May 16. 2016
... Let us dare to face the situation. Man has become superman. He is a superman because he not only has at his disposal innate physical forces, but also commands, thanks to scientific and technological advances, the latent forces of nature which he can now put to his own use. To kill at a distance, man used to rely solely on his own physical strength; he used it to bend the bow and to release the arrow. The superman has progressed to the stage where, thanks to a device designed for the purpose, he can use the energy released by the combustion of a given combination of chemical products. This enables him to employ a much more effective projectile and to propel it over far greater distances.
However, the superman suffers from a fatal flaw. He has failed to rise to the level of superhuman reason which should match that of his superhuman strength. He requires such reason to put this vast power to solely reasonable and useful ends and not to destructive and murderous ones. Because he lacks it, the conquests of science and technology become a mortal danger to him rather than a blessing.
In this context is it not significant that the first great scientific discovery, the harnessing of the force resulting from the combustion of gunpowder, was seen at first only as a means of killing at a distance?
The conquest of the air, thanks to the internal-combustion engine, marked a decisive advance for humanity. Yet men grasped at once the opportunity it offered to kill and destroy from the skies. This invention underlined a fact which had hitherto been steadfastly denied: the more the superman gains in strength, the poorer he becomes. To avoid exposing himself completely to the destruction unleashed from the skies, he is obliged to seek refuge underground like a hunted animal. At the same time he must resign himself to abetting the unprecedented destruction of cultural value.
A new stage was reached with the discovery and subsequent utilization of the vast forces liberated by the splitting of the atom. After a time, it was found that the destructive potential of a bomb armed with such was incalculable, and that even large-scale tests could unleash catastrophes threatening the very existence of the human race. Only now has the full horror of our position become obvious. No longer can we evade the question of the future of mankind.
But the essential fact which we should acknowledge in our conscience, and which we should have acknowledged a long time ago, is that we are becoming inhuman to the extent that we become supermen. We have learned to tolerate the facts of war: that men are killed en masse -some twenty million in the Second World War - that whole cities and their inhabitants are annihilated by the atomic bomb, that men are turned into living torches by incendiary bombs. We learn of these things from the radio or newspapers and we judge them according to whether they signify success for the group of peoples to which we belong, or for our enemies. When we do admit to ourselves that such acts are the results of inhuman conduct, our admission is accompanied by the thought that the very fact of war itself leaves us no option but to accept them. In resigning ourselves to our fate without a struggle, we are guilty of inhumanity.
What really matters is that we should all of us realize that we are guilty of inhumanity. The horror of this realization should shake us out of our lethargy so that we can direct our hopes and our intentions to the coming of an era in which war will have no place.
This hope and this will can have but one aim: to attain, through a change in spirit, that superior reason which will dissuade us from misusing the power at our disposal.
…Today if we are to avoid our own downfall, we must commit ourselves to this spirit once again. It must bring forth a new miracle just as it did in the Middle Ages, an even greater miracle than the first.
The spirit is not dead; it lives in isolation. It has overcome the difficulty of having to exist in a world out of harmony with its ethical character. It has come to realize that it can find no home other than in the basic nature of man. The independence acquired through its acceptance of this realization is an additional asset.
Once more we dare to appeal to the whole man, to his capacity to think and feel, exhorting him to know himself and to be true to himself. We reaffirm our trust in the profound qualities of his nature. And our living. experiences are proving us right.
… peoples, can overcome their naive nationalism only by adopting a humanitarian ideal. But how is such a change to be brought about? Only when the spirit becomes a living force within us and leads us to a civilization based on the humanitarian ideal, will it act, through us, upon these peoples. All men, even the semicivilized and the primitive, are, as beings capable of compassion, able to develop a humanitarian spirit. It abides within them like tinder ready to be lit, waiting only for a spark.
Only when an ideal of peace is born in the minds of the peoples will the institutions set up to maintain this peace effectively fulfill the function expected of them.
Even today, we live in an age characterized by the absence of peace; even today, nations can feel themselves threatened by other nations; even today, we must concede to each nation the right to stand ready to defend itself with the terrible weapons now at its disposal.
* Dr. Schweitzer delivered this lecture in the Auditorium of Oslo University almost a year after having received the Nobel. The Oslo Aftenposten for November 5 reports that he read quietly from a manuscript and that the seriousness and simplicity of his speech moved the audience. This translation is based on the text in French, the language which Dr. Schweitzer used on this occasion, published in Lex Prix Nobel en 1954.