The Philosophy of Albert Schweitzer

"The idea of  Reverence for Life is the basic principle of goodness."   
                 ~Albert Schweitzer
"The fundamental fact of human awareness is this: I am life that wants to live in the midst of other life that wants to live.  A thinking person feels compelled to approach all life with the same reverence one has for one's own.  Thus all life becomes part of one's own experience. . . .  In essence then, a person can be considered ethical only if life as such is sacred to him/her -- both in people and in all creatures that inhabit the earth."

consist in my experiencing the compulsion to show to all will-to-live the same reverence as I do my own. A man is truly ethical only when he obeys the compulsion to help all life which he is able to assist, and shrinks from injuring anything that lives.



That everyone shall exert himself in that state of life in which he is placed, to practice true humanity towards his fellow men, on that depends the future of mankind...  I am convinced that there is far more in [men and women] of idealist will power than ever comes to the surface of the world.  Just as the water of the streams we see is small in amount, compared to that which flows underground, so the idealisms which becomes visible is small in amount, compared with what men and women bear locked in their hearts, unreleased or scarcely released.  (Out of My Life and Thought)

No man is ever completely and permanently a stranger to his fellow man.  Man belongs to man,  Man has claims on man.  Circumstances great or small may arise which make impossible the aloofness which we have to practice in daily life, and bring us into active relations with each other, as men to men,  The law of reserve is condemned to be broken down by the claims of the heart, and thus we all get into a position where we must step outside our aloofness, and to one of our fellow men become ourselves a man.   (Memoirs of Childhood & Youth)

The knowledge of life which we grownups have to pass on to the younger generation will not be expressed thus: “Reality will soon give way before your ideals,” but “Grown into your ideals, so that life can never rob you of them.”  If all of us could becomes what we were at fourteen, what a different place the world would be!  (Memoirs of Childhood & Youth)



Anyone can rescue his human life, in spite of his professional life, who seizes every opportunity of being a man by means of personal action, however unpretending, for the good of fellow men who need the help of a fellow man...If so much of such service remains unrealized, it is because the opportunities are missed.  (Out of My Life and Thought)

Care for distress at home and care for distress elsewhere do but help each other if, working together, they wake men in sufficient numbers from their thoughtlessness, and call into life a new spirit of humanity.  (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest)

Those will be happy who are looking for and are finding, how they can serve.   (In a speech at the Silcoates School, Wakefield, 1935)



Those who have learned by experience what physical pain and bodily anguish mean, belong together all the world over; they are united by a secret bond.  One and all they know the horrors of suffering to which man can be exposed, and one and all they know the longing to be free from pain.  He who has been delivered from pain must not think he is now free again, and at liberty to take life up just as it was before, entirely forgetful of the past.  He is now a "man whose eyes are open" with regard to pain and anguish, and he must help to overcome those two enemies and to bring to others the deliverance which he has himself enjoyed.  Such is the Fellowship of those who bear the Mark of Pain.    (On the Edge of the Primeval Forest)



Whenever I injure life of any sort, I must be quite clear whether it is necessary. Beyond the unavoidable, I must never go, not even with what seems insignificant. The farmer, who has mown down a thousand flowers in his meadow as fodder for his cows, must be careful on his way home not to strike off in wanton pastime the head of a single flower by the roadside, for he thereby commits a wrong against life without being under the pressure of necessity.    (Out of My Life and Thought)

Those who test operations or drugs on animals, or who inoculate them with diseases so that they may be able to help human beings by means of the results thus obtained, ought never to rest satisfied with the general idea that their dreadful doings are performed in pursuit of a worthy aim.  It is their duty to ponder in every separate case whether it is really and truly necessary thus to sacrifice an animal for humanity.  They ought to be filled with anxious care to alleviate as much as possible the pain which they cause.    (Civilization and Ethics)



The awareness that we are all human beings together has become lost in war and through politics.  We have reached the point of regarding each other only as members of a people wither allied with us or against us and our approach: prejudice, sympathy or antipathy, are all conditioned by that.  Now we must rediscover the fact that we – all together – are human beings, and that we must strive to conceded to each other what moral capacity we have.  Only in this way can we begin to believe that in other peoples as well as in ourselves there will arise the need for a new spirit, which can be the beginning of a feeling of mutual trustworthiness towards each other.    (Peace or Atomic War?)

We must not be responsible for the future birth of thousands of children with the most serious mental and physical defects, simply because we did not pay enough attention to that danger.  Only those who have never been present at the birth of a deformed baby, never witnessed the whimpering shock of its mother, dare to maintain that the risk in going on with nuclear tests is one which must be taken under existing circumstances.    (Peace or Atomic War?)

We must not allow cruel national thinking to prevail.  The abolition of atomic weapons will become possible only if world opinion demands it.  The course of history demands that not only individuals become ethical personalities, but that nations do so as well.  (A Treasury of Albert Schweitzer)

updated 12/02