The Sensitive Aspect
Also known as the psychical aspect.
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.
- "Feeling" (Dooyeweerd's rendering), but this must be understood in the fullness of what that means
- "Feeling and responding. Introduces Interactive engagement with world" (Basden's intuitive rendering)
- Sensory and motor ability is part of it
- Some studies that come under psychology go beyond Sensitive.
- Cognitive Psychology, for instance, relies on Distinction.
Note that this includes stimulus and response but goes further.
Dooyeweerd's idea of sensitivity is a rich one.
- Stimulus and Response
- Training (at a low level)
- Fantasy-conception, imagination, image [NC III:112-127]
Psychology and some of zoology.
- Psychology is shown to be non-absolute, to be self-limiting, by the fact that psychology cannot do without the constructs 'I' and 'You' etc. yet all attempts to explain these constructs from within psychology have failed.
- The perceptual psychologist, Richard Gregory [1989, p.94], notes that "we cannot step outside perception to compare experience with objective reality", and hence "we cannot know directly what is illusion, any more than truth". This, he claims, two hundred years' research in physiology have shown. But it is probably a transcendental fact: to study perception we need to perceive, so we can never know whether what we study is true or not.
- Against Hume, Reid said that sensation is not itself experience, but a means to experience. So sensation is not absolute, but part of something much larger.
- What this aspect enables: It is the sensitive / psychic aspect that enables us to experience things around us. It is not the total or fulness of experience, but is, if you like, the doorway to experience. For this reason, maybe, there is a tendency to assume that our psychical experience of things is the same as our everyday experience, a 'muddling' that Dooyeweerd discussed in [NC, III:4].
- Hurting someone's feelings without good cause
- "I am a rock; I am an island." (Simon and Garfunkel)
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.
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.
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.
- Feeling we have when something is logically correct or incorrect,
- Feeling for justice,
- Feeling for harmony,
- The good feeling we have when we achieve.
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
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
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.)
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
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
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.
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.
- perceptive: to with sensing, reflexes (S-R) etc.
- sensitive: to do with affection, feeling and emotions
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.