© J. Glenn Friesen
Herman Dooyeweerd: De Wijsbegeerte
The Dutch Academy of Sciences has made all three volumes of De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee available online (in Dutch). These three volumes can also be downloaded here in .pdf format from the website of The Association for Reformational Philosophy.
The text below is a provisional translation. Copyright is held by the Dooyeweerd Centre, Ancaster, Ontario, and publishing right is held by Mellen Press, Lewiston, New York. A definitive translation will be published in the series The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd.
We have set as the foundation of philosophic thought the law-Idea that is grounded in the Christian standpoint of transcendence. By this law-Idea the concepts of law and subject, which we will later consider in their particularized meaning, acquire their concise focus.
In the law-Idea the law is acknowledged as grounded in God’s holy sovereignty as Creator, and as being the absolute boundary between the Being of the Arché, and meaning of everything that has been created as that which is ‘sujet,’ sub-jected to the law. The concept of the subject must also be understood with reference to this meaning of being ‘sujet,’ a being sub-jected to the law in its temporal particularized meaning, diversity of meaning, and coherence of meaning.
In the humanistic immanence philosophy, in its rationalistic as well as in its irrationalistic, semi-rationalistic and semi-irrationalistic variations, this concept of the subject has been totally lost. and (to the incalculable damage for the philosophic analysis of meaning of reality), it must necessarily be lost in such an apo-static attitude of thought.
In immanence philosophy, the subject becomes sovereign, whether in the metaphysical sense of “substance” or “noumenon” or in the irrationalistic, transcendental-logical or phenomenological sense.
For example in Kant’s “theoretical” philosophy the subject is only subject in an epistemological sense, and as such it is regarded as the Arché of the form of theoretical laws of nature, as itself the lawgiver for nature in a transcendental-logical meaning.
After the destruction of the traditional metaphysics of nature, Kant could only maintain the pre-psychical aspects of reality as objects by theoretical reason’s apriori synthesis. He regarded the structural laws (that should be sovereign in their own sphere) as forms of theoretic reason which were then joined to a subjective psychical sensibility (aanschouwen).
Two features typify the concept of subject in immanence philosophy ever since it gave up on the previous metaphysics of nature:
The rationalistic types of immanence philosophy thereby threatened to dissolve individuality subjectivity into universally valid conformity to law, whose origin and totality of meaning were referred back to sovereign reason.
The irrationalist types did not change the understanding of “law” as a product of thinking and reason. But they fell into the opposite pole. They found this “conformity to law” to be a falsification of the true reality, a creative subjective individuality. They saw creative subjectivity as being free from universally binding laws and they mocked all “concepts of thought.” In this way the absolutizing of the law by the rationalistic type was replaced by the absolutizing of the subject by the irrationalistic types of immanence philosophy.
Now do not suppose that the earlier currents of immanence philosophy had a better understanding of the concepts of law and subject. To choose one’s Archimedean point in the temporal rational functions must from the outset falsify the original meaning of law and subject.
In the Thomistic-Aristotelian metaphysics, the “naturalis ratio’ [natural reason] is declared to be self-sufficient in the domain of nature (which is here understood in the wide sense of that which stands opposite the “domain of grace”). The lex aeterna, the eternal law, is a law-Idea inspired by the hypostasis of nous. Human reason is elevated to divine reason. Reason thereby becomes the origin, Arché, of the content of the law in its totality of meaning and in its diversity of meaning. The good is not good because God commands it, but God must command the good, because “Goodness” is grounded in the divine “ratio” [“reason”]. As a compromise with the Christian confession of God’s Creative sovereignty, the binding force of the law (and especially the “natural moral law”) is then brought back to God’s “will.” The concept of the subject in this “realistic metaphysics” is then identified with the concept of substance, which is essentially a metaphysical rational concept. The notion of "natural" contains particularized law in itself as entelechia. This substantialized law of being of particularized meaning is not founded in a suprarational cosmic law, but in the “lex naturalis,” a metaphysical order in which each rational subject is himself a lawgiver, and participates in the “ratio divina.” This Divine Reason is embodied in the lex aeterna [“eternal law”]. Within natural law, non-rational subjects without moral reflection [i.e. non-humans] follow their nature. Even here in the final instance ratio is sovereign, although in the sense of a “metaphysical order of reason.”
As a typical phenomenon in the philosophy of recent time we would point to the understanding of personality in the modern phenomenology, which is at least in part irrationalistic (Scheler, Heidegger and many others). These philosophers reproach Kant for still understanding the personal subject (as lawgiver) in a substantialized manner, and that he therefore did not penetrate to the pure actuality of the selfhood.
Just as Heidegger has expressed in his Being and Time,
And Scheler has in his standard work, Der Formalismus in der Ethik und die Materiale Wertethik (3rd ed., 1927,p. 397 ff) stated in a very clear way that personality should be qualified as “pure Actuality,” which as such is transcendent to the world of things, the “cosmos” (understood by him as dissolved into its abstracted natural sides of temporal reality). In this way, the motive of activity from Fichte’s personalistic philosophy is given a modern form.
We shall have an opportunity to discuss this understanding in more detail in the discussion of “The place of man in the cosmos.” It shall be seen that the ‘actuality’ that is brought so sharply to the fore by phenomenological thought, does not stand in opposition to subjectivity, but rather constitutes the kernel of each subject function as such. In other words, all the aspects of our cosmos (also in the aspects of the natural sides) only come to their meaning in the subject functions that function within these aspects. We shall demonstrate this in the discussion of the problem of the individuality structures of temporal reality. The whole view that temporal reality is a static givenness in its subject-side, a fixed “Vorhandenes” rests on a misunderstanding of the dynamic character of reality in the whole coherence of its aspects. This dynamism is rooted in the order of cosmic time and in the mode of being of reality as restless meaning.
From its view of the concept of subject and of the world of things in general, it is evident that modern phenomenology moves in the paths of immanence philosophy and that it has made the “sujet” sovereign in the “transcendentally purified, actual consciousness.”
Go to next page of translation: Philosophy and Worldview
Footnotes for these excerpts
 Heidegger: Sein und Zeit (first half, 1927, special edition from “Jahrbuch für Philosophie und phänomenologische Forschung,” Volume VIII), p. 320: “Denn der ontologische Begriff des Subjects charakterisiert nicht die Selbstheit des Ich qua Selbst, sondern die Selbigkeit und Beständigkeit eines immer schon vohandenen. Das Ich ontologisch als Subject bestimmen besagt, es als ein immer schon Vorhandenes ansetzen. Das Sein des Ich wird verstanden als Realität der res cogitans.” Note: The English translation given is from the NC; it does not appear to be the best translation.
Revised Oct 13/08