that the world and life possess some sort of meaning. ...It is impossible to convince men of the truth of world and life affirmation, and of the real value of ethics by mere declamation…These beliefs must originate in man himself as the result of an inner ethical relationship to the world.…World and life affirmation must be the products of thought about the world and life. Only as the majority of individuals attain to this result of thought and continue under its influence will a true and enduring civilization make progress in the world.

The basic ethical character of civilization is the connection between civilization and our theories of the universe. The question with which I conclude is this. Is it at all possible to find a real and permanent foundation in thought for a theory of the universe, which shall be both ethical and affirmative of the world and of life? The future of civilization depends on our overcoming the meaninglessness and hopelessness which characterize the thoughts and convictions of men today… We shall be capable of this however only when the majority of individuals discover for themselves both an ethic, and a profound steadfast attitude of world and life affirmation, and a theory of the universe that's convincing and based on reflection. 

A root idea of my theory of the universe is that my relationship to my own being, and to the objective world, is determined by reference for life…The theory of the Universe characterized by 'reverence for life" is arrived at by self-consistent thought, when persisted in to its ultimate conclusion…Man finds a meaning for his life in that he strives to accomplish a spiritual and ethical self fulfillment and simultaneously, and in the same act, helps forward all processes of spiritual and material progress which have to be actualized in the world.

I do not know how many or how few will allow themselves to be persuaded to travel with me on the road above.  What I desire above all things and this is the crux of the whole affaire is that we should all recognize fully that our present entire lack of any theory of the universe is the ultimate source of all the catastrophes and misery of our time and that we should work together for a theory of the universe and life in order that thus that we may arrive at a mental disposition which shall make us really and truly civilized men.

The following words by Albert Schweitzer are excerpted from Chapter 26 of The Philosophy of Civilization and from The Ethics of Reverence for Life in the 1936 winter issue of Christendom. If you want to have more text about the "Origin of Reverence of Life" 

In me the will-to-live has come to know about other wills-to-live. There is in it a yearning to arrive at unity with itself, to become universal. I can do nothing but hold to the fact that the will-to-live in me manifests itself as will-to-live which desires to become one with other will-to-live. 

Ethics consist in my experiencing the compulsion to show to all will-to-live the same reverence as I do my own. A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives. If I save an insect from a puddle, life has devoted itself to life, and the division of life against itself has ended. Whenever my life devotes itself in any way to life, my finite will-to-live experiences union with the infinite will in which all life is one. 

An absolute ethic calls for the creating of perfection in this life. It cannot be completely achieved; but that fact does not really matter. In this sense reverence for life is an absolute ethic. It makes only the maintenance and promotion of life rank as good. All destruction of and injury to life, under whatever circumstances, it condemns as evil. True, in practice we are forced to choose. At times we have to decide arbitrarily which forms of life, and even which particular individuals, we shall save, and which we shall destroy. But the principle of reverence for life is nonetheless universal and absolute. 

Such an ethic does not abolish for man all ethical conflicts but compels him to decide for himself in each case how far he can remain ethical and how far he must submit himself to the necessity for destruction of and injury to life. No one can decide for him at what point, on each occasion, lies the extreme limit of possibility for his persistence in the preservation and furtherance of life. He alone has to judge this issue, by letting himself be guided by a feeling of the highest possible responsibility towards other life. We must never let ourselves become blunted. We are living in truth, when we experience these conflicts more profoundly. 

Whenever I injure life of any sort, I must be quite clear whether it is necessary. Beyond the unavoidable, I must never go, not even with what seems insignificant. The farmer, who has mown down a thousand flowers in his meadow as fodder for his cows, must be careful on his way home not to strike off in wanton pastime the head of a single flower by the roadside, for he thereby commits a wrong against life without being under the pressure of necessity. 

               ©                Updated: September 7, 2016 4:38 PM