© J. Glenn Friesen 2003-2016
Photo taken around 1935, when Dooyeweerd published his De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee.
[Photo included in The Legacy of Herman Dooyeweerd]
Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977)
The Christian philosophy of the Dutch
philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd (pronounced “Do-yuh-veerd,”
with a long vowel ‘o’) is not widely known in the
English-speaking world. Those who do know about his
philosophy have often downplayed or rejected its mystical
basis. As a result, I believe that Dooyeweerd's philosophy
has been seriously misunderstood and misinterpreted. But
when his philosophy is understood, it has an exciting new
relevance to today's issues regarding the nature of our
experience to our theoretical understanding as well as to
our deepest religious motives. See my recent book,
examining the sources and development of Dooyeweerd's
Dooyeweerd's major work De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee [‘WdW”] was published in 1935 in three volumes. The Dutch Academy of Sciences has made all three volumes of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee available online (in Dutch). These three volumes can also be downloaded here in .pdf format from the website of The Association for Reformational Philosophy. The work has been translated in English as A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. However, that translation was not done in a consistent way, and some of the meanings of the original Dutch are not always made clear. Furthmore, many important parts of the WdW were not included in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought.
My translation of important excerpts of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee is available online. An online translation has the advantage of showing hypertext links. This is important, because Dooyeweerd's philosophy does not proceed by step by step syllogisms. He presents his ideas all at once, referring to terms that are explained much later in the text, and defining terms in an inter-connected way. I have tried to bring out these connections with hypertext links.
In my opinion, although there are several books that have been published on Dooyeweerd, none of them adequately sets out his philosophy. In general, Dooyeweerd's philosophy has been misinterpreted by reading him in terms of the very different philosophy of his brother-in-law Dirk Vollenhoven.
If you have not read Dooyeweerd before, try reading his own article, "Introduction to a Transcendental Critique of Philosophic Thought," Evangelical Quarterly 19 (Jan 1947) 42-51.
Dooyeweerd says that his philosophical anthropology, which distinguishes between our supratemporal heart and our temporal body as a mantle of functions, is the beginning and end of philosophical reflection. So take a look at his article "What is Man?" It was first published in the International Reformed Bulletin in 1960. It was later included as the last chapter in Dooyeweerd's book In the Twilight of Western Thought (Craig Press, 1968). This article was placed online by the late Theo Plantinga.
Still on the subject of philosophical anthropology, take a look at "The theory of man in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea: 32 Propositions on Anthropology." This was original purblished as “De leer van den mensch in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee”, Correspondentie-Bladen 7 (Dec. 1942).
Then read Part 1 of his 1940 article The Problem of Time in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea. The article is still difficult, but it is reasonable accessible. This important article has not been previously translated. Many of his ideas seem to be more clearly and succinctly expressed in this article than in his other writings. In particular, it clearly expresses Dooyeweerd’s emphasis of the importance of the experience of our supratemporal selfhood, and the relation of that experience to theoretical thought.
And see The last interview of Dooyeweerd. The lawyer Pieter Boeles interviewed Dooyeweerd in 1975. The interview was not published until 1977, after Dooyeweerd's death. It shows a very human Dooyeweerd with a great sense of humour. And see the interview of Dooyeweerd by Verbrugge in 1974.
Then read my article “Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy,” (2006). The article discusses the Wisdom tradition within which Dooyeweerd's philosophy is situated, and how our imagination is dependent on our being created in the image of God. In our imagination, we discover the figure, the anticipation of what an individuality structure in the temporal world may become, but which is presently only a potential reality. In finding the figure within the temporal world, and in realizing it and embodying it, we form history, and we fulfill the reality of temporal structures. God’s law or Wisdom gives the connection between this internal figure of our imagination and the modal aspects in which our body and other temporal structures of individuality function.
This web site also contains my translation of the following excerpts from the WdW:
I have also translated Dooyeweerd's article on Frederik van Eeden, written when Dooyeweerd was a 20 year old student at the Free University. The article is entitled “Fr. van Eeden and Neo-Mysticism.” And I have placed online some early romantic poetry of Dooyeweerd which I found in the Dooyeweerd Archives. See The Romantic Poetry of Herman Dooyeweerd 1912-13
Dooyeweerd called his philosophy the Philosophy of the Law-Idea. In English, his philosophy has also been referred to as the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea (The Idea of the Law of the Cosmos). And because of its association with neo-Calvinism, and the ideas of Abraham Kuyper, this philosophy has also sometimes been referred to as ‘Calvinistic Philosophy.' But Dooyeweerd distanced himself from the term ‘Calvinistic', saying that his philosophy deserved to be known as simply ‘Christian Philosophy.' He took a much more ecumenical view of his philosophy. I believe that Dooyeweerd's philosophy can best be understood as 'Christian Nondualism.' This is not a term that he himself used. But his philosophy rejects all dualistic Ground Motives in favour of an integral Ground Motive of creation, fall and redemption. To emphasize nondualism shows the contrast between his philosophy and the dualistic philosophies that he rejects.
In 1937, both Dooyeweerd and his brother-in law Vollenhoven were asked by the Curators of the Vrije Universiteit to respond to accusations about their philosophy which had been made by the theologian Valentijn Hepp in a series of brochures he published entitled Dreigende Deformatie [Threatening Deformation]. This accusation started an investigation by the Curators, which lasted many years. The Responses by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven are essential to understanding their respective philosophies, and their views on how they fit into the Reformed tradition. See Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven: Responses to the Curators (1937-38).
Dooyeweerd's philosophy is not just abstract theory. I believe that it is also a path to knowing and experiencing God, the world, others and ourselves as we really are in our dynamic wholeness and inter-connectedness. It is an experiential and mystical cosmic consciousness that challenges our usual dualistic ways of knowing and experiencing. Christian Nondualism therefore leads to a transformation of ourselves, as well as of our theoretical philosophies and theologies. This transformation is more radical and deeper than we may initially imagine. This is the metanoia, or change of our mind (nous) referred to in the Bible.
Now the term ‘nondualism’ is usually used to describe Eastern philosophies and traditions such as Hinduism and Buddhism. It is rare to hear it applied to Christian philosophy, since it is usually assumed that Christianity involves a dualism between God and humans, and that Christian spirituality involves a dualistic separation between soul and body. To compare Dooyeweerd and the ideas of eastern philosophies will seem strange to those who are accustomed to regarding Dooyeweerd’s philosophy as the antithesis to all non-Christian ideas. But Dooyeweerd himself compared his idea of the selfhood to the Hindu idea of atman (Comparison with Hinduism). It is true that Dooyeweerd distinguished his own ideas. But he may not have fully understood the other philosophies. He certainly did not explore it as intensely as Abhishiktananda. In any event, the use of comparative philosophy to compare Dooyeweerd's philosophy to other nondual philosophies is fruitful in understanding what it means to reject dualistic views of the world.
Dooyeweerd never clearly indicated the sources of his ideas. I discuss the origins of his philosophy in my Notes on the Foreword. Dooyeweerd's philosophy can be fruitfully compared to the Christian Philosophy of Franz von Baader. The following ideas of Dooyeweerd can all be found in Baader: (1) all philosophy is religious (2) the religious antithesis (3) the ‘Wetsidee’ (4) the dogma of the autonomy of thought (5) idolatry as the absolutization of the temporal (6) Ground Motives in history (7) the four types of Ground Motives (8) the three ideas within each Ground Motive (9) the method of antinomy (10) the use of Kant’s ideas to criticize Kant’s own Critique of Theoretical Thought (11) cosmic time (12) the supratemporal heart (13) the analogy of the prism (14) modalities (15) sphere sovereignty (16) sphere universality (17) analogies of time (18) anticipation and retrocipation (19) Man as the religious root of temporal reality (20) Christ as the Second Root (21) the centrality of love (22) pre-theoretical experience (23) the Subject-Object relation (24) the Gegenstand relation (25) theoretical synthesis and (26) cultural development as an unfolding. See my article, “The Mystical Dooyeweerd: The Relation of His Thought to Franz von Baader.”
In making these comparisons to Baader, I am not in any way suggesting that Dooyeweerd is guilty of plagiarism. Nor do I wish thereby to diminish in any way Dooyeweerd's greatness as a philosopher. On the contrary, my purpose is to better understand his philosophy, which I believe is more relevant today than ever. I believe that Dooyeweerd had very good reasons for not disclosing all the sources on which he relied. The fact that he did not provide more information must be understood as a strategic response to a very difficult situation. The accusations by Hepp had begun even before the publication in 1936 of the third volume of Dooyeweerd's De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee. And the lengthy investigation by the Curators shows how serious these accusations were, and how careful Dooyeweerd had to be in his responses to his critics.
The similarities to Baader help us to situate Dooyeweerd's philosophy within an existing tradition of thought–one that extends back through Kuyper and Baader to Boehme and Eckhart. Dooyeweerd himself acknowledges that no philosopher stands outside of a philosophical tradition. He says that he “rejects the proud illusion that any thinker whatever, could begin as it were with a clean slate and disassociate himself from the development of an age-old process of philosophical reflection.” (NC I, 118). He also points to universally valid structural states of affairs that are obvious to all and about which thinkers of different persuasions can communicate and share insights. When Hepp accused Dooyeweerd of seeking too much originality [oorspronkelijkheidszucht], Dooyeweerd responded by showing the continuity of his thought with previous tradition. And in his Foreword to Volume III of the WdW, Dooyeweerd responds to this accusation of seeking too much originality by saying:
And so we see that Dooyeweerd himself acknowledges the importance and the necessity of historical continuity. Situating his philosophy in this mystical tradition therefore helps us to better understand what Dooyeweerd himself intended by his philosophy. This is especially important in view of the fact that Dooyeweerd's philosophy has been misinterpreted for so many years (see the discussion below). And I have emphasized that Dooyeweerd did not just simply take over existing ideas in the tradition, but that he systematized them and expanded on them in an original way.
Dooyeweerd's historical continuity is within a mystical tradition. This is not a mysticism of flight from the world, nor is it a mysticism that identifies God with His creation in a pantheistic way. It is a mysticism of our supratemporal experience of God, by which we also obtain true knowledge of our selfhood and of the temporal cosmos. Dooyeweerd speaks of the importance of religious self-reflection, of our supratemporal selfhood as the religious root and as the key of knowledge, the importance of our participation [deel hebben] in Christ the New Root, of the importance of inward experience as a Hineinleben, and of our sonship in relation to God. And he refers to temporal reality as being "from, through and to" God as our Origin. In the last interview of Dooyeweerd (1975) (published posthumously in the book Acht Civilisten in Burger), Dooyeweerd refers to his mother's mystical tendencies. And insofar as he relies on Abraham Kuyper, Dooyeweerd says that what he appreciates most about Kuyper are (1) Kuyper's inaugural lecture of the Vrije Universiteit, where he emphasized sphere sovereignty (2) Kuyper's Lectures on Calvinism (the Stone Lectures) and (3) works by Kuyper on worldview and of a meditative nature [van levenbeschouwelijke en meditatieve aard]. (See “Na vijf en dertig jaren,” Philosophia Reformata 36 (1971) 1-10, at 6). The last category of works of a contemplative and meditative nature must surely include Kuyper's To Be Near Unto God (New York: Macmillan, 1925, originally published as Nabij God te Zijn, Kampen: Kok, 1908; now online). This book, of a highly mystical nature, was written by Kuyper late in his life, after he had developed his ideas of sphere sovereignty. Although Dooyeweerd criticized some of Kuyper’s ideas in his article “Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer,” he did not criticize these mystical ideas. On the contrary, Dooyeweerd continued to emphasize the importance of Kuyper’s rediscovery of the importance of the supratemporal heart. See “Kuyper's Wetenschapsleer,” Philosophia Reformata 4 (1939), 193-232, at 208-211.
Furthermore, I have discovered that Kuyper also had extensive knowledge of Baader, and great admiration for Baader's work. Kuyper also explicitly refers to Baader in support or some of his own ideas. See my article, “The Mystical Dooyeweerd Once Again: Kuyper’s Use of Franz von Baader.” And so Kuyper (or at least those works of Kuyper that Dooyeweerd appreciated), can also be regarded as standing within this mystical tradition. And the recent doctoral dissertation by Lieuwe Mietus has shown that Kuyper was influenced by the ideas of Baader through J.H. Gunning, Jr. See my review of this book by Mietus.
The reformational philosopher D.F.M. Strauss has criticized my article “The Mystical Dooyeweerd.” In my response, I have shown how Strauss has made serious misinterpretations of both Baader and Dooyeweerd. My response has also allowed me to show the wider scope of some of the issues involved. See my article, Dooyeweerd and Baader: A Response to D.F.M. Strauss.
Reformational philosophy continues to refer to Dooyeweerd's philosophy. But reformational philosophers have seriously misinterpreted Dooyeweerd in the following ways:
1. Reformational philosophers have rejected Dooyeweerd's Idea of the supratemporal selfhood as the root of temporal reality. Dooyeweerd says that the supratemporal selfhood and root is the key of knowledge not only for interpreting his philosophy, but for interpreting the Bible. The reformational philosopher D.F.M. Strauss has argued that Dooyeweerd changed his views regarding supratemporality. But Strauss has not interpreted Dooyeweerd correctly. See Why did Dooyeweerd want to tear out his hair?
2. Reformational philosophers have have interpreted Dooyeweerd from the perspective of Vollenhoven's philosophy. But although they were brothers-in-law, and both taught at the Vrije Universiteit, Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd had widely diverging philosophies. They disagreed on every key idea, whether of ontology, epistemology, theology or the use of Scripture. See Vollenhoven's disagreements with Dooyeweerd. And see my article, “Dooyeweerd versus Vollenhoven: The religious dialectic within reformational philosophy,” Philosophia Reformata 70 (2005) 102-132 [‘Dialectic’].
3. Reformational philosophers have tried to use Dooyeweerd's view of the aspects of reality while rejecting his view of cosmic time. In this way, they have temporalized his philosophy. Dooyeweerd himself said that cosmic time is central to his philosophy.
4. Dooyeweerd's view of theory as the Gegenstand-relation has been replaced by a view of theory as abstraction. Dooyeweerd himself was strongly opposed to this substitution. See Dooyeweerd's last article, and his sharp criticism of D.F.M. Strauss. Strauss wrote a response to this criticism, attempting to show that Dooyeweerd's position was contradictory. I have analyzed Strauss's arguments in detail to show that Strauss has misunderstood Dooyeweerd and that the logic in Strauss's arguments is fallacious. See Did Dooyeweerd Contradict Himself? A Response to D.F.M. Strauss.
5. Dooyeweerd's nondual philosophy has been improperly interpreted within the scheme of a dualistic metaphysics. Instead of understanding the Christian Ground Motive of creation, fall and redemption in an integral way, these interpreters have tried to fit Dooyeweerd into a view of creation that emphasizes dualism. See my article: “Monism, Dualism, Nondualism: A Problem with Vollenhoven's Problem-Historical Method.”
6. Dooyeweerd's view of individuality structures has been misunderstood. Again, this is because Dooyeweerd has been interpreted through the lens of Vollenhoven's contradictory ideas. Dooyeweerd starts with a supratemporal totality, from which individuality structures ar individuated. Vollenhoven did not accept the ideas of totality and individuality structures. And because Vollenhoven did not have the idea of individuality structures, he also did not have the idea of enkapsis, the intertwining of several individuality structures. See my article, “Individuality Structures and Enkapsis: Individuation from Totality in Dooyeweerd and German Idealism.” In that article, I have shown that Dooyeweerd's views and enkapsis can themselves be traced to the ideas of the German philosopher Max Wundt (1879-1963), who stood in the line of mysticism going back to Baader, Boehme and Eckhart. See also my translation of important excerpts of Dooyeweerd's article The Idea of the Individuality Structure and the Thomistic Concept of Substance.
6. In Dooyeweerd's last article, “De Kentheoretische Gegenstandsrelatie en de Logische Subject-Objectrelatie,” he strongly criticizes the ideas of many of those who claim to follow his philosophy. The article was written in 1975 (two years before his death). His criticism is directed primarily at the interpretation of the Philosophy of the Law-Idea by D.F.M. Strauss. This article deserves to be studied closely by reformational philosophers today. See my article summarizing the differences between Dooyeweerd and D.F.M. Strauss: Dooyeweerd versus Strauss: Objections to immanence philosophy within reformational thought.
7. Dooyeweerd emphasized the importance of the idea of Totality. See my article, “Dooyeweerd, Spann and The Philosophy of Totality,”Philosophia Reformata 70 (2005), 2-22. In this article I also show that Dooyeweerd was aware of Baader's ideas through Othmar Spann (1878-1950), and that Dooyeweerd cross-referenced some of Baader's ideas in books that he owned.
8. In 2002, the following work by Dooyeweerd was published: The Encyclopedia of the Science of Law, ed. Alan M. Cameron (Lewiston, New York: The Edwin Mellen Press, 2002). This has been published as part of Dooyeweerd's Collected Works, of which D.F.M. Strauss is the General Editor. The 2002 translation is based on a 1967 Students Council edition of the Encyclopedia. But the translation omits many passages, adds several words, makes several serious translation errors, and has many comments and footnotes that criticize Dooyeweerd. Some of these footnotes refer to Strauss's criticisms of Dooyeweerd, which Dooyeweerd rejected so decisively in Gegenstandsrelatie. See my critique of this translation of the Encyclopedia in my article “Dooyeweerd's Encyclopedia of the Science of Law: Problems with the Present Translation.” Dooyeweerd was a most careful philosopher; he chose his terminology with great care. His philosophy should be interpreted by giving his writings the greatest respect. We should not assume that he did not know what he was talking about and that we can therefore change his terminology. The translation of his works should be done with the same attention to detail and consistency that would be accorded to any other major philosopher, such as Heidegger. Dooyeweerd’s own high standards of translation are also evident from the history of the English translation of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee. Dooyeweerd experienced so many problems with the translation of the first two volumes that he himself took over the translation of the third volume. I understand that the Dooyeweerd Centre intends to re-issue this volume. In future, I hope that comparisons will also be made to earlier editions of the Encyclopedia, such as the 1946 Edition.
9.Lambert Zuidervaart has criticized Dooyeweerd's views on aesthetics. But Zuidervaart has misinterpreted Dooyeweerd. See Dooyeweerd's Philosophy of Aesthetics: A Response to Zuidervaart's Critique.
10. Michael DeMoor has incorrectly analyzed Dooyeweerd's view of theory and positivization. See Principles and Positivization: Dooyeweerd and Rational Autonomy.
11. In his 1964 Talk to the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy, Dooyeweerd said that recent developments in Roman Catholic Theology had resulted in many of their ideas approaching his own ideas. See my article Dooyeweerd, Marlet and the new Catholic theology: From Baader to Pope Benedict.
12. In 95 Theses on Herman Dooyeweerd I have summarized Dooyeweerd's philosophy in a way that emphasizes the ideas that he himself said were important. Almost every one
of these ideas is opposed by current reformational philosophy. See Reformational Philosophy and the "95 Theses on Herman Dooyeweerd." And see The Religous Dialectic Revisited.
I believe that Dooyeweerd's philosophy is the repository of a much older tradition, and that I have interpreted his philosophy as he originally intended it. It incorporates Ideas from the older Western mystical and Christian theosophical traditions. His philosophy deserves careful study.
There is a great deal of information on this website. I suggest that the cross-referenced links and notes be read slowly and meditatively. Don't assume that you know what Dooyeweerd means. His terminology has been misinterpreted in the past 70 years of scholarship.
I hope that this website can allow Dooyeweerd's philosophy to be seen in its original light. When it is understood in its inter-connected unity, in its mystical appreciation of the supratemporal which does not devalue the temporal, the scope of this philosophy is truly breathtaking.
Note: There is also an online .pdf version of A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Here are the links [These files can take a very long time to load]:
However, there are serious problems with the scanning of this work. For one thing, Volume II comes before Volume I, which is most confusing. Here are some examples of other problems:
NC II, 455-456 has only been
partially scanned in, and what there is of page 456 is
I am grateful that the New Critique has been placed online, but more work needs to be done to make it reliable.