Schweitzer’s “will to live” and Darwin’s first principle

“The most immediate fact of man’s consciousness is the assertion ‘I am life that wills to live in the midst of life that wills to live’”, Albert Schweitzer said about his theory of “Reverence of Life”. Conceived much later than Darwin’s theory, this “will to live” is the puzzling factor in all of modern evolutionary theory. Or rather when this “will” no longer exists.

Before the birth of modern molecular evolutionary theory, when experts used to believe that evolution operates only at the level of the population, altruism was hard explain. People did not know why a deer in a herd will lay down its own life for others. But then comes “kin theory”, George Price, and Dawkin’s “selfish gene”, which emphatically say that evolution  operates even at the level of the “gene”. And it is understandable why I might prefer to die for my parents or my sister. Be it population or gene, natural selection operates on the premise that all living creatures, organisms and molecules, fundamentally want to propagate themselves. Or rather, “will to live” is a basic materialistic phenomenon with no obvious reason or rationality. In short, an assumption, a whim is the first principle of all modern biological theories.

But in higher animals, particularly in some mammals, specially humans and even in dolphins, there is this phenomenon of “lack of will to live” with no apparent reason. Some might say these are all aberrations created out of neurons misfiring in the brain. It’s a disease that can be cured by medicine. Is it really so? Is it not true that one fine morning you might get up and feel that everything you wanted to do in your life has been achieved, and there is nothing more to do– “It’s a good day to die”. Or, someday you might say, not out of morbid despair, but out of sheer rational thought that you can no longer contribute anything to anyone and your “will to live” no longer justifies your existence. If it happens, should you continue your pointless existence? If you do, it will be a tragedy. As Schweitzer once said, “The tragedy of life is what dies inside a man while he lives”.


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