Herman Dooyeweerd

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Herman Dooyeweerd

Herman Dooyeweerd (7 October 1894, Amsterdam – 12 February 1977, Amsterdam) was a professor of law and jurisprudence at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam from 1926 to 1965. He was also a philosopher and principal founder of Reformational philosophy [1] with Dirk Vollenhoven [2] , a significant development within the Neocalvinist (or Kuyperian) school of thought. Dooyeweerd made several contributions to philosophy and other academic disciplines concerning the nature of diversity and coherence in everyday experience, the transcendental conditions for theoretical thought, the relationship between religion, philosophy, and scientific theory, and an understanding of meaning, being, time and self. Dooyeweerd is most famous for his suite of fifteen aspects (or 'modalities', 'modal aspects', or 'modal law-spheres'), which are distinct ways in which reality exists, has meaning, is experienced, and occurs. This suite of aspects is finding application in practical analysis, research and teaching in such diverse fields as built environment, sustainability, agriculture, business, information systems and development. Danie Strauss, the editor of Dooyeweerd's Collected Works, has provided a systematic look at Dooyeweerd's philosophy here.

Reformational philosophy is a Neo-Calvinistic movement pioneered by Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven that seeks to develop philosophical thought in a radically Protestant Christian direction.

D. H. Th. Vollenhoven Dutch philosopher

Dirk Hendrik Theodoor Vollenhoven was a Dutch philosopher.

Neo-Calvinism, a form of Dutch Calvinism, is the movement initiated by the theologian and former Dutch prime minister Abraham Kuyper. James Bratt has identified a number of different types of Dutch Calvinism: The Seceders, split into the Reformed Church "West" and the Confessionalists; the Neo-Calvinists; and the Positives and the Antithetical Calvinists. The Seceders were largely infralapsarian and the Neo-Calvinists usually supralapsarian.


Dooyeweerd’s critiques of philosophy

Dooyeweerd made both immanent and transcendental critiques of Western philosophy, following the traditions of Continental philosophy.

Continental philosophy Set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe

Continental philosophy is a set of 19th- and 20th-century philosophical traditions from mainland Europe. This sense of the term originated among English-speaking philosophers in the second half of the 20th century, who used it to refer to a range of thinkers and traditions outside the analytic movement. Continental philosophy includes the following movements: German idealism, phenomenology, existentialism, hermeneutics, structuralism, post-structuralism, deconstruction, French feminism, psychoanalytic theory, and the critical theory of the Frankfurt School and related branches of Western Marxism.

In his immanent critique, he sought to understand each philosophic thinker's work or each tradition from the inside, and uncover, in its own terms, its basic presuppositions, to reveal deep problems. By such immanent critique of philosophic thinkers from the pre-Socratic Greeks onwards through to the middle of the twentieth century (including mediaeval period, into the modern periods), Dooyeweerd claimed to have demonstrated that theoretical thinking has always been based on presuppositions of a religious nature, which he called ground motives. A ground motive is a spiritual driving force that impels each thinker to interpret reality under its influence. [3] Dooyeweerd identified four major ground-motives of Western thought, three of them dualistic in nature: [4]

  1. the Form-Matter divide of Greek thought
  2. the Creation-Fall-Redemption motive of Biblical (Hebrew, Semitic) thought
  3. the Nature-Grace divide of mediaeval, Scholastic thought
  4. the Nature-Freedom divide of humanistic, Enlightenment thought

This means that theoretical thought never has been neutral or autonomous of the thinker.

However, Dooyeweerd remained unsatisfied "with an argument that shows that in fact philosophy always has been influenced by religious convictions". Rather, "He wants to show that it cannot be otherwise, because it is part of the nature of philosophy or theoretical thought." [5]

This led Dooyeweerd to undertake a transcendental critique of theoretical thought, of the kind Immanuel Kant pioneered. [6] Whereas Kant and Husserl sought the conditions that make theoretical thinking possible, they still presupposed that a theoretical attitude is possible. Dooyeweerd sought to understand the conditions that make a theoretical attitude possible, and argued that all theoretical thought takes place with reference to an "Origin of Meaning", which is a ground-motive to which we adhere extra-rationally. This means that theoretical thought never can be neutral or autonomous of the thinker.

Immanuel Kant Prussian philosopher

Immanuel Kant was a German philosopher who is a central figure in modern philosophy. In his doctrine of transcendental idealism, he argued that space, time and causation are mere sensibilities; "things-in-themselves" exist, but their nature is unknowable. In his view, the mind shapes and structures experience, with all human experience sharing certain structural features. He drew a parallel to the Copernican revolution in his proposition that worldly objects can be intuited a priori ("beforehand"), and that intuition is therefore independent from objective reality. Kant believed that reason is the source of morality, and that aesthetics arise from a faculty of disinterested judgment. Kant's views continue to have a major influence on contemporary philosophy, especially the fields of epistemology, ethics, political theory, and post-modern aesthetics.

From this, Dooyeweerd argued that all "good" philosophy addresses three fundamental parts to an idea:

  1. world
  2. coherence of rationalities
  3. origin of meaning

This, he proposed, can enable disparate theoretical and philosophical approaches to enter into discourse with each other, as long as each thinker openly admits their own ground-motive. Dooyeweerd, accordingly, made very explicit his own grounding in Creation-Fall-Redemption, with a neo-Calvinist flavour and a debt to Abraham Kuyper.

Abraham Kuyper Dutch politician

Abraham Kuijper, publicly known as Abraham Kuyper, was Prime Minister of the Netherlands between 1901 and 1905, an influential neo-Calvinist theologian and also a journalist. He established the Reformed Churches in the Netherlands, which upon its foundation became the second largest Reformed denomination in the country behind the state-supported Dutch Reformed Church.

Dooyeweerd's Cosmonomic Philosophy

Dooyeweerd's cosmonomic philosophy is different from most extant philosophy in at least three ways, which intertwine:

First, it takes seriously the pre-theoretical attitude of thought, as a starting point from which to begin to understand what makes theoretical thought possible. Most other philosophical thinking begins by presupposing a theoretical attitude and either ignores everyday experience or attempts to explain it theoretically, either way presupposing the possibility of theoretical thought as a way to knowledge. In making the possibility of theoretical thought a philosophical problem to address, Dooyeweerd went deeper and further than Kant, Husserl and Heidegger and others.

Second, it is rooted in different presuppositions ('ground motives') about the nature of reality, which are religious in nature. Whereas Greek philosophy is rooted in the Form/Matter divide, Scholastic thinking of mediaeval Christianity in the Nature/Grace divide, and Humanistic philosophy in the Nature/Freedom divide, Dooyeweerd began from the Biblical idea of Creation Fall and Redemption. He may be said to have explored the philosophical (rather than theological) implications of this idea. He called his philosophy 'Christian philosophy', though what usually claims that label is of a Scholastic nature and very different.

Third, it posits that Meaning is more fundamental than Being or Process. Dooyeweerd expressed it:

Meaning is the being of all that is created, and even of our selfhood and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin. [7]

Meaningfulness originates in the Creator (God) rather than in sovereign human attribution. All things, not just those linked with humanity, are meaningful. Strictly, Dooyeweerd says, things are, rather than have, Meaning. Thus, Meaning is like an ocean in which we swim, an enabler of all our existence and functioning, rather than a property we attribute to things or words.

Diversity of science

This has implications for science. Science – whether mathematical, natural, human or social sciences - is seen as the abstracting of certain aspects for study. For example, even though a lawyer and a biologist might study the same things (say, fingerprints), they are interested in different aspects. They are looking at the meaning of a thing with different focus, though equally concerned with what is real. Perceptions of reality through this kind of scientific attitude, selecting one aspect as distinct from others for study, will necessarily be governed by fundamental assumptions about how these various kinds of meaning are related to one another in a coherent whole, belonging within the total range of all experiences. [8]

Likewise, in everyday life, we can be aware of distinct aspects, though most of the time we function in them tacitly.


The positing of meaning as fundamental, and the priority given to our pre-theoretical experience of diverse meaning, prompts the thinker to ask, what ways are there of being meaningful, which cannot be reduced to each other? What different aspects are there of things? He delineated fifteen, which are not mere categories, but modalities (ways of being, functioning, etc.): [9]

Dooyeweerd claimed that since the discovery of these is addressed by our theoretical functioning, which is fallible, no suite of aspects, including his own, can "lay claim to material completion". [10]

Implications of Aspects

Briefly, aspects are ways of being meaningful and are the 'law side' of created reality. All that occurs does so by 'answering to' the laws of each aspect (i.e. being subject to their laws). e.g. physical waves or particles occur by the laws of the physical aspect, poetry occurs by the laws of the aesthetic aspect. Thus, each aspect or 'law sphere' may be seen as defining a distinct kind of possibility.

Earlier aspects are determinative; later ones are normative. Human beings function as subject in or to all aspects, animals as subject up to the sensitive aspect, plants up to the biotic, and non-living things up to the physical. As you are reading this, you are functioning lingually by understanding it, analytically by conceptualizing, sensitively by seeing or hearing, etc. In fact, all our functioning is multi-aspectual, though some aspects might be latent. [11]

Things exist by reference to each aspect. For example, a car exists physically as a load of steel, plastic, etc., kinematically as a mode of transport, socially as a status symbol, economically as a dent in our finances, aesthetically as a thing of beauty, biotically as a polluter, pistically as an idol, and so on. The being of things is multi-aspectual in principle. [12]

Knowledge may be seen as multi-aspectual knowing. For example, analytical knowing gives categories and theories, formative knowing gives skills, lingual knowing gives 'bodies of knowledge' as found in libraries, and so on. [13]

Each aspect defines a different rationality. In this way, Dooyeweerd echoes Winch and Habermas, though with more precision. [14]

An Older Overview of Cosmonomic Philosophy with emphasis on its Christian roots

The following attempted to give an overview of Cosmonomic Philosophy, but was deemed insufficient, and some of its material has been used in the above. However, it is being retained for the present because it contains useful material that has not been used above but which readers might find useful.

Dooyeweerd attempted to provide a philosophy which accounted for not only the differences in non-human reality, but also, between one thinker and another. Following Abraham Kuyper, and other, earlier Neo-Calvinists, Dooyeweerd attempted to describe reality as a creation of God, which has its meaning from God. This God-given meaning is displayed in all of the aspects of temporal reality – which has implications for science.

For example, even though a lawyer and a biologist might study the same things (say, fingerprints), they are interested in different aspects. They are looking at the meaning of a thing with different focus, though equally concerned with what is real. Perceptions of reality through this kind of scientific attitude, selecting one aspect as distinct from others for study, will necessarily be governed by fundamental assumptions about how these various kinds of meaning are related to one another in a coherent whole, belonging within the total range of all experiences. Dooyeweerd argued that this showed the need for a consistent and radically Christian philosophy which he sought to provide. Furthermore, he attempted to show that even the imaginations of men are part of that same created reality, and even where misguided they cannot escape being subject to the rule of God exposed by the Christian revelation.

Dooyeweerd self-consciously allowed his Christian perspective to guide his understanding, but in a philosophical rather than a theological mode of thought. He believed that this permitted the philosopher to gain insight into the principle by which diversity of meaning is held together as a unity, as he directs his thought toward the origin of things, which is God, and God's purpose for making things, which is found in Christ. This basic religious orientation should affect the way that the Christian understands things. In contrast to a dualistic type of religious ground motive, Dooyeweerd suggested that the Christian's basic orientation to the world ought to be derived not from human speculation, but from God's revealed purposes: Creation, the Fall into sin, and Redemption in Christ. This Christian religious ground motive is a fundamentally different posture toward things, compared to say, the "Form/Matter" scheme of the Greeks, the "Nature/Grace" synthesis of Medieval Christianity, or the "Nature/Freedom" approach of the Enlightenment, all of which are orientations divided against themselves by their reliance upon two contradictory principles. While the Christian religious view of things as Created, Fallen and being Redeemed has often been blended with speculative and dualistic schemes, it has never really become fully identified with them, so that there is historical continuity in Christian thought despite the fact that it has undergone numerous significant shifts, in Dooyeweerd's view. But the fact that they are capable of being blended convincingly exposes the transcendental rules to which both false and true theories are subject.

A religious ground motive is a spiritual driving force that impels each thinker to interpret reality under its influence. Dooyeweerd wrote that, in the case of thinkers who presume that human thought is autonomous, who operate by the dictum that it does not matter whether God exists or not, such a thinker's basic commitment to autonomous thought forces him to pick out some aspect of the creation as the origin of all meaning. In doing so, the supposedly autonomous thinker is made captive to a kind of idol of his own making, which bends his understanding to conform to its dictates, according to Dooyeweerd.

Although he self-consciously exposes the religious nature of his philosophy, Dooyeweerd suggests that in fact, all thought is inescapably religious in character. This religious stamp is disguised when the supposed origin of meaning, toward which various thinkers direct their thought, is not called God, but is rather said to be some aspect of creation. This, he suggests, explains why humanistic science will produce bitterly conflicting ideologies. It helps to locate the "antithesis", the source of irreducible differences, between various perspectives. The "antithesis" must be accounted for as a foundational issue, in any complete philosophy, and this antithesis is religious in nature, according to Dooyeweerd.

Borrowing language and concepts from a wide variety of philosophical schools, especially Edmund Husserl, the Marburg school of neo-Kantianism, Ernst Cassirer's Philosophy of Symbolic Forms [15] —and, as some contend, Franz Xaver von Baader, [lower-alpha 1] Dooyeweerd builds on this foundation of a supposed "antithesis" to make distinctions between one kind of thinking and another, theorizing that diverse kinds of thinking disclose diverse kinds of meaning, and that this meaning corresponds in some way to the actual state of affairs.

Dooyeweerd developed an anti-reductionist ontology of "modal aspects", concerning diverse kinds of meaning which are disclosed in the analysis of every existent thing. He considered such modes to be irreducible to each other and yet indissolubly linked. Dooyeweerd at first suggested that there were 14 modes but later postulated 15. [18] The indissoluble coherence of these modal aspects is evinced through their analogical relationship to one another, and finally in their concentration in the central religious selfhood which has a direct relationship to its origin: God.

Works and legacy

The majority of Dooyeweerd's published articles and multi-volume works originally appeared only in Dutch. During his lifetime efforts were already underway to make his work available to English-speakers. Translation of Dooyeweerd's writing has continued since 1994 under the oversight of the Dooyeweerd Centre (see link below). To date, thirteen books have been published in English, including his magnum opus, De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (1935–6), which was revised and expanded in English as A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1953–8).

Dooyeweerd's influence has continued through the Association for Reformational Philosophy and its journal Philosophia Reformata which he and Vollenhoven founded in 1932. The title of the journal is something of an arcane philosophical joke, which repristinates and shifts the meaning of the title from a 1622 book, authored by Johann Daniel Mylius, Philosophia Reformata, a compendius work on alchemy, then regarded by some as a science. There are also a number of institutions around the world that draw their inspiration from Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

Dooyeweerd became member of the Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1948. [19]

In a commemoration editorial appearing in the newspaper Trouw on 6 October 1964 upon the occasion of Dooyeweerd's 70th birthday, G.E. Langemeijer, Chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, professor at the University of Leiden, and appellate Attorney General lauded Dooyeweerd as "...the most original philosopher Holland has ever produced, even Spinoza not excepted."


Multi-volume publications

Collected essays, critiques, and compilations


  1. It is the controversial contention of the Baader and Dooyeweerd scholar J. Glenn Friesen that Dooyeweerd's Calvinist philosophy is closely akin to and developed from the mystical Catholic philosophy of Von Baader. [16] Accepting this premise would lead to a different interpretation of Dooyeweerd's thought than has hitherto prevailed. [17]

Related Research Articles

Posthumanism or post-humanism is a term with at least seven definitions according to philosopher Francesca Ferrando:

  1. Antihumanism: any theory that is critical of traditional humanism and traditional ideas about humanity and the human condition.
  2. Cultural posthumanism: a branch of cultural theory critical of the foundational assumptions of humanism and its legacy that examines and questions the historical notions of "human" and "human nature", often challenging typical notions of human subjectivity and embodiment and strives to move beyond archaic concepts of "human nature" to develop ones which constantly adapt to contemporary technoscientific knowledge.
  3. Philosophical posthumanism: a philosophical direction which draws on cultural posthumanism, the philosophical strand examines the ethical implications of expanding the circle of moral concern and extending subjectivities beyond the human species
  4. Posthuman condition: the deconstruction of the human condition by critical theorists.
  5. Transhumanism: an ideology and movement which seeks to develop and make available technologies that eliminate aging and greatly enhance human intellectual, physical, and psychological capacities, in order to achieve a "posthuman future".
  6. AI takeover: A more pessimistic alternative to transhumanism in which humans will not be enhanced, but rather eventually replaced by artificial intelligences. Some philosophers, including Nick Land, promote the view that humans should embrace and accept their eventual demise. This is related to the view of "cosmism" which supports the building of strong artificial intelligence even if it may entail the end of humanity as in their view it "would be a cosmic tragedy if humanity freezes evolution at the puny human level".
  7. Voluntary Human Extinction, which seeks a "posthuman future" that in this case is a future without humans.
Christian philosophy

Christian philosophy is a development in philosophy that is characterised by coming from a Christian tradition.

Perennial philosophy, also referred to as perennialism and perennial wisdom, is a perspective in modern spirituality that views all of the world's religious traditions as sharing a single, metaphysical truth or origin from which all esoteric and exoteric knowledge and doctrine has grown.

Christian worldview refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which a Christian individual, group or culture interprets the world and interacts with it. Various denominations of Christianity have differing worldviews on some issues based on biblical interpretation, but many thematic elements are commonly agreed-upon within the Christian worldview. A common theme is the distrust of secular authority.

Klaas Johan Popma (1903–1986) was one of the second generation of reformational philosophers arising from the Free University(VU) in Amsterdam, after the first generation of Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven. Other second generationers were: Hendrik Van Riessen, S. U. Zuidema and J. P. A. Mekkes.

Hendrik Jan van Eikema Hommes was a noted Dutch legal scholar and successor to Herman Dooyeweerd in the post of philosopher and judicial scholar at Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, Netherlands.

Jacob Klapwijk is a Dutch philosopher, and Emeritus Professor of Modern and Systematic Philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit, Amsterdam, known for his work on Ernst Troeltsch and historicism, Reformational thinking, the transformational task of Christian philosophy, and the theory of emergent evolution.

Johann Heinrich (Harry) Diemer was born in Dronrijp, the Netherlands. His father was the reverend N. Diemer, who served at the Reformed Church at Vijfhuizen. He studied biology at the University of Leiden. He studied the ideas of Abraham Kuyper, Herman Bavinck and Jan Woltjer, and soon became an adherent of Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven's Reformational philosophy.

Alan Cameron is a Senior Lecturer on the Faculty of Law of Victoria University of Wellington in Wellington, New Zealand. His academic speciality is accountancy law. Cameron is also a Juridical scholar who reflects on the nature of law in relation to the distinctives of the New Zealand legal tradition and the wider legal developments around the world. He is a critical proponent of the Juridical philosophy developed by past professor of law at the Free University in Amsterdam, the Netherlands, Dr Herman Dooyeweerd.

D. F. M. Strauss is a South-African philosopher and the world's leading expert on the theory of modal aspects, one of the core features of the thought of the Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, and the movement for Reformational philosophy.

A religious ground motive (RGM) is a concept in the reformational philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd. In his book Roots of Western Culture Dooyeweerd identified four great frameworks or value-systems that have determined human interpretations of reality with formative power over Western culture. Three of these are dualistic and may be described in the terms of Hegelian dialectic as antitheses of opposite poles of reference that are eventually resolved by synthesis, only for the synthesis to draw out, inexorably, a new opposing pole and so a new antithesis.

A transcendental argument is a deductive philosophical argument which takes a manifest feature of experience as granted, and articulates which must be the case so that experience as such is possible. Transcendental arguments may have additional standards of justification that are more demanding than those of traditional deductive arguments.

Philosophia Reformata is a biannual peer-reviewed academic journal of the Association for Reformational Philosophy, which was founded in 1935. Formerly published by the Association, as of 2015 the journal is published by Brill Publishers. The editor-in-chief is Gerrit Glas.

Sensus divinitatis

Sensus divinitatis, also referred to as sensus deitatis or semen religionis, is a term first used by French Protestant reformer John Calvin to describe a hypothetical human sense. Instead of knowledge of the environment, the sensus divinitatis is alleged to give humans a knowledge of God.

1955 in philosophy

1953 in philosophy

Johan Peter Albertus Mekkes was a Dutch philosopher. Having started his career as an officer in the Dutch army, he later studied law and philosophy. His active life as a publishing philosopher started around 1947. In 1949 he became a professor of philosophy at the University of Leiden. Due to a scarcity of translated works he is little known in the English-speaking world but he was influential for a number of other Dutch philosophers. He was one of the second generation of reformational philosophers arising from the Free University (VU) in Amsterdam, after the first generation of Herman Dooyeweerd and D. H. Th. Vollenhoven. Other second generationers were: Hendrik van Riessen, S. U. Zuidema and K. J. Popma.


  1. Several names for Dooyeweerd's system have appeared over the last few decades. His original De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (3 vols., Amsterdam: H.J. Paris, 1935-6) translates as "The Philosophy of the Law-Idea". However, Dooyeweerd wrote in his later New Critique of Theoretical Thought that the "best English term corresponding to it seems to be ‘cosmonomic Idea’, since the word ‘law’ used without further specification would evoke a special juridical sense which, of course, cannot be meant here" (NC I, 93). While this phrase has been popular among Dooyeweerd scholars, some have also used the phrase "law framework philosophy", such as Roy Clouser (cf. Clouser 2005, 2010) and Adolfo Garcia de la Sienra Guajardo (cf. Garcia de la Sienra 2010).
  2. While many Dooyeweerd scholars believe Dooyeweerd's thought to be compatible with that of Vollenhoven, others have cast doubt on such a view. For the former view, see Wolters (1985). For the latter, see Friesen (2005).
  3. Ground motives, Dooy info
  4. Choi, Paper, Dooy info
  5. Geertsema, HG (2000), "Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique: Transforming it hermeneutically", in Strauss, DGM; Botting, M, Contemporary reflections on the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, Lewiston, NY: Edwin Mellen, p. 99
  6. Transcendental critique, Dooy info
  7. Dooyeweerd, H (1955), A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, I, p. 4
  8. Science, Dooy info for different kinds of science from a Dooyeweerdian perspective.
  9. Aspects, Dooy info
  10. Dooyeweerd 1997, p. II.554.
  11. Dooyeweerd's notion of functioning, Dooy info
  12. Entities, Dooy info on how things 'exist' in relation to aspects.
  13. Knowing, Dooy info
  14. Rationality, Dooy info on aspectual types of rationality.
  15. Dooyeweerd, "Foreword", De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, At first I was strongly under the influence of neo-Kantian philosophy, and later of Husserl’s phenomenology.
  16. Friesen, J Glenn (2003). "The Mystical Dooyeweerd: The Relation of His Thought to Franz von Baader". Ars Disputandi. 3: 16–61. doi:10.1080/15665399.2003.10819763.
  17. Strauss, Daniël FM (2004). "Intellectual Influences upon the Reformational Philosophy of Dooyeweerd" (PDF). Philosophia Reformata. 69 (2): 151–81. doi:10.1163/22116117-90000323 . Retrieved 2008-06-09.
  18. Dooyeweerd 1997, p. 2.98.
  19. "H. Dooyeweerd (1894 - 1977)". Royal Netherlands Academy of Arts and Sciences. Retrieved 17 July 2015.


A special issue of the journal Axiomathes was devoted to the subject of "Philosophy and Science in the Thought of Herman Dooyeweerd".

Introductions to Dooyeweerd's Thought

Influences and Development