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Edgar Arthur Singer

Mitroff and Linstone [1993], in their exposition of the thought of the the late C. West Churchman, pointed out that what inspired Churchman was Edgar Arthur Singer. What particularly interests us here is that Singer, like Dooyeweerd, argued for irreducibility of aspects of life, but did it in a different way. Singer, recommended for a post at University of Pennsylvania by William James, was concerned that all sciences presuppose each other and cannot be separated. Similarly Dooyeweerd held that all aspects, on which sciences are centred, are interwoven with each other.

What follows is a simplified summary of M+L's presentation of Singer's thought the purpose of which is to show in outline some ways in which Singer's and Dooyeweerd's thought are similar; it is to be expanded and deepened later.


Every human activity is multi-aspectual

The example given [M+L, p.93] is of the apparently simple act of measuring the distance between two points - which turns out to involve almost every science, such as psychology (because seeing the points and measuring tape), physics (is the tape taut?), social (cooperation between two observers if the points are far apart), management (of the act of measuring). "Singer showed that every one of the sciences and professions known to humankind was involved in the act of measuring the distances between A and B."

Dooyeweerd believed that distinct sciences are centred on, arise from, distinct aspects, and the examples of the real complexity of measuring distance between A and B given in M+L:93-5 involve activity in the following aspects (those in brackets are mentioned elsewhere in M+L or may be imagined):

Aspect Activity in measuring
Quantitative Counting
Spatial Distance between A, B
Physical (Measuring tape is taut)
Biotic (The measurers must breathe; M+L:56)
Sensitive Seeing marks, ruler; feeling (un)well.
Analytical (Distinguishing what to measure)
Formative Breaking up a long distance, history of boundary disputes (p.94)
Lingual (Communication between measurers; symbols on tape)
Social Cooperation in complex measuring.
Economic Management of complex measuring project (p.94)
Juridical Political reasons for measuring carefully, e.g. redistricting (p.94)

All sciences / aspects important

M+L [p.95] continue that "Singer believed that there were no fundamental sciences to which all others could be reduced." In similar vein, Dooyeweerd held that the aspects are irreducible to each other and that all are important, so that none may be made an absolute foundation for any of the others. To Singer all sciences were equally fundamental; to Dooyeweerd all aspects are of equal importance.


This involvement of all sciences and that all sciences are equally important comes from their interconnectedness or intertwinement. According to M+L [p.171], Singer and Churchman believed:

Dooyeweerd held, likewise, that every aspect is intertwined with every other, and he identified two types of inter-aspect relationships: analogy and dependency. And that the aspects cannot be separated in practice even though we may distinguish them. We can see the above three beliefs in Dooyeweerdian terms (forgive me if I have misunderstood what S+C were meaning; I do not have their source document to hand):


But I can see at least the following differences between Singer's and Dooyeweerd's thought.

Science and everyday living

Whereas Singer thought about the sciences, models and defined 'problems', Dooyeweerd started from, and gave priority to, everyday thought and living. To Dooyeweerd, the aspects are first and foremost those of everyday life, of pre-theoretical, na´ve experience, and only secondarily to be seen as yielding the sciences. This does not contradict Singer's view but rather is wider than it and may be used to undergird as we have indicated above.

To Dooyeweerd, both science and analysis (which includes modelling and problem identification) are to be seen, like all other human activity, as multi-aspectual, but their specific nature as science and analysis (when compared with all other activities) is accounted for by acknowledging that in them the analytic aspect is of primary importance. (The difference between science and analysis is that the former involves study of an aspect, the law-side of creation, and a Gegenstand relationship, while the latter involves making distinctions in the entity-side and a subject-object relationship.)

The notion and suite of aspects

Dooyeweerd's notion of aspects is worked out with much more rigour and in much more detail than is Singer's. See the summary of Dooyeweerd's theory of modal aspects, a discussion of aspectuality as such and also an explanation of some issues with the various aspects. Moreover, while M+L suggest (from SInger and Churchman) there are three perspectives (technical, organizational and personal) Dooyeweerd suggests there are fifteen aspects, each of which provides a distinct meaningful perspective.

The richness of Dooyeweerd's treatment arises, arguably, because he presupposed creation rather than that the cosmos 'just is', which had several philosophical implications including the philosophical freedom to conceive of diversity that coheres. Singer's thought, on the other hand, seems to have been grounded in the nature-freedom ground motive.


Mitroff I, Linstone H, (1993), "The unbounded mind: breaking the chains of traditional business thinking", OUP, New York.
Churchman DW (1971) The Design of Inquiring Systems New York: Basic Books.
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) 2005 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 16 April 2005 Last updated: