Written By: Herbert M. Phillips Edition: Vision Press, London 1960 Hardcover, 271 pages
No ISBN Shown
Table of Contents
I'm not quite sure what to make of Herbert Phillips. A dentist, he nevertheless seems to have met and discussed philosophy and education policy with some of the leading intellectuals in America during the 1940s and 50s. He clearly read widely and was very familiar with Schweitzer's writings. But his own ideas are hard to pin down, and seem rather avant garde if not actually zany.
While working briefly as a dentist in Lambarene, he meets with Schweitzer on several occasions. His overt purpose is to gain Schweitzer's consent to founding Schweitzer Chair profesorships in prestigious universities (he indicates that people from universities and foundations have authorized him to propose this, though the details are vague). But what he really wants to do is evaluate whether Schweitzer is a prophet. Not metaphorically, but a real Old-Testament style, inspired-and-directed-by-God Prophet. One can almost feel Schweitzer cringing at the adulation. Eventually Phillips decides that Schweitzer is not a prophet, or at least that he differs with Schweitzer on enough details that he cannot act as Schweitzer's herald. It is a serious evaluation, not simply or at least not totally hero-worship, but it is cloying and rather self-aggrandizing.
Phillips tries to incoporate ideas from modern science into his philosophy. He conceives of freedom as a sort of force or conglomerate of forces, and most other things as catalysts for good or evil. Though not thoroughly presented in this volume, Phillips seems to have ideas at the level of metaphor but without foundation. As is common with those who use terms from physics to propose philosophical ideas, once one gets past Phillips' terms and into the concepts, there appears to be nothing there or at most a simple re-casting of common ideas. But I do not want to be too hard on Phillips; he's clearly trying to articulate a vision of a better universe, and may have had something to contribute.
[After Phillips asked him whether he had altered any of the convictions expressed in his early books about the significance of will-to-live and reverence for life, Schweitzer replied] "All of my studies and all of my years of experience have served only to confirm my fundamental convictions concerning the reality of 'will' in the universe, the centrality of 'will' in the life process, its supreme role as human self-consciousness, its rational connection with all good and evil in human relations, and its singularity as a sovereign value worthy of universal human reverence."
[As Phillips was imagining himself as a sort of traveling missionary of Schweitzer's ideas] "Instead of indulging in self-ridicule for my brash apostolic illusions, I asked a more poignant question: what has gone wrong that people must be embarrassed to share and declare their finest dreams?"
"The prodigious intellectual and spiritual accomplishment achieved by Dr. Schweitzer is, in my judgment, his new cosmic explanation of freedom. His theory of the universe is dissimilar from the feudal view and opposed to the Hegelian view. Like the eighteenth-century thinkers he finds freedom not in institutions but in man as a creature.... Freedom is composed of all the forces that have not been measured. The tools that disclose the truch of matter and energy will not work on freedom. All the enigmas seem to be forms of catalysts."
[Quoting Schweitzer, during a conversation about setting up Schweitzer Professorship Chairs in American universities] "Dr. Phillips, I do not believe that Reverence for Life should be stressed more in institutions of learning than in society in general. My system of ethics must not be organized or institutionalized. It should be discovered by individuals."
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