Albert Schweitzer on the Reverence for Life




A history of philosophy in its most famous quotes. Today: Albert Schweitzer, medical doctor, theologian, musician and philosopher who left it all behind to go and help the poorest in Africa, saying: “Ethics is nothing other than the Reverence for Life.”

In this series, we go through the most famous quotes in the history of philosophy! Subscribe here to never miss a post! Find all the articles in the series here.

Ethics is nothing other than Reverence for Life. (Albert Schweitzer, Civilisation and Ethics

Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) was a medical doctor, protestant theologian, musician and philosopher – an almost mythical presence of a man. In many ways, he was a son of his time, contemporary to others who seem larger than life: he was born right between Gandhi, who was six years older, and that other Albert, the physicist Einstein, four years his younger. It was an age whose protagonists built and destroyed empires, erected cathedrals of science, and dedicated their lives to almost inhuman levels of altruism – and all that over lifetimes that included the two most terrible and inhuman wars that history had ever seen.

Thinking back to the world they inhabited and formed, one is reminded of that great line in the script to Graham Greene’s Third Man, where Harry Lime says:

“In Italy for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder, and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo da Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland, they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did that produce? The cuckoo clock.”

Albert Schweitzer is not much remembered today. His legacy is not carried forward by an army of scientists or a whole nation of a billion people. Philosophers never took him seriously as an ethicist, although few who call themselves ethicists today would be willing to put their whole lives in the service of their beliefs, as he did.

As a young man, he studied theology and music, becoming an expert in the study and restoration of historic church organs. He was such an accomplished musician, that in 1905 he was invited to play for the king and queen of Spain. After the concert, the king asked him: “Is it difficult to play the organ?” – to which Schweitzer answered: “Almost as difficult as it is to rule Spain.”

As he grew older, he also grew restless, unsatisfied with a life of privilege. 

As a scholar, he wrote two books on the interpretation of Bach’s music and published more, widely acclaimed books on the historical Jesus and (much later) the mysticism of early Christianity. But as he grew older, he also grew restless, unsatisfied with a life of privilege, as we would say now, asking himself how he could justify his existence in the face of Jesus’ commandments. To a friend he wrote:

For me the whole essence of religion is at stake. For me religion means to be human, plainly human in the sense in which Jesus was. In the colonies things are …

Originally appeared on Daily Philosophy Read More



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