DOOYEWEERD: Reactionary and Progessive National Norms (Brexit?)

NB The following Youtube is posted IRONICALLY 
– and for so many, many Scottish reasons…

Herman Dooyeweerd:
Reactionary and Progessive National Norms 
Cultural Power

The core or nucleus of the historical aspect of reality is the cultural way of being. The cultural mode of an activity consists in control over material by formation according to a free design. This free control applies to both persons and things, although the first is primary. Free control reveals itself in the historical formation of power. Without personal power a discovery or invention that aims at controlling “nature” cannot be historically formative. For example, the great Italian artist of the early Renaissance, Leonardo da Vinci, was also a great scientist. Apparently he already knew how to construct an airplane. But this knowledge went with him to the grave. It remained his private property. If he had gained support for his invention, it could have had a formative effect on world history. For that Leonardo needed historical power formation and historical influence, which he had as an artist but not as an inventor. What then is the nature of the personal power that equips the genuine moulder of history? 

The 15 experiential, irreducible, Law-Spheres of Cosmic Time, (also called Aspects, Modes of Consciousness, Modalities, Meaning-sides.)

What IS “normativity?

Contrary to a frequently held opinion, the formation and exercise of power are not subject to natural laws. They are subject to norms, to the rules of what ought to be. The norms for the exercise of power are intrinsically historical norms. Nations and bearers of power are subject to them. It is not true, for example, that the individual national character is itself the norm for cultural development, as the Historical School taught. This irrationalistic view of history must be rejected emphatically, for the creation motive compels us to acknowledge that in every area of life the law of God stands above the creature subject to it. The creature is the subject (sujet) of divine order. But the ordinances placed by God over the process of historical development can be transgressed by nations and bearers of power. This possibility of transgression confirms the truth that these ordinances are norms. Man cannot disobey a natural law, such as the law of gravity.

Actually, whenever one speaks of the contrast between “historical” and “unhistorical” and calls unhistorical action “reactionary,” one accepts the existence of truly historical norms. When one characterizes a certain political trend as “reactionary” one makes a historical value judgment that presupposes the application of a norm for historical development.

But how do we know that God placed historical development under norms and not, for instance, under the natural laws that hold for electrical and chemical phenomena or for the organic development of life? The normative character of historical development is apparent from the place God assigned the historical aspect in the creation order. The contrast between historical and unhistorical action refers back to the opposition found in the logical aspect of reality between what agrees with the norm for thought and what conflicts with this norm. If a person contradicts himself in a logical argument, we accuse him of arguing illogically. The logical/illogical contrast presupposes that our thought function is placed under logical norms that can be transgressed. 

Among the various aspects of reality the aspect of logical distinction is the first that displays a contrast between what ought to be and what ought not to be. The divine ordinances or laws for all subsequent aspects are normative in character. Norms are standards of evaluation, and as such they can be employed only by creatures who, endowed with a logical function, are capable of rational distinction.

Some maintain that norms appear already in the organic aspect. After all, we call an organism healthy or unhealthy depending upon whether or not it functions according to the “norm” for health. But this judgment rests upon a misunderstanding. A norm exists only for creatures who are responsible for their own behaviour and who are accountable for conduct that transgresses norms. Our ability to give account in this way is possible only on the basis of the faculty of logical judgment. Surely, no one would hold a sick plant or animal responsible for the abnormal functioning of its organism. No one would blame it for its sickness. Yet, we do hold someone accountable for arguing illogically. 

Accountability is also at stake when we blame a political movement for its reactionary attitude toward historical development, or when we say of someone that he behaves antisocially, expresses himself ungrammatically, runs his business uneconomically, writes poor poetry, acts unjustly, conducts himself immorally, or lives in unbelief.

Norms are given in the creation order as principles for human behaviour. Within the historical aspect, as well as in all subsequent aspects of reality, these principles require formation by competent human authorities. The process of giving form to normative principles must always take into consideration the level of development of a people, for all subsequent aspects of human life are interwoven with the historical aspect of culture. Giving form of any kind always refers back to cultural formation in historical development. Accordingly, the principles of decency, courtesy, respect, civility, etc. require formation in social interaction, in our concrete social manners. 

Likewise, lingual principles require the forms of language; the principles of economic value require economic forms; the principles of harmony require the forms of style; legal principles require the juridical forms of laws, decrees, statutes, and regulations. All the later aspects thus display an inseparable coherence with the historical aspect.

If the creation motive does not govern one’s thinking, it may seem that social interaction, language, economics, art, justice, morality, and faith are in essence historical phenomena, as if they are of purely historical origin. But the creation motive of God’s Word, which continually reminds us that God created all things according to their own nature, keeps us from this historicistic error and sharpens our ability to distinguish the aspects of reality. For example, positive law, in its human formation, is not historical in nature. In contrast to historical formation, which presupposes the power of those who give form to cultural principles, the legislator’s formation of positive law requires legal power and juridical competence. Legal power cannot be reduced to power in the historical sense. Such a reduction results in an identification of justice with power, which is tantamount to an abolition and negation of justice.

The persistent claim of National Socialism that a nation establishes its right to exist through a historical power struggle was a typical outcome of historicism. “Might is right” was the political slogan of the totalitarian state. The slogan was all the more dangerous because it contained a moment of truth. It is indeed true, as we shall see later, that a world judgment comes over the nations in world history, though never in the sense that right dissolves into might. It is indeed the case that the figure of “legal power” points to the inseparable coherence between the jural and the historical aspects of reality. Without power in the historical sense juridical power cannot exist. Nevertheless, the nature of each power is intrinsically different.

Tradition and Culture

All historical formation requires power. Formation thus never takes place without a struggle. The progressive will of the moulder of history invariably clashes with the power of tradition, which, as the power of conservation, opposes every attempt to break with the past. In tradition one finds the embodiment of a cultural, communal heritage acquired in the passing of generations. Tradition shapes us, as members of a cultural area, in large measure quite unconsciously, because we have been nurtured within it from our childhood and thus begin to accept it as a matter of course without taking stock of its intrinsic worth. The wealth of tradition is immeasurably richer than the share which an individual can appropriate for himself. Anyone who dares to oppose it is never confronted merely with a few conservatively prone souls but with a communal power binding the past to the present and stretching across the generations. The innovator almost always underestimates the conserving power of tradition, for he sees only the surface of the present where tradition appears mainly as inertia, as a retarding force. But tradition has deep dimensions that reveal themselves only gradually in careful historical research. Only in that light does the investigator begin to understand how great the power confronting the shaper of history actually is.

It is childish to complain about tradition as if it were a grouchy old person who simply swears by what is and who fails to appreciate anything new. Culture cannot exist without tradition. Historical development is impossible in its absence. Imagine that every new generation would try to erase the past in an earnest effort to start afresh. Nothing would come of it. The world would be a desert, a chaos.

Cultural development, then, is not possible without tradition. The power of tradition is grounded in the creation order, since the cultural mandate itself is one of the creational ordinances. However, truly historical development also demands that a culture not vegetate upon the past but unfold itself.

Progress and renewal have a rightful place in history alongside tradition and the power of conservation. In the power struggle between both forces the progressive will of the shaper of history must bow before the norm of historical continuity. The revolutionary spirit of reconstruction, which seeks to dismiss the past entirely, must accommodate itself to the vital forms of tradition insofar as they conform to the norm of historical development. Surely, this norm of historical continuity is not a “law of nature” working itself out in history apart from human involvement. In every revolution guided by false principles an attempt is made to reverse the existing order completely. The French Revolution, for example, tried to begin with the year “one.” But quickly it had to moderate its revolutionary intentions under the pressure of tradition. If any revolutionary spirit is able to overcome the power of tradition, culture itself will be annihilated. Though this may be possible, man cannot overturn the creation order, which binds historical development to abiding norms. The creature cannot create in the true sense of the word. If the past were completely destroyed, man could not create a real culture.

[…] In examining the structure of the historical aspect, we uncovered the normative principle of historical continuity. Although the Historical School also arrived at this principle, it gave this norm an irrationalistic twist that led toward an acceptance of a fait accompli and that raised the individual national character as the “destiny of the nation” to the status of law. Appealing to “God’s guidance in history” only masked these unscriptural conceptions which conflict with the motive of creation. The norm of historical continuity does not arise from the national character. Rather, nations and rulers are subject to it. Good and evil may be mixed in the national spirit and in tradition, which demonstrates that neither may function as norms.

But if neither tradition nor the national character are norms, then is the norm of continuity an adequate standard for judging the pressing question as to what is progressive and what is reactionary in historical development? Evidently not. Not every movement that announces itself as progressive contributes to true cultural progress. In retrospect it may become apparent that it is basically reactionary.

National socialism undoubtedly claimed that it was an extremely progressive movement. Was that claim justified? Let no one answer too hastily, for I fear that many would be embarrassed if they were asked for the criterion of their historical value judgment. It is precisely the historicist who lacks such a criterion. What do we gain if on the historicistic basis one claims that nazism trampled the “rights of man” and the “foundations of democracy”? If everything is in historical flux and if the stability of principles is a figment of the imagination, then why prefer an ideology of human rights to the ideals of a strong race and its bond to the German soil? Is the modern conception concerning the “rights of man” still the same as in the days of the Enlightenment or the French Revolution? Are the modern views of democracy identical with those of Rousseau? If not, then from where does the modern historicist derive the right to describe his own internally undermined ideology as progressive and call the vital ideals of nazism terribly reactionary?

Surely, the quest for the norms of historical development must continue. The norm of continuity needs further clarification. This can be arrived at only on the basis of the ground motive of God’s Word. Historical formation occurs in the battle between conservative and progressive cultural powers.

Conservative power and Tradition

Conservative power guards tradition, which binds the present to the past. In the power struggle the progressive will of the historical shaper ought to accommodate itself to the vital elements in tradition. Tradition itself, however, is not a norm or standard for determining what one’s attitude should be toward a power that calls itself “progressive.” Tradition contains good and bad, and thus it is itself subject to the historical norm. Even the criterion that a progressive direction ought to take its point of departure from the vital cultural elements in tradition is not yet sufficient.

By the “vital” elements in tradition we refer to the inseparable coherence of historical development with the development of organic life. I have repeatedly stated that the historical aspect of reality cannot exist without this link. In the divine creation order all aspects of reality are placed in an unbreakable coherence with each other. If any were left out of this coherence, the others would lose their meaning and the possibility for their existence. It is a consequence of the integral character of God’s creational work that every aspect of his work coheres inseparably with the others. Only in this coherence is it possible for each aspect to reveal its irreducible, unique nature.

The historical aspect maintains its coherence with the organic aspect through cultural life. Cultural life should follow its own development. As such, it cannot be reduced to organic life, even though cultural life cannot exist without organic life. Historical development cannot be seen simply as an extension of the organic development of plants, animals, or man. Organic development takes place in accordance with the specific natural laws prescribed by God in the creation order. Creatures are not responsible for the process of the birth, growth, and death of their organisms. But, as we saw earlier, the historical development that takes place in cultural life is subject not to natural laws but to norms, to the rules of what ought to be. These norms presuppose the human ability to make rational distinctions, and they are given by God as principles requiring concrete formation by those who possess historical power.

Because historical development is subject to norms instead of natural laws, it is improper to view the “vital forces” in tradition, to which we have to attach ourselves in the continued formation of history, as natural givens not subject to standards of historical evaluation. In particular one should not go along with the Historical School, which argued that “unconscious, historically vital powers” and the “individual national character” operate in the process of history under “God’s providential guidance” just like the “vital power” in a bodily organism. Such an appeal to “God’s guidance in history” can only serve as an escape from one’s own responsibility for the course of cultural development. In this way of thinking “God’s guidance” became identical with Schicksal, the destiny or fate of a nation. In practice “God’s guidance” was reduced to the point where the national character itself became the norm. In other words, responsibility for cultural development was relegated to a mysterious “national spirit” [Volksgeist] that could not be altered and that swept the members of a national community along like an irresistible fate.

A view of history led by the scriptural motive of creation comes to an entirely different conclusion. In cultural tradition “vitality” is not rooted merely in the national character, nor does it signify only that large parts of tradition are still supported by enough historical power to prevent their eradication. Both are indeed necessary for historical development, but, by themselves, they are not sufficient. True “vitality” in a historical sense only points to that part of tradition which is capable of further development in conformity with the norm for the opening or disclosure of culture. This norm requires the differentiation of culture into spheres that possess their own unique nature. Cultural differentiation is necessary so that the creational ordinance, which calls for the disclosure or unfolding of everything in accordance with its inner nature, may be realized also in historical development.

This point is eminently important for the pressing issues of the “new age.” Indeed, we may not rest until we have gained clear insight into the meaning of the historical norm of differentiation and into this norm’s foundation in the divine creation order.

[…] Did National Socialism then follow a truly progressive line when it imposed its totalitarian ideas upon western culture according to the model of the old Germanic Führer principle? I trust that by now it is clear that a well-founded scriptural answer is possible, and that this answer contains a historical judgment upon the totalitarian tendencies which still threaten our cultural development after the fall of national socialism.

Individualization and National Identity

We have seen that a culture which has not yet begun to differentiate isolates itself from cultural interaction among peoples and nations which play a role in world history. Such a culture is bound rigidly to the organic aspect of the community and to a nature religion of the stream of life. In these cultures neither science, an independent art, a body politic, nor an independent industrial life can arise. For every differentiated life sphere depends, for its historical development, upon cultural interaction in world history. With the cultural exchange the historical aspect discloses its coherence with the aspect of social interaction.

In this connection we should note that differentiation of the distinct cultural spheres goes hand in hand with individualization. Individualization here refers to the development of genuinely individual national characteristics. Because of it, one can speak of French, British, and Dutch cultures. A primitive, enclosed culture is never national. “National” consists of the individuality of a people characterized by common historical experiences and a disclosed community of culture. This historical individuality is first developed in the cultural relations and exchange of civilized peoples. This individuality is thus entirely different from the individual traits of tribal and racial communities which are based on “vital” or organic factors.

The national differentiation of culture is thus consistent with the disclosure of culture. In the idea of the “Greater Germanic Empire” propagated by National Socialism, the national element was purposely suppressed. Here too one can ascertain the reactionary character of National Socialism as a historical and cultural movement. It nourished itself on the myth of “blood and soil,” which had no room for the national individuality of culture. National individuality was replaced by the primitive idea of a people [Volk] based upon the “vital” or organic community of race and tribe.

The national character of a people is not a product of nature but the result of culturally formative activity. Cultural formation is subject to the norm that God established for the historical disclosure of culture. Thus a specific instance of national individualization, actually developed in a particular time and place, can never be elevated to the status of a norm. For it is quite well possible that such a specific instance displays anti-normative traits such as a lack of initiative, sectarianism, untrustworthiness, bourgeois provincialism, an illusion of national grandeur, or an apostate glorification of national culture.

(Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Thought, pp 66-82)


See also:

Dooyeweerd: The Criteria of Progressive and Reactionary Tendencies in History


Continue reading “DOOYEWEERD: Reactionary and Progessive National Norms (Brexit?)”

FMF: Drawing a Line in Shifting Sands (2012)

Drawing a Line in Shifting Sands
Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh (2012)

(Apologies for some continuity challenges for readers of this essay. Importation of the text from another site HERE has added to formatting issues with multiple embedded notes and links. FMF)


           Suddenly I find myself stumbling along a storm-smudged strand of churning, crashing waves and windborne, stinging sand. What am I doing here? This was not on my itinerary. Yet here I am. Squinting into the horizons. Leaning into the squalls. Time defeating me. One volte face already . . .
     I thought my proposed answer to the Scottish Government’s Consultation on Same Sex Marriage was settled. It was to be ‘Yes’. And for good reasons. Scripture censures homosexual practice, sure, but a democratic Christian should nonetheless concede space to diverse groupings. Anticipating reciprocity, of course. Our pluralist society is in various stages of theological freefall. Some spectacular. So what’s new? Why attempt a ‘line in the sand’ on this fraught issue in particular?

     What changed my mind? The realization that my notion of ‘reciprocity’ was an illusion. I had made a serious category error. This was no exercise in pluralism. Far from it. This was liberalist despotism. The proposed law would not reinforce choice in society but reduce it. That was its entire, if sotto voce, point. Ecclesiastical opt-out clause? As well inscribed on tidal sand. And a diversion from the real deal on the street (and in schools) where opt-out would be outlawed. So do I fault our politicians? Not really. I think by-and-large they are being honourable and high-minded. They are simply doing what politicians do. Conforming to a changing landscape. Democracy in action, folks. (1)


(1) NOTE: This was written before Nicola Sturgeon’s disgraceful ‘postmodernist deconstruction’ of the SNP’s own consultation returns, which showed a two-thirds majority against change. In order to conjure up the desired result, all signatories to a common statement of conviction (as well as postcard returns) were outrageously shrugged off [David Cameron and Westminster of course went on to do exactly the same]. To be rather melodramatic but nonetheless very much to the point: so much for famous multi-signed common statements of conviction such as  Scotland’s 1320 Declaration of Arbroath, England’s Magna Carta, America’s Declaration of Independence, etc). Calls for a referendum on the issue were immediately rejected. Apparently if the majority are ‘off message’ they should not be hearkened to but simply “led” into the “light”.


The bigger question then is: what subterranean dynamics have so strikingly transmuted our landscape? Ah! The fascinating ‘plate-tectonics’ of Western Thought! How deep does it all go? Very.

Dooyeweerd’s ‘Ground-motives’ 
[religieuze grondmotieven]
     I suggest we take as our ‘speleological’ guide the great Dutch Christian philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977). His central insight was that all thought is ultimately ‘religious’ in the sense that it betokens a pre-commitment of one’s deepest selfhood to God or a false god (the latter being any absolutisation of that which is relative). Idol summons counter-idol, as reality resists dis-equilibrium. Entire civilizations can thus become gripped by a dialectical ‘dunamis’ (to use a Pauline word – cf. Rom. 1:16), oscillating between the polarities of absolute and counter-absolute, spellbound by each in turn. Deeper even than philosophy, such a dialectic is uncritically premised as self-evident reality. Dooyeweerd identifies four major ‘ground-motives’ (2) (three are dualistic):


(2) NOTE: ‘It should be clear that the religious ground-motives or ethos types are by no means to be identified with theoretical schemas or theological classifications. They are total and central communal attitudes in life and thought, supra-personal spiritual motives and powers. We cannot treat them purely theoretically as intellectual motifs or presuppositions, nor modify them to fit this purpose or otherwise grasp them with our understanding. It is the other way round. These communal attitudes and ground-motives, these attitudes to life and (therefore) to thought have us in their grasp. They guide or determine the basic direction of our life and thought, and as regards thought: they first of all control the way we analyze, think and experience reality in everyday practice, and thence also our theoretical-scientific thought. They lead our thought time and again to the same or related dualistic, “dialectical”, “high-tension” problems.’ (Andree Troost, What is Reformational Philosophy? An Introduction to the Cosmonomic Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, Translated by Anthony Runia, Paideia Press 2012, pp 209-210)


Ground-Motive 1:

     First we are led down to the fractured bedrock of Hellenistic thought with its irreconcilable polarities of ‘Matter’ versus ‘Form’:  

The Aristotelian view of nature was no more independent of religious presuppositions than any other philosophical view. It was completely ruled by the dualistic religious basic motive of Greek thought, namely, that of form and matter . . . It originated from the meeting between two antagonistic Greek religions, namely, the older nature religion of life and death, and the younger cultural religion of the Olympian gods. Nietzsche and his friend Rhode were the first to discover the conflict between these religions (3) in the Greek tragedies. Nietzsche spoke of the contest between the Dionysian and the Apollonian spirit. But in fact here was at issue a conflict in the religious basic motive of the whole Greek life and thought. The pre-Olympian religion of life and death deified the ever-flowing stream of organic life which originates from mother earth and cannot be fixed or restricted by any corporeal form. It is from this formless stream of life that, in the order of time, the generations of beings separate themselves and appear in an individual bodily shape. The corporeal form can only be maintained at the cost of other living beings, so that the life of the one is the death of the other. So there is an injustice in any fixed form of life which for this reason must be repaid to the horrible fate of death, designated by the Greek terms anangkè [ἀνάγκη – force, constraint, necessity, inescapability] and heimarmenè tuché [arbitrary fate]…This is the original sense of the Greek matter-motive…The religious form-motive, on the other hand, is the central motive of the younger Olympian religion, the religion of form, measure and harmony, wherein the cultural aspect of the Greek polis was deified. (Herman Dooyeweerd, In The Twilight of Western Thought, Craig Press, Nutley, New Jersey, 1968, pp. 163, 164.) (New edition!)


(3) NOTE: ‘See A.P. Bos in his In de greep van de titanen: inleiding tot een hoofdstroming van de Griekse filosofie [In the grip of the titans: introduction to a main current in Greek philosophy] (Amsterdam, 1991). His criticism of Dooyeweerd’s theory of the Greek ground-motive of form and matter seems plausible because current scholarship no longer credits what Dooyeweerd took to be the religious origin of the ethos type “form and matter”. In my view, however, this does not seriously detract from the correct element in Dooyeweerd’s description of the divided Greek ethos with its “ground-motive” of “form and matter”. Cf. also Bos’ criticism in his “Dooyeweerd en de wijsbegeerte van de outheid”, in H.G. Geertsema et al., Herman Dooyeweerd 1894-1977. Breedte en actualiteit van zijn filosofie (Kampen, 1994), pp. 197-227.’ (Andree Troost, What is Reformational Philosophy? An Introduction to the Cosmonomic Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, Translated by Anthony Runia, Paideia Press 2012, p 204, footnote 81)


     The Greek Tragedies reference is indeed pertinent, since the ‘dunamis’ (power, influence, authority) of drama over our consciousness impinges on our discussion. For example, we can even glimpse, I would suggest, these Form-Matter polarities in 21st century cinema’s genres of superhero (neo-Olympian ‘deified cultural forces’) and zombie (pitiless, dreadful, anangkè). And, of course, in relation to the status of homosexuality and same-sex marriage, the Establishment is now increasingly composed of those whose views have been incalculably influenced by Hollywood and by agenda-laden broadcasting networks such as the BBC. By and large, for this generation, answers in these matters are now self-evident (and bathed in a golden aura). Discussion is redundant (reservations are “prejudice”). Un-nuanced snap endorsement is mandatory. Imposition is ferocious, both legally and clandestinely. This astounding “progressivist” totalitarianism is self-justified by non-negotiable assertions such as “It’s the right thing to do”. Contrariwise, of course, Scriptural texts are oftimes asserted in no less arbitrary-sounding fashion. A glance back to NOTE (2) is worthwhile.


Ground-Motive 2: 
Creation, Fall, and Redemption
     The second ground-motive which shaped the landscape is the non-dualist one of ‘creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ in the communion of the Holy Spirit’:
Already in its revelation of creation the Christian religion stands in radical antithesis to the religious ground-motive of Greek and Greco-Roman antiquity. Through its integrality (it embraces all things created) and radicality (it penetrates to the root of created reality) the creation motive makes itself known as authentic divine Word-revelation. God, the creator, reveals himself as the absolute, complete, and integral origin of all things. No equally original power stands over against him in the way that Anangkè and Moira (blind fate) stood over against the Olympian gods. Hence, within the created world one cannot find an expression of two contradictory principles of origin. (Herman Dooyeweerd, The Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options, Wedge Publishing Foundation, Toronto, 1979, p. 28. (Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)
     Historically, however, Christian thought has struggled to escape the prevailing dualistic ground-motive of society at large.


Ground-Motive 3: 

     A new ‘Nature versus Grace’ dichotomy arose from the attempted synthesis of the two preceding ground-motives by Thomas Aquinas (1225–1274). (4)


(4) NOTE: However, Theodore Plantinga in his essay “The Reformational Movement: Does It Need a History?” questions whether the default neo-Calvinist interpretation of Thomas Aquinus is after all valid. Regarding the “Nature/Grace” split, Theodore Plantinga has the following to say –

It should be noted that there has been some revision on this score of late. Quite a number of years ago, Arvin Vos of the University of Western Kentucky, who attended Calvin (College) as an undergraduate but was never an (Evan) Runner man, already argued that the kind of criticism of the tradition of Thomas Aquinas and nature/grace thinking that one commonly finds in Calvinistic and reformational circles is unfair to Aquinas. In effect it attributes to Aquinas certain objectionable views that were held by self-styled followers of his some centuries later. [The Vos thesis is presented in his book Aquinas, Calvin, and Contemporary Protestant Thought: A Critique of Protestant Views on the Thought of Thomas Aquinas (Washington: Christian University Press, 1985). Wrote Vos: “… many have criticized Aquinas for making a distinction between nature and grace. They maintain that such a split inevitably leads to a dualism from which nature emerges as an independent, self-sufficient order, and grace emerges as a superfluous option. In fact, however, this is a position that Aquinas combatted with all his energy throughout his life; he always held grace preeminent over nature.” [Pages 162-163] Vos explained further: “… new scholarship on the Middle Ages produced during the past century has convincingly shown that later Thomists departed significantly from Aquinas’s original teaching some time during the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, and that in fact the later Thomist tradition resembles fairly closely the position that Protestants have long attributed to Aquinas himself.” [Pages 152-153] Versions of the Arvin Vos criticism have been uttered more recently by Edward Echeverria as well, and their validity is being acknowledged more and more openly in reformational circles.[Theodore Plantinga, The Reformational Movement: Does It Need a History?” (See paragraph headed Emphasis on the antithesis)]


 Most obvious in Catholicism (5)this ‘Nature v Grace’ motive also pervades much evangelical thinking (through a stalling of reformational philosophy):

Like the Greek form-matter motive, the ground-motive of nature and grace contained a religious dialectic which drove life and thought from the natural pole to the supra-natural pole. The naturalistic attitude summoned the ecclesiastical truths of grace before the court of natural reason, and a supra-natural mysticism attempted to escape ‘nature’ in the mystical experience of ‘grace’. Ultimately this dialectic led to a consistent proclamation of the unbridgeable rift between nature and grace; nature became independent, losing every point of contact with grace. (Roots of Western Culture p117. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)

(5) NOTE, however, Dooyeweerd’s (spoken) comment regarding mid-twentieth century developments: “And now, now the nouvelle théologie arose . . . they spoke about the religious center of man. Yes, so at once Volume II of my book Reformation and Scholasticism immediately lost its basic foundation, for the Roman Catholics would be able to say, ‘What do you mean? We live in a changed time, and neo-scholasticism has for quite some time grown out of that old standpoint’.” (Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a changing world, Herman Dooyeweerd, 1964 Lecture at the annual meeting of the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy. PDF of original Dutch text HERE. PDF of English translation by Dr J. Glenn Friesen HERE. (Quote can be found on page 17 of pdf.)


     Of particular interest to us, given our current consideration of ‘State’ and ‘marriage’, are Dooyeweerd’s following comments:

In conformity with Greek thought, Thomas held that the state was the total, all-inclusive community in the realm of nature. All the other life spheres were merely its subservient parts. Thomas therefore conceived of the relationship between the state and the other natural spheres of life in terms of the whole-part relation. Certainly he would not defend a state absolutism that would govern all of life from ‘above’. The modern totalitarian regimes of national socialism and fascism would have met an unwavering opponent in Thomas, as they did among the modern Thomists . . . Both the individual and marriage (in its sacramental superstructure) participated in the supra-natural order, and the jurisdiction of the state did not extend beyond the natural. (Roots of Western Culture p124. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)
     The Thomistic synthesis prevailed insofar as papal authority was able to suppress dissent. However, the incisive critique of English Franciscan William of Ockham (c. 1280-1349) initiated a profound and ongoing split:
Denying any point of contact between nature and grace, this movement exposed the deep rift between the Christian religion and the Greek view of nature. Western culture seemed presented with two options: it could either pursue the ‘natural’ direction which ultimately would lead to a complete emancipation of man from the faith of the church, or return to the pure ground-motive of Scripture, namely, creation, fall, and redemption through Jesus Christ. The Renaissance movement, the early forerunner of humanism, followed the first path; with more or less consistency, the Reformation followed the second. (Roots of Western Culture p149. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)
     To better grasp the crisis provoked by Ockham, we should here note the key conundrum of ‘normativity’. If the laws of physics, for example, are creational rather than consensual, what of the laws of logic? Physical? Hmm. Consensual? Problematic. They can clearly be infringed. But fruitfully? Alright, so are there creational laws or principles with a bearing on ‘State’ and ‘marriage’? Dooyeweerd would maintain there are:
In his common grace God first of all upholds the ordinances of his creation and with this he maintains ‘human nature’. These ordinances are the same for Christians and non-Christians. God’s common grace is evident in that even the most anti-godly ruler must continually bow and capitulate before God’s decrees if he is to see enduring positive results from his labours.(6) (Roots of Western Culture. p37. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)


“The life of man, singly and collectively, is a process of positivizing the principles of God’s law of life for man and cosmos. In this cosmic law-order God has also set the principle of historical formative control, by virtue of which mankind is called to give form to life and thus to positivize normativity. In order to form the normative guidelines for concrete patterns of behavior or actions, mankind must fill in the normative principles as if they were dotted lines or chalk marks. Humanism of course also recognizes this aspect of human life, but it absolutizes it. Man certainly can and should freely give form and shape to life, but he must do so response-ably, following all the principles of the divine law-order, thus not autonomously. He must not willfully exclude certain aspects of normativity, such as the aspect of faith, or divine revelation, or the moral aspect, the economic aspect, the logical aspect, and so on.” (Andree Troost, What is Reformational Philosophy? An Introduction to the Cosmonomic Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, Translated by Anthony Runia, Paideia Press 2012, p272)


Marcel E. Verburg in his book “Herman Dooyeweerd: The Life and Work of a Christian Philosopher” (English translation Paideia Press 2015, pages 133, 134) writes:

     When he discussed legal principles, Dooyeweerd drew attention to some serious misunderstandings with regard to this subject. He pointed out that legal principles are not created through the functions of reason but discovered, and also that they have no transcendent validity but only an immanent validity within the cosmic meaning-coherence. An important misunderstanding that Dooyeweerd mentions is the notion that some people have that genuine principles must be of eternal value – elevated above time. This view, he stressed, has a pagan and humanist origin:

“The greatest danger that the objectionable metaphysical conception of legal principles for the view of law is this, that while we are genuflecting devoutly before eternal principles “that are not subject to time”, our temporal legal life comes to be understood in a non-principled way on the basis of an attitude toward the creation of law (rechtsvorming) that is at bottom utilitarian. The concept of “supra-temporal legal principles” must be recognized as internally contradictory. “Principle” (beginsel) means “beginning,” and all beginnings are within time. 

     It is not the principle that is supra-temporal but only the eternal, religious meaning of the law; in the same way all normative principles, including the logical, the historical [culural-formative], the social, the linguistic, the aesthetic, the economic, the moral, and the pistical [certitudinal, faith] are to be understood in terms of the temporal meaning-articulation (zinbreking) of the eternal meaning of the law (wet) as it is revealed to us through Christ. Sin in its supra-temporal religious sense is not a meaning-functional transgression of norms but touches the heart, the root of the human race; it means a rejection of the eternal meaning of the law, the service of God. Yet it manifests itself in time in a rebellious attitude toward the meaning-functional ordinances, which God the Lord has established for every law-sphere.” (De structuur der Rechtsbeginselen en de methode der Rechtwetenschap in het licht der Wetsidee, 1930). 

(Also called Aspects/ Modes of Consciousness/ 
Modalities/ Modes of Meaning)

“From the logical sphere onwards the modal laws are only given as regulative principles which cannot be realized on the subject-side without rational consideration and distinction . . . In the pre-logical aspects of reality the modal laws are realized in the facts without human intervention . . . We must hold fast to our insight into the nature of a normative principle. In the historical and post-historical aspects the laws acquire a concrete sense through human positivizing of Divine normative principles . . . The distinction between ‘absolute’ and ‘empirical’ norms is untenable . . . Arbitrariness can never be elevated to a norm, to an obligatory rule of conduct.” (Dooyeweerd, New Critique, Vol. II pp. 237-240, my emphasis. Download English and Dutch versions free HERE) [New 2016 edition available HERE]

We should note an important sentence we have just read: In the pre-logical aspects of reality the modal laws are realized in the facts without human intervention”.  

Thus in Vol 3 of “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought”  (p 305) Dooyeweerd writes:

  “The marriage bond is by nature incapable of any change in its individual members; it is essentially a bi-unity of husband and wife entirely dependent on the individuality of the persons united in this communal bond. In polygamy these things are essentially unaltered. The husband is not united with more wives in one marriage bond, but in as many marriage bonds as he has wives. This is striking evidence of the fact that polygamy is against nature.” 

And in Vol 3, p 309) Dooyeweerd writes:

“As soon as the juridical viewpoint acquires the leading role in the conjugal relationship, it is by nature an external legal viewpoint. And if the marriage-partners give to an external legal order the leading role in their communal relationship, this is a clear evidence of the complete ruin of their inner bond. Nor can a civil or canon legal order be the foundation of marriage in its inner structure. This foundation is of a bioticnot of a juridical character. No doubt the juridical structural aspect of the marriage-institution cannot be eliminated, but this holds good for all its other structural functions.”

[ie the “marriage-institution” – like every other “thing” – functions in all fifteen modalities (see also here), though it is “founded” in only one and is “qualified” by one other. Thus Dooyeweerd argues that the “marriage-institution” is founded in the “biotic” aspect, and qualified by the “ethical” aspect (“self-giving love”). – FMF]

(That ends NOTE 6)


     [Main text continues…] As essentially a nominalist (denying ‘universals’), Ockham would disagree that there are creational laws or principles with a bearing on ‘State’ and ‘marriage’. He emancipates ‘nature’ from Aristotelian metaphysics, but crucially also uncouples it from the Creator’s ordinances, deeming these to be arbitrary rather than integral. Nature is brute. Hence our unease when hearing the great reformer Martin Luther (1483-1546) assert: ‘I am of Ockham’s school’:

Luther, however, was influenced by Ockham’s dualism which established a deep rift between natural life and the supra-natural Christian life. In Luther’s case this conflict expressed itself as the opposition between law and gospel . . . With respect to the truths of faith, reason was hopelessly blind. But in matters of secular government, justice, and social order man possessed only the light of reason. It was Ockham’s rigorous dualism that sustained Luther’s separation of natural reason and the Christian religion. (Roots of Western Culture, pp 140-141. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)
     Dooyeweerd argues that the ‘Nature-Grace’ dichotomy is discernible in (mainly the early) Karl Barth (1886-1968) and Emil Brunner (1889-1966):

Whereas the Roman Catholic Church accepted the Greek view of nature in a positive sense by attempting a reconciliation with the Christian creation motive [scheppingsmotief], [the early] Barth allowed the creation motive to recede from sight, sacrificing it to the motives of fall and redemption in Jesus Christ. The great master of dialectical theology had no use at all for creation ordinances that might serve as guidelines in our ‘natural life’ (7).

According to Barth the fall corrupted ‘nature’ so thoroughly that the knowledge of the creation ordinances was completely lost. Brunner was of a different mind on this point. He believed that the creation ordinances were valid as expressions of ‘common grace’. At the same time, however, he depreciated these ordinances by placing them in a dialectical polarity with the divine love commandment which he understood as the ‘demand of the hour’ [Gebot der Stunde]. Because of their general character, the creation ordinances are cold and loveless. They form the realm of the law which stands in dialectical opposition to the freedom of the gospel in Jesus Christ who was free from the law. In Brunner too one clearly sees the continuation of the Lutheran contrast between law and gospel. This contrast is merely a different expression of the dialectical opposition between nature and grace which in this form – gospel vs. law – had made its first appearance already in late-medieval scholasticism. For Brunner the law, the cold and rigid framework in which God confines sinful ‘nature’, must really be broken through by the evangelical commandment of love. This commandment knows no general rule and is valid only in and for the moment. For example, marriage – a creation ordinance – cannot be dissolved; but the command of love can break through this rigid, general structure as the ‘demand of the hour’ [Gebot der Stunde]. Brunner held that God is indeed the author of the creation order, but as ‘law’ the creation order is not the authentic [eigenlijke] will of God, which manifests itself only in the evangelical love commandment. Thus it is still the same ground motive of nature and grace which brought division even within the camp of dialectical theology. (Roots of Western Culture. p. 146. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)


(7) NOTE: Dutch: “Deze grootmeester der dialectische theologie wil nets meer weten van scheppingsordinantiën, die ons in het „natuurlijk leven” tot richtsnoer zouden kunnen strekken.” It should be noted that Dooyeweerd significantly tempered this view in subsequent years: “In his Kirchliche Dogmatik Barth has relinquished the extreme dualism of his earlier writings . . . There are really masterly and magnificent traits in Barth’s reflections on Christian faith” (New Critique, Vol. II pp. 301, 302). Nonetheless, Dooyeweerd’s perspective continued to constrain him from any plenary acquittal of Barth. Cf also:

 It is a gladdening symptom of a re-awakening biblical consciousness, that under the influence of Augustinianism an increasing number of Roman Catholic thinkers, belonging to the movement of the nouvelle théologie, have begun to oppose this dualistic view [inherent in the scholastic basic motive of nature and supra-natural grace]. They agree with the Reformed philosophical movement in the Netherlands in advocating the necessity of a Christian philosophy. On the other hand, we must observe that the Barthian view of theology, as the exclusive Christian science and of its negative relation to philosophy, is still entirely penetrated by this dualism. This is a baffling fact, since, in sharp opposition to Roman Catholicism, Barth claims for his theology a radical biblical character. How is this to be explained? The reason is that Barth, though sharply opposing the synthetic Thomistic view of nature and grace, did not abandon this dualistic theme as such, which in the Augustinian view was still unknown. He merely replaced its synthetical conception, according to which nature is the autonomous basis of the supra-natural sphere of grace, by an antithetical one which denies any point of contact between the corrupted autonomous nature and the divine work of grace. Thus philosophy was excommunicated as such, because by nature it would be an autonomous product of natural thought which is corrupted by sin. Among all sciences only dogmatic theology was supposed to be capable of being permeated by the Word-revelation. In my opinion, this dualistic view betrays the after-effects of the Occamistic Nominalism, which has especially influenced the Lutheran view concerning the impossibility of a Christian philosophy. However, if the possibility of a Christian philosophy is denied, one should also deny the possibility of a Christian theology in the sense of a science of the biblical doctrine. (Herman Dooyeweerd, In The Twilight of Western Thought, Craig Press, Nutley, New Jersey, 1968, pp. 141, 142) (New edition!)


  [Main text continues…]    It is conspicuous that in Romans 1 Paul does not fault homosexual behaviour for being contrary to Scripture (i.e. no mention of Leviticus) but rather for being contrary to Nature (cf 1 Cor 6:11 – “For such were some of you”). This attests creational parameters, and also arguably ‘common grace’. It was in the context of the latter that Dooyeweerd interestingly commended historical Humanism for its record on human rights. Indeed Paul himself endorses ‘humanist’ thinking, as it were, when in his Acts 17 Areopagus speech he favourably quotes pagan poets. And John Calvin (8) forcefully argued that all truth comes from God, whatever the conduit:

“Therefore, in reading profane authors, the admirable light of truth displayed in them  should remind us, that the human mind, however much fallen and perverted from its  original integrity, is still adorned and invested with admirable gifts from its Creator. If we reflect that the Spirit of God is the only fountain of truth, we will be careful, as we would avoid offering insult to him, not to reject or condemn truth wherever it appears. In despising the gifts, we insult the giver. (Institutes 2:2:15-16).


(8) NOTE:“The scholastic motive of nature and grace is not found in Calvin’s thought, nor is there any trace of the spiritualistic contrast between the divine Law and the Gospel, (as) found in Luther.” Dooyeweerd, New Critique, Vol. II p. 517 


 [Main text continues…]   Paul was invited to speak by the opposed Stoics (9) and Epicureans. Dooyeweerd suggests a Semitic influence [Roots of Western Culture, p. 26.] behind the Stoic emphasis on the natural freedom and equality of all men, a strand of Hellenistic philosophy picked up by Roman civil law and thence adopted by Germanic countries in the late middle ages with lasting effect on Western jurisprudence. Of course the Biblical revelation that all men are made in the image of God, and therefore equal before God, also informed more directly, for example, the anti-slavery movement.


(9) NOTE: The following comments from Robert A. J. Gagnon are pertinent here:

     Paul’s nature argument in Romans 1:24-27 does not lend itself to distinctions between exploitative and non-exploitative manifestations of homosexual behavior but rather to an absolute rejection of all homosexual bonds. By para phusin (“beyond nature” in the sense of “contrary to, against nature”) Paul meant that the evidence from the material structures of creation—here the complementary embodied character of maleness and femaleness—gives clear evidence of God’s will for human sexual pairing.
Some have argued that this could not have been what Paul intended by his nature argument, despite Paul’s clear statement in Rom 1:19-20 that such matters are “transparent” and have been so “from the creation of the world . . . being mentally apprehended by means of the things made.” As it is, the historical context also confirms this way of reading Paul. According to Thomas Hubbard, a classicist at the University of Texas (Austin) who has written the premiere sourcebook of texts on homosexuality in ancient Greece and Rome: “Basic to the heterosexual position [against homosexual practice in the Greco-Roman world of the first few centuries C.E.] is the characteristic Stoic appeal to the providence of Nature, which has matched and fitted the sexes to each other.” (Thomas K. Hubbard, Homosexuality in Greece and Rome: A Sourcebook of Basic Documents, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.)…
Some Greek and Roman moralists condemned all homosexual acts on the grounds of a nature argument. “Literature of the first century C.E. bears witness to an increasing polarization of attitudes toward homosexual activity, ranging from frank acknowledgment and public display of sexual indulgence on the part of leading Roman citizens to severe moral condemnation of all homosexual acts” (Ibid., 383). 

(Truncated Love: A Response to Andrew Marin’s Love Is an Orientation Part 1 pp 19, 22, Robert A. J. Gagnon, Ph.D., Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, 2010, pdf download)


Ground-Motive 4: 
[Main text continues…]

The fourth [ground-motiveis that of Nature and Liberty, introduced by modern Humanism, which originates in an insoluble conflict between the religious cult of human personality in its liberty and autonomy and the desire to dominate reality by modern natural science, which seeks to construe it as a rational and uninterrupted chain of causes and effects. This humanist motive has absorbed into itself the three earlier fundamental motives, secularising the Christian motive and the [Thomistic] Catholic motive. [Herman Dooyeweerd, Introduction to a Transcendental Criticism of Philosophic ThoughtEvangelical Quarterly XIX/1, Jan. 1947.]

      We now enter strikingly familiar terrain. In the wake of Ockham, modern Humanism is born. Autonomous humanity harnesses natural laws. But if Man himself is a product of deterministic laws, whence his freedom? Enter Immanuel Kant (1724-1804) with his ‘fact/value distinction’. A sensory realm of Science (phenomena) is sharply distinguished from a suprasensory realm of Freedom (noumena). The latter is the domain of ethics. Freedom is not provable by Science, but is a ‘reasonable idea’ in which ‘to have faith’(10). ________________________________
(10) NOTE: Translation and transcription by J. Glenn Friesen of a response by Dooyeweerd to a post-lecture question in 1964:

     And now the question of sociology as a science in a narrower sense, thus as a non-philosophical science, well yes, there we have this unhappy fact that the traditional view of sociology is that sociology exclusively investigates our factual societal relationships, in order to explain them in a causal way, leaving the normative views of these matters outside the field of sociology. They then say that these norms belong to legal science, or to ethical theory, and so forth. Now I have tried to show that this view is in conflict with social reality – that such a reality does not exist. The whole social reality as such, what we call social facts, can only be ascertained by the application of norms and lines of responsibility. For example, if I say that there is a marriage between A and B, then I undoubtedly have a social relationship in view, which also has its juridical aspect. But it is a real social relationship. It is a social fact that this is a marriage. But I cannot establish that fact without the application of norms. How else would I be able to distinguish marriage from concubinage or from a relationship of free love? And so on. If I say that someone is a minister, then without a doubt I am relating a social fact. But can I establish that without applying a norm? Being a minister presupposes qualifications, it presupposes an office. Yes, these are all things that I can only establish by applying norms.      

     In other words, this is the dilemma for sociology: is it a true science in the sense of wetenschap or is it ‘science’ in the English sense? Americans are presently much broader in their understanding of ‘science,’ for they understand it to also mean normative science. But the English have not yet come that far, for they sharply distinguish between science and the arts. And they say, okay, legal science as a normative science, and ethics, the ethical science – those are arts but not science, for science concerns reality as it really is, the facts. And the arts, they can of course say how things ought to be. That’s the way these two areas are, and they should be that way; they should not be mixed up with each other. All right, but then I must state that it cannot all be reduced to social reality. For if from out of social reality, we try to abstract social norms in the broadest sense of the word from out of social reality, then we do not retain any single social fact. And here, where sociology concerns itself as a non-philosophical science, and concerns itself with facts – here is now a point where from a Christian standpoint, I believe we are forced to also make our Christian voice heard.      

     And in my view what we must say is this, that this whole dualism of what is and what ought to be [sein en sollen], which ever since Immanuel Kant has established itself as a kind of dogma, that this can be shown to derive from a dualistic religious Ground-motive. The humanistic Ground-motive is what I have sketched out as a motive of nature and freedom. On the one hand, there is the motive to control nature by means of scientific causal thought, and on the other hand there is the area of morals, ethics in a broader sense and the area of belief, as the domain of the autonomous freedom of the human personality. These two domains were separated from each other and now it is put forward as a scientific axiom that there are sciences and there are the arts, fine arts [kunst] therefore, and skills [kunstvaardigen]. They say that fine arts have to do with practical things and therefore also with norms, but that the sciences have to do exclusively with how things are [met het zo zijn], with facts and not with norms. And now the Christian voice must be heard, the Christian answer in my opinion. But that cannot be reduced to social reality.
Extract from “Center and Periphery: The Philosophy of the Law-Idea in a changing world” by Herman Dooyeweerd (Translated by J. Glenn Friesen, Discussion, pages 10-11). 

PDF of original Dutch text HERE. PDF of English translation by Dr J. Glenn Friesen HERE(Quote can be found on pages 37-38 Dutch pdf & pages 38-39 English pdf.)


  [Main text continues…]     Dooyeweerd summarises: “In Kant’s thought the chasm dividing science and [humanistic] faith runs parallel to the chasm separating nature from freedom.” [Roots of Western Culture, p. 172.]

     Let us now relate this more closely to our discussion. Christianity, which still in the second half of the twentieth century retained at least a tenuously formal status as ‘Fact’, has in our day been re-assigned to the subjective ‘Value’ side (in a ragbag labelled: ‘Faith Groups’). In contrast, homosexuality has been re-categorised from the ‘Value’ side, i.e. from being a subject about which public opinion could legitimately differ, to the ‘Fact’ side of objective scientific truth. In other words, it is no longer deemed to be a ‘moral’ matter but one of physics and chemistry (‘just how I am made’). Within this mindset, any attempt to treat it as if in the ‘ethical’ arena (i.e. as a subject for debate) is an anachronism which State legislation is therefore expected to address. In the run-up to the last Westminster general election, Liberal leader Nick Clegg stated that homosexuality is “normal and healthy”. On which basis (let us observe) dissent cannot be a moral choice, only immoral prejudice (11). But note also that the current campaign is about far more than the normality of homosexuality. It is about the normality of homosexuality, heterosexuality, and everything in between (i.e. every transgender condition and transvestite whim) (12).

(11) NOTE: History reveals (eg French Revolutionism, Marxism) with what astounding facility and self-righteousness (and however paradoxically) leftist libertarians (those cheerleaders of the ‘Personalist Freedom’ polarity) can when in governance disdain democracy and invoke iron-handed Statist Law (‘Mechanistic Nature’ polarity) to universally enforce their views. Obsessive subverters of all ‘bourgeois’ values, the libertarian left, having long gained hegemony in broadcasting, now manifest as political establishment. Via the unlikely Monty Python*, via sick-making ‘edgy’ comedians, via BBC couch-‘anointings’ of new model citizenry, we find ourselves entering a Through the Looking Glass world in which ‘human rights’ seem to function less as schiltron against State omnipotence and increasingly as cudgel of State coercion.

[*“For centuries, human beings have made sense of their lives by constructing over-arching stories which explain why we are here and why we are important. We talked of God’s design, fall and salvation, finding our true purpose and so on. But we can’t believe this any more…Like postmodernists, the Pythons think the age of ‘grand narratives’ is over.” (Julian Baggini, “Life’s what you make it in the not-so-grand scheme of things” , The Herald, 21 March 2008). Baggini rehearses here postmodernism’s defining assertion that there is no “grand narrative”, no “Big Story”. Objective reality cannot ultimately be known since we are all locked within our own personal distorting – or at least unable to be validated – subjectivities. To assert that one’s own view is a definitive “overview” is therefore a presumptuous social faux pas. It unacceptably “privileges” one subjective view over the equally valid many. Two brief retorts: 1) To insist that there is “no over-arching narrative” is self-refuting, since the statement itself is a universal claim. 2) Western society and global academia patently DO subscribe to an utterly sacrosanct “Big Story” or over-arching “grand narrative”. It is commonly known as Neo-Darwinism. The reference to Kant’s “Fact/Value distinction” above helps to explain its secure hegemony, indeed its status as uncontestable paradigm. We unthinkingly categorize “Story” as an imagination-generated product of the Personal Freedom polarity. “Science”, on the other hand, (ostensibly) adhering rigorously to the Mechanistic Natural Law polarity, is credited by the public with shunning all subjective narrative and scrupulously presenting only objective evidence (“That’s a scientific fact, right?”) In this regard I was interested to hear one Sunday morning on Radio Scotland a couple of years ago arch-evolutionist Professor Steve Jones (Almost Like a Whale: The Origin of Species Updated, 2000) in an interview with Ruth Wishart pointing out how funding largely drives research, and laudably lamenting also how newspapers invariably reproduce scientific press releases uncritically, an adulatory approach not accorded political press releases (of course the interview was obviously prior to the current Scottish independence referendum campaign, during which BBC Scotland and the Scottish press have shown themselves only too happy to reproduce Unionist propaganda verbatim)]

     We might mention here another interesting glimpse of ‘polarity dialectic’ in relation to Prof Richard Dawkins. Though an undoubted champion of the ‘Mechanistic Nature’ polarity (cf. The Selfish Gene), Dawkins salutes ‘Personalist Freedom’ in advising that humans have reached a stage where they can begin to choose the direction of their ‘evolution’. Of course this implied eugenic ‘free choice’ could overnight through government legislation become a draconian imposition and so we would be back to the “Mechanistic Nature” polarity with a vengeance. Regarding a different ‘Freedom-polarity’ cultural manifestation, Dawkins (with considerable justification) enthusiastically endorses a lampoon of a prominent strand of postmodernist writing (though do I detect a whiff of “Francophobia”?) in his ‘Postmodernism Disrobed’.

(12) NOTE: Cf a recent France Culture radio discussion citing a 2009 international athletics gender-testing case as evidence of the “arbitrariness” and “absurdity” of sexual norms (“Qu’est-ce qu’un test de féminité?”). It is “very difficult to submit all our bodies, all our ways of existing, to only two categories defined in opposition”. The suicides of young homosexuals suggest “an inability to define themselves in terms of these dominant norms”. Imposition of this problematic “binarité”, or bi-categorisation, is an impoverishment which neglects “la plasticité de nos corps, la perversité de nos désirs”. (Les Nouveaux chemins de la connaissance: Transgression 2/4 : la norme du sexe – travestissement et transgenre, France Culture, 06.12.2011)]


  [Main text continues…]     The Fall is of course forgotten. And with it the perspective that in the light of creational normativity we all without exception struggle with personal ‘abnormality’: 

Cultural education cannot change the male structure into a female one, nor the other way round. Only a fundamental encroachment upon the biotic structure of the human body would be able to accomplish such a structural alteration because sex difference has a typical biotic foundation. As long as psychology continues to speak of a male and a female feeling-structure, it will be in need of a normative structural principle which itself is independent of the concrete historical development. To point out effeminacy in a man’s emotional life implies a normative structural principle lying at the foundation of this statement. [Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol. III pp. 326-7. Download English and Dutch versions free HERE)

     If nothing can conceivably be abnormal, normativity vanishes. Society becomes entirely self-referential. This is post-modernism. Dada revisited (13). Historicism (14). Heraclitus (15). 


(13) NOTE: Cf. David Locher: Unacknowledged Roots and Blatant Imitation: Postmodernism and the Dada Movement Electronic Journal of Sociology (1999).

(14) ‘In modern times historicism or historical relativism is the main philosophical opponent of Reformational philosophy, not just in its approach to marriage and family but also in its view of the state, the business firm, associations, churches, and so on. This school of thought says that all societal relationships are purely human inventions and constructions which are determined by tradition and can be changed according to our needs and desires. By contrast, Reformational philosophy acknowledges that life in the various societal structures, including the state, cannot be organized at will, just to suit ourselves. Our philosophy recognizes supra-arbitrary principles, called structural principles. These are at the core of the various concrete types of human society.

     ‘…Marriage can be defined as the binary love community between a man and a woman for the duration of life and on the basis of gender difference. In the light of this definition a polygamous marriage is not one marriage with several women, but a plurality of simultaneously existing marriages that one man has contracted with several women…Our definition of marriage located its founding function in the gender polarity of man and woman, so in the biotic modality. For this reason a homosexual friendship can never be called a “marriage”, and any civil recognition of this relationship in a contract or by some other legal instrument cannot transform it into “another type of marriage”, no more than its consecration by a clergyman can.  To legislate “equality before the law” of a civil union and a marriage is a simplistic solution.’ (Andree Troost, What is Reformational Philosophy? An Introduction to the Cosmonomic Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, Translated by Anthony Runia, Paideia Press 2012, pp 229, 230, 224, 225, 226)

More from Dooyeweerd on the rise of historicism:

     “The impulse to dominate nature by an autonomous scientific thought required a deterministic image of the world, construed as an uninterrupted chain of functional causal relations, to be formulated in mathematical equations…Nature was conceived as a central unity under the absolutized mechanistic viewpoint. But now the inner dialectic of the Humanist basic motive began to reveal itself in modern philosophy. The mechanistic world-image constructed under the primacy of the nature motive, aiming at the sovereign domination of the world, left no room for the autonomous freedom of the human personality in its practical activity. Henceforth Humanist philosophy was involved in a restless dialectical process. With Rousseau, the primacy is transferred to the freedom-motive and the central seat of human freedom is sought in the modal aspect of feeling. Kant’s critical philosophy led to a sharp separation of the realms of nature and freedom… As in Rousseau the religious primacy was ascribed to the freedom-motive. But the central seat of human freedom was now sought in the moral aspect of the human will. Post-Kantian idealism seeks to overcome Kant’s critical dualism by a dialectical mode of thought which was supposed to bring about an ultimate synthesis of nature and freedom. The mathematical science-ideal, born from the impulse to dominate nature, is replaced by another philosophical pattern of thought, oriented to the historical aspect of experience. This gives rise to a historicistic view of the temporal world, which reduces all the other aspects of our experience to the historical one…But in the middle of the last [19th] century the German freedom-idealism broke down, and gave place to naturalistic positivism. The nature-motive regained the upperhand…Meanwhile, historicism, no longer checked by the belief in eternal ideas of the human reason, began to display its relativistic consequences, resulting in a spiritual uprooting of Western thought. The former Humanistic belief was viewed as mere historical phenomenon, the perishable product of our Western cultural mind. The transitory influence of neo-Kantianism and neo-Hegelianism could not stop this process. Both contemporary logical positivism and its polar opposite Humanistic existentialism testify to a fundamental crisis of Humanist philosophy.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, In The Twilight of Western Thought, Craig Press, Nutley, New Jersey, 1968, pp. 49-51(New edition!)

(15) NOTE: “The Ionian philosophers of nature and HERACLITUS, who deified the matter-principle of the eternally flowing stream of life, could never ask for an unmoved Mover as prime cause of empirical movement. This was not a logical mistake on the part of these thinkers, but is to be explained only in terms of their holding to the religious precedence of the matter-motive.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Prolegomena p72)

     Cf the following from Beat poet Allen Ginsberg (1926-1997) in a late interview (mix of French and English): “I don’t think there is a heaven or a hell! I would not want to be condemned to go to heaven for ever! That sounds like a monstrous…that sounds like hell! C’est une condition de stasis permanent…d’immobilité permanente. Tous les choses sont impermanents. C’est claire!… C’est moi, Allen Ginsberg qui a lu Héraclite! On ne peut pas entrer le même fleuve UNE fois…! (France Culture, La poesie n’est pas une solution: Une anthologie parlée d’Allen Ginsberg, États-Unis, par Frank Smith 01.08.2012 – 15.00)



  [Main text continues…]   Reality is [now deemed to be] but a flux of shifting sands. Dada was an irrational (‘Freedom’) reaction to the authoritarian and mechanistic (‘Nature’) carnage of the First World War (16). Freudianism and Surrealism ensued, Truth sought in dreams, the subconscious, drugs. Then followed World War 2. The Holocaust. Hiroshima. Vietnam. Apocalypse Now.

     Film is ‘dunamis’. Broadcasting is spellcasting. From Neo-Classical versus Romanticist painting, to the machine versus human in TerminatorMatrix etc, the Nature-Freedom motive pervades. The mechanistic Nature polarity generates cinematically jaw-dropping but insistently materialist television (eg Attenborough). The personalist Freedom polarity interrogates normativity via postmodernist multi-narrative labyrinths (eg Tarantino). Electronic mediation (screening) of reality fast approaches ‘total immersion’. Humanism’s reductionist materialism, internalized by society, is ‘lived’ as default actuality. Through the media it has become the arena, the very ‘boxing ring’ of life. There is no ‘pluralism’ in this sense. To be allowed to ‘slug out’ ideas on mainstream radio or tv, participants must bow and enter the confines of humanistic ropes and accept the arbitration of humanistic referees. These are the rules. The alternative is marginalisation. Off mike. Off air. Talked about rather than to, by gurus and guests who DO respect the rules. Scripture is unacceptable. Incomprehensible. Offensive. Out of kilter with society not just in terms of content, but also as a category of discourse. Thus the virtue of homosexuality is no longer open to question. That of Christianity most certainly is. As for Dooyeweerd, he bids us find footing within a Christ-rooted, non-dualistic reality; within a creational normativity deeper than self, than society, than physics:

The ground-motive of the divine Word-revelation is an indivisible unity. Creation, fall, and redemption cannot be separated . . . Did God reveal himself as the creator so that we could brush this revelation aside? I venture to say that whoever ignores the revelation of creation understands neither the depth of the fall nor the scope of redemption. Relegating creation to the background is not scriptural. Just read the Psalms, where the devout poet rejoices in the ordinances that God decreed for creation. Read the book of Job, where God himself speaks to his intensely suffering servant of the richness and depth of the laws which he established for his creatures. Read the gospels, where Christ appeals to the creational ordinance for marriage in order to counter those who aimed at trapping him. Finally, read Romans 1:19-20, where the creational ordinances are explicitly included in the general revelation to the human race. Whoever holds that the original creational ordinances are unknowable for fallen man because of the effects of sin, does basic injustice to the true significance of God’s common grace which maintains these ordinances. Sin changed not the creational decrees but the direction of the human heart. [Herman Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture, p. 59. Purchase new edition SEE HERE or download old edition free HERE)

     The shoreline seethes. The dunes are browbeaten, winnowed by the winds. But eventually we all must reckon with the rock beneath the sands. ☐


(16) NOTE: …léirscrios an Chéad Chogadh Mór a d’fhág cúig mhilliún Francach marbh – agus na milliúin eile leonta loite. Maraíodh an méid céanna Gearmánach, agus suas le 18 milliún Rúiseach. Ní bheadh cúrsaí mar a chéile go deo aríst. D’fhág iarmhairt an chogaidh marc ar shícé phobal na hEorpa is an domhain fré chéile…Le teacht na síochána tháinig filí, scríobhnóirí, drámadóirí, síceolaithe agus socheolaithe faoi scáth an taghd éadóchais iarchogaidh. Tháinig deireadh leis an tsiúrailteacht a bhíodh sa saol, agus loiceadh ar an urraim a bhíodh do na seandéithe agus na seanchinnteachtaí, go háirithe an creideamh….Céard é mar thuargain a baineadh as muintir na Fraince aríst eile nuair a teilgeadh isteach i gcomhrac eile iad ach ar ionsaigh na Gearmánaigh an tír i mBealtaine 1940 agus ar thit Páras….Isteach sa gcoire guairdill seo tháinig fáthach intleachtúil le fealsúnacht agus dearcadh nua a d’fheil thar barr do luaineacht na haimsire. Ba é sin Jean-Paul Sartre. Bhí foinse ghluaiseacht an eiseachais ann cheana i scríbhinní Søren Kierkegaard agus Edmund Husserl, ach ba é Sartre a chuir a shainmharc féin air mar fhealsúnacht. Le fada an lá b’eol dá lán go raibh Dia marbh agus gur chruthaigh an duine é féin. Ba í an tsaoirse bunchloch na fealsúnachta nua seo, a bhí le fáil ina shaothar L’Être et le Néant (An Bheith is an Neamhní)…Le deireadh an chogaidh bhí an Eoraip scriosta. Bhí daoine ag dúiseacht ón mbraighdeanas, má ba go mall féin é. Chaithfí gach rud a atógail ó bhonn aníos. D’fhóir fealsúnacht Sartre don athnuachan agus don atógail seo, le go bhféadfaí saol níos sona a chaitheamh. Ní raibh teora lena raibh i ndán don duine. Ba é an t-eiseachas an creideamh nua ina raibh slánú le fáil. (Réamhrá, An Strainséara le Albert Camus, aistrithe le Diarmuid Ó Gráinne) 

Translation of the above by F MacFh:

     [“…the destruction of the First World War, which left five million French dead – and millions more wounded and disabled. A like number of Germans were lost, and around 18 million Russians. Things would never be the same again. The war left a mark on the psyche of the people of Europe and the entire world. In the wake of peace, poets, writers, dramatists, psychiatrists, sociologists, reflected the mood of post-war despair. Any assuredness in life ended, and deference to the old gods and certainties, particularly faith…Then the crushing blow as the French were again thrust into conflict with the German invasion in May 1940 and the fall of Paris. Into this whirlpool stepped an intellectual giant with a philosophy and a fresh perspective that entirely fitted the insecurity of the times. He was Jean-Paul Sartre. The sources of the existentialist movement were already apparent in the writings of Søren Kierkegaard and Edmund Husserl, but Sartre put his own stamp on the philosophy. He had been long aware that God was dead and that man had created himself. Freedom was the foundation stone of this new philosophy, articulated in his work L’Être et le Néant (Being and Nothingness). By the end of the war Europe was in ruins. People awoke from their servitude, albeit slowly. Everything had to be rebuilt from the ground up. Sartre’s philosophy contributed to this renewal and reconstruction, aspiring to a happier life. There were to be no limits on what was in store for humankind. Existentialism was the new faith in which would be found salvation. (Preface to An Strainséara, translation into Irish by Diarmuid Ó Gráinne of Albert Camus’s L’Étranger, Coiscéim, Baile Átha Cliath, 2012)] [But cf Dooyeweerd’s What is Man (20 page pdf)]

This article “Drawing a Line in Shifting Sands” (with fewer notes) forms the epilogue to the multi-authored book Embracing Truth: Homosexuality and the Word of God published by Handsel Press.

See also:

Herman Dooyeweerd: Gender Normativity


DOOYEWEERD: the Hellenistic origins of the ‘body-soul’ dichotomy.

“Thermae Boxer” c 330 BC (Photo Wiki)

Herman Dooyeweerd: the Hellenistic origins of the ‘body-soul’ dichotomy.

(Excerpt from chapter “Philosophy and Theology III” of “In the Twilight of Western Thought”)

The Thomist view of human nature as a composite of an immortal, rational soul and a perishable material body united as form and matter of one substance, had no more in common with the biblical revelation about man than the Cartesian conception. Both of them were metaphysical theories ruled by un-biblical religious basic motives.

The whole idea that a philosophical knowledge of human nature would be possible by the natural light of human reason alone (i.e., independent of religious presuppositions) testified to a fundamental apostasy from the biblical starting-point. And the very fact that scholastic theology sought to corroborate the Thomistic-Aristotelian view by texts of the Scripture showed to what a great extent theological exegesis itself had come into the grip of un-biblical basic motives.

Let us consider this situation a little more in detail. The nature-grace motive did not enter Christian thought before the end of the 12th century, during the renaissance of the Aristotelian philosophy. It aimed originally at a religious compromise between the Aristotelian view of nature and the ecclesiastical doctrine of creation, fall into sin, and redemption by Jesus Christ.

But the Aristotelian view of nature was no more independent of religious presuppositions than any other philosophical view. It was completely ruled by the dualistic religious basic motive of Greek thought, namely, that of form and matter. Though this terminological denomination is of Aristotelian origin, the central motive designed by it was by no means of Aristotelian invention.

It originated from the meeting between two antagonistic Greek religions, namely, the older nature religion of life and death, and the younger cultural religion of the Olympian gods. Nietzsche and his friend Rhode, were the first to discover the conflict between these religions in the Greek tragedies. Nietzsche spoke of the contest between the Dionysian and the Apollonian spirit in these tragedies. But in fact here was at issue a conflict in the religious basic motive of the whole Greek life and thought.

The pre-Olympian religion of life and death deified the ever-flowing stream of organic life which originates from mother earth and cannot be fixed or restricted by any corporeal form. It is from this formless stream of life that, in the order of time, the generations of beings separate themselves and appear in an individual bodily shape. The corporeal form can only be maintained at the cost of other living beings, so that the life of the one is the death of the other. So there is an injustice in any fixed form of life which for this reason must be repaid to the horrible fate of death, designated by the Greek terms anangkè and heimarmenè tuché. This is the meaning of the mysterious words of the Ionian philosopher of nature, Anaximander: “The divine origin of all things is the apeiron (i.e., that which lacks restricting form). The things return to that from which they originate in conformity to the law of justice. For they pay to each other penalty and retribution for their injustice in the order of time.”

Here the central motive of the archaic religion of life and death has found a clear expression in Anaximander’s philosophical view of physis, or nature. It is the motive of the formless stream of life, ever-flowing throughout the process of becoming and passing away, and pertaining to all perishable things which are born in a corporeal form, and subjected to anangké. This is the original sense of the Greek matter-motive. It originated from a deification of the biotic aspect of our temporal horizon of experience and found its most spectacular expression in the cult of Dionysius, imported from Thrace.

The religious form-motive, on the other hand, is the central motive of the younger Olympian religion, the religion of form, measure and harmony, wherein the cultural aspect of the Greek polis was deified. It found its most pregnant expression in the Delphian Apollo, the legislator. The Olympian gods are personified cultural powers. They have left mother earth with its ever-flowing stream of life and its ever-threatening fate of death, and have acquired the Olympus as their residence. They have a divine and immortal, personal form, invisible to the eye of sense, an ideal form of splendid beauty, the genuine prototype of the Platonic notion of of the metaphysical eidos, or idea. But these immortal gods had no power over the anangké, the fate of death of mortals. That is why the new religion was only accepted as the public religion of the Greek polis. But in their private life the Greek people held to the old formless deities of life and death, doubtless more crude and incalculable than the Olympians, but more efficient as to the existential needs of man.

Thus the Greek form-matter motive gave expression to a fundamental dualism in the Greek religious consciousness. As the central starting-point of Greek philosophy, it was not dependent upon the mythical forms and representations of the popular belief. By claiming autonomy over against the latter, Greek philosophy certainly did not mean to break with the dualistic basic motive of the Greek religious consciousness. Much rather this motive was the common starting-point of the different philosophical tendencies and schools. But because of its intrinsically dualistic character, it drove Greek philosophical thought into polarly opposed directions. Since a real synthesis between the opposite motives of form and matter was not possible, there remained no other recourse than that of attributing the religious primacy to one of them with the result that the other was depreciated. Whereas in the Ionian nature-philosophy the formless and ever-flowing stream of life was deified, the Aristotelian god is conceived as pure form and the matter-principle is depreciated in the Aristotelian metaphysics as the principle of imperfection.

In the state of apostasy the religious impulse, innate in the human heart, turns away from the living God and is directed towards the temporal horizon of modal aspects. This gives rise to the formation of idols originating in the deification of one of these aspects, i.e., in absolutizing what is only relative. But what is relative can only reveal its meaning in coherence with its correlates. This means that the absolutization of one aspect of our temporal world calls forth, with an inner necessity, correlates of this aspect which now, in the religious consciousness, claim an opposite absoluteness. In other words, every idol gives rise to a counter-idol.

Thus in the Greek religious consciousness the form-motive was bound to the matter-motive as its counterpart. The inner dualism caused in the central starting-point of Greek thought by these two opposite motives gave rise to the dichotomistic view of human nature as a composite of a perishable material body and an immortal, rational soul. It should be noticed that this view originated in the Orphic religious movement. This movement had made the Dionysian religion of life and death into the infra-structure of a higher religion of the celestial sphere, i.e., the starry sky, and interpreted the Olympian religion in this naturalistic sense. In consequence the central motive of form, measure and harmony was now transferred to the supra-terrestrial sphere of the starry sky. Man was supposed to have a double origin. His rational soul corresponding to the perfect form and harmony of the starry sphere originates in the latter, but his material body originates from the dark and imperfect sphere of mother earth, with its ever-flowing stream of life and its anangkē, its inescapable fate of death. As long as the immortal rational soul is bound to the terrestrial sphere it is obliged to accept a material body as its prison and grave and it must transmigrate from body to body in the everlasting process of becoming, decline, and rebirth.

It is only by means of an ascetic life that the rational soul can purify itself from the contamination with the material body, so that at the end of a long period it may return to its proper home, the celestial sphere of form, measure and harmony.

The great influence of this dualistic Orphic view of human nature upon the Pythagorean school, Empedocles, Parmenides, and Plato, is generally known. Since Parmenides, the founder of Greek metaphysics, this dichotomistic view was combined with the metaphysical opposition between the realm of eternal being, presenting itself in the the ideal spherical form of the heaven, and the phenomenal terrestrial world of coming to be and passing away, subjected to the anangkē. Plato purified his metaphysics from Parmenides’ naturalistic conception of form, and he conceived the eternal forms of being as eide, or ideas, respectively. In Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo, the proof of the immortality of the rational soul is consequently unbreakably bound to the metaphysical doctrine of the eternal ideas as the ideal forms of being. The latter are sharply opposed to the visible world, subjected as it is to the matter-principle of becoming and decay. It was supposed that the metaphysical forms of being are only accessible to logico-theoretical thought, viewed as the center of the immortal soul. The logical function of theoretical thought was considered to be completely independent of the material body since it is directed upon the eternal forms of being and must consequently be of the same nature as these imperishable forms. Henceforth the thesis that the logical function of the theoretical act of thought is independent of the material body became a steady argument in the metaphysical proof of the immortality of the rational soul.

But this argument originated in an absolutization of the antithetical relation which is characteristic of the theoretical attitude of thought. We have seen that in this theoretical attitude the logical aspect of our thought is opposed to the non-logical aspects of experience in order to make the latter accessible to a conceptual analysis. In this way we can make the non-logical aspects of our body into the object of our logico-theoretical enquiry. But we have also established that this anti-thetical relation between the logical and the non-logical aspects of our temporal experiential horizon does not correspond to reality. It is only the result of a theoretical abstraction of our logical aspect of thought from its unbreakable bond of coherence with all the other aspects of our experience.

Under the influence of the dualistic religious form-matter motive, however, Greek metaphysics ascribed to this merely theoretical opposition a metaphysical significance, to the effect that the logico-theoretical function of thought was viewed as an independent substance. In this way there arose the idol of the immortal and rational human soul which was identified with the logical function of our act of theoretical thought. In Plato’s dialogue, Phaedo, this identification is clearly proclaimed. But it should be noticed that it dated from the first appearance in Greek philosophy of the metaphysical opposition between the eternal form of being and the material world of coming into being and passing away. It was the founder of Greek metaphysics, Parmenides, who was the first to identify theoretical thought with eternal being. In a later phase of his thought, Plato replaced his original view of the simplicity of the human soul by the conception that this soul is composed of two mortal material parts and an immortal spiritual one; nevertheless, he maintained the identification of the latter with the logico-theoretical function of thought. According to him, the latter is the pure form of the soul, viewed apart from its incarnation in the impure material body.

Aristotle, who initially completely accepted both Plato’s doctrine of ideas and his dualistic view of soul and body, tried later on to overcome this dualism. He abandoned the Platonic separation between the world of the ideal forms and the visible world of perishable material things. He made the ideal forms into the immanent principles of being in the perishable substances, which are according to him composed of matter and form. He sought to overcome the central conflict between the matter-motive and the form-motive in the Greek religious consciousness, by reducing it to the complementary relation of a material and a form given to it, in the sense in which this relation is found in the cultural aspect of experience. As the principle of coming into being and passing away, matter has, according to him, no actual but only potential being. It is only by a substantial form that it can have actual existence. Form and matter are united in the natural things to one natural substance, and this natural substance would be the absolute reference point of all properties we ascribe to the thing.

This metaphysical view was also applied to man as natural substance. Thus the rational soul was conceived of as the substantial form of the perishable material body. Since, however, the soul is only the substantial form of the body without being itself a substance, it cannot exist apart from the material body and lacks, in consequence, immortality. What, according to Aristotle, is really an immortal substance is only the active theoretical intellect which, in his opinion, does not stem from human nature, but comes from the outside into the soul. This active theoretical thought, however, lacks any individuality, since individuality stems from matter, and active theoretical thought remains completely separated from the material body. It is the pure and actual form of thinking, and, as such, it has a general character.

Here the fundamental dualism in the form-matter motive, which at first sight seemed to be overcome by Aristotle, clearly reappears. In fact, it could not be overcome since it ruled the central starting-point of Greek theoretical thought.

Thomas Aquinas tried to accommodate the Aristotelean view of human nature to the doctrine of the Church. First he adapted it to the doctrine of divine creation, which, as such, was incompatible with the Greek form-matter motive. According to Thomas, God created man as a natural substance composed of matter and form. Second, he interpreted the Aristotelean view in such a way that the rational soul was conceived of both as the form of the material body and as an immortal substance which can exist apart from the body. He accepted the Aristotelian view that matter is the principle of individuation and that form as such lacks individuality. The Aristotelian view that the active theoretical intellect does not originate from the natural process of development, but comes from the outside, was interpreted in a so-called psycho-creationist sense. God creates every immortal rational soul apart. But the result of this scholastic accommodation was a complex of insoluble contradictions.

In the first place, the psycho-creationist doctrine contradicts the emphatic biblical statement (Genesis 2:2), that God had finished all his works of creation. Thus a whole complex of theological pseudo-problems was introduced. If God continues to create rational souls after the fall of man, does he create sinful souls, or should we assume that sin does only originate from the material body? The traditional solution of this problem to the effect that God creates souls deprived of the original state of communion with him, but not sinful in themselves, is unbiblical to such a degree that it does not need any further argumentation. For what else is the fall into sin than breaking the communion with God, i.e., what else than the state of apostasy from Him? Secondly, if the immortal soul is individualized only by the material body, how can it retain its individuality after its separation from the body?

I shall not go into a more detailed discussion of these scholastic problems. The vitium originis of this psycho-creationist theory is its un-biblical starting-point, which cannot be made innocuous by any scholastic accommodation to the Church’s doctrine and by an appeal to texts of Scripture. For the theological exegesis of these texts is in this case itself infected by this un-biblical starting-point. It lacks the key of knowledge which alone can open to us the radical sense of the divine Word-revelation. For, let me end with words of Calvin in the beginning of the first chapter of his Institutio Religionis Christianae , “The true knowledge of ourselves is dependent upon the true knowledge of God.”

(Herman Dooyeweerd, of In the Twilight of Western Thought (published by Paideia Press, 2012,  pp 110-116)

See also opening chapters of Dooyeweerd’s Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options. Also find free pdf of book (earlier text edition) download here


J. GLENN FRIESEN: Dooyeweerd, Spann, and the Philosophy of Totality

Dooyeweerd, Spann,
and the Philosophy of Totality
by J. Glenn Friesen

‘[Othmar] Spann helps us to situate Dooyeweerd’s philosophy within a tradition that goes back to Romanticism, to the Christian philosophy of Franz von Baader, and to the German mystics, including Meister Eckhart and Jakob Boehme. Spann was associated with what may be called “the philosophy of totality” [Die Philosophie der Ganzheit]. There were many philosophers in the early part of the 20th century who emphasized the idea of totality. Some of those who influenced Dooyeweerd are Spann, Husserl, Cassirer, Nicolai Hartmann, Hans Driesch and Felix Krueger.’ 

[…] ‘Totality is one of the key ideas of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. On the second page of his “Prolegomena” to A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Dooyeweerd refers to totality six times (NC I, 4). He says that the temporal coherence of the modal aspects points beyond itself to a central totality. And conversely, this totality expresses itself in the temporal aspects. Our selfhood is a totality that expresses itself in its temporal functions. And our selfhood in turn is the expression of the image of God (the Origin of totality). Later Dooyeweerd says that these three Ideas – temporal coherence, totality, and Origin – are the three transcendental Ideas that are found in the Ground-Motive for any philosophy; different philosophies give different content to these Ideas.’ 

[…] ‘To illustrate totality and temporality, Dooyeweerd uses the image of the prism. Totality is analogous to white light before it is refracted by a prism into many colours. In this analogy, the prism is cosmic time, which refracts the totality into the differentiated and individuated temporal reality. The unrefracted light is the time-transcending or supratemporal totality of meaning of our cosmos, both as to its law and subject sides. And just as this unrefracted light has its origin in the Source of light, so this supratemporal totality of meaning has its origin in the Arché or Origin by whom and to whom it has been created. The totality and deeper unity of meaning “must transcend its modal diversity” (NC I, 102; WdW I, 66-67).’

[…] ‘The difference between Dooyeweerd and many philosophers of totality is that for Dooyeweerd the totality is transcendent and supratemporal. Some other philosophers of totality find totality within temporal reality, whether in a vitalism or a psychologism or a logicism. Dooyeweerd refers to these philosophies as “immanence philosophies,” because their view of totality is wholly within time. If we do not understand the importance of totality for Dooyeweerd, we cannot understand his transcendental critique of these immanence philosophies.’

Download PDF of full essay (32 pages)
Visit J. Glenn Friesen’s 


DOOYEWEERD: Inquietum est cor nostrum

DOOYEWEERD: Inquietum est cor nostrum

Acknowledgement: Portrait by Alan Wilson (after Rembrandt)

The restlessness of meaning in the tendency of philosophic thought towards the origin.
     This restlessness manifests itself in the tendency of philosophic thought to move toward the originIt is essentially the restlessness of our ego which is actually operative in philosophic thought. It issues from our own selfhood, from the root of our existence. This restlessness is transmitted from the selfhood to all temporal functions in which this ego is actually operative.
Inquietum est cor nostrum et mundus in corde nostro!
     Our selfhood is actually operative in philosophic thought. As certainly as philosophic self-reflection is impossible apart from the direction towards the ego, so certainly does it require to be directed towards the ἀρχή (arché) of our selfhood and of the totality of meaning. The ego must participate in this totality, if genuine thinking in terms of totality is to be possible.
     Philosophic thought as such derives its actuality from the ego. The latter restlessly seeks its origin in order to understand its own meaning, and in its own meaning the meaning of our entire cosmos!
     It is this tendency towards the origin which discloses the fact, that our ego is subjected to a central law. This law derives its fulness of meaning from the origin of all things and limits and determines the centre and root of our existence.
     Thus, a two-fold pre-supposition of philosophic thought is discovered at the outset. In the first place, philosophic thought pre-supposes an Archimedean point for the thinker, from which our ego in the philosophic activity of thought can direct its view of totality over the modal diversity of meaning. Secondly, it presupposes a choice of position in the Archimedean point in the face of the ἀρχή (arché), which transcends all meaning and in which our ego comes to rest in the process of philosophic thought. For, if the attempt is made to go beyond this ἀρχή (arché), the formulating of any question has no longer any meaning.

Reality as a continuous process of realization

     For the reality of a thing is indeed dynamic; it is a continuous realization in the transcendental temporal direction.

     The inner restlessness of meaning as the mode of being of created reality reveals itself in the whole temporal world. To seek a fixed point in the latter is to seek it in a “fata morgana”, a mirage, a supposed thing-reality, lacking meaning as the mode of being which ever points beyond and above itself. There is indeed nothing in temporal reality in which our heart can rest, because this reality does not rest in itself.

(Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Prolegomena, pp 11-12 and Vol 3 p109)

See also:


DOOYEWEERD: Human Heart as Supratemporal Root of Creation

God created humans in His image. In the heart of humankind, the religious root, the center of his being, God concentrated all of creation toward His service; here He laid the supratemporal root of all temporal creatures.

This human heart, from which according to Scripture come the wellsprings of life [“Above everything else guard your heart, because from it flow the springs of life.” Prov 4:23 NSV], transcends all things temporal in the service of God.

The whole religious sense (ultimate meaning) of God’s creation lies in our heart, our entire ego, our complete self.

This heart, in which according to the Word eternity has been laid [“He has also set eternity in the human heart” Eccles 3:11 NIV], is the true supratemporal center of the human’s existence, and at the same time it is the creaturely center of all of God’s creation.

The apostasy of this heart, of this root of creation, necessarily swept with it all temporal creation. In Adam not only all humanity  fell, but also that entire temporal cosmos of which the human was the crowned head.

And in Christ, the Word become flesh, the second Covenant Head, God gave the new root of His redeemed creation, in Whom true humanity has been implanted through self-surrender, through surrender of the center of existence, the heart.

(Herman Dooyeweerd: The Christian Idea of the State, Craig Press 1968, p5)

See also:

ABC Dooyeweerd 3: Inquietum


DOOYEWEERD: Meaning as the mode of being of created reality

“To illustrate totality and temporality, Dooyeweerd uses the image of the prism. Totality is analogous to white light before it is refracted by a prism into many colours. In this analogy, the prism is cosmic time, which refracts the totality into the differentiated and  individuated temporal reality. The unrefracted light is the time-transcending or supratemporal totality of meaning of our cosmos, both as to its law and subject sides. And just as this unrefracted light has its origin in the Source of light, so this supratemporal totality of meaning has its origin in the Arché or Origin by whom and to whom it has been created. The totality and deeper unity of meaning ‘must transcend its modal diversity’ (NC I, 102; WdW I, 66-67).” J. Glenn Friesen, p7 Dooyeweerd, Spann, and the Philosophy of Totality’ (pdf)
(Also called Aspects/ Modes of Consciousness/ Modalities/ Meaning-sides)

DOOYEWEERD: Meaning as the mode of being of created reality

“Being is only to be ascribed to God, 
whereas creation has only meaning.”
(A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, p 73, footnote) 

Pieter Bruegel: “Hunters in the Snow” (1565)

“The question: what is meaning? cannot be answered without our reflecting on the Origin and unity of all temporal meaning, because this answer depends on the cosmonomic Idea of philosophical thought. Not a single temporal structure of meaning exists in itself (an sich). That which makes it into meaning lies beyond the limit of time. Meaning is ‘ex origine’ the convergence of all temporal aspects of existence into one supratemporal focus, and this focus, as we have seen, is the religious root of creation, which has meaning and hence existence only in virtue of the sovereign creative act of God.

The fulness of meaning is implied in the religious image of God, expressing itself in the root of our cosmos and in the splitting up of that root in time.

This religious fulness of meaning, given only in Christ, as the new root of creation, is not an abstract ‘eidos’, not an ‘Idea’, but it implies the fulness of created reality, again directed to God.

Especially in accordance with the Christian confession about Creation, the Fall into sin, and Redemption, it will not do to conceive of created reality as merely the bearer of meaning, as possessing meaning, as is done in immanence-philosophy [ie any philosophy that denies “the supratemporal heart, the religious root that transcends time”. (J Glenn Friesen)].

Such a conception remains founded in an Idea of the ‘being of what is’, which is incompatible with the radically Christian confession of the absolute sovereignty of God, the Creator, and of the fulness of created meaning in Christ. It is especially in conflict with the view resulting from the Christian attitude, stating that no single aspect of the meaning of reality [see above chart] may be depreciated in favour of certain absolutized aspects.

There is an after-effect of the form-matter scheme of immanence-philosophy discernible in the distinction between reality and meaning. In particular it is the opinion that ‘meaning’ would be exclusively ideal, supratemporal and abstract — a view found again in THEODOR LITT’s conception of thinking in the so-called cultural sciences — which is the foundation of this distinction.

HUSSERL thinks he can carry ad absurdum the view that natural reality itself would be meaning, by means of the simple remark: meaning cannot be burnt down like a house. And again this remark is founded in the concept of matter and the (semi-Platonic) concept of form of immanence-philosophy: the sensory impressions of nature are ‘merely factual reality’; meaning, however, is the ‘eidos’, the ideal ‘Bedeutung’ (signification). But, in the Christian attitude the Archimedean-point is radically different from that of immanence-philosophy. If it is admitted that all the aspects of reality [see above chart] are aspects of meaning, and that all individual things exist only in a structure of meaning, so that the burning house itself, as regards its temporal mode of being as a ‘thing’, has an individual temporal structure of meaning, then HUSSERL’s remark loses all its value.

Giuseppe Arcimboldo: ‘Fire’ (1566)

If created things are only the bearers of meaning, they themselves must have another mode of being different from that of the dependent creaturely existence referring beyond and above itself, and in no way self-sufficient. Then with immanence-philosophy it must be possible to abstract meaning from reality.

Then we fall back into the form-matter scheme of immanence-philosophy in whatever different varieties and shades of meaning it may be propounded. Then the religious fulness of meaning of our created cosmos in Christ must be an abstract value or a transcendental Idea and nothing more.

But, if ‘meaning’ is nothing but the creaturely mode of being under the law, consisting exclusively in a religious relation of dependence on God, then branding the ‘philosophy of the cosmonomic Idea’ as a kind of ‘meaning-idealism’ appears to be based on a fundamental misunderstanding.

I trust I have precluded once for all this misconception, which has arisen in a quarter so congenial to this philosophy. The struggle to shake off the fetters of the basic schemes of immanence-philosophy from our thinking is an extremely difficult task, and it is quite explicable that there may arise some misunderstandings.

Should there be some misconception on my part, and should it be possible on biblical grounds to show that (religious) meaning is not the mode of being of created reality, I shall not for a moment hesitate to revise my conception on this point. If I see aright, however, the difference on this head between my view and that of STOKER, mentioned in the Prolegomena, is of a provisional character and is connected with the question raised by him, if Christian philosophy can indeed do without the concept of substance. Now I stick to my opinion that this question can only be considered to some purpose, if beforehand the preliminary question has been answered: What is the creaturely mode of being, what is the being of all created existence? The answer to the latter question is of primary importance; for the sense in which a new concept of substance, if any, is to be taken, depends on this answer.

And that is why I believe that it is not right to criticize the conception of meaning as the creaturely mode of being by means of a concept of substance of which the meaning has not been further defined.”
(Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol II: pp 30-32)

See also:
* * *
* * *
* * *


FMF: Brief intro to Dooyeweerd: Aspects & Ground-motives

“To illustrate totality and temporality, Dooyeweerd uses the image of the prism. Totality is analogous to white light before it is refracted by a prism into many colours. In this analogy, the prism is cosmic time, which refracts the totality into the differentiated and  individuated temporal reality. The unrefracted light is the time-transcending or supratemporal totality of meaning of our cosmos, both as to its law and subject sides. And just as this unrefracted light has its origin in the Source of light, so this supratemporal totality of meaning has its origin in the Arché or Origin by whom and to whom it has been created. The totality and deeper unity of meaning ‘must transcend its modal diversity’ (NC I, 102; WdW I, 66-67).” J. Glenn Friesen, p7 Dooyeweerd, Spann, and the Philosophy of Totality’ (pdf)
(Also called Aspects/ Modes of Consciousness/ 
Modalities/ Meaning-sides)
(Diagrams by FMF)

Dear P_,

Dooyeweerd all the time champions actuality over theory. Actuality is anchored in Christ. That is because Christ is not theoretically the Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of reality but is actually the Creator and Sustainer and Redeemer of reality. All meaning in existence therefore depends on Christ. All things are upheld by His word of power. There is NO neutrality. The single paramount antithesis in human life is between an acknowledgement of the Lordship of Christ, and the lack of such acknowledgement. Dooyeweerd stresses that this antithesis is present in each and every heart, including Christians.

Every human heart seeks anchorage in the ultimate. If Christ is not acknowledged, then something else is necessarily accorded ultimacy. But there IS nothing else which is ultimate, because Christ is indeed Lord of All. So the apostate heart has no alternative but to make an ultimate of that which is in reality only relative – that which has in actuality no intrinsic “brute” meaning, and then to attempt to integrate all of existence around this gilded delusion. 

So the non-Christian (and often the Christian) intellectual will typically make an idol of Logic itself, and so try to reduce all of reality to “Logic”. But “Logic” is an abstraction. Dooyeweerd suggests that Logic is only one of FIFTEEN aspects of reality, irreducible to each other (“sphere-sovereignty”), yet each reflected in all the others and unable to truly function without the others (“sphere universality”). In theoretical (ie abstract) thought, a single aspect is isolated and pondered, but this theorizing happens within a mental suspension of time (“epochē”). Something like considering a single colour of the spectrum refracted through a prism. Full-orbed functioning only takes place in time-embedded reality (ie in everyday holistic life) involving all aspects together (imagine reversing through the prism from the theoretically separated panoply of colours to the combined “white” or “clear” natural light of day). 

Biblical ground-motive
Dooyeweerd calls Christ-anchored reality the “Biblical ground-motive”, which he elaborates as: “Creation, Fall, Redemption through Jesus Christ, in Communion with the Holy Spirit”. Dooyeweerd’s great insight into Western Thought is that insofar as the Biblical ground-motive does not prevail over our personal and communal thinking and action we are invariably succumbing to an apostate ground-motive. There is no alternative. 

Apostate ground-motives, unlike the Biblical one, are internally dichotomous. They are dichotomous because when an attempt is made to reduce reality to an idol (ie to an absolutisation of that which is only relative) a counter-idol is automatically summoned up, as reality itself resists its own distortion and calls the human heart back to equilibrium (cf Augustine’s “Our heart is restless till it finds its rest in Thee”). Some of humanity will coalesce around (become spellbound by) one absolutisation, Others will be captivated by the counter-absolutisation. Thus we have major political, social, and artistic divisions such as Neo-Classicism and Romanticism. The former championing eternal, geometric, rational, absolute, abstract laws. The latter championing transient, irrational, lawless, corporeal, emotive particulars. The former emphasises communal responsibility and solidarity. The latter emphasises individualistic heroism and genius.

According to Dooyeweerd the main early ground-motive apparent in Western culture is the Hellenistic one involving the “Form/ Matter” dichotomy. His historic analysis of this is what you are currently reading in the early part of “Roots of Western Thought”. Essentially Dooyeweerd says that the earliest Greek belief-system absolutised its perception of nature as being an endless flux of matter. He calls this the “Anangkē”, ie “inescapability” (we cannot avoid being eventually pulled back into the formless flux from whence we arose). On the other hand, the Olympian religion of immortal, invisible form, measure, and rationality was a subsequent development which became the public cult of the Greek city-state (polis). Domestically, however, ordinary folk apparently continued to worship the older nameless and formless gods of nature (the time-cyclical backstory offering some consolation regarding death). Dooyeweerd shows why these two belief-systems (also occasionally characterised as “Apollus” versus “Dionysus”) were ultimately incompatible, though mutually dependent.

The analysis of the Hellenistic Form/Matter ground-motive may seem a heavyish read at times as Dooyeweerd establishes his case, but I would encourage you to push on through it as its relevance will become apparent. I am of the view, for example, that the Form/Matter ground-motive is currently staring us in the face in Zombie and Superhero movies. The zombies are surely a manifestation of the “anangkē”, arising out of the formless subterranean realm and dragging stricken humanity inexorably back down into material disintegration. In turn, Superman, Batman, Ironman, Spiderman etc are gods of an American-style Olympus, (more-or-less) immortal, ideally-formed, shining saviours from on high (with relational complications, of course). Dooyeweerd calls the dwellers of the Greek Olympus “deified cultural forces”. That seems a fruitful way of making sense of the American counterparts too.

The Form/Matter ground-motive is relevant also because of the development of subsequent Western ground-motives, as identified by Dooyeweerd. The medieval world was dominated by the “Nature/Grace” (or “Nature/Supernature”) ground-motive. This was essentially a synthesis (formulated by Thomas Aquinus) of the Hellenistic and Biblical ground-motives. The dichotomy here is between the “sacred” and the “profane”. But also there arises a “body/soul” dichotomy, the soul being understood in Aristotelean terms of immortal rationality (escaping like a bird, at the time of physical death, from its corrupting material cage). Dooyeweerd sees the soul/heart very differently, as the deepest self, the integration point of all aspects of life and reality, the source of all of our acts, transcending time (or relating to the “fullness of time”) in the here and now. Not just some kind of escape-pod of rationality-survival jettisoned at physical death. 

Although the Thomistic Nature/Grace ground-motive is more formally related to the Roman Catholic Church (though there is also an Augustinian heritage), it also remains highly conspicuous in much evangelical and so-called “reformed” Christianity, manifesting itself in a world-denying pietism and in the evangelical tendency to reduce political involvement to sporadic upsurges of moralistic petition-signing before returning to the bunker. Dooyeweerd reminds us that Christ is not just Lord of morality (only one aspect of fifteen), but of politics as such, of law as such, of street-plumbing and bridge-engineering as such.

The prevailing modern Western ground-motive is the “Nature/ Freedom” (or for more clarity we might call it the “Mechanistic Natural Law versus Free Human Personality”) dichotomy of humanism, which incorporated and secularised the previous three ground-motives. Humankind declares its absolute autonomy and undertakes the project of constructing reality anew from brute (ie un-God-referenced) scientific laws of cause and effect. But humankind gradually finds itself boxed-in (indeed turned into box-wood) because, from the point of view of this materialist reductionism, humans themselves can be no other than a random result of the exhaustively determinist laws of physics. In other words the personal freedom which humanity initially asserted is annihilated. So humanism must periodically (and irrationally) make a fresh assertion of absolute lawless personal freedom (hence Existentialism, Postmodernism etc). Thus the dichotomy is evident. To quote Dooyeweerd from his “New Critique”:

“The deepest root of its dialectical character lies in the ambiguity of the Humanistic freedom-motive. The latter is the central driving force of the modern religion of human personality. And from its own depths it calls forth the motive to dominate nature, and thus leads to a religion of autonomous objective science in which there is no room for the free personality.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Paideia Press, 2016 [4 volumes])

This paradigmatic “Natural Law v Personal Freedom” ground-motive is highly visible in contemporary popular movie-culture. We glimpse it in Star Trek, for example, in those perennial “rationalist versus emotionalist” exchanges between Mr Spock and Captain Kirk. More panoramically we see it in the cyberpunk genre – in Bladerunner, the Terminator and Matrix films etc, where heroic humans struggle to survive dehumanising mechanisation. The polarisation is also evident in the objectivist Mechanical Law “meta-narrative” (“Big Story”) we call “Darwinism” (in Attenborough documentaries, for example) versus the subjectivist interrogation of meta-narrative (in Tarantino, and in films such as InceptionSource Code etc). 

The X-Men movies show humanism wrestling with the vexed conundrum of “normativity” in a universe within which the only real norm is random mutation. Regarding moral normativity, consider the following from Richard Dawkins in an interview with Justin Brierley on Premier Christian Radio (8 Nov 2008):

JB: When you make a value judgement don’t you immediately step yourself outside of this evolutionary process and say that the reason this is good is that it’s good. And you don’t have any way to stand on that statement.

RD: My value judgement itself could come from my evolutionary past. 

JB: So therefore it’s just as random in a sense as any product of evolution.

RD: You could say that, it doesn’t in any case, nothing about it makes it more probable that there is anything supernatural.

JB: Ultimately, your belief that rape is wrong is as arbitrary as the fact that we’ve evolved five fingers rather than six.

RD: You could say that, yeah.

Are “human rights” thus based on an arbitrary (therefore inherently provisional) consensus among beings who are themselves no more than an amalgam of random mutations in a purposeless universe? Is the only fixed law that there IS no fixed law (particularly in a multiverse)? Dooyeweerd helps us critique these issues with his view regarding the “positivization” of norms. If we take, for example, the aesthetic aspect, Dooyeweerd suggests that its “kernel” is “harmony”, but this harmony can be and obviously has been positivized in different eras and cultures in a plethora of ways. There are always going to be some kind of limitations, however. This is more immediately obvious in the physical aspect –  we can decide to have plastic surgery, but can’t just decide we are going to breathe under water (without additional apparatus). 

As regards the question of norms, Dooyeweerd’s insight into “historicism” is particularly helpful. Absolute norms clearly cannot survive an absolutisation of the “historical” (ie “cultural formational”) aspect, since such absolutisation dissolves everything in an acid of perpetual change. Heraclitus. All is flux. Postmodernism falls into this camp.

It is noteworthy that in “Roots of Western Thought” Dooyeweerd sees fascism as a product of “historicism”. Lacking any absolute norms above itself (other than a spurious conviction regarding its own historical “destiny”), the fascist State arbitrarily assumes to itself a monopoly over “normativity”, refusing international arbitration. However, a germane question would be “How far and on what basis does any international court itself have a monopoly over normativity, and how does it avoid a fascism of its own?” 

Much more could be said, but this is already looking more like an essay than an email. You mentioned favourite symphonies. One which has profoundly impacted on me is Beethoven’s 9th. Its structure seems to me cyclical and spiral, with Beethoven introducing motifs in the early stages which are returned to, elevated and expanded on later. It might be helpful to read Dooyeweerd with something like that in mind. What might seem piecemeal does hold together in the end. And leads us towards a glimpse (at the very least) of transcendence!

Best wishes,

Cogadh Z agus na Sàr-laoich

(Cf Herman Dooyeweerd mun sgaradh “cruth is stuth” Heilleanach)

Teichibh! Tha na zombaidhean a’ tighinn!
Tha Sràid Bhothchanan a’ cur thairis leotha!
Chan ann slaodach bacach a tha iad nas motha
ach air chuthach ann an ionnsaigh-catha!

Nas cuthachaile buileach na Blàr Chùil Lodair.
No Bragàd Aotrom Gleann a’ Bhàis.
No clàbar ifrinneach Somme is Ypres.
Siod zombaidhean a’ lìonadh Ceàrn Sheòrais an-dràst!

Tha fradharc aca ged a bhios iad dall! 
Tha fadachd orra gus an ith iad ar feòil!
Às a’ Ghreug a thàinig iad o chionn linn nan con, 
slighe Ameireaga chugainn, tha am fathann a’ dol.

Ach fuirichibh mionaid! Dè tha sin os ar cionn! 
Siod Spiderman a’ leum bho stìopall an Tron!
Agus Batman agus Ironman agus Superman fhèin!
Diathan-Olumpais Ameireaga gus ar sàbhaladh bho chron!

An e corra-shùgain air balla a th’ anns ar cuid smuaine,
nar suidhe, a rèir Phleuto, cuibhrichte nar n-uaimh?
Ar cùlaibh ris an doras, fo gheasaibh ar mùbhaidh,
am bidh solais àrda gar dùsgadh aig deireadh na cùise?

le Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh (2015)

[Rough provisional English translation:

World War Z and the Superheroes.
(Cf Herman Dooyeweerd on the Hellenistic “form/matter” dichotomy. Note also that Brad Pitt’s ‘War Z’ movie was filmed in George Square by Buchanan St in Glasgow.)

Run! The zombies are coming!
Buchanan street is overflowing with them!
And they aren’t slowly limping either
but attacking in a battle-frenzy!

More insane than the Battle of Culloden.
Or the Light Brigade into the Valley of Death.
Or the hellish mud of Sommes and Ypres.
Look! Now the zombies are filling George Square!

They can see even though they are blind!
They can’t wait to get a bite of our flesh!
They arose in Greece who knows when,
then via America to us, or so the story goes.

But wait a minute! What’s that up there?
Spiderman leaping from the steeple of the Tron!
And Batman and Ironman and Superman as well!
American Gods of Olympus coming to save us!

Is there any more to our thought than flickers on a wall,
and us sat, as Plato says, chained in a cave?
Our backs to the door, spellbound by our movie,
will lights from on high wake us up at the end?

Fearghas MacFhionnlaigh]


See also –
Some revision notes on Aspects (Law-spheres) and Analogical Moments.



FMF: Some revision notes on Aspects (Law-spheres) and Analogical Moments.

(Also called Aspects/ Modes of Consciousness/ 
Modalities/ Meaning-sides)
(Diagrams by FMF)
NOTES: Aspects and “isms”

No law-sphere (aspect) can be reduced to another. Infringements of ‘irreducibility’ are behind all ‘isms’. These ‘idolatries’ show the human heart attempting to integrate entire reality around a single aspect (or ‘law-sphere’). There is a plausibility to this because each aspect is present as an analogy in every other aspect (see ‘Historical Aspect’ diagram below). This gives each aspect an omnipresence, which Dooyeweerd designates ‘sphere-universality’. 

Crucially, since no aspect can be reduced to another, none can be reduced even to the ‘Logical / Analytical Aspect’ (in other words, the above panoply of aspects is not a theoretical product of “logic” – it is “experiential”, it is “intuitive consciousness”). This must be particularly and continually emphasised. Failure to bear that specific fact in mind makes a ‘logicism’ out of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, when it is primarily against logicism that he is arguing (Dooyeweerd’s ‘A New Critique of Theoretical Thought’ is essentially a critique of Kant). A moment’s reflection will observe that the aspects correspond pretty closely to standard academic disciplines.

It is key to Dooyeweerd to appreciate his insistence that there is no thinking without a thinker (“the hidden performer on the instrument of philosophic thought” (Prolegomena, New Critique). The thinker ALWAYS functions in ALL aspects, but transcends them all in the concentration-point of his or her deepest selfhood (‘heart’), which is directed towards or away from the Living God Who alone gives meaning to temporal reality. In refusing God as only source of meaning, a substitute ultimate focus is sought by the selfhood within the temporal cosmos by absolutising a law-sphere (or combination of law-spheres). Hence the idol.

Dooyeweerd calls the irreducibility feature of each aspect ‘sphere-sovereignty’. With reference to mutual irreducibility, Dooyeweerd draws attention to Genesis 1 where animals are created “according to their kinds”Without getting a handle on the terms ‘sphere-sovereignty’ and ‘sphere-universality’ it will be impossible to fathom Dooyeweerd’s explanations on just about anything!   

Interestingly, the absolutization of any given aspect of reality invariably throws up its ‘counter-idol’, leading to a dualism. Something like an after-image. The counter-absolute arises as the ‘Economic Aspect’ of reality resists unbridled profligacy in one direction, the ‘Aesthetic Aspect’ resists the consequent disharmony, the ‘Juridical Aspect’ (eventually) avenges the destructive bias via a swing towards the counter-polarity.

Rationalism ‘deifies’ the ‘Logical/ Analytical Aspect’. It infringes the irreducibility of the other fourteen aspects by attempting to reduce them all to the ‘Logical/ Analytical Aspect’. That is, Rationalism implies that every other aspect is a product of the absolutized ‘Logical/ Analytical Aspect’ (cf Kant). 

Philosophical Materialism ‘deifies’ the ‘Physical/ Energy Aspect’. It infringes the irreducibility of the other fourteen aspects by attempting to reduce them all to ‘matter’, ie to the ‘Physical/ Energy Aspect’. That is, Philosophical Materialism implies that every other aspect is a product of the absolutized ‘Physical/ Energy Aspect’.

Combinations of the above have provoked the prevailing (humanist) ‘Nature/ Freedom’ dichotomy, ie that between ‘Absolute Mathematical (or Natural-mechanistic) Law’ and ‘Absolute Personal Freedom’. The irreconcilable conflicts of this dualism are perenially revisited in movies and TV series such as the Terminator, the Matrix, Battlestar Galactica, etc. 

Postmodernism is another irrationalist (subjectivist) reaction to the ‘rationalism’ of reducing reality to ‘One Big Story’ dogmatically layed down by autonomous human thought. Many films now interrogate reality from a postmodern viewpoint, eg ‘Inception’, ‘Sourcecode’, various Tarantino movies, etc.

Christians often labour under their own ‘Nature/Grace’ dualisms which lead for example to a gnostic or pietistic flight from the world.


“It is an undeniable fact that in the first life-phase of a suckling baby feeling precedes the first development of logical distinction; the latter precedes the controlling manner of forming sounds, which in turn precedes the primitive symbolical designation of concepts by words etc. But that does not prove that the higher mental functions originate from feeling as their undifferentiated origin. Rather it testifies to the truth of our view of the order of the modal aspects of experience, as a real temporal order, related to subjective duration in the genetic process.” (Herman Dooyeweerd, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought Vol II pp 112,113)

NOTES: Analogical moments:
Retrocipatory and Anticipatory
The above diagram focuses on the ‘Historical/Culturally Formative Aspect’Besides its own irreducible (supratemporal) nucleus, its structure includes anticipatory (here in green) or retrocipatory (blue) analogical moments dynamically relating to the other fourteen aspects. The weighting of blues to greens in any given aspect depends on where that aspect appears in the fixed temporal order (compare colour sequence in a rainbow).
Thus (now considering all aspects, not just the Historical), in our everyday lives a ‘feeling of claustrophobia’ might be analysed as a ‘Spatialretrocipation within the ‘Sensory (or Psychical) Aspect’. A ‘prolix speech’ as an ‘Economic’ anticipation within the ‘Lingual Aspect’. An ‘elegant stumble’ would be an ‘Aesthetic’ anticipation within the ‘Movement/Kinetic Aspect’. A ‘vital clue’ a ‘Biotic’ retrocipation within the ‘Logical/Analytical Aspect’. And so on.
It should always be borne in mind that, however inadequate the above diagram, what is being referred to is the fabric of actual cosmic reality within which all aspects structurally combine, as spectrum colours combine to form clear daylight. 
Dooyeweerd sees the Divine call of civilization as a historical “opening-process”. Each succeeding aspect is “unfolded” in response to the light of God. Reactionary societies attempt to close down such burgeoning differentiation.
EVERY human ACT in thought or deed 
ALWAYS involves ALL aspects.
“Keep your heart with all diligence, 
for out of it are the issues of life.” 
(Prov 4:23)


DOOYEWEERD: Scripture, Philosophy, Scientific Dogmatism.

Scripture, Philosophy, 
Scientific Dogmatism 
by Herman Dooyeweerd
(Some quotes from Herman Dooyeweerd’s 
Paideia Press 2013, paperback £9.00)
[pp 3-4] The Scriptural ground-motive tolerates no compromise with a religious [ie “ultimate”] ground-motive that is unscriptural. It is integral, and it demands the whole person in body and soul. It lays claim to all of life. In mankind and its religious [“ultimate”] root, the biblical ground-motive directs, in concentric fashion, the entire cosmos with all its forces and potencies toward the service of God, who has revealed Himself in His Word.
[p 4] What area of our temporal existence could withdraw from such spiritual workings? The Apostle Paul, by faith, dared to involve even the most “trivial” things of life, such as eating and drinking, in the glorification of God. How then could such an important area as the domain of science shut its doors to the spiritual force of this ground-motive?
[pp 5-6] The demand for a fundamental reformation of all of life, scientific activity included, is contained in the central commandment of love. Christ Himself understood this central commandment as the basic unity of all the laws that God gave His creatures: to serve God in love with all our heart and powers. Among the latter, the mind is mentioned with special emphasis. It is impossible to accept this central commandment in its radical and integral meaning and at the same time to reject the demand for a reformation of our attitude to life and thought.
But Scripture, as norm of faith, is not just a system of religious truths, accessible to all, from which science could deduce its ultimate foundations along logical lines. If that were the case, even the devil, in the guise of an orthodox scholar, could carry on Christian science. Scripture is only accessible through the operation of the Holy Spirit. The Word of God is spirit and power unto life or unto death. That is the antithesis it poses. This antithesis is not theoretical in nature; it does not oppose one theoretical system to another. Rather, it reaches to the religious [“ultimate”] root of human existence.
[pp 6-7] The reformational Scriptural principle poses a task of ongoing reformation, also for science, a never-ending task while the present dispensation lasts. It means that we can never rest from ridding our science of concepts which have their source, not in the ground-motives of the Divine Word-revelation, but in idolatrous motives. It guards against the canonization of all human ideas or pronouncements and always submits these to the crucial test — the radical critique of the Word of God. This is the anti-scholastic principle in the spirit of the reformation.
[pp 7-8] Scripture is a coherent and unified whole. It cannot be approached from a temporal historical or moral perspective, but only from its own religious ground-motive. In this ground-motive it manifests itself to the human heart as the truly divine revelation through the Holy Spirit; and it places itself in radical opposition to all religious conceptions that originate in the apostate heart of humankind.What happens when we try to approach the basic theme of creation, fall into sin, and redemption through Christ Jesus from the apostate human point of view? In revolutionary fashion, the basic religious relation between God and the human person is immediately turned upside down. Whereas “God created man in His own image,” apostate humankind creates its God after its own image. In Adam man fell away from God and thus came under God’s judgement. The apostate human heart, however, summons his God before the bar of human reason. There it seeks for a theodicy, a justification of the divine order that would cancel the consequences of the Fall in temporal life by means of the “harmony of a rational system.”The great trial between God and apostate humanity, however, is not conducted before the tribunal of human reason. It takes place before the judgement seat of God. God has revealed His love and justice in their divine original unity in Christ Jesus, the Word incarnate. This Word has earned for us radical salvation from sin through His cross and restored true fellowship between God and mankind.
[p 8] This ground-motive is the heart of Scripture. Primarily it is not a theoretical, theological doctrine, but a divine dunamis that transforms all theory at its root. And this dunamis [“power”] operates in this manner only in palingenesis, in the rebirth of the heart.If anyone approaches Scripture from another religious [“ultimate”] ground-motive, not even the most extensive theological knowledge of Scripture will protect him from using Scripture in an unscriptural manner. For this simple reason, no intrinsically Reformed philosophy can ever take its starting point in the science of theology. Indeed a genuinely Scriptural theology can only arise from the ground-motive of Scripture itself.
[p 13] The reformation of scientific thought that Calvin and Luther began in the field of theology did not begin to spread through science as a whole until the Calvinist revival led by Kuyper toward the end of the nineteenth century. What was the reason for this delay? From the very start, Philip Melanchthon (1497-1560) had guided the reformational movement in science down the scholastic path of synthesis with the spirit of antiquity and Humanism.
[p 15] The golden opportunity to develop a Christian philosophy animated by the spirit of the Reformation was thereby suppressed for centuries. Melanchthon’s enormous influence continued to dominate philosophical instruction and research at Protestant universities. Soon it allied itself there with the restoration of Aristotelian scholasticism, until finally the humanistic Enlightenment appeared on the scene and Protestant theology itself fell victim to synthesis.
[p 15] Humanism, on the other hand, posited the dogma of the autonomy of science as a theoretical axiom. The logic of this dogma demanded that every attempt to arrive at an inner reformation of scientific thought be nipped in the bud by simply banishing it from scientific discussion.
[p 21] Dynamics, movement is everything today. Misconstruing the ground-motive of Greek thought, some people think that the pronouncement of the Greek thinker Heraclitus, “all is in flux, nothing abides”, can be used once again to describe the current spiritual-intellectual situation. Humanism thus has fallen into decline precisely in its dogmatic attitude.
[pp 21-22] Like a tidal wave, historicism, pragmatism, vitalism and existentialism have inundated the riverbed of modern philosophical thought. They are all characterized by an irrationalistic, anti-systematic spirit that regards every “system” as suspect from the start.

To ground philosophic thought in an eternal truth, whether this be the divine Word-revelation or a realm of rational ideas or values, has become unzeitgemäß, out of step with the times, in the full sense of the word.
[p 26] The Philosophy of the Law-Idea has broken radically with traditional notions of a “Christian Philosophy”. Its demand for a reformation of philosophical thought entails the precise opposite of scholastic attempts at accommodation. Although it is rooted in the Scriptural starting point of the Calvinist reformation, it does not try to base itself on scientific-theological dogmatics. While openly confessing that it is bound to the ground-motive of the divine Word-revelation, it simultaneously wages a relentless battle against every form of philosophical dogmatism that puts all its confidence in philosophical thought and pretends that its religious presuppositions are theoretical axioms.
[pp 26-27] By virtue of its reformational ground-motive it has begun in its philosophical system a principled battle against the scholastic tradition, even where this comes to expression in Reformed thought. Nevertheless, it recognizes the scientific value of classic scholasticism, found in its often profound philosophical insights. In the same manner it also wishes to do full justice to ancient Greek and modern humanistic philosophy. It steadfastly opposes, however, every attempt at synthesis between the Christian ground-motive and the ground-motives of unscriptural philosophy.
[pp 44-46] On the other hand, humanists have no right to deny the scientific character of dogmatic reformational theology on the ground that its practitioners, by faith, are materially bound to Scripture as the positive, creaturely form of the divine Word-revelation. They assume that a truly scientific study of Scripture is only possible if it is regarded as a purely historical and literary document.

Such a view of the matter is intrinsically unscientific, however; for one of the primary requirements for scientific insight is recognition of the peculiar nature of one’s field of inquiry. Scripture, in its creaturely temporal form, only allows itself to be approached as divine Word-revelation, regardless of the aspect from which one considers it scientifically. As such, it demands faith in its divine Origin. Anyone who attempts to approach Scripture on the basis of humanistic faith in the autonomy of human reason fundamentally distorts its nature and therefore can never gain access to it by means of science.

Scripture is God’s Word-revelation in the creaturely form of written documents. These have been composed by human authors who, while inspired by the Holy Spirit, still completely retained their individual human character, their style of writing, and their cultural development. It would not be a revelation of God if it did not enter into this human, creaturely form, but instead remained pure and at rest in the perfect being of God.

This creaturely form of Scripture, however, also necessarily exposes it to misunderstanding and rejection on the part of apostate humanity. Just as, in its incarnation in Christ Jesus, the divine Word became a sign that had to be spoken against (Luke 2:34 [‘Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against’]), so from the start, when it entered the creaturely realm of humankind, the divine Word-revelation was subjected to the gainsaying of human hubris. This hubris becomes manifest both in the deification of the human form of Scriptural revelation and in the humanization of its divine character.

Scripture does not reveal its divine character through a miraculous sign from heaven, visible or audible to everyone. Indeed, even such a sign would be spoken against. Only God’s Spirit can reveal God to us in His Word, and not through visible signs, but through its silent work of regeneration in the human heart. Human hubris wants no true communion with God. That is why it rejects His Word. This human hubris must first be broken, and the human heart must first be made receptive, if the Word of God is to make its home there. Only then, moreover, is the soil prepared for scientific inquiry that bases itself on God’s Word and is transformed by that Word at its root. But in every dimension of this inquiry, the Word of God demands that its ground-motive be accepted completely.

It is a universally valid scientific requirement that one must always be prepared to abandon one’s theoretical views, however dearly one holds them, if closer examination reveals that they find no support in one’s field of study or are even contradicted by fundamental states of affairs that obtain there. Scientific dogmatism is always unscientific. This is equally true even for systematic theology, to the extent that it holds fast to the scholastic philosophical tradition. Theology openly displays such an unscientific dogmatism when it tries to find support for unscriptural philosophical concepts [such as “substance,” ‘human nature,” “rational soul,” “immortal soul,” etc (p29)] in the terminology of certain foreign confessional documents such as the Westminster Confession or the Second Helvetic Confession. In this case the threat to the purity of the Reformed confession comes from theology, not from the direction of a philosophy [eg The Philosophy of the Law-Idea] that wishes to take the ground-motive of Scripture seriously, even in the domain of science, by undertaking an inner reformation of philosophic thought.

On the other hand, scholars of humanistic persuasion must never think that the scientific requirement mentioned above ever could entail an abandoning of faith in the absolute Truth of the divine Word-revelation. For this faith is a necessary presupposition of Christian scholarship as such; and in the scientific examination of Scripture it is demanded by the nature of what is investigated.

The guidance of Christian faith provides the most eminent guarantee of the scientific character of scientific inquiry, provided one always remembers that divine revelation and church confession are not themselves scientific in nature, but have to be interpreted in accordance with their own character. When Christian faith does not guide science, then, because of the lack of science’s self-sufficient structure, another faith will take over; and by the standard of God’s Word such a faith must be labeled as “unbelief,” which in this context means a false faith. The control of such a false faith becomes evident when scientific authority is ascribed to religious [“ultimate”] presuppositions, an act that is tantamount to a fundamental violation of the sphere-sovereignty of science.

Why have systematic theologians offered so many misconceptions regarding the idea of a Christian philosophy? In the final analysis, these can all be traced back to their lack of insight into the internal point of contact between philosophy and the Christian religion.

Theologians failed to understand that the religious [“ultimate”] ground-motive, in which philosophical thought is rooted, controls one’s entire philosophic view of the intrinsic structure of temporal reality. Instead, they started by accepting philosophical conceptions of reality rooted in unscriptural, dualistic ground-motives; and they then sought, in a merely external theological fashion to accommodate these conceptions to Christian doctrine. They therefore also did not see that the Scriptural ground-motive of the Christian religion has a central significance for the internal progress of philosophical inquiry, since it overturns the whole unscriptural view of the structure of temporal reality at its very root. They did not look for inner reformation, but only for external accommodation; and in so doing they never found the way to a genuinely Christian philosophy.

[p 47] Philosophy will not allow itself to be degraded to the role of a handmaiden of theological science. […] As soon as one considers the unique character of philosophy, this must immediately become clear.
[p 48] It is only philosophy, moreover, that can give us theoretical insight into the typical structures of individual totalities such as things, concrete events, the temporal form of human existence, and the forms of society. All these, too, lie beyond the scope of the special sciences, and as typical total structures of reality they overarch, on principle, all the aspects of reality. Philosophy can only offer this insight, however, on the basis of a person’s integral experience of reality, not on the basis of an a priori metaphysics.
[pp 48, 49] In the light of all this, how could it be possible to adapt to Christian doctrine a philosophic conception of reality that is entirely controlled by the dualistic form-matter motive (for example, the conception of reality offered in Aristotle’s Metaphysics, or the philosophical epistemology developed in his Logic)? Such an attempt at accommodation will in reality have consequences that are utterly different from those intended. Although the philosophical conceptions mentioned above may purportedly be incorporated into theology for merely “formal use”, they will inevitably have a material influence on the theological understanding of Christian doctrine. Indeed, they will even end up playing a dangerous role in the theological exegesis of Scripture. I will present various examples of this in my critical examination of the scholastic concept of substance.
The road of accommodation thus leads to a dead end. The concern of truly Christian philosophy is not to accommodate “philosophy” to Christian doctrine, which in actual practice rather proves to be an accommodation of Scripture to unscriptural philosophy. On the contrary, its concern is the inner reformation of philosophic thought while preserving its unique, intrinsic nature.
[p 49] Philosophy has a different task, a field of inquiry that differs from that of systematic theology. The Christian religion guarantees that we have an integral point of contact with philosophy, for it reaches to the religious [“ultimate”] root of the whole of temporal reality. Philosophy investigates this structure of reality.
[pp 49-50] One necessary implication of the foregoing is that Biblical texts can no longer be appealed to in intrinsically philosophic inquiry in order to sanction particular scientific views. On the other hand, however, in laying the Christian foundations of philosophy the Scriptures, and subordinated to it the confessions, will now indeed become the only sources. All philosophical problems must be probed down to their religious root, and at that point only the divine Word-revelation can shed light, a light which illumines the whole philosophic view of the structure of reality but which, in the nature of the case, can never itself provide the solution to an intrinsically scientific problem.
This is, therefore, indeed a radical reversal of the standpoint of accommodation taken by Augustinian and Protestant scholasticism. There, after all, the use of Scripture to address intrinsically philosophical questions was an indispensable requirement for the “Christianization” of philosophy. This was necessary because, in adopting Greek or scholastic philosophy, the Augustinians and Protestants also implicitly adopted the religious ground-motives on which they were based. And the more alien the foundations of their philosophy were to the Christian religion, the more copious, on this standpoint of accommodation, became their appeals to Bible texts in order to sanction their philosophic views and concepts. “Profane wisdom”, after all, had to be brought into agreement with Scripture; it had to be adapted for “theological use”. 
If the divine Word-revelation really is used to “solve” scientific problems, however, then it cannot be the foundation of science. The foundation must lie at a lower level than the building that will rest on it, and it must be of a different nature. […] Philosophy must either be Scriptural in its foundation – or it will not even exist for the Christian!

(from Herman Dooyeweerd:

‘Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy’ Vol 2,

Paideia Press 2013, paperback £9.00)