It Is the Responsibility of Every Human Being To Aspire To Do Something Worthwhile

Albert Einstein? Armand Hammer? Apocryphal?

med08Dear Quote Investigator: A hospital in Rhode Island has a display in the main lobby listing the names of generous donors. The following quotation attributed to Albert Einstein is also printed on the display:

It is the responsibility of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found.

I researched this statement because I wished to know what prompted Einstein to deliver this encouragement. Oddly, I was unable to find any direct evidence that he said or wrote these words. Is this Einstein’s instruction?

Quote Investigator: No. This statement was made by the businessman and philanthropist Armand Hammer and not by Albert Einstein.

In December 1988 “Life” magazine published a cover story called “The Big Picture: The Meaning of Life” which compiled comments from a variety of “philosophers, pundits and plain folk” who pondered “what it’s all about”. The confusion about the source of the quotation stems from the entry listed for Hammer excerpted here: 1

Industrialist/physician ARMAND HAMMER

The first thing I look at each morning is a picture of Albert Einstein I keep on the table right beside my bed. The personal inscription reads: “A person first starts to live when he can live outside of himself.” In other words, when he can have as much regard for his fellow man as he does for himself. I believe we are here to do good. It is the responsibility of every human being to aspire to do something worthwhile, to make this world a better place than the one he found.

Only the short inscription sentence enclosed in quotation marks was ascribed to Einstein. The passage after the quoted words should be credited to Hammer. Thus, the expression under investigation was attributed to Hammer in the pages of “Life”.

Here are additional selected citations in chronological order.

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Notes:

  1. 1988 December, Life, The Big Picture: The Meaning of Life: Philosophers, pundits and plain folk ponder what it’s all about, (Answer by Armand Hammer), Quote Page 89, Column 2, Published by Time, Inc, Chicago, Illinois and New York, New York. (Verified on microfilm)