Reviews of and Quotes From Dr. Schweitzer's Books

Here are my reviews of some of Albert Schweitzer's books. It is far from a comprehensive list of Schweitzer's books. All are English translations from French or German. Some of them are out of print, but generally can be found in a good research library or by a book search from a good used-book dealer. Also included here are reviews of compilations of his writings. See The Albert Schweitzer Page for reviews of books about Dr. Schweitzer and related information.

The Philosophy of Civilization

Written By:  Albert Schweitzer

Translated By: C. T. Campion

Original Edition (In English):  The MacMillan Company, 1949

Reviewed Edition:  Prometheus Books, 1987

Paperback, 347 Pages

ISBN 0-87975-403-6


Table of Contents

The Philosophy of Civilization is a philosophical work of impressive scope and depth. Originally published in 1923, it contains Schweitzer's most thorough and scholarly discussion of his ideas on ethics and reverence for life. The term "civilization" referred to in the title refers not to mere political, artistic, or religious structures, but to the entire Weltanschauung, or world-view, of society and individuals. Schweitzer first defends the idea, currently somewhat out of fashion, that philosophy matters, and in fact defines the way people live and value their lives.

Next, Schweitzer describes why he feels modern philosophy, and therefore civilization, is failing. He blames the lack of idealism and optimism in philosophy since it abandoned Rationalism. If all philosophy can do is tell us what we don't know, then what is a person to dream of, and why should he try to make things better? Schweitzer, with the thoroughness and amazing breadth typical of his scholarly works, then spends better than 150 pages reviewing the major features of Western philosophy from Greece through Rationalism, Kant, Hegel and up to Nietzsche. Frankly, I found this review rather dry, although better than most philosophical writing.

The last six chapters present Schweitzer's own philosophy. Based on the will to live of all living things, it is an ethics which accepts that, for each creature its own life is important to it, and that therefore we must not treat others haphazardly or thoughtlessly. Each life is to be revered. But this is not a life- or world-denying philosophy, leading to asceticism and withdrawal. Rather it is a call to be alert, and considerate, and find some way to help others. Some are called to a lifetime of service to mankind; some are not. Regardless, all are called to some level of service; all are called to at least make a conscious decision about each and every one of their actions. All actions are ethically dangerous. Saving the life of a hawk with a broken wing may result in the death of dozens of sparrows. Schweitzer does not make the decision of what to do for you, in fact which decision you make is not his true interest. The key thing for you is that you consciously decide each and every time, and attempt to do the right thing.

I'm sure my poor attempt at explaining the depth and sweep of this book has left you confused. However, I don't encourage you to read The Philosophy of Civilization as your first introduction to Schweitzer. Read Out of My Life and Thought or Albert Schweitzer The Man and His Mind first, so that you are introduced to both his ethics and his life. Then come back and read this book for a deeper understanding.

Schweitzer used an absolute minimum of jargon. A minor exception to this is found in some of chapters which review other philosophers. It is virtually impossible to explicate Kant without some obtuse jargon, but such parts can be easily skipped without damaging the rest of the book.

Quotes from The Philosophy of Civilization

"The last fact which knowledge can discover is that the world is a manifestation, and in every way puzzling manifestation, of the universal will to live."

[Schweitzer approving quotes the following from L. Annaeus Seneca (4BC - 65AD)] "No man is nobler than his fellows, even if it happen that his spiritual nature is better constituted and he is more capable of higher learning. The world is the one mother of us all, and the ultimate origin of each one of us can be traced back to her, whether the steps in the ladder of descent be noble or humble. To no one is virtue forbidden; she is accessible to all; she admits everyone, she invites everyone in: free men and freedmen, slaves, kings and exiles. She regards neither birth nor fortune; the man alone is all she wants. ... This, in fact, is the demand which is laid upon each man, namely that he works, when possible, for the welfare of many; if that is impracticable, that he works for the welfare of a few; failing that, for the welfare of his neighbors, and if that is impossible, for his own."

Table of Contents of The Philosophy of Civilization

  1. How Philosophy is Responsible for the Collapse of Civilization
  2. Hindrances to Civilization in Our Economic and Spiritual Life
  3. Civilization Essentially Ethical in Character
  4. The Way to the Restoration of Civilization
  5. Civilization and World-View
  6. The Crisis in Civilization and Its Spiritual Cause
  7. The Problem of the Optimistic World-View
  8. The Ethical Problem
  9. Religious and Philosophical World-Views
  10. Civilization and Ethics in the Graeco-Roman Philosophy
  11. Optimistic World-View and Ethics in the Seventeenth and Eighteenth Centuries
  12. Laying the Foundations of Civilization in the Age of Rationalism
  13. The Optimistic-Ethical World-View in Kant
  14. Nature-Philosophy and World-View in Spinoza and Leibniz
  15. J.G. Fichte's Optimistic-Ethical World-View
  16. Schiller; Goethe; Schleiermacher
  17. Hegel's Supra-Ethical Optimistic World-View
  18. The Later Utilitarianism. Biological and Sociological Ethics
  19. Schopenhauer and Nietzsche
  20. The Issue of the Western Struggle for a World-View
  21. The New Way
  22. The Foundations of Optimism Secured from the Will-to-Live
  23. The Problems of Ethics, Starting from the History of Ethics
  24. The Ethics of Self-Devotion and the Ethics of Self-Perfection
  25. The Ethics of Reverence for Life
  26. The Civilizing Power of the Ethics of Reverence for Life

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