Theodore Lai

Towards a Law-Bound Contextuality: Knud Ejler Løgstrup, Alasdair MacIntyre and Edith Stein

Contrary to a contentious dichotomy between universality and subjectivity in post-Kantian moral debates, this essay argues that laws are fluidly integrated with ethical contexts, such that our particular placement in the world reveals and gives shape to laws that make ethical action possible. I examine Alasdair MacIntyre’s engagement with two understudied figures in the phenomenological tradition: Knud Ejler Løgstrup and Edith Stein. Løgstrup isolates the moment of ethical action, describing it as an open-ended act made without reference to laws. MacIntyre responds that subjective actions are themselves a manifestation of law. I show that MacIntyre’s critique provides resources to demonstrate the false dichotomy between freedom and rule in post-Kantian ethics. I then examine tangential ideas in Stein’s study of empathy (einfuhlung) and demonstrate that it functions as a framework for a subjective ethics sensitive to subject-independent conditions. Stein’s world of values (Geist), within which moral actors are embedded, reflect myriad cultures that resist any unifying encapsulation, and overlaps Løgstrup’s ethical demand that emphasizes spontaneous responses. Yet the subjectivity of Geist nevertheless functions within a background of laws, reflecting MacIntyre’s contention of autonomous ethical action as inextricable from the natural law. We are thus at once dependent on rational laws in order to make ethical responses, but not determined by them in a way that renders our idiosyncrasies superflous.