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On The Notion of Individuality Structures
Especially that of Qualifying Aspect

In Dooyeweerdian circles there is much discussion about qualifying functions (or aspects), and others such as founding aspects. It is a notion primarily concerned with understanding types of entities (or events), within Dooyeweerd's notion of Individuality Structures.

It is the qualifying aspect that gives an entity its major meaning. It is the qualifying aspect that comes as answer when we we ask ourselves what distinguishes one kind of entity from another, and the leading aspect that distingyishes types within kinds. The qualifying aspect differentiates a tree (biotic aspect) from a tortoise (sensitive aspect) from an organisation (social aspect). In organizations, a leading aspect differentiates a government from a sports club from a church: juridical, aesthetic and pistic aspects respectively.

There is a lot more to this, some of which is outlined below, and there are also many problems with the notion (a tendency towards reductionism). It can be a useful notion; see 'The Notion of Qualifying Aspect - and the 2008 Credit Crunch'.

This page is still in process of being written (20 November 2002, 20 September 2008) but I want to make it available. At the time I was critical of Dooyeweerd's notion of qualifying aspect and this page not only explains the notion but criticises it, and unfortunately I mixed up the two. Please comment.


What is Aspectual Qualification?

to be written. The simplified view: the single aspect. But my view: the aspect that most gives the thing its meaning; the latest aspect that does so; aspect X gives it its meaning but aspect X+1 does not. You can also add that all of this type of thing share the same qualifying aspect. [But what is 'all of this type'? See the page on Type Laws.]

Dooyeweerd actually identified more than one way in which an aspect can be important in characterizing a thing. These include:

Clouser [2005] explains these quite well.

Notwithstanding that, and even when you take things into account, I think there might be merit in allowing for several qualifying aspects. For example, what is the qualifying aspect of an hospital: biotic (curing disease) or ethical (giving care freely)? This has been argued in various places; I would want to allow two qualifying aspects.

Nevertheless, what is important about the theory of qualifying and other aspects? Philosophically, it provides a basis for understanding types of things; Dooyeweerd made much of this. Practically, one might expect that it could help guide us towards success in a thing's functioning: special attention should perhaps be given to ensuring that functioning in the qualifying aspect is good, more than to other aspects.

An excellent discussion of how the notion of qualifying aspect may be used in information systems and analysis is found in Birgitta Bergvall-Kåreborn's article, 'The Role of the Qualifying Function Concept in Systems Design' [Systemic Practice and Action Research, (2001) vol.14, 79-93].

Examples of Aspectually-Qualified Things

Aspect Things Qualified Things partly qualified
Quantitative Numbers, calculators Accountancy firms.
Spatial Triangles and other shapes, rulers, protractors, dividers
Kinematic Movements, flows, speeds,
Physical Rocks, pebbles, atoms, molecules, materials, electric and magnetic fields, gravitational attractions, Chemical formulae,
Biotic Plants, Hospitals, feedings, vetinary hospitals, farms,
Sensitive Animals,
Analytical Concepts, classifications and classificatory systems,
Formative Goals, plans, methods, techniques, events, systems, Training establishments, power relationships, 'power dressing', factories,
Lingual Words, sentences, paragraphs, chapters, documents, web pages, lectures, Libraries, Teaching establishments
Social Friendships, clubs, groups, societies,
Economic Coins, budgets, managers, Firms
Aesthetic Works of art, Counterpoint, Jokes, Leisure activities, Sports clubs,
Juridical Laws, rules, rights, responsibilities, Law courts, police forces, the state, pressure groups,
Ethical Acts of generosity, acts of sacrifice
Pistic Firm beliefs, commitments Churches and other religious institutions

Individuality Structures of a Thing

For fuller treatment of this, see the page on type laws.

We have tried, above, to identify various things in everyday life, for which we can say that they are qualified by such and such an aspect. We did so partly in order to illustrate the concept of qualification. But there are problems with doing this, as we discuss below. However, there is another set of things for which aspectual qualification is more appropriate: what Dooyeweerd called individuality structures. This has to do with his theory of entities, which holds that real-life wholes (or things) involve several distinct 'individuality structures'. For example (Dooyeweerd's own example) Praxiteles' statue of Hermes (a whole) involves at least the following two individuality structures:

We can identify and distinguish the component individuality structures by means of aspectual qualification. The block of marble is physically qualified, the work of art is aesthetically qualified. Both are necessary to the being of the statue.

It is NOT valid to say that the marble is part of the statue; it stands in a different relation to it. It is more valid to say that Hermes' arm is part of Hermes.

Whereas it is difficult, sometimes, to see which aspect qualifies a whole thing, it is usually easier to see the various aspectually qualified individuality structures. For example, a hospital: is it qualified by the biotic aspect of life functions, or the ethical aspect of self-giving? There seems to be no single right answer. But if, instead, we ask ourselves what are the individuality structures that constitute a hospital, we can identify several main ones:

all of which are essential to the proper running of the hospital. Each may be seen as an aspectually-qualified individuality structure that constitutes the hospital.

There is less problem here. These individuality structures are more clearly qualified by single aspects. The whole, on the other hand, is multi-aspectual, and this kind of analysis helps us see why this is. Notice, that it is only wholes that 'exist'; individuality structures of this sort do not 'exist' in their own right, but only as constituting a whole.

The Founding Aspect

The founding aspect is concerned with the coming-into-being of a thing. For example, many social institutions though qualified by the social aspect are founded in the formative aspect. But what does this 'founding' mean?

Is the founding aspect always (necessarily) earlier than the qualifying? Why or why not? My own view is not. In many things the founding aspect is the formative because it is the aspect of human intentional action. See below.


That we have qualifying and founding as main types of aspect but then have to add others such as leading and internal leading aspects suggests to me that the whole approach is not yet properly thought out. Here are some initial discussions on problems of qualifying and founding aspects.

Summary, offered in an email sent 12 March 2018 to RG:

# Recognising Multi-aspectual functioning is more important than identifying qualifying aspects, because ...

# Functioning in any aspect implies repercussions in that aspect (and possibly others via the entity that is the subject). Both functioning and repercussions have normative implications.

# So, recognising the functioning and repercussions in most aspects helps us evaluate and plan.

# Identifying a qualifying aspect involves anaytical or theoretical thought, to 'split apart' the coherence of meaning. OK in theory but can be disruptive of real life.

# If we try to identify qualifying aspects, think about the purpose of doing so; often it is analytical in nature, e.g. to help management understand what is going on and what should be going on - but then they tend to overlook other important aspects.

# I would argue that though identifying qualifying aspects can help to get people started in thinking outside boxes, it should quickly move onto to recognising the functioning and repercussions in every aspect; the latter is more valuable than identifying qualifying aspects.

Problems of Focusing on Qualifying Aspect

What about a company? Easy: economically qualified. But what about a company that sells pictures: economically? aesthetically? or what? Not easy. It seems to me that the notion of qualifying aspect, while useful to help us identify individuality structures, is misleading and narrowing when we try to apply it to a whole thing such as a firm, hospital, etc.

Some of the problems of focusing on the qualifying function or aspect are illustrated in McIntire's (1975:94-5) discussion of Dooyeweerd's treatment of the historical aspect. Apparently, Dooyeweerd found things that are qualified by all aspect from physical to pistic, with the exception of the historical (formative). (But we have seen above several things qualified by the formative aspect.) McIntire continues:

"In the face of this, Dooyeweerd made an unexpected move. If no things or social structures are qualified by the historical aspect, he decided that nearly everything is founded on the historical mode. He meant by this that nearly everything having to do with humans owes its existence to human acts of forming and technical power - including things like chairs and artworks, and social structures like states, churches, trade unions, and social clubs ... Interestingly, Dooyeweerd did come up with something else that he designated as qualified by his historical mode, namely events, which he occasionally caled 'historically qualified facts' ... examples .. the Allied invasion of France against the Nazis, the battle of Waterloo, ... Aside from noting the limited range of his illustrations, we may note that the wars and revolutions which he cited were actions by or against governments and, as such, would be more properly regarded within his system as political events, qualified by their juridical function. When we pursue the matter further we discover that anything we might regard as a historical event, and indeed anything which we may study historically, is .. qualified by some function other than the historical. This suggests that whatever it is that is historical about things, social structures, and events, it does not appear susceptible to description by means of the device of a modal aspect. ... The historical character of a phenomenon seems to be something other than a modal function, something relevant to the phenomenon as a whole, like the transmodal question of how anything comes into existence."

We can see a confusion here about what aspect qualifies certain battles etc., just like that about whether the biotic or ethical qualifies a hospital. It leads McIntire to doubt the very existence of a historical aspect, and suggesting that it is transmodal. Whether McIntire's suggestion is valid or not we do not discuss here; what we notice is that the problem arises because of the difficulty in deciding which aspect qualifies a thing. If, instead, he had considered that all things - especially battles - have many aspects, then he would find it easier to accept both a historical (formative) and juridical aspect, without the need to identify one as dominant.

There is also the problem that so many things are qualified by the historical (formative) aspect that the whole notion of qualification becomes almost meaningless. Why not just say that these things have a formative aspect, insofar as they necessarily involve human formative functioning. Many such things also necessarily involve human functioning in other aspects too, so why should the formative aspect be given a privileged place?

The problem seems to lie, not in the aspects themselves, but in our attempt to identify a single dominant aspect of a whole thing, whereas in fact these wholes have many aspects. Which aspect is important depends on the purposes and viewpoints of the analyst, and the importance differs in type. Our problem seems to come from our desire to isolate one aspect, whereas in fact reality resists such isolation. It is, it seems, just unhelpful to attempt to identify 'the' qualifying aspect, in many cases.

Jeremy Ive has suggested (email 13 October 2010) that:

"I have often thought that perhaps it might be better not to speak of founding and leading functions (at the bottom and top of a column of modally-defined functions), but rather of a salient function, which might come somewhere in the middle in a more inclusive way."
That might be helpful.

So what value does the notion of qualifying aspect have? Much; it has an important role in individuality structures, and especially in front-line clarification of issues when things are going wrong. For now, see the email below, especially the section on The Proper Role of Qualifying Aspects.

Here is another short piece:

The power of the idea of qualifying aspect depends on people agreeing on what is the qualifying or leading aspect. When agreement is lacking, disputes can arise, which are difficult to resolve since they are based on different beliefs and commitment. For example, Dooyeweerdian scholars disagree whether the qualifying aspect of the hospital is biotic (health) or ethical (care given freely). Would an hospital where the staff merely cured people without care still be an hospital? Would an hospital, where staff cared for patients but were ineffective in curing them be an hospital?

Correction according to qualifying or leading aspect can, however, become too rigid and prevent innovation. ICT systems are often used in ways not originally intended -- and hence not in accord with its qualifying or leading aspect. Sometimes the new use is fruitful, and should not be 'corrected' just because of this.

Philosophically, it is sometimes not clear whether an aspect is qualifying, founding or leading. For example, might it be valid to think of the various organisations as founded in the social, and qualified by the aspects we saw as leading them (lingual for library, aesthetic for sports club)? Then the leading aspect might be that which defines a sub-type of sports club or library.

Also problematic in the idea of roles of aspects is that the list seems unfinished. Originally, there were qualifying and founding aspects, but then Dooyeweerd discovered he needed the concept of leading aspect, and then internal leading aspect. Which roles are yet to be discovered?

Because of these philosophical and practical problems, I am not convinced that it is a good philosophical idea. At the very least, it requires further philosophical research.

Some things difficult to analyse using Qualifying Aspect

Here I will collect examples of things that seem difficult to analyse using the notion of the qualifying and founding aspects. If you think you can analyse any of them using these concepts, or clearly show how to go about such analysis, then send it to me and I'll put it up here.

Problems with Notion of Founding Aspect

In Dooyeweerd's use, it seems that the founding aspect is almost always one of a very few aspects. The formative seems to be the most common. The physical and biotic are next. Very rarely, it seems are some other aspects the founding ones.

The notion of qualifying aspect seems 'supra-aspectual', in that any aspect can be qualifying, and the notion can apply to any aspect. So it feels like a truly philosophical notion. But if the notion of founding aspect can only be applied to a limited range of aspects, is it truly a philosophical notion?

I believe that the notion of aspects that guide a thing's coming-into-being is philosophically valuable. And having a way to explain its concrete, actual individuality, is perhaps even more philosophically valuable. So I tend to look to all aspects as possible founding aspects.


Here is the contents of an email that might be helpful in discussing the problems of qualifying aspects. Later on, I will weave some of its contents in above.

---- start of email


# It is useful and correct to think of government as qualified by juridical aspect. It is useful to notionally give to governments the responsibility for setting up structures that ensure due.

# But my question is: *how* useful and correct is it? And *why*? More precisely: What is the proper role of qualifying aspects in our thinking? And of Radical Types (to which I return below)?

# Trying to identify 'the proper' qualifying aspect is fraught with difficulties. The Establishment thread reveals two kinds of difficulty.

# Deciding which. Today, governments not only set up due-ensuring structures, but also provide visional leadership for the nation. And kings did in the past. Without such vision, people perish or cast off restraint. And this vision could set the agenda for their juridical role. If so, then the qualifying aspect of government might be pistic.

# Multiple roles. Universities today have at least three roles: teaching research and idea-innovation. (Whether big-industry also has some of those roles is not discussed here.) Teaching may be seen as qualified by the lingual aspect, research qualified by the analytic and innovation qualified by the formative. Educational establishments for children seem to have at least two roles: teaching and socialising: lingual and social qualifications.

# Maybe Deciding-which and Multiple-roles are actually the same issue, but that is for discussion elsewhere. What both point to is complexity in everyday experience that the theory of qualifying aspects finds it very difficult to address.


# The question we must face *philosophically* is: Is this complexity good or bad? Is it the result of the Fall, to be overcome, or is it inherent in, or as an intended outcome of, Creation, and thus to be celebtrated and developed? And, whichever it is, why and how? Maybe it is mix of good and bad, in which case it is even more important to find out why.

# (Let us set aside for now the different *practical* question of whether we want to reduce complexity, such as was presupposed by rationalistic 'scientific' management of the 1970s.)

# If we believe (assume) we should seek one qualifying aspect or another of an entity, such as universities, schools and governments, then we *tend* to presuppose that such complexity is bad. When that belief becomes dogmatic (perhaps because of dogmatic adherence to the theory of qualifying aspects), it has an interest in defending the badness of complexity. But that is not a philosophical argument for badness of complexity.

# Philosophically, I tend to see complexity as good, as inherent in the structure of creation. Theologically, I tend to the idea that God has surprises in store for us, which will undermine our theories. In everyday life I tend to face complexity and rejoice in it, especially having a tool with which to meet it, non pareil: Dooyeweerd's suite of aspect.

# So I tend to the idea that each entity can have multiple important aspects, rather than a single qualifying aspect. That helps me practically, philosophically and theologically.


# A question arises here: is my stance a betrayal of Dooyeweerd's philosophy? Or, rather, to what extent is it thus?

# It is true that Dooyeweerd held to the idea of single qualifying aspects - though he then found he had to keep on extending this theory with founding aspect, leading aspect, internal-leading aspect, and so on. That accretion on its own suggests to me that the theory of qualifying aspects might not fully be in line with created reality.

# I would argue that the theory of qualifying aspects as currently understood is not essential to Dooyeweerd's whole philosophy, not even to his theory of modal aspects. I would argue that it is less important than his theory of aspects, of his reinterpretation of subject-object relationship, of his theory of ground-motives, and of his transcendental critiques, and that none of these would be seriously affected if we abandoned the theory of qualifying aspects. It is more important in his theory of entities, but, in my view, even this would not be completely undermined if his theory of qualifying aspects were removed.

# More practically, I would also advise against beginning with the notion of qualifying aspects when trying to understand Dooyeweerd.

# Instead, I always find it more useful to stress, what Dooyeweerd also stressed, that all things function in all aspects. Especially human activities, in which every aspect is functioning actively.


# So, returning to the original question: what proper role does the notion or theory of qualifying aspects have? I think it helps in two things. One is to help us differentiate and categorise multi-aspectual things at a top level. The other is that it helps us understand why some things go wrong.

# Differentiating things at a top level gives us Radical Types, such as non-living things, plants and animals. But the importance and helpfulness of this should not be overplayed. It works for plants and animals well because their qualifying aspect is identical to the latest aspect in which they function as subject. But it works less well in things qualified in the post-animal aspects. For example writings (lingual), institutions (social). In contrast to plants and animals, these things have other aspects also much more important. For example poetry is writing led by the aesthetic aspect, and it is usually more helpful and meaningful to treat poetry via its aesthetic aspect than its lingual.

# I find that the notion of qualifying aspects is best treated as a practical tool to aid analysis, which 'opens the door' to more sophisticated multi-aspectual analysis. Rather than treated as a philosophical dogma.

# To return to the Establishment question: should governments fund schools (of university or children)? Today's complex mixing and ambiguity of roles invites us to be careful. If we make qualifying aspects and Radical Types a philosophical dogma, then we are in danger of reductionism. It is better, in my view, to use qualifying aspects as a practical tool to 'open doors' in debate, especially because it has the potential to do so in non-threatening ways.

# Take an example where schools have gradually become seen as money-making ventures: To raise the question of which is the qualifying aspect of a school, can help other people recognise that the practice of strategy has become overly dominated by economic aspect. That is a huge benefit to human discourse (and God's intention for Creation). But to take it further and try to nail 'the' qualifying aspect down to e.g. analytical is unhelpful.

# Similarly to raise similar question about government, might help us see that governments too have gradually become overly attached to the economic aspect esp. in GDP.

# Now, to your particular interest: the relationship between school and state. I'm not sure what philosophical dead-ends you got into. But I think I would approach this by using qualifying aspects and Radical Types only at the start to open doors in thinking. But then recognise the complexity of everyday life and human history, and try to account for this by reference to all aspects rather than trying to restrict your thinking to 'the' qualifying aspects.

# One example: the Scottish Reformation, which instituted universal education, on the grounds that all were made in the Image of God and so were worth educating. And had the important pistic role of ensuring that the Scottish population could non just read but would read the Bible. Later on, in the 'Killing Times' of the Covenantors, simple cow-herds had Bibles in their pockets out in the pastures, and were killed for it. In my view, whatever the faults in the Scottish Reformation and the Covenantors, I believe that what occurred was good in the eyes of God - and all because education was given a pistic role which is not the 'proper' qualifying aspect of education, and church and state worked together for a while.

I trust that is useful.

Andrew. 11 October 2010

---- end of email


The law works by clarifying the essence of things, so perhaps identifying qualifying aspects can help the law. On 20th December 2017, the European Court of Justice rules that Uber is a transport company, not an information company, which Uber had been arguing. The "is" may be discussed aspectually by reference to qualifying aspects etc.

(It is of interest that, a year later, news broke of Uber doing research into automated cars. This makes them very much a transport company.)

The problem is, if we ask what the qualifying aspect of Uber is, we get no clear answer. It could be social (an organisation), economic (a business), lingual (information processor), kinematic (transport), etc.

We may recognise that what Uber does is lingual, in that it provides an information processing facility by which those who want transporting (kinematic) can be linked via implied contract (juridical) with those who offer means of transport. Since the lingual is in service of other aspects, the lingual cannot be the qualifying aspect. This kind of analysis does not give primacy to the notion of qualifying aspect, but rather to that of multi-aspectual functioning, in which we recognise every aspect ask what is happening in each.


Hoogland & Jochemsen (2000). [to be located and supplied]

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.

Created 17 November 2001. Last updated: 5 November 2002 much expanded, including table of aspectually qualified things, section on individuality structures, on what is qualification, on problems, etc. 6 January 2005 .nav; link to BBK. 27 January 2006 examples of difficulty. 19 March 2008 corrected italics, McIntire. 20 September 2008 link to using/qacc. And some rewrite. 13 October 2010 email and JIve quote. 23 October 2010 value of qa. 9 March 2012 on prevalence of formative founding; also Hoogland&Joch, to be located. 21 April 2012 some rearrangement; added founding aspect, and Henk Geertsema's insight, and added major heading for problems; contents list. 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .nav. 16 October 2015 'or' to 'of'. 3 October 2016 added piece from FISRP draft. 31 January 2018 FM sent me a comment about the intro text, and I improved it. 12 March 2018 added probs summary offered in email. 11 April 2019 Uber. 11 July 2019 some small changes.