The Critical Theory of Herman Dooyeweerd?

Andrew Basden

Information Systems Institute, University of Salford, U.K.

Copyright (c) University of Salford, 2002. All rights reserved. To be published in Journal of Information Technology (who might then possess the copyright).


Jürgen Habermas is a wide-ranging thinker whose ideas have formed the philosophic foundation of Critical Systems Thinking (CST). But can the Critical approach incorporate ideas from other thinkers without abandoning its Habermasian roots?The danger of adding ideas piecemeal to address specific difficulties in CST is that the whole will eventually collapse because of inconsistencies. So if we wish to import ideas from other thinkers we need to understand the points of agreement and disagreement with Critical Theory. This requires reference to a set of criteria, though not necessarily in any rigid way. This paper applies Klein's (2002) set of criteria to a philosophic framework of ideas (that of the Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd), not to 'score' the ideas for Criticality, but rather to understand the process of bringing the ideas of a thinker from a different tradition to bear on the Critical approach in a commensurable way.

1. Introduction

Is Marx 'Critical'?We mention one answer to this question below. But what is the purpose of such a question itself?Is it merely to score thinkers on a scale of Criticality, or is it to understand to what extent the ideas of another thinker might make harmonious contact with Critical approaches?

Critical Systems Thinking (CST), though it can perhaps be seen as an attempt to overcome the problems of an extreme interpretivism that fails to address issues of power and emancipation, has been rooted in the Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (Lyytinen and Klein, 1985). But if CST is to extend meaningfully beyond its roots in Habermas, grow like a living organism that develops but retains its integrity, it must be able to take in the ideas of other thinkers. A minor purpose of this paper is to present a framework of ideas that might make a useful contribution. But the main purpose is to explore the process of bringing ideas from another tradition to bear on the Critical approach.

While it may be possible to add individual ideas from other traditions to address specific difficulties as they arise in CST, there is a danger that merely adding a bit here, a bit there, will result in problems later on due to inherent inconsistencies between Habermas' Critical Theory and the incoming idea systems. What is needed is to delineate and understand the points of contact and of disagreement between Critical Theory and the idea-framework we wish to make use of. Then it can be more clearly seen how ideas from that framework might be used to develop, enhance and refine CST in a coherent manner. To make such a delineation requires criteria of Criticality to be applied to the framework. Though any set of criteria poses the danger of constraining variety, we find criteria useful in everyday analysis, and so we adopt a set of criteria offered by Klein (2002).

We apply Klein's criteria to the philosophical framework of the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd, ostensibly scoring him on the scale of Criticality. But the attempt to score is like a lighthouse. It gives us some distant point to steer towards, but it is not our final destination, nor is it our voyage. The destination is the harbour of understanding and the voyage is the process of applying and refining a set of offered criteria - and these are much more important. The danger that criteria constrain variety is discussed later in the light of our voyage. Though we make occasional reference to the ideas of other thinkers, we focus on Dooyeweerd's ideas because it is not our intention to compare sets of ideas but rather to illustrate a process.

In the text, capitalized 'Critical' refers to that which is rooted in Critical Theory while lower-case 'critical' refers to other uses of the word.

2. Criteria for Critical Approaches

2.1 A Suggested Set of Criteria

Six criteria for Critical Research have been suggested by Klein (2002) (as work in progress). The first three are drawn from Alvesson and Willmott (1992), and the last three he added himself. According to these, Critical Research must:

1. "be concerned with conditions of human existence which facilitate the realization of human needs and potentials"

2. "support a process of critical self reflection and associated self-transformation"

3. "be sensitive to a broader set of institutional issues relating particularly to social justice, due process and human freedom"

4. "incorporate explicit principles of evidence giving (or an explicit truth theory) for the evaluation of claims made throughout the research process"

5. "incorporate principles of fallibility and self-correction (growth of knowledge through criticism, principle of Fallibilism)"

6. "be suggestive how the critique of social conditions or practices could be met (as safeguard against unrealistic and destructive negativism)".

One effect of criterion 1 is to rule out a positivism that might employ critical thinking but has no room for human issues. Criterion 2 moves us beyond instrumental orientation towards emancipatory self-reflection, especially on the part of those affected by social change. One effect of criterion 3 is to rule out individualistic forms of interpretivism. Criterion 4 enables us to expose what it is that lends credibility to the claims and the assumptions on which that credibility is based. Klein (2002) explains it by pointing out its relation to the Kantian heritage of examining the limits of human reasoning as such. Criterion 5 moves Critical approaches away from hoping to arrive at infallible knowledge, even over the long term; central to this is Habermas' (1972) idea that 'interests' lie behind all our knowledge. Criterion 6 was added to ensure that the Critical approach will result in interventions and improvements in the world.

Klein (2002) argued that a number of thinkers sometimes connected with the Critical movement do not fulfil all these criteria. Marx, for example, scores highly on criteria 1, 3 and 6, but falls down on 2 and 5, in that his thinking offered no in-built mechanism for criticising and correcting itself, nor even for reflecting upon itself in any useful way. However, scoring people is of only minor interest to us here. What is of much greater interest is to use the criteria to stimulate debate about important issues, to open up the process by which we apply criteria such as these, and to find out how to bring ideas from a framework with different roots to into Critical thinking in a useful way.

2.2 On Using Criteria

Because of this, which set of criteria we use is of minor importance. It is not our purpose, here, to decide what 'the' criteria should be, but rather to explore the process of analysis of a system of thought. Therefore, though we recognise that Klein's criteria can be disputed (for example, Alvesson and Willmott emphasise emancipation, which "necessarily involves an active process (or struggle) for individual and collective self-determination" yet this is missing from Klein's list) we take them as given, leaving debate about them to others. The use of these criteria may be justified on the grounds that Klein has been a major player in this area for many years, following long experience in information systems, that he has sought explicitly to ground information systems design in Habermas' Critical Theory (Lyytinen and Klein, 1985), and that he has been engaged in debates (e.g. Wilson, 1997) on the basis of which he has revised his criteria. It is not inappropriate, therefore, to take the criteria he offers as a useful starting point for our exploration.

Three types of thought immediately present themselves, each of which would respond to a set of criteria in different ways and have a different potential for enriching the root Critical approach. Ideas derived from Critical Theory itself, or from within the Critical community with little external input, are likely to use the criteria to justify themselves, interpret the criteria rigidly, or argue over precise meanings. Such ideas can perhaps open up new contexts of application, but they are unlikely to refine the Critical approach itself in significant ways. Substantial refinement requires external input. Ideas from frameworks that are completely incommensurable with the Critical approach, such as positivism, can provide such input, but can usually do little more than negate or confuse important elements of the Critical approach. Such frameworks often deny the relevance of whole portions of the criteria, or redefine them so radically as to denature them.

But a framework that comes from a different tradition and yet can be argued to retain some commensurability with the Critical approach can perhaps stimulate us to critically examine the important elements and perhaps expand or redirect them. Each phrase in the criteria would be recognised as significant but it might be injected with new meaning. New dimensions might be suggested. To do this, we must clearly delineate the points of agreement and disagreement. Points of agreement with the other framework can be used to both strengthen ideas in the Critical approach by supporting them from a new perspective or context, and then, by virtue of that new perspective, throw up issues that Critical Theorists have yet to tackle. To understand the points of disagreement is also useful. When disagreement is fundamental, we can then simply avoid trying to bring those points into Critical Theory, because to do so would merely confuse or undermine it. But where the points of disagreement are not so fundamental, they can be used to stimulate self-reflection in CST (and even Critical Theory itself) - which it purports to strongly advocate - and thus modify its own ideas and issues in a fruitful manner.

In this paper we explore the process by which this third type of framework might enrich Critical approaches, using the given set of crtieria to initiate discussion.

3. Dooyeweerd's Philosophy

The Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), devised a philosophical framework that, like Habermas', recognises that knowledge is based on presuppositions and acknowledges the importance of what Habermas calls the lifeworld. Since his framework is not widely known, we must first briefly explain what is relevant to our discussion. Much is omitted and the interested reader is directed to Clouser (1991) for a useful introduction.

Dooyeweerd explored the transcendental conditions for theoretical thought in context of everyday life. In doing so, he was perhaps following in the Kantian tradition, but he was concerned that theoretical thinking was not sufficiently critical, and especially not sufficiently self-critical. In his major work, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1955), he first made a painstaking analysis of Western thinking from before Socrates through to the middle of the twentieth century, discussing Kant in particular detail. He argued that though Western theoretical thought possesses enormous power, it contains fundamental antinomies that result in theory being divorced from practice, unity from diversity, human from non-human, etc. and stands in need of reconstruction on new foundations.

However, having argued for demolition, so to speak, Dooyeweerd took up the challenge of constructing; the critic was willing to put up something to be criticized. He developed a wide-ranging philosophical framework that offers a theory of meaning and modal aspects, of entities and relations, of thought and presuppositions, of time, of the self, of normativity, and of our relationship to the Divine. On the basis of these he also developed social theory, historical theory, an approach to theory, practice, knowledge and science, and much more. Giorgio Delvecchio, the noted Italian philosopher, called him "the most profound, innovative and penetrating philosopher since Kant." His critique has been applied not only to Western thought, but also to Eastern thought (Choi, 2000).

3.1 Presuppositions

Dooyeweerd "made the structure of theoretical thought transparent" (Klapwijk 1987). While Critical approaches might hope for an "autonomous critic, who, by (partially) escaping the ideologies and false consciousnesses of a particular society, illuminates these features" (Alvesson and Willmott, 1992) and Habermas proposed "ideal dialogue" as a means of achieving this, Dooyeweerd held that we cannot escape ideologies, even by dialogue. Theoretical thinking and dialogue are never, even partially, neutral, but are directed by extra-scientific (Wilson, 1997) attitudes and presuppositions held by human thinkers in a social context (and more than social: see the aspects below). While Habermas discussed presuppositions, Dooyeweerd gave them specific shape, as commitments that are religious in nature (where 'religious' is in terms of what we take to be self-dependent (Clouser, 1991)) and not subject to even the most enlightened theoretical discourse. What we take to be self-dependent is often that which we leave unquestioned and reduce all else to. To the Pythagoreans this was Number, to the rationalists, Reason; as we suggest later, even Habermas was not free of this.

Dooyeweerd analysed our deepest presuppositions in terms of 'ground motives', of which he identified four that have influenced us over the last 2,500 years. The early Greeks, including Plato and Aristotle, assumed the Form-Matter motive, from Hebrew culture came the motive of Creation-Fall-Redemption, the mediaeval Roman Catholic thinkers like Aquinas combined the two to obtain the Nature-Grace motive, and the thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment replaced it with Nature-Freedom, seeking to remove religion from theoretical thought. These four are, of course, not unique to Dooyeweerd; the contribution his critique made was, perhaps, to link them and show how the three dualistic ones (Form-Matter, Nature-Grace and Nature-Freedom) create the antinomies in theoretical thinking. He traced these antinomies to what he called the Immanence presupposition, that all three share: that the fundamental Principle on which all else depends is to be sought within temporal reaity.

3.2 Diversity and Coherence

To construct his new proposal for a framework, Dooyeweerd started from the Creation-Fall-Redemption motive - not just as a 'religious' statement but as a philosophical foundation that could explain diversity without recourse to dualism and unity without recourse to monism. Being more integrative than the dualistic ground motives (Choi, 2000) it is better able to bring together theory and practice, determinative and normative, human and non-human. As a result, Dooyeweerd's proposal has an ability to handle interdisciplinarity and the complexity of real life in a powerful and natural way (Basden, 2001). It is partly because the Hebrew-inspired motive focuses on Meaning as the fundamental property of all that is, while the Greek motive of Matter-Form, together with the two that emanate from it, focus on Existence. In a Dooyeweerdian framework, given Meaning as primary, both diversity and coherence follow as natural consequences. Dooyeweerd accounted for these by his theory of modal aspects, which may be seen as a spectrum of Meaning.

3.3 Aspects

Dooyeweerd's theory of modal aspects is that all Meaning, Being, Doing, Knowing and norms found within this temporal realm is enabled by a suite of modal aspects. Each aspect has a kernel meaning that is part of the spectrum of Meaning. (See section 3.4 for Doing, 3.5 for norms, 3.7 and 4.4 for Knowing; how Being is rooted in the aspects is not needed and so not discussed here.)He sought, over a lifetime of critical reflection in the everyday lifeworld, to identify the aspects and their kernels, and his final list has stood the test of time:

What makes Dooyeweerd's proposal a foundation for diversity is that the aspects are irreducible, so that none can be derived from the others; he called this 'sphere sovereignty'. But sphere sovereignty on its own can lead us to fragmentation. Dooyeweerd also stressed 'sphere universality': that the aspects are closely intertwined with one another, leading to a coherence and harmony among them. Each aspect contains 'echoes' of all the others, and each is involved in a mutual inter-dependency with others. This is one foundation for coherence, the other being Dooyeweerd's notion of the self, mentioned below.

(Note that Dooyeweerd saw his suite, not as some positivist truth but merely as a good proposal, for reasons that we mention below.)

3.4 Human Life and Heart

Human life is seen as a complex, integrated functioning that can only be adequately explained by reference to all the aspects. For example, as I write this I am functioning lingually (symbolic communication), biotically (e.g. breathing), economically (length limit on this paper), juridically (to provide what is due to the readers), pistically (in seeing myself as a responsible human being rather than a robot), etc. Earlier aspects support the lingual functioning, later ones give it shape. Our functioning in each aspect affects all the others, and this accounts for the richness of human lifeworld experience. Much of the functioning is tacit (Polanyi, 1967) rather than explicit, and our experience in the everyday lifeworld is one of coherence, not fragmentation. The behaviour and existence of non-human entities (animals, plants, material and non-material things) is likewise enabled by the aspects, though in a different and more limited way. We do not discuss these here, except to note that the aspects from analytic to pistic could be called the human aspects.

While most human activity involves all aspects, in many kinds certain aspects have special importance. The ways in which they can be important need not concern us here (Dooyeweerd (1955) mentioned qualifying and founding aspects and Stafleu (2000) added a third) but it is interesting to compare Dooyeweerd's aspects with Habermas' types of action (Habermas, 1986). In instrumental and strategic action, the formative aspect plays a leading role, with the human aspects also being important in the latter. In normatively regulated action, the juridical aspect plays a major role, along with those aspects to which the relevant norms apply. In communicative action, the lingual plays the leading role, and in discursive action that seeks to expose presuppositions, the pistic aspect is important. However, we must never lose sight of the multi-aspect nature of human activity. For example, to Dooyeweerd, discourse (which is central to Habermas' proposal) cannot be fully effective unless it involves, not just language, but also the aesthetic aspect for harmony, juridical for fairness, ethical for generosity, pistic for trust and commitments, etc. If Dooyeweerd is right, then this has practical implications in providing guidelines for the conduct of high quality discourse.

While human life might be accounted for by the aspects, the human being is more than this. Dooyeweerd believed that the human heart, or self, is ultimately beyond the grasp of theoretical thought. The complexities of his theory of self do not concern us here, except to note that it forms that other part of the foundation for coherence: the concrete self - whether human, animal, plant or non-living - is an integration point for all the aspects in which it functions.

3.5 Law: Determinism and Normativity

Each aspect has its own set of laws, to which entities respond. Those of the earlier aspects are mainly determinative while those of the later aspects, especially human aspects, are mainly normative, affording us freedom, both within their laws and even to transgress their laws. (Thus, Dooyeweerd integrates determinism and freedom in a single framework.) We who follow the Kantian heritage often see normative laws as constraints, but to Dooyeweerd laws serve to enable meaningful functioning. While Kant divorced Ought from Is, Dooyeweerd proposed that both come from one source - the laws of aspects - and thus do not work against each other.

Dooyeweerd's approach gives a basis for norms that transcend humanity. The spirit of this age (Zeitgeist) shies away from such norms. Even Critical Theory, which with one breath openly espouses the norms of emancipation and ideal dialogue, with the next tries to hide this espousal (Wilson, 1997), as though ashamed. But Dooyeweerd opens up the nature of norms (and, as we shall see below, provides a foundation even for emancipation itself).

Whatever our response to the laws of an aspect, they still pertain, so it is not without repercussions. Human activity is 'healthy' to the extent that we align ourselves with the laws of all the aspects ('simultaneous realization of norms'), and is harmful to the extent that we transgress, or ignore, them. This provides a foundation for considerations of Good versus Evil, Success versus Failure (e.g. of information systems) - what we 'should' aim at or avoid, as found in criterion 3.

Dooyeweerd's notion is no dogmatic functionalism, nor was he in the camp of philosophical realism. Though the aspectual norms are given, it is important not to confuse them with human rules, social norms, nor even with our knowledge of the norms, which are human constructions and context-sensitive. Aspectual norms are never to be held as dogmas, for two reasons. Our application of them must always be sensitive to context, and they can never be fully known by theory nor completely represented in language. The latter is because the aspects are non-absolute, as we now discuss.

3.6 Non-absoluteness of the Aspects

Dooyeweerd held that no aspect is absolute. All are relative, reaching beyond themselves to all the others (e.g. as expressed by the intertwinement mentioned above), and also to their Source. This has several implications. One is that none can be made the foundation on which all the others rest (inter-aspect dependency not withstanding) - this error lies behind reductionism. So one - not the only - Dooyeweerdian critique of positivism is that it ignores most of the human aspects and their laws. One critique of interpretivism is that it ignores social and other aspects that Critical Theory takes to be important. One Dooyeweerdian critique of Criticalism is that it focuses on emancipation (juridical aspect) at the expense of aesthetic and ethical aspects (harmony, play and self-giving).

Another implication is that in no aspect can our functioning be complete. Two aspects are of particular interest for us. Non-absoluteness of the lingual aspect means that language can never fully express intended meaning, and has several implications. Written laws can never fully express aspectual norms. Discourse must involve all aspects to be maximally effective. More seriously, it casts doubt on Habermas' hope that emancipatory self-reflection might be achieved, even through ideal dialogue.

Similarly, non-absoluteness of the analytic aspect means that the theories and distinctions we generate can never grasp the whole truth, even in an ideal case. Like Habermas, Dooyeweerd believed theoretical thought has an 'horizon' that has implications for critical self-reflection (criteria 2, 5, below). "All philosophical activities issue from the ego which transcends the limits of theoretical thought" (Choi, 2000). Applying this self-critically, Dooyeweerd recognised that his suite of aspects, having been identified by a process of analytical functioning, must be open to debate.

Non-absoluteness of the aspects is a blessing, not a curse, in that it forces us to look beyond an aspect to all the others, and their Source. This lends a harmony, a holism, to our deliberations that is necessary in, for example, information systems design.

3.7 Knowledge and Science, Theory and Practice

Dooyeweerd's theory of knowledge is extensive and not always easy to grasp. He focused, not on knowledge itself, but on human knowing (Hart, 1984). There is no one aspect whose kernel meaning is knowing, but rather each aspect provides a distinct way of knowing (e.g. social knowing differs from analytical knowing). Epistemology is not one, but pluriform.

However, Dooyeweerd recognised the special place that theoretical knowing, and its companion, science, have held in Western thinking. He discussed four main issues: the root of theoretical knowing within the analytic aspect of distinction, the human process of doing science as involving every aspect, how science is to be defined, by neither method nor outcome but by the (analytic) isolation of a given aspect (Gegenstand relation) (Clouser, 1991) and, therefore, that each aspect gives us a distinct area of science with its own methods and aims; see criterion 4.

Human knowledge grows. Dooyeweerd was interested in what distinguishes progress from mere change, especially in the realm of science, and developed a theory based on the directionality of Time and aspectual opening. We discuss this in 4.5.

3.8 Everyday Living

While theoretical thinking is, at root, analytical knowing, everyday thinking involves knowing in all the aspects. It is, therefore, more holistic and integrative. Everyday life is thus distinguished fundamentally from the specialisms and disciplines that have arisen from the aspectual isolation that is science. In this way Dooyeweerd might contribute to restoring the dignity to 'naive' thought and everyday living.

This has strong links with Habermas' lifeworld, though he is perhaps more timid than Dooyeweerd was. While Habermas (1988) tends to separate lifeworld from the objective, subjective and social worlds, to Dooyeweerd lifeworld is a mode in which all 'worlds' (aspects) are integrated by multi-aspectually functioning human beings (selves).

4. Assessment Against Criteria

We are now in a position to discuss Klein's criteria of Criticality with reference to Dooyeweerd's ideas. In applying each criterion, we open it up, suggest what answer a Dooyeweerdian approach would give, and sometimes then reflect on whether this can enrich or refine the criterion itself. The reader should not misunderstand: despite that they are both lists, we are not attempting to fit Dooyeweerd's aspects to Klein's criteria; rather the aspects are part of Dooyeweerd's whole framework and they help us discuss the criteria.

4.1 A Critical approach should be concerned with conditions of human existence that facilitate the realization of human needs and potentials.

To apply this criterion to a framework of thought, we examine what it means to be human. It might be thought that any framework grounded in anthropology would satisfy this criterion, being sensitive as it is to the diversity of human existence and needs, but this is not always the case. For example Bourdieu's theory of practice (1977) makes considerable reference to Algerian life and thereby demonstrates its diversity and surprises, but it merely describes, and does not seem concerned with the conditions that underlie, human life. Hence his theory, which ends up as a theory of symbolic power, seems unable to help realize needs and potential except in very general ways.

Dooyeweerd's approach to human existence is more deeply philosophical, and seems better able to give specific facilitation. It treats human existence in two ways: the self, which is beyond theoretical grasp, and human life, which is multi-aspectual functioning. Since it speaks of "conditions of human existence", this criterion seems to be concerned with the latter. Dooyeweerd's aspects give us a definition of what it means to be fully human, so they are constituted as conditions of human existence and also account for distinct human needs and potential: from the physical and biotic aspects through the to the juridical (we suffer under injustice), ethical (we need to love and be loved), and pistic (meaning in life). Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects thus provides a framework for discourse about diverse human needs and potential that helps us resist ignoring aspects or, in the extreme case, reducing human existence, needs or potential to a single aspect.

However, we also experience our lives as integrated, coherent wholes, not just a bundle of aspects. This is accounted for partly by the tacit nature of our multi-aspect functioning, partly by the intertwinement of aspects mentioned earlier, but even more by Dooyeweerd's notion of the self, which is the ultimate integration point in the concrete lifeworld. It would enrich the criterion if it were to make reference to both the diversity and coherence of human 'existence', needs and potential.

4.2 A Critical approach should support a process of critical self-reflection and associated self-transformation.

This criterion is best approached by a sequence of questions. First, what, in the framework of thought, is critical reflection, and how does it relate to reasoning? Dooyeweerd severely criticised what he saw as the dogma that theoretical thought is autonomous. Rather, he saw the human process of reflecting as multi-aspectual functioning in which the analytic aspect (of distinction and theorizing) is merely one among many, even though it may be the primary one for reflection. Being a normative aspect, we have freedom as to what distinctions we make and there is an inherent element of interpretation.

Second, how is self-reflection possible? This relates to how the framework treats the subject-object relationship. To Dooyeweerd, anything can be the object of analytic functioning, including the self. Self-reflection is possible because the human self is not a distant observing subject to which all else is object, as positivism assumes, but is itself part of the observed reality. Dooyeweerd argued that "to arrive at self-reflection ... the limits of theoretical thought should be transcended" (Choi, 2000). Self-reflection, he suggested, is pistic in nature, involving as it does commitment to an orientation of the self. This is why presuppositions and critical self-reflection are so intimately associated, as Habermas recognised.

Third, why is critical self-reflection important? Reductionist frameworks like positivism have no answer to this within themselves. To the Critical community, critical self-reflection often seems to be a dogma (see Wilson, 1997). But to Dooyeweerd, it was no dogma, being important for two reasons. Being aspectual functioning, and thus fundamentally non-absolute, reflection can never bring us to completely sure knowledge, so all knowledge must be subjected to critical scrutiny. Second, the presuppositions that give direction to theoretical thought are usually hidden, and it is the role of the analytic aspect to make distinctions that set a thing apart from its surroundings.

Dooyeweerd's argument is not always easy to understand. Klapwijk (1987), while applauding Dooyeweerd for making "the structure of theoretical thought transparent", suggests there is a vicious circle and attempts to break it. He also believes, as some others do, that Dooyeweerd's approach is too antithetical to other streams of thought, and suggests how it might be made less so without jeopardizing its central tenets.

Dooyeweerd went further than just arguing the need for this type of critical self-reflection, however: he operationalized it into a method by which frameworks of thinking with incommensurable foundations (Burrell and Morgan, 1979) can engage with each other and even enrich each other. What he called immanent critique (not to be confused with Immanence presupposition) seeks to 'get inside' the other framework of thought, properly understand it in its own terms - so as not to unjustly misunderstand it - and then lead it to uncover, recognise and admit its own presuppositions. (Habermas (1986) uses something similar in his discussion of Parsons, but stays at the level of rational argument.) Once these had been recognised, commensurability of a kind is possible, as we discuss later. Dooyeweerd applied this method to many of the leading thinkers, notably Kant, and also to his own thought.

Self-transformation could mean transformation of one's own thinking or of one's own person. So how does the framework account for each type? Some frameworks, especially those of a rationalist or cognitivist tendency, might merge them, but Dooyeweerd distinguished them clearly. Transformation of thinking is the recognising and changing of one's own presuppositions, discussed above, and Klapwijk (1991) develops this to discuss the "on-going critical transformation of philosophy".

But Dooyeweerd saw transformation of the person as a very different notion, holistic, involving the human heart and all aspects, and not restricted to changing thinking or presuppositions (though of course this will have an effect). So transformation of person is not a philosophical issue, but has a strong religious element because it involves commitment. His own view was that it occurs by means of repentance, salvation and being lived in by the Spirit of God as spoken about in the Christian religion. While critical self-reflection can be seen as of the analytic aspect, repentance in its fullest form is of the pistic aspect.

4.3 A Critical approach should be sensitive to a broader set of institutional issues relating particularly to social justice, due process and human freedom.

In the way it has been worded, this criterion seems to have two main thrusts. "Sensitive to" implies making fine, useful distinctions among these issues, and between them and other issues, and linking them to the lifeworld. What, therefore, is the framework's basis for doing these? Some frameworks, especially those of a rationalistic sort, are insensitive in this respect.

The second thrust is that certain issues are specifically mentioned - social justice, due process and human freedom. Whether this list should be modified to contain different issues or not, and why they should all be 'institutional', we do not discuss, but the very inclusion of such a list would suggest that the framework should specifically address such issues and not merely provide a method for addressing issues in general. Actor-Network Theory, for example, provides an excellent method for "being faithful to the insights of ethnomethodology" in research (Latour, 1999) that, by "deligitimating the incredible pretensions of sociologists", provides good sensitivity; but it does not specifically address the issues mentioned.

Dooyeweerd's framework goes a little further. Sensitivity during analysis comes, not from method but from a proposal of distinct aspects that, when intuitively grasped by the analyst, enable fine but clear distinctions to be made. Some aspects correspond almost exactly to the issues mentioned: the social, the juridical (for both justice and what is due), and the formative (for process), and towards the end of his life Dooyeweerd started to make clear proposals for a theory of social institutions (Dooyeweerd, 1986).

However, Dooyeweerd's explicit discussion of human freedom is somewhat limited, seen mainly as a metaphysical notion important to Kant and as a pole of the current ground motive. These are different from the experience of freedom in human life that this criterion seems to refer to. Dooyeweerd does not call this 'freedom', but does approach it from two directions: normativity and diversity. The laws of the later aspects are normative rather than determinative, giving us what might be called 'freedom'. But to Dooyeweerd, there is not one 'freedom', but a variety of distinct freedoms, each centred on an aspect: freedom to achieve is formative, freedom from unwarranted constraints (emancipation) is juridical, freedom in the sense of the dignity of self is pistic, and so on.

Dooyeweerd's framework might enrich this criterion in two ways. One is to suggest that the list of specific issues be expanded to include others from post-social aspects, such as frugality, harmony, play, generosity and loyalty. The other is to provide grounds for a more diverse, multi-aspectual notion of human freedom.

4.4 A Critical approach should incorporate explicit principles of evidence giving (or an explicit truth theory) for the evaluation of claims made throughout the research process.

Dooyeweerd's contention that science must be seen, not as some means of generating absolute truths but as a human process, is important in his theory of knowledge, truth, theory and evidence. Though qualified by the analytic aspect, the scientific process involves all aspects including the social, the aesthetic, and the pistic (vision, paradigms). So the credibility of scientific claims, and their evaluation, is affected by all aspects. For example, though excellent analytical science, a claim that contravenes the (pistic) fashionable views of the time is unlikely to be accepted. In Dooyeweerd's view, neither empiricism nor rationalism provide sufficient grounds for good knowledge, and his view foreshadowed more recent debates among historians of science.

To Dooyeweerd, the central thrust of theorizing in a scientific area is an antithetical Gegenstand relation between the analytic aspect and what is being analyzed. Doing science means to isolate an aspect from all the others in order to study its laws (Clouser, 1991), and this is difficult because aspects 'resist' being pulled apart.

Though Dooyeweerd himself did not formulate a detailed theory of evidence, he did provide a basis for doing so. Each aspect delineates a whole scientific area, with methodology, quality criteria and notion of scientific validity being specific to that aspect (for example, social and physical sciences necessarily involve different methods and criteria). (This is not dissimilar to Foucault's notion of regimes of truth, but worked out in a different way.)This means that an understanding of the kernel of an aspect can provide guidelines for research and principles by which the validity of evidence or argument may be judged. Stafleu (1987) developed Dooyeweerd's ideas further in his book, 'Theories in Action', which discusses a range of issues, including explanation, prediction, systematization of knowledge, heuristics, clarity, science within society, parsimony, harmony, criticism, commitment, belief, hypostatization and world views.

4.5 A Critical approach should incorporate principles of fallibility and self-correction (growth of knowledge through criticism, principle of Fallibilism).

We have discussed Dooyeweerd's contention that all knowing is fallible under criterion 2, and it only remains here to spell out the principles his framework might lay down to cope with fallibility. Though Dooyeweerd himself gave few specific principles, his framework allows us to generate useful guides to, for example, the proper usage of analytic functioning, ensuring that all aspects of the scientific process are given due attention, and ensuring that theoretical knowledge is no longer given undue emphasis in everyday living.

However, this criterion also speaks of "growth of knowledge through criticism". But what is meant by "growth of knowledge"? It implies directionality and could refer to progress in the sum total of human knowledge, the historical process of scientific and other endeavour that has involved both paradigm shifts and incremental development, both of which involve criticism.

Dooyeweerd's framework meets this at two levels. First, criticism is only one element in knowledge growth, since elements from other aspects also play their part - e.g. the lingual aspect is important for debate and dissemination, the economic aspect is important for managing the scarce resources available, the aesthetic aspect gives us Occam's Razor, and even the pistic aspect is important because fashions and religious belief open up certain channels of investigation and close down others (Clouser, 1991). The aspects provide norms for the human project of knowledge growth.

Second, Dooyeweerd's theory of progress included the notion of 'opening up' aspects by means of scientific and other cultural processes. The opening up is a social process and, according to Dooyeweerd, involves ever more sophisticated distinctions being made by society, as may be seen by comparing primitive and modern social institutions. However, even while accepting the core of his thought, Klapwijk (1987) criticises Dooyeweerd's working out of this specific line of thought for being more "a speculative product of the German idealist metaphysics of history" than a faithful outworking of Dooyeweerd's own thought.

4.6 A Critical approach should be suggestive of how the critique of social conditions or practices could be met (as safeguard against unrealistic and destructive negativism).

To suggest how critique may be met implies the framework should provide norms that can guide action. Dooyeweerd's aspects do so. However, this is not enough, since if the normative thrust the framework gives is unrelated to its ability to offer critique, then either the norms become little more than unrealistic wishes or, worse, any action the framework engenders will work against its own criteria. This danger is realized when a framework does not openly acknowledge its norms - as Wilson (1997) shows can happen in parts of the Critical community.

In the case of Dooyeweerd's aspects, the normative thrust is explicit, and comes from the same source as the ability to offer critique (viz. the norms of the aspects), and hence we may expect the norms to provide useful and reliable suggestions for remedying any problems thrown up by the critique.

5. Reflection Upon Outcome and Process

We have applied six given criteria to the philosophical framework proposed by Herman Dooyeweerd (1955). The links between the criteria and various Dooyeweerdian themes is shown in Table 1. We have noted some criticisms of Dooyeweerd's approach, and Choi (2000) discusses more such criticisms at greater length. It may also be noted that, compared with Habermas, Dooyeweerd is relatively silent on issues of general emancipation, participation and democracy. However, we can see that, in most respects, Dooyeweerd's framework obtains a high Criticality score, and that it goes further than the criteria strictly require. It may, therefore, suggest how the criteria may be refined. We have also noted that Klein's six criteria omit some important elements of Critical thinking, such as explicit reference to emancipation. That is the outcome of our study.

Table 1. Links between Klein's Criteria and Dooyeweerdian Themes

Dooyeweerdian Theme C1 C2 C3 C4 C5 C6
3.1 Presuppositions C2
3.2 Diversity and Coherence C1
3.3 Aspects C1 C3
3.4 Human Life and Heart C1 C2 C4 C5
3.5 Law: Determinism and Normativity C3 C6
3.6 Non-absoluteness of the Aspects C2 C5
3.7 Knowledge and Science, Theory and Practice C2 C4 C5
3.8 Everyday Living C1 C3 C5 C6

But, to Habermas, process is at least as important as outcome. As we reflect upon the process we have undergone, we can perhaps see how it can be useful to apply the criteria (either these or any other set) to other frameworks of thought in a similar way.

5.1 The Process of Applying the Criteria

We have seen that the criteria have stimulated useful discussion and reflection, both upon the target framework of thought and also on the criteria themselves and, by implication, upon our view of Critical Theory.

To apply the first criterion, we found it necessary to ask what it meant by human existence, human needs and potential. Philosophically, human existence can be treated in two ways, as the philosophical notion of I-ness (or self) and as what it means to be 'fully human'. Since the criterion couples "human existence" with needs and potential, it seems to mean the latter. Though Dooyeweerd's framework does indeed discuss human I-ness, we focused on what it means to be 'fully human'. This then raised questions about the diversity of what it means to be human, and our experience of coherence within the diversity. It might be useful for the criterion to make explicit reference to diversity and coherence.

To apply the second criterion we found it useful to consider self-reflection and self-transformation separately, echoing the distinction between analytical thought and everyday life. Under self-reflection, we found ourselves discussing how the framework accounted for three issues: what critical reflection is, how self-reflection is possible, and why it sees it as important. Not every framework has a good answer to all three of these (for example positivism assumes a detached observer). There is also a difference between a framework giving a definite account of these three issues, and merely accommodating them agnostically without providing the conceptual apparatus with which to give such an account. Dooyeweerd's account, especially of the importance of self-reflection, is closely linked to the fallibility of theoretical thinking, which links with criterion 5.

Under self-transformation, we found it useful to distinguish between transformation of one's thinking and of one's person. Though linked, the two are not philosophically identical. Habermas' Critical Theory recognises the distinctionbut many philosophical frameworks (especially those of a rationalist or cognitivist slant) find it difficult to do so.

Therefore, since self-transformation is a complex issue in its own right it might be useful to split the second criterion in two.

The third criterion contains two main thrusts: sensitivity to a broad set of issues, and what those specific issues are. We saw that sensitivity to a range of issues can come either from method, or from a pluralistic set of aspects. Dooyeweerd offered the latter, and most of the specific issues aligned closely with certain of his aspects. The one exception, human freedom, which Dooyeweerd does not discuss explicitly, could nevertheless be addressed via Dooyeweerd's notion of multi-aspectual normativity.

We refrained from discussing what issues should be included, apart from noting that some of Dooyeweerd's aspects might suggest additions. What is significant is that this criterion includes specific issues at all, since to do so goes against postmodern trends. Frameworks that either deny the listed issues or give no explicit guidance about them cannot meet criterion 3; the framework must provide explicit means of addressing the specific issues listed. Whether it is the intention of the criterion to be so specific remains to be discussed.

Criteria 1-3 are about what the framework must cover, but criterion 4 is different, being concerned with how the results of research can be deemed valid. To apply the fourth criterion, we first stood back from detailed theory of evidence to look at the context in which it is important, namely scientific process as a human, as opposed to mechanical or logical, activity. We then looked at how the framework conceived of science itself, and finally how it would distinguish different scientific areas (such as physical from social sciences) in terms of methods employed and validity criteria. Only if it could make such distinctions could this criterion harmonise with criterion 1's emphasis on diversity of human life. Therefore, it may be that to "incorporate explicit principles of evidence giving " is not sufficient, and the words "across distinct types of science" should be added.

In applying the fifth criterion we noted that we had already been forced to consider fallibility when applying criterion 2, suggesting there may be some overlap between them. In view of the possible advantage to be gained from separating self-transformation from self-reflection, we could perhaps merge part of criterion 2 with criterion 5. However, we detected a different theme in criterion 5, that of "growth of knowledge through criticism" - which we took to refer to the long term project of human knowledge. Even in this small phrase there are two distinct questions: how criticism relates to other mechanisms for knowledge growth, and how 'growth' (or progress) may be distinguished from mere change. While our target framework could provide useful answers to both of these, it is not clear why a Critical approach should necessarily hold a particular view on progress in knowledge. This, then, should inform the debate about criteria for Criticality.

To apply criterion 6, we took the bracketed explanation ("as safeguard against unrealistic and destructive negativism") to be indicative of its main intention: to ensure that a Critical approach results in changes in the world that meet the critique it offers. From our process of applying this to Dooyeweerd, we can see that two things are needed. The framework being considered must provide norms, and these norms should inherently relate to the framework's ability to provide critique. If they do not, either the norms or the critique become unrealistic, or they will work against each other.

Our application of the criteria to Dooyeweerd's philosophy has led to suggestions for their refinement. But it is significant that we did not conclude that any of the criteria, nor any of their parts, should be removed. It can be tempting to think of Dooyeweerd's aspects as merely a replacement set of criteria, but they are not. Though Dooyeweerd's aspects can indeed give rise to criteria in certain circumstances, their main use here has been to give a pointer to the diversity of human life, recognise certain ones as particularly important, and to give a basis for norms that guide our interventions in life situations.

5.2 The Problem of Criteria

As mentioned earlier, any list of criteria poses a danger of constraining variety. It is doubtful, for example, whether Klein's criteria fully embrace all the richness of a Critical approach. It might also be thought that Dooyeweerd's list of aspects would likewise constrain. While from a theoretical stance we might like to demolish all criteria, in practical life - including that of adopting a Critical approach for making interventions - criteria are indispensable for differentiating one thing from another.

In a growing area of interest such as Critical Theory, criteria are often conceived for the purpose of defining that area so that it might be protected from being pushed off course by those who would jump on its bandwagon with their personal interests. As we have seen, there are three ways in which criteria can be used. Rigidly following the criteria, for purposes of scoring or of justifying a stance, is what constrains most. At the other extreme, criteria can be denied or denatured by an incommensurable framework. But, more usefully than either of these two extremes, criteria can be used to stimulate thinking about important issues with the aid either of a commensurable framework, as in this paper. Doing this does not unduly constrain, but rather focuses our thinking. Such thinking can lead to sympathetic refinement of the criteria themselves.

Dooyeweerd's own account of criteria is in line with this third type of usage. To him, criteria are constructed by human analytical functioning and expressed in language by human lingual functioning. Since all aspectual functioning is non-absolute, no set of criteria can ever encompass the full meaning of the thing towards which they are directed. The use of criteria is only valid, therefore, when this is acknowledged, and responsibility is taken by their users not to unduly constrain the richness of life - that is, to ensure that as little harm as possible is done by the constraining. (It is this author's view that much of the harm done in applying criteria comes, not from criteria themselves, but from dogmatic uses thereof that lead to injustices being perpetrated.)

The approach we have taken to applying the criteria in the context of Dooyeweerd's philosophy might be carried over to other frameworks with benefit. We saw, for example, that Latour's Actor Network Theory provides a method for being sensitive to lifeworld issues in criterion 3. On a broader front, Habermas engaged in a debate with Gadamer, each finding flaws in the other's thinking. But, despite disagreement, it may be that Gadamer's thinking could be used to enrich the Critical framework if we were to follow the approach outlined in this paper, to use Gadamer's framework to open up, rather than gainsay, the content of the criteria. Indeed, it may be that Gadamer's framework is more commensurable with Habermas' than is Dooyeweerd's, for reasons we now discuss.

5.3 Paradigm Incommensurability?

While both thinkers, Habermas and Dooyeweerd, acknowledge that presuppositions underlie thinking, the presuppositions they hold are very different, as is the foundation of their thought. For Habermas, emancipation is a goal and norm that mainly goes unquestioned, and dialogue is the means for accomplishing this. These might be seen as Habermasian 'aspects', adopted extra-theoretically. For Dooyeweerd likewise, aspects define the goal, norms and means, and are adopted extra-theoretically. But there are two differences. The lesser (though still important) difference lies in the diversity of Dooyeweerd's aspects compared with Habermas' two. The deeper difference lies in what is presupposed to be self-dependent or self-justifying, and thereby hypostatized and accepted uncritically. Wilson (1997) demonstrates that the Habermasian 'aspects' of emancipation and dialogue may be in danger of being hypostatized, leading, in the extreme, to interesting antimomies such as becoming totalitarian in requiring dialogue. As has been pointed out earlier, Dooyeweerd claimed that any Immanence philosophy will eventually and inexorably end up in antinomy. In Dooyeweerd, only the transcendent Source is self-dependent, so no aspect may be hypostatized, but all are open to question (including those of emancipation and dialogue).

The result of such a deep difference would seem to be an icommensurability that it might be very difficult to overcome (Burrell and Morgan, 1979). As one reviewer of this paper remarked, "does acceptance [of Dooyeweerd] depend on having a theistic belief?" For complete acceptance of Dooyeweerd's whole framework, the answer might be "Yes", but for usefulness in, for example, enriching CST, the answer is "No, some commensurability is achieved via Dooyeweerd's immanent critique" (discussed above). As long as the pistic (religious) nature of presuppositions is laid bare, different frameworks of thinking can certainly engage meaningfully with each other within the analytic and lingual (and perhaps other) aspects, in spite of incommensurability in the pistic aspect. The efficacy of this method rests on the irreducibility of the aspects: the pistic aspect can never completely dominate the analytic aspect of theoretical thinking and the lingual aspect of dialogue, though it might influence them.

To close, we might suggest one more criterion, about presuppositional differences. This criterion would ensure the effectiveness of engagement between the different frameworks of thought. We cannot, of course, 'think together' two frameworks based on different presuppositions, but we can at least require that the target framework, like that of Habermas, acknowledges the pertinence of presuppositions, and that it provides ways for handling apparent incommensurability. We therefore suggest the following additional criterion:

"7. The presuppositional differences between Critical Theory and the other framework must be laid bare, and the framework must contain explicit ways of handling apparent incommensurability."


I wish to thank Heinz Klein for permission to discuss the criteria that he has not fully published yet.


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Copyright (c) Andrew Basden 2002.

Last updated: 26 April 2002