© 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.
[WdW I, 57] Study Notes
I have at the outset used the term Law-Idea for the philosophic Ground-Idea, with its religious-cosmically determined apriori attitude with respect to the understanding of the Arché, of the totality of meaning, of the diversity of meaning, and of the temporal coherence of our cosmos in its law-side and subject-side.
I formed the term ‘law-Idea’ when I was struck by the fact that many systems of philosophy expressly orient themselves to the idea of a divine world order, which is qualified as lex aeterna, harmonia praestabilita, etc. This is so in the great systems of ancient, medieval and certain great systems of modern philosophy (such as that of Leibniz).
In this Idea of the law, in which the idea of subjectivity was included, there was in fact an apriori position chosen with respect to the central preliminary questions of philosophic thought: What is the deepest origin, the supratemporal unity-totality and the mutual relation and coherence of all particular laws that rule the various meaning-sides of the reality of our world, and how does subjectivity relate to the law in origin, supratemporal unity and diversity of functions ?
In the systems of philosophy I have referred to, this law-Idea was usually conceived of in a large measure in a rationalistic-metaphysical manner. It was therefore a very attractive task to demonstrate that in fact each authentic system of philosophy must be grounded in a law-Idea of this or that type. This is so even where that philosophy itself gives no account of such a law-Idea. And the carrying out of this task must succeed. It is certainly impossible that philosophic thought, which must itself follow a regular [wetmatig] course, is not itself burdened by an apriori understanding of origin and totality of meaning of the law, and the subjectivity correlated to the law, and the mutual relation and coherence of the distinguished aspects in which law and subjectivity reveal themselves.
It then came about that Calvinism, which I acknowledge as my Christian life and worldview, in accordance with Scriptures,has from the outset placed all emphasis on the law as the boundary between Creator and creation, a boundary that cannot be overcome. And without falling into an absolutizing of the law, Calvinism’s central-religious view of the Sovereignty of God over all of creation has been concisely carried out in its view of the law.
[WdW I, 58] Study Notes
Yet it is not to be denied that the choice of the term ‘law-Idea’ as the Ground-Idea for philosophy has the possibility of being misunderstood as being only an apriori conception of the meaning of ‘law.’ That was the opinion of Prof. Dr. H.G. Stoker in his noteworthy work The New Philosophy at the Free University (1933) and The Philosophy of the Idea of Creation (1933). Stoker thought that law-Idea was a narrower Ground-Idea than the Idea of creation (which he saw as all-embracing).
But I have my particular reasons for maintaining the term ‘law-Idea.’ First, in pointing to the preliminary questions of philosophic thought, the Ground-Idea of philosophy must be framed in such a way that it in fact catches the eye as the necessary condition for each philosophic system. To define this Ground-Idea in terms of the Christian-religious choice of position respecting our cosmos, or in other words, to determine the content of the Ground-idea, is a later step.
A law-Idea does in fact lie at the foundation of each philosophic system. An Idea of creation on the other hand would be rejected as the Ground-Idea of philosophy by each thinker that denies creation or who otherwise supposes that the creation must not be brought into play in philosophic thought.
Second, the term ‘law-Idea’ has the advantage that at the outset it gives expression to the limiting character of the philosophic Ground-Idea, in its focus on the origin and the meaning of the law and its relation to subjectivity.
Reflection on the law-Idea means reflection on the limits of philosophy, regardless of whether a self-limitation of philosophic thought is intended or whether one acknowledges the God of revelation as the origin of all limitation in accordance with law.
Seen in this way, the law-Idea, by its critical focus on the preliminary questions concerning meaning (including origin, totality and particularity in the diversity) in the relation of law and subject, is in fact the central criterion for the distinguishing in principle of the various standpoints and currents in philosophy. The law-Idea gives a boundary between immanence philosophy in all its variations, and the Christian standpoint of transcendence in philosophy. Here is the criterion to distinguish the truly transcendental philosophy (which acknowledges its immanent limitations of law), and speculative metaphysics ( which supposes that it can exceed these limits). Here is the criterion to distinguish within immanence philosophy between rationalism (which absolutizes the law at the cost of individual subjectivity) and irrationalist (that conversely tries to derive the law as a non-self-sufficient function of the individual creative subjectivity.
Third, there is no dimension of philosophic thought in which the law-Idea does not make valid its central apriori influence: By its focus on the universal-scientific task of philosophy, it keeps philosophy from gliding off in the path of a special science stuck within particularized meaning, even the particularized meaning of theological thought. It guards philosophy from falling back into the mere pre-scientific thought of naïve experience. Stoker may be correct that philosophy also has the task to take into account the intrinsic unity of things that do not dissolve into their meaning sides into law-side and subject-side. But as I have already argued, philosophy cannot fall back into the attitude of naïve experience which accepts things as given in their indivisible unity of creation without an explicated distinguishing of their aspects.
There is also no [other] philosophic system that in fact does this. But metaphysics, which supposes that within its philosophic limiting concepts that it is able to conceive of the supratemporal essence of things, again and again tries to find a “remaining substance” behind things, just as they are experienced as indivisible individuality unities within the naïve attitude in temporal reality. By the test of the law-Idea, it appears that the metaphysical idea of substance rests on an absolutizing of abstracted meaning, and that metaphysics does not do justice to the experience of unity of the naïve, pre-theoretical attitude.
For philosophic thought, the temporal unity of things is the given of naïve experience, which must become a philosophical task in the direction determined by the law-Idea. Only then do we see the transcendental limit of philosophy as over against naïve experience, and at the same time we see the irreplaceable value of naïve experience. The value of naïve experience is that all scientific thought in the last instance must again appeal to naïve experience. Only then can we see, as shall later be demonstrated in more detail, that theoretical, and philosophic thought finally has its proper ground only in an unfolding of meaning, a deepening of meaning of the pre-theoretical, naïve thought and its enstasis [instelling] within full temporal reality. Any philosophy that cannot give an account of naïve experience, and thinks that it can shove it aside with a haughty gesture, pronounces judgment against itself.
And finally I want to cut off the misunderstanding over the meaning of ‘law-Idea’ by giving it more precision. Although the word ‘law-Idea’ appears to refer only to the basic relation between totality of meaning, diversity of meaning and coherence of meaning in the law-side of reality, in fact it also does so with respect to the subject-side of reality in all its individuality. For the law only has meaning in its unbreakable correlation to the subject. The law-Idea implies the subject-Idea, which refers to the Ground-relation between totality of meaning, diversity of meaning, and coherence of meaning of the subject-side.
There is no objection to choosing another term for the Ground-Idea of philosophy which would include the law-and subject-sides of reality. The terms ‘meaning-Idea,’ cosmos-Idea,’ or ‘world-Idea’ might perhaps deserve attention here. But on the other hand, these terms miss the critical sharpness that forces the thinker in philosophic thought to self-reflection about his enstasis [instelling] in relation to the totality of meaning and the diversity of meaning of our world according to its law-and subject-sides. And these other words also miss the incisive focus on the limits of philosophic thought.
For all these reasons, I give the preference to my first term, which also has the advantage that it has gradually become in common use in referring to this philosophy.
But there remains the question posed by Stoker (who has in other respects and to my joy accepted the philosophy of the law-Idea) whether reality is not more than meaning.
[WdW I, 62]
Here there is the threat of misunderstanding the the Philosophy of the law-Idea, insofar as it is focused wholly on the problem of meaning, has not drifted into the waters of a meaning-ism, an ‘idealism’ (Stoker). I am not yet able to cut off this serious misunderstanding by the roots. It is first necessary to confront our understanding of ‘meaning’ with that of immanence philosophy.
At the outset, our inquiries should make clear the finite character of meaning as the mode of being reality under the law in which reality finds no rest in itself. Meaning idealism, as we have been able to note it in Husserl and Rickert, starts from a distinction between meaning that is ascribed to reality and a reality that is in itself meaningless. On this view, meaning is only ascribed subjectively to reality by the absolutized transcendental consciousness. In fact, these thinkers of ‘reality’ refer only to the abstracted meaning of the psychical-physical natural sides of reality. In contrast to their views, our view is that meaning is universal to all created reality as its restless mode of being, because all meaning refers reality to its Origin, the Creator, without Whom the creature sinks back into nothingness.
Now it may be objected that meaning itself cannot live, act, or move. But does not this life, this action, and this movement refer above themselves, in the sense of not coming to rest in themselves, all in accordance with the mode of being of creaturely reality? Only God’s mode of being is not meaning, because only He exists by Himself and through Himself. Meaning is the mode of being of all creaturely being!
From this it is also clear that philosophic thought also has its correlate in the transcendent totality of meaning in the Being of the Arché, and that each Law-Idea takes a position with respect to this Arché.
In fact, no one who speaks of number, spatial figures, movement, etc., or who speaks about concrete things, can do so except in their meaning, that is in their relative mode of being with respect of pointing to each other pointing towards the origin of all. If the natural [pre-logical] sides of temporal reality in their mode of being were not sides of meaning, which stand in a relation of meaning to the mode of being of thought [the logical aspect], then thought would not be able to form any concept of these natural sides of reality.
That is my preliminary justification of my terminology.
The concepts of law and subject depend on the law-Idea in its wide meaning, including the idea of subjectivity. Unlike the law-Idea, the concepts of law and subject do not in themselves point above the diversity of meaning to the transcendent fullness of meaning (the totality of meaning). Rather they are limited in nature to particularized meaning and to the diversity of meaning.
Whenever rationalistic thought identifies “nature” with a system of natural laws formed by a transcendental consciousness, of which individual events are only an exemplary “instance,” or whenever the ideal subject, the “homo noumenon (the absolutized ethical function of human personality) is put forward as being itself the moral lawgiver–in those cases the moral law is dissolved, and the subject loses its own function as against or rather under the law. Kelsen’s view “reine Rechtslehre” [“pure theory of law”] reveals a rationalistic-idealistic concept of law. But behind this concept there is a law-Idea of a specific humanistic type. He dissolves the subject of the juridical aspect into a function of the juridical norm in a normative-logical way. And that is why Kelsen’s concept of law is completely objectionable by anyone who rejects the law-Idea that lies behind it.
Go to next page of translation: The Prism of Cosmic Time
Revised oct 13/08