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C H A P T E R S I X Against the Self-Images of the Age MacIntyre and Løgstrup H A N S F I N K Alasdair MacIntyre has always insisted on the social and historical situatedness of even the most abstract forms of thinking, while at the same time trying to avoid the pitfalls of relativistic historicism. His work has involved a serious engagement, not only with the standard figures of the history of philosophy, but also with marginal philosophers of earlier periods and with contemporary philosophers who are little known in the English-speaking world. Few other major anglophone philosophers of his generation would have done so much detailed work in order to learn from a philosopher like Edith Stein, and his account of her position within the early phenomenological movement seems to me masterly.1 The Danish moral philosopher Knud Ejler Løgstrup is another thinker at the margins of the phenomenological movement whom MacIntyre has helped to make more widely accessible .2 By demonstrating the continuing importance of philosophers who might otherwise be consigned to oblivion, he is, I suppose, trying to show that the philosophers who feel most certain that they occupy the center of things may be rather more parochial than they think. In this paper I shall concentrate on MacIntyre’s connections with Løgstrup. Both of them have been consistent and articulate critics of the self-images of the modern age, or of what they have seen as the complacent, 145 146 HANS FINK narrow-minded, and self-congratulatory illusions accompanying much mainstream thinking especially on moral issues. Their points of departure are, however, somewhat different, and so are their accounts of what typically goes wrong in contemporary moral philosophy. Løgstrup was a Lutheran and a phenomenologist, and MacIntyre has worked his own way to a form of Thomism, but they both combine their religious commitments with a strong commitment to truth in all areas of philosophy, including ethics. I shall discuss what I regard as Løgstrup’s distinctive contribution to the moral philosophy of the twentieth century—his account of the incommensurable but complementary relationship between, on the one hand, the various types of social and moral demands and, on the other, what is, for him, the one and only ethical demand. In his confrontations with this singular conception of the ethical, MacIntyre has tried to incorporate what he takes to be Løgstrup’s insights within his own systematic and comprehensive Thomist position. It is of course too late for Løgstrup to reciprocate, and there are rather deep reasons why he would probably not have been willing to try. His way of developing the traditions he belonged to—both Lutheran and phenomenological—was not so much to confront other traditions as to open them as much as possible to facts that are so simple that philosophers tend to overlook them. On his view, it belongs to the essence of the ethical demand that it resists being philosophically “domesticated” within any unifying account of morality. I shall try to explain why Løgstrup’s very narrow and admittedly somewhat idiosyncratic conception of the ethical should remain a challenge for MacIntyre and other contemporary moral philosophers. I K. E. Løgstrup (1905–81) worked as a pastor in the Danish state church before becoming a professor of ethics and philosophy of religion at the University of Aarhus in 1943. His theological education involved an unusually extensive and intensive study of philosophy both in Denmark and in Germany, France, and Austria. He wrote dissertations on Edmund Husserl and Max Scheler, attended lectures by Martin Heidegger, and was deeply influenced by seminars with Hans Lipps, who was an independentminded student of Husserl. Løgstrup’s main work, The Ethical Demand (Den etiske fordring, 1956), continues to have an unusually broad and deep influence on both scholarly and public thinking about moral questions in Denmark and the other Scandinavian countries, but despite translations into German and English it has yet to make its mark among philosophers elsewhere. When he has been taken note of he tends to be subordinated to Emmanuel Levinas.3 Though always primarily a theologian, Løgstrup regarded strictly philosophical arguments as crucially important both in their own right and within theology. He also knew that the fact that he was a theologian meant that many readers would dismiss him as irrelevant. In 1978 he opened a volume of metaphysical and theological essays by saying...


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