Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life by Mike W. Martin

By Mike W. Martin

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52 Moral perfectionism takes many forms, and it constitutes an emphasis (on moral excellence) that many kinds of ethical theory might take. 54 Schweitzer’s version of moral perfectionism begins with authenticity, unfolds in terms of specific virtues and ideals, while emphasizing personal projects of love, and culminates in spiritual unity with all life. 55 For the most part, the common good is promoted indirectly, as individuals develop their talents and interests within a framework of moral ideals.

Holistic theories (ecocentric ethics) locate inherent worth in communities of life interacting with the inorganic environment (ecosystems), types of life (species) and nature in its entirety. Reverence for life bridges this individualistic–holistic dichotomy by locating worth in both individual organisms and life in its unity. The holistic, unity-of-life, theme is prominent in the earliest statement of reverence for life in 1919. 4 He expresses astonishment at how life arises, passes away and endlessly transforms into other life.

19 Schweitzer wants us to value the cheetah, to promote its survival and development according to its nature, but to do so in abstraction from its defining nature as a predator of gazelle, each of whose survival and development we should also value. 20 I believe that reverence for life can be modified in this way while retaining a sense of each life having value. 22 The will-to-live argument provides the primary argument for valuing each organism. As we saw in Chapter 2, that argument appeals to a combination of reason and empathy to expand our innate but limited sympathy.

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