Immanence Philosophy / Standpoint
What Dooyeweerd called immanence philosophy (with or without a hyphen) refers to the kind of thinking that seeks the foundation for explaining everything in temporal reality within that reality itself. He often calls it the immanence standpoint, to emphasise that its adoption is not a rational 'truth' but a pre-rational, even religious, presupposition. But it is problematic, and Dooyeweerd took an alternative standpoint.
A standpoint is the third of three kinds of presupposition that underlie our thinking, world-views, ground-motives and standpoints. World-views or paradigms presuppose an aspect is meaningful and others are less so e.g. materialism (physical aspect). Ground-motives direct us where to look when we want to find an alternative world-view or paradigm. Four have governed Western thought for 2,500 years. See page of ground-motives. Standpoints run even deeper than ground-motives, though orthogonal to them.
What are Standpoints in Philosophy?
Similar philosophical themes crop up repeatedly in different eras [Levi 1975, 248]. Aquinas, Berkeley and Kierkegaard all saw philosophy as a means of dispelling the errors of Materialism or Rationalism. Pythagoras, Descartes and Russell grounded everything in quantitative concepts and deductive methods. Plato, Hobbes and Mill explored political and social issues. The Milesians, Bacon and Whitehead tried to make philosophy resemble more the generalizations of physical science rather than those of religion or sociology.
Ground-motives dictate the ways fundamental kinds of philosophical themes are addressed in different eras but do not change the kinds of themes themselves. What governs which philosophical themes are actually addressed is the deeper kind of presupposition that Dooyeweerd calls standpoints. From the way he uses the idea (never defined), it seems to be the collection of starting-points of a philosophy, combined with a presupposition about where to seek ultimate explanations.
Dooyeweerd's collection of starting-points is that pre-theoretical experience, diversity, coherence, and meaningfulness are all important as starting-points and Dooyeweerd treats these as depending on Something that transcends temporal reality. By contrast, what he calls the "immanence-standpoint" makes philosophic thought (or theoretical thought) its starting-point [NC,I, 14]; theoretical thought is presumed "autonomous", self-dependent, neither needing nor influenced by pre-theoretical thought.
Where Do We Seek Ultimate Explatations
We humans always want to understand stuff (entities, processes, meanings, norms, situations, etc.), and seek explanations and accounts. Explanations of these will, in the end, 'drill down' to seeking ultimate explanations and accounts. (Example: Why did the apple fall? Because the earth and the apple attract each other. Why do they attract each other? Because of gravity. Why is there gravity? Here we have drilled down to seeking an explanation that is nearly an ultimate one.)
Our (philosophical) standpoint directs where we seek for these ultimate explanations.
The immanence standpoint, developed in Greek philosophy, directs us to seek explanations from within temporal reality itself. Dooyeweerd's standpoint allows us to seek ultimate explanations outwith temporal reality - it opens us up to other kinds of explanations. (For example, the immanence standpoint directs us to seek an explanation for gravity from within physics or mathematics as such, without questioning what makes physics and mathematics possible. Dooyeweerd's standpoint allows us to ask what makes physics and mathematics possible - and biology, and psychology, and economics, and so on.)
The immanance standpoint has presupposed "It exists", "It occurs" or, post-Kant, "I encounter it", to be the most fundamental statements we can make about anything, but the standpoint hides the question "In what ways?" do things exist, occur or be encountered? This generates many interminable debates over the nature and identity of things, and leads to intractable problems in philosophy, some of which are outlined below. See also our pages on existence and entities.
Dooyeweerd's standpoint tackles "In what ways?" head-on, and answers it with aspects. Dooyeweerd's standpoint finds meaningfulness more fundamental than existence. This standpoint happens to resolve many of the problems outlined below. See also page on meaning.
Clouser's Account of Standpoints
The difference between the two standpoints is clearly outlined in Clouser's  The Myth of Religious Neutrality, who talks about the Divine and Creation, and the relationship between them. He defines the Divine, not in theological terms, but as that which is self-dependent and on which all else depends, and Creation as that which depends on the Divine. Dooyeweerd uses the term "Origin" for Clouser's Divine; it is the Origin of Creation, in both senses of its existence and its explanation. When we seek ultimate explanations we are seeking to identify the Origin, the Divine, that on which everything depends and which depends on nothing other than itself. Clouser discusses three possible relationships between the Divine and Creation:
- The Divine is a subset (small part) of Creation; this is presupposition of the immanence standpoint.
- The Creation is a subset (small part) of the Divine; this is what Clouser calls an Eastern view, such as in held in Hinduism.
- The Creation and Divine are separate but with a dependency relationship of Creation on Divine; this is Dooyeweerd's standpoint.
Dooyeweerd occasionally calls his standpoint a "Christian transscendence-standpoint." However, notice that the Eastern view also takes a transcendence standpoint, since most of the Divine, the Origin, transcends Creation, but in a different way.
The Extent of Immanence Philosophy
The immanence-standpoint has pervaded Western philosophy since the start, but in different ways, influencing the kinds of question that philosophers have concerned themselves with. Dooyeweerd sees all three of the dualistic ground-motives (the Greek motive of form and matter, the Scholastic motive of nature-grace and the Humanistic motive of nature-freedom) as expressions of immanence philosophy.
Immanence philosophy is extremely varied.
"The age-old development of immanence-philosophy displays the most divergent nuances. It varies from metaphysical rationalism to modern logical positivism and the irrationalist philosophy of life. It is disclosed also in the form of modern existentialism. The latter has broken with the Cartesian (rationalistic) 'cogito' as Archimedean point and has replaced it by existential thought, conceived of in an immanent subjectivistic historical sense." [NC, I, 13]
"Immanence-philosophy in all its nuances stands or falls with the dogma of the autonomy of theoretical thought. ... Not only traditional metaphysics, but also Kantian epistemology, modern phenomenology and phenomenological ontology in the style of Nicolai Hartmann continued in this respect to be involved in a theoretical dogmatism." [NC, I, 35]
(Archimedean point: a self-dependent idea on which all other ideas rest -- metaphor from the solid pivot on which Archimedes claimed to be able to lift the world with a long enough lever. Dooyeweerd later stopped using the notion.)
Dooyeweerd also found it in such thinkers as Heidegger who, though opposing much that preceded him, nevertheless "moves in the paths of immanence philosophy; his Archimedean point is in 'existential thought', thus making the 'transcendental ego' sovereign" [NC, IV, 88]. His conclusion was:
"Our general transcendental critique of theoretical thought has brought to light that the philosophical immanence-standpoint can only result in absolutizations of specific modal aspects of human experience." [NC,III,169]
Absolutization will pervade almost all areas of research and practice in all fields. Especially relevant to the social and societal disciplines, is Dooyeweerd's continuation:
"Similarly we may establish that on this standpoint every total view of human society is bound to absolutizations both of specific modal aspects and of specific types of individual totality."
Why is Immanence Philosophy Problematic?
Dooyeweerd argues at length [NC volume I, p.12-21] that immanence philosophy has always led philosophy into unresolvable problems and antinomies. That is partly what motivated him to search for and develop his radically different standpoint philosophically. Here are some of the problems that he saw emerging from the immanence standpoint:
- The immanence standpoint has prevented a truly sensitive approach to understanding everyday experience. Instead, it is always forcing us to take one sphere of meaning (aspect) as our point of reference for all the others, thereby privileging it so that all others are reduced to it and not given their due [NC,I,15].
- Since, the immanence standpoint has presupposed "It exists", "It occurs" or "I encounter it", to be the most fundamental statements we can make about anything, it has hidden the question "In what ways?" do things exist, occur or be encountered? Dooyeweerd's standpoint tackles that head-on, and answers it with aspects.
- Consequently, immanence philosophies have not properly addressed the structure of things as encountered in everyday experience [NC,III, 167], as multi-level beings. This generates interminable debates about essense -- though since Dooyeweerd passed away, some systems thinking has tried to understand multiple levels. Dooyeweerd's standpoint led to his idea of structures of individuality, in which multiple aspects govern the type of thing and how individual things function.
- These misunderstanding of things is because immanence philosophies have divorced meaning from reality [NC,II,25-6]. They lack motivation to properly understand meaning, and treat it as secondary to existence. Dooyeweerd treated meaning(fulness) is the very foundation on which existence rests, and answers the questions "In what ways?"
- Immanence-philosophy has never posed the problem of the relationship between different spheres of meaning of our experience [NC,II,49]. So any frameworks for understanding IS would be forced to rely on arbitrary speculations. This makes genuinely interdisciplinary thinking very difficult. (Arguably, systems theory is now attempting this via emergence, but it is not yet clear that it is successful.)
- Instead, many immanence philosophies have absolutized specific aspects or types of thing [NC,III, 169], thereby generating competing and conflicting, "-isms" [NC,I,46].
- Immanence philosophies have presupposed a dialectical idea of what is meaningful (hence the dialectical ground-motives which led philosophy into fruitless conflicts). Dooyeweerd's ground-motive is non-dialectical.
- Immanence-philosophy is incapable of positing the problem of concept formation correctly because of "the disturbing influence on the formation of concepts exercised by the form-matter scheme, or by the disruption of the integral empirical reality into a noumenon and a phenomenon and by the reduction of this reality to a merely 'physico-psychical' world." [NC,II,50] So any concepts included in a framework are likely to be out of kilter with everyday life at some point.
- Immanence philosophies have developed four main notions of the subject-object relation, all of which make it impossible to properly tackle the diversity that we experience (see [NC, II, 366-9]. Dooyeweerd's idea of the subject-object relationship accounts for this diversity.
More are summarised on pages 25-26 of [NC,II]
Such problems are inherent in the very nature of the immanence-standpoint itself, and cannot be overcome from within that standpoint by merely shifting to a different immanence-philosophy or to a different pole of the current ground-motive. Rather, a new standpoint must be explored, which is why Dooyeweerd did so.
Levi AW. 1975. Philosophy, history of Western. In Encyclopaedia Britannica (Vol. 14, pp. 247-275). Chicago: Encyclopaedia Britannica.
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