The Ethical Demand: Loegstrup's Ethics and Its Implications

Lead Research Organisation: University of Sheffield
Department Name: Philosophy


How much does ethics demand from us? What does ethics demand of us? On what authority does it demand it? How does what ethics demands relate to other requirements, such as those of prudence, law and social convention? Does ethics really demand anything at all?

These are fundamental questions in ethics, to which Loegstrup gives distinctive answers. On his account, the ethical situation is primarily one in which the fate of the other person is placed in your hands, where it is then your responsibility to do what is best for her. The demand therefore does not come from the other person as such, as what she asks you to do may be different from what you should do. It also doesn't come from what is expected of you by society, as it is not laid down by social rules. Nor is it laid down by God or by any formal principle of practical reason, such as Kant's principle of universalizability. It is also not based on the rights of the other, or any principle of reciprocity. It rather comes from what is required to care for the other, and the directive power of her needs in the situation. Loegstrup therefore rejects accounts of ethical obligation based on the commands of God, or on abstract principles governing practical reason, or on social norms, or on considerations of rights and justice; instead he develops a different picture, at the basis of which is his claim that we are mutually interdependent, and thus that for each of us 'life is a gift'.

My interest in Loegstrup arises from these issues, since the approach he adopts offers an alternative strategy to most accounts of ethical obligation. I shall therefore set it alongside those competing accounts, and assess its merits, particularly his claim that ethical obligation comes from the reasons that the needs of others give us to help them, and the way in which these necessarily trump other kinds of reasons. I will also explore the way in which Loegstrup's approach relates to but differs from the work of Levinas, and the care ethics developed by Gilligan and others.

This approach will give rise to both interpretative and systematic questions. Interpretatively, it will have to be justified against other ways of reading Loegstrup, such as those that treat him as a divine command theorist. At a systematic level, the approach itself will require defence, not only against competing account of moral obligation, but as coherent in its own terms. The interpretative questions will be dealt with by close attention to Loegstrup's texts, and also the historical and intellectual context in which they were written, while I will deal with systematic questions by bringing out the comparative merits of his approach.

As well as the monograph, I will also co-translate Loegstrup's book Kierkegaards und Heideggers Existenzanalyse. Written just before The Ethical Demand, and of great interest in its own right, this will also help me contextualize the arguments of The Ethical Demand itself.

Loegstrup's ideas play a major role in the intellectual life of modern Denmark: Den etiske fordring has sold over 100,000 copies, and a new edition of all his works is currently being produced, where he has influenced not only academic research but also pedagogics and nursing. He is also well-known in Scandinavia generally and to some extent in Germany as well; but until recently his thought was neglected in the Anglo-American world. While some important thinkers pay attention to his work (such as MacIntyre, Bauman and Darwall), this has been rather piecemeal, and not yet achieved any significant effect. I will take this reception of Loegstrup's ideas to a new level, while also showing how they have potential for considerable impact outside academia, for example in medical training, practice and policy. These ideas merit much wider consideration than they have received up to now, which can only be achieved by work on the scale that this project makes possible.

Planned Impact

1. Who will benefit from this research?
As research focused on Loegstrup's ethical ideas, a number of groups stand to benefit from this project:
(a) the public who have an interest in philosophy and theological ideas
(b) those with a general interest in Scandinavian thought and culture
(c) medical practitioners, educationalists, students, and policy makers, through Loegstrup's relation to care ethics
(d) those with an interest in the relation between ethics and religion

2. How will they benefit from this research?
(a) the wider public
The dissemination of this research will involve important elements of public engagement, through a number of lectures and talks aimed at making Loegstrup's ideas accessible to a wider audience. While Loegstrup is currently an unfamiliar figure in the English-speaking world, his work can easily be related to matters of public concern and given a contemporary relevance, where past experience shows this can lead to enthusiastic debate concerning his ideas on ethics, religion, trust and much else.

(b) Danish thought and culture
Loegstrup has a central place in Danish intellectual and public life; for example, in recognition of his contribution, he was awarded the 'Amalienborgprisen' by the Danish royal family. Putting his thought in context will therefore be valuable to those with an interest in Scandinavian history and culture. I will therefore give talks on Loegstrup to centres that focus on this general audience, which will include members of the public.

(c) Care ethics
'Care ethics' is a very important approach in medical ethics and nursing, which like Loegstrup recommends focusing on the needs of the individual patient in their particular situation, rather than abstract rules or principles, and without necessarily grounding those needs on rights. There has been some use of Loegstrup's ideas in this field (for example by Lindahl & Sandman; Saveman, Hallberg & Norberg; Holm; Martinsen; Pettersen), but on the whole Loegstrup has not been a prominent figure in thinking about this approach, perhaps because work in this area has been pioneered mainly by feminist theorists beginning with the work of Gilligan in the 1980s, so that earlier sources for this way of thinking have been overlooked. But this is unfortunate, as Loegstrup has distinctive ideas to contribute, for example on questions concerning autonomy vs paternalism; rules vs situation ethics; and personal relationships vs roles. Through the activities detailed in the 'pathway to impact', and working with colleagues, my work will inform the training of medical students and the thinking of practitioners and policy makers, in using Loegstrup to open up new perspectives on the issues raised by an ethics of care.

(d) Ethics and religion
An important aspect of Loegstrup's project is the way he tries to offer a secular ethics, while also drawing on and relating it to religious ideas. This raises the question of how far he is successful, and thus how far ethics can be divorced from religion, which is a matter of wide interest both to the public and those in faith groups. I will discuss these issues in presenting my research to those events which focus on these questions.
Description This funded research has enabled me to develop a deeper understanding of the work of the Danish philosopher and theologian K. E. Løgstrup (1905-81), particularly his major publication The Ethical Demand (1956). This has opened up his work for research in the English-speaking world, for whom he has been a relatively unknown figure. I have also translated several of his other publications, thereby making his ideas more accessible to others.
Exploitation Route Academics will find my research on Løgstrup opens up his ideas, and enables his position to be connected to contemporary debates
The translation work will also enable them to engage with his writings
I have also introduced non-academics to Løgstrup's ideas through a variety of public engagement activities
I have also introduced his ideas into debates concerning 'the ethics of care', which is used in medical ethics
Sectors Communities and Social Services/Policy,Education,Environment,Healthcare,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

Description I have spoken on Løgstrup to a variety of non-academic audiences, and feedback has been positive regarding the ideas this has generated
First Year Of Impact 2016
Sector Education,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other
Impact Types Cultural,Societal

Description Research and teaching visit to the University of Sydney 
Organisation University of Sydney
Department School of Economics
Country Australia 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution I taught an MA module on Løgstrup at the University of Sydney, and gave research papers and participated in seminars
Collaborator Contribution Through individual meetings and the presentation of research, we discussed the place of Logstrup within contemporary ethics
Impact No outputs yet, but future collaboration on a research grant is under discussion
Start Year 2016
Description Research visit by Bjørn Rabjerg, University of Aarhus 
Organisation Aarhus University
Department Faculty of Theology
Country Denmark 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution Dr Bjørn Rabjerg visited the Department of Philosophy, University of Sheffield, in February 2016. During this time he engaged in extensive research discussions with Professor Robert Stern on his work on K. E. Løgstrup.
Collaborator Contribution Extensive discussion of K. E. Løgstrup's ideas and text
Impact No outcomes at present, but future collaborations and outputs planned
Start Year 2016
Description Interview on Australian radio on Loegstrup 
Form Of Engagement Activity A press release, press conference or response to a media enquiry/interview
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach International
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact • Interview on 'Philosopher's Zone' on Australia Broadcasting Corporation 10th June 2018, discussing my research on K. E. Loegstrup
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2018
Description Talk at symposium on 'Liberated By God's Grace: 500 Years of Reformation' 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact Talk on 'Freedom from the Self: Luther and Løgstrup on Sin as "Incurvatus in Se"', at symposium on 'Liberated By God's Grace: 500 Years of Reformation', St Margaret's Church, London, 31st October 2017
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2017
Description Talk to cinema audience 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach Regional
Primary Audience Other audiences
Results and Impact The was a talk to a general audience after a showing of the film 'Order' directed by Carl Dreyer, in the 'Philosophy and Film' series run by the Picturehouse at Leeds. My talk drew on work I have been doing on Kierkegaard as part of my project, and was followed by discussion
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016
Description Talks to weekend course of Oxford University Division of Continuing Education, 20-21 February 2016 
Form Of Engagement Activity A talk or presentation
Part Of Official Scheme? No
Geographic Reach National
Primary Audience Public/other audiences
Results and Impact A general audience attended this weekend course run by the University of Oxford's Division of Continuing Education. I presented two talks relating to my research on K. E. Løgstrup, which also led to discussion by the audience. Around 30 people attended.
Year(s) Of Engagement Activity 2016