Truth: Relative and Absolute: Dooyeweerd's Discussion
On this page we examine Dooyeweerd's view of Truth. While Kant and other thinkers focus on our knowledge of truth rather than truth itself, Dooyeweerd focuses on both Truth and our knowledge of truth, and links them. Therefore the notion of Truth, as known, is tied up with those of belief and knowing.
It will be noticed that Dooyeweerd seems very post-modern in his stance, in contending that "there is no truth in itself", while at the same time contending that absolute Truth is to be found (in the Divine). He also accounts for how it is that our partial, relative knowledge of truth relates to Truth and is not totally random: because of Revelation from a Divine who will not cheat or deceive us. But that is Dooyeweerd's commitment, and he makes it explicit.
Contents of Page:
PART A. DOOYEWEERD'S REVIEW OF THREE VIEWS OF TRUTH
In his section '§3 The Perspective Structure of Truth', [NC,II,565-82], Dooyeweerd first reviews three main philosophical ideas about truth, that of "realistic metaphysics" (pre-Kantian and Aristotlean), that of Kant and that of Phenomenology. He provides a succinct, though sometimes unreadable, summary of each and an indication of their limitations and inner antinomies. Each, Dooyeweerd argues, is limited by its Cosmonomic Idea (its fundamental idea of how reality is and can be). What Dooyeweerd sought to uncover was the presuppositions, made in each, about knowledge and what makes true knowledge possible.
Truth in (pre-Kantian) realist metaphysics [NC,II, 566-7]
Truth is seen as "agreement between thought and being": an adequatio relationship. That is, when our thoughts / knowledge agree what actually is, then we have truth (i.e. true as opposed to untrue knowledge). The components of this view are:
- True knowledge of things is pure conceptual form of the material substance of things.
- The material substance is given via sensory perception.
- The essence of things is to be abstracted by our intellectual agency.
- Truth is an adequatio (adequacy) relation between conceptual form and essential form.
- True knowledge occurs by assimilating (homoioosis); assimilation is the adaptation of the intellect to the real thing.
- This adaptation is made possible by the faculty of the soul to receive a material image of the material substance via the senses.
- World is a metaphysical-teleological rational order, founded in Divine Nous.
- Being is form and matter.
- Truth is one of the three mediaeval "transcendental determinations" of noumenal being.
- True knowledge must be theoretical knowledge.
- That the adequatio relation is possible (Kant's criticism is that they take this for granted and do not seek the criteria).
Limitations (not only from Dooyeweerd:
- Only theoretical knowledge, not full knowledge.
- The only input is via the senses, and not via direct aspectual intuition.
- Truth describes what-is-known rather than what-is-done.
- Realist Metaphysical conception of truth ends up as explanation of names (Kant's criticism according to Dooyeweerd).
Truth according to Kant [NC,II, 567-9]
Kant accepted the idea that truth is an agreement (adequatio relation), but instead of between thought and being, it is between cognition and its object. ("The nominal definition of truth, that it is the correspondence of cognition with its object, is assumed as granted; the question asked is as to what is the general and sure criterion of the truth of any and every cognition." [Kant, Critique Pure Reason])
The slight difference (being, object) comes from his asking how adequatio is possible, and seeking to understand the criteria for truth. (He differentiated transcendental truth from empirical truth, which is relative within the horizon of transcendental truth; it is transcendental truth that we are concerned about here.) The components he came up with, which he believed are a priori ('built-in') to all sensing and thinking, are:
- The transcendental-logical ego ...
- undertakes synthetical judgement ...
- with respect to sensory matter of experience ...
- as received in pure forms of sensibility.
- The basic human faculty of making synthetical judgements is truly a priori (i.e. built in: "universal, valid and necessary"). (This is what makes adequatio possible.)
- So even objective experience rests on such synthetical judgements.
- This guarantees correspondence between a priori human knowledge and objects as a whole.
Thus synthetical judgements are "source of all truth", prior all experience. This led Kant to a highly subjectivist epistemology, in which knowledge depends on the human thinker not on the world (Kant's "Copernican revolution", which placed the human ego rather than the world at the centre). "In KANT the 'transcendental subject' itself is the indubitable immanent seat of transcendental truth" [NC,II, 569].
- "Transcendental truth" exists (Kant has reified, hypostatized it).
- That which is known is objects as a whole ("Gegenstand überhaupt).
- Knowledge is theoretical knowledge.
- That synthetical judgements are possible.
- That there is an empirical world with which to engage (Husserl's criticism of Kant).
- The a priori forms of sensibility, understanding and synthesis are "immediately accessible to transcendental thought".
Problems and Limitations:
- Restricted truth to theoretical knowledge: Kant restricts truth to that which can be worked out by theoretical synthesis-judgements. (Kant's transcendental subject is a transcendental-logical ego.)
- Dooyeweerd suggests that Kant has "no insight into the true structure of the horizon of human experience" (which Dooyeweerd understands via aspects), so "the transcendental structure of theoretical truth was bound to remain hidden from him."
- Kant's "constructive nominalist criterion of truth founded in a Humanistic cosmonomic Idea was bound to lead to the denial of the possibility of other theoretical knowledge than that which is the aim of mathematics and mathematical natural science."
- Dooyeweerd notes that Husserl also criticised Kant for failing o make the (hidden) transcendental dimensions of experience accessible to our immediate experience or intuition.
- Restricts to sensory phenomena: Kant restricts the input data that is allowed for building knowledge to that obtained from the senses, along with transcendental categories of space and time.
- Kant is inconsistent (Kant's "inner antinomy"): "But his view of the empirical 'world', as the objective correlate of the 'transcendental-logical ego', was determined by the classical Humanistic science-ideal, which in its mechanistic determinism doubtless aimed at the elimination of human subjectivity. This caused an inner antinomy in KANT's conception of the horizon of theoretical truth. His epistemology works with unclarified presuppositions which do not agree with his transcendental subjectivism."
- The "unclarified presuppositions" breeds deep ambiguity in Kant. Might Abela's  argument that Kant can be reinterpreted as a realist rather than idealist, stem from this "inner antinomy" that Dooyeweerd detected half a century earlier?
- Kant's reifying (hypostatizing) of transcendental truth "undermined every trans-subjective ground of the validity of theoretical verity."
Truth according to Phenomenology [NC,II, 569-70]
Whereas Kant saw the natural sciences as aiming for objective truth, Husserl argued that this is impossible because the meaning of all concepts used in scientific activity rest on the lifeworld (shared background knowledge derived from everyday experience). Husserl called for a more radical subjectivism than Kant did. For Husserl, truth is also an adequatio relationship: the "coalescence" of what the act of phenomenological reduction intends with that which is given by intuition of essence. Its components help us to understand that:
- Construction of knowledge is by synthesis-acts of the transcendental ego.
- All forms of possible being must be made into phenomena before they can be used in such synthesis.
- Phenomena are constituted by the intentional acts of the transcendental ego.
- Phenomena are conceived via philosophical reduction. [A rigorous regime of trying to remove prejudices etc. and recovering the supposed prejudice-free attitude of "astonishment"].
- Phenomena can be experienced via eidetic intuition (bright, vivid intuition).
- The transcendental ego correlates with 'worlds' of knowledge.
- The total of all possible theoretical truths ("the transcendental horizon of a priori theoretical verity") encompasses all the possible worlds with which the transcendental ego might correlate.
- This includes the lifeworld (the world of everyday life).
It seems to me that whereas Kant emphasises the diversity of meaningfulness of knowledge and sciences, Husserl emphasises the coherence of meaningfulness therein. It seems to me, using Dooyeweerdian ideas, that Husserl is aware that both thinker and world function in the same 'ocean of meaningfulness', the same set of aspects.
- There is no such thing (or it is meaningless to speak of) an objective, real world.
- The only things we can experience, and which form input to our knowledge-making, are phenomena.
- Phenomena are generated by the autonomous ego. Radical subjectivism.
- That it should be possible, in principle, to achieve knowledge completely free of prejudices etc.
- (I add) It takes for granted our ability (in principle) to do phenomenological reduction and our ability to experience eidetic intuition. I ask (with help of Dooyeweerd): what are these and how are they possible?
- (I add) It takes for granted distinctions between worlds and/or that the worlds can be treated as one whole. On what grounds are either possible?
Limitations and Problems:
- Husserl sees no route to knowledge than via intentional theoretical synthesis, and even the lifeworld is constituted in this. This means that Husserl is completely blind to the pre-theoretical nature of everyday life and the shared background knowledge that is the lifeworld.
- Husserl reifies (hypostatizes) the idea of transcendental truth, as Kant does, but he goes further, in positing the notion of one total transcendental truth, which embraces all worlds.
- Husserl's total of truth thereby includes the 'world' of religion. Dooyeweerd claims this robs religion of its transcendent character. Dooyeweerd seems to want a way to keep this separate from ordinary knowledge. [I disagree; I believe that what Husserl is talking about is human pistic functioning, which is not transcendent, rather than the trans-aspectual, atemporal religious orientation of the ego, which is transcendent.]
Overview and Dooyeweerd's Comments
It seems that all three presuppose theoretical thought as the way to 'truth'. Also, that truth is a property of the thing called knowledge (as an adequatio relationship between knowledge and known), rather than of what we do (in that sense, Pragmatism critiques all three). Despite Husserl's promising notion of lifeworld, none of them adequately understands everyday experience nor the pre-theoretical attitude of thought.
In each case, I find that Dooyeweerd addresses, or helps me address, what each takes for granted:
- Metaphysical realism: what are, and what makes possible: thought, being, agreement between them?
- Kant: What are, and what makes possible: synthetical judgements, empirical world?
- Phenomenology: What are, and what makes possible: eidetic intuition, phenomenological reduction, distinctions between worlds, the coherence of worlds?
- All three: What is, and what makes possible, an adequatio relationship (which is different in each case)?
Thus we have three main problems with the three (1) they consider only theoretical truth and ignore pre-theoretical truth and especially truth-of-doing, (2) two of them at least assume that input to knowledge can come only via the senses, (3) they all take things for granted that are actually important philosophical problems.
Note: Those are general philosophical criticism of the three, as adequate for a philosophical understanding of truth, which I believe Dooyeweerd can overcome. He holds truth to apply to both pre-theoretical and theoretical thought and knowledge, and to be multi-aspectual; he posits a "perspective structure of truth", i.e. truth incorporates perspectives (which are made possible by aspects as modalities of meaningfulness).
Dooyeweerd also adds a religious criticism, that none of them are adequate for a Christian understanding of truth. He is particularly critical of Phenomenology, insofar as he sees it as not allowing the religious world a special place (is Dooyeweerd there guilty of scholastic elevation of grace over nature?). Because Christian doctrine holds that Christ is The Truth, and the One in Whom all things cohere, Dooyeweerd would like to understand how that idea relates to an adequately philosophical idea of truth. As a Christian believer myself, I find Dooyeweerd's addressing of this interesting, but I wish to keep it conceptually and motivationally separate from a philosophically adequate understanding of truth.
Dooyeweerd's Notion of Truth
In view of the limitations above, Dooyeweerd argued [p.571] that:
- "The a priori structure of truth cannot be understood from the absolutized (and therefore misinterpreted) theoretical-synthetical horizon."
- So we should "inquire into the a priori structure of truth in connection with the horizon of human experience. But then this structure must be conceived in its full richness ... In the meaning-structure of the horizon of human experience truth will prove to have the same perspective character as this horizon."
- ... and this is "only possible theoretically in the Christian Idea of verity. This Idea is directed to the fulness of the meaning of Truth. ... It [the a priori structure of truth] can only be approached from the transcendent horizon made transparent by the religious fulness of meaning of the Divine Revelation." This is because it is "transcendent religious fulness of Truth" that "makes all truth within the temporal horizon possible" and which is "concerned with our full selfhood, with the heart of the whole of human existence, consequently also the centre of our theoretical thought." (He adds, in more poetic style, that this Revelation "shines forth" to enlighten all human experience including theoretical judgements, and it "liberates the horizon of human experience: 'The truth shall make you free'".)
A few pages later Dooyeweerd gives a definition of (transcendental) truth in general, which, like the others rests on an adequatio relationship, but between different things, and it adds something else. It has three parts (I insert numbers):
"According to its transcendental a priori dimension truth is: the accordance between  the subjective a priori knowledge enclosed by the temporal horizon, as expressed in a priori judgments, and  the a priori structural laws of human experience within this temporal horizon.  The latter is open (as to its law- and subject-sides) to the light of the transcendent Truth in Christ." [NC,II, 573, original all in italics]
This is truth in its fullest sense including both pre-theoretical and theoretical functioning and knowing. For theoretical truth, Dooyeweerd gives a more specialised definition, which has several (numbered) portions:
"the correspondence of
 the subjective a priori meaning-synthesis
 as to its intentional meaning
 the modal structure of the 'Gegenstand' of theoretical thought.
 This synthesis is actual in our apriori theoretical insight,
 and is expressed in theoretical apriori judgments.
 The modal 'Gegenstand' is included
 in its all-sided inter-modal coherence within the temporal horizon.
 This coherence exists both in the foundational and in the transcendental direction of time
 and is dependent on the transcendent fulness of the meaning of Truth." [NC,II, 575, original all in italics]
"This somewhat lengthy description is indispensable," remarks Dooyeweerd, "if we do not wish to omit a single moment in the transcendental structure of theoretical truth." We might note the following.  incorporates Kant's insight of the importance of the knowing-subject.  allows for Husserl's insight about intentionality.  makes it clear that theoretical truth is to do with Gegenstand (what our analytical functioning stands over against in the world, and abstracts certain aspects which it sees as meaningful; see Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought).  and  say more about our theoretical synthesizing.  points out that the Gegenstand is not arbitrary but always within the ambit of, and referring to, aspects (modalities of meaning, being and functioning), so, it seems to me, even transcendental truth is always relative to an aspect as a sphere of meaningfulness.  emphasises the multi-aspectual nature of the 'horizon' of all possible knowledge, in my view affirming Husserl's recognition of 'worlds': each 'world' revolves around one main aspect, including the 'religious' world around the pistic aspect.  emphasises that truth, even when relative to one aspect, needs to take all aspects into account, both those before it (on which it depends foundationally) and those later than it (which infuse extra meaningfulness).  links theoretical truth with the transcendent Divine, who alone is Truth, and which makes meaningfulness of truth possible.
PART B. DOOYEWEERD'S UNDERSTANDING OF TRUTH
To compile this part, which requires considerable more writing, I have typed out Dooyeweerd's own index under 'Truth' in his New Critique of Theoretical Thought Volume IV, selected all those that indicate his own view, and grouped them under his major beliefs. The number after each refers to the page in Volume II where the idea is expanded.
The following was written 15 years earlier than the above, so might not fully answer the above. I intend to rewrite it so that it does answer the above.
Here Dooyeweerd speaks of our knowledge of truth, and 'truths' as they exist in our experience as individual entities such as in propositional form. This is what many thinkers talk about when they discuss 'truth': our experience of truth.
- there is no truth in itself, 577
- our insight is fallible; 574
- 2 x 2 = 4 becomes an untruth if it is absolutized into a truth in itself; 572
- hypostatized [reified] 'truth' is a lie, there is no selfsufficient partial truth, 561
- the hypostatization [reification] of the Idea of Verity, 578
If our experience of truth is not absolute, it must be relative to something; if so, to what is it relative?
Our experience of truth, our knowing, is relative to the framework of aspects in which we function. Dooyeweerd's index statements about this are:
- truth has the same perspective character as our horizon of experience; 571
- the logical criterion of truth owes its meaning to the structure of the experiential horizon, 565
- depends on a normative relation of our subjective cognition to its structural laws, 573
- theoretical judgments and sphere sovereignty, 577
- the perspective structure of truth and subjectivism, 577
- the error of opposing super-natural truth to natural, 565
- the accordance between the subjective synthesis and the modal structure of the Gegenstand within the temporal horizon and in relation to the religious fulness of Truth, 577
So our experience of truth comes about by virtue of our aspectual functioning.
(Note: The words 'subjective' and 'subjectivism' are used above. By 'subjective' Dooyeweerd usually meant 'being subject to aspectual law' and not 'personal and arbitrary' as we often assume it to mean, whereas by 'subjectivism' he meant the elevation of the personal to a pretence that personal views and perspectives are sovereign. The latter, he argued, is an outworking of Cartesian dualism of mind and body, and 'I think therefore I am', with which Dooyeweerd profoundly disagreed.)
This does, of course, mean that theoretical analysis and logical thinking can never be 'neutral'. Behind any theoretical thinking lie assumptions and presuppositions that are extra-theoretical in nature. Not only is it extra-theoretical in general terms (e.g. as instinct might be; the Kantian 'a priori'), but specifically it is religious. Our very activity of theoretical analysis, and what we take to be valid theory and valid logic, require a "a sure ground for the thinking process, which can only be found in the Absolute" [CPMH:46] and are thus founded in our religious commitment to a view of what we presuppose to be Divine and self-dependent, and what, non-Divine and dependent.
Dooyeweerd's index statements relating to this are:
- theoretical truth depends on super-temporal truth, 561
- religious fulness of meaning is bound up with temporal reality; 561
- human cognition is directed to the absolute truth, or, in apostasy, to the spirit of falsehood, 562 [note: directed to, rather than knowing]
- the religious fulness of truth liberates the horizon of human experience and is concerned with our full selfhood; 571
See discussion of religious presuppositions and ground motives for more.
While Dooyeweerd agrees with post-modern thought and constructivism that our experience of truth is relative and fallible, he still believes there is absolute truth. Dooyeweerd did not say 'there is no truth' but 'there is no truth in itself'. The 'in itself' is important, and relates to his fundamental proposal that nothing in this cosmos nor in our experience is self-dependent. He believed that there is absolute Truth - located in God, in the Divine, to whom all else refers.
(This is not a Kantian gap between phenomenon and noumenon - Kant claimed we can never know the 'Ding an Sich', 'thing in itself', but only as it appears to us - because that notion presupposes absolute truth is to be found in the 'Ding an Sich'. Dooyeweerd's theory of entities, of Being, as rooted in the aspects, all of which are non-absolute, precludes this. Dooyeweerd's account of the Kantian gap lies in his proposal that each aspect provides a distinct way of knowing while Kant restricted all knowing to theoretical knowing.)
What is the relationship between our experience of truth and the absolute While positivism hopes to identify one with the other, and interpretivism severs all relationship between them, Dooyeweerd says they are distinct but there is a relationship between them. As one index-statement says, we can have some knowledge of absolute truth:
- our experience is limited by, but not restricted to, the temporal, 561
The relationship between Truth and our experience of truth rests on two things: revelation and orientation. The Divine proactively reveals Truth to us in ways we can engage with, and we orientate ourselves either towards or away from the absolute Truth. Therefore, though Dooyeweerd rejects the positivist idea that we can in principle seek and attain absolute truth (and that there is no such thing as Divine Revelation), he does not thereby sink into a hopeless aimlessness that characterises much post-modernism. This explains why religious presupposition is so important: our presuppositions are tied up with the degree to which we are orientated towards absolute Truth.
Readily acknowledging his own personal religious commitment to Christ, and refusing to pretend that theoretical thinking could ever be 'neutral' in this respect, he spoke about absolute Truth as follows:
If absolute Truth is in God, and our experience of truth is always fallible, then the Divine needs to take the initiative in revealing itself to us. The Divine transcends us. Dooyeweerd's statements about this are:
- God is the Origin, Christ the perfect Revelation and the fulness of truth; 572
- Christ is the Truth, standing in the truth is the prerequisite for the insight into the horizon of experience, 564
- the transcendental horizon must be opened by Christ, 574
- [therefore] Christian religion should penetrate philosophy; 566 [note: penetrate not dominate]
- the transcendental horizon must be made transparent by Divine Revelation; 571
- it requires the transcendent light of Divine Revelation, 573
- Divine Revelation enters our temporal horizon only through faith; 572
- the Divine Word-Revelation in the garb of human language, the Incarnation; 561
(Note, however, that though Word-Revelation was important, Dooyeweerd also believed that God revealed himself via the natural order that he had created, so that even those without the written 'garb' could orientate themselves towards God. However, this is only hinted at in his index.)
However, unlike Scholastic thought that places all emphasis on Divine Revelation, Dooyeweerd believed that science and reason have an important part to play. While they cannot lead us to absolute Truth, they can at least improve our experience of truth. His index-statements about this are:
- the investigator's Archimedean point; 574
- special sciences handle different criteria of truth, but only seemingly so, 576b
- they [special sciences] lack a transcendetal criterion; 576b
- they [special sciences] use an a priori subjective theoretical synthesis, 576b
(His statement, "special sciences handle different criteria of truth, but only seemingly so," requires elaboration. Elsewhere we have seen that each aspect gives a distinct science and distinct way of knowing. So the "special sciences do handle different criteria of ..." but not criteria of truth; they handle different criteria of quality of research. That is why he adds "only seemingly so"; not to say that all sciences handle the same criteria of truth, but that the different criteria they handle are not of truth but of ways of knowing.)
Finally, a couple of statements that Dooyeweerd made about the Christian notion of truth:
- the Christian idea of verity, directed to the fulness of the meaning of Truth; 571
- in Holy Scripture truth means steadfastness, certainty, reliability, 571
The latter statement is interesting because it links with Dooyeweerd's belief that truth is not primarily something we know, but something we do and are. As in an arrow that is true when it is as straight as it is meant to be, and in the statement "You are a true friend." Truth, to Dooyeweerd, is tied in with Meaning rather than correspondence etc. It is possible that it is only in his Meaning-oriented framework that we can have both absolute and relative truth in harmony.
Zuidervaart's Critique of Dooyeweerd's Conception of Truth
In 2008 Lambert Zuidervaart wrote a critique of Dooyeweerd's conception of truth, entitled 'After Dooyeweerd: Truth in Reformational Philosophy'. I cannot find where it is published. After a very detailed and technical explanation of Dooyeweerd's idea of truth, he makes the following critiques:
- Dooyeweerd has 'structuralized' religion and, as a result, introduces two major impossibilities; "ontologicaly, religious truth must be both transcendent and immanent but cannot really be either; epistemologically, religious truth must be unique and all-pervading but cannot be both." [I think Z misunderstands Dooyeweerd there.]
- Limited experience. [not sure what he means by this]
- Self-Referential incoherence. "he is still doing what he says cannot be done" in giving a theoretical account of the supra-theoretical. [But I am not sure that Dooyeweerd is actually doing that]
- Tautologous truth. Truth as accordance of three different kinds, but 3 problems. [not sure what Z means]
- Privileged access. Essentially, according to Z, Dooyeweerd says that only Christians can know truth. [I don't think Dooyeweerd says that at all; I think Z has too limited a view of 'standing in the truth'.]
In short, I think the problem lies in Dooyeweerd's poor explanations rather than in his actual ideas. However, I think Z's critique must be seriously understood and answered. My quick responses to it above are tentative.
Abela P. 2002. Kant's empirical realism. PhilPapers, 2002.
This page, "http://www.dooy.info/truth.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.
Created: 18 February 2003.
Last updated: 3 March 2003 link to ground.motives#relig. 10 March 2003 ditto plus quote from CPMH. 21 November 2005 unets. 28 April 2012 Zuidervaart's critique of dy's notion of truth. 16 August 2018 new .end,.nav, a few word changes. 16 August 2018 added discussion of three views of truth. 17 August 2018 Dooyeweerd's notion and definitions of truth. 29 August 2018 added contents, and tidied up. 29 March 2019 Made a few changes, mainly reorderings.