Enstasy, Ecstasy and Religious Self-reflection:
A history of Dooyeweerd's Ideas of pre-theoretical experience
J. Glenn Friesen
Note: This article is copyright. © 2011
E. Enstasis is naïve experience
1. Positive sense of the word ‘naïve’:
Dooyeweerd refers to our enstatic pre-theoretical experience as ‘naïve experience.’
We often use the word ‘naïve’ in a derogatory way. “Oh, you are just being naïve!” The word generally refers to someone who is not sufficiently aware or reflective. And ever since Descartes’ demand for “clear and distinct” ideas, we suspect ordinary consciousness as containing prejudices and idols of the mind that need to be rooted out by means of theoretical thought.
But Dooyeweerd uses ‘naïve experience’ in a positive way. It is the basis for all our experience, including our theoretical thought. Where did Dooyeweerd obtain this positive view of ‘naïve’?
a) References in Aesthetics
The first positive use of ‘naïve’ is probably to be found in German works on poetry and aesthetics. What is naïve proceeds naturally from within, as Schiller states in his “Über naïve und sentimentalische Dichtung.” Schiller says that what is naïve looks at the natural or objective, whereas what is sentimental looks at what is subjectively felt [Gemütlichen] (Krug, V, 64). The naïve genius stands in a dependence on experience that the sentimental poet does not know (Schiller, Collected Works, Vol. 18, 305).
Eberhard derives the term ‘naïve’ from the French word ‘naïf’ and from the Latin ‘natives’ meaning “innate and natural.” Goethe says that the naïve is what is purely natural as long as it is morally suitable. “Das rein Natürliche, insofern es sittlich-gefällig ist, nennen wir naiv.” Naïve is being true and open-hearted (Eberhard, 114, s. 184, citing Goethe Spr. i. Pr. 696 a). Goethe says that the purely natural, when it harmonises with our moral sentiments, is called naïve (Goethe 1883, 202).
In 1859, Heinrich Ritter spoke of
naïve art, which knows of no split with nature
Friedrich Theodor Vischer referred to naïve art as the immediate connection between poetry and music, as the “art before art” (Vischer, IV, 839).
b) References in Psychology
We have seen how Wilhelm Wundt regarded intuition as a “beholding,” and that such beholding is prior to our representations of objects. Similarly, Wilhelm Wundt distinguished between naïve and reflective knowledge:
Wundt was certainly aware of Baader’s work (Wundt 1880, I, 568; 1906, 372). Although Baader also distinguished between pre-theoretical and theoretical experience, he did not use the word ‘naïve’ in a positive sense.
Dooyeweerd’s idea of theoretical knowledge does require an imaginative representation of reality, and Dooyeweerd distinguishes this “intentional” representation from the ontical reality that is represented (Friesen 2006b). Yet Dooyeweerd says that we return to naïve experience once we cease our theoretical activity. But this return is to a “deepened” naïve experience (see below).
In 1887, August Johannes Dorner distinguished between immediate naïve consciousness and science (Dorner, 46).
Alfred Wolfenstein gives a very positive view of naïve experience:
Husserl spoke of the naïve previously given beheld world [“der naiv vorgegebenen anschaulichen Welt”] (Husserl 1922-1937, 2276). In the same lectures, he speaks of naïve living within, and naïve experience [naïve dahinleben, naiv erfahrend] (p. 270).
2. Enstatic experience is naïve and not theoretical
Dooyeweerd contrasts naïve
experience with the theoretical attitude of experience (NC
I, 3). Dooyeweerd considers most philosophy to be
insufficiently critical of its own presuppositions. That
is why Dooyeweerd gave a transcendental critique of
theoretical thought. Like Baader before him, Dooyeweerd
turned Kant’s transcendental method against Kant
himself. Dooyeweerd follows Baader in critiquing Kant’s
assumption of the autonomy of thought. What Kant thought
was a Copernican revolution was only “a revolution in
the periphery,” as opposed to Dooyeweerd’s view of the
central and supratemporal selfhood, which relativizes
all of our temporal functions, including our rational
thought. Our rationality is not autonomous, but only one
mode of consciousness of our central selfhood (WdW
I, v-vii). I discuss this in more detail elsewhere (Friesen
There are some similarities with Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that Dooyeweerd relied on Steiner. I am only pointing out how naïve experience was a matter of interest to others prior to Dooyeweerd’s time. Dooyeweerd also distinguishes naïve experience, which refers to what is “ontical” from epistemology, which is theoretical and merely “intentional” (see discussion below). But Dooyeweerd disagreed that naïve experience is unconscious (see discussion below).
Some authors we have discussed use ‘naïve’ in the sense that it is prior to all concepts. But Dooyeweerd says that we can have pre-theoretical (naïve) concepts. The subject-object relation is itself a relation of naïve experience. But our naïve concepts are limited to viewing things (individuality structures) or events and their relations (NC I, 41). As long as we conceive things in concrete structures without theoretical reflection, our attitude towards them is naïve (NC III, 31).
Dooyeweerd contrasts the theoretical attitude of the special sciences with “a bare enstasis” (“de zich bloot in de werkelijkheid instellende denkhouding der naieve ervaring” (WdW I, 49). Elsewhere, Dooyeweerd speaks about a bare [bloot] "falling back" into the naïve attitude naïve experience which accepts things as given in their indivisible unity of creation without an explicated distinguishing of their aspects (WdW I, 60). When the epoché of theoretical thought is cancelled, we fall back into the enstatic intuitive attitude of naïve experience (NC II, 482).
3. Not naïve realism
Dooyeweerd expressly distinguishes his idea of naïve experience from the view that was called ‘naïve realism.’ Naïve realism assumes that objects exist independently of us, as things-in themselves [Dinge an sich].
Dooyeweerd says that naïve realism mistakenly assumes that our experience of things-in-themselves is a copy or mirror of what exists outside of us. Dooyeweerd refers to Natorp’s view that the basic error of naïve realism is the view things are given in our representations as a mirroring of objects that occurs by means of perception [“daß die Dinge auf dem Wege der Wahrnehmung als einer Art Abspeigelung der Gegenstände in unserer Vorstellung gegeven sind”] (Dooyeweerd 1931, 85 fn2).
Dooyeweerd rejects the naïve realist view of sensation (NC III, 22). So does Baader, who says that objects are not to be seen as the source of sensory impressions working upon a separate thinker (Weltalter 48, 364). Our sensations are not the source and cause of our thinking function (Werke V, 53). As Sauer says, there are for Baader no positivistic facts that are not already involved in the universal process of sensation, knowing and understanding (Sauer 21).
Although Dooyeweerd emphasizes that our naïve experience is of things and their relations, it is not an experience of thing-hood in the sense of singular and individual objects! Dooyeweerd objects to the view that our pre-theoretical experience is of separate entities. Such a view was held by Scheler, who said, “There is nothing more certain than the fact that all the objects given in natural observation, are given as singular and individual objects.” Dooyeweerd responds:
Dooyeweerd says that in the copy theory of reality, the real datum of naïve experience is reduced to a theoretical abstraction of objective sense-impressions (NC III, 22; added to WdW). This real datum that is reduced is the givenness of our experience in all modal aspects.
As an example of the copy theory, Dooyeweerd points to Windelband, who assumed that the representing mind is placed in a surrounding world, and that the world must in some way repeat itself in this mind (NC III, 35; WdW III, 15).
Dooyeweerd has his own Abbild-relation or copy relation in imagination, but it is distinguished from the copy theory of perception. Dooyeweerd says that we are actively involved in our perception of the world. Our imagination plays a role in perception. And, like Baader, he refers to our sensory imagination as “productive” (Friesen 2006b).
4. Not a reversion to the imagined Eden of childhood
Some authors regard the naïve in terms of childhood. We have looked at Goethe’s Sorrows of the Young Werther. Karl Heinemann comments how Goethe’s Sorrows of the Young Werther contrasts the naïve joy of children at Christmas to Werther’s thoughts of death (Heinemann, I, 237). We have also seen this in Wilhelm Wundt, who regarded naïve experience as the childlike point of view. This view was repeated by others. In 1921, Von Ogden Vogt said,
He proposed a modern cultus, and said that some objected to this: “We think we are not sufficiently naïve, that we are too introspective and unchildlike to share the pageantry of a great celebration.” (p. 77)
But Dooyeweerd did not regard the naïve as a reversion to childhood. We should not confuse naïve experience with the beginning experiences of a child. That would be a Romanticism, which Dooyeweerd rejects. Our naïve experience is itself something that is learned. Dooyeweerd says that the child's life is not only pre-theoretical, but it is pre-experiential. Infants have not yet learned the practical function of things and events in social life.
This infantile attitude is animistic; it displays a provisional inability to conceive subject-object relations. By this I understand Dooyeweerd to be saying that the child cannot distinguish between the realms of mineral, plant, animal and human, since that is how he characterizes animism elsewhere. Dooyeweerd says that there must be sufficient development of the typical act-structure of human existence and a practical acquaintance with the things of common life. Our naïve experience is learned socially; it is informed by social praxis (NC III, 33-34). I am not aware of any discussion on these points by those who want to start their analysis of theory with our naïve experience of the “individual thing.” In fact, I am not aware of any discussion of these distinctions between pre-experiential, pre-theoretical, and theoretical.
The passage says that our act-structure must be formed and the practical function of things and events must be learned. These are temporal events and structures. We must learn how to live in the temporal world, to make it our own. It seems that by development of an act-structure, Dooyeweerd may be referring to the development of a temporal ego [with its own temporal enkaptic structure]. We would then have a distinction between temporal ego and supratemporal selfhood, as in Jung’s psychology. In a recent article, Gerrit Glas says that more needs to be said about the I/Self relationship (Glas 2010). I hope that further research will be done on this important issue.
Dooyeweerd also says that naïve experience is not the same as our routine experience (NC III, 145). Dooyeweerd says that the routine view of modern daily life is not naïve experience, because modern daily life is content with names. What does he mean by this? Our naïve experience certainly includes a linguistic aspect. But if we stop at names, we have not experienced reality in its full inter-relatedness. And in our modern routine, by applying labels to what we experience, we miss fully experiencing our reality. We may find some similarity here to the Hindu idea that reality goes beyond the names and the forms [namarupa] that we use to describe it. I believe that Dooyeweerd's rejection of the routine must also imply his rej ection of the common sense Philosophy of Thomas Reid and others. Dooyeweerd was aware of Reid, but criticizes his work for not understanding our sense of awareness of time, in what William James calls the ‘specious present.’ The experience of seeing the line of shooting star is sensed in the present moment, and not brought back to memory as Reid suggests (Dooyeweerd 1940, 170 fn15). Baader specifically rejected a common sense (Baader: Philosophische Schriften II 178).
5. Not unconscious
Dooyeweerd also rejected the idea that our naïve experience is unconscious. He emphasizes that it is a knowing and conscious lived experience [wetend en bewust beleven].
That does not mean that Dooyeweerd has no views on the unconscious. He also refers to the unconscious and to depth psychology. In Grenzen van het theoretisch denken Dooyeweerd refers to two layers of the act-life, as shown by depth psychology (Freud and his school). He says that there is an unconscious underlayer and a conscious layer above [bovenlaag]. He says that the act-structure is the temporal expression of the selfhood. If the unconscious is one layer of our act-life, then the unconscious is something that is also expressed in the temporal. It is the undisclosed, as yet unopened part of our temporal reality.
As an example of unconscious knowledge he refers to our remembering a name. He says that consciousness is not limited to the psychical and the later aspects:
To say that the conscious and the unconscious are two modes of revelation of one and the same reality suggests that "cosmic consciousness" is not unconscious; nor is it on a different level of reality that we have to attain; cosmic reality is given [gegeven] (WdW II, 405). We just have to see the cosmos differently.
Dooyeweerd says that the unconscious functions in all aspects. It is that part of temporal reality that is still undisclosed, unopened. He gives examples of the workings of the unconscious: remembering a name, past impressions and post-hypnotic suggestion. In normal circumstances our unconscious is subordinated to consciousness; there is a harmonic working together of the different modal functions and a central relation to the I-ness. But in some cases the unconscious breaks through into consciousness (p. 83). These are all ideas that are very similar to Jung's view of the unconscious.
Elsewhere Dooyeweerd says that the personality ideal of the Nature/Freedom Ground-Motive “received a death blow” from the findings of depth psychology (NC I, 214; not in WdW). In another passage he refers to the “subconscious” in relation to the unopened psychical aspect:
This is a more restricted view of the unconscious than what he says in Grenzen. Perhaps this is why he calls it the sub-conscious. In relating it to the individual animal structure, this seems more like what Jung would describe as the “personal unconscious.”
A more collective view of the unconscious is given by Dooyeweerd in respect to cognition:
The development of our consciousness is a rediscovery “in abysmal depths” of our true selfhood and of God, brought about by the working of God's Spirit. Dooyeweerd says,
6. Not Vorhandenes
Pre-theoretical experience is not an experience of reality as Vorhandenes in Heidegger’s sense of the term. I have discussed this in more detail in my response to Lambert Zuidervaart’s incorrect comparison of Dooyeweerd and Heidegger (Friesen 2008d).
7. Not functionalistic
Naïve experience is not to be understood as a functionalistic approach to experience.
Dooyeweerd says that if the critical and positivistic epistemology were correct that our experience were limited to our cosmic functions, or rather to an abstractum from out of our temporal complex of cosmic functions, then we could not truly know God, nor our self, nor the cosmos (WdW II, 494).
Go to next part, Systasis vs. Dis-stasis