Dr. J. Glenn Friesen

Herman Dooyeweerd:
De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (1935-36)

Linked Glossary
List of Notes

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume I
Prism of Cosmic Time
Law and Subject

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume II
The Gegenstand
Dis-stasis/ Synthesis
Intuition and Time
Conceptual Limits
Horizon and Levels
God, Self and Cosmos

De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee Volume III
Foreword to Vol III

Other articles by Dooyeweerd
32 Propositions on Anthropology

Responses to the Curators (1937-38)

Dooyeweerd's 1964 Lecture, and Discussion

Dooyeweerd's last article (1975)

1974 Interview of Dooyeweerd, with mp3 audio files.

The last interview of Dooyeweerd (1975)

“The Problem of Time in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea” (1940)

The Idea of the Individuality Structure and the Thomistic Concept of Substance

Encyclopedia of Legal Science (1946)

The Romantic Poetry of Herman Dooyeweerd 1912-13

Dooyeweerd's student article: “Neo-Mysticism and Frederik van Eeden”(1914)

Other articles about Dooyeweerd

Dooyeweerd's Encyclopedia of the Science of Law: Problems with the Present Translation

Dooyeweerd versus Vollenhoven: The religious dialectic within reformational philosophy.

J.H. Gunning, Christian Theosophy and Reformational Philosophy

Dooyeweerd's Philosophy of Aesthetics: A Response to Zuidervaart's Critique

The Religous Dialectic Revisited

Why did Dooyeweerd want to tear out his hair?

Kuyper, Dooyeweerd and the Quest for an Ecumenical Orthodoxy

Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd's Philosophy

Dooyeweerd versus Strauss: Objections to immanence philosophy within reformational thought.

Dooyeweerd and Baader: A Response to D.F.M. Strauss

Dooyeweerd, Spann and The Philosophy of Totality

Revised notes regarding aevum

Individuality Structures and Enkapsis: Individuation from Totality in Dooyeweerd and German Idealism

Monism, Dualism, Nondualism: A Problem with Vollenhoven’s Problem-Historical Method

Vollenhoven's disagreements with Dooyeweerd; translations of three of Vollenhoven's articles.

Johann Stellingwerff: History of Reformational Philosophy (review)


© J. Glenn Friesen


Herman Dooyeweerd: De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee
The Philosophy of the Law-Idea

(Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1935-36)
Translation [Excerpts] and Meditational Study Guide
by Dr. J. Glenn Friesen
Notes on this Translation

The Dutch Academy of Sciences has made all three volumes of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee available online (in Dutch). These three volumes can also be downloaded here in .pdf format from the website of The Association for Reformational Philosophy.

The text below is a provisional translation. Copyright is held by the Dooyeweerd Centre, Ancaster, Ontario, and publishing right is held by Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York. A definitive translation will be published in the series The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd.

Volume I: The Law-Idea as Foundation for Philosophy


Notes on the Foreword

Now that what I regard as my life’s work–the foundation and systematic development of the “Philosophy of the Law-Idea”–has reached its first provisional conclusions, and I am able to let this extensive work appear in its present form, I want to first give thanks to God, who has permitted me to finish this work, in spite of what often appeared to me at first to be insurmountable difficulties. Second, I want to acknowledge my gratitude to the Directors of the Dr. Kuyper Foundation [‘Kuyperstichting’], who helped make possible the publication of this work, which in today’s difficult circumstances brings with it an especially great risk for the publisher.

It was only after much hesitation and after numerous revisions of the whole project that I decided to let this new systematic philosophy appear publicly. The first, still very rudimentary conception of this philosophy had already ripened before I arrived at the Kuyperstichting in The Hague [fall of 1922].

At first I was strongly under the influence of neo-Kantian philosophy, and later of Husserl’s phenomenology. The great turning point in my thought was the discovery of the religious root of thought itself. This discovery shed a new light on the continuing failure of all attempts, including my own, to bring an inner connection between Christian belief and a philosophy that is rooted in the belief of the self-sufficiency of human reason.

I came to understand the central significance that Holy Scripture repeatedly places on the “heart” as the religious root of all human existence.

From out of this central Christian viewpoint, it appeared to me that a revolution was necessary in philosophic thought, a revolution of so radical a character, that, compared with it, Kant’s “Copernican revolution” can only be qualified as a revolution in the periphery. For what is at stake here is no less than a relativizing of the whole temporal cosmos in what we refer to as both its “natural” sides as well as its “spiritual” sides, over against the religious root of creation in Christ. In comparison with this basic Scriptural idea [grondgedachte], of what significance is a revolution in a view of reality that relativizes the “natural” sides of temporal reality with respect to a theoretical abstraction such as Kant’s “homo noumenon” or his “transcendental subject of thought?”

In the light of Scripture, the whole attitude of that kind of philosophic thought that proclaims thought to be self-sufficient, appears to be one that takes its standpoint in a falling away [af-val] from our true human selfhood, since it essentially withdraws human thought from the divine revelation in Jesus Christ. The first result of the Scriptural viewpoint in relation to the root of the entire temporal reality was a radical break with the philosophic view of reality rooted in what I have called the 'immanence-standpoint.'

The discovery of the philosophic Ground-Idea, which lies at the foundation [grondslag] of all truly philosophic thinking, made it possible to see the dependence on a supra-theoretical, religious a priori in the various theoretical views about the structure of reality, as they have developed in the prevailing immanence-philosophy. It also allowed criticism of these theoretical views to be made on a much deeper lying plane than is possible on the immanence-standpoint.

Temporal reality cannot itself be regarded as neutral with respect to its religious root. In other words, the whole thought of a fixed temporal reality “an sich” [in itself and unrelated to our human subjectivity] rests on a fundamental misconception. If temporal reality is not neutral, how can we continue to seriously believe in the religious neutrality of theoretical thought?

The development and carrying out of the cosmological Ground-Principle of sphere sovereignty, which plays such a fundamental role in the Law-Idea of this new philosophy, was totally dependent on this newly won Christian-religious Ground-Attitude in philosophy. This Ground-Principle is intrinsically foreign to immanence-philosophy, and was first formulated by Kuyper.

On this foundation rests the general theory of the law-spheres, developed in Volume II. The first conception of this theory was obtained after the discovery of the inner structure of the temporal meaning-modalities. I could already explain this in my inaugural address [“The Significance of the Cosmonomic Idea for Jurisprudence and Philosophy of Law” (1926)].

Unforeseen difficulties arose in the working out of this theory. This was not only due to the fact that nowhere was there a point of contact in the prevailing philosophy, but also because it could not become fruitful without a close contact with the particular theory of the law-spheres, which investigates the fundamental problems of the various special sciences in the light of the Christian Law-Idea.

This is also the reason why in my earlier publications I connected the theory of the law-spheres to the particular fundamental problems of my own special field of science, i.e. jurisprudence. I wanted to first assure myself that this philosophical theory has a value in principle for the special sciences, before I drew any provisional systematic conclusions. I admit at once that it was just this omission of a systematic-philosophic development that made it difficult for observers to appreciate the true reach and extent of these publications.

I have also had many difficulties in working out the theory of the individuality-structures of reality, which is found in Volume III. In The Crisis in the Humanistic Theory of the State (1932), I had already given account of the new view that this theory offers of the structure of naïve experience, and especially its groundbreaking significance for so-called sociology and jurisprudence. But this theory, too lacks its own further working out in a systematic-philosophical way. Its significance is not limited to special sciences, since it touches the fundamental structure of reality itself.

In all of this I had the strong feeling that it is impossible to give a truly fruitful working out of the Philosophy of the Law-Idea for today’s level of scientific thinking without a staff of colleagues who are at home in special scientific disciplines. It is vital for this young philosophy for it to find acceptance by Christian scientific workers, and for a circle of adherents to be formed that is able to independently think through its Ground-Motives in relation to the special sciences, and to develop them further.

I am very grateful that from the beginning my colleague Dr. Vollenhoven has been at my side. Vollenhoven taught general philosophy at the Free University, and his name has become indissolubly connected with mine. It was also for us a great joy to find an enthusiastic independent colleague in Prof. Dr. H.G. Stoker, who in various publications has made known the Philosophy of the Law-Idea, and whose very keen, constructive criticism has called attention to various points that require a more precise working out.

Although I can not yet follow the full reach of Stoker’s own expansive ideas, and although I initially have certain reservations against them, this does not prevent me from rejoicing over the fact that he wants to offer the services of his philosophic talents, which he already showed in Scheler’s circle, in the further independent extension of this new philosophy. I regard his assistance of great value, especially in the field of psychology, his own specialty.

And finally there is the happy circumstance that among the younger scientists, a circle of adherents is gradually, although modestly, beginning to form. Each of these scientists is trying to make this new philosophy fruitful in his or her own specialty. This first circle of scientific workers has formed around the Philosophy of the Law-Idea. They are connected by the same Christian belief, and they all similarly experience the electrifying effect that flows out from the Christian vital root to the practice of science.

God grant that this modest circle may grow to become a large group and that many who should be our adherents, but who still out of an inner opposition resist the idea of a Christian science, will become convinced that it is not just a question of a “system” (subject to all the faults and mistakes of human thought) but much rather the foundation and the root of scientific thought as such.

In conclusion let me make two further remarks. First a remark that I intend in good will towards my main opponents. I am fully aware that a method of criticism that tries to follow a certain philosophic train of thought to its deepest religious foundations is something that must stir up the most extreme emotional reactions in an individual. I have repeatedly observed that an opponent feels personally attacked by this, or that the impression is formed that a judgment is being made by me in an ex-cathedra style by someone who wants to elevate himself above his opponents and continually exalts himself.

No one can be unhappier about such misunderstandings than myself. A judgment about the personal religious situation of an opponent would be human arrogance, an attempt to exalt oneself to the judgment seat of God. I have continually emphasized in this work that the Philosophy of the Law-Idea always remains within the objective framework of principles, even when it delivers sharp penetrating criticism on immanence-philosophy.

A self-satisfied scientific attitude in relation to immanence-philosophy hardly goes together with a Christian view of science and a Christian attitude towards knowledge. Whoever does not understand that the extensive criticism of the humanistic immanence-philosophy, which is given in Part Two of Volume I, is essentially intended as self-criticism, does not understand the intentions of the Philosophy of the Law-Idea. It is like a legal case that the Christian thinker pleads with himself. I would not be able to make such sharp judgments about immanence-philosophy were it not for the fact that I have myself gone through it. I have personally experienced its problematics. And I would not have made such a sharp judgment over the attempts to accommodate immanence-philosophy and Christian beliefs had I not myself lived through the inner tension between both of them, and had I not myself wrestled with such attempts of synthesis.

My second remark is of a more formal nature. I have frequently noticed that many of those who study this new philosophy are scared off by its supposed obscurity and complicated nature. The new terminology also scares of many of those who are interested. They want a popular form that speaks to them immediately without much effort.

To this I can give only one answer: the Philosophy of the Law-Idea is in fact difficult and complicated, just because it breaks with all traditional philosophic views. Whoever wants to really make this philosophy his or her own must try to follow its turns of thought step by step and penetrate behind the theoretical structure to the religious Ground-Attitude of this whole way of philosophizing.

This philosophy will not open its meaning if people are not prepared to read it in a way that frees themselves from traditional ontological and epistemological views, or if they only read isolated parts of its system.

But no one can ignore this philosophy. Just as Christian thought cannot close itself off from immanence philosophy in an attitude of negation, immanence philosophy cannot close itself off in such an attitude with respect to the Philosophy of the Law-Idea.

It has always been a law of human knowledge, that truth is won only in the conflict of opinions. May then the conflict regarding the Philosophy of the Law-Idea be fought only for the sake of truth and thus in a chivalrous manner.

I do not consider it a disadvantage if this philosophy is not granted a quick and easy success. No one less than Kant explained in the Foreword to his Prolegomena zu einer jeden künftigen Metaphysik:

I flatter myself that I could have given popularity to my discourses if all I had had to do was to develop a plan and to then commend its completion to others, and if the welfare of science, which has occupied me for so long had not been so dear to my heart; for otherwise much perseverance and self-denial is required in order to disregard the temptation of an early favourable reception for instead the prospect of an admittedly later, but permanent approval.[1]

If Kant deemed his transcendental philosophy worthy of this self-denial, then it is also proper for those who do not just merely want to set up a “new system,” but rather are concerned with the Christian foundations of theoretical thought. A quickly obtained but purely personal and therefore worthless success should not be preferred to what is required–a lengthy difficult work in silence, carried out in the belief that thereby something permanent can be obtained in the realization of the Christian idea of theory. For in fact, no precarious and changing valuation by our fellow humans can count in the slightest as against the inner joy and happiness that is given by the practice of a science that seeks its standpoint in Christ, who is the Way, the Truth and the Life!

The Author [1935]


[1] Original German cited by Dooyeweerd:

…allein Popularität hatte ich meinem Vortrage (wie ich mir schmeichele) wohl geben können, wenn es mir nur darum zu tun gewesen wäre, einen Plan zu entwerfen und dessen Vollziehung andern anzupreisen, und mir nicht das Wohl der Wissenschaft, die mich so lange beschäftigt hielt, am Herzen gelegen hätte; denn übrigens gehörte viel Beharrlichkeit und auch selbst nich wenig Selbstverläugnung dazu, die Anlockung einer früheren, günstigen Aufnahme der Aussicht auf einem zwar späten, aber dauerhaften Beifall nachzusetzen.

The 1902 Paul Carus translation is as follows:

Yet I flatter myself I might have made my own exposition popular, had my object been merely to sketch out a plan and leave its completion to others instead of having my heart in the welfare of the science, to which I had devoted myself so long; in truth, it required no little constancy, and even self-denial, to postpone the sweets of an immediate success to the prospect of a slower, but more lasting, reputation.

Go to next page of translation: Introduction

Revised Feb 13/10