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Dooyeweerd's theory of entities involves aspectual structures enkaptically bound within, or to compose, a meaningful whole. The aspectual structures each refer to the whole, but seen from the point of view of a different aspect in which the whole is meaningful. However, that is only one type of enkapsis. Dooyeweerd defined, or rather circumscribed, enkapsis as:

"enkapsis takes place, when one structure of individuality [i.e. an entity] restrictively binds a second structure ... without destroying the peculiar character of the latter." [NC, III:125]

(The second structure, he says, is "of a different radical- or geno-type", by which he means that they are qualified or led by a different aspect.)

He gave as an example Praxiteles' sculpture of Hermes and Dionysus, in which the work of art (aesthetic aspect) is enkaptically bound to the marble (physical) and the work of creation (formative). He also said, especially in relation to this example [ibid.], "In such an enkaptic union there ought not to be any dualism observable between the natural and the aesthetically qualified structures."

Dooyeweerd identified at least five different types of enkapsis:

The enkaptic relationship is a necessary one (note Dooyeweerd's word "restrictively binds" above). To say that two things are enkaptically related is to say that one of the things needs the other, at least for its full meaning. For example, while marble can exist meaningfully without being part of a sculpture, the sculpture could not exist without the marble (or some other equivalent medium). In some enkaptic relationships both entities need the other. For example, a snail without a shell would not last very long as a snail, and a shell removed from a snail would not serve its intended function (though it might come to serve another object function such as decoration for a human being): each needs the other in terms of fulfilling the meaning of the other.

In devising this Theory of Enkaptic Interlacements (NC Vol III Part III, Dooyeweerd was motivated by his curiosity about how the different types of entities could relate and form systems - not only those cited above but also, for example, atoms and molecules, human being and their lung. (The latter is included to show that Dooyeweerd also recognised a part-whole relationship which is different from the enkaptic relationships.) The beauty of the concept of enkapsis is that:

In this way it has the advantage over systems theory, for which there is only a part-whole relationship involving system and sub-system. Systems theory does try to be holistic, in recognising that any system has an environment with which it relates, but it treats the environment as a wider system of which it is sub-system. Systems theory, at least in its original forms, takes no notice of aspectual differences and has difficulty with multiple roles (multiple meanings). It suppresses the intuitively understood differences between the various relationships; for example those between a oboe-player and the orchestra, the orchestra and the town, the town and the state, the oboe-player and their oboe, and the oboe-player and their lung.

Types of Enkapsis

Note: Dooyeweerd explained the various types of enkapsis by making copious reference to the notions of qualifying and founding aspects (or functions). However, because of the problems with these notions, our explanation makes as little reference to them as necessary. Instead of saying "the qualifying aspect of X" we might say, for example, "an aspect in which X is meaningful".

Foundational Enkapsis

In foundational enkapsis, we are talking about necessary foundations. That is, one thing (sculpture) depends on another thing (marble) that has independent meaning of its own in a different (usually earlier) aspect. Dooyeweerd discusses at length Praxiteles' sculpture of Hermes and Dionysis. Another example he gives is an animal and the air, water etc. around it that it depends on chemically for life [NC III:648].

We can think of many others. For example, the web page you are looking at exhibits several levels of foundational enkapsis:

(These are similar to the levels of computer systems proposed by Allen Newell [1982].) A similar case can be made for any communication and its medium (written, drawn, spoken, TV, etc.) and as can be seen it is much more precise than the apparently simple duality of message and medium.

Dooyeweerd's notion of foundational enkapsis is more useful in such situations than a part-whole relation. While we might say that the marble is 'part of' the sculpture - and do so with a grimace because it does not feel intuitive - we simply cannot apply the part-whole relation to the above aspects of a computer screen. The results of doing so would be almost incomprehensible, and certainly misleading. This is not to say that the part-whole relationship has no part to play; one part-whole relation is mentioned in the above: between the red, green and blue light emissions and the shapes they form. But this part-whole relation strictly exists within a level, and not between levels. This is a result of Dooyeweerd's restriction of the part-whole relation to between things that are meaningful under the same aspect.

Note that foundational enkapsis is often (always?) one-way, and often reflects in concrete reality the dependency relationship that aspects have with each other.

Some examples of foundational enkapsis:

Subject-Object Enkapsis

In subject-object enkapsis, one thing (acting as subject in an aspect) is making use of another (acting as object in that aspect) that still has its own meaning independent of its being an object. One of Dooyeweerd's examples is snail and shell. The snail and its shell are two distinct entities in their own right, and it is misleading to think of them in terms of any part-whole. However, their 'own right' involves meaning: in which aspect each is meaningful without reference to any other entity. The meaning of the snail is sensitive while that of the shell is physical. However, under subject-object enkapsis the shell also has meaning in the sensitive aspect, as an object of the snail's subject-functioning in that aspect.

Notice the element of necessity there. Subject-object enkapsis is, like the subject-object relationship, based on Dooyeweerd's notion of the responding to aspects as subject and as object, but it additionally involves necessity. A human using a hammer is a subject-object relationship, but it is not subject-object enkapsis. Often the necessity of S-O enkapsis is in both directions. The snail could not exist (that is have Being in the sensitive aspect) for long without its shell, and the shell has no meaning in the sensitive aspect once it is removed from the snail and lying on the sea bed.

Symbiotic Enkapsis

Symbiotic enkapsis "shows typical forms of interlacement between individuality-structures both of the same and of a different radical type, but in any case of a different geno-typical character. ... the individual retains a truly independent sphere of existence outside of the collective unit within which it functions as part of the whole. [Dooyeweerd's Footnote: As a 'part of the whole' it is not an 'individual', but a member of the collective unit with a well-defined structural task.'" [NC III:648-9]

Dooyeweerd discusses many types of symbiotic enkapsis - including well-known examples of symbiosis such as clover and nitrogen-fixing bacteria, but also parasitic symbiosis such as gall wasp and oak, symbiotic relationships in collectives like corals, and in jellyfish and their polyps. He treats heathland and the individual trees growing in it to be related by symbiotic enkapsis. (Note: the relationship between trees and heathland is symbiotic, while that between heather and heathland is correlative.)

Is symbiotic enkapsis not the same as subject-object enkapsis? The difference is that in symbiotic enkapsis, both entities are functioning as subjects in the aspect in which the relationship is meaningful, not as subject and object (as was the case of snail and shell).

This is not to say that the two subject-entities must be qualified by the same aspect, but rather that the aspect in which the symbiosis has meaning is one in which both can function as subjects. Animals can enjoy symbiosis with plants in order that each may live (e.g. in the gut); notice that living, in this sense, is functioning in the biotic aspect. An interesting example of this type of enkapsis is one that might not be considered symbiosis by biologists: cattle and pasture [NC III:652]. Cows (as domesticated rather than wild) need pasture for food; pasture needs cows in the sense that without them it would be mere grassland and not pasture - notice the importance of Meaning here; the difference between pasture and grassland lies in its meaning rather than in our conventional notions of being.

(Not only is Dooyeweerd's notion of enkapsis richer than the part-whole relation of systems theory, but, as Dooyeweerd noted in [NC III:649], his view "does certainly not agree with the teleological Aristotelian scheme of form and matter.")

Correlative Enkapsis

Correlative enkapsis is not unlike symbiotic enkapsis, but it is different because it concerns the relationship between an entity or collective, and an Umwelt. An Umwelt is an environment, "an interwoven coherence of different individuality structures" [Kalsbeek, 1975]. An example is the relationship between a squirrel and its environment, another is that between a person and society as a whole.

While two concrete entities may exist in symbiosis, an entity and its environment have a rather different relationship. Like symbiotic enkapsis, however, it speaks of a two-way necessity. The squirrel could not be a proper squirrel without the environment of trees, nuts, etc., and the environment would not be an environment without the trees, squirrels, etc. Each needs the other to meaningfully exist. Correlative enkapsis is a "relation of mutual interdependence in a different respect" [NC III:648].

For example (the first two examples are Dooyeweerd's, the rest are mine and might not be correct!):

Dooyeweerd makes the point that the environment cannot exist without the animals and plants that inhabit it, and they cannot exist fully without the environment. Similarly, society cannot exist without people, and people cannot be fully human when isolated from society.

Do we find these ideas elsewhere? Latour, in Science in Action [1987:143] shows a Janus-pair of heads saying "Society is the cause that allowed controversies to get settled" and "A stable state of society will be the consequence of settling controversies." So we might add the pair:

Territorial Enkapsis

Territorial enkapsis is of two kinds: direct and indirect. The direct form is exemplified by a state and its orchestras or universities. These are not part of the state, and other types of enkapsis seem inappropriate here. National orchestras and universities are somewhat independent entities, and may function very well without the state, but the relationship to the state is more than an accident. Further, a modern state would be impoverished as a state if it had no universities, orchestras, etc. The indirect form is exemplified by the relationship between tax payers and schools: even if they have no children, their taxes support the schools by virtue of being in the territory of the state that takes taxes and supports the schools.

The word, territorial, indicates that the relationship stops when we move out of the territory over which the state has jurisdiction.

Territorial enkapsis is often mistaken for a part-whole relationship, but it is not because while it is the juridical aspect that makes the state meaningful, the meaning of other entities is found in other aspects (e.g. aesthetic for orchestras, lingual for educational establishments). It is also not the same as correlative enkapsis because the state is not an Umwelt, it is a concrete entity, qualified by the juridical aspect.


Dooyeweerd made clear [NC,III, 698] that his whole theory of enkapsis etc. was provisional, and intended to be expanded. It is in this light that I add the following comments.

1. Are there other types of enkaptic relationship? It seems odd that there should be a particular type of enkapsis brought into being by social structures of particular aspects - territorial enkapsis defined by spatial and juridical aspects. One wonders whether other aspects might give rise to yet other types of enkapsis not yet identified. Or whether one of the other types should be modified a little to include territorial enkapsis.

2. Is enkapsis at the law side or the fact/entity side? Strauss [PDD, p.467-8] beliefs only on the entity side, but Stafleu beliefs both.

"... this is the case both at the law side and the subject and object side. I consider the former a condition for the latter. A proton and an electron can only become interlaced into a neutral hydrogen atom because their characters determine that both have exactly the same but opposite electric charge. Interlacement should play an important part in the discussion of the emergence of new individuals belonging to new kinds with sometimes entirely new properties (Stafleu 2013). For example, molecules are primarily physically qualified, secondarily founded in the spatial aspect (because of their typical spatial structure), having the disposition to become typically interlaced in the character of living cells. [Stafleu, forthcoming 2014]

I find Stafleu's view convincing, at least for those examples. But does it work for e.g. hermit crab and discarded snail shell? or for tree in a forest? These have to be worked out.

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: 27 February 2003. Last updated: 17 March 2003 internal links from list of types to sections; added examples of correlative enkapsis, one from Latour. 21 September 2005 defn enkapsis; new .end. 19 August 2008 chomsky. 4 October 2013 Stafleu enk on both sides. 12 November 2018 Dooyeweerd's idea provisional, new .end,.nav. 11 July 2019 emphasising part-whole too.