Dr. J. Glenn Friesen

Herman Dooyeweerd:
De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (1935-36)
The Philosophic Ground-Idea

Linked Glossary
List of Notes

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume I
Prism of Cosmic Time
Law and Subject

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume II
The Gegenstand
Dis-stasis/ Synthesis
Intuition and Time
Conceptual Limits
Horizon and Levels
God, Self and Cosmos

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume III
Foreword to Vol III

Other articles by Dooyeweerd
32 Propositions on Anthropology

Responses to the Curators (1937-38)

Dooyeweerd's 1964 Lecture, and Discussion

Dooyeweerd's last article (1975)

1974 Interview of Dooyeweerd, with mp3 audio files.

The last interview of Dooyeweerd (1975)

“The Problem of Time in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea” (1940)

The Idea of the Individuality Structure and the Thomistic Concept of Substance

Encyclopedia of Legal Science (1946)

The Romantic Poetry of Herman Dooyeweerd 1912-13

Dooyeweerd's student article: “Neo-Mysticism and Frederik van Eeden”(1914)

Other articles about Dooyeweerd

Dooyeweerd's Encyclopedia of the Science of Law: Problems with the Present Translation

Dooyeweerd versus Vollenhoven: The religious dialectic within reformational philosophy.

J.H. Gunning, Christian Theosophy and Reformational Philosophy

Dooyeweerd's Philosophy of Aesthetics: A Response to Zuidervaart's Critique

The Religous Dialectic Revisited

Why did Dooyeweerd want to tear out his hair?

Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and the Quest for an Ecumenical Orthodoxy

Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd's Philosophy

Dooyeweerd versus Strauss: Objections to immanence philosophy within reformational thought.

Dooyeweerd and Baader: A Response to D.F.M. Strauss

Dooyeweerd, Spann and The Philosophy of Totality

Revised notes regarding aevum

Individuality Structures and Enkapsis: Individuation from Totality in Dooyeweerd and German Idealism

Monism, Dualism, Nondualism: A Problem with Vollenhoven’s Problem-Historical Method

Vollenhoven's disagreements with Dooyeweerd; translations of three of Vollenhoven's articles.

Johann Stellingwerff: History of Reformational Philosophy (review)


© J. Glenn Friesen


Herman Dooyeweerd: De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee
The Philosophy of the Law-Idea

(Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1935-36)
Translation [Excerpts] and Meditational Study Guide
by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen
Notes on this Translation

The Dutch Academy of Sciences has made all three volumes of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee available online (in Dutch). These three volumes can also be downloaded here in .pdf format from the website of The Association for Reformational Philosophy.

The text below is a provisional translation. Copyright is held by the Dooyeweerd Centre, Ancaster, Ontario, and publishing right is held by Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York. A definitive translation will be published in the series The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd.

§1 The Philosophic Ground-Idea [Grondidee]

[WdW I, 34] Study Notes

In the Introduction we argued that without a transcendent point of departure, without an Archimedean point, no philosophic thought is possible and that a philosophy that supposes to be able to find this point within philosophic thinking itself, in spite of all its arguments to the contrary, must exceed the limits of this thought in order to discover its Archimedean point. the choice of this Archimedean point is thereby characterized as itself transcending philosophy. Philosophy is not the final, all-inclusive attitude to the questions of life and world. It has a necessary apriori, a necessary presupposition, without which it can take no step towards fulfilling its task: in theoretical self-reflection to direct the view of totality to our world coherence.

And this apriori transcends the immanent apriori structure of philosophic thought. The choice of the Archimedean point necessarily has a religious, transcendent character.

Philosophy is not itself religion, but it is grounded in religion. Philosophic thought is not possible without the activating of the religious root of our personality, our selfhood; it can only be understood as religious activity of the self in the temporal theoretical domain. This religious activity of the self intensifies itself in philosophic thought, but it definitely transcends thought in its religious fullness.

[WdW I, 35] Study Notes
Rickert’s conception of the self-limitation of thought

Rickert believes that we can never be aware of the limits of thought by taking a stand outside of thought and from there looking back on thought in order to know its limitedness: “As soon as we are beyond thought, we can know nothing.” [2] This is certainly true. We can even go further and say: It is entirely impossible that we in the actuality of our self-consciousness could stand outside our thought, because without thought our human selfhood cannot reveal itself in the temporal coherence of our world. But Rickert falls back into the immanence standpoint in a misunderstanding of the transcendence of our selfhood that can never be eliminated with respect to thought. [3]

If we want to learn the limits of our thought, we must, while thinking, come to a subjective concept of the limits, but Rickert is wrong that these limits are set by thought. And they could not be known by a thinking that is abstracted [afgetrokken] from its religious root and the coherence of meaning.

Since we have therefore shown the necessity of transcendence, we will go a step further.

Philosophy wants us to theoretically recognize our [temporal] world coherence as the coherence of meaning. But philosophic thought is itself bound to this coherence of meaning; only within the coherence of meaning does philosophy’s immanent content have any meaning. It finds its fullness of meaning in the religious root of the human race, and in which we participate in our selfhood. The temporal world coherence, in its meaning as concentrated in man, may not be absolutized, and philosophic thinking may not be absolutized in this temporal world coherence.

Man transcends the temporal world coherence in his selfhood, but he moves within the temporal coherence in the status of being-universally-bound-to time. Man shares this status within time with all creatures who are fitted with him in the same temporal world coherence

[WdW I, 36] Study Notes
First orientation in the diversity of meaning

Within the temporal world coherence, reality displays a large diversity of meaning-sides, as we already noted in the Introduction. These aspects are only articulately distinguished by scientific thought: the aspects of number, space, movement, organic life, feeling, logical analysis, historical development, language, social association, economic valuation, beautiful harmony, law, morality, faith.

This is a preliminary and very rough schema of the distinguished meaning-sides in which the full temporal reality displays itself to the theoretical eye. This schema will later be subject to a more precise analysis of meaning. It is a schema that temporarily gives us an orientation in the diversity of meaning of our temporal cosmos.

[WdW I, 37] Study Notes
The immanence of all meaning-sides
of the cosmos in cosmic time

Within cosmic time, which spans over all temporal aspects, these meaning-sides of reality are interwoven in a universal temporal coherence of meaning, and in each of these aspects, the full temporal reality has a law-side and a subject-side.

Nowhere else do we in fact transcend cosmic time except in the religious root of our existence. We do not transcend it in our thinking, nor in our concept, and not even in the philosophical transcendental Idea as a limiting concept qua talis [as such.]

Already in the orientation to the diversity of meaning in our cosmos we see ourselves forced to contrast this idea of time against the metaphysical immanence philosophy, which elevates the “noumenon” above the temporal cosmos (which it sees as the “world of things”).

The problem of time will receive our special attention in the fourth volume of this work. In the present context we must be content with a few orientating remarks.

[WdW I, 37b] Study Notes
Time’s all-sidedness of meaning, and
time in particularized meaning

The prevailing view [of time] identifies it with time in particularized meaning of natural movement. Only recently has the philosophical question been asked whether this concept of time taken from the natural sciences, in which time and space flow together, can really contain the true meaning of time. Bergson believed that the true time is durée in the sense of an actual psychical stream of consciousness, in which all moments permeate each other qualitatively and which knows no mathematical similarity. Others sought true time in historical meaning.

The view that we shall defend in this work, that cosmic time is not to be understood in any single particular of meaning, but that it extends equally through all meaning-sides of reality. This may be regarded as a new idea.

Others will admit that our (supposed) "actual psychical activity" is within time. But they will regard as absurd the postiion that the concept of time is also temporal in its meaning. They will say that this drives us straight into the arms of "relativism."

[WdW I, 38] Study Notes
Concepts are immanent in time

What now? The tree comes form the seed, grows and disappears within time. But is the concept of a tree in its remaining objective sense then really bound to time?

Why does the appearance [schijn] of absurdity arise here? Because we wrongly consider it as self-evident that time should be identified with “natural time,” and more precisely, we identify time with the mathematically founded sense of movement that is one particular meaning-side of time. It is beyond dispute that concepts cannot be subject to a natural time.

But within the logical aspect time itself has a particular logical meaning. The logical prius and posterius is an order of time in the particular meaning of logical analysis. The forming of concepts is itself subjected to this logical order of time. Whoever objects that logical time is not real time, displays only the prejudice of his view of reality, which tries to enclose the full temporal reality within its physical-psychical natural sides. Full cosmic time has in fact many more meaning-sides than we usually suppose. It is represented in all meaning-sides in particularized meaning, just as shall be shown in a more detailed analysis of meaning in the discussion of the problem of time.

Nevertheless the full cosmic time is not exhausted in all meaning-sides of reality taken together, because all these aspects possess their particularized meaning only in the continuous meaning coherence.

[WdW I, 39] Study Notes
Focus of the religious apriori on the theoretical
task of philosophy. The philosophic Ground-Idea
and the preliminary questions

This temporal cosmos offers a diversity of meaning-sides and its meaning coherence to our distinguishing theoretical viewpoint. The religious apriori, which we discussed in the Introduction, must now be focused on the apriori Ground-Idea, which gives philosophic thought its first direction, and without which the thinker cannot meaningfully pose any philosophic problem.

Such a Ground-Idea lies at the foundation of each philosophic system in either an acknowledged or a hidden way. It obtains its content from an actual unavoidable choice of position of our selfhood in the following preliminary questions:

What is the Origin and what is the totality of meaning of our cosmos, and how are we to undersand the mutual relation and coherence of its meaning-sides in the diversity of meaning according to its law-sides and subject-sides?

It cannot be doubted that such a Ground-Idea contains in nuce [in a nutshell] an apriori that binds the whole of philosophic thought. How does immanence philosophy gain in trying to withdraw from self-reflection on this Ground-Idea, if in fact, as we shall show, this Ground-Idea makes its apriori influence evident in all philosophic questioning?

Each philosphic thinker must himself first of all be willing to give an account of the meaning of his questioning. And how one in fact gives an account of this necessarily rests on the Ground-Idea of meaning and its origin.


[WdW I, 39b]Study Notes
Concept of totality and Idea of totality of meaning

Without an idea of the totality of meaning, its origin and its relation to the diversity of meaning, how can we begin with the thought of totality required by philosophy ? Some people think so. They say that our thinking has an immanent and religiously neutral concept of totality, as of a whole that is more than the sum of its parts. Granted, but in what sense is this concept understood? Does not the whole problem of the relation of particularized meaning to the totality of meaning hide in this concept of whole/part? The concept of totality as whole/part clearly betrays its origin from biological thought, which has as its “Gegenstand” a particular aspect of temporal reality, the organic biotic aspect.[4]

If at the outset I do not want to lead my philosophic thinking in a biological path, then I cannot use this idea of totality. The totality of meaning in its relation to the diversity of meaning cannot be approximated with this concept of part/whole that is bound to particularized meaning and that is in fact from a special science.

Only the philosophic Idea as limiting concept can point above particularized meaning to the universal coherence of meaning and to the totality of meaning. But such an Idea must have a content, and philosophic thought cannot obtain this content from out of itself.

In critical self-reflection, the defining of the meaning of philosophical problems necessarily unveils the philosophic Ground-Idea concerning the totality of meaning and its Origin and the relation of this totality of meaning to the diversity of meaning and its temporal coherence.

[WdW I, 40] Study Notes
Necessity of critical self-reflection on the philosophical
Ground-Idea. The meaning of philosophic problems. The
principle of origin and the continuity principle in Cohen’s

Cohen, the founder of the Marburg school, begins by declaring philosophic thought (‘Vernunft’) to be self-sufficient and he gives to this thought as originary thought the task to let the whole cosmos to rise scientifically from this origin in a transcendental-logical creation process according to the law of continuity. But truly critical philosophic reflection must immediately throw back the question: Where do you really find your Archimedean point in Vernunft, which you yourself allow to refract into the diversity of meaning of logical, ethical and aesthetic reason? [5] What meaning do you place in the principles of origin and continuity by which you plan to bridge this diversity of meaning? And what is for you the totality of meaning, in which the deeper unity of our cosmos lies enclosed?

These questions should not be evaded in philosophic thought!

Cohen’s system in "Grundsatz der Wahrheit" suggests to us a continuous coherence between logos and ethos. He wants to distinguish thinking and willing, but he is not helped in this by attempting to bring over the principle of the origin of continuity from the “Logic of Pure Knowledge” to the “Ethics of Pure Will.” The coherence in the diversity of meaning cannot be sought in particularized meaning. Of course one can try to strike on the anvil of the “unity of Reason [Vernunft]” [6] but so long as it does not demonstrate to us a unity in a totality of meaning above the diversity of meaning, such a “unity of Reason” remains an asylum ignorantiae.[7] And so long as the principle of continuity is not itself brought back to its origin, it remains a principle of particularized meaning [8] that gives no account of the coherence in the diversity of meaning!

Thought that seeks a synthesis of meaning [theoretical thought] remains caught in the diversity of meaning if it is not directed by an idea of the totality of meaning. It thus does not become truly philosophic thought.

[WdW I, 42] Study Notes
Being and validity and the critical preliminary
question as to the meaning of these concepts

The so-called Southwest German school in Neo-Kantian philosophy opposes being and validity, reality and value. If this is introduced into philosophy, these oppositions again raise the question of the relation between particularized meaning, the coherence of meaning, and the totality of meaning. The question immediately arises: In what sense do you intend the words ‘being’ and ‘validity’? Are they intended as fundamental categories of thought, as Ground-categories? If so, is the thought category in its supposed transcendental-logical meaning as such itself of particularized meaning, or does it possess totality of meaning?

[WdW I, 42b] Study Notes
General meaning versus totality of meaning

If the words ‘being’ and ‘validity’ do not possess totality of meaning, what then is their relation to the totality of meaning and to the coherence of temporal aspects? To merely say that the “categories of thought” have a general meaning does not advance us one step.

[WdW I, 43] Study notes
Leveling of the diversity of meaning in the general concept
rests on an uncritical misunderstanding of the particularized
of the logical

In a special science one may form so-called general concepts (concepts of class, genus, etc.) that refer to individual phenomena within a particular aspect of reality. These generic concepts are made by the type of thinking that joins meaning together, to summarize for the purpose of comparison. But the particularized meaning of the aspects of our cosmos itself do not allow themselves to be logically leveled out by any general concept of “universal meaning.” If we do so, we forget that the logical has a particularized meaning of its own. In thinking that tries for synthetic meaning, each attempt by means of such “generic concepts” to gloss over the particularized meaning in the diversified meaning of the logical aspect of thought and that of the aspects of reality that are set over-against it already implies a choice of position with respect to the relation between the totality of meaning and particularized meaning in the coherence of diversified meaning! For in such a generic concept, I try to ascribe to the logical particularity of meaning the power to bridge over the fundamental diversity of meaning within our cosmos.

Theodor Litt thinks he has found the Archimedean point of his philosophic thinking in the “pure reflection” of thought as its own activity. In the course of his research he introduces a dialectical identity of the “thinking ego” (“pure thought in its self-reflection”) and the “concrete ego” (the ego as an actual individual (pseudo) “totality” of all its temporal, actual meaning-functions). But critical reflection on Litt’s position immediately must ask the question: In what sense do you understand this ‘dialectical identity’ and in what sense do you understand the totality of the ‘concrete ego?’ Then it appears right away that the ‘dialectical identity’ is intended in a logical particularized meaning, whereby therefore, following this reasoning to its conclusion, the diversity of meaning between “pure thought” and the non-logical functions of our I-ness is logically sublated [cancelled out]. For, following Hegel, Litt says that "in the unity of the thinking ego and the concrete ego, the thinking ego gains the 'overreaching power.'" [9] Only in “pure thought” does the concrete ego come to self-knowledge: the concrete ego in the process of knowledge is still not transcendent to “pure thought.” The relation is the reverse:

The standpoint of possible self-assurance for it [the concrete ego] is absolutely beyond itself and is thus absolutely not overreaching [that is, capable to conceive the transcendental ego].[10]

But in the [true]Archimedean point, the diversity of meaning, which is originally confusing, must already be overcome. In other words, the real or pretended deeper unity of meaning in our cosmos must in principle already be understood, for from out of this point our selfhood, while thinking philosophically, must direct our theoretical view of totality over the diversity of meaning.

[WdW I, 44] Study Notes
Diversity of meaning and the [radical] identity of the aspects
in their transcendent fulfillment of meaning. Mere logical identity
is identity in particularized meaning. Parmenides.

All diversity of meaning in our temporal cosmos presupposes a deeper identity of meaning. For if no common denominator existed under which all aspects of reality can be brought, how could I know their mutual diversity?

Unity-identity in a logical sense is not the unity-identity to which the Ground-Idea of philosophy can direct itself.

The logical-analytical unity-identity on which Parmenides thought he could build his whole system is not the unity-identity that is sought above the multiplicity-diversity of meaning, but it is rather rather just a temporal particularized meaning.

The philosophical act of knowing is a knowledge that is a distinguishing and joining of meaning while directed to the totality–this is in any event more than logical thought. Therefore this act of philosophic knowing cannot remain stuck in the logical particularized meaning. Rather the logical must itself be placed by philosophy within the problematics of particularized meaning, diversity of meaning, coherence of meaning and totality of meaning. Whoever does not want to fall into the error of logicism must acknowledge that the logical aspect of the temporal cosmos is itself placed within the diversity of meaning, and as such has no philosophic advantage over the other, non-logical aspects of our cosmos.

The philosophic Ground-Idea is directed towards unity-identity in the sense of the totality of meaning or the fullness of meaning, in which all temporalaspects find their fulfillment of meaning.

This unity cannot and may not be an abstraction; it can also not be a merely negative “Indifferenz.” It must rather be the fullness of the meaning of our cosmos itself, or else it is not what it pretends to be.

The totality of meaning is necessarily the root of the diversity of meaning. The distinguished aspects of our cosmos can not rise up out of each other, if we are to maintain the diversity of meaning. Once they are elevated to the transcendent fullness of meaning, the temporal aspects show their common root. Each of them in themselves and all of them together, as particularized meaning, point towards this common root.

[WdW I, 45] Study Notes
The philosophic Ground-Idea as hypothesis of philosophy

Only when our selfhood, while thinking philosophically, chooses its Archimedean point in the true totality of meaning does our philosophic thought obtain in its Ground-Idea to the hypothesis which preserves [voorbehoeden] this selfhood from the fall from the totality of meaning and therefore also from the fall of the selfhood.


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Footnotes for these excerpts

[1] Rickert (System der Philosophie, p. 241) remarks: “Gewisz zeigt das heterologische Prinzip (in our train of thought: the demand that the diversity of meaning be distinguished in an articulated manner) bei der Frage nach der letzten Welteinheit die Grenze unseres Denkens, aber gerade dadurch eröffnet es uns zugleich di Möglichkeit, uns von seinen Fesseln zu befreien. Sind wir imstande, durch Denken die Grenze des Denkens fest zu stellen, so müssen wir auch imstande sein, dies Grenze zu überschreiten.”

On the immanence standpoint itself, this conclusion contains an overt contradiction: Thought sets its own fixed limits and is thereby in a position to exceed these limits! En how then can transcendental thinking remain pure? It is no use to make a distinction betwene a merely heterological and a heterological-monological thought, where the latter merely exceeds the limits of the former. Where this kind of monological thinking wants to entirely autonomously think of the unity of the cosmos in the joining sese, it exceeds the immanent limits of the activity of thinking as such and involves itself a limine in the antinomy, which Rickert himself honsestly lays bare in his pronouncement (op. cit. , p. 260).: “So bringen wir das in einem Begriff, was wir streng genommen in einem Begriff nicht fassen können.”

[2] System der Phil., p. 247. “Sobald wir auszerhalb des Denkens sind, erkennen wir nichts.”

[3] See also his essay: "Wissenshcaftliche Philosphie und Weltanschauung" in Logos, Vol. I (1933), pp. 56-57: “We das, was eer als theoretische Erkenntis der Welt in ihrer Ganzheit nicht nur logisch zwingend zu begründen vermag, sondern es zugleich abszugrenzen gelernt hat gegen die Lebensüberzeugungen, die senie auszerwissenschaftliche Weltanschauung formern, der wird auf Grund seiner universalen Erkenntnis, die als Philosophie notwendig auch den ganzen Menschen mit zum “Gegenstande” macht (sic!), indem sie sich über ihn stellt, zugleich am besten einsehen, weshalf die auszerwissenschaftliche Stellungsnahme zur Welt, so lange sie night, weie die theoretische Wahrheit den Anspruch auf Geltung für alle erhebt, neben der wissenschaftlichen Philospohie unangefochten bestehen bleiben kann.” [Anyone who is able not only to establish stringently on a logical foundation that which he hgas learnt as theoretical knowledge of the world in its totality, but also to delimit it at the same time from those views of life that form his non-scientific view of the world, will be best in a position to underand, why the non-scientific attitude towards the world, so long as it does not claim universal validity for all, like theoretical tgruth, can hold its own by the side of sceintific philosophy. For his universal knowledge which as philosophy necessarily makes the entire man also its object, transcends man himself.]

[4] In other words, I believe that this concept of totaltiy has been first obtained in biological thought and thereafter has been metaphysically absolutized. In fact the concept of totality is mathemtatically founded, as we shall show in Volume II. The concept of totaltiy is used with a particularized meaning in each of the various special sciences in accordance with the fucntional aspect of reality that they research.

[5] Cohen acknowledges this question as a special problem of philosophy. See his Logik der reinen Erkenntnis, 3rd ed., p. 17. In fact it is rather the ground problem of his philosophy which could have been seen by critical self-reflection on his logicistic law-Idea. For we cannot have a view of the unity of consciousness without a philosophic ground-Idea.

[6] Remarkably we find this in the strongest degree in Kant, who in his critical attitude has contributed the most to the dissolution of this hoped for unity by the dualism he porposed between theoeretical and practical reason, a dualism that he never was able to bridge.

In the Preface of the Kritiek der Reinen Vernunft, 1st ed., he writes: “In der Tat ist auch reine Vernunft eine so volkommene Einheit, dasz, wenn das Prinzip derselben auch nur zu einer einzigen aller der Fragen, die ihr durch ihre eigene Natur afgegeben sind, unzureichend wäre, man dieses immerhin nur wegwerfen könnte, weil es alsdann auch keiner der übrigen mit voller Zuverlässigkeit gewachsen sein würde.” [“Indeed, pure reason is a perfect unity to such an extent, that, if the principle presented by it should prove to be insufficient for the solution of even a single one of those quesitons to which the very nature of reason gives birth, we must reject it, as we could not be perfectly certain of its sufficiency in the case of the other.l”]

In the Preface (p. 19) of his Grundl. zur Metaphysik der Sitten he says “am Ende nur eine und dieselbe Vernunft, die blosz in der Anwednung unterschieden sein mag.” [“ultimatgely it is one and the same Reason that may show diversity only in its application”].

[7] As Cohen says, “Das Denken, das die Bewegung mit sich f¨hrt, verwandelt sich selbst in Wollen und Handlung.” [Thinking in which movement is inherent, transforms itself into will and action.” Ethik des reinen Wollens (4th ed.) , p. 110.

[8] Always borrowed from the mathematical infinitesimal calculus!

[9] “In der Einheit von denkendem und konkretem Ich eignet dem ersteren die übergreifende Macht.”

[10] Einleitung in die Philosophie (1933), p. 162: “Es hat den Standort möglicher Selbstvergewisserung durchaus jenseits seiner selbst, ist also durchasus nicht übergreifend.”

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Revised Oct 13/08