Imagine again a modern coffee shop so enclosed within a glass wall that we who are without can see and hear what is going on inside without being detected. Inside, life is going on as is usual in such a coffee shop. But let us suppose that we have lined up around the outside of the glass wall a group of scientists (scientific in the sense of Wissenschaft) intent on observing the life within. Let us say that among them are a physicist, a biologist, a logician, a linguist, a student of social life, an economist and a student of aesthetics. All these scientists observe the same life-situations: some people inside are standing at the counter ordering; others are sitting at tables alone or in groups, the latter engaged in quiet or animated conversation.The logician listens for logical enthymes. In reasoning there is syllogistic structures. Enthymenes are syllogisms where one of the three terms has not been expressed. Interested in first and second order enthymenes, are there adequate grounds for the conclusion? There are only two grounds: the minor and major premise.
The linguist abstracts those ‘moments’ that have something to tell him about human symbolical communication.
The student of social life, sociologist, is watching for social mores (plural of Latin word the mos, customs, it has come to mean the social ways ); he may be studying the very same gestures the linguist is watching, but rather from the standpoint of ways of persons’ getting along with one another rather than from the standpoint of symbolical communication.
Finally, the economist, he abstracts economic figures, he notices how large a cup of coffee you can buy for the price paid, and for signs of the ‘market’s’ willingness or unwillingness to pay. (Note that when we speak of the people on the floor of the stock exchange – or, for that matter, the people assembled at an old European village market – as ‘market’ we are using a term which describes that human situation there (Human Society) not in its integral wholeness of meaning, but only from the abstract economic point of view. In ordinary life we use language more casual than we do in scientific thought. The kind of functionality that dominates is the economic, but they are human, God’s covenant creatures, gathered together to do economics. There, in the stock market, we see human life at this moment, the economic function of life dominates.
Office means a commission, a divine task and the authority to do that task. Jesus was given the authority to do the task, his ‘active obedience’, that’s what earned us our righteousness. One WTS lecturer when dying sent a telegram to John Murray, ‘Thank God for his active obedience of Christ’. We are accounted as righteous because we are identified with him who was obedient to God’s law, he earned eternal life, he accomplished it for himself and for us. His death was his passive obedience; a righteous life and his death a payment for the breaking of the covenant. He submitted to the wrath of God on our part. In that sense Christ is the centre of biblical revelation. The conditions of the covenant were met – covenantal obedience – and the punishment for disobedience paid for.
Talking about the stock market, can’t say that’s economic life, but we can see the economic side. Sensing that a particular act is somehow governed by the economic aspect, although it is not just economic life.
Finally, the student of aesthetics will be observing in the life that is playing itself off inside the coffee shop what is pleasing and harmonious in the gestures, movements, arrangements, etc. He too is abstracting ‘figures.’ These illustrations, I think, make sufficiently clear why we must not, scientistically, seek the unity and meaning of life in any body of scientific knowledge. The sciences arise from the fact that there are various ways (Latin: modus; English: modes, hence, modalities) of viewing the one reality, and every special science deals with only a ‘facet’ of life.
How do we define scientific and non-scientific? I’ve been giving examples to show this. Physical, biotic, organic, economic, lingual, social we are going to call modal functions. I’ve been leading up to Dooyeweerd’s theory of modal functions.
This diagram is not the divine plan! Dooyeweerd was aware that there was room for improvement and development. Why does a system of thought have to be a closed system?
Man has loved systems, William James says, ‘systems are closed’. How can a humanist have a system unless it is closed? For Christians we know God’s creation is integral, but it doesn’t mean we have grasped all of it. There is one creation order, we also know that it is that order that we experience, we can make mistakes, but that can be corrected. God’s creation is revelatory. We are guided by God’s revelation, sin distorts and disrupts, but we are open to his revelation. We need to be always open to correction.
Dooyeweerd first had 12 modalities in the 1920s, now there are 15.
Lower one is called numerical, then spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, psychical, analytical, historial, lingual or symbolical, social, economic, aesthetic, jural, ethical, pistic.
We mean by scientific knowledge is knowledge that deals with modal abstractions. The word abstraction means a lot of things to different people.
The modal aspects are the building blocks of creation. All these areas of functionality, these spheres have laws that can’t be reduced to the laws of another sphere. This is what Dooyeweerd means by sphere sovereignty, it is sphere irreducibility. Everyone of these spheres shows a law side to it, psychical laws that can’t be reduced lingual laws and so on. This derives from Kuyper’s view, Kuyper meant something else by spheres, church, family, state and so on.
Evolutionary thinkers came along after Kuyper how can you say these structures are different? Evolutionism is a levelling process, everything reduced to physical or organic functionality. The next generation after Kuyper, said yes we know the state is different to the family, but how can we scientifically show it is the case, this is what Dooyeweerd looked at, what makes a family different from the inner structure of the State, different from the inner structure of the University etc. Kuyper’s doctrine of sphere sovereignty led to thinking about what is the internal structures, what are the ontic grounds for experiencing them.