Albert Einstein on the moral obligation of the scientist

What, then, is the position of today’s man of science as a member of society? He obviously is rather proud of the fact that the work of scientists has helped to change radically the economic life of men by almost completely eliminating muscular work. He is distressed by the fact that the results of his scientific work have created a threat to mankind since they have fallen into the hands of morally blind exponents of political power. He is conscious of the fact that technological methods, made possible by his work, have led to a concentration of economic and also of political power in the hands of small minorities which have come to dominate completely the lives of the masses of people, who appear more and more amorphous. But even worse: the concentration of economic and political power in the hands of a few has not only made the man of science dependent economically, it also threatens his independence from within; the shrewd methods of intellectual and psychic influences which it brings to bear will prevent the development of independent personalities.

Thus the man of science, as we can observe with our own eyes, suffers a truly tragic fate. Striving in great sincerity for clarity and inner independence, he himself, through his sheer superhuman efforts, has machined the tools which are being used to make him a slave and to destroy him also from within. He cannot escape being muzzled by those who have political power in their hands. As a soldier he is forced to sacrifice his own life and to destroy the lives of others even when he is convinced of the absurdity of such sacrifices. He is fully aware of the fact that universal destruction is unavoidable since historical development has led to the concentration of all economic, political and military power in the hands of national states. He also realizes that mankind can only be saved if a super-national system, based on law, were created to eliminate for all time the methods of brute force. However, the man of science has slipped so much that he accepts the slavery inflicted upon him by national states as his inevitable fate. He even degrades himself to such an extent that he helps obediently in the perfection of the means for the general destruction of mankind.

Is there really no escape for the man of science? Must he really tolerate and suffer all these indignities?

Is the time gone forever when, aroused by his inner freedom and the independence of his thinking and his work, he had a chance of enlightening and enriching the lives of his fellow human beings? In placing his work too much on an intellectual basis has he not forgotten about his responsibility and dignity? My answer is: while it is true that an inherently free and scrupulous person may be destroyed, such an individual can never be enslaved or used as a blind tool.
Albert Einstein in his speech “On the moral obligation of the scientist” addressed to the 43rd meeting of the Societa Italiana per il Progresso delle Scienze (Lucca, Italy: October 1950). First published in the newsletter of the Society for Social Responsibility in Science (December 1951). Translated from the German by Ira M. Freeman. Published in The Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists, Volume 8, Number 2, (Chicago, Illinois: The Education Foundation for Nuclear Science, February 1952), p. 35.

Albert Einstein Posted on behalf of on Saturday, May 29th, 2010 under Quotations.

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