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Aspectuality - Aspects as a Whole

For Herman Dooyeweerd, the notion of aspects - or as we call it here, of aspectuality - came as one of those 'eureka' moments:

"It does sound strange, but it is really true that the direction in which I worked out my philosophy and my encyclopedia of jurisprudence has no predecessors. I can still reconstruct how I got its basic idea. .. 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." [Henderson 1994, p. 38].

The purpose of this page is to discuss issues that relate across all Dooyeweerdian aspects, rather than to any individual aspect. It is only just starting, as a collection of notes that will later be structured into a coherent form. It also starts to compile other people's sets of aspects.


What *is* an Aspect?

What is an aspect? What makes an aspect? What distinguishes an aspect? What makes an aspect develop? What laws does an aspect have? And so on?

Well, this whole set of aspect web pages is designed to help us come closer to good answers to those questions. In particular, the explanation pages touches on some of those questions above, and more. Here, I will include notes about various things that are said about aspects in general.

Under this section, of 'What *is* an Aspect?', we discuss what are the aspects themselves, whether or not we are aware of them. In the next major section, 'On Using (our knowledge of) the Aspects', we discuss what comes from our being aware of them.

In Brief

What do the aspects do for us, even when we are totally oblivious to them?


First, though, I present a long quotation from one of Dooyeweerd's lectures on the social aspect. It is found on pages 61ff. of Verbrugge's edited version of Dooyeweerd's lectures 'A Christian Theory of Social Institutions'. It seems to me a good overview of aspectuality because (a) it is applied to one of the later aspects and therefore escapes the restricted meanings of the earlier ones (b) it is an application rather than an exposition of aspectuality and thus escapes the tortuous prose common in Dooyeweerd. The quotation is:

An absolute prerequisite to insight into these typical structural principles is an insight into various modal aspects or transcendental modes of experiencing social relationships. These relationships possess an invariant modal structure, by which their place in the temporal order of the [modal] aspects is expressed. The structural aspects are what we call the modal structures of human experience or of empirically manifest reality. For only they make known to us the general ways, the modalities, in which temporal reality presents itself. We must thus briefly examine them more closely.

These structural aspects give unity to the multiplicity of structural moments. The modal core moment occupies a central position in such a structural aspect and qualifies the meaning of all the other moments. This core moment has an original meaning only in its own aspect and guarantees the irreducibility of this aspect. All other modal structural moments, not of an original character, are grouped around this modal core. Some of these structural moments point back to the model cores of earlier aspects; others point forward to the cores of aspects of a later rank. Naturally, the aspect in question does not itself occupy the [first] or last position in the inter-modal order of our experience.

In the philosophy of the law idea, the first group of structural moments are called retrospective or retrocipatory moments; the second group are called anticipatory moments. The latter moments expand and deepen the meaning of one aspect. Both groups together reveal the unbreakable inner coherence of one aspect with all the others in the temporal order of modal structures.

To absolutize one aspect (as is done, for instance, in the biologistic, psychologistic or historicistic vision of society) is to lose sight of the modal structure of this aspect as well as insight into the structures of the remaining aspects. One continually identifies the absolutized aspect with concrete reality, though the latter only functions in this aspect.

Thus historicism identifies the cultural historical aspect with what has happened in the past. Actual events, however, display wholly different modal aspects alongside the historical-cltural aspect, which sociology (as the totality-science of society) may not eliminate.

Precisely because the modal structural aspect expresses the total coherence of all aspects, there are absolutizations (themselves religiously rooted). When absolutizing [one aspect], we forget that the universality of this aspect is valid only within its own sphere, and that all aspects share equally in such universality.

On the Irreducibility of Aspects

An important claim of Dooyeweerd's is that the aspects are irreducible to each other. What does this mean, and what are its implications.

The Shalom Principle

Dooyeweerd held that to function in line with the laws of each aspect brings 'shalom' - a deep, rounded, rich well-being that is sustainable. Going against the laws of any aspect jeopardizes this shalom. This has application in understanding urban sustainability, success and failure of information systems, etc. The Shalom Principle has also been called Simultaneous Realization of Norms.

But why should we expect fifteen aspects that are irreducible to each other to cohere in this way? Why is it not the case that to function well in the economic aspect means detriment in the social aspect (as our experience of putting people out of work, or 'Macdonalisation' suggests is the case)? Two parts to answer this:

Overcoming our deeply ingrained presuppositions

When I first looked at the formative aspect, which Dooyeweerd variously called 'cultural', 'historical' or even 'technological', I was surprised to see that that 'hard' thing, technology, was combined with the 'soft' thing of culture. At first it didn't make sense to me - until I began to see that formative power is the kernel in both. Likewise, when I look at the analytical aspect, whose kernel is distinction, I find there both individual choice and rationalism, which seem to be opposites. One is to do with freedom, the other to do with determinism.

In various aspects we find such a tension - or, rather, what we currently experience as tension in this Western culture. Therein, I now believe, lies the problem. The opposition between freedom and determinism, between personality and science, is not fundamental to reality as such, but rather a product of dualistic ground motives. It is, however, exceeding deep, and difficult to escape. It is a habit of the very depths of our thinking. So, when we come to the aspects, we find it difficult to find both freedom and determinism associated with a single aspect.

The problem we have is that we, whose thinking is what Whitehead called "a mere footnote to Plato", assume that the most fundamental distinction between things in reality is that between freedom and determinism - and its various emanations of spiritual and material, choice and constraint, value and fact, etc. But Dooyeweerd proposed that the ultimate distinctions in reality or othogonal to that; they are distinctions among aspects. And within each aspect we have a degree of both freedom and determinism. we try to cut the pile into two layers, upper and lower, while he cuts it into fifteen slices to make a row.

Of course, the amount of freedom within an aspect increases as we go along the row. But that leads to a different issue.

Differentiating Aspects

How do we tell whether two aspects are really different or not? How did Dooyeweerd arrive at his fifteen? There is no answer that satisfies the theoretical mind. Whenever Dooyeweerd discusses them he always relates the discussion to concrete situations. However, remembering that we can never, using theoretical thought, fully grasp the kernel of an aspect, there are a number of checks we can make.

See distinguishing.asp.html for a deeper discussion about distinguishing aspects.

Exploring an Aspect and its Kernel

The kernel meanings of aspects are not always very precise, though we can grasp them intuitively. We need sometimes (especially for theoretical thinking) to make them more precise. Here is an email message from Arthur Jones, July 1999, on how that has been started in the physical and biotic aspects.

"I an so grateful to those who introduced me to Christian philosophy as soon as I arrived at university in Birmingham, UK in the mid '60s. In those days that mainly meant the writings of Schaeffer and Van Till. They provided a good introduction, but little specific help in critiquing/reforming my own discipline. Towards the end of my undergraduate studies I was introduced to Dooyweerd; I found his writings (especially the poorly translated 'New Critique') very difficult, but 'knew' that this kind of systematic approach was essential to the attainment of my goals. Modal analysis was so insightful, but although it helped a lot, I still struggled trying to apply it to biology.

"Then in 1980 came Stafleu's 'Time and Again: A Systematic Analysis of the Foundations of Physics' (Toronto: Wedge, 1980). I am no great physicist and much of the detail of the book was beyond me, but as a paradigm of how to apply Dooyweerd's insights in a natural science, it was incredibly inspiring and illuminating. I now knew how to proceed. The key was a clear grasp of the nuclear (core) meaning of a modality. For Physics, Stafleu illuminated the vague concept of 'energy' with the key ideas of 'action/reaction' and of 'irreversibility' and then worked it all out in rich detail. For biology the equivalent vague concept to 'energy' was 'life'. Again obviously true, but unilluminating. I reflected (and prayed!) long and hard through all my knowledge and experience of animals and plants. Finally (it was a flash of inspiration, but after much groundwork) I concluded that the way to understand 'life' was in terms of the idea of 'generation' -amplified as 'reproduction, regeneration, development, differentiation, adaptation'. Biological processes and functions are fundamentally generative in relation to a life-cycle of development. I have then been able to work that out through biology and show that it richly illuminates (but radically re-interprets in comparison to secular evolutionary biology) such key terms as 'environment', 'homology', 'adaptation', 'cell' and so on.

"Beyond that it is down to detail. I have outlined much of it in my book 'Science in Faith: A Christian Perspective on Teaching Science' (Romford, England: Christian Schools Trust, Dec 1998, A4 size, 142pp, ISBN 0-9535502-0-6. Available from me for #15 + p&p). Very similar developments are now taking place in Phillip Johnson's 'Intelligent Design' movement, and those interested will appreciate the essays on biology by Jonathan Wells and Paul Nelson in 'Mere Creation: Science, Faith & Intelligent Design' (ed William A. Dembski, USA: IVP, 1998) and also on the Access Research Network website ( More detailed books by Wells and Nelson are in the pipeline and I will notify MythNet when they appear."

On Using (our knowledge of) the Aspects

Above, we have discussed what aspects are, whether we correctly identify them or not; here we discuss what follows from our knowing the aspects. By 'knowing the aspects' we mean an understanding of which ones pertain distinct from each other and what their kernel meanings are - but we do not assume a perfect understanding since it is impossible to arrive at that.

To be written, but this will include:

Various Notes

Only These Fifteen Aspects?

Moved. Go to new.aspects.html.

Aspects of the Aspectual Suite

Someone once suggested that the aspectual suite itself exhibits every aspect. For example: quantitative: there are a certain number of aspects; analytic: the aspects are distinct; juridical: the aspects have laws. I do not know from whom the suggestion came, but I have found it curiously stimulating. I always find recursion interesting, but this is particularly so. Here is how the aspectual suite might exhibit the aspects:

Aspect Beneficial Impacts Detrimental Impacts
(to do with quantity, amount)
There are 15 (or whatever) aspects
(to do with continuous extension, space)
They extend, and it is difficult to find crisp boundaries between them.
(to do with movement; flowing movement)
(to do with energy + mass)
(to do with life functions)
(to do with sense, feeling, emotion)
(to do with distinguishing )
The aspects are distinct.
(to do with history, culture, technology: shaping and creativity)
The aspects are opened.
(to do with symbolic communication)
The aspects mean.
(to do with social interaction)
The aspects relate to each other.
(to do with frugal use of resources)
(to do with harmony, surprise, fun)
The aspects cohere, and each contains echoes of the others.
(to do with what is due; 'retribution', rights and responsibilities)
The aspects are law-like, and as law-promise give what is due.
(to do with self-giving love)
Inter-aspect dependency: Each aspect serves its fellows that depend on it, so its importance to them is that it serves them.
(to do with vision, aspiration, commitment, creed, religion)

Why We Might Trust Dooyeweerd's Suite

Moved. Go to new.aspects.html.

New Aspect Needed?

Moved. Go to new.aspects.html.

On Knowing Things

The philosopher Immanuel Kant famously claimed that we can never truly know the 'Ding an Sich', the thing-in-itself, the noumenon, but that all we can know is the phenomenon, how the thing appears to us. For him, and all after him, this was a major limitation, and also a salutory lesson.

But Dooyeweerd, much of whose work was a critique of Kantian ideas, disagreed. There are many parts to this disagreement, but one that we focus on here is that Dooyeweerd claims that we can know the thing-in-itself. We can know it in the intuitiveness of everyday living, during which we function in all aspects intuitively. However, once we try to employ theoretical thought, we cannot know the thing fully. This is because theoretical thinking is just one aspect and is limited in its power. In this sense he agrees with Kant, but goes rather further and deeper.

Are Aspects Reflected in Human Development?

If the aspects are truly those in which we function and if we are fashioned to be 'friendly' towards the creation then it is a reasonable expectation that we would find some evidence that the aspects are 'built in' to our very beings. In July 1999 Arthur Jones sent the following email message which is interesting.

"I have always assumed that the irreducibility of the modal spheres would be reflected in human development, i.e. that the different modal senses would also prove to be irreducible. There has long been plenty of evidence for inborn and irreducible linguistic and aesthetic senses, but one which has been hotly contested is also one of the most basic - our sense of quantity or number (or 'numerosity'). Some scholars have argued that numerosity is not an independent ability or instinct, but flows from general reasoning, or from spatial ability, or from linguistic ability, or from some combination of these. I was therefore fascinated by an article in the current New Scientist on the neuropsychologist Brian Butterworth of University College, London and his book 'The Mathematical Brian' (Macmillan, UK; it will be published next month in the US as 'What Counts', Simon & Schuster). He presents the evidence that our number skills are inborn (though of course how those basic skills are developed is also a function of experience and culture). I am sure others will be interested to look up the article (Alison Motluk, True Grit, New Scientist, 163 (2193), 3 July 1999, pp46-48)."

Other Suites of Aspects

Many, in many disciplines, have tried to set down what they consider to be the top-level important issues that need consideration, and that are not reducible to each other. To do so seems almost a desire of the human heart, whether for merely understanding, or for practical use. It turns out that in many cases the proposed suite has strong parallels to Dooyeweerd's set of aspects and is a subset thereof.

See other.suites.html for this discussion.

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.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 1997?. Last updated: 25 June 1998 (added bits at start and re. ingrained presupps). 28 August 1998 added quote from Dooyeweerd on aspects. 28 June 1999 Added differentiating aspects but only partially. 12 July 1999 added exploring an aspect, whether aspects reflected in humans, plus contents list. 10 July 2000 added section on On Using the Aspects and the brief statement of what aspects are or do. 4 October 2000 link to new.aspects.html and distinguishing.asp.html. 9 May 2001 suites of aspects: Boulding, and others from lewis. 19 September 2001 Other suites of aspects moved to separate file. 16 January 2002 Sections added on irreducibility and shalom hyp. 8 July 2002 added Henderson quote. 17 September 2002 std ending. 20 December 2002 Split off reasons for trusting Dooyeweerd's suite into separate section #trust.dy. 3 March 2003 .nav, moved 3 sections to new.aspects.html. 23 December 2004 aspects of aspectual suite. 17 September 2010 spelling. 22 September 2010 fuller Henderson quote. 4 January 2013 links in epist irred, it comes up as first in google for 'epistemological irreducibility'! Added to contents. Shalom Principle not hyp. 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .nav.