Absolutization is when we treat something as absolute. There are two main meanings of this, the original, ontological meaning which Dooyeweerd used, and the 'ordinary' meaning, which is concerned with the value we place on something.
- In its original meaning, derived from the Latin ab solus, to say something is absolute is to say it exists from and of itself alone. To Dooyeweerd, only of the Divine was this true. Calvin explained, "That which is the origin of everything else is of necessity self-existent and eternal." In theoretical thought humanity often treats an aspect (a sphere of meaning or law) in this way.
- In its 'ordinary' meaning, to absolutize something is to treat something as of absolute importance. There are various ways of doing this, some overt and some covert. We can absolutize an aspect (a sphere of meaning or law) or a concrete thing or happening, but do so in different ways. We look at what is wrong with absolutization.
Absolutization of either is, to Dooyeweerd, a religious attitude. Many presuppositions.
This page is an initial one.
Absolutization of an Aspect
When we absolutize an aspect, we treat that aspect as the only one that has meaning (or effective 'existence'). Either we deny other kinds of meaning, treating all other aspects as identical to our favoured one. Or we attempt to (and assume we can) reduce all other kinds of meaning to our favoured one, assuming that all the others are produced by this one. For example, Frege focused on mathematics and logic, assuming that all can be reduced to the analytic aspect, and spent a lifetime trying to do so in an honest way. In particular, he tried to reduce the lingual aspect to the analytic. We may differentiate absolutization of aspects in everyday living, in reflection and in theorizing.
When we absolutize an aspect in everyday life, we become blind to other types of meaning. For example, the business person often absolutizes the economic aspect. Because absolutization is a religious attitude, we resist it when others point out other aspects; that is, we are almost wilfully blind.
When we absolutize an aspect in reflecting on something, we not only focus entirely on properties meaningful in our aspect, but assume that no other kinds of properties are of any relevance whatever, and can never be of relevance. If some are suggested to us, we dismiss them, even sneer at those who think they are important; in this way, we reveal that absolutization is negatively religious in nature.
When we absolutize an aspect while theorizing, we treat that aspect as the only one that needs to be taken into account in formulating theory. Not only do we focus on it in a scientific manner (which is a valid thing to do, but we are willing to acknowledge other aspects), but we resist any suggestion that we should acknowledge other aspects. This leads us to attempt to reduce all other kinds of meaningfulness to this one. Frege absolutized the analytical aspect, the later Habermas, the lingual aspect, and so on. Such reductionism is rampant in Western thought.
Absolutizing an aspect is law-side absolutization because aspects are spheres of law.
Absolutization of a Concrete Thing
When we absolutize a concrete thing - an object, an event, a societal structure, etc. - we give overriding importance to that thing, so that other things suffer as a result. Idolatry is another name for this. For example, we might say that most governments and businesses absolutize the economy, so the environment suffers, and that western media absolutize freedom and the individual, so marriage and the family suffer.
Idolatry has been nicely characterized by Goudzwaard . An idol:
- is set apart in privileged place, is given special esteem,
- determines the meaning of all else,
- determines the value of everything, and what people aspire to,
- determines whether a thing exists or is destroyed,
- directs people's lives, and reduces their freedom,
- has things sacrificed to it, or for it,
- is protected at all costs,
- is willingly submitted to,
- is never questioned, and questioners are deemed heretics,
- and often delivers the opposite of what it promises. (Ever heard of the paperless office?)
Absolutization of a concrete thing is subject-side absolutization.
What is Wrong with Absolutization
To Dooyeweerd, absolutization is not merely an attitude, but it is a Bad attitude, one that is harmful, ultimately if not immediately. It is not just that it has always been found to be harmful, but that it cannot be otherwise. To Dooyeweerd, nothing in creation is absolute; only the Divine is absolute. So, to absolutize anything means treating this as Divine, because we treat it as self-existent.
Moreover, to absolutize anything not only insults the true Divine, but it also places a weight on the absolutized thing that it is unable to bear. Absolutization imputes self-dependence to the thing or aspect: it is treated as though it need depend on nothing else, and all else depends on it. Of nothing in created reality can this be true. To make everything else depend on something will eventually destroy it. We might see this in the dialectical swings in theoretical thinking in Western thought: an aspect is absolutized and the next generation reacts violently against it. Clouser [1991, 2005] is good at explaining this, esp. pages 17-41 about absolutization itself, and pages 185-07 about its religious root.
Absolutization also results in loss of meaning, because meaning, to Dooyeweerd, has the characteristic of referring beyond; if we absolute something then we treat it as though there is no 'beyond' to which it might refer, and that the thing has meaning in itself. As we attempt to treat the thing or aspect as alone having meaning in itself, paradoxically, it loses all meaning, usually without us realising that this is happening until too late.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments are very welcome.
Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 9 February 2008.
Last updated: 27 February 2008 from corrective comments by Roy Clouser, for which many thanks.