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Most of Dooyeweerd in Four Paragraphs

Dooyeweerd started his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought by carefully checking (or defining) the tools by which he would proceed in his critique. From the context of everyday life experience, he began by asking "What is it to know, think, analyse and theorize?" and in particular, "What is the role of philosophy?" He saw theorizing as just one human mode of functioning, without any special claim to lead us to truth (hence all theory is fallible, in marked contrast to positivist assumptions). While science is theoretical thinking centred on single aspects of human life and existence, philosophy is theoretical thought that embraces all aspects. With such conceptual tools ready, he then analyzed 2,500 years of development in philosophical thinking, highlighting various problems, especially those of reductionism, antinomies and deep dichotomies. He argued that all theoretical thinking is based on deep presuppositions, some of which take the form of dualistic ground motives, that have driven theoretical thinking forward over the last 2,500 years: form-matter of the ancient Greeks, nature-grace of mediaeval Europe, and nature-freedom since the Renaissance. That was his critique of theoretical thought - Volume I.

However, not content with criticizing, with demolishing, he embarked on a bold and risky venture of constructing a different framework that does not exhibit the problems. To accomplish this, he started with the non-dualstic ground motive found in Hebrew thought, of creation-fall-redemption, treated in a philosophical rather than theological manner. This led him to posit that Meaning, rather than Existence, is the fundamental property, and that Law rather than Entity is the framework within which we live and exist. This, incidentally, enabled him to escape both philosophical realism and nominalism. From this, he developed his General Theory of Modal Spheres, the main topic of Volume II. This explains diversity without recourse to dualism and unity without recourse to monism. As an outworking of this, reflecting upon human history and experience, he proposed a suite of fifteen aspects that, today, are proving useful as a basis for understanding and tackling interdisciplinarity, issues related to sustainability and success, and complex normativity.

In Volume III, on the basis of his Theory of Modal Spheres, he developed a Theory of Entities, or Being, including non-living, living, sentient, conceptual, artificial, social and other types of entity. Being is defined in terms of Meaning rather than the other way round, and this helps us understand the multi-level nature of many entities, the relationships between entities, and the process of change of entities.

That constitutes the main arguments of his magnum opus, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Interspersed with those arguments, and in other writings, he developed some of these themes in more detail, working some of them out in the light of the historical context in which he lived (a Europe dominated by Nazism and Communism in the middle the twentieth century). These workings-out included a theory of social institutions, a theory of history and progress, a theory of theory, a putative theory of the corporation, and so on, each focused on a different modal aspect. However ultimately, he believed, it was not the philosophers who should work each aspect out, but those engaged in the special science centred on each aspect. Running through all his thinking was the notion that all life is inherently religious, that is, a relationship with our Divine Origin and Destiny, and he developed a theory of this relationship, which included a notion of human supra-temporality. He sought always to respect the thinking of others, understanding, applauding and criticizing them in their own terms, and to engage with them on a basis that allowed genuine dialogue. That basis was his view of presuppositions developed in Volume I - which are themselves ultimately religious in nature.

This 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.

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Created: 18 September 2002. Last updated: 21 November 2005 unets.