Although I said I wouldn’t reprise my comments in another forum, involving one of Bresson’s films, on second thought, part of what I wrote there in 2006 is probably worth restating and preserving here. I have altered it only slightly, e.g. substituting the word “life-expressions” for “life-manifestations” (the modifier “sovereign” is omitted but implied). It is my condensed paraphrase of Løgstrup’s longer characterization of the sovereign expressions of life (from Metaphysics, Vol. II, pp. 375-391).
Characteristics of the sovereign expressions of life:
1. Life-expressions are usually latent. Much as language is usually overlooked in favor of its subject matter, life-expressions tend to be overlooked in favor of the actions they facilitate in the situations in which they arise. Most of the time we naturally, and rightly, focus more on what we are doing, or intending to do, than on life-expressions.
2. Life-expressions become visible during conflict or crisis. The normal latency of life-expressions is diminished when situations arise for which there is a price to be paid for acting in conformity with them. It is when we can no longer rely on the more or less unhindered facilitations of life-expressions that we tend to notice them, i.e. we notice them more in their absence than in their presence.
3. Life-expressions are unconditioned. If life-expressions are made to serve goals other than their own, they disappear or even turn into their opposites. For example, mercy seeks to free human beings from their suffering. As soon as mercy serves any other goal, e.g. societal stability, it is not mercy any longer.
4. Once visible, life-expressions may be formulated in ethical norms. Norms are derived from life-expressions, not the other way around. The ought of the norm is based on the unconditionality of the life-expression.
5. The unconditionality of life-expressions does not negate the conditionality of actions. Neither the norm’s ought, nor the life-expression’s unconditionality, eliminates the need for deliberation and judgment; they do not dictate actions.
6. In exceptional situations, it may be ethically necessary to go against life-expressions. For example, to be candid with the secret police in a totalitarian state is unacceptable. The word exceptional is important, however. One should not think that as soon as things do not go one’s way, one is in an exceptional situation.
7. Life-expressions are sovereign and spontaneous with respect to the person who is identified with them. Life-expressions are ours, but we do not create them. We cannot will them into existence – they arise spontaneously. They come not from us but from the universe in which we are emplaced.
8. Life-expressions lend themselves to a religious interpretation of the universe. The fact that life-expressions are unconditioned indicates that they come from the universe, but the fact that they are ours suggests that human beings are not accidental or irrelevant to the universe.