Navigation: This page 'distinguishing.asp.html' ---> Main Page. HELP. Contact.

On Distinguishing the Aspects

Dooyeweerd proposed fifteen aspects (spheres, modalities) of reality. On what basis can we usefully examine his proposal and discuss whether his fifteen are in any sense correct? How can we tell whether a new aspect is needed, as suggested by de Raadt (1996) or whether two aspects should be combined, as suggested by Hart (1984). The advent of information technology is an important development since Dooyeweerd first proposed his aspects, so if we start to find tensions between what we find there and his aspects, is it that a new aspect has dawned, or is it that our understanding of I.T. needs further refinement which will allow it to sit more comfortably among the aspects, or is it that we should refine our conceptions of Dooyeweerd's aspects? How can we tell?

(Let us assume at least a measure of respect for Dooyeweerd's work, so that this discussion is positive rather than negative.)

The key question behind all this is: what distinguishes an aspect? On what grounds? As DE has put it:

I would like to ask you a question concerning the modalities in Dooyeweerdian philosophy, if possible? What I am wondering is basically what is the discriminator for identification and distinction of modalities according to Dooyeweerd? Do you know it? Or where it might be written? By discriminator I mean what criteria is used in order to qualify something as a modality and also distinguish these.

It is that query that has stimulate me to construct this page.

Criteria for Distinguishing the Aspects

I have never seen a clear statement in Dooyeweerd's writings that answers this directly. Dooyeweerd seems first to have developed the idea of aspects as an inspiration or intuition, allowing theoretical ideas to impinge on it and guide and refine it, over a period of years. As with many processes of thinking, especially radical thinking, the bulk is not rational but intuitive, and it is only towards the end, when a fuller picture is emerging, that analysis can produce clear descriptions and taxonomies.

Henderson's (1994) Illuminating Law: The Construction of Herman Dooyeweerd's Philosophy, 1918-1928 gives us some insight into this process. On p.138 he says that Dooyeweerd "pointed out a variety of factors, considerations, perspectives and lines of reasoning. But because of the complexity of each sphere, designating the method and various criteria (for what constituted and belonged to a sphere) was a difficult business." Nevertheless, Henderson discusses three factors that helped in identifying and discriminating the aspects:

Now, the above assumes certain things about the philosophical thought processes behind them. One is that the thought is not 'apostate', having a tendency to elevate one aspect and suppressing others. If this happens then one cannot truly determine whether one is reducible to another since one has already made assumptions that it is so. Another assumption is that we are dealing over the long term, maybe even centuries of thought, rather than with one person's thinking on a summer afternoon in an armchair or an evening's discussion in a pub. Only over the long term do certain irreducibilities and antinomies appear, as humanity explores several contexts or paradigms of thought.

On the Act of Discrimination

DE continued with:

So, for example, if we would go to a parking lot and you would say lets identify all the cars that are here and the different types of cars. The answer would be, here is a car, it is a Ford, here is a car it is a BMW. But this kind of distinction would say that it is not adequate to say here is a car it is a truck, or here is a Spitfire aeroplane..., because they do not qualify throught the process of discrimination. Similar question of mine concerns the modalities!

This leads us to consider the very act of discriminating (aspects) itself.

Dooyeweerd's ideas of the innate sovereignty and irreducibility of sphers (aspects) developed under the influence of Lask, who claimed that gegenstand was non-logical in character. Henderson says (p.137), "This meant that the practical distinguishing of the spheres did not and could not derive from purely logical distinctions or merely from the 'material' alone, but depended upon a combination of both. ... Legal, social or economic regularities do not present themselves to us as such but must be picked out through intuition ... Such things have to be abstracted from the everyday coherence of law spheres of a unified creation."

But Dooyeweerd went beyond Lask, "insisting emphatically that the non-logical material has its own meaning." (Henderson, p.137). While Lask's concept is of a "logical comprehending of the irrational material" (Dooyeweerd quuoted by Henderson), Dooyeweerd maintains both that this material has its own importance as non-logical, and that there must also be an element of belief, commitment as well as knowledge, by which we accept the material.

In everyday living we function in all aspects without being aware of any of them. They are integrated within and around us - in a harmonious way.

But it seems to be a natural yearning in the human heart to forge taxonomies that break the light of experience into a rainbow of colours. Many have proposed taxonomies, systems of levels, factors, etc. For instance, Checkland, in his Soft Systems Methodology, states that we must take five things into account when building information systems: efficiency, efficacy, effectiveness, ethics and (a)esthetics. Ackoff likewise gives us around nine things we should consider. In all these cases the purpose of making such a list is to identify those aspects that cannot be reduced to, or expressed by, others.

In doing this we are making distinctions between the aspects. This analytical aspect allows us to apply itself recursively to the suite of aspects and tease out one from another.

So, the set of aspects that have been distinguished by Dooyeweerd are the result of a person's analytical functioning. What this means is that - because no aspect-functioning is absolute and even reason is fallible - we can never hope to arrive at 'the truth' about the aspects. We might get near the truth, but can never rely upon it. So Dooyeweerd's suite should never be taken as a near-guess at what reality is like, rather than as an absolute ontology.

What then? If (our knowledge of the distinguishing of) the aspects cannot be absolute and completely certain and sure, should we then go to the other extreme and reject all that Dooyeweerd said, as merely yet another opinion that we can dismiss (and, some would add, snigger at because it is outside the mainstream)? I don't think so. Because of Dooyeweerd's claim that thought and 'thing' are linked rather than severed, there is likely to be at least some truth in his proposed aspects. I argue in the following manner:

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: Counter. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 23 October 1997. Last updated: 30 August 1998. 25 September 1998 refce to justification.html. 10 August 2003 error link corrected; .nav,.end. 14 March 2004 links corrected. 21 November 2005 unets.