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The Sensitive Aspect

Also known as the psychical aspect.

Briefly ...

We experience the sensitive/psychic aspect intuitively as feeling, sensing and responding. Meaningful in this aspect are sentience and the senses (nose, aroma and smelling, eyes, sight and seeing, etc.), emotion as experienced by animals (hunger, fear, relaxation, etc.), mental activity (memory, perception, pattern recognition ) and lower-level processes like neuronal states and excitation. Instinct (not intuition) is of this aspect. Dooyeweerd's discussion of the psychic aspect is found in [1955,II, 111-118].

The good possibility this aspect introduces to temporal reality is interactive engagement with the world as it can be sensed. The negative in this aspect is that which prevents or distorts interaction, such as sensory deprivation or overload.

Organic reaction, such as a plant growing towards the light, is more passive. Organically, cells in a tissue are affected by close neighbours, whereas nerve cells, adapted to serve the sensitive functioning, are excited by distant cells.

Defining the Aspect x

Kernel: x

rather than:

Some central themes x

Note that this includes stimulus and response but goes further. Dooyeweerd's idea of sensitivity is a rich one.

Common Misconceptions x

The Aspect Itself

Non-Absoluteness x

Special Science x

Psychology and some of zoology.

Institutions x

Shalom x

Harm x

Contributions from the Field x

The Aspect Among Others

Law-dependencies x

The laws of the sensitive aspect depend on the proper functioning of the laws of the biotic aspect.

Sensitive / psychical functioning is greatly affected by functioning in later aspects, which open up in a myriad of types unknown to the sensitive aspect itself, such as feelings of achievement and failure (formative) aspect, of beauty (aesthetic), of rightness (juridical), of certainty (pistic), etc. These are antecipatory dependencies.

Analogies x

Feeling is important in much of post-modern life, especially as an antidote to rationalism, in which all is reduced to reason. But there are many kinds of feelings, such as: And it has been suggested that these are actually centred in the aspects concerned with an analogy to the sensitive aspect.

Antinomies x

Common Reductions x

Behaviourism - Explanatory Reductionism

In behaviourism, that ruled the roost in psychology until the 1970s, everything is explained in terms of stimulus and response. An entity receives stimuli, which evoke a response. Much human and animal behavriour was explained in these ways, and many methods of learning were based on the assumption that learning was nothing more than training the entity to respond in the right way to stimuli.

Now, in separating off of the sensitive aspect, as Dooyeweerd does, we do acknowledge the validity of stimulus and response, but it is not the ultimate explanation.

Feel-Good Factor - Teleological Reductionism

In reaction to a rationalism that emphasizes reason and tries to suppress emotion, many since the 1960s have emphasized feeling. "If it feels good, do it!" From this aspectual framework, such people are almost as reductionist as the rationalists - they are just reducing everything to feeling.

Notes x


The stimulus-response idea emerged out of the idea that living organisms were merely machines - you press one button and another bulb lights up, by a physical causality. But, the stimulus-response of living, sensitive organisms is not merely of this kind. There is some degree of receptivity to the stimuli and some degree of decision to respond. (The degree is probably less in primitive animals, greater is higher animals.)

S-R and Emotion?

Stimulus-response and emotion seem to differ: the famous knee-jerk is S-R while we feel strong emotion when in love or when let down, and this feels very different from the knee-jerk. So do they belong to the same aspect, or should we split the aspect into two?

It is not clear, and the above intuitive appreciation of a difference between S-R and emotion might indicate that we should split them. After all, intuitive grasp was one of the key indicators of the kernel of an aspect.

Now, it is true that the functioning of emotion requires proper stimulus- response functioning. So maybe there are laws of S-R on which laws of emotion depend - and this could be an example of the law-dependency between two aspects.

But, on the other hand, there is some similarity between S-R and emotion. Consider, for instance, a politician who clamours for a tightening up the law just after an horrific murder came on the news. We denounce him/her as having "a knee-jerk reaction" (as opposed to the more reasoned reaction that we believe should attend the case). Now, his/her "knee-jerk reaction" is actually very similar to an "emotional reaction". Indeed, we could equally denounce his/her reaction as "emotional" as "knee-jerk". So, maybe there is some kernal similarity between them.

So the laws of S-R might be merely a subset of those of the whole sensitive aspect, and emotion-functioning makes use of more of the laws.

The jury is still out on this one. Dooyeweerd wanted to give workers in the special sciences a lot of freedom to explore their scientific area as they saw fit, without being bullied by other sciences. And the laws of an aspect are to be discovered by those scientists, along with people living everyday lives, rather than by philosphers like himself. So it is up to psychologists etc. to work this one out.


From Ruben Oudshoorn 6 November 2002:

A very interesting site you've got here. I was just reading about the new aspects. Splitting up the sensitive aspect into a percipient and an affective aspect isn't such a bad idea. Rather than calling them that I would call them: The point is, I think that this is just what discerns the higher animals from the lower animals. Lower animals having te perceptive aspect as the qualifying aspect, the higher animals having the sensitive apsect as qualifying.


Gregory, R.L. (1989). Dismantling reality. pp. 93-100 in H. Lawson, L. Appignanesi (eds.) Dismantling Truth: Reality in the Post-modern World. Weidenfeld and Nicholson, London.

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: by 27 April 1997. Last updated: 30 August 1998 rearranged and tidied. 28 June 1999 added non-abs. 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 25 April 2002 added Reid refce. 6 November 2002 added Discussion section, and note from Ruben O. 8 October 2003 imagination etc. as themes. 27 May 2005 Shalom of experience. 24 August 2005 .end, nav to aspects. 22 September 2010 Dooyeweerd's and Basden's rendering. 8 February 2014 non-abs from Gregory; Refces. 21 September 2016 briefly; rid counter. 16 December 2021 antecipatory dependencies; aka psychical.