Reviews of and Quotes From Books About Dr. Schweitzer

Here is my review of a book about Dr. Schweitzer. All the books I review are in English. Many of them are out of print, but generally can be found by a book search from a good used-book dealer. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for links to my reviews of books written by Dr. Schweitzer as well as other related information.

Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century

Edited By: Marvin Meyer and Kurt Bergel

Reviewed Edition: Syracuse University Press, Syracuse, New York, 2002

ISBN 0-8156-2977-X

Softcover, 350 pages


Table of Contents

This volume is a mix of papers presented at a conference held at Chapman University in 1999, related papers originally published elsewhere, excerpts from Schweitzer's writings, and student essays written during a class on Schweitzer at Chapman University.   Most of the articles are concerned with Schweitzer's Reverence for Life ethical philosophy, although there is also a short discussion of Schweitzer's work on the historical Jesus.  It includes the work of 15 authors (plus that of Albert and Helene Schweitzer).

As may be expected in a work incorporating so many authors and sources, this volume is uneven.  Particularly disappointing are Brabazon's wandering and unconvincing discussion of world finance, and Mbondobari's analysis of novels that include Schweitzer, which follows the standards of modern literary criticism (which is to say, it is totally incomprehensible).  I also was unimpressed by Meyer's "rethinking" of Reverence for Life.   He claims that Schweitzer's ethics includes a strong metaphysical element of a "unified and universal" will-to-live, which I believe over-emphasizes a minor portion of Schweitzer's writings and does not sufficiently emphasize the empathy we have when recognizing the individual will-to-live in others.  Also, he attempts to replace Schweitzer's concept of guilt due to the harming of others with a more modern emphasis on responsibility and regret.  This is modern in the sense that modern people expect to be coddled, but it weakens the importance of actually living as one's philosophy demands, which is what Schweitzer tried to do throughout his life.

There are, however, much stronger and more interesting articles included in the book.  Barsam's comparison of Schweitzer's views with those of Jainism is very informative and thoughtful, and is nicely complemented by Huntington's preceding introduction to the ethics of Jainism.   I also was interested in Lindberg's discussion of her work teaching Schweitzer and ethics to children.  The student essays are interesting; despite the volume's subtitle, these are the only sections that directly confront twenty-first century issues such as animal rights.

About one hundred pages of the book are given to excerpts from Schweitzer's writings.  It may be that the greatest contribution of this book is its collection in one place of many of Schweitzer's most important writings on Reverence for Life. 

Quotes from Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century

[From a letter written by Albert Schweitzer to his future wife Helene, dated May 1, 1904] "Sometimes it seems to me as if I had arrived beyond the clouds and the stars, and could see the world in the most wonderful clarity, and therefore have the right to be a heretic.  To know only Jesus of Nazareth; to continue his work as the only religion, not to have to bear anymore what Christianity has absorbed over the years in vulgarity.  Not to be afraid of hell, not to strive for the joys of heaven, not to live in false fear, and the false submission that has become an essential part of our religion--and yet to understand the one Great One, and to know that one is his disciple."

[From an article by Kurt Bergel, originally published in 1946] "The ethics of reverence for life requires someone to respect and further life in others as well as in himself. The principle of equality is thereby founded in ethics.  Yet only with a scale of values can the individual settle conflicting claims: the physician when deciding whether he should save the child's or the mother's life, a person when deciding whether he should save his attacker's life or his own.  And what about conflicts between life and truth?  Schweitzer does not give a theory or scale of values.  His is an ethics for mature individuals who can shoulder the responsibility of making decisions.  This strong sense of individual ethical responsibility which we find Schweitzer is needed today."  [Emphasis in original.]

[By Ara Paul Barsam] "Schweitzer distinguishes Indian and European thought largely on the basis of world- and life-affirmation and world- and life-negation philosophies. ... For Schweitzer, the human body and all living things instinctively affirm life by virtue of the fact that they will to stay alive.  With every beat of the heart, there is a (subconscious) affirmation of life within us, what he considered to be an 'instinctive will-to-live' or an 'instinctive reverence' for one's own life.  The will-to-live, by virtue of the fact that it strives to maintain life, is an affirmation of life."  [Emphasis in original.]

[By Albert Schweitzer, in Out of My Life and Thought]  "Just as a tree bears the same fruit year after year and at the same time fruit that is new each year, so must all permanently valuable ideas be continually created anew in thought. But our age pretends to make a sterile tree bear fruit by tying fruits of truth onto it branches."

Table of Contents of Reverence for Life: The Ethics of Albert Schweitzer for the Twenty-First Century

	Albert Schweitzer, frontispiece
Preface by Marvin Meyer
Introduction by Marvin Meyer
    1. Albert Schweitzer at the Beginning of the Millennium  by James Brabazon
    2. Affirming Reverence for Life by Marvin Meyer
    3. Letters, 1902-1905  by Albert Schweitzer and Helene Bresslau
    4. First Sermon on Reverence for Life  by Albert Schweitzer
    5. The Philosophy of Civilization  by Albert Schweitzer
    6. Memoirs of Childhood and Youth  by Albert Schweitzer
    7. Out of My Life and Thought  by Albert Schweitzer
    8. The Ethics of Reverence for Life  by Albert Schweitzer
    9. Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life  by Kurt Bergel
    10. The Assessment of the Life and Thought of Albert Schweitzer in Germany and Africa  by Sylvere Mbondobari
    11. The Significance of Reverence for Life Today  by Erich Graber
    12. Rethinking Reverence for Life by Mike W. Martin
    13. Jainism and Ethics  by Ronald M. Huntington
    14. Albert Schweitzer, Jainism, and Reverence for Life  by Ara Paul Barsam
    15. The Legacy of Albert Schweitzer's Quest of the Historical Jesus  by James M. Robinson
    16. The Sermon on the Mount  by Early Followers of Jesus
    17. Teaching Reverence for Life  by Nikki Lindberg
    18. Student Essays on Albert Schweitzer and Reverence for Life  by Joie Karnes, Maria Tafoya, Timothy Johnson, Marianne Tardaguila, and Anna Blishak Peschong

Click here to return to the Albert Schweitzer Page.