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FOR A UNIVERSAL MORALITY Letter from ALBERT EINSTEIN to the powerful heads of states after the Second World War

FOR A UNIVERSAL MORALITY Letter from ALBERT EINSTEIN to the powerful heads of states after the Second World War

Letter from ALBERT EINSTEIN to the powerful heads of states after the Second World War (*).

As far as I can see, there is one consideration [that] stands at the threshold of all moral teaching. If men as individuals surrender to the call of their elementary instincts, avoiding pain and seeking satisfaction only for their own selves, the result for them all taken together must be a state of insecurity, of fear, and of promiscuous misery. If, besides that, they use their intelligence from an individualist, i.e., a selfish standpoint, building up their life on the illusion of a happy, unattached existence, things will be hardly better. In comparison with the other elementary instincts and impulses, the emotions of love, of pity, and of friendship are too weak and too cramped to lead to a tolerable state of human society.
The solution of this problem, when freely considered, is simple enough, and it seems also to echo from the teachings of the wise men of the past always in the same strain: All men should let their conduct be guided by the same principles; and those principles should be such, that by following them there should accrue to all as great a measure as possible of security and satisfaction, and as small a measure as possible of suffering.

Of course, this general requirement is much too vague that we should be able to draw from it with confidence specific rules to guide the individuals in their actions. And indeed, these specific rules will have to change in keeping with changing circumstances. If this were the main difficulty that stands in the way of that deep conception, the millenary fate of man would have been incomparably happier than it actually was, or still is. Man would not have killed man, tortured each other, exploited each other by force and by guile.

The real difficulty, the difficulty which has baffled the sages of all times, is rather this: how we can make our teaching so potent in the emotional life of man that its influence should withstand the pressure of the elemental psychic forces in the individual? We do not know, of course, if the sages of the past have really asked themselves this question, consciously and in this form; but we do know they have tried to solve the problem.

Long before men were ripe, namely, to be faced with such a universal moral attitude, fear of the dangers of life had led them to attribute to various imaginary personal beings, not physically tangible, power to release those natural forces [that] men feared or perhaps welcomed. And they believed that those beings, [that] everywhere dominated their imagination were psychically made in their own image but were endowed with superhuman powers. These were the primitive precursors of the idea of God. Sprung in the first place from the fears which filled man’s daily life, the belief in the existence of such beings and in their extraordinary powers has had an influence so strong that it is difficult for us to imagine on men and their conduct. Hence it is not surprising that those who set out to establish the moral idea, as embracing all men equally, did so by linking it closely with religion. And the fact that those moral claims were the same for all men, may have had much to do with the development of mankind’s religious culture from polytheism to monotheism.

The universal moral idea thus owed its original psychological potency to that link with religion. Yet in another sense, that close association was fatal for the moral idea. Monotheistic religion acquired different forms with various peoples and groups. Although those differences were by no means fundamental, yet they soon were felt more strongly than the essentials that were common. And in that way religion often caused enmity and conflict, instead of binding mankind together with the universal moral idea.

Then came the growth of the natural sciences, with their great influence on thought and practical life, weakening still more in modern times the religious sentiment of the peoples. The causal and objective mode of thinking – though not necessarily in contradiction with the religious sphere – leaves in most people little room for a deepening religious sense. And because of the traditional close link between religion and morals, that has brought with it the last hundred years or so a serious weakening of moral thought and sentiment. That, to my mind, is a main cause for the barbarization of political ways in our time. Taken together with the terrifying efficiency of the new technical means, that barbarization already forms a fearful threat for the civilized world.

Needless to say, one is glad that religion strives to work for the realization of the moral principle. Yet the moral imperative is not a matter for the church and religion alone but the most precious traditional possession of all mankind. Consider from this standpoint the position of the press, or of the schools with their competitive method! Everything is dominated by the cult of efficiency and of success, and not by the value of things and men in relation to the moral ends of human society. To that must be added the moral deterioration resulting from a ruthless economic struggle. The deliberate nurturing of the moral sense also outside the religious sphere, however, should help also in this, to lead men to look upon social problems as so many opportunities for joyous service toward a better life. For looked at from a simple human point of view, moral conduct does not mean merely a stern demand to renounce some of the desired joys of life but rather a sociable interest in a happier lot for all men.

This conception implies one requirement above all – that every individual should have the opportunity to develop gifts which may be latent in him. Alone in that way can the individual obtain the satisfaction to which he is justly entitled; and alone in that way can the community achieve its richest flowering. For everything that is really great and inspiring is created by the individual who can labor in freedom. Restriction is justified only insofar as it may be needed for the security of existence.

There is one other thing [that] follows from that conception – that we must not only tolerate differences between individuals and between groups, but we should indeed welcome them and look upon them as an enriching of our existence. That is the essence of all true tolerance; without tolerance in this widest sense there can be no question of true morality.

(*) EXTRACT FROM THE LAST MESSAGE from A. EINSTEIN
This message constitutes a posthumous warning from EINSTEIN to politicians. This warning was transmitted by Lord RUSSEL, English philosopher, to Marshal BOULGARINE, to President EISENHOWER to Mr. René COTY, last President of the Fourth French Republic (1953-1959), to Sir ANTHONY British Prime Minister (1955-1957) and to Mao TSE TOUNG.

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