Løgstrup’s “The universal is singular”: Ole Jensen’s summary and contextualization

[I have translated the following summary of Løgstrup’s thinking about the singular universal, which was written by Ole Jensen for his book, Historien om K. E. Løgstrup (pp. 156-9).  Besides introducing and explaining the idea itself quite well, Jensen does an excellent job of situating it within Løgstrup’s overall philosophical-theological project.  The “realization” mentioned in the first sentence refers to Løgstrup’s insight that the universe is not our surroundings but our source.]

The universal is singular

A major step on Løgstrup’s road to this realization is his commentary on the dispute over universals, a dispute which has never been settled – according to Løgstrup, because both sides maintained the common premise that, coming from outside, general concepts are laid in over matter.

Løgstrup’s surprising “solution” to this dispute is to discard the common premise and discard the words “general concept” and declare: “The universal is singular” (1978, 121)!

That means: the universals are found nowhere else than in the individual occurrence itself.  When we pull them out of the occurrences and formulate them as general concepts, detached from what they are concepts about, it is a process of abstraction in our heads.  If we see a horse, the process of abstraction says: this is a special case of the concept “horse,” which therefore is a general concept.  But a “horse” is surely something; there, the horse, out there in the physical reality, is.  It can not be the concept in our heads that is the real, and the phenomenon out there in the physical world that is something derived, an instance of the actually real concept.  That is to turn things upside down.  And the process of abstraction, which claims it, is indeed itself just something that only can take place after we already have understood.

Understanding exists not to tack an external description onto some sense impressions or subsume them as instances of a general concept.  Understanding takes place spontaneously and takes place, as mentioned, analogously.  We perceive a horse, because we spontaneously recognize the typical for horses in this actual specimen of the species horse.  The species-typical recurs in every specimen or individual, but is found nowhere else than in each of the specimens or individuals, even though there are thus, in fact, millions or billions of specimens or individuals found.  Phenomenologically, the universal horse is always only in actual horses, not outside all of them as something general.  If all horses became extinct, like mammoths became extinct once, the universal horse would also become extinct.  The horse would be gone forever.  That is what Løgstrup means by calling the universal singular or by saying that it has a one-off character.

Behind our backs, the world is ordered.  There lives an order in the phenomena.  This order is that which is “typical” for every species, that keeps the single specimen or individual closely integrated, so that this one regulates itself, at the same time as it recurs in every specimen or individual – how they are thus able to come about.  It makes the world a recognizable world.  We can trust that it is as we perceive it.  Imagine if we could not presume it.  Imagine if we should go around and try to make ourselves believe that the world has no colors, or that the finished figure, the fully real tree directly over there has only been something within our brains, and the tree over there in reality is merely a disordered collection, chaotic impulses.  The order is out there and not elsewhere.  Exactly like the precedence-difference between love and cynicism in interpersonal life unavoidably is in the phenomena and not something we read into them.  And exactly like the precedence-difference between life and death is something unavoidably real, we cannot avoid presuming it.

In the face of the effectiveness of the downgrading of the sense-world, the singular universals “call for safeguarding,” says Løgstrup (1973, 13; 1978, 132).  If the one-off character were not supplanted by disembodied thinking, we would know that our human power boils down to the fact that we – if we want to – can take care of and protect the species and ecological systems.  We can not re-create a species or a system if they become extinct.  We have power to deprive them of their irreducible self-regulation, but cannot reestablish it.  Our power reaches so far, and here lies its limit – corresponding to the case with the oak tree in the park.  To discover the universals’ singularity is to discover man’s limited power and more humble place in the universe.  It is to make room for wonder and admiration – as in the Sandoy parish clerk’s botany teaching.

Conversely, the sense for the fragility and vulnerability of the whole of nature is weakened, so long as the universal is understood as something general, that only is found incorporeally or spiritually outside of the occurrences.  Both “realism” and “nominalism” set the stage for nature-mastery, and that mastery has a tendency to be blind to the fact that the occurrences can be worn out.  It shows itself in that we one-sidedly conceive of nature and the universe as our manipulable surroundings.  That is why there is a need for a 180 degree change in attitude.

The young Løgstrup had to give up talking about eternal “laws of life.”  It turned out to be changeable norms for people’s lives together.  It was the “externals” of the Lutheran “creation systems” that were his inspiration.  And he did not give up the idea of ​​an external order (above p. 87).  And he found it – not only on the plane of social life, as concrete norms and instructions, but on the ontological plane, in the arrangement of existence.  And not just anthropophenomenology, also cosmophenomenology.  The remarkable and admirable thing is that he maintained that it is found, despite the fact that virtually all other thinking in his age considered this a naive dream about a state of innocence prior to the arrival of modern rational sober-mindedness, if it was not simply considered fascistic thinking!

Luther helped him.  And the Grundtvig-Tidehverv criticism of pilgrim thinking helped him.  They helped him philosophically to withstand the neonominalist brainwashing.  They are the singular universal manifestations – in the species, the color and the expression of life.

Finitum capax est infinit!  The finite can hold the infinite – it contains it!  By claiming it, Løgstrup’s philosophy reaches all the way back to before the great Greek philosophers, with whom the dualism and the mud-slinging against the sense-world came into being.  Since then, a common feature for all philosophy has been disembodiedness.  It has been “pure wit.  Different from Løgstrup” (Schanz 1990, 158f.).

When the idea about God’s hereafter from the Old Testament became part of his uncongeniality with dualistic thinking, the creation idea came under pressure.  It did not disappear, but had to struggle for life right up to our time.  (See above p. 56) In the first chapter of Genesis, it is said about God that after each day of creation he saw that what he had created “was good,” indeed, after the sixth day, that all of it, the creation as a whole, was “very good.”  With the singular universals, Løgstrup rediscovers what it is the old text has in sight.  He “translates” the mythological assertions into tenable contemporary thought.  That which is good for God’s sight is the light, the colored world, the host of species, mankind’s possibilities for love.

The same is true of the sensation’s absence of distance.  Into the void that prevailed before the creation, God brought forth that which is, with the words “Let there be … light” etc., after which “there was … light” etc.  This transition from let there be to was is the ancients’ mythological way of giving expression to the miracle of existence itself, the genesis itself.  In the unmediated “presence” of the distanceless sensation is precisely “everything’s bare-sense corporeality” which tunes the mind up – that something is; and that it exists for the senses – so God can see it.  God is a sentient God!

Both the “first” day’s that-miracle and each individual creation-day’s how-strangenesses have stood uninterpreted and neglected in a lot of modern theology, which by and large has only taken an interest in the exception in the creation from the sixth creation-day: mankind, who was “created in God’s image,” and even this, often within a narrow interpretation.  There have only been anthropophenomenological “tools” to draw upon, one might say.  Løgstrup’s philosophical breakthroughs give theology missing – cosmo-phenomenological – tools.

After Løgstrup one can again sing Brorson’s “Up, everything [that God has made – MM] …”  Try smiting afterwards!  Just as one can again speak about “the heaven’s and the earth’s creator,” as will emerge in the next chapter.

This entry was posted in Grundtvig, N. F. S., Jensen, Ole, Løgstrup, K. E., Scandinavian creation theology. Bookmark the permalink.

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