Runner on Dooyeweerd’s NCTT
Westminster Theological Journal 21(1) 1958: 127-132.
Herman Dooyeweerd: A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Philadelphia: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co. Four vols. 1953-1958. XXXIX, 566; XXIX, 598; XXXIII, 784; V, 257. $36.00 for the four volumes.
The publication this year of the fourth and final (index) volume of this great work brings to an end the arduous and costly task of translating, editing, and publishing. We now have Dooyeweerd’s main philosophical work in a language that all the world can read. And now to read it! Or better, to study it; for Dooyeweerd himself warns us: “This philosophy, to be sure, is difficult and complicated, just because it breaks with much (sic!) traditional philosophical views. He who will make it his own must try to follow step by step its turns of thought, and penetrate behind the theoretical structure to the religious basic attitude of this whole mode of philosophizing. To those who … look at merely isolated sub-sections of the work this philosophy will not open its meaning” (I, viii f.).
Dooyeweerd is intensely relevant to the crucial discussions of our times. His almost unbelievable knowledge of the problems of the mathematical and physical sciences, biology, psychology, logic, sociology, his own field of. law, and theology enables him to address himself to the present situation. But especially in his rediscovery of the centrality of religion and in his elucidation of the various religious basic-motives that have governed the development of the west, he speaks significantly to our most recent understanding not only of the nature of Greek culture in general and of Greek philosophy in particular but, more broadly, of what culture itself is.
Take, as an example, the book of Jacques Maquet, The Sociology of Knowledge (Beacon Press, Boston, 1951). In the preface which he contributed to this book, Professor F. S. C. Northrop of Yale, speaking of the sociological studies of P. Sorokin of Harvard, says, “They reveal that a scientific study of any culture leads one to a connected set of basic predominant premises from which all the different predominant factors of that culture follow . . .” (p. xiii). And just a little farther on: “A further thesis of Prof. Sorokirt’s sociology must also be noted. Not only does a specific culture obtain its definition and its unity from an underlying set of premises, but these premises turn out also to be philosophical in character. One of the most notable developments of our time in the field of the cultural sciences is the independent demonstration of this conclusion by a large number of investigators who have approached the subject from quite different starting points. Prof. Sorokin’s sociology is one example. Recent study in the philosophy of the world’s cultures such as my Meeting of East and West is another instance. The investigations of the cultural anthropologists, such as Prof. Clyde Kluckhohn, have demonstrated that even the behavior and objective institutions of so-called primitive people such as the Navaho Indians cannot be understood until their philosophy is determined” (p. xiv).
Mr. Maquet, from the preface to whose book I have been quoting, concludes his examination of Karl Mannheim’s view of the “existential determination of knowledge” (i. e., of how social existence determines ideas) by deciding that by such “determination” scarcely more can be meant than coherence, correlation or harmony, and he makes the suggestion that to understand Mannheim’s finding in this way “may mean that ‘ontologically’ ideas and social existence come from a common factor” (cf. Northrop’s Preface, p. xvii).
At this point Dooyeweerd’s discussion of the religious basic-motives is richly rewarding. But, of course, to understand the significance of his contribution here we must be acquainted with others of his great finds. There is, first, the important difference between the theoretical attitude of thought, with its “Gegenstand-relation” (having not an ontical but only an intentional character), and naive experience (where empirical reality offers itself in the integral coherence of cosmic time) with its subject-object relation. (On this difference see Dooyeweerd I, 38 ff., and III, 3-52, “The Misinterpretation of Naive Experience by Immanence-Philosophy”.) This important aspect of Dooyeweerd’s work has been described by a great Dutch philosopher, Kohnstamm, as the “rehabilitation of naive experience”, the attitude towards life of the man who, with the totality of his person, is involved in reality as a fellow-worker along with others. With this rehabilitation Kohnstamm links the praiseworthy openness of Dooyeweerd’s work with respect to the data of the positive sciences. According to Kohnstamm this openness cuts off, at the root, the great danger of every dogmatic philosophy of inclining to lace reality up in the corset of its conceptual apparatus. It may be added that the problem of the conflict between certain biblical statements and the estab. lished findings of the physical sciences will be seen in another light if the pre-scientific (not: primitive scientific) character of these biblical utterances is kept in mind. Think of certain aspects of Bultmann’s method of demythologizing. And, finally, Sorokin’s “philosophical” premises of a culture might, on the basis of Dooyeweerd’s distinction here, turn out to be something more fundamental which gives direction and structure to ideas and to social existence as well. But now we become involved in still other contributions of Dooyeweerd, viz., his biblical insight into the central religious nature of man as heart, and his conception of the basic-motive of the Word-revelation as divine dynamis or driving-force. (For the latter see his latest article, “De verhouding tussen wijsbegeerte en theologie en de strijd der faculteiten”, in Philosophia Reformata, 23e jrg., 1e kwartaal, 1958, pp. 4 f.)
The standpoint of Dooyeweerd is a challenging alternative to the reviving natural law theories (see Time, issue of May 5, 1958, pp. 16 ff. and the various issues of the young periodical Natural Law Forum edited by Prof. Chroust of the University of Notre Dame), and it also overcomes the historical or psychological relativism of much of the thought of our time. See I, 114-124 and, for a discussion of Wilhelm Dilthey in connection with this problem, Dooyeweerd’s volume Reformatie en Scholastiek in de Wijsbegeerte (T. Wever, Franeker, The Netherlands, 1949), pp. 42 ff.; both of these passages contain an accompanying discussion of the sense in which we may speak of a philosophic perennis and of the possibility of a western community of thought in the light of the absolute and radical antithesis between the basic-motive of the Christian religion and all the other religious basic-motives which have governed the development of western civilization.
Indissolubly tied up with the Christian transcendence standpoint ruled by the religious basic-motive of creation-fall into sin-redemption is the acceptance of the basic philosophic principle of modal sphere-sovereignty. “Every modal aspect of temporal reality has its proper sphere of laws, irreducible to those of other modal aspects, and in this sense it is sovereign in its own orbit, because of its irreducible modality of meaning” (I, 102; cf. 97 f.). Sphere-sovereignty, enunciated by Abraham Kuyper, has been purified of certain ambiguities and given specific meaning in the philosophical work of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. See the Otter’s article “Souvereiniteit in eigen kring bij Kuyper en ons” in Mededelingenblad van de Vereniging voor Calvinistisch Wijsbegeerte, December, 1950, pp. 4-7.
It is of the greatest importance to become clear on this point – not merely in thought, but even more in our practice. The pragmatic drift in fact in the contemporary world is frightening to those who see that in that very drift principles are working themselves out. The matter is well discussed in the book of Van Riessen (of the same philosophical movement), of which we now possess an English translation, The Society of the Future (Philadelphia, 1957), especially in ch. III, “Structural Principles of Society”. No serious-minded Christian, at least so it appears to this reviewer, no, not even the theologian, may in these days neglect anything that is available on this momentous question; an adequate understanding of it is vital to knowing what we must do in the present fundamental crisis of our civilization. The interested reader ought to attend to the important statement of Dooyeweerd on the matter (11, 74 f.).
Based upon this doctrine of sphere-sovereignty which is developed in the first two-thirds of the second volume is the further doctrine of the individuality-structures of temporal things and of temporal societal relationships, both of which are discussed fully in Volume III. It would appear that Dooyeweerd’s analyses here are of the greatest importance for the sociologist but also for all who would know how the corpus Christianum is to work practically. Incidentally, Dooyeweerd’s explanation of the relation between positive sociology and the philosophy of human society is something that is badly needed (III, 262 ff.). For the reader who at first finds Dooyeweerd’s pages here a bit forbidding, recourse may be had to the dissertation of J. D. Dengerink, Critisch-Historisch Ondersoek near de Sociologische Ontwikkeling van het Beginsel der “Souvereiniteit in Eigen Kring” in de 19e en 20e Eeuw (Kok, Kampen, The Netherlands, 1948), to which is appended an English summary.
The third volume concludes (Part III) with the doctrine of the encaptic inter-structural interlacements and an important statement about the character of encapsis in contrast to the relation of the whole and its parts (pp. 634 ff.). Dooyeweerd treats here first the forms of encaptic interlacement of thing-structures and second the forms of encaptic interlacement of human societal structures. Finally, in chapter III (pp. 694 ff.) we are presented with the theory of the encaptic structural whole, which Dooyeweerd calls the indispensable keystone to the theory of the encaptic interlacements. The problem is formulated as follows: “How is it possible that in such interlacements new structural wholes are constituted?” This problem cannot be avoided. “For it has appeared that in itself the figure of enkapsis is sharply opposed to the relation of a whole and its parts. But if temporal reality were built up only in inter-structural interlacements not embraced by integral structural wholes, it would be impossible to account for the naive experience of things as individual totalities. For we have seen that not any of these things displays a simple structure of individuality but that they are much rather constituted on the basis of enkaptic inter weavings of structures.” “This new theory”, Dooyeweerd tells us, “… is no more the result of an a-priori construction than any other part of the philosophy explained in this work. Rather it has ripened only little by little in a continuous confrontation with empirical, scientifically established states of affairs. In this respect too the idea of the enkaptic structural whole is opposed to the a priori substance-concept of metaphysics. In the present chapter we shall continually confront these two conceptions with each other and with the empirical states of affairs. From this confrontation it will also appear to what degree in modern theoretical biology and philosophy of nature the substance-concept has Impeded a satisfactory solution of the structural problems” (pp. 694 f.). I have quoted Dooyeweerd’s text here at some length to show something of his method and further because we here get an inkling of what we have been studying towards through three thick volumes. We are trying to understand what a thing is, what an institution or association is, what man is, as these are given in empirical reality.
The work is concluded with a brief statement about “the position of man in the temporal world”. “So it appears”, we read, “that the theory of the enkaptic structural whole forms the necessary connective link between the theory of the individuality-structures and their temporal interweavings, and what is called a philosophical anthropology” (p. 781). Dooyeweerd gives no philosophical anthropology in the present work. From his words it would seem that many problems have yet to be considered. He further warns us against any exaggerated expectation concerning a philosophical anthropology. “The ultimate and central questions about human existence cannot be answered by any philosophy in an autonomous way since they are of a religious character. They are only answered in the divine Word-Revelation. But our transcendental critique of theoretical thought has shown that this answer has an intrinsic connection with the philosophical questions concerning man’s position in the temporal world” (p. 782). One point he would make: “Man, as such, has no temporal qualifying function like temporal things and differentiated societal structures, but at the root of his existence he transcends all temporal structures. Therefore the search for a ‘substantial essential form’ of human nature, in the sense of the Aristotelian-Thomistic metaphysical anthropology, is incompatible with what the Scriptures have revealed to us about created human nature” (p. 783). We are likewise warned against expecting any true self-knowledge from the existentialist’s “encounter”.
For more light on anthropological questions from Dooyeweerd we shall have to wait. That we are willing to do. He has given us much more than many of the greatest figures of western philosophical history. And his great hope that his unmasking of the dogmatism of the schools of philosophy (by showing that their so-called theoretical “axioms” are really religious presuppositions) will ultimately bring a more genuine discussion among the schools has already been realized to some extent in the fruitful discussion that is taking place in The Netherlands between the men around Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven and the men of the Thomistic philosophical movement. I refer specifically to the both excellent and amazing disserta.tion of M. F. J. Marlet, S. J., Grundlinien der kalvinisfischen “Philesepkie der Gesogsesidee” alts clristlicher transzendental-philosopie (Muenchener Theologische Studien, 11. Systematische Abteilung, 8. Band, Karl Zink Verlag, Muenchen, 1954).
Men have worked hard and sacrificed much to make this major phil.osophical work available. We thank them. We pray that through a study of it men may come to experience the Word of God as salvation even in philosophical work. What experience could be more wonderful or more in the line of the Protestant Reformation!
H. E. RUNNER
Calvin College, Grand Rapids