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Understanding Everyday Experience

Dooyeweerd - perhaps the best philosopher of everyday life we have so far?

Dooyeweerd argued that neither science nor philosophy have been fully appropriate to understanding everyday life and experience. Science is fundamentally inappropriate because it inherently focuses on a single aspect; philosophy could be appropriate but in fact has seldom been so, because of deep presuppositions that have driven it forward throughout its history since the ancient Greeks. He thus sought to discern what philosophy would, could or should be like if it were to be appropriate to helping us analyse everyday experience.

To do this, he first made a longitudinal transcendental critique of the theoretical attitude of thought, which he argued is the antithesis of a pre-theoretical or everyday attitude, demonstrating that the presuppositions that either enable or hinder philosophy in viewing everyday experience are religious in nature. Dooyeweerd himself explicitly chose a religious starting point that is different from those that have informed Western philosophy, namely those of ancient Greece, the mediaeval scholastics, and the humanist modern era; his starting point was the Biblical notion of creation, fall and redemption. As Basden (2008) explains, this starting point freed him to take seriously the diversity and coherence we experience in the everyday attitude, and that meaning is more fundamental than being.


Dooyeweerd's Approach to Everyday Experience

Why should we think that Dooyeweerd's thought might help us in considering everyday experience? He also used the terms like 'na´ve' and 'pre-theoretical' instead (and especially 'na´ve', to which he assigned no negative connotations),

We should clarify: he talked about everyday experience and the everyday (na´ve, pre-theoretical) attitude of thinking - that is, being and doing on the one hand and thinking on the other. We sometimes conflate them here; what is said about everyday experience will usually apply to everyday attitude of thought, and what is said about everyday attitude of thought will usually apply to everyday experience.

Respect for the Everyday

Many modern thinkers have had respect for everyday experience and the everyday attitude of thought. But Dooyeweerd was different. Whereas most of those presupposed the theoretical attitude of thinking as a means to understand everyday life, Dooyeweerd worked in the reverse direction: he presupposed everyday life as a means to understand the theoretical attitude. For example, while Schutz, presupposed a 'disinterested observer' (see Habermas' [1986:123]: being 'disinterested' and also being an 'observer' both presuppose a theoretical attitude), the first words of volume 1 of his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought: "If I consider reality as it is given in the na´ve pre-theoretical experience, ..." His whole approach is based on respect for the everyday or pre-theoretical attitude of thought.

Throughout his work, he kept on returning to everyday experience, with its diversity and its coherence, as an integral part of his argument. For example, in [NC,III:28] Dooyeweerd argued:

"To all of these speculative misunderstandings [made by philosophers,] na´ve experience implicitly takes exception by persisting in its pre-theoretical conception of things, events and social relationships [and therefore the speculations must be questioned]."

To him, pre-theoretical experience or attitude was not so much an empirical source of individual 'facts', but rather something he could share with readers of a variety of cultural backgrounds that exhibits distinct, broad areas of meaning.

But Dooyeweerd was no mystic or romantic who treated everyday experience as completely beyond theoretical analysis (except, see below). Instead, having started from the pre-theoretical attitude of thought in order to identify the conditions necessary to the theoretical attitude, he then could use that knowledge to give an account of pre-theoretical experience iself - including its tendency to (as Habermas put it) "dissolve ... as we take it up piece by piece".

Characteristics of Everyday Life and Attitude

A Framework for Understanding Everyday Life and Pre-theoretical Thought

(This is detailed; a summary is offered below.)

Once Dooyeweerd had established theoretical thought within the context of pre-theoretical thought and explored its nature and limitations, especially with his transcendental critique, he was then in a position to employ the analytical tools offered by theoretical thought to understand pre-theoretical, everyday experience. Here is a summary of what I believe his understanding to have been as follows. A key characteristic of it is that it takes everyday life (pre-theoretical experience) as its starting-point, first establishing the validity of the tool (theoretical thought) with which everyday life may be studied.

This might constitute a Dooyeweerdian theory of everyday life that, if suitably developed, can engage closely yet critically with extant discourses thereon.

Summary understanding of everyday experience

The above may be a little complex; here is a summary, written some years earlier:

In everyday functioning, we function in all the aspects, usually without much awareness of them. See Multi-aspectual Functioning. In everyday knowing and everyday thinking we employ all ways of knowing, without abstraction. See these links for more details. Everyday experience is intimately connected with intuition.

This means that, though we cannot theorize scientifically about everyday life, we can understand if philosophically as an integration of the aspects of our experience. In the everyday, all aspects play their proper place to a greater or lesser extent. This is why, for example, it has an important social aspect and a religious (pistic) aspect, as well as a sensory aspect. But it also means that everyday living is not devoid of analytical activity (which is akin to theoretical thinking), though this takes the form of an analytical subject-object relationship rather than a theoretical Gegenstand-relation.

This provides a useful foundation for analysing the richness of everyday life, everyday engaged attitudes and tacit knowledge; see Multi-aspectual Knowledge Elicitation method.

Comparison with Other Thought

Comparison with Extant Treatments of Lifeworld

The life-world (sic.), introduced by Husserl, is the shared background understanding on which life, including science, depends. Habermas and others developed these ideas of lifeworld. More about how Dooyeweerd's philosophy might link with the notion of lifeworld may be found in our detailed comparison between Habermas and Dooyeweerd on this issue.

Phenomenonology sees the lifeworld as the grounds for intersubjectivity. As I understand it, the argument is as follows: if we cannot access the noumenal world, and all we have is individual phenomenal beliefs, then how can we share meaning? Answer: we share a social lifeworld and this, somehow, ensures we share meaning; so intersubjectivity is made possible. If the (notion of) everyday lifeworld is to carry this philosophical burden, then this constrains phenomenonology to see the lifeworld in a certain manner. But, to Dooyeweerd, the lifeworld need not carry this burden, because intersubjectivity has a different ground, in the transending Meaning of the framework that is the modal aspects and law-side. It is only in the positivizing of that Meaning in which individual subjects might differ, and in our theoretical abstraction of it, but our intuitive grasp of the Meaning shared understanding and meaning is likely rather than unlikely. See also below.

Habermas. Habermas' notion of lifeworld as distinct from yet colonized by system bears some resemblance to Dooyeweerd's notion of everyday life. Though Habermas refers to lifeworld at length, he does not examine its characteristics so clearly and precisely as did Dooyeweerd. Habermas was more concerned with system than lifeworld, and to reinterpret Weber's view of it. He offered the insight that the modern lifeworld differs from the pre-modern (myth-oriented) not in being replaced by system but by encompassing a communicative rationality which enables people to challenge validity claims. This insight may be something that Dooyeweerd missed. Certainly, Dooyeweerd does not seem to have discussed Habermas at all. See our comparison between Dooyeweerd's and Habermas' notions of everyday lifeworld, and our more general discussions of the relation between their thought. See also below.
Extant Lifeworld Dooyeweerd
Lifeworld ('natural') attitude (S+L) Pre-theoretical attitude, engaging with world of which we are part and accepting all aspects
'Living through' lifeworld (Merleau-Ponty) Our normal functioning in all aspects
Lifeworld experience Functioning in all aspects constitutes concrete experience
Lifeworld as stock of experiences Multi-aspectual ways of knowing all aspects of life
Lifeworld as collective mental life (Husserl), mediated via others (Straus) To human beings, 'Multi-aspectual' inescapably involves social and analytical aspects
Lifeworld as foundation of science (Husserl), which cannot function without the words and concepts scientists use having their meaning based in everyday life.
The doing of science is multi-aspectual functioning, in which the analytic aspect is elevated.
More generally (Schutz, Berger & Luckmann) as the 'paramount reality' in relation to which all other 'realities' ("finite provinces of meaning") stand such as theorizing, playing, religious ecstasy, watching theatre, which are "a turning away of attention from the reality of everyday life" [B&L p.39]. All human functioning is multi-aspectual, but sometimes we elevate one aspect of this functioning to such a degree that we focus our attention and awareness within that aspect.
Lifeworld as totality All the aspects cohere and resist being pulled apart.
Lifeworld as necessary foundation for intersubjectivity (phenomenology) No: Intersubjectivity enabled by us all being and occurring within the same law-meaning framework, whose meaning we grasp with intuition
Lifeworld constituted by social consensus, via critique of validity claims (Habermas) No: Both lifeworld, social consensus and critique are founded in aspects and affect each other
Lifeworld as necessary foundation for critique (Habermas) No: Critique presupposes meaning; each aspect a distinct type of rationality
'Thinking about' lifeworld Thinking is functioning in analytic aspect to make differentiations about lifeworld, but in relationship with all other aspects
Lifeworld 'dissolving as we take it up piece by piece' (Habermas) Beginning to sever inter-aspect relationships as we focus and isolate the 'pieces' so they lose their meaning and multi-aspectual nature.
Lifeworld as horizon Two sides give two horizons: Law-side gives meaning-horizon, entity-side gives plastic horizon.
Lifeworld as given Law side: Aspects pertain
Entity side: The actual world of which we are part
Lifeworld as limits Law side: Aspectual normativity that pertains,
Entity side: Concrete limitations imposed by entity side
Lifeworld meaning Law side: Aspects are spheres of meaning
Entity side: concrete meanings attributed by us, enabled by that framework of law-side meaning.
Lifeworld normativity Law side: Aspects are spheres of law that pertain universally and enable
Entity side: Concrete norms selected by us, formed, written, agreed, codified
Diversity of lifeworld (Berger & Luckmann; see below * ) Diversity of law-side lifeworld that is the irreducibly distinct aspects, especially of cosmic time.
Pre-modern life Elevating the Grace pole of the Nature-Grace ground-motive, with absolutization of pistic aspect
Modern life without meaning Elevating either pole of the Nature-Freedom ground-motive, with absolutization of analytical and formative aspects
Meaningful modernity Opening up of aspects by humanity employing e.g. science, technology.
Loss of meaning in modernity Closing down of aspects around the formative aspect
System (Habermas) Closing down an aspect around the formative aspect: tending to absolutize one aspect of life (esp. economic, political) along with the formative aspect, and thereby sever inter-aspect relations
Agency of lifeworld (Rogers) The rest of world functions in same aspects as we do.

* The diversity of the lifeworld seems to have been very seldom discussed, and hardly even acknowledged, so that until recently I thought that it was unique to Dooyeweerd. But Berger and Luckmann [p.40ff] do acknowledge and discuss it, though indirectly via their discussion of what they call 'cosmic time'. They emphasise that "the temporal structure of everyday life is exceedingly complex", speak of "levels of temporality", and give examples of what seem very like Dooyeweerdian aspects of time.

See Also


Berger P, Luckmann T (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Penguin, 1991.

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: 22 April 2005. Last updated: 25 April 2005 phenomenonology. 10 May 2005 link to abstraction. 2 March 2006 comparison with extant lifeworld. 21 February 2008 link to knowing#intuition r.t. thinking. 30 July 2008 B+L diversity, Hsl science, B&L provinces of meaning. 2 February 2010 new title and intro. 12 October 2010 contents. 15 February 2018 corrected misunderstanding of lifeworld; link to Reid; new .end, .nav; Reid, Bourdieu, deCerteau. 2 March 2018 bullets of framework for understanding everyday. 25 September 2021 see.also, canonical.