International Center for Ethics in the Sciences and Humanities (IZEW)

Dr. Sabine Pohl


Albert Schweitzer's Ethics as a Philosophy of Culture: 'Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben' as a criterion for the use of Biotechnologies for human selfdesign?

My PhD-Thesis is investigating the ethics of Schweitzer under the point of their relevance to benchmark ethical problems in biotechnologies. Schweitzer's ethics, known as 'Ethik der Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben', has often been reduced to being utopic and not able to realize. One thing, that may lead to this judgement, may be the fact, that he hasn't been able to finish his Ethics. Especially Part 3 (KPh III) of his Philosophy of Culture, is bringing up new thoughts, that may include interesting ideas for todays problems in ethics. How ethics are implemented in a society, Schweitzer says, is always belonging closely to the culture of this society.Schweitzer starts with the argument, that the ethical behaviour is naturally existing in human beings. The closer the mental relation of a human being to his sourroundings, the further the circle of entities he thinks he is ethically responsable for.In human history the knowledge of nature has always been a big point of interest. With better knowledge, there were also created new problems: how to connect between biological and ethical interests? Mankind raised itself above nature by knowing about it's laws and using them for own interests. In 1945, before bioethical debates on cloning or PND were even possible to think of, Schweitzer realized this problems coming up. Today, we have a huge knowledge and possibilities in techniques to manipulate nature. We can 'create' better life for ourselves activly. But we haven't found a benchmark yet to evaluate wheather it might be right or wrong to do so. Schweitzer's ethics might be such a benchmark.In my PhD, I will investigate who used the term 'Ehrfurcht vor dem Leben' the first time, how much the zeitgeist influenced Schweitzer in his ethics and what kind of biocentrism he thought of. I want to transfer the results on todays ethical problems.The work consists of three parts. The first part is trying to explain the historical context of Schweitzer's ethics and to reconstruct his terms authentically. Part two will be looking for Schweitzer's understanding of Culture and Techniques. After that, part three will try to make this useful for common problems of ethics.With my PhD project I want to close the 'missing link' in the understanding of Schweitzer with his posthume published books of KPh III.


Studium der Philosophie und Neueren und Neuesten Geschichte an der Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen von 2003 - 2008. Von 2005 – Mai 2008 studentische, Juni - Dezember 2008 wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft am Lehrstuhl für Ethik in den Biowissenschaften von Frau Prof. Dr. Eve-Marie Engels.
Magisterabschluss im Mai 2008. Der Titel der Magisterarbeit lautete: Entscheidungen am Lebensende. Eine kritische Auseinandersetzung mit Stellungnahmen zur Sterbebegleitung.
Seit Oktober 2008 Promotion in Philosophie. Das Dissertationsprojekt wird erstbetreut durch Prof. Dr. Eve-Marie Engels.
Im Dezember 2008 Aufnahme in das DFG- Graduiertenkolleg zur „Selbstgestaltung des Menschen durch Biotechniken“.


E-Mail: sapohl[at]

Johannes Gutenberg Universität

Philosophisches Seminar

Jakob-Welder-Weg 18

55099 Mainz