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By Mike W. Martin

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Extra resources for Albert Schweitzer's Reverence for Life

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Act-utilitarianism, as it is now called, says that in each situation we ought to choose the action that maximizes the overall good, impartially considering each person affected. Act-utilitarianism elevates moral demands to a responsibility without limits, but it does so impersonally rather than through personal projects of love essential for self-realization. 60 First, it undermines respect for the individual. In effect, utilitarians treat each of us as mere means to maximizing the general good, thereby reducing self-realization to merely one item to be weighed impartially along with others.

105. On ideals as providing guidance, see Nicholas Rescher, Ethical Idealism (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 1987). See also Alasdair MacIntyre, After Virtue, 2nd edn (Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 1984); Iris Murdoch, The Sovereignty of Good (London: Ark Paperbacks, 1985); and Edmund L. Pincoffs, Quandaries and Virtues (Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 1986). Albert Schweitzer, Philosophy of Civilization, pp. 311, 314–15, 328. Cf. Harry G. Frankfurt, The Reasons of Love (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2004).

Specific ideals cannot be absolute in their requirements if they are constantly conflicting with each other in ways that require exceptions to some of them. Understanding any one specific ideal of goodness – whether compassion or justice or honesty – requires balancing it with other ideals in practical situations. This balancing and integrating of specific ideals is essential to reverence for life, as to any other ethical theory. Schweitzer fails to account for it adequately, however, because he introduces a confused dichotomy between the ethical (moral absolute) and the necessary (practical necessity).

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