Løgstrup s Road to The Ethical Demand - PDF

Kees van Kooten Niekerk: Vejen til Den etiske fordring, in David Bugge and Peter Aaboe Sørensen (eds.): Livtag med den etiske fordring (Aarhus: Klim 2007), pp Løgstrup s Road to The Ethical Demand

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Kees van Kooten Niekerk: Vejen til Den etiske fordring, in David Bugge and Peter Aaboe Sørensen (eds.): Livtag med den etiske fordring (Aarhus: Klim 2007), pp Løgstrup s Road to The Ethical Demand [9] The Ethical Demand (henceforward: ED) was Løgstrup s first book on ethics. It was this book that made him well- known, initially in Denmark, later also internationally. The book was followed by a number of important works with an ethical content including some that were published after the author s death in This fact can easily seduce one into believing that ED marks a kind of starting point for the development of Løgstrup s ethical thinking. However, that would be a serious misunderstanding. On November 27 th 1956, the day on which ED appeared, the author was 51 years old and had been a professor of ethics and philosophy of religion for more than 13 years. His academic career had started as long ago as 1931, when he had written a prize essay about the ethics of Max Scheler. This means that the publication of ED was preceded by at least as many years of ethical thinking as followed afterwards. Therefore ED can also be regarded as the conclusion of a long process of reflection to be sure, a conclusion that at the same time constituted a point of departure for further development, but nevertheless a kind of conclusion. In this article I shall give an account of the process of reflection that led to ED. In my opinion such an account is interesting in itself, because it is instructive to see how a great thinker arrived at the thoughts for which he has become noted. But in addition I believe that insight into this thinking process can contribute to the understanding of the book that became its temporary conclusion. I shall try to show this in the last section. Let me begin with a remark about my method. Løgstrup s publications prior to ED are read here on the question of how far they contain ideas that can be regarded as stages on the road to the conception [10] of the ethical demand as it is presented in ED. This involves the risk that these ideas are plucked out of their original context and distorted. After all, Løgstrup did not have ED at the back of his mind when he developed them. For him they were part of taking a stand on the questions with which he concerned himself at the moment. I can only say that I have been aware of this risk and that, in my reading and writing, I have attempted to consider both the problem context of those ideas and their place within the text as a whole. On the other hand I have far from always made explicit which aspects of the ethical demand the described ideas point to. I have assumed that the reader has a certain previous knowledge of ED, which enables him or her to see the connections for themselves. If this proves to be an impediment to understanding, it might perhaps prompt the reader to read or re- read ED. And that would be no a bad thing! 1 1. The preceding history Løgstrup was concerned about ethics from the very beginning of his academic career. This is apparent from the fact that in his prize essay (for which he got a gold medal), he tackled nothing less than the problem of the foundation of ethics. However, his interest in ethics receded into the background when after the prize essay he set to work on a dissertation project which concerned epistemological questions. In 1933 this project resulted in a work on the phenomenology of Edmund Husserl. However, this dissertation was rejected. The dissertation process did not come to a conclusion until the acceptance of Den erkendelsesteoretiske Konflikt mellem den transcendentalfilosofiske Idealisme og Teologien (The Epistemological Conflict between Transcendental Idealism and Theology) in 1943, after two more dissertations had been rejected. 2 That Løgstrup deals with epistemological questions should not be taken to show that that he did not occupy himself with ethics in that period. Firstly, his epistemological engagement itself was at least originally motivated by an overarching interest in the fundamental questions of ethics. This appears from the introduction to the 1933 manuscript. Here Løgstrup writes that he regards this work as a preliminary study, which is to clear the way for a continuation of the investigation of the basic moral concepts and the foundation of ethics which he had started in the prize essay (1933, p. III; cf. p. 252). 3 Secondly, in the dissertation [11] period he wrote several articles about ethical questions. Finally, ethics is strongly represented in his posthumously published sermons from Sandager- Holevad (1995). The 1933 manuscript has significance for our subject not only because it connects Løgstrup s engagement with epistemological questions with his ethical interest; it is also important because Løgstrup offers an elaborate exposition in it of the phenomenology which was later to constitute the methodological basis of his human, that is, philosophical ethics in ED. 4 Løgstrup criticizes Husserl s phenomenology for sticking to a Kantian epistemological scheme, which regards cognition as an abstract subject s detached relation to objects. According to Løgstrup this phenomenology has now been surpassed by Heidegger s and Lipps s existential phenomenology. There cognition is regarded from the viewpoint of the involvement of concrete people with the world. Therefore it is fundamentally determined by the different ways in which people are involved. Løgstrup subscribes to this type of phenomenology, especially in Lipps s version, which describes involved cognition in its diversity, taking its point of departure in the expressions of everyday language. Two things are especially characteristic of Løgstrup s early ethics. Firstly it is characterized by thorough analyses of what is going on in and between human beings. These analyses are expressive of Løgstrup s philosophical interest in human relations. Yet they are not used to lay the foundation of a human ethics, but for the clarification of aspects of Christian ethics. Here we meet the other characteristic feature: even though Løgstrup to a great extent proceeds philosophically, he understands himself in this period fundamentally as a Christian ethicist, who finds the final ethical truth in divine revelation. This is connected with the fact that at an early stage he affiliated himself with dialectical theology. This 2 affiliation shows through already in the prize essay 5 and appears clearly in a lecture about theology and the humanities, which he gave in 1934 in connection with an application for a position as a Reader at the Faculty of Theology in Copenhagen. Here it is claimed that the subject matter of theology is the relationship to God, who meets the human being in revelation through Jesus. In the God- given faith in revelation, humans get a new understanding of existence: that the human being is God s property. Theology is based on this faith, which means that its own situation of investigation [is] itself embraced by this all- embracing understanding of existence (1938, p. 12). 6 [12] I want to call attention to one element of Løgstrup s early ethics, because this was to become of great importance for the development of his conception of the ethical demand. It is his treatment, in one of his application lectures of 1934, of the question of the ordered nature of social life. This question played an important part in the German theology of the creation ordinances in the 1930s, which revived Luther s doctrine of the ordinances. Put briefly, this doctrine states that at creation God ordered human life in certain ways, which serve the maintenance of life. Luther made a distinction between three basic ordinances: the household (which includes family life and working life), the state, and the church. Each ordinance contains different vocations or offices (e.g. spouse, parent and provider in the household), and each office has its own rules, which can be recognized by everyone, independently of God s revelation. The German theology of the creation ordinances in the 1930s elaborated and extended Luther s doctrine, so that for example the People ( das Volk ) was considered a creation ordinance as well. Moreover, Luther s doctrine was connected with the idea of an order inherent in social life (German: Eigengesetzlichkeit), which is to the effect that society s different areas of life such as science, culture, politics and economy have their own, objective laws. From a theological point of view these laws are regarded as the expressions of God s creation ordinances. 7 In his lecture Løgstrup takes his point of departure from the thesis that human beings are social beings in the sense that human beings from the start are dependent on one another (1934, p. 2). The reason is that human beings differ in complementary ways and therefore are in need of being supplemented by others. Society meets this need. It contains a number of basic forms such as matrimony, economy, state, people and culture, which correspond to essential forms of human existence. Those basic forms have their own, inherent order, which is determined by objective requirements. Economic life, for example, is bound to the laws that regulate the relationship between supply and demand. However, the requirements are not absolute. People give the basic forms a concrete shape, and here both their moral- religious self- understanding and their selfish striving for power and pleasure play a part. For example, it is up to us to decide whether our economy will involve slavery or not. Now, the Christian understanding of human beings as God s creatures means that Christian ethics acknowledges the inherent order of social life, because it is the immanent order of God s creation ordinances (1934, p. 16). Yet, at the same time Christian ethics criticizes people s [13] sinful abuse of this order as a means to pleasure and power. However, it cannot restrict itself to criticizing society. That would be Pharisaism. God calls us to action within the 3 order that is abused, in faith in God s forgiveness, which does not entail the acceptance of sin but a permanent effort to counter it. 8 It is clear that Løgstrup here subscribes to both the theology of creation ordinances and the idea of Eigengesetzlichkeit. This does not mean that he uses this theology to justify the existing society, as Nazi- oriented theologians did in Germany in the 1930s. The distinction between the inherent order of the creation ordinances and the shape we give to the basic forms of society, allowed him to take a critical stand on the existing society. However, this does not alter the fact that, at that time, he considered himself an ordinance theologian. In the following we shall witness what role this avowal of ordinance theology came to play on the road to ED. 2. The ethics in the dissertation The final dissertation presents Løgstrup s definitive dissociation from Kantian epistemology. According to Løgstrup this epistemology s idea that cognition is the product of our thinking builds on the view that human life in itself is indefinite and shapeless. This implies that the Kantian epistemology is an exponent of our time s dominant understanding of life, which holds that life has no meaning in itself and that only cultural creation can convey meaning to an otherwise meaningless life. However, this cultural understanding of life is contradicted by the Jewish- Christian understanding of life as created by God, which entails that life is something definite, before and regardless of the shape it acquires in culture. Human life is not primarily and not exclusively cultural life (2011, p. 131; cf. pp ). By invoking the Jewish- Christian understanding of life, Løgstrup subjects the Kantian epistemology to a theological critique. This critique prompts him to specify more precisely what the Jewish- Christian understanding of life is like. The specification focuses on what could be called the ethical content of created life. In this way Løgstrup gets into ethical questions in his epistemological dissertation. [14] To begin with, Løgstrup specifies the Jewish- Christian understanding of created life with reference to the Old Testament laws. The presupposition of this specification is the idea that we, being sinners, have destroyed created life. We no longer live life as God has created it. Therefore we need a law that demands from us that which we ought to have done naturally in created life, and thereby the law makes us aware of the ethical content of created life: The definitive character of our human life as created life is separated from life itself, and stands opposed to it as laws, because we have used our life s powers to destroy the definitive character that our life has in its humaneness (2011, p. 133). Corresponding to the different ways in which we destroy created life, the Old Testament laws are determined as prohibitions to murder, to steal, etc. This does not mean that our destruction automatically makes us aware of these laws. The destruction is radical, it is a destruction of ethical- religious cognition as much as everything else in human life (p. 137). Therefore the law had to be revealed as God s law (pp ). Even though this law is expressive of created life, the Old Testament does not thematize what the content of created life consists in. This is done 4 through Jesus s toughening up of the law in the Sermon of the Mount. By his demanding from us things which, being the humans we are, we cannot fulfil in obedience, we are compelled to ask how that life is constituted, in which that which is demanded from us would be done as a matter of course. We find the answer in Jesus s life and proclamation, which reveal that created life is service, mercy, giving and forgiving (p. 149). Løgstrup presents his ideas about created life as an account of the Jewish- Christian understanding of life. Yet it is beyond doubt that this account draws on philosophical sources. It is first and foremost marked by a Lebensphilosophie, which advocates a natural, immediate way of life. Løgstrup was influenced early on by Jakob Knudsen s ideal of immediacy and self- forgetfulness, but in the dissertation it is the influence of Vilhelm Grønbech that prevails. 9 This is apparent from the fact that he describes created life with many of the same concepts we meet in Grønbech s Jesus: Menneskesønnen (Jesus: The Son of Man) from Løgstrup specifies the Jewish- Christian understanding of life further as life with another human being and not a life a human being can live for himself in isolation. The definitive character that life has in itself is a certain relationship to another human being (2011, p. 170). By this specification he emphasizes the social nature of being human. We met this idea already in the lecture [15] from 1934, but now it has probably been strengthened by the fact that Løgstrup in connection with his dissertation had occupied himself intensely with the so- called I- Thou philosophy. 11 Thus Løgstrup s account of the Jewish- Christian understanding of life contains a good deal of philosophy. 12 Yet this does not lead to a philosophical foundation of ethics. Løgstrup still advocates a Christian ethics. One may be surprised at that, because it is precisely created life that is pointed out as the foundation of the law (and thus of ethics). Doesn t this imply that natural (in the sense of non- Christian) human beings, thanks to their creatureliness, have an ethical insight, which could serve as the basis of a philosophical ethics? As we have seen, Løgstrup denies this, pointing to the radicalness of sin. Through our sin we destroy created life, and thereby we preclude ourselves from acquiring true ethical- religious knowledge. Therefore we have to resort to revelation. This does not mean that Løgstrup denies every form of ethical insight to natural human beings. In connection with his discussion of the law in the Old Testament he remarks that God s revealed law could connect with Israel s folk ethic, which proceeded from the people s purely natural social instinct (2011, p. 138). However, its inclusion in God s revealed law involved at the same time a thoroughgoing critique of that folk ethic (pp ). Thus for Løgstrup revelation remains the ultimate source of ethics. In the dissertation s reflections on the relationship between the law and created life we meet for the first time what could be called the fundamental structure of Løgstrup s ethics. It is the idea that our life has been created with an ethical content, which has to be demanded from us when we do not realize it spontaneously or immediately. To be sure, the very idea of such a relation between immediacy and demand was not new. It is already found in Luther. He answers the question as to why the unjust and not the just have been given a law in the following way: Because the just person does everything and more than any law demands of his own accord. But the unjust do not do anything that is right, therefore they need the law, 5 which teaches, coerces and presses them to do good. 13 However, there is an important difference between Løgstrup and Luther. Whereas Luther thinks of love as the fruit of faith, Løgstrup regards love as a part of created human nature. Inspired by the Lebensphilosophie he naturalizes Luther s idea! It should be noted, however, that in this connection he refers to a passage in Friedrich Gogarten s Politische Ethik, which contains the idea of the correlation between the law [16] and created love (2011, p. 152 note 1, and p. 148 note 1). 14 This gives rise to the supposition that Gogarten was of essential importance for Løgstrup s formation of the conception of the ethical demand. In the following we shall see that this supposition has not been plucked out of the air. 3. The laws of life In his correspondence with Hal Koch during the Second World War about the Danish government s policy of collaboration with the German occupying power, 15 a new concept appears in Løgstrup s ethical vocabulary, the concept of the laws of life. This concept refers to absolute laws, which God has laid down in created life. These laws command truthfulness and justice, among other things. Løgstrup invokes these laws to justify his rejection of the collaboration policy. 16 In the pamphlet Folkeliv og Udenrigspolitik (Folk Life and Foreign Policy) from 1943 he presents a more systematic treatment of the laws of life. Now these are determined as laws that serve humanity in the different relations to one another in which we can come to be. They are life s own inherent laws, and therefore they are so natural that we do not discover them until we have broken them, that is to say, when we look for the reason why life in its humanity has been destroyed in our relations to one another (1943a, p. 11). Examples of the laws of life are that we shall do others the honour of having the confidence that they will behave humanely, that parents shall bring up their children to obedience, and that employers shall treat their workers justly. Thus the laws of life are laws for life in community, and this life has the community of the people as its overarching framework (pp. 7-12). In the article Præsten og Sognet (The Pastor and the Parish) from the same year we meet one more law of life. Here Løgstrup calls on the congregation to go to church with the argument that you shall use, continue and utilize the work you make another do for you (1943b, p. 90)! Løgstrup s conception of the laws of life builds on what I have called the fundamental structure of his ethics. The laws of life are laws that are given with life itself, and therefore we primarily comply with them in immediate naturalness. We do not discover them until we have broken them, and then we become aware of them as laws that demand from us to do that which we ought to have done as a matter of course. Notice that L
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