The Social Aspect
Please consider yourself and an adversary e.g. in court. Contrast this with working with others in a team, in friendship and consensus. The former is inter-individual action; the latter is more truly social. I would like to suggest that we experience the social aspect intuitively as we, us and them; associating, agreeing and appointing.
Does not associating imply treating others as like ourselves, submerging our individuality into the social group, and allowing it to impose structures and constraints on us? Does not agreeing imply some shared action or belief? Sometimes 'we' becomes an institution or organization, in which individuals are appointed to (or informally assume) roles. In reading this, you and I assume and agree the roles of reader and author, a relationship that is not just lingual (originator and recipient of information) but social too, governed by the norm of mutual agreement.
Doubtless you can think of many things that gain their meaning from the social aspect, such as,
- relationship, friend, enemy;
- member, group, organisation, team, community, network;
- authority, leader, subordinate, follower, status, hierarchy;
- tact, manners, convention, decorum;
- privilege (not rights, which are juridical), inclusion, exclusion; culture (in the English sense);
- activities like greeting, meeting, organising (somewhat formative), respecting (also juridical), minding one's manners (somewhat aesthetic too);
- properties like together, authoritative, friendly, polite;
- expectations of others;
- and so on.
Unfortunately, our friend Dooyeweerd's discussion of the kernel of the social aspect is meagre. He denotes the kernel as "intercourse" [1955,II, 141 footnote], he links this with norms of "courtesy, good manners, tact, socialbleness, fashion, and so on", with examples like "making a bow, giving a handshake, lifting one's hat, letting a superior precede" [p.227-228. This discussion seems influenced by Dutch society of the mid 20th Century, but he then extensively discusses social institutions in Volume III of Dooyeweerd  and a theory of social institutions in Dooyeweerd .
Stafleu  suggests that the good possibility that the social aspect introduces into temporal reality is company. Does not social activity amplify the functioning of individuals, to greater effect by the group, than if its members were acting merely as a set of interacting individuals? What this amplified effect is depends on the aspects that 'lead' the social functioning: businesses amplify economic effect while publishers amplify lingual effect. I suggest that the negative in the social aspect itself is that which disrupts or destroys the effect, such as aloofness, disrespect and rudeness.
Social action can achieve little without resources, however; the social aspect antecipates the economic.
- "Intercourse" (Dooyeweerd's rendering, but in English that has rather misleading connotations, an does not sufficiently account for instiutionas)
- "We, us and them; associating, agreeing and appointing. Introduces Togetherness" (Basden's intuitive rendering)
- Social interaction
- Social institutions
- Dutch omgang. Stafleu translates this as 'keeping company', companionship or even just 'meeting people'.
- 'We': The human being among others, adapting oneself to those others.
- Classes (of people, as in Marxist ideology)
- Gatherings, packs, as in wolves
- The individual among others:
- Respect, mutual respect
- Adapting oneself to others (anticipates ethical)
- Friends v. strangers
- Politeness, rudeness, manners
- Agreement, consensus, disagreement, etc.
- "The done thing" - what's expected of us.
- Standards (which are agreements about how things should be)
- Stafleu  believes the central norm is respect, and associates it with being civilised, with politeness, 'cosiness', conviviality.
- Maybe: Ubuntu: I am a person because you are a person.
- Groupings and associations:
- Clubs, societies, guilds, etc.
- Both voluntary and involuntary association
- Social role, status
- Deference (Note: 'deference' is meant neutrally; today 'deference' has negative connotation as something forced, unjust, but it is not the deference as such which is evil but the injustice, which is of the juridical aspect.)
- Structure of organizations, e.g. that each seems to have some kind of leader or coordinator, and some kind of membership, whether formal or informal, and often some kind of rules.
- Giddens' structuration theory
See below for a detailed taxonomy of institutions compiled by Dooyeweerd. See also the contribution by Erving Goffman.
- In some circles, 'social' is taken to mean 'soft', 'normative', and is opposed to 'hard', 'determinative'. e.g. 'Socio-technical' (Mumford, 1979) means an approach that tries to go beyond a technology-centred view while recognising technological realities. In these circles 'social' has a wider meaning than Dooyeweerd gives it, and includes such things as aesthetic, ethical, lingual. However those circles are starting to differentiate e.g. ethical from other 'social' things; Dooyeweerd's ontology could help them - if only they allowed an ontological approach!
Stafleu  gives a good discussion of the social aspect, raising a number of interesting issues - though he departs somewhat from Dooyeweerd's views. Chaplin  tries to refine Dooyeweerd's notion of structural societal principles.
Social science - seen as the science of social interaction: how we (should best) go about interacting with each other.
Dooyeweerd's view of the 'mission' of social science, and hence the topics it has a duty to research, is as follows (from Witte, 1986):
- to identify the independent structures or institutions which comprise society,
- to describe the nature, the inner norms and constituent parts, which rederns each of these social institutions distinctive,
- to define the purpose, function, or reason for which each of these structures exists,
- to analyze the proper relationship among them.
It is important, Dooyeweerd maintained, that social science must study not only social functioning in the researcher's own period but also those of other period and cultures.
This is rather different from what is usually called 'social science', which covers almost anything in which human beings are treated as whole entities in context of others - including ethics, anthropology, populations, etc. Under a Dooyeweerdian view, this should not be done, because it tends to reduce all the post-social aspects to the social.
However, we can account for the tendency of social science to lay claim to all the post-social aspects because since all those aspects involve social functioning, all functioning in them could, approximately, be seen as a 'type' of social functioning. However, strictly, under a Dooyeweerdian framework social science should not do so because the later aspects are irreducible to the social and thus the 'types' of social functioning can be accounted for only by them and not by the social aspect itself.
Institutions are themselves social phenomena. So an institution for the sake of socializing is interesting. Many clubs and societies might fulfil this role for the social aspect, especially the old 'gentlemen's clubs' so famous in London. But most institutions have other concerns, and are therefore qualified by another aspect, not the social.
Institutions might be groups, such as the Chess Federation, but they might also be sets of agreements on how we live, such as the rules of chess [from Searle 1998]. Searle calls them 'status functions', which are agreements (or "impositions") among a social group that we should live a certain way, that "X counts for Y", such as boundary lines over which children should not cross.
There are many and varied types of institutions in this second category of being qualified by another aspect. Dooyeweerd made a study of them, and gave a classification of human relationships
Things that are seen as problematic by reference to the social sphere of meaning:
- Cooperation, Collaboration
- Institutional structures can facilitate much useful human activity
- When people know each other well communication (lingual aspect) can be much more efficient, whether this be the signals and word usages that have meaning within a family or the jargon of a specialist community.
- Being impolite.
- Laughing at rather than with people.
- Snubbing people.
- Rivalry rather than collaboration - which echoes, generates and reinforces the dysfunctions in the ethical aspect.
- Aggression and enmity.
- Individualism: By being individual over-against others rather than valuing relationships.
- When the social scene is dominated by pride rather than companionship, but out-doing one another, by doing-down others, by competition - but that is more ethical aspect.
In Social Ontology and Philosophy of Society John Searle  attempts to understand the social aspect of reality. He does well, raising questions, drawing from pre-theoretical experience, and explaining many things well. And also acknowledging some presuppositions. However, his answers to the questions are a bit weak, because of his deeper presuppositions, esp. of primacy of existence over meaningfulness.
I intend to write here to explain this, but cannot provide the time just now; maybe someone else will do this. [==== 30 April 2015]
In order to advocate a distinct philosophy of society, He posed a number of questions, suggested three conceptual tools with which to address them, and suggested answers. His questions were:
- Social realities like money, property, marriage, war are those things because we believe them to be, but the beliefs themselves are also social realities. How do we avoid circularity and infinite regress? He answers this by saying that, for example, money functions as a summary term for being a medium of exchange. But this already presupposes the economic notion of value, which merely shifts the question one step to the side.
- What role does language play in constituting social reality? A second question is, if a dog is trained to bring dollar bills to its master when it wants food, why is that not genuine 'buying'? What indeed is buying? (On what philosophical grounds may we discuss that?)
- We create social realities by merely pronouncing them (e.g. a marriage or a war. But some realities, such as a goal, cannot be created by pronouncement. Why are these so? Searle suggests that the social realities are created by making the pronouncements. But Little  argues that some social realities occur without such pronouncements, but by more tacit agreements. Searle tries, perhaps, to give language (he pet topic) too much importance.
- Social reality has a systemic nature, as a kind of infrastructure (e.g. money requires system of exchange, ownership, payment, etc.). Even games exhibit this, in their systems of rules, rights and obligations. Social and institutional phenomena seem to interlock with each other. What is going on here?
- What is the role of the physical? Money used to require gold, but then paper, now electronic signals.
Tool 1: Different classes of entities have different functions; function is a meaningfulness to the observer, and it inherently implies normativity, or at least that one thing should happen rather than another. This occurs in biology (norm of life), and onwards.
Tool 2: Collective intentionality: we cannot reduce 'we intend' to 'I intend' plus beliefs about you; there is something irreducibly social about 'we-ness'. How do we analyse collective intentionality?
Tool 3: Constitutive rules, which bring things into being, such that 'X counts as Y', X being e.g. physical and Y as the social reality.
Searle made the strong claim that agreements or impositions that 'X counts as Y' is the foundation of all institutional reality (e.g. a piece of paper issued by the bank counts as money). This leads to a sixth question,
- How can these collective agreements be so powerful?
He attempts to give a two-part answer, calling upon (a) the idea of infinite regress upwards (thus going against his earlier concern to avoid it), and (b) the idea that social structures interlock. However, while this might describe a possible mechanism for how these are powerful, it does not give a proper answer. However, an allusion to where a better answer may be found is that he recognises the fragility of such collective agreements and talks about 'acceptance', by which he means a kind of commitment.
==== more to be written.
I will show that his arguments are flawed (appleaing to Heidermann 1999), and that really he is calling for meaning which is diverse. And that is well addressed by Dooyeweerd and his aspects.
Dooyeweerd's categorisation of things social divides into two parts: social institutions and social interactions. He developed a comprehensive account and classification of social institutions, but left the interaction side empty. Maybe the work of people like Erving Goffman can help fill the gap. For example, Manning discusses what he calls Goffman's SIAC schema, in which four types of assumption mark our social interaction:
- Situational propriety: The meaning of our actions is linked to the context in which they arose. [NB. the centrality of meaning here.] Types of context defined by Goffman:
- Encounters (in which there is a single focus of attention)
- Social occasions (constrained by the event that justifies their existence)
- Social gatherings (looser constellations)
- Social situations (the broadest category, incl. such as elevators or hotel lobbies)
- Involvement: Our capacity to give or withhold concerted attention to the activity at hand. Different levels of appropriate involvement (e.g. eavesdropping in socially inappropriate).
- Accessibility: we allow friends and 'ratified' strangers more access to us. To do with social duties and rights; e.g. we expect, as members of a commons ocial world) to be told the time or the way to a match when we ask.
- Civil inattention: the respect we owe to, and expect from, strangers: willingness to be seen, a sign that no aggression is intended, and a sign of deference to those present. e.g. in elevator we struggle to avoid eye contact (Goffman's standard example).
However, to me, Goffman's ideas feel thin and conventional (e.g. the compulsory reference to aggression with its simplistic-evolutionist overtones) rather than rich and radical.
The Notion of Social Capital
Social capital is much discussed, but Nahaplet and Choshal  argue it has three dimensions: structural, relational and cognitive. Structural capital is the ties among actors (who knows whom) and reflects the resources that might be available. Relational capital is built up by the interaction among people over a time. Cognitive capital refers to shared languages, representations, interpretations, etc.
The first two echo the idea that the social aspect is concerned with social institutions and relationships respectively. The third reflects the social aspect's intimate foundational dependence on the lingual aspect. In this way, the discourse around the notion of social capital might help open up Dooyeweerd's social aspect.
- The laws of social interaction require those of
symbolic communication since real social interaction is not feasible without it.
- Luhmann's exploration of the conditions for social systems to exist and occur seems to reveal a need for social to depend on lingual. "for a theory of autopoietic systems, only communication is a serious candidate for the position of the elementary unit of the basic self-referential process of social systems. Only communication is necessarily and inherently social. Action is not. Moreover, social action implies communication ... Therefore the theory of autopoietic social systems requires a conceptual revolution within sociology; the replacement of action theory by communication theory as the characterization of the elementary operative level of the system." (Luhmann, 1986, pp. 177-178) "Action" is formative aspect; "Communication" is lingual, antecipating social.
- Support for the social aspect coming after the lingual can be found in Habermas. Lyytinen and Klein  say "Habermas would claim that communicative action is a fundamental part of social existence and that other forms of social action are derived from it." In different words, this says that social needs lingual.
- Likewise Apel [Towards a Transformation of Philosophy, 1998] argues at length in chapter 5 that the 'communication community' is the "transcendental presupposition of the social sciences".
- Dooyeweerd's study of this aspect went hand in hand with his deep interest in the historical (or cultural or formative) aspect, on which laws the laws of this aspect heavily depend.
- There is currently a bit of rivalry between social science of this kind and psychology; psychology tends to look inside the human being and look at the components of human thought and behaviour; social scientists tend to look down on the psychology viewpoint. But in Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects, these can be integrated because they are separate, and therefore sovereign, aspects that cannot be reduced to each other.
All aspects later than the social (the economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical and pistic) involve the social. This might mean three things:
This, however, is a hypothesis that requires discussion and refinement.
- not only that they all normally involve social functioning with a person or people other than the actor,
- not only that the repercussions of our functioning in them impact those other people,
- but also that our functioning in them gives a longer-term impact on society as a whole. For example, one selfish act, especially by a role model, can set an example that other follow and so a selfish tone permeates throughout society.
If this is so, then it means that repercussions in post-social aspects are likely to be not mainly on the perpertrator, but mainly spread throughout the social group. We can see this in vandalism (which is currently on the up in the UK). Vandalism occurs for various reasons, but one is lack of vision among young people, who hang about, get bored, and start 'enjoying' minor acts of deconstruction, and then major acts of destruction. Lack of vision is a pistic functioning. It can be one person, such as a parent or church or youth worker who can give them vision, and then those who would suffer from the vandalism would not longer do so.
This means that the sciences of post-social aspects should seek to find, not direct person to person impacts but social spreading impacts. Also, it implies that the indiviudalistic notion of legal culpability is misconceived (even though it is assumed without question).
- 'Companion' is often used metaphorically when we want to speak of some relationship between entities of more-or-less equal status. e.g. 'companion volume'.
- 'Social construction of reality'. This phrase emphasizes that our corporate view of reality has been worked out not just by reason, nor just by individuals, but by corporate activity among us. However, it tends to go further, and in the extreme to propose that there is no 'real reality' but that all is merely an outcome of the social processes. This leads to various antinomies.
- Social construction of reality. Some reduce all our knowledge of reality to be merely the outcome of social processes, and, in the extreme, claiming that reality itself does not exist but is merely socially constructed.
- Social contract. Ideas of justice are reduced to be merely agreement among people who make up a society. This reduction denies that there is any real basis to justice and legality. Dooyeweerd maintains that these latter are themes of the separate juridical aspect.
This has been moved to social.theory.html.
Giddens' structuration theory  seems a useful exploration of the nature of the social aspect that echoes something of Dooyeweerd's general ideas, though not necessarily Dooyeweerd's specific theory of social institutions.
The notion of 'duality of structure' found in structuration theory - that human action is enabled and constrained by structure, but structure is also the result of human action - echoes the Dooyeweerdian theme that human beings are central actors in the cosmos and yet are only so within a framework of aspectual law. On the face of it, the difference is that the contraints Giddens talks about come from the entity side rather than law side, from actual structures rather than from laws. However, the form of the constraining that structures impose is law-like, and is meaningful from the standpoint of the social aspect.
This is discussed in more detail in a comparison of Dooyeweerd and Giddens.
Chaplin, J. (1995) Dooyeweerd's notion of societal structural principles. Phil. Ref. 60(1), 16-36.
Giddens, A. New Rules Of Sociological Method: A Positive Critique Of Interpretative Sociologies, 2nd ed., Stanford, California:
Stanford University Press, 1993.
Luhmann, N. (1986). The autopoiesis of social systems. In Geyer, F., and van der Zouwen, J. (eds), Sociocybernetic Paradoxes: Observation, Control and Evolution of Self-steering Systems, Sage, London, pp. 172-192.
Nahaplet J, Ghoshal S (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital and the organizational advantage. Acad. Management Rev. 23(2):242-66.
Searle,.J. 1998. Social Ontology and Philosophy of Society. Analyse & Kritik, 20, 143-158.
Witte, J, (ed.) (1986), A Christian Theory of Social Institutions, The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, La Jolla, California, USA.
Manning P (1992) Erving Goffman and Modern Sociology Polity Press.
Stafleu MD (2005) The relation frame of keeping company; a reply to Andrew Basden. Phil. Ref. 70 (2):151-164.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.
Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Last updated: 16 March 1997, 13 August 1998: reformatted and rearranged page and added much from Witte about Dooyeweerd's studies of the social aspect. 30 August 1998. 1 December 1998 added theme. 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 18 October 2001 some stuff moved to social.theory.html. 1 December 2001 Habermas support for social after lingual. 8 January 2002 added Goffman. 14 March 2002 better kernel. 10 July 2002 added post.social and changed some bits in science, shalom and harm. 10 June 2003 better lists of shalom and harm; .nav, .end. 9 December 2003 added Giddens. 25 June 2004 psot-social repercussions. 23 August 2004 Apel, and reformatted Dependency. 16 February 2005 efficiency in communication. 21 May 2005 agreement. 24 August 2005 new .end. 11 December 2005 new themes. 5 January 2006 added some of Stafleu's ideas from . 19 June 2006 ubuntu. 13 August 2007 standardization. 5 January 2008 disrespect. 29 July 2008 standards. 13 November 2008 social capital. 3 June 2009 adapting. 6 September 2010 'done thing', redid headings. 22 September 2010 Dooyeweerd's and Basden's kernel. 4 February 2011 Chaplin ref. 2 April 2011 assoc r.t. relating. 5 January 2013 harm improved. 30 April 2015 Searle Philosophy of Society.21 September 2016 briefly, rid counter. 18 May 2019 luhmann dependency on lingual. 2 September 2020 rivalry.