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Meaningful functioning, especially of human beings, is at the centre of Dooyeweerd's framework of thought.

This page, which is being extended all the time, discusses:

Some Basic Understanding of Aspectual Functioning

Functioning of Entities

Entities can function as subject or function as object; as subject to the laws of the aspects or as objects in the functioning of some other entity functioning as subject. Dooyeweerd's view of the subject-object relationship is at the centre of this. Hart (1984) has a good discussion of all this. Subject-functioning is tied up with response, responsiveness and responsibility, and the functioning subject is the 'mover' of things.

Physical things function as subject in the physical and earlier aspects, plants function as subject in the biotic and earlier aspects, animals function as subject in the sensitive and earlier aspects (though it might be that some higher animals function as subject in the analytical aspect). But human beings can function as subject in all aspects. Some laws are determinative and cannot be broken and yet the functioning subject responds to them; others are normative and may be broken, or at least there can be latitude in the functioning subject's response to them.

Functioning must not be misunderstood as only active behaviour.

Dooyeweerd allows for subject-subject relationships, in which two or more things function as subject together in an aspect. It may be that all interaction in any aspect is subject-subject (e.g. physical equal-and-opposite-force, or lingual conversation). Because subjectness is defined by aspect and not by entity, Dooyeweerd's view also allows for subject-subject interaction not just of humans but also of other things. This probably links to Margaret Gilbert's Plural Subject Theory, but without its constraint that wills must be pooled, nor to humans.

So much for the natural types of entities, but what about what Karl Popper might have called World 3 entities - things that are conceptual, abstract, non-physical in their essense? From a Dooyeweerdian perspective there seem to be two types: constructed and abstracted.

First, manufactured or constructed entities, such as a house, a symphony, an utterance, a law of the land, a creed? Here we focus on their functioning as objects rather than subjects. As subjects they only function usually in physical ways - e.g. the house, of itself, as 'mover', merely exerts physical pressure on the ground, the symphony, of itself, as 'mover', is only a piece of paper or a CD and as such merely exerts physical forces, and so on. But of course their real meaning is more than this; it lies in their object-functioning, not their subject functioning. The house object-functions socially, the symphony object-functions aesthetically, etc. (Notice how, in this way, we understand what a thing is, not in terms of a fundamental or 'ideal' entity type, but in terms of its meaning.)

Now, what about abstracted entities? Such as a thought, a concept, or perhaps even my thumb (though I'm not sure whether that is correctly in this group of entities). That is, things that are part of what happens around us, but are distinguished by us observers from all else around, and given a name. What about their functioning? This is tied up with certain types of enkapsis, and we will not discuss this here.

The observations about the functioning of constructed entities lead us to a very important perspective on human activity.

Human Functioning as Central

What this means is that, according to Dooyeweerd, it is human beings who are the 'movers' in society, culture, art, science, business, etc. and not organizations or abstract things like concepts, thoughts, cultures, classes, paradigms or movements. But the latter things affect the way in which individuals function, and so Dooyeweerd is not among those who claim 'there is no such thing as society'. The nature of this effect is not discussed here, but we will make a couple of clarifications and observations.

The implication of Dooyeweerd's stance is that:

That this is so came home to me recently when I started receiving junk emails, trying to sell me various things. At the bottom of some of them was the apparently polite statement that went something like this: "If you do not wish to receive further messages from us, please reply to this email address, telling us so." Such statements are, I understand, required by law. I did reply with that request. But my reply was returned, saying "There is no such email address registered." And I kept getting junk email, but each time from a different email address. What had happened, it seems, is that the seller registered an email address, sent out their junk, and them immediately de-registered it. What the law covered was the operation of a registered organizational entity (the email sender, with address). What I want is to stop certain individuals sending me junk email, whatever temporary entity then register. The effective solution comes about only when we recognise that it is human beings that are the responsible entities, rather than organizational entities.

Target Aspects of Human Functioning

In Dooyeweerd's theory, whatever human beings do, they function in every aspect and, in doing so, their functioning targets an aspect, as depicted in Figure xxx.

[Figure to be supplied]

For example, when we count things we are functioning in the quantitative aspect, but we might count pebbles (physical aspect), plants (biotic aspect), psychoses (psychical aspect), parameters (analytical aspect), paragraphs (lingual aspect), and so on. Likewise, when we utter a word, we are functioning in the lingual aspect, but the word might be about pebbles, plants, psychoses, and so on. In both cases, there are aspect(s) in which we function, and aspects that our functioning targets.

Those who research sociology, for example, function in the analytical aspect (and others), targeting the social aspect (and often others).

What this means is that to understand any human situation or activity we must consider two sets of aspects: those of the functioning and those of the target.

(Note: "Target aspect" is not a term Dooyeweerd used. Rather he seemed to just take it for granted. But it proves a very useful concept when analysing and understanding situations.)

The Multi-Aspectual Nature of Real Life Functioning


When undertaking any activity we are usually functioning in most, and often all, aspects. For instance, when giving a talk (lecture to my students or sermon in church) I am functioning:


But I am just *doing* all this, not often thinking for instance "Now I must plan what joke to insert in the next topic". It is rather like what the philosopher Michael Polanyi called The Tacit Dimension (1967), in which we make use of tools or knowledge without realising it; they become 'part' of us in a very real way. The knowledge about how I am doing each piece of functioning has been 'compiled' (using a computing metaphor) into my mind and I function without awareness of the details of what I am doing.

Everyday Life

See also separate page on Understanding Everyday Experience.

That is everyday functioning, and it is multi-aspectual in nature. Dooyeweerd maintained that everyday functioning is not to be seen as a deficient form, inferior to theory-informed functioning, because in everyday functioning the full meaning of all aspects is more likely to be manifest, whereas in theory-informed functioning, some aspects are elevated and others suppressed. This means that philosophy should listen sensitively to everyday life, and be informed by it (though not accept it uncritically). Philosophers like Thomas Reid, Pierre Bourdieu and Michel de Certeau have recognised something of this. But Dooyeweerd understands it more deeply.

Everyday functioning more successful the more we integrate all the aspects in what we are doing and go with rather than against their laws.

I started a separate page to discuss multi-aspectual functioning. See also pages on Dooyeweerd's approach to everyday experience, everyday thinking, and discussion of abstraction.

Why and How This is Different: Functioning Rather than Behaviour

Dooyeweerd's view is at variance with the deeply held assumptions and commonly held views in subtle yet important ways.



Starts with entities

Starts with aspectual laws

and tries to account for activity and change by means of 'behaviour' that is seen as a property of these entities. Consider, for instance, the popular fashion in information systems for 'object-orientation'. and accounts for activity and change by means of response to given laws.
These behaviours or actions are secondary to the entities. This functioning is primary and gives the entity its meaning, and the laws enable it.
Ultimately, what behaviours or actions an entity might effect is arbitrary, in the sense of not being limited or defined. Functioning of an entity is guided by the aspects.

Some stuff moved to thinking.html

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, in the style of classic HTML.

Created: ?. Last modified: 25 January 1999 corrected the subtitle of Clouser's book, added reference to Argyris. 17 February 1999 Added introductory section and on difference. 9 October 1999 Added sections on entities and centrality of human functioning; reordered sections. 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 27 April 2001 moved section on three types of thinking to thinking.html, new ending. 2 August 2002 link to maf.html. 3 March 2003 .nav. 14 November 2003 labels: everyday, lifeworld; more on their dignity. 14 August 2004 contact. 26 January 2005 headings for multi-aspectual, tacit, everyday lifeworld. 22 April 2005 link to everyday. 10 May 2005 more links to other everyday stuff. 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .nav. 9 June 2016 subject.subject, Gilbert plural subject. 15 February 2018 replaced lifeworld with Reid, Bourdieu and de Certeau; link to everyday.html; new .end, .nav. 25 September 2021 canonical. 8 August 2022 three kinds of functioning, new .end, .nav, bgcolor, canon. 3 October 2023 Targets.