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The phrase Reverence for Life is a translation of the German phrase: "Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben" (more accurately translated as: "to be in awe of the mystery of life"). These words came to Albert Schweitzer on a boat trip on the river Oguwe in Equatorial Africa, whilst searching for a universal concept of ethics for our time. He made the phrase the basic tenet of an ethical philosophy which he developed and put into practice. He gave expression to its development in numerous books and publications during his life and also in manuscripts which have recently been published; the main work being his unfinished four-part “Philosophy of Culture” (Kulturphilosophie) subtitled: “The World-view of Reverence for Life”. He also used his hospital in Lambarénémarker in Gabonmarker (Central Africa) to demonstrate this philosophy in practice.

He believed that Reverence for Life is a concept that develops from observation of the world around us. In 'Civilization and Ethics' he expressed this in these words:

James Brabazon (Author of the Biography of Albert Schweitzer) defined Reverence for Life with the following statement:

Albert Schweitzer hoped that the ethic of Reverence for Life would make its way in the world on the basis of his explanation of it in his books and talks, the example of his life and the force of its own argument based on the depth of fundamental thought. To some extent this is taking place as is evidenced by the growth of the environmental movement. (The book Silent Spring, by Rachael Carson, which is widely credited with helping launch the environmental movement was dedicated to Albert Schweitzer). Reverence for Life can also be seen in the explosion of ethical, charitable organizations of all kinds in many parts of the world.

The origins of Albert Schweitzer’s Reverence for Life

Schweitzer believed that ethical values which could underpin the ideal of true civilization had to have their foundation in deep thought and be world and life affirming. They had to be compatible with an attitude of affirmation of the world and of life. He therefore embarked on a search for ethical values in the various major religions and world-views accessible to him, but could not find any that were able, unequivocally, to combine ethics with life-affirmation. It was not until two years after moving out to Gabonmarker to establish the Albert Schweitzer Hospital that he finally found the simple statement which answered his quest.

In his autobiography "Out of My Life and Thought" he explains this process.

Having described how at the beginning of the summer of 1915 he awoke from some kind of mental daze, asking himself why he was only criticizing civilization and not working on something constructive, he asked himself the question:

The Will to Live

The word ‘will’ in the sense of determination or firmness of purpose, is rarely used today and therefore Schweitzer’s use of the word as translated from the German word ‘Wille’ may appear unfamiliar. However, it is a significant part of Schweitzer’s message. He held the view in the 1920’s that people had largely lost touch with their own will, having subjugated it to outside authority and sacrificed it to external circumstances.

He therefore pointed back to that elemental part of ourselves that can be in touch with our ‘will’ and can exercise it for the good of all.

In “Out of My Life and Thought” Schweitzer writes:

In his search for an answer to the problems posed by what was to him the obvious decline of western civilization, Albert Schweitzer was not prepared to give up the belief in progress which is so much taken for granted by people of European descent. Rather, he sought to identify why this ‘will to progress’ was seemingly going off the rails and causing the disintegration of European civilization.

He came to the following conclusion: ("Out of my Life and Thought")

Charities that promote Reverence for Life

There are a number of organizations and charities that promote Reverence for Life:

See also



References

  1. Josie Glausiusz. (2007), Better Planet: Can A Maligned Pesticide Save Lives? Discover Magazine. Page 34.
  2. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 156.
  3. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 157.
  4. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 152.
  5. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 236.
  1. Josie Glausiusz. (2007), Better Planet: Can A Maligned Pesticide Save Lives? Discover Magazine. Page 34.
  2. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 156.
  3. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 157.
  4. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 152.
  5. A. Schweitzer, Out of my Life and Thought (Johns Hopkins University Press 1998), 236.


Further reading




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