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Immanence Philosophy / Standpoint

What Dooyeweerd called immanence philosophy (with or without a hyphen) refers to the kind of thinking that seeks the foundation for explaining everything in temporal reality within that reality itself. He often calls it the immanence standpoint, to emphasise that its adoption is not a rational 'truth' but a pre-rational, even religious, presupposition. But it is problematic, and Dooyeweerd took an alternative standpoint.

A standpoint is the third of three kinds of presupposition that underlie our thinking, world-views, ground-motives and standpoints. World-views or paradigms presuppose an aspect is meaningful and others are less so e.g. materialism (physical aspect). Ground-motives direct us where to look when we want to find an alternative world-view or paradigm. Four have governed Western thought for 2,500 years. See page of ground-motives. Standpoints run even deeper than ground-motives, though orthogonal to them.

What are Standpoints in Philosophy?

Similar philosophical themes crop up repeatedly in different eras [Levi 1975, 248]. Aquinas, Berkeley and Kierkegaard all saw philosophy as a means of dispelling the errors of Materialism or Rationalism. Pythagoras, Descartes and Russell grounded everything in quantitative concepts and deductive methods. Plato, Hobbes and Mill explored political and social issues. The Milesians, Bacon and Whitehead tried to make philosophy resemble more the generalizations of physical science rather than those of religion or sociology.

Ground-motives dictate the ways fundamental kinds of philosophical themes are addressed in different eras but do not change the kinds of themes themselves. What governs which philosophical themes are actually addressed is the deeper kind of presupposition that Dooyeweerd calls standpoints. From the way he uses the idea (never defined), it seems to be the collection of starting-points of a philosophy, combined with a presupposition about where to seek ultimate explanations.

Dooyeweerd's collection of starting-points is that pre-theoretical experience, diversity, coherence, and meaningfulness are all important as starting-points and Dooyeweerd treats these as depending on Something that transcends temporal reality. By contrast, what he calls the "immanence-standpoint" makes philosophic thought (or theoretical thought) its starting-point [NC,I, 14]; theoretical thought is presumed "autonomous", self-dependent, neither needing nor influenced by pre-theoretical thought.

Where Do We Seek Ultimate Explatations

We humans always want to understand stuff (entities, processes, meanings, norms, situations, etc.), and seek explanations and accounts. Explanations of these will, in the end, 'drill down' to seeking ultimate explanations and accounts. (Example: Why did the apple fall? Because the earth and the apple attract each other. Why do they attract each other? Because of gravity. Why is there gravity? Here we have drilled down to seeking an explanation that is nearly an ultimate one.)

Our (philosophical) standpoint directs where we seek for these ultimate explanations.

The immanence standpoint, developed in Greek philosophy, directs us to seek explanations from within temporal reality itself. Dooyeweerd's standpoint allows us to seek ultimate explanations outwith temporal reality - it opens us up to other kinds of explanations. (For example, the immanence standpoint directs us to seek an explanation for gravity from within physics or mathematics as such, without questioning what makes physics and mathematics possible. Dooyeweerd's standpoint allows us to ask what makes physics and mathematics possible - and biology, and psychology, and economics, and so on.)

The immanance standpoint has presupposed "It exists", "It occurs" or, post-Kant, "I encounter it", to be the most fundamental statements we can make about anything, but the standpoint hides the question "In what ways?" do things exist, occur or be encountered? This generates many interminable debates over the nature and identity of things, and leads to intractable problems in philosophy, some of which are outlined below. See also our pages on existence and entities.

Dooyeweerd's standpoint tackles "In what ways?" head-on, and answers it with aspects. Dooyeweerd's standpoint finds meaningfulness more fundamental than existence. This standpoint happens to resolve many of the problems outlined below. See also page on meaning.

Clouser's Account of Standpoints

The difference between the two standpoints is clearly outlined in Clouser's [2005] The Myth of Religious Neutrality, who talks about the Divine and Creation, and the relationship between them. He defines the Divine, not in theological terms, but as that which is self-dependent and on which all else depends, and Creation as that which depends on the Divine. Dooyeweerd uses the term "Origin" for Clouser's Divine; it is the Origin of Creation, in both senses of its existence and its explanation. When we seek ultimate explanations we are seeking to identify the Origin, the Divine, that on which everything depends and which depends on nothing other than itself. Clouser discusses three possible relationships between the Divine and Creation:

Dooyeweerd occasionally calls his standpoint a "Christian transscendence-standpoint." However, notice that the Eastern view also takes a transcendence standpoint, since most of the Divine, the Origin, transcends Creation, but in a different way.

The Extent of Immanence Philosophy

The immanence-standpoint has pervaded Western philosophy since the start, but in different ways, influencing the kinds of question that philosophers have concerned themselves with. Dooyeweerd sees all three of the dualistic ground-motives (the Greek motive of form and matter, the Scholastic motive of nature-grace and the Humanistic motive of nature-freedom) as expressions of immanence philosophy.

Immanence philosophy is extremely varied.

"The age-old development of immanence-philosophy displays the most divergent nuances. It varies from metaphysical rationalism to modern logical positivism and the irrationalist philosophy of life. It is disclosed also in the form of modern existentialism. The latter has broken with the Cartesian (rationalistic) 'cogito' as Archimedean point and has replaced it by existential thought, conceived of in an immanent subjectivistic historical sense." [NC, I, 13]

"Immanence-philosophy in all its nuances stands or falls with the dogma of the autonomy of theoretical thought. ... Not only traditional metaphysics, but also Kantian epistemology, modern phenomenology and phenomenological ontology in the style of Nicolai Hartmann continued in this respect to be involved in a theoretical dogmatism." [NC, I, 35]

(Archimedean point: a self-dependent idea on which all other ideas rest -- metaphor from the solid pivot on which Archimedes claimed to be able to lift the world with a long enough lever. Dooyeweerd later stopped using the notion.)

Dooyeweerd also found it in such thinkers as Heidegger who, though opposing much that preceded him, nevertheless "moves in the paths of immanence philosophy; his Archimedean point is in 'existential thought', thus making the 'transcendental ego' sovereign" [NC, IV, 88]. His conclusion was:

"Our general transcendental critique of theoretical thought has brought to light that the philosophical immanence-standpoint can only result in absolutizations of specific modal aspects of human experience." [NC,III,169]
Absolutization will pervade almost all areas of research and practice in all fields. Especially relevant to the social and societal disciplines, is Dooyeweerd's continuation:
"Similarly we may establish that on this standpoint every total view of human society is bound to absolutizations both of specific modal aspects and of specific types of individual totality."

Why is Immanence Philosophy Problematic?

Dooyeweerd argues at length [NC volume I, p.12-21] that immanence philosophy has always led philosophy into unresolvable problems and antinomies. That is partly what motivated him to search for and develop his radically different standpoint philosophically. Here are some of the problems that he saw emerging from the immanence standpoint:

More are summarised on pages 25-26 of [NC,II]

Such problems are inherent in the very nature of the immanence-standpoint itself, and cannot be overcome from within that standpoint by merely shifting to a different immanence-philosophy or to a different pole of the current ground-motive. Rather, a new standpoint must be explored, which is why Dooyeweerd did so.


Levi AW. 1975. Philosophy, history of Western. In Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 14, pp. 247-275). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.

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.

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Created: 16 January 2015. Last updated: 15 August 2022 completely rewritten, taking advantage of ch. 5 of Foundations and Practice of Research : Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy. The original one contained errors. Also, new .end, etc.