PhD Courses in Denmark

AGAPEISTIC ETHICS : Exploring the Second-Person Perspective

Graduate School, Arts at Aarhus University


The concept of perspective seems to be tied to the first person as the central point from which any perspective ultimately arises. “The ‘I think’ must be able to accompany all my representations,” as Kant wrote. Phenomenologists, likewise, will argue that whoever or whatever is given, is intentionally given for me, i.e., in a sphere of minimal selfawareness.
The challenge of exploring the second person perspective is therefore to conceive of a perspective where I am I only to the extent that I am also a Thou. In what is arguably the founding text of the philosophy of dialogue, Martin Buber thus wrote that:
“The human being becomes an I by the Thou.”
In order to think this relation in its primordiality, Buber suggests love as a metapsychological in-between – not unlike Kierkegaard who, in Works of Love, situates love as ‘the middle term.’ But how does love work when it works in or from the middle of the diastasis of I and Thou? Should we think of this work as a call to which I – coram deo – must respond in my own name, as has often been suggested in the theological tradition? And does it come with an ethics of our mutual becoming? Further, if it does, is this an ethics of prescribed norms or rather of an existential abode – if not even a certain alienation and homelessness? Consider, for instance, what happens to the personality of our first- and second-person perspective: In what sense are we still persons if we are loved not on account of any properties that constitute ‘who we take ourselves to be’ – a woman, a man, a child, a king, a servant, a fool, and so on? Do we simply lose all these ‘third personal traits’ in agapeistic ethics? Or do they perhaps come back to haunt the dyadic I-Thou relation from which they have been excluded as not properly personal? Does the call of love subjectify us, or does it also depersonalize us as forces of becoming, as Deleuze  would argue?

This PhD and postdoctoral course will explore, develop, and challenge theories of agapeistic ethics that situate themselves in the second person  perspective. What are the strengths and the possible shortcomings of this theoretical point of departure, for instance vis-à-vis theories more inclined to the first person or the third person? Our joint exploration will not presuppose a common theoretical ground, but rather ask openended questions that would capture the complexity of these theories.
We invite PhD and postdoctoral papers (20 minutes) related to one of these thematic fields, but we will also consider abstracts about agapeistic ethics more broadly conceived. If you are interested, please submit an abstract (300-500 words) to Claudia Welz ( by May 1, 2021.


The aim of this course is to provide
1. an overview of theories describing dialogical frameworks
2. an introduction, from an historical and a systematic perspective, to the major issues under discussion
3. a discussion of the main problems in agapeistic ethics. Topics may include: the perspectivity of love/agape, communication, subjectivity and alterity.


Literature that will be discussed during the course:
- Søren Kierkegaard, “The Work of Love in Recollecting One Who Is Dead” in: Works of Love
- Martin Buber, Postscript to I and Thou
- Emmanuel Levinas, “Dialogue: Self-Consciousness and Proximity of the Neighbor” in: Of God Who Comes to Mind
- Jean-Luc Nancy, “Myteries and Virtues” in: Adoration: The Deconstruction of Christianity II

Target group:

All PhD students, postdoctoral research fellows and other colleagues interested in the theme.




- keynote lectures
- reading and discussing classical texts
- short paper sessions in which PhD students and postdoctoral researchers can present their work.


1,5 ECTS for preparation and participation without paper
2,5 ECTS for attending the course and presenting a paper


Invited keynote speakers:
Stephen Darwall, Yale University

Werner G. Jeanrond, Oslo University

Peter Kline, St Francis Theological College, Brisbane

Dates and time:

27 May 2021: 13:00-18:00
28 May 2021: 9:00-15:00


Online on Zoom

Application deadline:

Please apply via this link no later than 1 May 2021