"It is a matter of life and death for this young philosophy that Christian scholars in all fields of science seek to put it to work in their own specialty." Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol I, p.vii.
This page is a collection of pieces about the usefulness of Dooyeweerdian thinking. And not just Christian scholars; I find that others are more attracted to his ideas than Christians are. And not just scientists; Dooyeweerd makes it plain that his ideas are for 'everyday living', not just science.
** New 20 October 2001 **: I have started a collection of pages on using Dooyeweerdian philosophy. The pages in this collection give examples of how Dooyeweerd has been used or might be used. Some of the content of this page will be moved into that collection, but for now it can act as a summary.
Please send comments and especially suggestions for new uses. These uses can be seen as a practical justification of the Dooyeweerdian approach, but if you are looking for a more theoretical justification, see elsewhere. The uses discussed briefly on this page are (See Collection for examples and much more depth.):
and we also discuss some places Dooyeweerd should NOT be used, or at least where care should be employed in making use of Dooyeweerd's ideas:
I have recently started a drawer that links Dooyeweerdian thought to external thinking. The pages there also furnish examples of how Dooyeweerdian philosophy might be used, to affirm, critique and refine other thinking, as well as to link.
Chris Argyris also refers to the problems in 'rigorous' research in the social sciences. Rigor in research inhibits us from obtaining valid knowledge. Partly because of the reactions of subjects, but also because we tend to leave out whole sets of variables that are important without realising it. How to choose which variables to ignore is an issue that he discusses in his book The Applicability of Organizational Sociology, (C.U.P. 1972). It seems that much of the problem is due to the researcher being unaware of other aspects in which those ignored variables reside. Thus a knowledge of the aspects, together with a view of science as higher abstraction can help us overcome this problem.
Over the last year or so I was struggling with whether communities (villages in Cheshire, for instance) should be 'self-sustainable' or 'interdependent'.
Interdependency sounds good and was the planning norm during the 1960s to 1980s, but has led to major problems. It has meant that each community relies on others for its needs, and thus has no motivation to provide them itself. So villages lose their shops, schools, employment, leisure, etc. which become 'supplied' elsewhere, in major towns in 1970s and in out-of-town complexes in the 1980s. So everyone now has to drive a distance to obtain what they think of as their needs. Likewise, each community relies on others to dispose of its waste and effluence, and takes no responsibility itself. Always 'they' will supply my needs and wants, and 'they' will clean up after me. (A version of what some have called 'dependency culture' yet, ironically, brought about by the capitalism ideal of free trade rather than by socialism with which it is normally associated.)
So, during the 1980s, the idea of self-sustainability arose as an ideal, where each community takes responsibility for its own needs and waste, thus minimizing both the inputs and outputs. Makes a lot of sense.
But, we don't want our communities to become cut off, isolated. We don't want communities to become ghettos. Therefore interdependency seems a good thing on this account - yet it leads to enormous problems. How do we sort this out? One way was compromise: try to move to a lesser degree of interdependency and more self-sustainability. Problems with this approach are that we cannot say where the right compromise is, we cannot gain agreement by a democratic process of the average, because the voters vote selflishly, and, more fundamentally, the approach has no clear compelling principle to inspire people to change their desires, habits and lifestyles. Another way was to delve into detail, looking for minor pieces of interdependency that could be discarded and self-sustainability that could be sought. This is better than nothing, but in practice achieved, and achieves, little in the long run.
However, recently I saw it in aspectual terms. Interdependency is, at root, social, though it has analogical form in other aspects. Self-sustainability is, at root, economic, to do with skilled frugal use of limited resources. That this is likely to be so can be seen from noting that the problems we were talking about were to do with resources while the problems of isolation are essentially social in nature. Thus each concept, from different aspects, delivers its own benefit.
A tenet of aspectuality is that each aspect must be respected, and in its own terms. That is, we must ensure the social benefits of interdependency yet at the same time ensure the resource-economic benefits of self-sustainability. Problems come when we ignore one or the other, different problems in each case.
Therefore, I now had a principled way of untangling the problem: maintain both social interconnectedness and also resource-economic self-sustainability and responsibility. I could see more clearly what was going wrong: interconnectedness was being applied to the wrong aspectual issue; in effect the resource-economic aspect was being reduced to the social - with enormous unintended harm resulting. I could also now discuss with all comers, whether from the status quo or the new thinkers, without seeing one or other an 'the opponent', and acknowledge the pieces of truth in what each was saying.
"I haven't yet studied Dooyeweerd in the depth I would like, but I have found him (and the Reformational tradition) helpful in some theoretical issues relating to the study of history, specifically in combating the reductionistic tendency of some historians to make economics, etc. the sole causative factor in human action. The inescapability of religion is also important - in religious studies, there is surprisingly little clarity regarding what 'religion' actually is, and it is defined in a variety of odd ways (and often left undefined), something some people have but others don't. Dooyeweerd's perspective not only makes more sense, but makes religion a universal (and useful) analytical category."
His concern is that economics is seen as the 'sole causative factor' (an elevation of economics) and that the importance of religious commitment is overlooked (suppressing the pistic aspect).
It is possible, therefore, that Dooyeweerd's aspects can help avoid such problems, if they are used as a framework to guide discussion. The aspects give us a framework for understanding the other's perspective. Because each aspect has a different epistemology (way of knowing), therefore we do not expect the same epistemology from the other, nor the same basic assumptions of what is 'rational' or 'acceptable'. Instead, we first acknowledge the difference and then seek to discern which aspect the other has centred upon, and then to understand what the other is saying in the light of that aspect. Finally, we can, together, amongst all participants, seek to integrate all relevant aspects and also see which aspects are still being collectively ignored.
At a recent CPTS conference (22-24 April 2001), Albert Vlug was reflecting on what a Dooyeweerdian framework offers, in his practical analysis, that others do not. A Habermasian framework helped participants in a debate to recognise their underlying assumptions and be honest and open about different opinions, which a Dooyeweerdian framework also does. But the Dooyeweerdian framework goes further, in helping us
Differences founded on different aspects are likely to be irreducible, especially if the participants exercise some pistic commitment to their 'favourite' aspects.
Research is needed to develop these ideas.
Dooyeweerdian aspects can help us decide what topics are relevant to a discussion. Often a discussion focuses on one aspect. When someone brings in a topic from a different aspect then those involved often react with "But that's not relevant." For example, in a discussion about, say, art, the cost of something might be deemed irrelevant - but in fact it often highly relevant, but just not thus far considered. So it should be treated as relevant unless it has explicitly been stated that cost is not to be considered.
What makes a topic irrelevant to a discussion is not that is from a different aspect, but only that it is either at the wrong level or detail, or outside the already-agreed scope of the objectives set for the discussion.
In this way, knowledge of the Dooyeweerdian aspects can help first in identifying gaps in the discussion, and second in filling those gaps.
Dooyeweerd's notion of the qualifying aspect of an entity could help here. The evaluation questions should relate to this aspect in meaningful ways. (Of course, one can also add hygenic issues at the end, but they are often less important; the hygenic issues are from aspects different from the qualifying one.)
Such things are now possible using a special virtual reality device, called a Cave, which is an enclosed space all of whose walls are lit by computer monitor output. We stand in the middle of this and don special spectacles so that we can see everything in three dimensions rather than as on the walls of the Cave. A similar effect can be obtained by holography. The new experience is that we can interact with this 3D environment and seem to be part of it, though it has no physical existence. So I could draw my line in the air in front of me, and it would remain there, at least to my vision. The thing is that though the lines, shapes etc. that I create in the air in front of me have no physical existence, I can interact with them. For example, if the software were written to do this, I could have a virtual bat and play virtual tennis with them.
A more complex example is that a sculptor could have a virtual block of marble, and virtually chip away to make a virtual statue. And if s/he made a mistake, chipping off too much, s/he could go back to the state before he made the mistake. As a result, s/he could try out various different versions of the statue to see which one seemed best.
But even if we could predict how tasks would change, there is another difficulty. My student told me that when he asked his colleagues whether this might of use to them, they could not answer. This was because they had not real concept of what was possible, beyond what has just been said. While they might make wild guesses about how it might be useful, no serious evaluation is possible, because it is outside the normal range of experience.
People with well developed imaginative capabilities might be able to come up with suggestions, but most of these tend to be leaps of imagination rather than serious evaluations. We are no closer to saying in what ways the new, never-yet-tried technology is and is not likely to be useful.
Let us make a proposal that a person, with role X, might find the new technology useful if it were suitably developed. We can test this by making two small analyses:
The benefit of this approach over simple free imagination is that it offers some guidance.
Often my expertise lies within one aspect, and in that aspect I will have few limitations. Likely as not, I will tend to see this aspect as all that matters. So when people try to criticise me for limitations, I will react defensively. But if I am aware that there are other aspects in which I have less expertise, then I can accept their criticism more generously. But even if nobody criticizes me, I can discern my own limitations by acknowledging that my expertise lies in one aspect and not others. And that helps me decide when I need further input from others.
In addition, if I am expert in aspect X and inexpert in aspect Y, then I can determine whether or not to be open about my limitations. In a discussion that involves aspect Y it would be beneficial - indeed my duty - to be open about my limitations. But if not, then being too open about them might confuse the issues. If it is not clear whether Y is relevant, then be partially open and willing to be totally open.
Vlug proposed that a Dooyeweerdian analysis could open up the assumptions made by the methods, and also link the methods to particular aspects. By doing this, we can start to see in what ways each method might be limited, in that, however precise and accurate it may be, it is likely to omit factors from other aspects that might be important. This is because each aspect has a distinct epistemology (i.e. way of knowing things).
It is proposed that a knowledge of the aspects that are relevant to the task might help us plan the training schedule, because of two issues:
Dooyeweerd's aspects are fundamentally inter-disciplinary in nature. One major reason why Dooyeweerd's aspects can be useful in handling success and sustainability is that his aspects have some normativity integrated with determinative laws.
Actually, it requires more than balance for success; it requires also that we go with the grain of each aspect, not against its norms. See the explanation of shalom and harm, or the page where success, prosperity and shalom are discussed in more depth.
The recognition of the aspects, and an understanding of Dooyeweerd's proposal for what those aspects are, can aid this mutual understanding by first helping the participants to see where each is placed (i.e. in what aspect) and thus which aspects they need to take special note of and perhaps learn about.
More of this below in guiding strategy.
Proposal: Knowledge of laws of those aspects that are earlier than the formative aspect, the aspect relating to culture. That is, mathematical, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic and sensory and psychological knowledge.
Therefore, if we employ the aspects as a framework for our thinking, then we are invited by their very nature to focus on normativity, not as an adjunct to the determinative side but as integrated with it. This is useful in applying information technology, for instance. Conventionally the normative side is seen as a mere curb on the excesses of technocentrism. Under Dooyeweerd's thinking, the two are integrated. This is why it can be useful when considering the success and failure of information systems.
A (sub-)division of a company may possess a different normativity from another, and both a different normativity from the whole company. This can be clarified by identifying the qualifying aspects of each part and of the whole. For example, in a drugs company there are two divisions: Medical and Marketing. These are qualified by (let's say) the biotic and the lingual aspects respectively, while the whole company is, perhaps, qualified by the economic.
How this works out is that it means that to force a mission on each part that is solely financial is often inappropriate and detrimental to the overall running of the organization, however convenient for the main board and its accountants. We have often seen this when a Main Board stipulates "There must a 5% efficiency gain across all divisions." This gives the appearance of fairness, but might ultimately damage something that is vital.
Main Board members of companies should first recognise the intrinsic normativity of each of their divisions by discerning their qualifying aspects, and, being guided by that, should then analyse more precisely how each division can be enabled to fulfil its intrinsic normativity better. Such an analysis can also provide the managers of those divisions with the appropriate arguments as to why an across-the-board solution is likely to be damaging. Such an analysis does not, of course, solve the problem, but it does help the parties discuss the issues in a more constructive way.
This particular example is wrong because it ignores Dooyeweerd's contention that all aspects must be taken into account in harmony, and many of those who say "We must not stand in the way of progress" have already abandoned this inter-aspectual harmony in furtherance of their own interests that happen to be aligned with an idea of progress.
It is perhaps made worse, compared with other streams of thought, because of the implied ontological claim of Dooyeweerd's framework.
The root of the problem, however, lies in our tendency to tacitly seek ways of furthering our ends without regard to the wider picture, and a tacit unwillingness in most of us to allow that wider picture to dilute the furthering of our cherished ends. (This of course is largely a pistic matter.)
These have implications for both faculty strategy (including team-building) and direction of research. For more details please see the email correspondence about this (.txt file).
Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga and Protext.
Last updated: 24 September 1998 added sections on clarifying tangled issues and aiding inter-perspective discussion. 25 September 1998 added to guide research. 9 October 1998 added re Dead-ends in Thinking and To Plan Training, and added a contents list. 25 January 1999 added re. Argyris. Added section on interdisciplinarity. 31 January 1999. 2 November 2000 added re. reductionism. 7 February 2001 Inter-Cultural knowledge and not using Dooyeweerd to justify ourselves; copyright, email. 27 April 2001 several things added that were identified by Albert Vlug as what he found useful in Dooyeweerd. 4 May 2001 ending. 20 May 2001 link to ext drawer. 10 July 2001 added Warn. 5 October 2001 Added evaluating new technologies. 20 October 2001 Set up link to collection on using. 4 January 2002 links to misusing.html. 16 January 2002 Section on guiding strategy. 15 April 2002 wee correction, and link to m.a.light. 1 May 2002 wee correction. 9 July 2002 Arthur Jones' use of anticipation to suggest lines of research. 21 November 2005 unets. 23 June 2010 removed m.a.light link, and rewrote intro a bit. 23 June 2010 link to issues/indiv.doc.