"For You There Are No Strangers": Albert Schweitzer and the Ethics of Necessity in Pandemic America
Claiming millions of lives and affecting millions more, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrust humanity into a period of intense reflection on the fragility of life. However, in this time when people have been encouraged to care for their fellow human beings by taking the precautions necessary to protect one another, many have asked the same question as one of Jesus’ antagonistic opponents in the Gospel of Luke: “and who is my neighbor?” In addition to the virus, though, the United States has been plagued by another adversary: non-necessity toward the other. By claiming no responsibility for the well-being and care of others, no one – including our friends, family, and loved ones – is considered our neighbor.
In this paper, I argue that Albert Schweitzer can prove therapeutic on this front. In his work as a missionary doctor in the Congo, Schweitzer developed an incredibly comprehensive system of ethics, extending not only to humanity, but to animal and non-sentient life in toto. In this, Schweitzer emphasizes one’s necessity and responsibility toward all other manifestations of the universal “will-to-live.” This ethical system has the potential of providing us a framework to think through humanity’s obligation to one another amidst the Covid-19 pandemic. By utilizing his language and concepts and applying them to our current situation, an argument can be made for the same reciprocity and mutual care of one another in 21st century America.
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Young, Joel (J.T.), ""For You There Are No Strangers": Albert Schweitzer and the Ethics of Necessity in Pandemic America" (2022). Faculty Scholarship. 413.