Why does history seem to have 'direction'? Is history more than dates and happenings? What is historical 'cause and effect'? What is 'progress'? What is anti-progress? To what extent is what we call 'progress' today in line with, or against, aspectual norms?
Such were questions that Dooyeweerd tried to answer in his theory of history and progress. He rejected several extant views of progress, which often inform popular assumptions and views, as follows:
So how can we do this? Dooyeweerd suggested that both history and progress are closely tied with the opening up of aspects, and especially with the formative aspect, whose kernel is the human ability to form and shape things and events with a power that is beyond instinct. To Dooyeweerd, history and progress seemed almost to be the same thing, because of the centrality of the formative aspect.
Dooyeweerd's theory of history is tied in with his theory of Time and his theory of the Self, and his Christian notion that God is not only Source but also Destiny for all humankind.
On this page ...
(This page is in process of being written, incorporating various discussions and comments. Currently some parts towards the end might seem fragmented. AB.)
Progress was seen, from the nature pole (what Dooyeweerd termed the Humanistic science-ideal in his account [NC II:268-70]), as akin to biotic development, "the steady advance of mankind towards autonomous freedom" [NC II:268]. Voltaire did much to instil this view. Darwin's theory of evolution was applied by Spencer to history: progress akin to evolution. We can see the same theme in Comte's 'law of the three stages'. But Dooyeweerd criticised this as mere biotic retrocipation rather than a genuine historical or formative idea of progress. For one thing, evolution of species is driven forward by the laws of the biotic aspect (e.g. weeding out unfit genetic material) whereas history is guided by the normative laws of the formative aspect. The biotic laws are largely determinative and so the course of biotic evolution depends on environmental conditions, while the formative are non-determinative, and thus can often proceed in spite of adverse environmental conditions; evolution is driven from without while history is driven from within.
A recognition of progress as driven from within was to be found in the freedom pole (the Humanistic personality-ideal) discussed by Dooyeweerd in [NC II:270-2]. Rousseau was at first pessimistic about 'progress', but later saw that "culture can lead mankind to a higher condition of freedom than nature can, viz. by guaranteeing him political freedom in the form of the unalienable rights of the citizen. But this was no longer viewed as the result of a natural causal process, but rather as a normative goal of culture." Kant took this even further, "orient[ing] the historical Idea of development to the normative moralistic Idea of liberty of the personality-ideal." The role of progress was to free us, especially from the constraints made upon us by Nature. Dooyeweerd's criticism of this was based on his belief that the destiny and role of humanity was not to be somehow freed from constraints but to lovingly manage the world under God, that, though we are free within the (normative) aspects, we are never free of them because their laws transcend humanity and pertain, and that, in particular, we are to be guided by the ethical law of self-giving love.
Hegel tried to bring the poles together: history as dialectical process in which the antithesis and thesis synthesize into a new thesis. Though acknowledging the disclosive nature of this process [NC II:279], Dooyeweerd saw this view as "Hegel's dialectical logicizing of the historical process" - a reduction to the analytical aspect. In the end, as Dooyeweerd earlier suggested, Hegel "attempted to think together the antithetic motives of nature and freedom" and the verdict, that he shared with Kant and others, was that "the antinomy cannot be solved."
The view of progress held by (Western-influenced) politicians, industrialists, scientists, media and general public alike, is perhaps a loose weaving together of all three of the above views into an assumption that progress is a Good Thing. Medical 'progress' is often held up as an example, freeing us (Westerners at least) from the major plagues of the past. Progress not only frees us from constraints of Nature but also those of inconvenience, and is somehow 'natural' that happens to us and cannot be resisted. But, as increasing numbers of thinkers are realising, such progress leads to the fragmentation of culture and community, in the dominance of technology over life, in ecological damage. There is now enormous suspicion of 'progress'.
Dooyeweerd's response was to recognise both the blessings and the curse of progress. He sought a sound foundation by which to understand the proper role and nature of 'progress' and also to present an alternative to the above views. .
But what kind of formative power is historical progress? Dooyeweerd proposed that, in society, progress is formative power directed towards 'modal opening', of opening up or 'unfolding' or 'disclosing' the aspects in human society so that they flower and come to fruition rather than being merely latent. This opening process has involved two things. One is the disclosing of the laws of aspects through the process of scientific research, which process is discussed in the page on science. The other is the shaping of society and culture so that all the aspects play an important and distinct part. For example,
So history may be seen as the story by which all of these aspects have been explored and opened, and progress in a society can be seen in the degree to which these openings of aspects are manifest. In primitive societies they remain largely unopened, the most visible manifestation of which is that there is no differentiation of societal structures.
As evidence for his theory, or to illustrate it, Dooyeweerd drew upon anthropological studies about 'primitive' societies. He postulated that primitive societies were undifferentiated; for example, the family was the seat not only of family life, but also of commerce, the legal system (head of family as law-giver), religion (head of family as priest), and so on. This is what constitutes primitiveness. Western, modern, society has progressed from these primitive roots through stages of differentiation and individualization.
Dooyeweerd also suggested that historical development matches development of a baby: the baby functions first in the earlier aspects, and then the various other aspects are 'opened up' in its life as it grows.
We can discern echoes here of the ideas of other thinkers such as Weber, Marx and Habermas. The Weber-Tawney thesis  focused on formative power and the Protestant work ethic (pistic). Marx focused on the economic and juridical aspects. Habermas  modified both these to focus on discourse and emancipation (lingual and juridical aspects). In the appendix there are more detailed comparisons with Weber and Habermas. So it might be possible to see other thinkers as, not so much in contention with Dooyeweerd, as focusing on certain aspects while Dooyeweerd recognises a wider range.
"The individual dispositions and talents of peoples, nations, and individual formers of history must expand in the process of cultural development in their typical cultural spheres, and this expansion is set mankind as a normative task." [his italics].
The norm of progress is tied up with the eventual destiny of humanity and all the Cosmos. Modal opening is intended for the blessing of the Cosmos, and is not just an option, and Dooyeweerd founded these ideas in the Biblical mandate to humanity to manage or steward the rest of Creation on behalf of God.
Dooyeweerd discussed the role of new ideas of e.g. roman lawyers, great technical inventors, artists, etc. Such ideas acquire historical significance only when they begin to exercise formative power, especially in human communities. Whichever aspect we consider, its opening or shaping involves a formative element, so there is a special importance of the formative aspect in progress. And therefore the norm for history and progress can be found in the formative aspect: deliberate shaping.
Dooyeweerd made a more detailed proposal about the norm of progress: the norm comprises a triad of norms: of differentiation, individualization and integration. By these he seemed to be referring to differentiation of societal structures, then their individualization, and finally their integration.
In his speech of 1958 , he made this triad clearer by explaining their dynamics. Most human novel work is done by individuals inside of communities. He defined: "a community is a more or less durable societal relationship which has the character of a whole, joining its membership into a social unit, regardless of the degree off intensity of the communal bond." In his 1959  speech he stressed that humans need freedom to produce novel work and progress is impossible without it. He outlined its course here as follows:
Differentiation, individualization and integration may occur sequentially, simultaneously or in mixed order.
Dooyeweerd seemed to have discussed the first two norms far more than he did the third, which is a pity because the third could be deemed the most important of the three since Dooyeweerd seems to be thinking of the destiny of humanity as a whole here. However, he did intend them to be seen together. As he said [NC II:274]:
"As the modal norm of the opening-process in the historical law-sphere [i.e. aspect], the norm of differentiation and integration is thus at the same time a norm of individualization." [his italics].
'Individualization' however does not refer only to human individuals. He continues:
"The individual dispositions, and talents of peoples, nations, and individual formers of history must expand in the process of cultural development in their typical cultural spheres, and this expansion is set mankind as a normative task."
That component of progress which is formal / theoretical knowing achieved by theoretical research, is different for each aspect, and each aspect requires distinct research methods; see the page on science. It was long assumed that reason is neutral and thus the exercise of reason inherently leads to progress but, it is now widely recognised that this is not true. Before this became widely accepted, Dooyeweerd argued on both historical and philosophical grounds that not only is theoretical knowing not neutral, but the non-neutrality is religious in nature, with people committed to presuppositions. His historical survey shows that it never has been neutral, while his transcendental critique of theoretical thought, which demonstrates the philosophical necessity of religious presuppositions for all scientific (theoretical-resaerch) activity, shows that it could not be otherwise. In that case, a different view of progress is required, which is outlined above: the opening up of aspects.
Summary about scientific progress, sent in email to RG 12 March 2018# Progress is the opening up of the potential of the aspects.
# Science contributes to this by helping us obtain explicit theoretical understanding of each aspect. Builds up bodies of knowledge.
# As you know, each science centres on a distinct aspect. (Also crossover sciences.)
# Each aspect offers us an area or sphere of concern. And a distinct rationality.
# This implies a different research method appropriate to each science.
# This also arises from Dooyeweerd's notion of three-part Ground-Idea.
What Dooyeweerd argued has since been supported by others in the philosophy of science, independently of his work. They also argued that reason (theoretical activity) is non-neutral and tried to identify what constitutes progress. Popper advanced the idea that falsification of theories is important, because this helps to ensure that theories are robust enough to deserve being relied on as a foundation on which later theories can build. Without that, progress is impossible. Then, as Kuhn's  exposition of the notion of paradigms and the subsequent discourse with Lakatos, Feyerabend, Masterman, etc. [Lakatos & Musgrave 1970] make clear, background presuppositions influence the direction in which this theoretical-knowledge component of progress advances. It is paradigms that determine what is seen as an 'interesting' research question, paradigms that determine what rationalities and research methods are employed in generating new knowledge, and paradigms that scope the subsequent critique and refinement of the findings of research. All three of these were prefigured by Dooyeweerd in the 'Ground ideas' in his transcendental critique, and it is perhaps a shame that the philosophers of science were not aware of Dooyeweerd's work and had not availed themselves of it.
That component of progress which is informal / pre-theoretical knowing that emerges from generalisation of experience, is recognised by Dooyeweerd in the idea that knowing is multi-aspectual. This says that not only does each aspect provide a distinct sphere of reality to know, but that each aspect provides a different way of knowing and a different kind of knowledge. Theory is just one kind, analytical knowing, while skill is formative knowing, certainty is pistic knowing, etc. This has been discussed by others under the notion of tacit knowledge and personal knowledge. This was discussed especially by Polanyi in his Personal Knowledge and his little monograph The Tacit Dimension; see more on Polanyi. In the field of organisational science, the SECI model of Nonaka & Takeuchi  has been influential, explaining how tacit knowledge is spread by socialisation, as well as externalised, discussed, combined and internalised.
What might be called the practical component of progress depends on these two knowledge-components, but also on the goodwill and commitments found in society. The knowledge can be put to use in realizing and opening up the potential of each aspect in reality, or it can be used for purposes that close it down. Use for selfish or self-centred purposes tends to close it down. Schuurman  argues that the opening up of an aspect should be guided not by that aspect's own norms, but by the norms of all other aspects. (He discussed especially the formative aspect of technology, and the problem of 'technology for technology's sake'; though this might seem to lead to a narrow progress within technology itself, such advances do not bear fruit, but wither or ossify after a time.) Real progess, in this view, is inherently linked with goodness in its widest multi-aspectual sense of Shalom.
It would seem, on the surface, that Dooyeweerd's view of progress is completely at odds with recent thinking and has nothing to say in the face of such problems. This is made worse by several writers who seem to employ Dooyeweerd's thinking to justify Western (and especially American) lifestyles and domination of the world. We have three options:
We will consider the last two.
1. Much of the material Dooyeweerd referred to in promoting his idea of progress was the revelations then emerging from anthroplogical studies of 'primitive' cultures. He wanted to account for the difference between 'primitive' and 'advanced' societies, and did so on the basis of differentiation of society. In primitive societies, he claimed, the social institutions were not differentiated whereas in modern (western) society they were differentiated along aspectual line. In primitive societies, he claimed, aspectual functioning was not well developed - for example art or technology - whereas in advanced societies they were.
2. Dooyeweerd was motivated in this in large part by the terror of the Nazi regime. As a philosopher, he was motivated to find a philosophical account for why Nazism was Evil; he was not content with "I don't like it" or "It does bad things". He found that his developing concept of progress as defined by 'modal opening' could provide such an account: Nazism was reactionary, seeking to reverse the opening process, reverting to 'blood and soil'.
"It was a typical reactionary train of German national-socialism that it tried to conquer the idea of nationality and to revive the primitive idea of 'Volkstum'. This was in accordance with its myth of 'blood and soil'. The reactionary character of its totalitarian political system was evident from the pattern after which it was built, viz. the primitive old-Germanic trustis, a military power-formation of the popular and tribel chiefs, dukes or kings, which in its turn was an artificial expansion of the old undifferentiated (and consequently totalitarian) domestic power of the Germanics.
"It is the transcendental Idea of historical development, lying at the foundation of the science of history proper, which has to provide the criterion of reaction and progress." [NC II:274]
(However, I believe a much better and more direct account could have been given by reference to aspectual functioning and the shalom hypothesis. Nazism was a bundle of rebellions against various aspect, not just the formative, and especially the last three aspects, juridical, ethical and pistic. What Dooyeweerd seemed to do was to seek a condemnation of Nazism from within a single aspect, the formative, whereas greater condemnation was already available from the last three aspects. And especially as this kind of analysis could, in principle, allow for some (albeit minor) good things that occurred under the Nazi regime, on the basis that there were other aspects in which functioning was not so negative, and these aspects are irreducible to the three in which gross evil occurred.)
3. Dooyeweerd could not be aware, at the time he was writing, of the magnitude of the problems of so-called progress that we now see fifty years later. At the time he wrote, the advances in hygiene and health were within living memory. Technical and scientific progress were exciting and seemed to bring benefits that far outweighed any problems. The replacement of autocracies by democracies seemed a major advance.
"The subjective individual dispositions and talents intended are not themselves to be viewed as the normative standard of the disclosed process of cultural development."
That is, what people have come to do and be able to do is not itself a normative standard. Rather, he continued,
"They ought to be unfolded in accordance with the normative principles implied in the anticipatory structure of the historical law-sphere. The further analysis of this structure will show that these principles have unbreakable mutual coherence so that the norm of cultural individualization is never to be conceived apart from the other anticipatory principles."
That is, we must take into account the norms of other aspects as well as those of the formative aspect.
So, Western progress must NOT be taken as the norm, and, even though Western humanity seems to have obeyed the norm of the formative aspect, it may be criticised because it has ignored the norms of later aspects. The problems of Western progress can be seen in aspectual terms, for example:
We can see major transgression of the norms of these aspects. Thus we see that Dooyeweerd does give grounds for a critique of Western globalized progress. To the extent that Western, or any other, society obeys and opens up the norms of the other aspects, to that extent will it be genuine progress, and to the extent that it either transgresses these norms or refuses to open up the other aspects, to that extent will it be reactionary and retrogressive.
We can, therefore, see in Dooyeweerd's writings the recognition of another norm for progress and history - that we should so execute our opening up of the aspects within culture and society as to obey the norms of all the other aspects, in harmony. It is a pity that many who discuss Dooyeweerd's theory of history seem to overlook this norm, focusing instead on the sub-norms of the triad, and especially of differentiation. If we take into account the shalom hypothesis it could be argued that this norm of the 'shalom of progress' has priority over the three sub-norms.
McIntire  also makes a number of positive comments. For example, he pointed out that Dooyeweerd was open to cultural anthropology and other fields of his time, and was not one who imposed his ideas.
These criticisms have themselves come in for criticism, however. Verbrugge and Wearne [private communications, 2003] claims they are based on a major misinterpretation of Dooyeweerd's thought. This matter will be looked into.
However, I would for the moment argue as follows. "This contrast, then, between progressive and reactionary movements in the process of historical development is clearly an analogy of the logical principle of contradiction. It must be founded in the inner structure of the historical aspect, since this aspect is also based upon the logical." [CPMH:56]. I am not sure this is "clearly" analogy. Or, rather, I'm not sure that this analogy is as central to determining the norms of the formative aspect as Dooyeweerd seems to make it. The norms of an aspect itself should primarily be centred on the aspect itself, and not on an analogy with another. If we are to take Dooyeweerd's current argument, why should we not also form the norms of the formative aspect from those of the ethical, in which self-giving love rather than contradiction is key. Doing so would give the norms of history a very different flavour indeed! It seems to me, as I have said above, that the problem with Nazism lies not so much in whether it was progressive or reactionary, as in whether it broke the norms of the last three aspect - of justice, love and right faith orientation.
"The recent publication by M C. Smit, Toward a Christian Conception of History (ICS/UP of America, 2002; 462 pp.) would be of interest to investigators of reformational philosophy of history. Smit (1911-1981) was a pupil of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven and taught at the Free University in Amsterdam between 1955-1981.
"He began in the '40s by focusing his conception on the historical as one modality among many. While he coninued to work with the culturally formative function as a valid and useful concept, he soon pried the science of History loose from a functional orientation ("object of study") to embrace the comprehensive notion of the historical as the fundamental condition of existence.
"In so doing, he escaped relativism by nevertheless rooting history in a (dynamic) understanding of the creation order and ended up elaborating an amazingly broad and rich conception which harks back to the augustinian "My heart is restless, O God, until it find rest in Thee."
"Smit was also influenced by second-generation thinkers like Mekkes and Popma, particularly in asking attention not only for progress but also for regress and real losses in the course of history."
But the study of progress is not the sum total of the science of the formative aspect, just as chemistry is not the sum total of the study of the physical aspect. McIntire pointed out many other formative actions beyond development. So what part is it? Dooyeweerd answered that progress is the opening up of aspects to reveal them in all their beauty and wonder and blessing for the cosmos. This is the norm associated with progress. This is Dooyeweerd's valuable insight.
Dooyeweerd went further, trying to break down this norm into the triad of differentiation, indivudalization and integration. But this view seems to be problematic.
If the Dooyeweerd's philosophy of progress is a proposal about the inner workings of a single aspect, the formative, then it is a Tier 3 proposal. This means that it is not central to Dooyeweerd's whole philosophy, and may be modified in major ways without jeopardising the whole. However, since this theory seemed to form a large element of Dooyeweerd's later thinking, we might find it woven into other elements of his thought, to give them a certain pattern, and will have to 'unweave' it.
However, we might conclude with one of Dooyeweerd's statements [CPMH:66] about history that seems to hold whichever theory we end up with:
"In the final analysis the problem of the meaning of history revolves around the central question of who are human beings themselves and what is their origin and their final destination?"
to which he added his own answer:
"Outside of the biblical basic motive of creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ, no real answer is, in my opinion, to be found to this question. The conflicts and dialectical tensions which occur in the process of the opening-up of human culture result from the absolutization of what is relative. And every absolutization takes its orgina from the spirit of apostasy, from the spirit of the civitas terrena, as Augustine called it."
These bear the flavour of Dooyeweerd's triad of differentiation, individualization and integration, even if they are not identical.
Habermas also made observations and proposals not dissimilar to some of Dooyeweerd's. Ray [1993:34] summarizes Habermas' view as:
"To summarize then, social differentiation is accompanied by cultural differentiation of the lifeworld into value spheres, which is further underwritten by a de-centred personality structure. The lifeworld is potentially both pre-reflective background consensus, the repository of normatively secured action, on the one hand, and communicatively achieved forms of socially integrated action on the other. This polar concept enables Habermas to claim that since the lifeworld is linguistically structured, it always contains the potential for the critical appropriation of tradition."
Here we see echoes of the following Dooyeweerdian themes:
Thus we see, that in his theory of the development ('rationalization') of the lifeworld, Habermas sees the same triad as Dooyeweerd sees operating as norms of progress in society. Habermas' lifeworld is a 'medium of social learning'.
Note that Habermas was a modernist; unlike fellow Critical Theorists, he believed that modernism has 'unfulfilled potential', and he made much of Piaget's notions of development of the child, and had a theory not unlike Nietzsche's development of the
Dooyeweerd argued that society, in its 'progress' from "primitive" versions to today, differentiates itself into distinct sectors. In this, he is in line with most anthropologist and societal thinking. I find his view both helpful and yet problematic. What I find helpful is the basic, core understanding; what I find problematic is the implications that Dooyeweerd and others seem to have drawn from this.
Indeed, Klapwijk  finds it problematic too. Klapwijk [1987, 123] criticises Dooyeweerd's idea of progress as too close to German idealist metaphysics and having "romantic-organismic, progressivistic and universal-historical connotations," "that in one way or another eventuates, as it turns out, in modern Western culture", rather than as truly emerging from his main thought.
Many who work with Dooyeweerd's philosophy believe this is not only what actually occurred but that it is normative for society over the long term. This has several implications. One is that the differentiated society is necessarily Good, and that "primitive" implies something Bad. It implies that the more the roles, responsibilities and activities of the sectors of society are separated from each other, the Better it is. For Christians it implies that societal differentiation is God's Plan written into Creation. This has its roots in Kuyper's idea of Sphere Sovereignty, but it takes it further.
It further implies that blurring boundaries between sectors of society is an Evil that is to be Resisted. (My use of capitals is deliberate, to indicate something transcendental, something necessary and universal, which transcends humanity's views and opinions.) A further implication I find creeping in amongst colleagues is that one can justify stupid or even bad actions by appealing to what they call Sphere Sovereignty. For instance, one colleague seemed to be happy with lack of mercy in courts, given that their norm is juridical rather than ethical. It also has an underground effect on some, of seeing those who advocate a more holistic view of society as in league with the Devil.
I affirm Dooyeweerd's root idea about progress being the opening up of aspects, and that part of humanity's mandate on earth is to facilitate this. But I question each and every implication that people, including perhaps Dooyeweerd, have drawn from this.
What I affirm: that the law-side fabric of Creation makes divisions possible, and that such divisions can bring Good. This is not just because of the analytical aspect but also the social, in that working together amplifies the good that a collection individuals can bring beyond. Therefore different sectors or structures of society, qualified by different aspects and norms, can bring blessing. However this differentiation can also bring major Evil and Harm.
What I question are the implications I have indicated above. The root of my questioning comes from: I believe not only in diversity of meaningfulness but also in its coherence.
Implication 1. That differentiation of society's sectors or structures is normative for humanity.
Implication 1a. For Christians this means it is God's Plan.
Implication 2. That crossing or blurring boundaries between sectors is Bad and to be Resisted.
Implication 3. That sectors are justified in ignoring the norms of aspects other than those that qualify them.
Implication 4. That "primitive" is Bad.
Implication 5. That holistic views of society are Evil.
Lakatos I, Musgrave A (1970) Criticism and Growth of Knowledge Cambridge University Press.
Nonaka, I., & Takeuchi, H. (1995). The knowledge creating company. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Polanyi M, (1967), The Tacit Dimension, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London U.K.
Schuurman E, (1980), Technology and the Future: A Philosophical Challenge, Wedge Publishing, Toronto.
This page, "http://www.dooy.info/progress.html", 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: 6 March 2003. Last updated: 10 March 2003 criticism of criticisms by McIntire and Klapwijk, followed by more discussion. 14 March 2003 added replies by Cameron and section on Smit. 14 March 2003 added comments by Cameron. 17 March 2003 added about Latour, Weber and Habermas, and in Conclusion the idea that we might differentiate history from study of progress. 18 March 2003 more on Habermas' lifeworld, full triad. 7 April 2003 major revamp, taking into account substantial comments by Magnus Verbrugge. 9 April 2003 added about king dying. 20 September 2003 spelling corrections. 21 November 2005 unets, new .nav. 25 November 2010 new intro. 3 March 2015 Added section on mechanisms of progress. 12 March 2018 box of smy; new .end,.nav. 1 July 2019 Appx 3 essay; link to Concl in Appx 1.