The New Rationalism

The New Rationalism: Albert Schweitzer's Philosophy of Reverence for Life

David K. Goodin
Copyright Date: 2013
Pages: 264
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  • Book Info
    The New Rationalism
    Book Description:

    Albert Schweitzer (1875-1965) preached a message of reverence for life - all life - that touched the hearts of a generation. As a medical doctor in French Equatorial Africa who selflessly helped those in need, Schweitzer was recognized with the Nobel Peace Prize in the wake of two world wars. But less than fifty years since the time of his death, the great humanitarian and scholar has faded from public awareness. In The New Rationalism, David Goodin explores the underlying philosophy behind Schweitzer's ethic of compassion, presenting it as a response to contemporary questions in social justice, economic equality, and environmental action. For the first time, the political, sociological, and philosophical contexts supporting the development of Schweitzer's ethic are examined in order to bring his timeless message of elemental morality to new life for the modern world. Inspired by Arthur Schopenhauer and Friedrich Nietzsche, Schweitzer built his ethic to create an elemental nature philosophy compatible with empirical science, and to support a new ontological understanding of the human person - a project he termed the New Rationalism. Goodin recovers and analyzes Schweitzer's arguments and shows where his theories can provide a framework for both environmental and civic ethics today.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-8814-1
    Subjects: Philosophy

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-2)
  5. Introduction
    (pp. 3-13)

    In the pages and chapters that follow, I examine the philosophy and ethics of the renowned twentieth-century scholar and humanitarian Albert Schweitzer (1875–1965). Specifically, I investigate how Schweitzer engages the writings of Arthur Schopenhauer (1788–1860) and Friedrich Nietzsche (1844–1900) to create what he refers to as an elemental nature philosophy that supports a mystical and ethical worldview – what he termed “Ethical Mysticism.” These borrowed and transformed elements collectively constitute his Reverence for Life ethic. In this book, I attempt to explain the intellectual history behind Schweitzer’s innovations, to reveal what this means for understanding Schweitzer’s contributions to...

  6. Chapter 1 The Crisis in Civilization
    (pp. 14-39)

    It was 1915 in French Equatorial Africa. Albert Schweitzer had only been in Lambaréné two years and was serving as a jungle doctor for people who did not have access to medical treatment in cities. He was now forty years old. At the age of thirty he decided that it was too selfish for him to remain in Europe and continue to write academic books and give organ concerts as he had done previously. Already possessing three doctorate degrees – one in philosophy, one in religious studies, and one in music – he now decided to enroll in medical school.¹ A man...

  7. Chapter 2 Schopenhauer and Schweitzer
    (pp. 40-57)

    Until recently, the centrality of Schopenhauer to Schweitzer’s philosophy was not well understood. Schweitzer mentions him only infrequently in his published works. Yet private correspondence tells a different story. In a letter Schweitzer wrote just three months before his death, he mentions that, as a schoolboy at Müllhouse Secondary School in Alsace, he studied under Wilhelm Deecke, who was “an enthusiastic follower” and a former pupil of Schopenhauer (Barsam 2002, 213).12And in another previously unpublished letter, Schweitzer responds to Jackson Lee Ice’s question regarding his greatest influences. He gave only one name in reply: “I felt, even at the...

  8. Chapter 3 Nietzsche and Schweitzer
    (pp. 58-75)

    Nietzsche was the first philosopher to wrestle with Darwin’s theory of evolution. In trying to understand the ramifications of evolution for the Western worldview, he became deeply concerned with what it meant for both ethics and the human place in the universe. Schweitzer would be drawn into these same problems and troubling questions through the writings of Nietzsche. Moreover, it was Nietzsche who provided him with the answers he needed in order to create his Reverence for Life ethic. This is reflected in a letter dated 19 February 1964 (Letters336–7):

    Nietzsche compelled me to keep being concerned with...

  9. Chapter 4 The New Rationalism
    (pp. 76-96)

    To briefly revisit the findings of the last two chapters, Schweitzer saw triumphs and flaws in both Schopenhauer and Nietzsche. In each he found something to secure his Reverence for Life ethic. Not only that, he saw a certain complementarity between their very different philosophical systems. To put it simply, Schweitzer believed that bothnearlyhad it right but that each had fallen victim to particular errors. He spells out his assessment inThe Philosophy of Civilization:

    Nietzsche and Schopenhauer … are the only thinkers in this continent who philosophize in elemental fashion about the will-to-live, [yet make the mistake...

  10. Chapter 5 Metaphysics and Mysticism
    (pp. 97-127)

    The New Rationalism project arose from Schweitzer’s scholarly work on the New Testament, and this raises several important questions. First and foremost are the philosophical problems associated with essentialism, a theory that has fallen out of favour in contemporary academic circles. Frankly, the New Rationalism may come across as outmoded and unsupportable because of certain basic assumptions that anchor mainstream hermeneutical and phenomenological theory. One of my aims in this chapter is to show that Schweitzer’s work should not be seen as conflicting with these modern theories and that he deserves continued academic consideration. Next is the question of whether...

  11. Chapter 6 Practical Governance
    (pp. 128-156)

    The previous chapter examines the related subjects of metaphysics and mysticism. Reverence for Life is metaphysical only in the Aristotelian sense, not in the more fanciful associations that the common usage of the term might suggest. It is also onto-theological according to Heidegger’s definition, but it is not theological in the sense of being inseparable from Christianity or philosophical theism. Reverence for Life begins as an elemental nature philosophy, not a theology, and only Ethical Mysticism can become a religious worldview. Reverence for Life is mystical, yes. But it is not something limited to Christians. As Schweitzer declares: “My appeal...

  12. Chapter 7 Environmental Ethics
    (pp. 157-186)

    The last chapter shows the complexity of Schweitzer’s thought on the subject of civil governance. While it is my contention that his political framework is realistic, solid, and profound, the final picture – to put it lightly – was rather ambiguous as to exactly what a Reverence for Life society would look like, besides having a parliamentarian or bicameral government that checks and balances political power. These are sound principles for a representative democracy, yes. But a distinguishing feature of Schweitzer’s ethic, after all, is its valuation of non-human life. How can this be incorporated into such a system of governance? To...

  13. Epilogue
    (pp. 187-192)

    At a distance never too far behind his scholarly work is the enigma of the man himself. Schweitzer is an exceptionally complex historical figure to study, and his thoughts were not always recorded in written texts for scholars to later analyze. Much of the man, and especially his inner devotional life, will always remain a mystery. The focus of my book has been on his philosophy, not the biographical questions about his own personal experience of Ethical Mysticism. It is my position that there is a difference between the two. The philosophy supports mysticism: the mysticism, however, does not determine...

  14. Notes
    (pp. 193-208)
  15. References
    (pp. 209-216)
  16. Index
    (pp. 217-220)