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Aspectual Rationality

Each aspect defines a different type of rationality. That is, each aspect, being a sphere of meaning, provides a different way in which things may be meaningful, and therefore a different way in which they may 'make sense'. That is, each aspect provides a different type of rationality. Here are some examples of things that make sense and make no sense (often a contradiction) in each aspect; the reader can assemble many more examples if they wish:

Aspect "It makes sense" "It makes no sense"
Quantitative
(to do with quantity, amount)
"6 > 5; 5 > 4; 4 < 6" "6 > 5; 5 > 4; 4 > 6"
Spatial
(to do with continuous extension, space)
"Shape X is inside Y"
"A large circle"
"Shape X is both inside Y and to the left of Y"
"A square circle"
Kinematic
(to do with movement; flowing movement)
"In their race, the fast hare will eventually overtake the slow tortoise." "The fast hare can never overtake the slow tortoise." (Zeno's paradox)
Physical
(to do with energy + mass)
"Heat flows from hot to cold body." (2nd law of thermodynamics) "Heat flows from cold to hot body."
Biotic
(to do with life functions)
"She wants him to thrive so she ensures he has good food." "She wants him to thrive but all she feeds him on is junk food."
Sensitive
(to do with sense, feeling, emotion)
"We want the road sign to be seen, so we light it up at night." "The road sign must be seen, but we surround it with a clutter of other road signs." (The pychological law of sensory overstimulation and clutter)
Analytical
(to do with distinguishing )
"We distinguish male from female, and so provide those as categories." "We distinguish male from female, but treat them as just the same." (law of non-contradiction)
Formative
(to do with history, culture, technology: shaping and creativity)
"We take action to achieve our goals." "We hope our goals are achieved without needing to do anything about it."
Lingual
(to do with symbolic communication)
"If we follow the rules of the grammar of the language we are using, what we say will be more understandable." "Are be follow grammar if language more of of rules say the the the understandable using, we we we what will."
Social
(to do with social interaction)
"I treat my friends with respect." "I treat those I would like to be friends with disrespect and contempt."
Economic
(to do with frugal use of resources)
"Annual income one pound, annual expenditure nineteen shillings and sixpence: result happiness." "Annual income one pound, annual expenditure one pound and sixpence: result misery."
Aesthetic
(to do with harmony, surprise, fun)
Harmony in music. Jokes well-told. Cacophony. Jokes badly told.
Juridical
(to do with what is due; 'retribution', rights and responsibilities)
"It makes sense to increase fuel duty each year, so that people will use their cars less and less and thus reduce climate change emissions, without the need for draconian measures." "We want to reduce climate change emissions, but we make motoring cheaper, cancel or postpone the rise in fuel duty, and allowing a fifth terminal at Heathrow airport." (UK government actions during the 1990s)
Ethical
(to do with self-giving love)
Pistic
(to do with vision, aspiration, commitment, creed, religion)
"Fear God and keep his commandments,
  for that is the whole duty of Man.
For God will bring every deed into judgement,
  including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil."
    [Ecclesiastes 12:13,14]
"It makes no sense to pit one's strength against God's." [Winch, 1958]

When we argue, we do so within the rationality of a given aspect. Since the aspects are irreducible to each other in terms of their meaning, these types of rationality are also irreducible to each other. This means that if we argue within one aspect, step by logical step, we will never arrive within the sphere of rationality of another aspect. To arrive there requires a jump that transcends logic. Often, however, such a jump is made but is disguised by choice of words and their inter-aspectual connotations or hidden by implicit appeal to our everyday experience.

Category Errors

Several have found that Dooyeweerd's aspects can help to prevent category mistakes in our thinking, in which one category of thing is presented as belonging to another category. Ryle [1949] introduced the idea with examples, including: (1) Mistaking the institution that is university for the buildings in which its employees work [p.18], (2) asking what is the relationships between the (British) Home Office, the Church of England and the British constitution, where the former two are institutions while the constitution is not, so inter-institutional relationships are meaningful only between the first two [p.19], (3) "She came home in a flood of tears and in a sedan chair" [p.23]. Claiming that Descartes made a category error in his thinking about body and mind, Ryle traces its origin to a mixing-up of types of "causality", of laws, and to a misunderstanding of the relationship between what we call aspects. The Cartesians tried to apply ideas of causality found in physics to the non-physical functioning-repercussion agency, assuming they operate by similarly determinative laws, to argue that there must be two distinct kinds of entity here (bodies, minds). The third kind of mistake is not because of laws nor agency but mixing up kinds of meaningfulness, using the same preposition, "in".

We can see that Ryle seems to have been reaching for Dooyeweerd's notion of aspects, which are irreducibly distinct in their laws, their functioning and repercussion, and their meaningfulness. It appears that his suite of aspects can help us both account for and perhaps avoid category errors. (1) Institutions are of the social aspect while buildings are of the formative (and spatial). (2) Institutions are of the social aspect while constitutions are of the juridical. (3) "In floods of tears" is meaningful in the psychic aspect, and "in a sedan chair" in the spatial and formative aspect.

Omparison with Other Views

The notion of there being irreducibly distinct types of rationality might be unusual to analytic philosophers and conventional logicians, but it is recognised by thinkers like Peter Winch [1958: The Idea of a Social Science], who argued that there are radically different types of rationality, especially comparing those of physical and social sciences.

It links with the notion that each aspect defines a distinct scientific area and distinct way to know.

To Dooyeweerd, since rationality is grounded in the aspects, and also being and normativity are also grounded in the aspects, then rationality and normativity cannot be separated. The rational is the moral. This is a strong theme in Lonergan (e.g. chapter 18 in his book, Insight).


This page, "http://www.dooy.info/rationality.html", 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: 16 March 2005 and 21 July 2008. Last updated: 28 November 2008 corrected error in lingual. 22 October 2018 Category errors, new .end, .nav.