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Ipseistic Ethics Beyond Moralism: Rooting the “Will to Serve” in “The Reverence for Life”

  • Chris Doude van TroostwijkEmail author
Chapter

Abstract

What kind of ethical justification, beyond sheer charity, can be given to the “will to serve” in philosophical reflection? This chapter endeavors to point out a possible answer. Oscillating between a Kantian “will to obey” (to the categorical moral law) and a Darwinian-Nietzschean “will to live”, it follows the footsteps of the servant leader avant la lettre: Albert Schweitzer. After offering a description of Schweitzer’s personal engagement with the poor in Lambarene, his work is analyzed from a philosophical angle. I argue that with his concept of Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben, Schweitzer invented a kind of spiritual realism. It functions as a complement to an over-formalistic Kantian ethics of obligation—such an ethics is combined by Schweitzer with the energy of compassion, while avoiding the pitfall of a naturalistic, ethical vitalism. Obligation needs vocation, and vocation is nurtured, not steered, from within nature itself. After outlining Schweitzer’s spiritual realism, I bring it into conversation with Paul Ricoeur, especially with the distinction made by him between idem and ipse. I conclude the chapter by outlining a philosophical basis for the servant leadership model: an altruism without sacrificial idealism that takes into account the reality of self-interested action. I argue that servant leadership demands more than obedience to a categorical imperative, as well as more than simply following one’s natural feelings of compassion. In contrast, it is a deliberately chosen, practical and existential ethics in which the life of a person enters into dialogical connection with his or her fellow creatures.

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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Luxembourg School of Religion & SocietyLuxembourgLuxembourg
  2. 2.Chair for Liberal Theology, Mennonite Seminary Free University AmsterdamAmsterdamThe Netherlands

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