Tore's blog

Tore's blog


I took the picture above some years ago: the Nile somewhere between Luxor and Aswan.

In Swedish:


ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Saturday, December 07 2013 20:03:48



December 2013, Volume 28, Issue 4, pp 377-382

Practical knowledge and ethics

Tore Nordenstam


Systematic research in the wide field of practical knowledge is a recent phenomenon. In this paper, the approaches which have been developed in the main centres of research into practical knowledge in Norway and Sweden are compared with an emphasis on their potential for revitalizing the study of ethics. The focus on narratives and reflection based on the researcher’s own professional experience which is the distinguishing feature of the centre for practical knowledge at the University of Nordland is seen as a very promising addition to the traditional repertory of ethical studies.


Practical knowledge Skill and technology Ethical theory

Applied ethics Multifaceted concepts Examples

Reflection Scientific essay Narrative form

The role of philosophy

The whole text is available here.

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Thursday, February 21 2013 11:52:10

My paper Practical Knowledge and Ethics is now available in the online version of the journal AI & Society:

The article can be cited by its unique Digital Object Identifier (DOI) 10.1007/s00146-013-0444-4 in the following form:

Author, Journal Title, Year, DOI

Best wishes

from the author!

The whole manuscript can also be read here:

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Thursday, February 16 2012 13:09:26

Carla Carmona Escalera (philosophy), Eva Werth (literary studies) and Johann Thomas Ambrózy (art history) have launched a new project called the EGON SCHIELE JAHRBUCH (ESJB).

In the introduction to the first volume of the Jahrbuch which was published in December 2011, the editors explain their purposes:

It is unfortunate that the research on Egon Schiele (1890-1918) has been particularly scattered and divided. It is also in part too biased towards an expressionistic approach which uses the concept of genius to the detriment of the analysis of the representational logic of Schiele's oeuvre. It is high time that those working worldwide on Schiele cooperate on an international level so that different methods and approaches can benefit from each other in aid of both scholarship and artistic practice.

EGON SCHIELE JAHRBUCH (ESJB) is the first journal dedicated to the study of Schiele's oeuvre. It publishes current research articles, symposia, relevant interviews, timely reviews of books and exhibitions as well as special issues on the artistic practice of Egon Schiele. Following the path pioneered by Allan Janik and Stephen Toulmin's Wittgenstein's Vienna, ESJB also features those aspects of the arts, philosophies and culture of the fin de siècle Vienna which could advance the understanding of Schiele's work. ... ... ...

The editors would like the ESJB to promote the clarification of the dynamic relationships between ethics and aesthetics inherent to Schiele's oeuvre, something so precious in a time like ours.

The first volume of the Egon Schiele Jahrbuch is a substantial volume with long papers by the three editors themselves and contributions by both art historians like Gertrud Held and Helena Pereña and philosophers like Allan Janik and Tore Nordenstam.

The volume also includes some lively interviews and sections on museums, exhibitions and research institutions concerned with Schiele and ends with the announcement of the first Egon Schiele Research Symposium which will take place in June this year.

More on ESJB here:

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Friday, February 25 2011 15:17:20

I wrote the book Sudanese Ethics back in the 1960s. About 40 years later, it was subjected to a critical examination in a workshop organized by the Epistemological Enlightenment Centre in Khartoum. The workshop resulted in a book which came out a couple of years ago. (Cf. an earlier entry on this - here.)

Now that book has been translated into English:

Sudanese Ethics. Critical Revisions on Nordenstam's Model, Epistemological Enlightenment Centre, Khartoum 2010, 261 pages. ISBN: 978-99942-957-2-2.

The contributors come from different fields. Professor Mohamed Abdalla Alnagarabi is a sociologist; Dr. Idris Salim Elhassan got his Ph.D. in the sociology of religion; Dr. Abdalla Ibrahim El Shukri is a philosopher, now associate professor at Omdurman Islamic University; Dr. Khalid Almubarak Mustafa got his Ph.D. in theatre studies and now works as information attaché at the Sudan Embassy in London: Dr. Hydar Ibrahim Ali got his Ph.D. in the philosophy of social sciences; Dr. Suliman Yahya Mohamed has a Ph.D. in folklore and is now a lecturer in folklore at Sudan University for Science and Technology; Dr. Sabri Mohamed Khaliel is a lecturer of philosophy at the University of Khartoum; Dr. Shamseldeen Younos Najmeldeen is a lecturer of criticism and theatre at Sudan University for Science and Technologyand and currently the director of the Sudanese National Theatre.

I do look forward to reading this!

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Thursday, May 21 2009 11:33:38

One of the standard manoeuvres in contemporary moral philosophy is to present Kant's ethics and utilitarianism as alternative ethical theories. New students get to know that there are two main types of ethical theory, those which are consequence-oriented and those which are not. The first type is called teleological ethics, the second one is called deontological ethics. As typical examples of teleological ethical theorists, one cites classical utilitarians like Jeremy Bentham and John Stuart Mill and their 20th century descendants from G. E. Moore and Bertrand Russell to John Rawls ("rule-utilitarianism") and R. M. Hare ("preference-utilitarianism"). As typical examples of deontological ethical theorists, one refers to Immanuel Kant and a wide spread of moral philosophers from W. D. Ross in the mid-war period to various representatives of so-called virtue ethics (Philippa Foot, Alasdair MacIntyre etc.).

To illustrate and clarify the difference between teleological and deontological ethics, students are often submitted to exercises which ask for Kantian and utitilitarian solutions to philosophical dilemmas of various sorts, drawn both from literary classics like Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment and from other sources. A typical example will run on the following lines: There is unrest in the population. The government authorities think that order can be restored if a certain person is condemned for things which he hasn’t done. But the people believe he is the culprit. Would it morally right to sacrifice a human scapegoat in such a case? What would a utilitarian say to this, and what would a Kantian say? Usually, the exercises are presented in such a way that the students will tend to think that Kantians would always condemn punishing the innocent, whilst utilitarians might come to different conclusions, depending on how they estimate the long-term consequences of punishing the innocent.

This paedagogical practice presupposes that Kant’s moral philosophy can be properly regarded as an alternative to utilitarianism on the normative level. Kant, Bentham, Mill, Ross, Hare and so on are looked upon as producers of competing normative ethical theories. The basis for this practice is laid by the textbooks in the field of ethics. Selections from Kant’s Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals are contrasted with selections from Bentham, Mill, Ross et al.

It has also been suggested that Kant’s ethics and utilitarianism should not be regarded as sharp contrasts. Rather, they should be regarded as complementary contributions to ethics. Here is an example from the field of applied ethics. Applied ethics is often seen as a field for the application of ethical theories (hence the very name of this branch of ethics), and the ethical theories most often referred to are ”Kantian ethics” and ”utilitarianism”. The American philosopher Ruth Macklin is one of the more well-known representatives of the branch of applied philosophy called medical ethics or, more generally, bioethics. She thinks that it is possible to speak of experts in the field of ethics. In order to qualify as an ethical expert, one must amongst other things be familiar with the main types of ethical theory, and she adds that ”The advantage of having a theory, as philosophers have argued at length, is that it enables particular judgments to be systematic and well grounded, instead of ad hoc.” She goes on say that in the field of medical ethics, the main theories are Kantianism and utilitarianism and that in practice, one finds a combination of those two theories. When one refers to the patient’s autonomy, dignity and self-respect, that is a Kantian element, and when one refers to benificial or harmful consequences in a long time perspective, that is a utilitarian element, according to Macklin.

My main objection to such lines of thinking is that they operate with versions of Kantian and utilitarian ethics which are so diluted that the result is hopelessly confusing and vague. It is not the case that only utilitarians can appeal to consequences when thinking about ethical matters. ”All ethical doctrines worth our attention take consequences into account when judging rightness. One which did not would simply be irrational, crazy”, as John Rawls has put it. The same goes for dignity. It is not the case that Kant is the inventor of the ideas of personal dignity and self-respect. All sound persons will take account of both dignity and consequences in their ethical acting and thinking. The difference between Kant and utilitarians is not that they speak of completely different things. But they have very different ways of handling considerations of dignity and consequences on the analytical level, due to their different programmes for moral philosophy.

Kantians and utilitarians will often find themselves in agreement on the normative level, and both Kantians and utilitarians can disagree with each other when it comes to problematic cases. But Kant and the utilitarians propose different analytical frameworks for ethics. Kant is particularly anxious to sort out the necessary ingredients in ethics from the rest, which leads to his division between pure ethics and practical anthropology and to his idiosyncratic distinction between the moral and the prudential. This interest is not on the utilitarians’ agenda, which means that from Kant’s point of view, utilitarian ethics is a confusing mixture of moral and prudential concerns. One might well find Kant’s research programme for ethics unattractive, but it is impossible to neglect it if one wants to do justice to Kant’s writings on ethics.

If one wants to consider the differences between Kant and the utilitarians rather than their similarities, one would do well to dwell on the notion of moral value. It is one of the pillars of utilitarianism that the moral value of actions depends entirely on their consequences for human welfare. According to Kant, moral value cannot be reduced to human welfare. Rightly or wrongly, he maintains that moral value is sui generis. Here there can be no question of a reconciliation between the two traditions. But I have a feeling that such reductionist issues are not really of much interest outside the field of academic philosophy.

More here.

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Thursday, January 01 2009 12:02:34
Blog Image

This is the front page of a new book on Sudanese ethics. The book was published in 2008 by the Epistemological Enlightenment Centre - the Tanweer Centre - in Khartoum. The Tanweer Centre is a social science centre which was established in 2003. Amongst other things, the centre publishes a journal with the title Tanweer (four issues annually). The last two issues deal with ethics and the concept of freedom.

The new book is the result of a workshop on "Sudanese Ethics from an Outsider's Perspective". More precisely, the subject which was discussed was my work on Sudanese ethics in the 1960s (Sudanese Ethics, 1968; also available in Arabic, 1996). The director of the centre, Professor Mohamed A. Alnagarabi, who has kindly sent me the book, also writes that they are planning to translate it into English.

My new year's wish is that this will happen so that the contents of this book will be available to interested readers (like myself) who don't read Arabic.

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ETHICSPosted by Tore Nordenstam Saturday, March 17 2007 17:57:00

Can ethics be a science? The traditional answer is, Yes, but not only that – ethics is a science.

That is what you find in Aristotle, that is what you find in Kant, Adam Smith, Adam Ferguson, James Beattie, Jeremy Bentham and so on. (Kant, for instance, agreed with the ancient Greeks that there are three sciences: logic, physics, ethics.)

This is not the standard answer nowadays. The explanation is that we have another concept of science than Plato, Aristotle and Kant had.

The traditional view was that a science is a set of necessary truths which fulfil two demands: they treat of unchangeable objects and their properties, and they can be derived from principles which are so evident that they don’t need any proof. In this perspective, Euclid’s geometry is an ideal science.

From the beginning of the nineteenth century, a new concept of science has established itself: science as methodical empirical research. And since empirical research deals with how it is and ethics with how it ought to be, one can hardly claim now that ethics is (or can be) a science.

But the traditional view has not disappeared completely. In the field of ethics, it is still alive under the name of Ethical Theory. It seems to be a widespread idea that ethics stands in need of theories.

Here is a quotation from R. B. Brandt’s textbook Ethical Theory (first published in 1959):

Ideally a normative ‘theory’ consists of a set of general principles analoguous to the axioms of a geometric system. That is, ideally it comprises a set of correct or valid general principles, as brief and simple as possible compatibly with completeness in the sense that these principles, when conjoined with true nonethical statements, would logically imply every ethical statement that is correct or valid. Such an ideal for a system must be our guide.

This is, in fact, an admirably clear way of summing up the classical conception of science.

When ethical theorizing is emphasized in this way, there is something which one tends to neglect – the crucial role of examples in ethics. General principles of human dignity, for instance, must be anchored in concrete cases in order to get substantial content. Ethical reasoning is normally not deductive; it is reasoning by analogy. This is where the core of ethics is to be found.

Or – ?

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