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3.0 out of 5 stars schweitzer sets forth his ideas on humanitarianism, September 4, 2001
This review is from: The Teaching of Reverence for Life (Hardcover)
To Schweitzer, primitive people care only for their blood relations. More spiritually evolved people feel responsible for all human beings. He offers examples (Jesus, Paul, Lao-tzu, Isaiah, etc).
He compares various faiths under the lens of humanitarianism, dividing religions into those which negate the world and those which affirm the world, examining the implications of each approach on the degree of worldly activity it entails. This may sound abstract -- to clarify, I'll mention one example: from this vantage, he rejects the great Indian traditions (Brahmanism, Jainism, Buddhism) as a basis for ethical action. This is by definition -- they cannot serve as a basis for ethical action, since they culminate in inaction.
In a very brief outline of the development of ethics, he sweeps through the Greco-Romans, Hebrews, early Christians, Erasmus, Bentham, Hume, Kant.
He concludes that ethics cannot be rigorously supported by a philosophical framework. Any attempt to justify altruism is logically flawed. It is entirely subjective. Science leads us to understand more of the physical universe, but in such a way as to strip its human meaning. Ethics is irreconcilable with observations of a predatory phenomenal world. [Note: Schweitzer's invocation of survival of the fittest here does not gibe with Darwin's original concept, and our modern understanding, of the workings of ecosystems, predicated on survival of the fittest _within a fitting ecological niche_. That is, there is great inter-individual competition but ultimately an elegant inter-species cooperation, the spirit of which might be close to what Schweitzer is attempting to articulate.]
Schweitzer claims that the culmination of the search for a rigorous underpinning to ethics results in a faith-like observation that "Goodness is: preserve life, promote life, help life achieve its highest destiny. The essence of Evil is: Destroy life, harm life, hamper the development of life." Hence, the title of the book. So, the point seems to be that, in his opinion, soul-searching for the core of altruism will lead one to revere life for its own sake, including non-human life. This reverence should permeate all our actions.
I found the arguments to be loose and unconvincing, simply a discursive description of the author's compassionate frame of mind. Still, it is impressive to hear a profoundly good person describe the nature of his compassion. Reading beyond the somewhat rambling message to the man himself, I found myself musing on recent small compromises and personal pettiness, by contrast with Schweitzer's will and heart.
Anyone inclined toward the environmental and animal welfare movements will find a champion in Schweitzer, who stressed the interdependence and unity of all life. However, his autobiography, "Out of My Life and Thought", would probably be a better introduction to him and his philosophy.
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