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Abstract

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Abstract:

Is Knud Eiler Løgstrup's conception of the ethical demand as deeply incompatible with the central theses of 20th century French Thomistic moral philosophy as it seems to be? Discussion of this question requires attention to both the Lutheran and the phenomenological background of Løgstrup's thought; a consideration of the Danish and French social contexts in which the claims of the two moral philosophies were developed; and an enquiry into how far aspects of each are complementary to rather than in conflict with the other. An historical explanation for the genesis of the kind of normativity without norms defended by both Løgstrup and Levinas is proposed.

When two incompatible moral philosophies confront us, how should we evaluate their rival claims? We might be tempted to suppose that we could match each of their alternative accounts of morality against morality itself, but that temptation will last only until we remind ourselves that what is accounted morality itself in one particular culture is treated as distorted or impoverished morality in others, and that one of the tasks of moral philosophy is to enable us to distinguish moral claims which we, whatever the culture we inhabit, should acknowledge from those which we should reject. So how to proceed?

We will not do well if we remain at so abstract and general a level of enquiry. Let me therefore consider the rival claims of two particular moral philosophies of different kinds, at home in two different European national cultures, but responsive to some of the same historical experiences. Knud Eiler Løgstrup published Den Etiske Fordring in 1956, while a professor at Aarhus University, but the lines of thought from which that book developed had engaged him for more than twenty years, and its impact on students, colleagues, and more widely in Denmark made it evident that he was giving a voice to an importantly shared moral standpoint. In the same period in which Løgstrup was developing and expanding his positions renewed versions of Thomist moral philosophy, drawing upon the earlier work of Garrigou Lagrange and others, and beyond them on the sources of the Thomist revival, were being taught in French-speaking educational institutions, among them Dominican Houses of Study, at Louvain, at the Institut Catholique in Paris, and elsewhere in France, no longer from textbooks ad mentem Divi Thomae, but through commentary on Aquinas's texts, especially on questions 90–97 of the first part of the second part of the Summa Theologiae, so that Aquinas became a contemporary moral philosopher.1

The concepts central to that Thomistic moral philosophy are those of the common good and the natural law. The concept central to Løgstrup's thought is that of the singularity of the ethical demand. And on a first scrutiny—indeed even on a second or a third—if what Løgstrup says about the ethical demand is true, then the Thomistic concepts are nothing but sources of illusion, while, if what the Thomists assert is true, then what Løgstrup offers is a distorted and perverse account of the claims of morality. We need therefore to set out each set of claims in detail, noting in both the moral landscape which they take for granted and the type of philosophical background that they presuppose, in Løgstrup's case phenomenological, in the case of the Thomists Aristotelian. I begin with Løgstrup.

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Løgstrup's phenomenology he learned from Hans Lipps, Husserl's student and critic and Edith Stein's friend. When Løgstrup first encountered Lipps in 1931, he was twenty six years old, a graduate in theology from Copenhagen and at work or about to be at work on a prize essay criticizing Scheler and a dissertation criticizing Husserl, a dissertation that was to be strongly influenced by Lipps. So let me tell a brief and therefore oversimplified story about Husserl and Lipps. Husserl had contended that what is presented to consciousness is always at once particular and universal. To see this house is necessarily to see a house. And we understand this house as a house by grasping what it is for anything to be a house, by grasping the essential properties of a house, something only to be achieved by adopting the distinctive phenomenological stance. That stance requires of us that we separate ourselves from our natural everyday attitudes and prejudices, attending only to what is given in immediate experience, so that our judgments are not influenced by our prephilosophical beliefs.

Those of Husserl's students who had resisted his move into transcendental phenomenology, such as Ingarden and Stein, continued to agree with Husserl both in his contentions about the apprehension of essences and in his methodological stance. With Lipps it was otherwise. He had left the university for a soldier's life in 1914, a convinced follower of Husserl, indeed he had taken Husserl's Ideen with him into the trenches, where his reading and rereading convinced him that Husserl was deeply mistaken. What was Husserl's fundamental error? It was to project on to the objects presented to consciousness characteristics that in fact belong to our descriptions of those presentations. What is presented is concrete and particular; it is language that is irremediably general and universal. And the form of the problem that this posed for Lipps was: How, given that language is so, can we speak so as to identify and to communicate concerning the particularities and singularities that we encounter?

So Lipps embarked on the enquiries of his linguistic phenomenology, arguing that, instead of substituting the phenomenological stance for our everyday engagement with people and things, it is in and through those everyday engagements that we become aware of the multiplicity of ways in which language can be used to direct our attention to this or that particular. The meanings of linguistic expressions cannot be understood apart from their uses in speech-acts. It is by abstracting meaning from use and then considering meaning in isolation from use that we are deceived, as Husserl was deceived. It is not of course that we can dispense with universal generalizations and other generalities. And there are indeed expressions for the correct application of which necessary and sufficient conditions can be supplied, the expressions used in the natural sciences, uses whose justification is pragmatic. But outside the natural sciences we exercise our linguistic skills in knowing not only how to capture what is particular in and to this or that situation, but how to communicate it to others. Unsurprisingly, having learnt these lessons from Lipps, Løgstrup became attentive to the uses of language characteristic of novelists, who are exemplary in their exercise of just those skills.

It is not just because what I have said about Lipps is brief and oversimplified that difficult questions about the contrasts that Lipps emphasized remain unanswered. But, since I am concerned here only with the use that Løgstrup was to make of Lipps' work, I put those questions on one side2 and turn to the moral landscape of post-war Denmark.

In 1940 Denmark had been occupied by the German army. Its subsequent condition differed from that of other countries under German occupation until 1943, in that it continued to be ruled by its own elected government. The lives of the great majority of Danes were surprisingly unaffected by the occupation. And Danish farmers, receiving the same prices for their products as German farmers, prospered. Yet there was from the very first days of occupation in 1940 some small resistance and from 1943 a well-organized resistance movement. Traditional Lutheran teaching has it that subjects are prohibited from rebelling against their legitimate rulers and it had therefore been argued within the established church that participation in resistance to the German occupiers, sanctioned as that occupation was by an elected government, was theologically and morally forbidden. Løgstrup, by then vicar of a country parish on the Island of Funen—he became a professor at Aarhus in 1943—was one of the leading protagonists of the view that the evils of National Socialism were such that armed resistance to the occupiers was morally required and he himself worked as a courier for the resistance and made his house available for wireless transmissions to England. To belong to a secret and illegal organization, activities for which render one liable to torture and death, requires a remarkable willingness to trust those others who know of one's activities—among them some who are otherwise strangers—not to betray one, even though on occasion they may have to choose between themselves enduring death and torture and such betrayal. And Løgstrup, perhaps through this experience and certainly from his wife's and his own earlier experiences of life in Nazi Germany, became unusually aware of the all-important place of trust in human life, an awareness that provided a starting-point for his moral philosophy.

We find ourselves as small children relying on others for almost everything. And trust in others remains an indispensable part of the fabric of our lives. To trust others is to lay oneself open to them. To respond to others who invite our trust is to respond to an unvoiced demand. And in the various exchanges of everyday life how we respond to those unvoiced demands and to those others defines our relationship to them. So I may respond to someone by purposefully trivial conversation, designed to keep the other at arm's length. Or I may tentatively open up questions, so that I can test their response. Or by the use of harsh words I may deliberately invite conflict with the other. Or I may try to impose on the other my own expectations and purposes. And in all these cases I move either towards or away from a relationship of trust.

The place of trust and therefore also of mistrust in our lives can be obscured by too great an emphasis on rules, on social norms. Løgstrup had been impressed by historical and sociological studies of such norms, including Westermarck's, which made it clear how they have changed over time and how they differ from society to society. So we should not treat the rules of our own society as sacrosanct, although to a relativist who points out that, had we lived in ancient Rome or the contemporary Andaman Islands, we would have had different rules, the reply should be that we live now and here. But, although the social norms of our own society provide a necessary starting-point for dealings with others, they are at best insufficient to direct our lives and we need to decide what attitude to take to them. Crucial to those attitudes is whether or not we are open to and acknowledge what Løgstrup called the ethical demand. When the ethical demand is heard, it is a demand that concerns some particular other in gross need, it is a demand that I allow her or him to trust me without reservation, and that I take her or his life into my hands. So it may be, for example, when I come across a stranger seriously injured in an automobile accident and there is no one else to take responsibility for seeing that she or he receives whatever medical and other help that they need.

Six characteristics of the ethical demand, as Løgstrup understands it, are important. First, it is unvoiced, it is silent. It is not a demand made by those others whose need I confront and they have no right to make such a demand. I have to hear and to respond to the demand, not their demand. Secondly, the demand is radical. It may require me to put on one side for an unpredictable amount of time my own legitimate preoccupations, in order to meet the need of these particular others: ‘it intrudes disturbingly into my own existence’.3 Thirdly, the demand is that I do what is best for the other, that I supply what that other needs, not what that other wants. I have to take charge. But I have to do this, so far as possible, in a way that allows the other to remain sovereign in her or his own world. ‘The demand is always also a demand that we use the surrender out of which the demand has come in such a way as to free the other person from his or her confinement and to give her or his vision the widest possible horizon’.4

Fourthly, in judging what it is best for me to do for and with the other, I must act in the light of established social norms, but what I may have to do in responding to the ethical demand is such that sometimes I will find myself at odds with those norms. Fifthly, the demand is not limitless. Although, when I acknowledge and respond to the demand, I may not be in a position to predict how far my responsibilities will extend, but my resources and my other responsibilities have to be taken into account. I need to exercise judgment as to where I draw the line.

Sixthly and finally, in acknowledging and responding to the ethical demand I am not following a rule, let alone a rule that prescribes that like cases be treated alike. Were I to view the actions elicited by the demand as required by some rule, I would, on Løgstrup's view, be acting for the sake of conformity to that rule and because the other person or persons, to whose need I am responding, fall under some general description of the type of person to whom I should furnish aid, while by contrast what the demand requires of us is that we act for the sake of and in response to that particular other person and to act only for her or his sake. It is to them in their particularity and in the particularity of their situation that we must respond, if we are to acknowledge the authority of the demand. Accounts of morality as a kind of rule-following, whether utilitarian or Kantian, are therefore not merely philosophically mistaken, they are morally distorting, in that they distract us from attention to and action in terms of the singularity of this or that particular situation. We are summoned by the demand not to act so as to maximize preferences, nor to act so as to conform to the norms of rationality, but to act so as to discharge a particular responsibility to this or that particular other, who happens on this particular occasion to have been given into our hands.

There are of course a variety of ways in which we can refuse to acknowledge the ethical demand. I may make myself deaf to it, I may close myself off from the other, insisting that my life is my own, my property, with which I am free to do as I will, qua rational being, qua happiness-seeking being, qua whatever. In so doing I fail to understand my own life as a life that I have received as a gift, an understanding that finds its expression in giving freely to others in response to the demand, in giving without expecting anything in return. And for so giving I can have and can give no reason, except that I have heard this unvoiced demand. Indeed even the unvoiced demand does not provide a reason, since, when I hear it, part of what I learn is that I have not yet begun to do what I should already have been doing.

One way therefore to evade recognition of the demand is to insist on having and giving reasons for morally required actions, invoking perhaps some notion of reciprocity or of self-fulfillment.5 To do so is, on Løgstrup's view, to try to manage one's life by appeal to a theory, so concealing what is at stake for each of us in responding or failing to respond to the demand. And at this point, if I followed Løgstrup's own order of exposition, I would move on to consider other facets of his account, especially those concerning the sense in which and the way in which the demand is unfulfillable, and the question of whether or not Løgstrup's view has theological presuppositions. But to do so might distract us from attending to something of the first importance, that, in giving us his account of the ethical demand, Løgstrup is not advancing an argument or expounding a theory. He is, as phenomenologists often do, inviting us to an act of recognition. Failure by someone to recognize the phenomenon that Løgstrup describes may tell us something illuminating about that someone, not something about Løgstrup's account. And one way to proceed further would be to ask if there are cases where response to or failure to respond to the ethical demand can itself be recognized. I think that there are.

Those few Europeans who put themselves at risk of torture and death during the years 1941 to 1945, in order to rescue Jews from their Nazi murderers, had a wide range of moral and religious viewpoints: Catholic, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem, atheist, positivist, Marxist, Kantian, utilitarian, even the odd principled Polish antisemite, who thought it right to exclude Jews from universities, but not to murder them. (We should of course note that very much the same range of views can be found among that much more numerous group who condoned or assisted the Nazis.) Some of those who rescued Jews were notably virtuous in other areas of their lives, others were not. A significant number of those who survived their own heroism were later interviewed and what is initially surprising is the extent to which, when asked why they had acted as they did, they gave the same type of response. They did not invoke their wider moral or religious beliefs, they did not appeal to rules or theories, they answered, characteristically briefly, saying such things as that it was the only thing to do or that anyone in their situation would have acted likewise, or that there was no alternative to doing what they did.6

These answers I take to be a sign of the inadequacy of words to express what they were in fact doing in responding to the gross and urgent need of particular Jews, sometimes friends or neighbours, often strangers, Jews whose lives had suddenly been put into their hands, who had no one else to trust, who confronted them with the singularity of the ethical demand. And we can perhaps recognize in their responses acknowledgement of the peculiar authority of that demand. I therefore find myself strongly inclined—although not only in the light of that acknowledgement—to assent to Løgstrup's central claims. But I cannot give you an argument to provide grounds for that assent. And were I to do so, I would, just by so doing, have abandoned Løgstrup's position. It does not follow that argument is irrelevant to the defence of Løgstrup's view. For there are arguments that seem to provide solid grounds for quarrelling with Løgstrup's claims, among them arguments drawn from the Thomistic moral philosophy that had been widely taught in much of Catholic French-speaking Europe, for nearly half a century both before 1940 and during the period in which Løgstrup was writing The Ethical Demand.

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That moral philosophy shares Løgstrup's rejection of Kantianism and utilitarianism. But it is at odds with Løgstrup's claims in the central place that it gives to a set of rules, the precepts of the natural law, precepts which forbid us to take innocent life, to make our own what is the legitimate property of others, to lie, to break promises, and so on. Løgstrup rejected, and his position required him to reject, any conception of the natural law,7 seeing it not only as part of a mistaken account of the authority of rules, but also as an inheritance from the metaphysical tradition which, following Heidegger and Lipps, he took to have been discredited. What then is the Thomistic case for upholding the precepts of the natural law?

It is that only insofar as we obey these precepts are we able to achieve such common goods as those of family and household, of school, of workplace, of local community, of a wide variety of shared activities and projects, and perhaps above all of political society. Common goods are goods that we can only achieve and enjoy qua family member or qua participant in this or that practice or project or qua citizen or subject of some political community. Why so? To direct ourselves rightly towards common goods, let alone to achieve them, we need to deliberate in the company of those others with whom we share those goods in common. And rational deliberation is possible only among those whose social relationships are structured by a regard for the natural law. They and we can only be partners in rational deliberation, if we do not threaten or coerce each other, if we speak truthfully to each other, if we honour our commitments, if force and fraud are excluded from our relationships.

Why then should each of us, as rational agents, accept the constraints of the natural law? It is because only insofar as we are directed towards the achievement of the relevant set of common goods—not themselves reducible to individual goods—are we also directed towards the achievement of our own individual good, the good of each of us qua human being. So runs the Thomistic account. Thomists therefore were and are in disagreement with Løgstrup not only over the nature and place of rules in the moral life, but also because, where they take it that right action is action undertaken for the sake of achieving this or that end, Løgstrup held that we are to act only for the sake of this or that particular human being and not for the sake of anything further. Add to this a third and fourth area of contention.

The third concerns spontaneity and reflection. To act as the ethical demand bids us act, is, on Løgstrup's view, to act spontaneously. Spontaneous acts, Løgstrup was to say ‘are elicited solely by the condition or situation in which the other finds himself’.8 But spontaneity, as Løgstrup understands it, although it does not exclude thinking about the particularities of the matter in hand, does exclude the kind of reflection on principles that sometimes precedes and always should inform those shared practical deliberations which are central to the Thomistic account of action. And it also excludes both habit and habitus, those dispositions which, on a Thomistic view, include the virtue of misericordia, the virtue expressed in our responses to those in urgent need.

Add to this a fourth and fundamental disagreement. Thomistic moral philosophy, in this at least like Kantianism and utilitarianism, presents right action, when it is properly understood, as conforming to judgments which have argumentative justifications. Yet, on Løgstrup's view, as I noted earlier, where the ethical demand is concerned, argument is not to the point. A response to the ethical demand is never a conclusion inferred from a set of premises. A failure to respond could never be remedied by a compelling argument. It therefore appears that the disagreements between Løgstrup and those who have followed him and the Thomists are of the deepest kind. And this is unsurprising when we consider how different and incompatible the philosophical backgrounds to those two moral philosophies are. The Aristotelian perspective of the Thomists and Lipps's linguistic phenomenology provided very different starting-points for the enquiries of these two sets of moral philosophers. So we might conclude that they are bound to be antagonistic. But now let me begin to think about these two moral philosophies in a somewhat different way.

I have emphasized how far Løgstrup is in disagreement with Thomism of any kind, but I have had especially in mind some of Løgstrup's contemporaries, the French Thomists of the 1940s and 50s. Neither party was in the least aware of the other. For Thomists, as for French philosophers in general, Kierkegaard was the only Danish philosopher of whom they had any awareness. Danish philosophers were more likely to be aware of French than French of Danish, but the only French language philosopher named by Løgstrup in Den Etiske Fordring is the Swiss Denis de Rougemont. And it is clear that, if Løgstrup thought of Thomism at all, it was as something that belonged to a remote and now irrelevant past. His own Lutheran roots make this dismissive attitude unsurprising. Nonetheless I hope to show that it is philosophically and morally profitable to bring these two standpoints into belated conversation.

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A starting-point for that conversation is Aristotle's thesis, endorsed by Aquinas, that, unless you have already developed the requisite habits, habits that incline you to virtue, you will not in fact be open to argument on moral matters.9 But just what habits are these? Among them, I want to suggest, is a disposition, unrecognized by Aristotle, to be open to and to be responsive on occasion to the particularities of urgent human needs of others for whom there is no one else to take responsibility. What kind of disposition is this?

It is a readiness to be interrupted in one's projects, a willingness to turn aside from whatever good one is at that moment aiming to achieve or is in the course of achieving, so as to provide aid to those in urgent need. Why is this disposition so important? One reason is that every one of us all the time may suddenly and unexpectedly find ourselves in need of such aid. I am standing in line to buy a ticket or walking casually along a street and I suffer a heart attack or a slate falls on my head from a roof or an angry drunkard lashes out at me. I become a helpless victim whose life choices will be determined by the response or lack of response of strangers. So it is for each of us a deeply ingrained hope that, if our lives are so disrupted, there will be at hand someone, perhaps a stranger, perhaps not, who will interrupt her or his life to come to our aid, someone whom we can trust to act for our good. In the background of all our attempts to achieve our goods is this usually unvoiced reliance on others.

It is because of our shared reliance on this habit that we have the best of reasons to make sure that we ourselves are so disposed and that our children are brought up so that they too are thus disposed. For without this virtue we will be unable to enter into some of those social relationships without which we will be unable to achieve our common and individual goods. We will be excluded from, we will have excluded ourselves from the society of moral reasoners. So it is not in the least paradoxical to assert that we have good reason to become the kind of person who responds spontaneously, who responds without having or requiring justifying argument, in certain situations. Nor is it paradoxical to recognize that our reasoning will have no hold upon anyone who does not already possess this virtue to some significant degree.

The contrast between the moral agent as portrayed by Løgstrup and the moral agent as portrayed by the Thomists is therefore less sharp than it first appeared to be. To act for the sake of the other in urgent need may also be to act for the sake of my own good. About this the Thomists are right. But, if on some particular occasion I act for the sake of some other in urgent need, I need no further reason or motive and I should allow no further reason or motive to distract me. About this Løgstrup is right. The two positions, far from being in conflict, complement one another. French Thomists of the post-war period, had they encountered Løgstrup's moral philosophy, would have enriched their Thomism by integrating into it Løgstrup's phenomenological account of the ethical demand and Løgstrup would have rendered his own position both more intelligible and more defensible, if he had allowed that in responding to the ethical demand we may also be acting for the sake of our own good. (Løgstrup did believe that acting in response to the ethical demand was for our good, even if it was not acting for the sake of our good.) And this is not the only respect in which Løgstrup and the Thomists needed each other. Consider the apparent conflict over rules.

Løgstrup recognizes the importance of rules in ordering our social life and coordinating our activities. But he takes the attitudes of trust in which our moral lives are rooted and the particular forms of trust that are involved in our responsiveness to the ethical demand and in our caring for those who are in urgent need to be prior to and independent of all rule-following. And, as I also noted earlier, he supposes that to act in accordance with the ethical demand is to act in a way that excludes rule-following. But consider now what expectations are involved in trusting someone and what it is to be trustworthy.

If I trust someone, I trust them to answer questions that I put to them without guile or subterfuge. I trust them to tell me how things are. I trust them not to equivocate or mislead. And, if they do not conform to these expectations, I treat them as untrustworthy. But, if this is so, then only those persons are trustworthy who are bound by the rule not to lie. (Note that to be bound by a rule in acting does not involve having that rule in mind when acting.) Obviously to be bound by that rule is not sufficient for someone to be trustworthy. They must also be promise-keepers, observant of yet another rule, honouring their commitments. And they must possess such traits as reliability in their ongoing concerns and prudence in making commitments. Their rule-following will only be one aspect of their virtues, but a crucial aspect. Yet note that, in making this point against Løgstrup—that he cannot consistently combine his account of rules with his account of trust—I am not merely making a negative point. For Løgstrup is not mistaken in the importance that he attaches to trust and what emerges from this critique is that much, although not all of the point of the rules that enjoin truth-telling and promise-keeping is that without conformity to them trust between individuals and groups cannot be secured.

Thomist moral philosophers have argued that conformity to those rules that are the precepts of the natural law is required, if we are to be able to achieve a variety of common goods, most notably those of political society. What Løgstrup brings out is that there is a lacuna in the Thomist accounts, a failure to spell out the relationship between on the one hand conformity to rules and on the other the achievement of common goods. Løgstrup makes a beginning in supplying what is lacking with his account of the role of trust in human life. Aristotle and Aquinas had both noted that trust is among the requirements for friendship and Aquinas had added that it is involved in our everyday transactions with strangers.10 What neither however remark upon is the crucial role that trust plays in the life of political societies. Consider a type of situation in which shared rational deliberation about the common good of some particular political society is in danger of being frustrated by the extent of radical disagreement about what the common good of that society here and now is. What may decide whether or not that danger can be overcome is the extent of the trust that each of the contending parties is able to place in the good will of the other. Absent some large degree of trust, suspicion will almost certainly make it impossible to continue to engage in shared good faith deliberation. And absent shared good faith deliberation appeals to the common good will become empty and pointless, something recurrently confirmed in the history of post-war France.

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Radical disagreement about the nature of the common good, conjoined with a deep lack of trust, sometimes with suspicion as a mode of life, had afflicted French politics for a long time before the defeat of 1940. And after that defeat two rival contending causes claimed the allegiance of the Catholic community, including its Thomists: the adherents of Pétain's Vichy government with its program for the restoration of an hierarchically ordered rural France, invoked one particular view of the common good, not only of political society, but also of the family, while, bitterly opposed to that program, the followers of de Gaulle's tough minded revival of Péguy's vision of a France whose republican inheritance was not incompatible with Catholic loyalties, advanced a quite different conception. Each defined themselves not only in opposition to the other, but also and inescapably in opposition to yet other rival conceptions of the French common good, both Communist and secular republican. But their greatest hostility was reserved for each other. And Thomist thinkers were to be found politically engaged on both sides of the divide, on the one side Réginald Garrigou-Lagrange, whom Mauriac had called ‘the sacred monster of Thomism’, and on the other Jacques Maritain and the self-styled ‘sans-culotte’, Yves Simon.

What became evident between the liberation of 1944 and de Gaulle's resignation from the presidency in 1946 was the distance between the realities of French post-war politics and either of these conceptions of the common good, indeed any conception of a political common good. What had emerged in post-war French politics was a set of power sharing arrangements, in which the mutually distrustful parties of the moderate left and right, representing a variety of conflicting interests, bargained and enacted compromises, compromises designed to exclude both communists and Gaullists from power, compromises that had the aim of ensuring continued American support and of bringing about some degree of European integration, and all this in a society where widespread untruthfulness about what happened between 1940 and 1945 was protected by a pact of silence. The concept of the common good had become irrelevant, had become a concept that, so it seemed, could no longer find application, certainly in the sphere of politics, and to varying extents elsewhere.

It is not that the expression ‘bien commun’ was used any less frequently in French rhetoric, but that what it was used of were what have been called public, rather than common goods. Public goods are reducible to and constructible out of individual and group interests. Their identification and characterization emerges from compromises and bargaining between individuals and groups. Common goods differ in both these respects. (Individualists of course deny that there are any such things as common goods.) And the achievement of public goods, far from requiring conformity to the precepts of the natural law, often requires violation of those precepts, notably with respect to truth-telling and lying. So any genuine notion of the political common good was effectively erased from French public discourse—as it was also often erased from public discourse elsewhere—until the crisis that brought de Gaulle back to power. And de Gaulle's second tenure of power wrote its final epitaph.

At the same time one aspect of the economic transformation of French life in the 1950s was a strengthening of individualist attitudes in everyday life, one articulated at the level of theory by those devoted to the renewal of the distinctively French liberal tradition, most notably by Raymond Aron. And those who resisted individualism and liberalism did so in the name of conceptions of solidarité to which the idiom of the common good was equally alien. (Maritain and Simon were by now in North America. Garrigou-Lagrange was in Rome.) But the social erasure of the notion of the common good seemed to make irrelevant the whole moral scheme in which it had played a central part.

What happens when a theoretical framework which has provided the conceptual presuppositions for some particular way of reasoning practically, of choosing, and of acting is thus taken away from those who had employed it? There are a number of possibilities. One is that those whose presuppositions they were find themselves continuing to view particular situations just as they have done in the past and responding to them just as they have done, but no longer having, let alone advancing, reasons for so responding. Plainly, if and when this comes to be, it will to be over some extended period of time, during which, when those who are changing in this way have occasion to articulate their moral attitudes, they are likely to do so in less than wholly coherent ways. (Studies of the morality of the incoherent, studies that respect such incoherence and recognize that it is sometimes preferable to a premature reduction to consistency by, say, the Rawlsian method of equilibrium, are long overdue in moral philosophy.)

What will sometimes—not always—survive in those who have undergone this kind of transformation will be a set of dispositions to respond to situations such as those in which they encounter someone in urgent need, for whose plight there is no one else available to take responsibility. The way in which they view that someone, that plight, and that need and the way in which they respond to that someone, will not be significantly different from the ways in which they, or their parents or grandparents, had previously viewed and responded, in the days when they presupposed, say, the rational authority of the precepts of natural law, and justified their conformity to those precepts by referring to their common goods. Their dispositions to view, to judge, to feel, and to act remain what they had been. But now, if they were asked to reflect upon what was involved in their moral commitments, and if they were sufficiently articulate to respond, they would have to give a very different description of what they were doing than they themselves or their parents or grandparents would have done previously. What once would have been an expression of the virtue of misericordia, as prescribed by the natural law, would have remained a response, but a response to what? What kind of description of it would they now have to give?

It would be a phenomenological description of how certain types of situation present themselves to consciousness and elicit or fail to elicit appropriate responses. There is a danger however in our characterizing what such agents would say in terms of ‘types of situations’ and ‘appropriate responses’. For this might suggest that the agent her or himself was or might be following a rule in so responding. Yet from the standpoint of the agent her or himself their response will not be rule-governed. It will be and will be experienced as a response to the singularity of this particular individual or group of individuals in this particular plight with these particular needs. And the phenomenologically sensitive describer will resist all attempts to assimilate what she or he is describing to any morality of rules or of virtues.

Løgstrup was of course just such a describer and was able to draw on the resources of Hans Lipps's phenomenology to make his point. But Løgstrup would of course have had to resist the suggestion implicit in the line of argument that I have developed that the experience of the ethical demand is a residue, a survival, and moreover a form of moral experience that can only be fully understood as such a residue, as such a survival. That it is such does not entail that the ethical demand is not authentic, that it is not, just as Løgstrup argued, at the core of moral experience. But on the view that I am suggesting the appeal to the ethical demand is not only not a rival to Thomistic appeals to the precepts of the natural law and the common good, but is what remains at the end of a process of transformation when something like that Thomistic appeal has lost its force and its rational hold on some population of moral agents. (It can of course be argued against this interpretation, as Hans Fink has argued, that what remains is indeed the core of genuine morality, now at last freed up from distorting connections to rules and goods. But this is a disagreement that I will not enter on here.)

I say ‘something like’ because obviously, if we were to ask for the historical antecedents of Løgstrup's moral philosophy, we should find not a trace of Thomism among them. And, if we were to look for the historical consequences of the loss of application for key Thomistic concepts in French public and everyday discourse and life after 1946, we should not find any invocation of Løgstrup. But my thesis would clearly be not just wrong, but absurd, if there were not in the antecedents of Løgstrup's moral philosophy something corresponding to the Thomistic conception of the natural law, and if there were not in the consequences of the fate that befell Thomism in France at least the possibility of something corresponding to Løgstrup's conception of the moral demand. And in each case there is.

5.

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Løgstrup was not only a moral philosopher, but also a Lutheran pastor and a professor of theology. He himself had broken decisively with Luther's political ethics in the debates over Danish resistance to the German occupiers. And by the 1940s Danish society's relationship to the Lutheran Church was already that characterized by Jørgen I. Jensen: the church may by now be a building on the horizon, but it is still part of the landscape.11 Danes by and large are not church-goers, but by and large they voluntarily pay church taxes. Theirs is a residual, but a real Lutheranism, so that Knud J. V. Jespersen can speak of ‘evangelical-Lutheran attitudes’ as having ‘permeated Danish mentality’ and provided ‘the ethical foundation of the modern Danish welfare state’.12

The Ethical Demand begins with a theological—one might almost say antitheological—discussion in which Løgstrup follows Friedrich Gogarten in claiming that ‘the individual's relation to God is determined wholly at the point of his relation to the neighbor’13 and then, for most of the next eleven chapters, answers the question of what my relation to my neighbour should be in the wholly secular terms of the ethical demand, before finally giving an account of the authority of Jesus and of his proclamation that leaves intact the secular character of the ethical demand itself. The ethical demand is then what is left when the framework of Lutheran ethics is no longer available. The last great exponent of that ethics had been Emil Brunner, who in 1932 had defended Luther's conception of the orders of creation, orders that supply norms governing the various areas of human life, for knowledge of which revelation is not necessary.14 Those norms are the Lutheran equivalent to the Catholic and Thomist conception of the natural law, sharing much of its content, although differing in their purported justification and Løgstrup himself in an earlier period had appealed to such norms.

They are the norms that Danish Lutherans, including Løgstrup, had generally repudiated in the post-war period (see the critique of Luther in chapter 4 of The Ethical Demand) and that the generality of Danes had no longer recognized as their norms for quite some time. So what is left of Lutheran ethics when the norms are subtracted? The answer is: the ethical demand, responsiveness to the voice that speaks to one out of the singularity of someone's need.

Is there a French history corresponding to this Danish history? If so, it is a history whose end-point would be a widespread openness to something like Levinas's claims. It was Zygmunt Bauman who first recognized the affinity between Levinas and Løgstrup. And the resemblances and differences between Løgstrup's claims and Levinas's claims are easy to catalogue. Bauman summarizes what they share by saying ‘For both thinkers the sine qua non of moral stance is the assumption of responsibility’, a responsibility that ‘is under-defined and needs to be given content’, by an act that always risks failure. To act instead from conformity to a rule or a command is to avoid such ‘responsibility and risk’.15

The philosophical presuppositions of both Løgstrup and Levinas are phenomenological, but what Løgstrup and Levinas describe they describe in notably different terms. For Løgstrup the demand, although unvoiced, is heard or unheard. For Levinas that other which resists our self-aggrandizing appropriation is seen and what is seen is a face. Nonetheless what is demanded as response and as responsibility by voice and by face is remarkably the same. (It is worth noting that, although it is not possible here to do more than note that, in Hans Lipps's phenomenology ‘the look’ and ‘the face’ play significant parts.) So I follow Bauman in taking their accounts to be relevantly alike. Diane Perpich has aptly characterized Levinas's conception of the ethical as one of ‘normativity without norms’16 and this characterization could as aptly be used of Løgstrup. What I have been suggesting is that normativity without norms is intelligible only as the end result of a history during which the relevant set of norms had lost whatever it had been that had once made those norms compelling. What remains is an awareness and a mode of response that can only be described through phenomenological techniques. About that phenomenologically apprehended and described awareness I have been advancing two theses and this so as to formulate a question.

The first is that, rightly understood, Løgstrup's account of the ethical demand is complementary to rather than incompatible with a Thomistic account of the precepts of the natural law, a thesis that Løgstrup would have fiercely resisted. And I am of course committed by my argument to holding that what is true of Løgstrup's account is perhaps also true of Levinas's. My second thesis is that such phenomenological accounts of core experiences of the moral life, accounts which have found their way into the mainstream of moral philosophy only in the 20th century, are reports of historical residues, reports of what remains when some larger scheme for understanding the moral life has, for whatever reason, lost its credibility. To this it will rightly be replied that the history which I have employed to illustrate this thesis is, to put it kindly, far too brief and sketchy. The relevant historical work largely remains to be done and this kind of social history of morality is not easy to write. But it is important to write it.

Part of that importance is that we need to understand a good deal better than we do how under certain circumstances the moral life can be fragmented, so that different aspects of it—on the one hand, schemes of reasoning about goods and virtues which enable us to be practically reflective, on the other, capacities of feeling and judgment that enable us to be immediately responsive to urgent need—take on a life of their own and by so doing perhaps become distorted. If we were to understand that fragmentation a good deal better than as yet we do, we might also begin to understand how to reintegrate those two aspects. How we might become able to do that is the question that issues from the overall argument of this paper.17

NOTES
  1. 1For work contemporaneous with Løgstrup's see, for example, Van Overbeke 1957 and Maritain 1966; for the relevant Aquinas texts see Aquinas 1993b.

  2. 2For Lipps see especially Lipps 1976a and 1976b, both still untranslated into English. For an excellent discussion see Kristensen 2004.

  3. 5Løgstrup 1977: 115 and 137.

  4. 6See in Marrus 1987, the footnotes to Chapter V, for references to the relevant literature.

  5. 9Aristotle 1894 Book X, 1179a33-1179b31; Aquinas 1993a Book X, lect. xiv, 2137–2147.

  6. 10Aquinas 1993a 1541 and 1592, commenting on Aristotle 1894 1155a20-22 and 1157a 20–25, passages that I discuss in MacIntyre 2007.

  7. 15Bauman 2007: 117.

  8. 16Perpich 2008: 126.

  9. 17I am grateful to Robert Stern, editor of this journal, and his editorial colleagues, both for their invitation to deliver this paper as the 2009 Mark Sacks Lecture and for the discussion of it at a workshop. I owe a special debt to Hans Fink.

REFERENCES

  1. Top of page
  2. Abstract
  3. 1.
  4. 2.
  5. 3.
  6. 4.
  7. 5.
  8. REFERENCES
  • Aquinas, T. (1993a), Sententia libri Ethicorum, ed. R. A. Gauthier, OP, 2 vols., Rome: Ad Sanctae Sabrina; trans. C. L. Litzinger as Commentary on the Nicomachean Ethics. Notre Dame, IN: Dumb Ox Books.
  • Aquinas, T. (1993b), The Treatise on Law (Summa Theologiae, I-II; qq. 90–97). Latin text, translation, and commentary, ed. and trans. R. J. Henle, SJ. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Aristotle (1894), Ethica Nicomachea, ed. I.Bywater. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Bauman, Z. (2007), ‘The Liquid Modern Adventures of the “Sovreign Expressions of Life”’, in Anderson, K.Van and K.Niekerk (ed.), Concern for the Other: Perspectives on the Ethics of K. E. Løgstrup. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 113137.
  • Brunner, E. (1932), Das Gebot und Die Ordnungen. Tübingen: J. C. B. Mohr; trans. O. Wyon as The Divine Imperative. London: Lutterworth Press, 1937.
  • Jespersen, K. J. V. (2004), A History of Denmark. NewYork: Palgrave Macmillan.
  • Jensen, J. J. (1995), Den Fjerne Kierke: Mellem kultur og religiøsitet. Copenhagen: Samleren.
  • Kristensen, S. (2004), ‘Langage et Réalite, Hans Lipps entre Herméneutique de la Perception et Phenomenologie du Langage’ in his translation of Lipps (1976b), Recherches pour une Logique Herméneutique. Paris: J. Vrin.
  • Lipps, H. (1976a), Werke I, Untersuchungen zur Phänomenologie der Erkentniss. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klosterman.
  • Lipps, H. (1976b), Werke II, Untersuchungen zu einer hermeneutischen Logik. Frankfurt am Main: Vittorio Klosterman.
  • Løgstrup, K. E. (1977), The Ethical Demand. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press; trans. from Den Etiske Fordring, Copenhagen: Gyldendal, 1956.
  • MacIntyre, A. (2007), ‘Human Nature and Human Dependence: What Might a Thomist Learn from Reading Løgstrup?’, in S.Andersen, K.Van and K.Niekerk (eds) Concern for the Other: Perspectives in the Ethics of K. E. Løgstrup. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press, 14766.
  • Maritain, J. (1966), The Person and the Common Good, trans. J. J. Fitzgerald. Notre Dame, IN: University of Notre Dame Press.
  • Marrus, M. R. (1987), The Holocaust in History. New York: NAL Penguin.
  • Perpich, D. (2008), The Ethics of Emmanuel Levinas. Palo Alto, CA: Stanford University Press.
  • Van Overbeke, P. M. (1957), ‘La loi naturelle et le droit naturel selon Saint Thomas’, Revue Thomiste, 57: 5378 and 430–498.