Monday, December 31, 2012

Out of My Life and Thought - Albert Schweitzer

A perfect foil to the last book I read and a nice finish to the year.  This is the autobiography of Albert Schweitzer, written in 1931 and with a postscript for 1933-39.  I knew of his charitable work as a doctor in Africa but knew nothing of his background as a theologian, lecturer, teacher, philosopher, author and organist.  He was amazingly prolific in his writings and acquired an extensive education through single minded focus and will.  As a young adult he had realized that:
 " struck me as incomprehensible that I should be allowed to live such a happy life while I saw so many people around me wrestling with care and suffering....there came to me...the thought that I must not accept this happiness as a matter of course, but must give something in return for it".
He finished a doctorate in philosophy and preached and lectured before choosing at the age of 30 to pursue a doctor of medicine with the plan of volunteering to serve in the French Congo, now Gabon, as his means of giving something back.  Imagine taking on a second career requiring seven years of school in order to "give something in return"!  Dr Schweitzer founded a hospital to care for the natives of the Congo which is still in operation today.  While working the rest of his life as a doctor, he continued to write and and develop a universal ethic for life, resulting in his philosophy of the Reverence for Life which he describes as:
"my fundamental principle of morality, namely, that good consists in maintaining, assisting and enhancing life, and to destroy, to harm or to hinder life is evil."
He speaks of all we know for sure is that we have a "will to live" - this is in contrast to Nietzsche's "will to power". He rejects nihilism and embraces a positive meaning to man's existence and lived his beliefs out in caring for others.   "I stand and work in the world today as one who aims at making men less shallow and morally better by making them think".

Reading Nietzsche and Schweitzer exposed me to some of the thinking of the early 20th century when men pondered the meaning of life and existence, where they pursued learning and spoke of serious thoughts.

Published: 1933 with postscript 1932-1949  Read: December 2012   Genre: auto-biography

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