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Comparing Dooyeweerd's Approach with Others

For list of comparisons with other thinkers click here.

If Dooyeweerd's framework applies to (almost) all our temporal experience, and if it is a (reasonably) accurate account of that experience, then we would expect that what other thinkers find out (or discover, discern, construct, etc.) would bear some resemblance to some part of Dooyeweerd's thought.

So it is fruitful to compare them. In both directions. First, doing so can help refine Dooyeweerd's ideas and set them in context of others. Second, it can also help refine and stimulate the ideas of others. Indeed, Dooyeweerd put a lot of effort into engaging with other thinkers, and acknowledged his respect for, and debt to, many thinkers he had studied of the past 2,500 years.

To compare Dooyeweerd with another thinker, we must (a) explore the differences (b) explore the similarities. Exploring differences is relatively easy, though it does take effort to understand. In Dooyeweerd's terms, we function mainly in the analytical aspect of making distinctions. But the real fruitfulness comes when we explore similarities, which involves functioning in a later aspect, the aesthetic. Doing this is more difficult for a number of reasons.

If we don't take these difficulties seriously, then we end up only seeing differences, and sometimes ones that don't really exist.

In making comparisons, it can be useful to recognise there are four tiers of ideas in Dooyeweerd's thinking, from fundamental (tier 1) through context-specific (tier 3) and quoted passages (tier 4).

Traditional Scientific Thinking and Dooyeweerd

Traditional Science Dooyeweerd
Components explain entities Entities explain components
Behaviour of entity is determined by behaviour of components Behaviour of components is determined by meaningful functioning of entity
Properties of entity 'emerges' as aggregation of properties of components Entities and components have no 'properties'; rather they function according to aspectual laws
Hence desire to break down to smallest components - sub-atomics and mathematics Hence desire to understand multi-aspectual functioning of entities
Therefore focus of research is on components, their structure and activity, and normally is of a uni-aspectual nature Therefore focus of research is on functioning of wholes and their relationships, and normally is of a multi-aspectual nature
Tendency toward reductionism Tendency toward holism
Interdisciplinarity is not crucial, and hence not encouraged Interdisciplinarity is crucial, and encouraged

Attitudes to Knowledge, Science and Disciplines

Modern (Kantian etc.) views Dooyeweerd's view
Pre-theoretic (everyday) view is inherently misleading: Distrust it. True reality is hidden from us. Pre-theoretic (everyday) view can be inherently reliable guide; Trust it, as long as not distorted.
Theoretic knowledge is higher, everyday knowledge is inferior, because it is less detailed and less precise. Pre-theoretic knowledge is higher, because it is richer and multi-aspectual; theoretic knowledge, being an isolation, is generally inferior.
Intellect is the only key to knowledge Intuition is a good guide (unless distorted)
Reality is different from what we perceive Reality is similar to what we perceive
There is only one Epistemology Each aspect has its own Epistemology
We need specialists ('high priests' of science) We need holistic wisdom
We accord single-discipline specialists high regard We give multi-discipline wise people high regard
Understanding is a thing of the head Understanding is a thing of the heart

Distortions of Everyday Thinking

In Dooyeweerd's framework, functioning, thinking and views can be distorted by two factors: idolatry and pride. Idolatry is when we elevate one aspect to the point of absolutizing it. Pride is when we so function within the aspects that we put ourselves first and ignore others. It is these distortions that make everyday thinking deficient, not everyday thinking itself. The same can be said of science: if it is free of both these distortions then it is has value and validity, though these are inherently lesser than of everyday thinking.

In particular, when we 'knowledgeable' people make a proposal and meet with "But it doesn't feel right" we are tempted to think, if not actually say, "You untutored people don't understand properly." This is a denigrating of everyday thinking, and often the 'feel right' is the sub-rational influence of the various aspects that we have ignored. So the 'feel right' should be respected and examined, and should not result in a response that causes us to reject the person him/herself.

Various comparisons

Here are a couple of small examples of comparison. For others, the growing collection of comparisons with other thinking of today, see the index page.

Karl Popper's Worlds

Karl Popper postulated three 'worlds':
  • World 1: the world of physical objects and processes
  • World 2: the world of our psychological states,
  • World 3, the world of abstracts products of the mind that are not reducible to our psychology.
Only through world 2 can world 3 objects influence world 1.
Popper's three worlds can be seen as a tiny subset of Dooyeweerd's fifteen aspects. Especially, because Dooyeweerd proposes fifteen aspects, he has a much richer concept of Popper's world 3. The denizens of a Popperian world are entities qualified by one of Dooyeweerd's aspects. World 1 objects would be qualified by the physical and biotic aspects. World 2 objects would be qualified by the sensitive aspect, though Dooyeweerd would perhaps say that we should think of whole animals rather than psychological states. World 3 objects would be qualified by any aspect from the analytical onwards, because all later aspects rely on the analytical for their functioning.

Popper's conjecture that world 3 objects can influence world 1 only via world 2 is explained by Dooyeweerd in terms of aspectual dependency: the (laws of the) analytical aspect depend on (those of) the sensitive aspect, which depend on the physical and so have an effect there.

Gabriel Marcel and 'Being'

Colin Llanfear wrote, in May 2000:

"I have been reading a small amount on Gabriel Marcel and have found that he has certain similarities with Dooyeweerd. ... I haven't read a great deal of primary works but secondary sources emphasis his Problem Mystery concepts. Marcel's emphasis on 'Being' (could we replace with 'Heart') is unknowable, a 'Mystery.' 'Being' cannot be known understood if there is an attempt to understand Being then Being is brought down to the level of a problem and treated as 'object' in relation to 'Subject' as in Descartes' mind body problem. For Marcel "Being" is the unity of all of our existential experiences. Would this be similar to Dooyeweerd's idea of Heart and Modal Aspects?"

to which Harry Van Dyke offered the following useful comment by S. U. Zuidema, in COMMUNICATION AND CONFRONTATION (Toronto; Wedge, 1972), 278f:

"No matter how theo-centric Marcel's TOI ABSOLU may occur to himself, in reality it serves as a warning, precisely because the personal pronoun of the second person is used here. It is rather too humanistic. . . . . . . The invocation of God stands under the discipline of God's Word, just as the communication with God does not find its origin and ground in our prayer, but in God's revelation."

But he suggested that Zuidema was perhaps too concerned to emphasise differences, to 'go for the jugular'. It seems to me that what Marcel discerned has some real connections to Dooyeweerd's idea of the human heart. More exploration of both similarities and differences is needed.

This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2010 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Created: 31 January 1999. Last updated: 8 May 2000 rearranged tables and added re Popper. 14 May 2000 Added intro note on comparing, and some on Marcel. 10 July 2000 link to John Searle. 17 September 2002 moved this to ext/, corrected table, added notes and link to tiers, replaced link to Searle with one to index to the collection. 17 June 2010 .nav, .end, rid unet. 27 May 2013 spelling (SinaJ, thanks).