Volume 10, 2008
Reverence for Life
A Moral Value or the Moral Value?
Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) became well-known for his ethics of reverence for life. While Schweitzer’s life and his ethics have had an enormous appeal to wide audiences all over the world, philosophers have generally ignored his contribution. This may be a loss for philosophy, for, despite some internal problems and inconsistencies, Schweitzer’s ethics of reverence for life promises a viable alternative to utilitarianism, Kantianism, and virtue ethics. The task of my paper is the following. Schweitzer argues that reverence for life is the basic ethical principle and the highest moral value. After briefly presenting Schweitzer’s view, I will consider two questions: 1. Can Schweitzer show that reverence for life is the highest moral value (principle)? 2. Is reverence for life a moral value in the first
place? I will argue that, with some provision, Schweitzer’s position is tenable. In response to the second question, by comparing Schweitzer with Isaiah Berlin, I maintain that reverence for life is a moral value. In response to the first question, Schweitzer’s position must be modified. By comparing Schweitzer with Nicolai Hartmann, I make a case that reverence for life is the most basic and fundamental, but not the highest moral value.