Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life by Mike W. Martin

By Mike W. Martin

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Without this metaphysics, however, there is no basis for literal ascriptions of human properties to plants and protozoa. In Schweitzer’s defence, however, I believe he usually employs anthropomorphic images metaphorically to elicit bioempathy, independently of his biotheism. Schweitzer is a revolutionary. He attempts to radically revise our moral perspective to include all life, and anthropomorphic imagery is a powerful rhetorical tool for that purpose. Even today, the most rigorous scientists rely on anthropomorphic imagery to elicit concern for the natural world when writing books for a general audience rather than technical articles for peers.

There is much to admire in this aspect of Schweitzer’s thought. At the same time, his opposition to rules is excessive at times. Rules are not sufficient, but they are often helpful. 26 Indeed, Schweitzer sometimes invokes moral rules, for example the rules ‘Do not kill’ and ‘minimize suffering’ which specify part of the content of compassion. To illustrate how individualism and objectively-defensive ideals interact in ethical dilemmas, consider Schweitzer’s service in Africa. Initially, that service was undertaken with his wife, Hélène Bresslau Schweitzer, who was a nurse.

But we are not guilty at every moment of our lives in killing microorganisms as we breathe, or in killing plants and fish to eat. Ethical Idealism versus Utilitarianism Schweitzer presents reverence for life against the backdrop of an overview of the history of moral philosophy. 50 As an illustration having special relevance to contemporary ethics, as well as to understanding his ethics of idealism and self-realization, let us consider his critique of utilitarianism, which centres on how self-interest and altruism are morally related.

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Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life by Mike W. Martin
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