© J. Glenn Friesen
Herman Dooyeweerd: De Wijsbegeerte
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.
The Ground-Idea of philosophy is the religious apriori for our temporal world coherence. It may now be asked why I find the focus of this Ground-Idea to be determined by the relation of totality of meaning, and particularized meaning in the coherence of the diversity of meaning in its law-sides and subject sides. Is this not way too abstract a conception of the Ground-Idea?
Naïve experience, which has not yet been affected by the distinguishing of meaning of scientific analysis, understands the reality of our world coherence not as articulated in abstracted aspects, but rather in the concrete, individual unity of things and societal relations, and their mutual relations: in the structure of mountains and rivers, trees and animals, houses and streets, tables and chairs, humans in family and town, trade and church relations, etc. etc.
In its experience of reality, naïve experience also has its religious apriori. It also has (whether or not it is hidden) an Archimedean point and a choice of position with respect to the Arché. Naïve experience is also not religious neutral, because all human experience of reality has its origin from the heart of human existence.
And further still: the naïve experience understands things in various coherences with very complicated connected relationships (the trees in the wood, the wood in the landscape, etc. etc.). This naïve experience should not at all be a “quantité négligeable” for philosophy. Rather, as we shall later demonstrate in detail, it is the only manner of experience in which temporal reality truly is given just as it is in the coherence of temporal individuality structures. That is to say, it is given in an unbreakable concrete coherence of all its aspects in the structure of concrete things and relationships of things. But naive experience is not in a position to understand these aspects and their functional laws in that kind of thought that seeks a synthesis of meaning.
Philosophy finds the given, that which it has the task to make into philosophy, in the concrete reality. This concrete reality is offered in naïve experience. It has not been abstracted in the dis-stasis of its meaning-sides. Why then is the Ground-Idea of philosophy not centered on the naïve experience of reality? This is why. If philosophy itself continued to be based in the naïve attitude of experience, it would never be able to give a philosophic account of this naïve experience. Philosophic knowledge is a scientific knowledge, and scientific knowledge is only obtained in the distinguishing and joining of the meaning-sides or aspects of reality.
Philosophy, no more than the special sciences, cannot begin with the thing structure of reality as a given temporal unity. As against the totality of meaning, which it has understood in its religious apriori, or believed it has understood, the fundamental diversity of meaning necessarily surfaces as the object of scientific analysis, as this diversity reveals itself in the aspects of reality.
The type of thinking in the special sciences begins to scientifically break apart the naïve concept of a thing into functional concepts, in order to obtain for itself knowledge of the distinguished sides of temporal reality.
Special sciences begin by setting thought over-against the particular non-logical sides of reality, such as number, space, movement, organic life, etc. etc. The special sciences make these aspects, in their particular functional regularities of law, into a “Gegenstand” of scientific systematic analysis. This is an attitude of thought which, as we shall show in our discussion of epistemology, is totally foreign to naïve, pre-theoretical thought.
The gain from this philosophically founded attitude of the special sciences, in opposition to the naïve attitude, has been enormous. By this penetrating scientific analysis and synthesis, the aspects of temporal reality, especially the non-normative, so-called natural sides, have bit by bit disclosed the secrets of their immanent functional law regularity. But the deeper this special scientific thinking penetrated into its “Gegenstand,” the abstracted meaning-side of reality, so much the sharper has it revealed its fundamental lack in comparison with naïve experience.
For by the particularizing meaning of this over-against thinking, the special sciences miss as such the view of totality over reality. In fact they lose from their grasp the experience of reality itself. For the full temporal reality does not give itself through mere joining together of abstracted aspects; it does not give itself “gegenständlich.”
The attitude of thought in the special sciences is never in a position to give account of the naïve experience of things, because scientific thought as such remains stuck in the research of the functional coherences within the abstracted particularized meaning of the aspects. The special sciences can also not give an account of their own possibility. We shall later demonstrate that self-sufficient thinking is not possible. That is, thinking cannot be entirely enclosed within the limits of a theoretically understood aspect or meaning-side of reality.
Naïve experience and our naïve formation of concepts are enstatically [ingesteld] within the full temporal reality in the concrete coherence of all its aspects or sides of meaning. It therefore understands temporal reality in an all-sided or integral way. It lacks the articulated or ex-plicated knowledge of the aspects. Insofar as naïve experience in its religious attitude [instelling] views temporal reality in the light of God’s Word, and within its relation of creation by God, it has in fact a view of totality, but not in the theoretical focusing that is required by the Ground-Idea of philosophy.
Naïve experience has an intuitive knowledge [weet] of the all-sidedness of things. Although it may not be able to give theoretical reasons, naïve experience will for example stubbornly set itself against any attempt to rob it of certain aspects of its experience of “thing-reality” by those special sciences that misunderstand their limits.
On the other hand, because it experiences the concrete unity of a thing and the given mutual relation among things, and because it does not have the explicated scientific knowledge of the aspects of reality, the concrete unity of things is not a problem for naïve experience.
It is philosophy that has must understand the distinguished aspects of our cosmos, which have been ex-plicated in their coherence, in the view of totality. In this way philosophy must give an account of naïve experience as well as scientific, functional thought.
But where philosophy makes naïve experience into
a problem, it must be led by its Ground-Idea
in its theoretical focus. The unity of things remains for
philosophy the problem of the temporal concrete unity in the diversity
In this inquiry we see as a matter of course the philosophical problem of how the over-against attitude [tegenoverstellende denkhouding] of the special sciences and is opposed to the attitude in naïve experience of mere enstasis [instellende denkhouding] in reality. The unavoidable question arises, how is this over-against attitude possible, and what does it abstract from the full temporal reality? And when we ask that question, the possibility of philosophic thought itself becomes a problem, since it is this kind of oppositional thought.
There is a current in immanence philosophy that sees philosophic thinking as reflexive, turned inwards to the act of thinking itself. This kind of philosophic thinking is then contrasted to all “gegenständliches Denken” of the special sciences. It is said that these sciences lose themselves in objects without reflecting on that which can never be made into ‘Gegenstand’–the act of thinking itself. But it is not right that philosophy can or even could give up this kind of oppositional or ‘Gegenständlich’ thinking. To believe otherwise is to accept a philosophic Ground-Idea that is diametrically opposed to the Ground-Idea that we ourselves shall lay as the foundation for our philosophic system.
The main point is this, that these immanence philosophers, because of their standpoint, can not give an account of the nature of the synthesis of meaning, which remains inherent in philosophy. In our discussion of epistemology, we shall see that for any synthesis of meaning, an over-against [‘Gegenständlich’] attitude of thought is essential. Immanence philosophy does not recognize this because as we shall later discuss in detail, they make a fatal confusion between object and Gegenstand.
If objectifying were really identical to placing over-against thought, then there would already be an over-against attitude inherent in naïve experience, for already in the simple perception of a tree I objectify it. I objectify the thing’s actual subjective reality-functions within the psychical perceptual representation of my senses.
But immanence philosophy supposes that naïve experience is caught in the same over-against attitude of thought as are the special sciences. As we shall see, this is the greatest possible misunderstanding of the nature of naïve experience. It also shows that immanence philosophy, by the choice of its Archimedean point, is not really able to give an account of naïve experience.
Philosophic thinking differs from the special sciences not in that it is no longer an over-against attitude, but much rather in its direction to the totality of meaning. In this the philosopher is driven to critical turning inwards of the self [ not a turning inwards of thought]. In this turning inwards to self, the philosopher gives an account of the non-self-sufficiency of everything that, as particularized meaning, is bound to the coherence of meaning.
It is a truly uncritical attitude of thought to suppose that philosophy must hold itself back from giving an account of that which makes it possible in the first place. For philosophy itself needs to start with its true transcendental foundation, its hypothesis. We become involved in a vicious circle if we make the thinking in the special sciences a philosophic problem but withdraw from critical reflection on the possibility of philosophic thought itself. For the problem that always arise in considering the thought of the special sciences–i.e. the possibility of a priori distinctions and joining of meanings [analytic and synthetic apriori]–is even more of a problem in philosophic thought.
Because the immanent apriori structure of philosophic thought cannot become its own ‘Gegenstand’, philosophy runs up against the critical basic question of its own possibility. It is limited within cosmic time, and only in truly critical self-reflection can an account be given of these limits.
Truly ‘reflective’ thought is marked by critical self-reflection on the philosophic Ground-idea in which philosophic thinking points outside and above itself to its own apriori conditions in and above cosmic time. Only in this Ground-Idea is philosophy driven out towards its apriori limits, which it cannot itself exceed. These limits give philosophic thought its final determinateness in the universal cosmic coherence of meaning. Philosophic thought cannot in supposed self-sufficiency determine its apriori conditions. It is rather the other way around. Philosophic thought is determined by the apriori structure of the religious cosmic self-consciousness.
The philosophic Ground-Idea in which, while thinking, we reflect on the limits of our philosophic thought, is thus in the full sense of these words a limiting concept par excellence. It is the final transcendental foundation or hypothesis of philosophy, in which while thinking we turn in to our selves. For we can only critically reflect on the limits of our philosophic thought because we in our selfhood transcend them as limits of philosophical thinking. The pre-conditions of philosophy, to which the philosophic Ground-Idea points, are themselves infinitely more than mere Idea. Idealism elevates the Idea itself to the totality of meaning and to the Arché; but idealism is possible only from the immanence standpoint. The transcendental foundation of idealism, its philosophic Ground-Idea points above the Idea to that which exceeds the transcendental limits of philosophy because it is that which first makes philosophic thought possible. The immanence standpoint prevents philosophic thought to reach this last step of critical self-reflection.
We can provisionally summarize our standpoint with respect to the limits of philosophy as follows:
The philosophic Ground-Idea, as transcendental foundation of philosophy, is directed in its content towards the transcendent religious apriori of philosophy. Philosophic thought is of a transcendental character, pointing to this religious apriori. The religious apriori itself is transcendent. Our choice of Archimedean point necessarily exceeds the limits of our temporal world-coherence. Philosophy itself, although directed by its Ground-Idea, remains within these limits, because it is first made possible by the temporal world order.
Understood in this way, the words ‘transcendent’ and ‘transcendental’ are therefore not an “Either/Or.” The transcendental, immanent apriori limits of philosophy imply the dependence of philosophic thought on a religious-cosmological apriori, of which the thinker in his philosophic Ground-Idea must give an account.
A truly radical transcendental philosophic thought is first made possible by giving up the postulate of its self-sufficiency.
Only in this understanding–the relation of transcendent and transcendental attitudes of philosophy–is the original meaning of transcendental thought given its due. We see this meaning in the philosophic self-reflection on the immanent limits of philosophic thought and their necessary pre-conditions.[voor-onderstelden].
In Kant’s understanding of the Idea of freedom as a theoretical limiting idea, philosophic thought in fact acquires a transcendental turn in the direction of the selfhood in its religious relation to the Arché. At least this is so insofar as this theoretical Idea points towards the religious apriori of Kant’s whole philosophic thought. But Kant’s apostate direction in this critical self-reflection is shown in the way he absolutizes the Idea. He uses it in a transcending sense when he in practice realizes this theoretical Idea of freedom in the apriori belief in the autonomous ‘homo noumenon.’ Only by elevating this rational Idea to philosophic Ground-Idea can Kant’s philosophy be maintained as a transcendental Idealism.
We do not understand anything of transcendental thought whenever we forget the foundational function of Idea in Kant’s critique of knowledge, or when we forget that the whole transcendental direction in Kant’s thought is given up, or whenever the Idea of the “homo noumenon” is misunderstood as the hypothesis of the whole of Kant’s inquiry as to the conditions of knowledge.
When the transcendental limiting concept is cut loose from the true or supposed transcendence of the selfhood, transcendental thinking as to its limits is then abstracted [afgetrokken] from its direction to the selfhood. Then the transcendental motive is trivialized in the so-called critical logical positivism to the mere derivation of the categories. The transcendental motive is then wrongly understood as deriving from a supposed purely logical origin, the “objective universally valid conditions of knowledge.” The tendency towards the origin of philosophic thought does not lead here to a truly critical self-consciousness. For the philosophic Ground-Idea requires for its transcendental foundation a direction to the transcendent selfhood and the religious root of the cosmos, in which the selfhood participates, whether it is the fallen root or that which is in Christ again directed to God.
In all of this, the philosophic Ground-Idea of philosophy remains hypothesis. This hypothesis cannot rule in a relativistic way over truth. It is rather the other way round–the truth of its contents is subjected to the forum of a [higher] objective judge.
In the inquiry of the truly universally valid criterion of truth we shall have to strike the decisive blow against those currents in immanence philosophy who believe that only the immanence standpoint offers a guarantee for a universally valid criterion of truth. In immanent critique of this position, if we succeed in proving that it is in fact the immanence standpoint that leads to a complete relativizing of the criterion of truth, then these currents in immanence philosophy are thrown out of their position of guardian of objective truth. But this inquiry belongs in a later discussion.
In the present discussion about the necessary apriori function of the philosophic Ground-Idea, we only want to cut off at the outset that misunderstanding that the Philosophy of the Law-Idea leads to relativism.
Philosophic thought, in its transcendental direction to the totality of meaning, remains bound to and within cosmic time, which first makes it possible. And as we shall later see, it is bound within time to the cosmic law order.
As we have said, philosophy itself cannot exceed this limit of time of our cosmos. It can only by its Ideas point towards that which does transcend this limit of time, just as it can only point to cosmic time itself in a limiting concept.
Each philosophy that misunderstands this temporal limit necessarily falls into a speculative metaphysics that in all its variations is characterized by the seeking of the absolute and supratemporal within the cosmic limits of time, by absolutizing particularized meaning.
Metaphysics is thus certainly not limited to the hypostatizing of the rational Ideas to “substantial being” in the line of Plato’s Ideas, Leibniz’s ‘monads’ or Kant’s “Ding an sich” [“thing in itself”]. Metaphysics rather takes on all possible nuances of immanence philosophy.
Speculative metaphysical philosophy in this sense includes each form of absolutizing of the nous. It is also speculative and metaphysical to say that the laws of the particular aspects of our cosmos, such as laws of number and space, the laws of logical thought, morality, justice or beauty are have absolute universal validity, and that they are binding even on God. This kind of absoluteness is grounded in the absolutization of ‘Reason.” The following are also all speculative and metaphysical: the ancient idealistic teaching of Ideas, the modern philosophy of values, the teaching of “Truths in themselves” and “Sätze an sich,” the teaching of “adequate intuition of essence” [Husserl], the traditional metaphysical teaching of the immortal soul (which is conceived as a complex of temporal functions!). The modern hypostatization of “spirit” in the present temporal logical and post-logical functions of consciousness. This is whether or not this hypostasis reveals itself in a rationalistic or in an irrationalistic way.
All such speculative theories rest on an absolutization of aspects that have been abstracted by theoretical thought from out of the temporal world coherence. They are therefore uncritical and therefore fail to appreciate the limits of philosophic thought. They disturb [the absolutized] meaning by ascribing to it the mode of being of the Arché, regardless of whether this mode of being is thought of as "being" or as "validity," and regardless of whether such absolutizing relates to the actual-individual subject-side or the law-side of the area of meaning in question.
Calvin stated, “Deus legibus solutus est,” (God is not subject to the law”). Calvin’s judgment touches the foundations of all speculative philosophy. It directs human reason back within the limits that are set for it [gesteld] by God in his temporal world order, and it is the alpha and omega of all philosophy that strives to take a critical attitude not only in name but in fact.
In order to cut off at its root this mixture of speculative philosophy in the affairs of Christian religion, I want to emphasize the transcendental nature of all truly philosophic activity. It is bound under the limiting line of the cosmic law, and it only has a pointing character above this limiting line. Philosophy is limited, sujet [subjected] on all sides by the temporal world order. Its task is great, and worthy of God’s creation of humans. but it is also modest; it does not elevate human reason to the throne of God. The activity of philosophy remains bound to the law of time. Philosophy is not sovereign reason that is not responsible to anything or on anyone, as a modern humanist supposes to qualify that part of philosophy known as epistemology. Rather, philosophy is the servant, not of theology, but of God the Sovereign. To serve God is philosophy’s position of honour; to deny God is its sentence of doom.
Go to next page of translation: Law-Idea
Revised Oct 13/08