The 2023 Schweitzer Institute Conference took place at Peterhouse, University of Cambridge, on November 10th
Albert Schweitzer’s Philosophy of Civilization a hundred years on: thoughts and reflections
In 1923 Albert Schweitzer published two volumes with the original titles Kulturphilosophie. i. Verfall und Wiederaufbau der Kultur and Kulturphilosophie. ii. Kultur und Ethik. These were translated into English in the same year by C. T. Campion as The Philosophy of Civilization I: The Decay and Restoration of Civilization and Philosophy and Civilization II: Civilization and Ethics. They were planned as the first part of a four volume project, which Schweitzer was never to finish, though he was to spend extended periods in the 1930s trying to complete the task. In these expansive and ambitious volumes, Schweitzer seeks first to diagnose what the problems of society are and then present a solution, which incorporates a very particular but wide-ranging analysis of the western philosophical tradition with some comments on Chinese and Indian religions. The works, which were completed as Schweitzer was about to set out for his second stay in Lambaréné in the Gabon, build upon thoughts which can be traced back to Schweitzer’s early twenties, and which he had sought, in different form, to give voice to in a work which was only published many years after his death, entitled Wir Epigonen, written while he was an internee of the French government from 1915-18. They are written in a deliberately accessible style, defying the strictly academic mode of philosophical writing, not least because their aim is to provide a template for what one could best describe as the moral restoration of society. They contain some of the earliest, but not the earliest, discussions of Schweitzer’s signature concept, reverence for life, and constitute the most complete and considered presentation both of Schweitzer’s philosophical thinking and his writing style, even if the task he had set himself remained unfulfilled.
To celebrate the one hundredth year since the publication of these two volumes, the Schweitzer Institute organised a conference with an international group of speakers with different specialisms and different interests in Schweitzer. Papers focused on the intellectual and cultural setting of the works, the character of the arguments they employ, the intellectual and historical inspirations behind them, Schweitzer’s understanding of the character and role of philosophy, his engagement with particular philosophical traditions, and the ways in which he sought to complete the works in the 1930s. As well as providing the attendees with an original and stimulating introduction to the central elements of Schweitzer’s thought in a variety of contexts, it is hoped that the conference also showed why Schweitzer’s distinctive approach to philosophy, predicated upon a view of it as principally having a public and ethical role, and the content of his philosophy, remain relevant to the world of the twenty-first century.
Ulrich Körtner (University of Vienna), ‘The intellectual and cultural context of Schweitzer’s Work Decay and Restauration of Civilization’.
Christoph Chalamet (University of Geneva), ‘‘Früher war es anders (‘In earlier times it was different.’)”. ‘Schweitzer between nostalgia and hope for ‘regeneration’’.
Predrag Cicovacki (College of the Holy Cross), ‘Forging the broken sword of idealism anew’.
Roger Crisp (University of Oxford), ‘Schweitzer and British moral philosophy’.
Percy Mark (Ambassador for Reverence for Life UK), ‘Issues surrounding the non-completion of volumes III & IV’.
‘The intellectual and cultural context of Schweitzer’s Work Decay and Restauration of Civilization’
‘‘Früher war es anders (‘In earlier times it was different.’)”. ‘Schweitzer between nostalgia and hope for ‘regeneration’’
‘Forging the broken sword of idealism anew’
‘Schweitzer and British moral philosophy’
‘Issues surrounding the non-completion of volumes III & IV’
Writing and Amnesia: Some Quests for Jesus that Schweitzer Forgot
A Pauline Sensual Spell? Albert Schweitzer’s Eco-mysticism and the Present
Albert Schweitzer and Cambridge University
Albert Schweitzer as an Intellectual
Schweitzer's Legacy, Climate Change and Food Security on a U.S University Campus