Becoming a Freethinker and a Scientist

Religious Concepts


The Meaning of Life

Purpose in Nature

The Soul

On Ego, Consciousness, and “Eternal Life”


No Personal God

Short Comments on God


Science and Religion

The Mysterious

The Religiousness of Science

The Development of Religion

Science and Religion

Religion and Science: Irreconcilable?

A Conversation with Gustav Bucky

Short Comments on Religion


Morals and Emotions

On Good and Evil


The World As I See It

My Credo

Einstein's Faith

Short Comments on Einstein's Faith

Spinoza and Einstein

Einstein's Last Thoughts


Belief Breeds Intolerance

Miscellaneous Comments


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Morals and Emotions

From Einstein's Out of My Later Years, pp. 15 - 20.

We all know, from what we experience with and within ourselves, that our conscious acts spring from our desires and our fears. Intuition tells us that that is true also of our fellows and of the higher animals. We all try to escape pain and death, while we seek what is pleasant. We all are ruled in what we do by impulses; and these impulses are so organized that our actions in general serve for our self-preservation and and that of the race. Hunger, love, pain, fear are some of those inner forces which rule the individual's instinct for self-preservation. At the same time, as social beings, we are moved in the relations with our fellow beings by such feelings as sympathy, pride, hate, need for power, pity, and so on. All these primary impulses, not easily described in words, are the springs of man's actions. All such action would cease if those powerful elemental forces were to cease stirring within us.

Though our conduct seems so very different from that of the higher animals, the primary instincts are much alike in them and in us. The most evident difference springs from the important part which is played in man by a relatively strong power of imagination and by the capacity to think, aided as it by language and other svmbolical devices.

Thought is the organizing factor in man:intersected between the causal primary instincts and the resuIting actions. In that way imagination and intelligence enter into our existence in the part of servants of the primary instincts. But their intervention makes our acts to serve ever less merely the immediate claims of our instincts. Through them the primary instinct attaches itself to ends which become ever more distant. Einstein

The instincts bring thought into action, and thought provokes intermediary actions inspired by emotions which are likewise related to the ultimate end. Through repeated performance, this process brings it about that ideas and beliefs acquire and retain a strong effective power even after the ends which gave them that power are long forgotten. In abnormal cases of such intensive borrowed emotions, which cling to objects emptied of their erstwhile effective meaning, we speak of fetishism.

Yet the process which I have indicated plays a very important part also in ordinary life. Indeed there is no doubt that to this process-which one may describe as a spiritualizing of the emotions and of thought-that to it man owes the most subtle and refined pleasures of which he is capable: the pleasure in the beauty of artistic creation and of logical trains of thought.

As far as I can see, there is one consideration which 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, satisfaction, and as small a measure as possible of suffering.

Of course, this is general requirement is much too vague that we should be able draw from it with confidence specific rules to guide the individuaIs 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 keen 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 can we 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 how they have tried to solve the problem.

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The 1941 photograph of Einstein playing the violin was taken at concert appearance on behalf of the American Friends Service Committee for Refugee Children. It comes from Louie de Broglie et al.