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Aspects of Reality
as We Experience It

This page gives entry to understanding Dooyeweerd's modal aspects
- the theory for which is is most famous.

The Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd reflected on the diversity and coherence of everyday experience like no other philosopher has done, and came up with around fifteen distinct aspects. Just as, in architecture, the east, south and north aspects of a building are distinct ways of seeing a building, and none can be derived from the others, so Dooyeweerd's aspects are distinct ways of 'seeing' reality that cannot be derived from one another.

He asked "In what ways is it possible to be meaningful? In what distinct ways is it possible to 'see' things - understand and interact with things?" The fifteen aspects he came up with are as follows [Note 1]:

Meaning Aspect Example
discrete amount Quantitative This 1 page is about 15 aspects, and has a certain number of words.
continuous space Spatial This page is laid out in rectangular areas.
movement Kinematic The page invites your gaze to move across it.
energy + mass, forces Physical This page emits light.
life functions + organisms Biotic /
Certain of your nerve cells are activated by this page.
sense, feeling, emotion Sensitive /
This page can be seen.
distinction, conceptualization Analytical You can distinguish things on this page, and think about them.
achievement, construction, history, technology Formative You construct an impression of this page.
meaning carried by symbols Lingual You understand (or not!) some of what this page tells you.
'we': relationships, roles, convention Social You have role as reader.
This page is not conventional.
frugal management of resources Economic Trying to get all that is needed into this page.
harmony, play, enjoyment Aesthetic Is this page interesting? Does it 'work' as a whole?
due: responsibilities+rights Juridical Does this page do justice to the topic, and to you as reader?
self-giving love, generosity Ethical /
Does this page go beyond doing justice?
vision, aspiration, commitment, belief Pistic /
I believe in what I am writing on this page, and believe it's important.

Fifteen - rather difficult to remember? The alternative table below might make it easier.

What are aspects? Aspects are:

That is why they are so versatile! We function in all of them simultaneously.

Each is a constellation of meaning, rich and diverse, centred a on a meaning-kernel or nucleus. To see the constellations in pictorial form, along with a summary of each aspect, see systematic descriptions of the aspects together.

When you click each aspect above you get its individual page, which discusses details of:

Each heading in each aspect page has a small letter x , which will take you directly to an explanation of that section.

"I enjoyed going for walks in the dunes in the evening. During one of these walks in the dunes I received an insight (ingeving) that the diverse modes of experience, which were dependent upon the various aspects of reality, had a modal character and that there had to be a structure of the modal aspects in which their coherence is reflected. The discovery of what I called 'the modal aspects of our experience horizon' was the point of connection."

Herman Dooyeweerd,
cited in Henderson [1994:37-38]
"In fact the system of the law-spheres designed by us can never lay claim to material completion. A more penetrating examination may at any time bring new modal aspects of reality to the light not yet perceived before. And the discovery of new law-spheres will always require a revision and further development of our modal analyses. Theoretical thought has never finished its task. Any one who thinks he has devised a philosophical system that can be adopted unchanged by all later generations, shows his absolute lack of insight into the dependence of all theoretical thought on historical development."

Herman Dooyeweerd
New Critique, II,p.556]

Just as aspects of a building are not merely subjective views, but are given by the building itself, so Dooyeweerd's aspects are no mere subjective attributions of meaningfulness, but are given by the very nature of our complex reality itself.

About Aspects

Click each entry for explanation and/or discussion. Also, see the discussion of Aspectuality for a discussion of the whole suite of aspects taken together.
What Are Aspects?
Aspects are the very enablers of the Being, Occurring and Knowing of the whole of temporal reality - which includes all of us: Click here for original aspects.html page, which, up to 3 March 2003, gave a brief introduction of what aspects are.
Characteristics Of Aspects

Why Are Aspects Important?
  • Aspects provide an Account for Diversity and Coherence.
  • So understanding them offer us a framework by which to understand and tackle complexity.
  • It also helps us tackle interdisciplinarity.
  • Aspects provide distinct ways of describing of situations, so helping clarify.
  • Aspects can account for everyday living.
  • Dooyeweerd's aspects recommend themselves to our intuition, and become a natural way of thinking.
  • Dooyeweerd's aspects are easy to learn and understand intuitively.
  • Multi-aspectuality. Most human living, being and acting is multi-aspectual.
  • Having good intuitive grasp of aspectual meaning can help untangle philosophical debates at cross purposes.
Aspects can delineate scientific areas and disciplines:
  • Mathematics, statistics
  • Geometry, topology, (geography)
  • Dynamics, kinematics
  • Physics, chemistry, materials science, geology
  • Biology, botany, (zoology)
  • Psychology, (zoology)
  • Logic, analytics
  • Design sciences, histology
  • Linguistics, semiotics
  • Sociology, organisational science
  • Management science, economics
  • Aesthetics
  • Juridics, legal science
  • Ethics
  • Theology

How Do We Know Aspects?
Examples of Aspects in Various Situations
  • Playing a computer game has many aspects, but is primarily of the aesthetic aspect.
  • Operating a Control Room such as air traffic control has many aspects. The formative aspect of control, and the kinematic aspect of movement seem of primary importance. But for it to work well, the lingual aspect of communication and symbols on screen is crucial, so is the physical aspect of instrumental monitoring, the social aspect of relationships in a team under pressure, and the pistic aspect of having a clear vision for what is being done.
  • Eemlandhoeve is a farm that is explicitly influenced by Dooyeweerd's aspects to achieve sustainability
  • Some things might seem multi-aspectual or non-aspectual, such as knowledge or adaptation.

How Can We Use Aspects?

Easier Understanding of Aspects

Fifteen - rather difficult to remember? The following table might make it easier. The kernel meaning is expressed in more intuitive ways, the good each aspect makes possible in temporal reality is given, and we can group the aspects in terms of the kind of good or effect that functioning can bring to the world (though Dooyeweerd did not group them like this).

Aspect Meaning Good
Mathematical Aspects
Quantitative One, several many;
more and less
Reliable amount
Spatial Here, there, between, around,
inside and outside
Simultaneity, continuity
Kinematic Flowing & going Change
Pre-Human Aspects
Physical Forces, energy and matter Irreversible persistence and causality
Biotic / Organic Living as organisms in an environment Sustained being and functioning that is not wholly controlled by the environment
Sensitive / Psychic Feeling and responding Interactive engagement with world
Aspects of Human Individual
Analytical Conceptualising, clarifying, categorising and cogitating Independence from the world;
Conceptual and theoretical thinking
Formative Deliberate creative shaping of things Achievement, innovation
Lingual Expressing, recording and interpreting Intelligible externalisation of our intended meaning;
Referring beyond to whole web of meaning
Social Aspects
Social We, us and them;
relating, agreeing and appointing
Economic Managing limited resources frugally Sustainable prosperity
Aesthetic Harmonising,, enjoying, playing, beautifying Delight that seems non-necessary
Aspects of Structures of Society
Juridical Due:
appropriateness, debt and reward, structures of policy and legality
Due for all
Ethical Attitude; self-giving love Extra goodness, beyond the imperative of due
Pistic / Faith Vision, commitment, certainty and belief
aspiring, trusting, worshipping
Courage, hope and openness to the Divine;
change in the attitude and direction of society

The above table is taken from the IJMAP paper A presentation of Herman Dooyeweerd's aspects of temporal reality. See the paper for expanded discussion of each aspect, or else see the webpage for each aspect.


Note 1. Actually, Dooyeweerd warned about taking any suite of aspects, including his own, as fixed. He expected more aspects to be discovered. See [NC, II, 556].

This page, "", 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.

Written on the Amiga with Protext, in the style of classic HTML.

Created: 1997. Last updated: 6 23 October 1997, 7 May 1998 (major update the structure of the aspect pages, from comments received at 1998 CTS Swehol Working Conference), 18 May 1998. 26 July 1998. 13 August 1998. 30 August 1998 all the aspect pages were re-structured and tidied. 5 February 1999 kernels. 27 June 1999 added pointer to aspectual analysis of marriage. 5 March 2000. 30 July 2000. 4 October 2000. 7 February 2001 mailto, copyright. 17 July 2001 link to knowledge.html. 18 October 2001 social. 16 January 2002 updated the aspect dates. 15 July 2002 some links updated. 2 August 2002 links to maf.html and some additions to text; new dates on aspects. 14 September 2002 5 aspects updated. 20 November 2002 link to various using/. 12 January 2003 link to anticipation.html and summary.

3 March 2003 page revamped: it now has a list of things about aspects that link to asp.html. 10 June 2003 differentiated characteristics from roles of aspects, added a few, and tidied and rearranged other stuff; removed dates from aspect links cos difficult to keep up to date. 26 September 2003 link to tips. 14 January 2004 Human and social aspects. 3 December 2004 links to examples of aspects. 10 May 2005 revamped page with better links. 23 November 2005 unet, new .nav. 3 February 2006 link compare.asp; rid counter. 19 March 2008 asp.neighbours, anticipation; correction to examples. 14 October 2008 better wording to link to asp.neighbour. 16 June 2009 better examples; nonaspl; redid Intro to be 'faster'; breaks in aspects; redid aspectual kernels. 10 May 2010 aspects.aspects.html.

22 September 2010 nearly finished revamping and rearrangement of page to remove long paragraphs and split it up a bit. The previous version is available.. Brought in 'easier' understanding table. 24 September 2010 typos. 13 April 2013 link to ijmap paper; more in list of 'using'. 8 March 2017 NC,II,556 note; new .end, .nav, cells centred. 28 February 2018 lingual: intelligible. 30 October 2018 aspects.smy. 17 November 2020 "modality of meaning", "meaning-aspect". 4 May 2022 aspects not just subjective; new intro re building. 8 August 2022 correcting centredness; new .end,.nav, bgcolor,canon. 18 May 2024 what aspects are (list).