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The Good That each Aspect Brings

Each aspect, as a sphere of meaning and law, makes possible a distinct kind of 'good', where good may be defined as that which enables reality to work well. Given Dooyeweerd's idea of multi-aspectual functioning and being, in which later aspects depend foundationally on earlier ones, then what is made possible by earlier aspects is depended on by later aspects.

Example: the biotic life depends on physical energy, causality and persistence.

I do not know that the good that aspects make possible has ever been systematically discussed. So this section offers, as a reflective essay rather than an argument, an initial discussion of the good that each aspect makes possible. When taken together, the good of every aspect contributes to a well-functioning whole reality. We go through the aspects in turn, one paragraph each, but readers should be able to dip in at any point.

The quantitative aspect makes discreteness (identity, difference) and plurality possible. 5 is always the same as itself and different from 4. More than that, it makes ordering possible: 5 is always greater than 4 and less than 6. (Terminology: I say "ordering" rather than the more usual term "order" because the latter can have misleading connotations especially in the social sciences.) More than that we cannot, perhaps say, except that the identity, plurality, difference and ordering are reliable -- pertaining at all times and in all situations. The importance of similarity, difference and ordering for all reality -- mathematical, physical, life, sentient, social, societal -- is discussed widely in the various fields. From the purely quantitative perspective, amount is primitive, but it is opened up in its meaningfulness in all the other aspects.

The spatial aspect makes spatiality possible -- but what is this and what good is it? Dooyeweerd explains it as simultaneity, extendedness and continuity. Simultaneity is not possible from the perspective of the quantitative aspect because no plurality (within this reality) can be both 5 and 4 simultaneously, and yet from the spatial aspect a triangle is defined as three lines simultaneously intersecting. Extendedness is not possible in any discrete quantity. Continuity is not possible because the quantitative aspect knows only discreteness -- so the square root of two, which is meaningful as the length of side of a square whose area is two, can never be found precisely by quantitative methods.

Both quantitative and spatial aspects are fundamentally static -- which may be seen as a boon in that it offers a basis for reliability without absoluteness. Imagine: if 6 were to vary to, for example, 7, then Carbon atoms, with 6 protons, would begin behaving as Nitrogen atoms, with 7, and stable chemistry would not be possible.

The kinematic aspect introduces movement, of which the quantitative and spatial aspects say nothing, so that the spatial world can change. We may change one spatial figure into another (via topological morphing) or reach one from another by travelling along paths. This kind of change or dynamism is not known to the spatial aspect. It is perhaps primitive, compared with the full-orbed change that we find in the physical and later aspects, but the possibility of change has been introduced. (Strauss' [2009] argument for constancy is dealt with elsewhere.)

The physical aspect introduces forces, causality, energy (including matter) and direction in the change. Whereas in the kinematic aspect backward and forward are fundamentally similar, in physics they are not, especially in thermodynamics. Change does not just occur but is caused. So everything is linked by a mesh of causality that extends through time and space, whereas in the spatial and kinematic aspects things just happen to occur.

The organic / biotic aspect introduces life, of course -- but what is life? How may we understand its goodness without the word "life"? One clue might come from autopoietic theory: the biotic aspect makes possible organisms that remain distinct from their environments even though they exchange physical energy and materials with it, by maintaining their internal states in a way that the environment would not. It introduces a notion of self, as body. With the possibility of distinct organisms comes the possibility of dysfunctions as well as functions -- damage to, or ceasing-to-be of, the organism -- which makes no sense in earlier aspects. Not only is biology but also systems thinking studies this aspect. The possibility of organisms opens up all later-aspect possibilities, though cannot explain them.

One concerns the possibility of interaction. The psychic / sensitive aspect introduces a new relationship between organism and environment that is not mere growth but active sensing and responding under the control of the organism. Interaction involves signals, memory and recognition, which of course are part of human mental functioning. In most types of organism, special types of cells (nerves) support this, which transmit the signals to distant parts of the body. In organic functioning, what might be called "signals", such as the sun shining on one side of a plant so that it bends towards it, is controlled by the environment rather than the organism, and is usually much slower in acting. Psychic signals are faster, more transient and under the control of the organism even when some might be instigated by the environment via sense organs.

The analytic aspect introduces distinct conceptualization. This involves a "setting apart what is given together" that differs from the way animals distinguish their mates or food [NC,I, 39n], which involves a more-or-less fuzzy, holistic recognition that characterizes the psychic aspect. The analytic aspect makes crisp attention possible, including clear logic. The difference between crisp attention and fuzzy recognition lies at the root of philosophy's opposing of instinct and intellect, sensing and reasoning, as routes to knowledge -- from the early Greeks up to Russell and Bergson (which Dooyeweerd expands. (The difference is mirrored in the two main types of artificial intelligence technology, of neural nets and of explicit representation.) The analytic aspect allows the individual to stand over against the world (Gegenstand), in a way that is fundamental to theoretical thought, but which is not found in psychic recognition and memory.

So, leaving the physical to travel through organic to analytic aspects there is an increasing possibility of entities that are 'independent' of the world in various ways, of different notions of 'self'. First, for their very existence, coming-into-being, and self-maintenance (organic), then for the type of interaction they have with the world, then for a conceptual standing over against the world.

The formative aspect makes formative action and shaping possible, which Dooyeweerd distinguishes from the instinctive building of, for example, spider webs, in animals [NC,II, 202]. The forming and of shaping might be of materials, plants, concepts, and indeed things of later aspects. With formative functioning, the world can be shaped, structured, developed, and constructed. Technique and technology are now possible, as are purposes, goals and means. Deliberate, creative achievement of things is made possible. After analytic functioning of breaking-apart, the formative aspect enables synthesis -- not just a reversal of analysis but as something more creative, which can produce something that was not there before. Combined with analytic functioning, designing and planning are possible. It is the formative aspect that enables us to impact the world by design. Note: Not all fulfilment of this possibility is good; much today is evil -- but the way it is evil or good is understood, not by reference to this aspect but to other aspects, as discussed in Schuurman [1980].

The lingual aspect makes signification (generation of symbols that bear meanings) possible -- but what good is signification? There are two main differences from the formative aspect. In building a wall, for example, meaning is "inscribed" into the wall, such as of property or of the skill of the builder, but this meaning is implicit and fuzzy, whereas the meaning signified in a word is much more precise and is explicit. Second, in formative functioning, especially when forming ideas, the meaning might be internal, and would be lost on death of the formative subject, but in lingual signification, the signification is always externalized, so that it can be picked up later or by other lingual subjects. This makes externalized memory aids and records possible, and the transmission of information to other lingual subjects, but it is taken further by the social aspect.

Laws of the social aspect make "we" possible -- agreement and cooperation (or their opposites). Role-based relationships become important, and institutions and organisations become more than assemblages of individuals, and metaphorically (organic analogy) may be said to take on a life of their own, have boundaries and grow, be healthy or die -- yet it must be remembered that these are metaphors. The social differs from the mere inter-individual information-transmission that is meaningful from the perspective of the lingual aspect. With the social aspect, human activity can be magnified -- for good or ill.

Laws of the economic aspect make resource frugality possible and normative. With only social functioning, people might exchange goods but there is no idea of value nor any imperative towards conservation. Conservation is obviously important when resources are scarce but Dooyeweerd argued it is the fundamental norm of the economic aspect, as carefulness. With this aspect, human impact on the world need not be destructive of the world (including other humans, especially those unknown or overlooked). The notion of stakeholder becomes meaningful and treating humans and non-humans thus becomes possible. The economy provides a structure in society.

Dooyeweerd holds that the meaning-kernel of the aesthetic aspect is harmony -- but why is it good? Dooyeweerd believed (rather than argued) that there is a deep harmony among aspects, such that none works inherently against others. This is not automatically achieved nor determinatively enforced, but rather we have a hand in bringing it about, or choosing not to. Seerveld and others have critiqued Dooyeweerd's view, and suggested such things as enjoyment or allusivity are possible because of the aesthetic aspect, and I am inclined to agree. Holism become possible, a harmony with the world that should govern the separating of entities from world that began with the organic aspect -- a holistic harmony of self-maintenance, interaction, thought, action, and so on -- such that the result is more and gloriously better than had there been no separating in the first place.

The juridical aspect makes due and appropriateness not only meaningful but possible and good. To each their own due. It makes responsibility and justice a norm and rights meaningful, governs reward and punishment ("eye for an eye" not "your life for my eye"), and helps to ensure that in human relationships each does right by others and not just themselves. But it can sometimes be difficult to ascertain what is due to any person, group or entity; each aspect implies a different kind of due (examples: lingual honesty, social friendliness). What is right and appropriate for one must be right for all similar entities [NC,II, 127], which makes a notion of law possible that pertains for all.

The ethical aspect goes beyond due and rights, to self-giving love. Why is this good? With mere juridical functioning, each misdeed evokes an equal punishment as retribution, giving a zero sum, whereas the ethical aspect can bring extra good into the world that was not there before, and can temper justice with mercy. The ethical aspect makes attitude (self-giving generosity, openness and sacrifice v. self-serving meanness, competitiveness, self-protection) important -- both within individuals and pervading society. It is the ethical aspect that enables trust in society.

The pistic / faith aspect offers the possibility of commitment to something higher, something ultimate -- motivation, courage and perseverance. The ethical aspect seems to have a paradox, in which, by tending to give way to the other, it does not enforce its norm, and hence cannot motivate. The pistic aspect motivates, and in harmony with the ethical aspect will motivate to self-giving and the bringing of extra good. In harmony with all aspects, the result is what the Hebrew language calls shalom and the Arabic, salaam.

The picture I have painted is with broad brush-strokes, impressionistic rather than detailed, but I trust that readers can take it forward. In doing this I have deliberately refrained from referring to any Creator or Divine Plan. This is not because I reject the idea of Creator (quite the opposite!) but rather because I believe that the fabric of Creation (or temporal Reality) should be able to speak to us about the good that the aspects offer, even if never with absolute clarity because of the oceanic nature of the meaningfulness that enables all.

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This page, "", is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments are very welcome.

Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 12 April 2018. Last updated: 20 April 2018 See Also; dealt with ===.