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By Mike W. Martin

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Extra resources for Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life

Sample text

The will-to-live argument is designed to show that we ought to feel empathy and compassion because all lives are like us, in a morally relevant way. That way consists in having a will to live, understood as tendencies to survive and develop according to its nature. Even after we set aside anthropomorphic images, however, we can understand most organisms as having these tendencies. Several recent ethicists have contributed to this understanding. ’39 And Gary E. ’40 Ultimately, how far we widen the circle of moral concern turns on our capacities for bioempathy, and those capacities vary greatly.

In short, we can make sense of empathy, sympathy and compassion towards non-human lives without relying on objectionable types of anthropomorphizing. Yet, making sense is one thing; justifying is another. Why ought we to cultivate such feelings towards all non-human life? The answer cannot be that all life has value, for that begs the question. The will-to-live argument is designed to show that we ought to feel empathy and compassion because all lives are like us, in a morally relevant way. That way consists in having a will to live, understood as tendencies to survive and develop according to its nature.

This approach is less demanding than act-utilitarianism because the rules can be adjusted to make more limited and reasonable demands. Schweitzer would have little interest in this preoccupation with rules, however, for he is convinced that an ethics of virtues and ideals elicits stronger moral commitments that indirectly produce more overall good while respecting individual autonomy. ’63 Schweitzer would agree that the overall good is best promoted by affirming myriad personal projects. 64 At the same time, he insists that the primary importance of these projects lies in self-realization and respect for authenticity.

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