© J. Glenn Friesen 2003-2008
Linked Glossary of
Abstraction involves an epoché or a refraining, a taking away from the full coherence and continuity of cosmic time. (NC II, 468 fn 1; see also I, 72; II, 402-403; NC II, 469) We abstact from the continuity of cosmic time, although this theoretical abstraction is an act that takes place within cosmic time (WdW II, 407, NC II, 471). Abstraction is a lifting out or isolation from the fullness of temporal reality. It is a dis-stasis from the systasis of meaning. Abstraction results in dis-continuity, a breaking up of the continuous moments of cosmic time. Abstraction takes something away from the full experience of temporal reality:
We perform this abstraction in the Gegenstand-relation, in which the logical aspect is set over-against the other aspects of reality which are split apart from their coherence. The aspects that are set over-against the logical are called the Gegenstand.
Because the Gegenstand has been lifted out of the temporal coherence, it does not correspond to ontic reality. It is an intentional object, understood in the sense that we have by abstraction willed ourselves by the epoché to leave the temporal coherence.
In the epoché, by an act of will, our selfhood leaves the enstatic coherence of meaning. How is this done? It must be remembered that the temporal functions are the temporal expression of our selfhood. The abstraction of theoretical thought is not just from the continuity of cosmic time, but from the actual, entire ego that thinks and expresses itself in all its functions (NC I, 5). In the epoché, we set one of our functions (the logical) over-against the others. Dooyeweerd is not clear how this is done, but he says that this capacity is one that the logical aspect itself possesses. Theory is therefore a dis-stasis. Dooyeweerd says that this dis-stasis is something given within the logical aspect of reality itself. Thus, the dis-stasis is not a result of the Gegenstand relation; theory only makes manifest a possibility in the logical aspect (NC II, 472).
But the over-against relation is different from the logical function itself, of identity, relation, difference and synthesis.
It can be seen that Dooyeweerd uses the word 'abstraction' very differently than we are used to. He does not use it in the sense of the abstraction of universals from concrete things. Reformational philosophers like van Riessen, Strauss and Clouser, who interpret Dooyeweerd's view of theory as an abstraction of universals from things, have seriously misunderstood this part of his philosophy. It is a wrong understanding of aspects, of universals and of things. Here are some observations about why the van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view of abstraction is wrong:
1. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view begins with things, and then tries to abstract the "aspects" from these things as their "properties." D.F.M. Strauss says that abstraction ‘involves the lifting out or identification of something or at least some property of it.’ Abstraction is not specific to theory. Theoretical abstraction differs from non-theoretical abstraction in that theory focuses on the modal aspects. Pre-theoretical abstraction is ‘entity-directed’; theoretical or scientific thought is directed to modal analysis ("The Nature of Philosophy," The Idea of a Christian Philosophy, 272, 273).
Roy Clouser has a similar view. He says that theoretical and non-theoretical abstraction differ only "in degree." In theory we "intensify the focus of attention" to such a degree that we isolate a property from something, and we focus on the property itself. Clouser calls this “high abstraction.” [The Myth of Religious Neutrality, p. 56].
But Dooyeweerd does not begin with things and their "properties." Dooyeweerd says that methodologically, we we must examine aspects before things (I, 49). Thus, aspects are not abstractions of things. This corresponds to what Dooyeweerd says in the New Critique: We cannot obtain true structural concepts of individuality by means of the procedure of gradual abstraction. Nor can we obtain theoretical insight into the modal structures of the law-spheres by gradual abstraction (NC II, 417).
2, If we begin with individual things, we do not take Dooyeweerd seriously that aspects are a refractions of totality, expressions of our selfhood. Aspects are not aspects of things, they are meaning-sides of reality, of meaning. How could an aspect be a kind of property if, as Dooyeweerd says, the aspect is a temporal refraction of the religious fullness of meaning and expresses the whole of the temporal meaning coherence? (NC I, 74).
3. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view fails to take seriously Dooyeweerd's perspectival view of temporal experience. Our experiential horizon is comprises several dimensions. The religious dimension of the selfhood encompasses the other three horizons: the temporal, the modal and the plastic dimension of individuality structures. The dimension of individuality structures depends on and is encompassed by the other dimensions. Aspects are thus not properties of individuality structures. Aspects are the modal dimension, which together with the temporal dimension, makes possible individuality structures.
4. In emphasizing and starting with the supposed individuality of things, these philosophers have a view of things that seems to be quite different from Dooyeweerd. I am reminded that the "Divergentierapport" indicates that individuality was one of the key differences with Vollenhoven.
5. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view tries to replace the Gegenstand-relation with this view of theory as the abstraction of universals. In a private conversation, Dooyeweerd confirmed to me that he disagreed with van Riessen's view of abstraction. Dooyeweerd's writings indicate that he believed that this view would result in a loss of modal diversity.
6. We may look at Dooyeweerd's criticism of D.F.M. Strauss, a student of van Riessen's. A large portion of Strauss's thesis Begrip en idee is directed to criticism of the Gegenstand relation. Strauss wanted to substitute for it the analytical subject-object relation. Dooyeweerd disagreed strongly. Verburg reports (p. 401) that Dooyeweerd's copies of Strauss's thesis contain marginal notations such as "serious misunderstanding," "sophistry reasoning," "that is not to be maintained" and "That is never asserted by me!"
In 1975 Dooyeweerd published his last article. It was a strong critique of Strauss entitled "De kentheoretische Gegenstandsrelatie en de logische subject-objectrelatie." Strauss replied–9 years later, and after Dooyeweerd's death–by the article "An Analysis of the Structure of Analysis (The Gegenstand-relation in discussion)" (Philosophia Reformata, 1984, Nr.1 pp.35-56).
Dooyeweerd says that to dissolve the inter-modal Gegenstand-relation into an intra-modal logical subject-object relation would necessarily lead to the giving up of the irreducibility of the modal aspects. Strauss had asserted that Dooyeweerd's position was circular because he said that the logical aspect itself could be subjected to the Gegenstand relation. Dooyeweerd disagreed. He said that what Strauss called an "unmaintainable circle" in his thought was in fact a necessary consequence of the ideas that Strauss himself had accepted–the transcendental Ground-Ideas of the mutual irreducibility and unbreakable mutual coherence of meaning of the modal aspects. [See circularity].
Note: The NC translation speaks of an "inter-modal synthesis of meaning." This is confusing. The original Dutch only speaks of a meaning synthesis [zin-synthesis]. The theoretical synthesis is between our actual thought [an act from out of our selfhood] and the Gegenstand of abstracted aspects, which is not actual or ontical, but only intentional. See synthesis.
7. In this last article, Dooyeweerd says that contrary to Strauss’s assertions, we do not have implied knowledge of aspects in pre-theoretical experience. Nor are aspects deduced or abstracted from things. That is a “serious misunderstanding.” This corresponds to what Dooyeweerd says in the New Critique: We cannot obtain true structural concepts of individuality by means of the procedure of gradual abstraction. Nor can we obtain theoretical insight into the modal structures of the law-spheres by gradual abstraction (NC II, 417). Dooyeweerd also says this in “Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 137:
At p. 138, he says that it is not the modal aspects that are theoretical abstractions, but it is only their setting-apart that is an abstraction:
8. Dooyeweerd sees Strauss's views as a misuses of formal logic, and an absolutizing of the logical (logicism). Strauss's accusations of circularity fail to take into account the inter-connectedness of Dooyeweerd's thought. Dooyeweerd says that without the supratemporal self, and the idea of cosmic time, his theory of the Gegenstand cannot be understood. If we can put our selfhood over-against the aspects, there is no reason that we could not put ourselves against the logical aspect, too. And that is what Dooyeweerd says can be done.
I believe that Dooyeweerd is correct, and that in regarding the aspects as themselves "properties" of things, these other philosophers have in a logicistic way interpreted modal diversity in terms of logical distinction.
9. By making theory only a matter of degree or intensity, both Strauss and Clouser are removing the distinction between the theoretical Gegenstand and the logical function.
10. Dooyeweerd's opposition to any logical character to the Gegenstand relation was consistent throughout his career. He makes a similar objection in his unpublished 1922 article "Een kritisch-methodologische onderzoeking naar Kelsen's normatieve rechtsbeschouwing," (quoted at length in Verburg, 33-38). He says that the 'Gegenstandssfeer' [that which is opposite the Gegenstand] is not logical, and that logic is limited to the logical system of pure categories and the pure forms of judgment. It is only once the Gegenstand has been split out from out experience that our logical thought can work on it.
If on the other hand we make the mistake of viewing the Gegenstand in logical categories, then the Gegenstand must depend on the creative thought of thinking itself (Marburg) or on experience (Hume, Locke), a view which undermine foundations of logic, or on a metaphysics that would rob logic of its transcendent meaning and lead to naive realism. The Gegenstand is "matter" for the application of the judgment of logic. The immanent meaning of logic demands a Gegenstand that cannot be of logical nature. The "Gegenstand sphere" is meta-logical. There is a distinction between logic and epistemology. Thinking cannot move outside of the categories of logic.The Gegenstandstheorie is conscious of the objective unity of truths over the Gegenstand. We can only be intuitively aware [schouwend bewust] of this objective unity.
11. Dooyeweerd makes the same point in his 1923 article "Roomsch-katholieke en Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde" (cited by Verburg 60). He says that our thinking and our giving of meaning are discontinuous. The relation between the aspects (gezichtsvelden) cannot be expressed in logical relations, because that relation only has meaning within that particular field of view [ingeklemde (wedged in) gezichtsveld].
12. Furthermore, to say that aspects are properties of things implies that we can form a concept of aspects. But Dooyeweerd says that we do not form a concept of aspects. The kernel of each aspect can never be conceptualized. We cannot define the kernel or each aspect because by this kernel an aspect maintains its individuality even against the logical aspect. (Dooyeweerd's "Introduction to a Transcendental Criticism of Philosophic Thought," Evangelical Quarterly XIX (1) Jan 1947).
13. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view fails to appreciate Dooyeweerd's warnings that abstraction is "totally foreign" to naive experience. Clouser, for example, speaks of theoretical abstraction as only different "in degree" from concept formation in naive experience. That is not Dooyeweerd's view.
14. To believe in the abstraction of universals from things is an Aristotelian view of the universal. (See Aristotle’s Posterior Analytics Book 2, Part 14, where he deals with properties, classes and common genus). But Dooyeweerd is opposed to any attempt to obtain the law-side apart from the subject-side of reality (WdW II, 489).
15. Clouser and Strauss say that aspects are “kinds of properties.” It is unclear whether “kinds” is intended as a universal or class, or a genus, and whether the “properties” are universals or particulars. In any event, Dooyeweerd seems to expressly reject any such view of aspects as “kinds” or as “properties.” He says that, just as substance cannot be the genus proximum of its accidents, so reality cannot be the genus proximum of its modalities (NC II, 14). In that passage, Dooyeweerd specifically disagrees with Aristotle's approach to distinguishing fields of knowledge. He also says that aspects cannot be subsumed under a particular mode. I believe that to speak of aspects as "kinds of properties" subsumes aspects under the logical mode, and therefore comes within Dooyeweerd's criticism of logicism. This is confirmed by WdW I, 43, where he says that "general concepts," such as class or genus, refer to phenomena within a certain aspect. Such general concepts try to level the diversity of meaning.
16. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view misunderstands the subject-object relation as a low level of abstraction of properties. But the logical subject-object relation can only be understood in relation to Dooyeweerd's idea of cosmic time. As aspects succeed each other in time, the earlier ones are objectified. Nor is abstraction to be viewed as a peculiarly logical subject-object relation. For the feeling aspect also has a subject-object relation (WdW II, 401; NC II, 468). In other words, I question whether Strauss and Clouser take seriously the view of the order of the aspects as a temporal prior and posterior. Vollenhoven specifically denied this view of temporal succession.
17. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view does not pay sufficient attention to Dooyeweerd's view of cosmic time. The Gegenstand relation demands an epoché, a refraining from time, and an abstraction from our selfhood. This is done by our descending to a lower level of apriori meaning.
18. By beginning with the “individual concrete thing” and then regarding theory as abstracting universals from that individual thing, the van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view is not sufficiently differentiated from empiricism. They may have "domesticated" Dooyeweerd and made his philosophy more acceptable to "normal" Western consciousness, but I believe that they have also lost the radical nature of his philosophy, which challenges all of our normally accepted views, including empiricism. Their interpretation of Dooyeweerd lacks spiritual force, since it is not much different than modernist science. Like modernist science, it will then also be subject to postmodernist critique. Clouser's distinction between abstraction and high abstraction also makes it difficult to defend a distinction between theoretical and pre-theoretical experience. The distinction becomes more one between theory and meta-theory, and the wonderful pre-theoretical (or post-theoretical) experience of the inter-relatedness of reality is lost.
19. One way that Dooyeweerd's disagreed with empiricism was his denial of the idea of a “Ding an sich” (thing in itself) (NC III, 10). But to deny that a thing exists in itself, or to deny that "substance" exists, does not just mean that we should believe that temporal reality was created. It means that nothing exists apart from and unconnected with us (NC II, 547). Since God has created the ‘earthly’ world in a concentric relation to the religious root of human existence (NC 1, 100), an ‘earthly’ world cannot exist in itself.
20. Of course, if Dooyeweerd's Idea of the supratemporal heart is denied, then it becomes much more difficult to imagine how the rest of temporal reality could be concentrated in us, since we are then just another part of temporal reality. It is clear that Clouser does not accept the view that temporal reality exists only in its supratemporal root. This also means that Clouser wants to maintain a view that holds to the existence that things can exist in themselves, apart from us, and "neutral" to our selfhood. But Dooyeweerd is clear that there is no "thing in itself." Temporal reality is not "neutral" with respect to its supratemporal root. And temporal reality does not even exist except in relation to this supratemporal root.
21. I believe that van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view of abstraction of universals from things depends on a view of law as being outside the cosmos, and governing things which are then formed by the law. This is Vollenhoven's view of God/law/cosmos, and not Dooyeweerd's view that the law is within the cosmos, and a side of it.
22. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view of theory seems to regard the Gegenstand of our theoretical thought as something that has reality. But Dooyeweerd is clear that abstraction is an intentional relation and that what is thus abstracted does not have ontical reality. Theory is the abstraction from the full systasis of meaning of the modal aspects of human experience. What has been theoretically isolated is never the datum. The real datum is the systatic coherence of meaning (NC II, 431-433).
23. The van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view fails to identify moments of systasis, dis-stasis and synthesis within theoretical thought. If theory is the abstraction of universals from things, what is the synthesis? How does theory disrupt the enstasis? How is it possible that theory then can impair our naive enstatic experience?
24. In failing to recognize that theory can impair our naive experience, the van Riessen/Strauss/Clouser view also fails to recognize the temptation presented to us by theoretical thought. In an online discussion, Clouser said that he did not believe that our theoretical abstraction is any more dangerous than naive concepts. That is not Dooyeweerd's view. Dooyeweerd says that abstraction can have the ability to impair our normal naive experience. We can lose ourselves in theoretical abstraction (I, 28). Theoretic abstraction involves a distancing from full temporal reality (I, 135). We must re-integrate the abstracted states of affairs with our selfhood. we must make the abstracted states of affairs our own ("32 propositions of Anthropology").((De leer van den mensch in de W.D.W., Corr. Bladen 5 (1942), Naive experience remains the criterion of validity even for theoretical thought. And when we forget that it is temporary, we forget to move to a synthesis with our supratemporal self, and to re-integrate what we have analyzed.
25. Henk Hart interpreted modal aspects in terms of functors and functions, but that seems to me to be too individualistic a view of theory [Understanding Our World, p. 1, note 1]. Hart expressed the opinion that Dooyeweerd was following Aristotle’s view of things and their properties (or qualities or attributes). This seems to me to be a mischaracterization that misses the distinctiveness of Dooyeweerd’s view of both pre-theoretical and of theoretical experience. Hart's view of function and functor also ignores Dooyeweerd's view that the supratemporal selfhood expresses itself in the temporal functions. The functions come out of the fullness of our selfhood (they are an expression of this fullness). In speaking of these functions as "properties," we have entered a philosophic system that is alien to Dooyeweerd’s thought. But Hart is correct in comparing the view of abstraction of universals to Aristotle's philosophy. Like van Riessen, Strauss and Clouser, Hart's view of theory begins with the “individual thing.” He says,
26. But Dooyeweerd does not see theory as the searching for universals in contrast to a pre-theoretical perception of the individual. The isolation of the individual is already a theoretical act! Dooyeweerd says, “In veritable naïve experience, things are not experienced as completely separate entities (NC III, 54). Thus it is incorrect to say that the pre-theoretical is directed to the individual and the theoretical directed to the universal.
Thus, Dooyeweerd says theoretical thought concerns the isolation of individual. That is contrary to the view that theory isolates universals. Dooyeweerd's view avoids both a naturalistic and atomistic interpretation of the plastic horizon of reality. By limiting my theoretical attention to a concrete natural thing [linden tree] I am actually engaged in a theoretical abstraction
27. With respect to aspects as functions, Dooyeweerd seems to say that functions are distinguished in the special sciences (WdW I, 47 and II, 487). Thus, to speak of functions we are already engaged in theoretical thought.
28. Hart's view of functions seems to relate to a view of universals as regularity, a regular conformance to law. The "Divergentierapport" draws attention to Vollenhoven’s view of law as “regularity.” I believe it is this view that has contributed the view of theory as abstraction of universals. In this view, the law sets out the structure of creation, and then in theory we look at regularities within certain “functions.” For Vollenhoven, science and theory investigate such regularity. See his “Schriftsgebruik en Wijsbegeerte.” But Dooyeweerd rejects this view. From the confidential "Divergentierapport," it appears that Dooyeweerd did not share this view. Instead, he emphasizes the temporal refraction of meaning [zinsbreking]. In another article, Dooyeweerd specifically says that the Gegenstand is not to be identified with such regularity [wetmatige] (“Het Tijdsprobleem in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee,” Part II 1940, p. 210).
29. Henk Geertsema is one of the few to have expressed some reservations about Strauss's view of abstraction. Geertsema says abstraction is from continuity of cosmic time. The object of theoretical thought is not reality as it is given in human experience. It is intentional. And he says that, contrary to Strauss's ideas, there must be something more to theoretical thought than making explicit what is implied in our nontheoretical thought and experience. He questions Strauss's identification of abstraction with analysis, which is the ‘distinguishing of universal features which are identified.’ He says that Strauss therefore fails to do justice to abstraction from the continuity of cosmic time ("Dooyeweerd’s Transcendental Critique: Transforming it Hermeneutically," Contemporary Reflections, 88-90).
30. As we have seen, the Gegenstand that has in abstraction been lifted out of the temporal coherence, does not correspond to ontic reality. It is not too clear as to why we should abstract when it results in a non-ontical reality. Dooyeweerd says it results in a deepening of meaning, and an unfolding or opening process.
Baader is more clear on this point. Theory involves a descent that is a kenosis in an act of love for temporal creatures who need our help in their redemption. Dooyeweerd hints at this in his idea of collecting the scattered sparks.
Baader is also more clear about the temptation of descending to the temporal in abstraction. .
Baader uses the word ‘abstraction’ in this same sense–the merely theoretical [bloß theoretische] removes part from out of a larger coherence. It abstracts from out of our concrete historical and community life (Sauer 30, ft. 11, citing Werke I, 323). Baader says that abstraction is when we do not understand in our Center (Schriften II, 140). The word ‘abstraction’ means distortion, deformation, misstatement [Enstellung, Entstaltung, Verkehrung] (Werke VIII, 356; cited by Sauer 117). No abstract concept of God is therefore possible. Concepts are severed [abgesondert und losgelöst] from a larger whole. Concepts are to be contrasted with the idea of Totality which alone makes possible a meaningful interpretation and understanding of the world. Baader also sees abstraction in terms of separation.
Revised Jan 29/08