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The Dilemma We Face

post #1 of 9
Thread Starter 
“An Absolute Ethic†by Dr. Albert Schweitzer (Kultur und Ethik, pp 247-251, C. H. Beck’sche Verlagsbuchhandlung, Munich, 1923).

What is the attitude of the ethics of reverence for life when confronted by the conflicts which arise between the inner compulsion toward self-sacrifice and the necessity for self-assertion?

I myself am subject to the division of the will-to-live within myself. In a thousand ways my existence is in conflict with others. The necessity of taking life and harming life is imposed upon me. When I walk along a lonely path my foot brings pain and death to the tiny forms of life that populate it. To preserve my life, I must defend it against the life that injures it. I become a persecutor of the little mouse that lives in my house, a murderer of the insect that wants to build its nest there, a mass-murderer of the bacteria that endanger my life. I get my food by the destruction of plants and animals. My happiness is built upon injury to my fellow creatures.

How can ethics be maintained in the light of the cruel necessity into which I am thrown by the inner conflict of the will-to-live?

The ordinary ethic tries to compromise. It seeks to show how much of my life and my happiness I must sacrifice, and how much I am permitted to preserve at the expense of the life and happiness of others. Out of these judgments it fashions an experimental, relative ethic. It sets forth as ethical what in reality is not ethical but rather a mixture of the ethical with non-ethical necessity. In this way monstrous confusion arises. Because of it the conception of the ethical is increasingly obscured.

The ethic of reverence for life recognizes no relative ethic. It considers good only the maintenance and furtherance of life. It brands as evil all that destroys and hurts life, no matter what the circumstances may be. It keeps no store of appropriate compromises between ethics and necessity ready for use. Again and again, and always in some original fashion, the absolute ethic of reverence for life brings a man to terms with reality. It does not rid him of conflicts, but it forces him to decide for himself in every case how far he can remain ethical, and how far he must yield to the necessity of destroying and harming life and suffer the ensuing guilt. A man does not make moral progress by being instructed in compromises between the ethical and the necessary, but only by hearing ever more clearly the voice of the ethical, by being ruled ever more strongly by a longing to preserve life and to promote it, and by withstanding ever more stubbornly the necessity for destroying and injuring it.

In ethical conflicts a man can make only subjective decisions. No one can decide for him in any case where the extreme limit of possibility lies in his persistence in preserving and promoting life. He alone can make this decision, being guided in it by a feeling of the most elevated responsibility toward other life.

We must never become callous. When we experience the conflicts ever more deeply we are living in truth. The quiet conscience is an invention of the devil.

What does reverence for life say about the relations between man and the animal world?

Whenever I injure any kind of life I must be quite certain that it is necessary. I must never go beyond the unavoidable, not even in apparently insignificant things. The farmer who has mowed down a thousand flowers in his meadow in order to feed his cows must be careful on his way home not to strike the head off a single flower by the side of the road in idle amusement, for he thereby infringes the law of life without being under the pressure of necessity.

Those who experiment upon animals by surgery and drugs, or inoculate them with diseases in order to be able to help mankind by the results obtained, should never quiet their consciences with the conviction that their cruel action may in general have a worthy purpose. In every single instance they must consider whether it is really necessary to demand of an animal this sacrifice for men. And they must take anxious care that the pain be mitigated as far as possible. How many outrages are committed in scientific institutions through the failure to administer anesthetics to save time and trouble! And how many others by subjecting animals to torture simply to demonstrate phenomena already generally known!

By the very fact that animals through these painful experiments have contributed so much of value to suffering mankind, a new and special bond of solidarity has been established between them and us. From this arises the obligation for each of us to do every possible good to all animals everywhere. Whenever I help an insect in its need I am only trying to discharge something of the ever-growing debt of mankind to the animal world. Whenever an animal is somehow forced into the service of men, every one of us must be concerned for any suffering it bears on that account. No one of us may permit any preventable pain to be inflicted, even though the responsibility for that pain is not ours. No one may appease his conscience by thinking that he would be interfering in something that does not concern him. No one may shut his eyes, and think that the pain, which is therefore not visible to him, is non-existent. Let no one make the burden of his responsibility light. When so much mistreatment of animals continues, when the cries of thirsty beasts from our railway cars die out unheard, when so much brutality prevails in our slaughter houses, when animals meet a painful death in our kitchens from unskilled hands, when animals suffer incredibly from merciless men and are turned over to the cruel play of children, we all bear the guilt for it.

We are afraid of shocking people if we let it be noticed how much we are moved by the suffering man brings to animals. We think that others may have become more “rational†than we, and may accept as customary and as a matter of course the things we have gotten excited about. Once in a while, however, a word suddenly slips out which shows that even they have not yet become reconciled to this suffering. Now they come very close to us though they were formerly strangers. The masks with which we were deceiving each other fall off. Now we learn from each other that no one is able to escape the grip of the cruelty that flourishes ceaselessly around us.

The ethic of reverence for life prompts us to keep each other alert to what troubles us and to speak and act dauntlessly together in discharging the responsibility that we feel. It keeps us watching together for opportunities to bring some sort of help to animals in recompense for the great misery that men inflict upon them, and thus for a moment we escape from the incomprehensible horror of existence.
post #2 of 9
Dear Joe,

We all do bear the guilt and horror don't we....thank you so much for sharing that.

post #3 of 9
I totally agree with this position regarding animal testing. Test only what is absolutely necessary and try to make it as painless and stressless as possible.
post #4 of 9
I am completely against animal testing, how would humans like it if vets atarted testing animal drugs on us?? I am sure there would be a big fuss over that....
post #5 of 9
Wow, Mr. Cat....that was DEEP! (And very thought provoking)
I too am against testing on animals unless it is for a cure for some horrible disease that man has no cure for, and that cannot be tested on humans. I think then and only then, it is necessary....in order to possible save thousands of human lives, we may have to sacrifice a few animals....(rats, etc..) but it it is testing for any other reason.....I am absolutely against it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
I hope my opinion doesn't anger anyone.
post #6 of 9
I would like to add, however....that I would want these experiments to be as painless as possible to the animal, so they don't suffer, and that it should only be done within reason, like when a person is sure he has found a cure...not just random testing like...."Let's inject the rat with this disease, and then try injecting him with gasoline and see if THAT cures it."

Does that make any sense? It should only be done when a cure is almost positive. Then okay...try it out on an animal before a human.

I'm not saying humans lives are more important than animals, but unless everyone here is a vegetarian, I think we can all agree that we do to some extent put more value on human lives.
post #7 of 9
Thread Starter 
It seems to me your point of view on this matter coincides exactly with that of Dr. Schweitzer. Be they animals or plants, other species suffer terribly at the hands of humans; and the best we can do, if we are in a position to do so, is to mitigate against such suffering by all means.

Just now, this matter has sparked a furious debate at one of the message boards I frequent. For reasons beyond my comprehension, people who have received life-saving medical treatments based in part upon animal testing are the ones with the least sympathy for those animals' suffering!

They present themselves as very hateful people. It boggles my mind.

post #8 of 9
That is really very sad that they feel that way....those animals may have saved their lives....so why would they not care how much suffering the animal had to go through to do it!!! People sometimes infuriate me.
post #9 of 9
How many people here ARE vegetarians? Count me as one. Anyone else?
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