Schweitzer Reconsidered: The Applicability of Reverence for Life as Environmental Philosophy

Goodin, David K.
Environmental Ethics Vol. 29/4 (2007), pages 403-21

As the last great philosopher of the will, Albert Schweitzer rejected the radical individualism of Nietzsche and the pessimistic-mystical detachment of Schopenhauer, and instead sought to create a true social ethic. Schweitzer’s particular contribution was to move further than Nietzsche to reconcile philosophy with natural science while simultaneously preserving and transforming the sense of mysticism and higher world-order principles from Schopenhauer. He joined this new cosmology to the virtue ethics of Aristotle, and recovered one key element of his ontology of becoming to transcend the Humean “is/ought” gap for ethics. The result is a philosophy that is as much biographical of Schweitzer himself as it is systematic. This result is both the strength and greatest weakness of his reverence-for-life ethic. It is tailor-made for contemporary environmental ethics: it has applications in many strands of environmental thought, including deep ecology, ecofeminism, and ecotheology, and may attract considerable interest from environmental movements that seek to cultivate deep personal conviction.