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Power and Powerlessness (finished in 2021)

About the project

This project, supported by the Carlsberg Foundation, had as its main purpose to make the philosophy of K.E. Løgstrup’s known to the non-Danish speaking world, because here we find thoughts and theories which are of great relevance and importance to people today. A key issue in Løgstrup’s conception is that although we as human beings have the power to do a great many things, we are in a fundamental sense powerless when it comes to making our own lives flourish. This means that we cannot make ourselves happy, and at the same time it carries the implication that if we do not acknowledge this fundamental human impotence it will inevitably lead to self-reproach and other forms of negative self-encircling attention.

These thoughts are highly relevant for our times, because we now, perhaps more than ever, live in a cultural understanding or pre-conception based on a firm belief in human power, and that we each have the potential to progress and improve ourselves, thus encouraging people to assume responsibility for and take charge of their own happiness and their own lives. The problem is that  we, as modern human beings, do not understand why we are unhappy, because while we seem to have virtually all necessary means at our disposal for leading happy lives and for forging our own happiness, we apparently fail to take advantage of these opportunities. The result of this failure can be clearly seen in the alarming prevalence of depressions, cases of anxiety and serious stress-related psychological problems, but also in the perpetual search for ‘the right way to live’; all this in various degrees, but nonetheless with an entirely negative impact on the individual’s own life.

To summarize Løgstrup’s position, he addresses the problems which prevail throughout modern culture, but he does this by speaking out against our cultural understanding of who we are, what we should do, and what lies within our power. He opposes the dominant conceptions and theories of the human being which constitute our current philosophical anthropology. Of particular importance is Løgstrup’s eye for the crucial importance that the other person and our surroundings have in our existence, and it is here we find Løgstrup’s main corrective to our tendency to focus on the individual and hence the tendency to over-emphasize our own self-reliance and sovereignty, which overburdens the present day human being, as can be seen in many of today’s buzz phrases such as ‘taking charge of one’s own life’, telling children that they themselves are ‘responsible for their own learning’, that the employee must ‘welcome and accept change at all times’, and the idea that we must ‘work on our own self-realization and improvement’, just to name a few examples.

Here, Løgstrup’s analysis of culture is extremely nuanced and focuses on a whole range of topics, as can be seen from the manifold of various possibilities through which, according to Løgstrup, life can make us happy and thus realize us and our inter-personal relationships ‘behind our backs’, so to speak, namely without our being aware of them or our intentional involvement. Examples of these possibilities which can liberate us and which can cause happiness are: the word of God’s unconditional love (theology), the presence and existence of other people in our lives (philosophy and ethics), art (culture), sensation (physiology, biology and environmental ethics), along with learning and interest in factual subjects (pedagogics and education).

The project focused on three main areas:

  1. Translation and publication of four of Løgstrup’s main works, which has been published with Oxford University Press.
  2. International cooperation through visits to universities in Belgium, China, and the United Kingdom.
  3. Publication of a selection of Løgstrup’s posthumous and unpublished manuscripts.

Work in Progress

Translations (in cooperation with Oxford University Press):

  • Controverting Kierkegaard (published 2022), introduction by Bjørn Rabjerg


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The project was supported by