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Plantinga's Early Critique of Dooyeweerd's Idea that Meaning is the Being of All that has been Created

In 1958, not long after Dooyeweerd's New Critique came out, Alvin Plantinga discussed Dooyeweerd's statement that

"Meaning is the being of all that has been created and the nature even of our selfhood." [NC,I, 4]

This is probably the best-known sentence that Dooyeweerd wrote, and is treated as radically new and philosophically deep.

Along with it, Dooyeweerd stressed that things do not have< meaning but are meaning. (Have meaning, in the sense of a prior thing bearing it or having a property called "meanign").

Plantinga's criticism [Plantinga 1958] was fairly harsh and he might nowadays distance himself from much that he said then; he was, at that time just starting on his academic career as a philosopher who wanted to take his Christian faith into account in an authentic way. At that time, there were very few precedents for doing this from a Reformed perspective, so it might be no surprise if some of his criticisms might be a little awry.

Despite some misunderstandings and even a few basic errors in Plantinga's criticism, the points he made then deserve to be aired and themselves discussed; as far as I know, they never have been. Plantinga should be commended for tackling Dooyeweerd's radically different way of thinking. See Bruce Wearne's excellent response below, which puts it all into context. (Indeed, Bruce's response is worth reading on its own, as it expresses very nicely what Dooyeweerd himself was trying to do at the time he wrote this stuff.)



There seem to be four main points of criticism.

I outline these and comment on each. At the end, I suggest where Plantinga might have misunderstood Dooyeweerd.

1. What Does MiB Mean? Unintelligble or a Truism

What does "Meaning is the being of all that has been created" actually mean? Plantinga points out that Dooyeweerd ascribed being only to God and that all created reality does not have being but only meaning.

1.1 Plantinga recognises that Dooyeweerd is NOT saying that created reality does not exist, but that Dooyeweerd raises questions about the mode of existence.

1.2 Plantinga suggests that meaning is a property we ascribe to sentences and events, such as the French Revolution. Since the meaning of a sentence is not the same thing as the sentence itself (e.g. we can express the same meaning in different words), MiB cannot be referring to the identity of the thing and its meaning.

Comment: Plantinga is limiting himself to significations and to attributed meanings, treating each like a discrete entity. I believe that Dooyeweerd meant something different, meaningfulness that surrounds us.

1.3 "Though I can talk about the meaning of the French Revolution," Plantinga continues, "if I were to insist that the French Revolution itself juat is meaning, you would be justifiably mystified."

Comment: This is a good point. It challenges us to be clearer about what Dooyeweerd did intend, and I try to outline that below. But I believe that P misunderstood, since he constantly speaks of meaning as though it were a discrete entity.

1.4 Concepts we attach to meanings (precision, clarity, delicacy, etc.) cannot be applied intelligibly to things and events. Vice versa, "It seems nonsense to talk of a meaning as six foot long or travelling at thirty feet per second."

Comment: True. But again, P is treating meanings as discrete entities. Maybe Dooyeweerd intended something else.

1.5 Dooyeweerd linked MiB with the belief that all created reality depends on God and refers (points) to ("presumably") God. Only God is self-sufficient and only God is being; all created reality is meaning. Plantinga interprets this as "So the evidence for the assertion that creation is meaning is the fact that creation is not self-sufficient and that in come way it refers to, or points to, its Creator." If this is all Dooyeweerd intended, then "it adds nothing". It "becomes (at any rate within the Christian community) a truism rather than a new and startling analysis of created being." (Plantinga does acknowledge that Dooyeweerd probably meant much more, especially since dependency and reference could be accommodated under a substance idea, which Dooyeweerd rejects.)

Comment: This is a good point. Maybe it does turn out to be a truism, if that is all Dooyeweerd intended by this statement. However, I see it as related to the statement but not identical with it. The statement MiB, in my view, says much more. See below.

1.6 Created reality is rather than has or bears meaning, since if it did, there would be another mode of being that is not dependent on God. Being and meaning are thus separated, which Dooyeweerd wanted to prevent, because it is, for him, an error in the Immanence Standpoint. Plantinga suggests however that this is a "specious difficulty" since "The proper way to skirt this pitfall is not to deny that created reality has being, but instead to avoid thinking of the meaning of a thing as another thing somehow joined to it."

Comment. Dooyeweerd did not deny that created reality has being but that its being is not being-in-itself, but always refers beyond itself. P, I think, misunderstood.

Comment. Here I think P's argument is itself weak, whether or not he misunderstands Dooyeweerd. P says "Avoid thinking of meaning and being as separate!" But on what basis does he prescribe this? Surely, if meaning and being are unseparable, then he should argue why this is so, and explain what the relationship is between them. Is meaning a property borne by a substance, and if so how are they necessarily inseparable? (He has already shown the nonsense of equating meanings with entities.) In MiB, Dooyeweerd is doing exactly this: explaining the relationship between meaning and being: Being depends on, and arises from, meaning.

1a. What Dooyeweerd Meant by Meaning

I insert my own understanding here of what Dooyeweerd meant by "meaning", because I have promised it several times above.

I believe that when Dooyeweerd stated "Meaning is the being of all that has been created ..." he was referring to meaningfulness rather than what we might call meaning. We may differentiate at least five meanings of "meaning":

The first three are like discrete entities, i.e. the meaning of this sentence, the meaning of that pile of feathers, the meaning of that vase. These are the kinds of meanings that Plantinga seemed to be assuming. The first three meanings arise from the activity of a human self (and possibly an animal, for whom a plant 'means' food, but that is arguable).

The meaning of life might be a kind of meaningfulness, though not quite. It cannot arise from the self because the self want to refer to something beyond but, like the first three, it is discrete, specific to this life or that life rather than life in general. Life-meaning could be seen as a kind of value or importance of purpose.

Meaningfulness speaks of meaning that is non-specific, rather like an ocean in which we swim and live, and which does not arise from us. Polanyi & Prosch [1975] have a similar idea: meaning is something in which we "dwell". Meaning applies a "gradient" to reality, which makes reality work itself out in one direction rather than another. Merleau-Ponty also differentiated signification-meaning from meaningfulness. In a forthcoming paper (Phil. Ref. 2019), I discuss this in greater depth.

All five types of meaning refer beyond themselves, the first three to the meaning-giving self, the fourth, life-meaning, refers beyond the self whose life it is, either to society or to meaningfulness. Meaningfulness refers beyond itself to the Divine Creator.

The being of things is then made possible, according to Dooyeweerd, by the 'ocean of meaningfulness' rather than by any independent substance. This makes sense to me, insofar as it offers a more satisfactory account of (a) the being of complex things, (b) their changing, (c) their normativity, which is no longer separated from being (is from ought), (d) problems in existence such as the present king of France or square circle. Dooyeweerd's aspects are irreducibly distinct spheres of meaningfulness.

Examples: The being of things like computers is multi-levelled, each level relating to one of Dooyeweerd's aspects. Similarly, the being of documents [Burke & Basden 2004]. The being of a tool, qua tool (rather than piece of metal) cannot be understood apart from the formative aspect (sphere of meaningfulness); my hammer, which has had 5 new handles and 3 new heads is still the same hammer from the formative aspect but a different assemblage-of-wood-and-metal from the physical aspect. The present king of France is impossible because of the juridical aspect, but not the biological aspect.

2. Substance Ideas: But what is Wrong with Substance?

"Substance," says Plantinga [p.12], referring mainly to the Thomistic-Aristotlean version of it, "is a unit of being; a relatively independent and persisting entity which may have attributes but is not itself an attribute of any other being." Its attractiveness is that it provides a nice account of "freedom, causality, activity, personal identity, the unity and integrity enjoyed by the things of common experience, and the like." Most Christian philosophers have subscribed to it. Why, asks Plantinga, does Dooyeweerd reject it? Plantinga discusses three reasons, the first of which is general, while the other two are relevant only to Christians.

2.1. About everyday experience. Dooyeweerd's general objection is that substantialist doctrine cannot account for the unity of everyday experience. Plantinga cites Dooyeweerd in saying that substance implies complete independence of things, in themselves, from human consciousness and thus of possible sensible perception or thought. This, says Dooyeweerd, makes the subject-object relationship of everyday experience impossible. Plantinga interprets Dooyeweerd as objecting to "the doctrine that knowledge makes no difference to what is known" and he asks rhetorically "If I hold that trees, for example, are independent of my knowing them, how does this exclude them from the subject object relationship? How does it break up the unity of my experience?" Plantinga also rhetorically asks about unknown facts in the past, for example what Caesar had for breakfast before crossing the Rubicon. He states that Dooyeweerd's idea has its root in Kant.

Comment. I think P has a point about Dooyeweerd's own argument here; I too find Dooyeweerd's reasoning obscure. However, I think that P misunderstands Dooyeweerd yet again. Dooyeweerd does not take Kant's view of the sovereignty or centrality of human consciousness. See below.

2. About idolizing something created. Dooyeweerd's second objection is that substance notions create a resting-point for thought within created reality rather than in God, because they absolutize some aspect. Plantinga questions whether this is necessarily so, in that "The self-sufficiency of a created substance is not self-sufficiency of a over against God, but over against other created beings."

Comment: This seems to me a useful point. I have no answer to P at this point, but I do feel that P misunderstands and misrepresents Dooyeweerd here. I am not sure that Dooyeweerd says that it is substance notions that elevates created reality to a Divine resting-point, but rather it is the more general problem of the Immanence Standpoint that does so. Clouser [2005] is perhaps useful on this.

2.3 Ground-motives. Plantinga interprets Dooyeweerd as tying the substance idea to the Form-Matter ground-motive, which he agrees with Dooyeweerd is contrary to Christian thought. Thus "to employ the notion of substance is in some way to compromise one's Christianity." Plantinga finds this argument unconvincing. He questions whether employing substance notions necessarily entails taking a Greek Form-matter ground-motive.

Comment. Again, he has a good point.

2.4 I'm not particularly convinced by the two points that Plantinga says are of interest only to Christians, partly because, though a Christian myself, my interest is in the philosophical problems of Dooyeweerd's ideas rather than any theological ones. However, I do think, however, that idolization is not just of interest to Christians but to anyone. For example, several have referred to the notion of idolisation as a reason for the failure of e-government projects [Krishnam-Harihara & Basden 2009].

2a. My Understanding of Everyday Experience

Plantinga does not see how a substance notion prevents us understanding everyday experience. To my mind, it is not the substance notion per se which Dooyeweerd believes causes the problems in understanding everyday experience, but the Immanence Standpoint, which is more general. It posits that the fundamental principle on which all else depends is within the realm of created reality itself and not in any Divine creator (it does not deny a Creator God, but treats at least that portion of reality is not dependent on God).

However, Dooyeweerd's view of reality is that both the thinker and the world are part of the same reality, made possible by the 'ocean of meaningfulness'. Meaningfulness is diverse and coherent, and everyday experience is of this meaningfulness.

Meaningfulness has the character of law, which is what provides meaningfulness with its dynamism. Whereas meaningfulness by itself can account for the structure of beings, and probably for the good, it cannot itself account for functioning nor agency. However, law and meaningfulness are two sides of the same coin: law presupposes meaningfulness and yet it is law that gives meaningfulness its dynamicity. To Dooyeweerd, law is what enables functioning and subjectness. Law accounts for the list of things that Plantinga said could be explained by substance: things are subject to the various laws of aspects, and to be subject, i.e. agent, is constituted in being subject to aspectual law. See pages on functioning, law and the subject-object relationship.

3. Weaknesses of "Meaning is the being ..."

Plantinga then turns his attention to certain weaknesses in the MiB proposal itself. Though Plantinga uses argument by scorn, some of these are useful points that deserve thoughtful response.

3.1 MiB has difficulty in accounting for action, movement and causation. "How can a meaning or a group of meanings be causally active?"

Comment. Notice how P is still trying to treat meaning as discrete entities. As I have briefly sketched above, what Dooyeweerd is referring to is meaningfulness within which we operate, and which in its form as law, enables action and causality.

3.2 "I caught the square root of two when fishing" is nonsense.

Comment. The nonsensicality of this can be explained not by substance or meaning as such but by its placing two aspectual meanings together, quantitative and formative or biotic.

3.3 "But what could be meant by saying that a meaning remembers?" "Meanings are the objects of judgements; they are not themselves judgers."

Comment. Again, P is still making the mistake of thinking of meanings as discrete entities. However there is something more: Here he is talking about subjects functioning. It is nonsensical to treat a subject as 'a meaning'. However, there is a challenge here for us: What is the relationship between subjects and meaningfulness? In answer, I suggested above that meaningfulness has the character of law that enables functioning, and it is the law-subject relation that enables and indeed constitutes functioning. With a pure substance idea how can we account for law etc.? I would challenge P with the question, what is judging? What is remembering? He would not, I believe, be able to answer that without reference to the meaningfulness that is remembering or judging, which made meaningful by the psychic and juridical aspects, or possibly others.

3.4 "Again, we maintain that in some sense the self is free. But how can freedom be predicted of meanings?"

Comment. But what is freedom? Please define it, before we can even discuss that question. I would define freedom as meaningful possibility - and each aspect offers a different kind of possibility and thus a different kind of freedom: economic freedom, psychic freedom, pistic freedom, etc. Without meaningfulness there can be no freedom in any real sense. Meaningfulness is not just the root of being but of functioning and of freedom. In such a way I think I might have actually indicated how P's rhetorical question may be answered, though with "meaning" rather than "meanings". The relationship between meaning and freedom needs further discussion.

4. Reality as merely the Mind of God?

4.1. The criticism here is that if all being of temporal reality is meaning then this opens the door to the view that all temporal reality is merely the thoughts of God. Such a view is seen by most Christian theology as heretical (i.e. Bad and To-be-avoided). Therefore, is Dooyeweerd suspect on this account?

Comment: This criticism assumes that mind is necessary for meaning. In this temporal creation, pieces of meaning that are significations, attributions are indeed formed by minds, have no 'independent' existence of their own, and this criticism presumes that minds are the only and necessary source of meaning. To Dooyeweerd, these assumptions are misleading, limited and even false. The meaningfulness that Dooyeweerd writes of is not a product of mind but of God, and is somewhat 'independent' of God.

4.2 What about sin? If MiB, then we must say that meaning sins, and surely this makes no sense.

Comment: Again P is treating meaning as discrete subjects, rather than as the transcendental condition for subjectness. The nonsense arises not because of meaning but because of treating meaning as discrete subject. If we say "Being sins" that is likewise nonsensical. Being, like meaning, is not a discrete subject. Sin presupposes law, but P ignores law and its relation to meaningfulness. Law is the manifestation of meaningfulness that makes functioning possible.

5. Conclusion

Plantinga has raised some very salient possible criticisms of Dooyeweerd's view that "Meaning is the being of all that has been created ...". many of them are based on a major misunderstanding of what Dooyeweerd intended, and may thus be dismissed. It may be noticed that several times, Plantinga says "I think", "I suppose", "I take it" in his interpretation of Dooyeweerd. A major misinterpretation was to treat meaning as a discrete entity and especially a discrete subject, whereas for Dooyeweerd meaning is a transcendental condition for being. Plantinga might have changed his mind now, but the criticisms he made then need to be faced.

Some of Plantinga's criticisms, however, are valid and these require further discussion. The ones that are valid, in my opinion, are as follows. Note that I use the word "meaningfulness" rather than "meaning" because this is, I believe, what Dooyeweerd intended.

So, though Plantinga's early paper contains much that need to be ignored, it contains some useful challenges.

For other critiques of Dooyeweerd, see the list on the Main Page


Bruce Wearne's First Response

On Sat, Jun 9, 2018 at 9:42 PM, Bruce Wearne wrote:

Thankyou Andrew:

In this attempt to show his analytical skill, Alvin Plantinga, should have indeed been commended for tackling Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

For over 47 years I have been impressed by the same formulation, the initial pages of NC1. On these pages the student who was to become the esteemed Christian philosopher of Reformed Epistemology extracts what he calls Dooyeweerd's "capsule statements". He then proceeds to demonstrate his philosophical skills in analysing these statements as basic doctrines of Dooyeweerd's philosophy and spelling out their negative implications.

OK then - how to read what he has written in 1958. Let me take the position of a post-graduate supervisor and set forth here what I would offer as my comments to the student. What would I say? I would tell him that he has violated some pretty basic principles for one engaging in an immanent critique of the philosophical work of another scholar. I would tell him that his essay is very much an expression of his own efforts to gain some kind of coherence in responding to the "alien philosophy" that presumably he could not then altogether avoid.

The question that he has raised is this: What is the meaning of the "capsules" the young student has focused upon? I would suggest he look very carefully at what Dooyeweerd has written and how Dooyeweerd has constructed these opening remarks. I would tell the skilful analyst of statements to take note and give proper attention to the manner in which Dooyeweerd has structured his narrative.

These single introductory theses .... (btm p.4)

So then how am I to constructively engage with the young student to suggest he has seriously misconstrued Dooyeweerd's intention?

1. First off, we should note the opening paragraphs that come before this important statement, where we have the articulation of Dooyeweerd's hypothesis for his entire philosophical work - "Wanneer ik mij rekenschap ... welke eerst ..."; an if -->- then statement of all encompassing relevance to what comes later - and to do so begins by outlining in nuce the basic cognitive experience that D says accompanies the scholarly engagement of reflecting upon the relation of pre-theoretical to theoretical. We might say he has been busy formulating a statement of philosophical intention, a provisional framework for his critique of the presumed autonomy of theoretical thought with its corresponding outline of what has to be "filled out" by his exposition of the philosophy of the cosmonomic law-idea ....

2. Second, the editor of the Reformed Journal, may have required the young student to present his discussion in a way that avoids reproducing the original Dutch, but we in our philosophical consideration of the Calvin College graduate's youthful erudition should not miss the fact that he, with us, is dealing with a translation - with all of its clarification and weakness of clearly specifying the original intention.

Dit universeele heen-wijzende en uitdrukkende karakter van heel onzen geschapen kosmos, stempelt de creatuurlijke werkelijkheid naar hare afhankelijke onzelfgenoegzame zijnswijze als zin. De zin is het zijn van alle creatuurlijk zijnde, de zijnswijze ook van onze zelfheid, en is van religieuzen wortel en van goddelijke oorsprong.

And if it is put in these terms, as it is set forth on the page of the English text:

This universal character of referring and expressing, which is proper to our entire created cosmos, stamps created reality as meaning, in accordance with its dependent non-self-sufficient nature. Meaning is the being of all that has been created and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin.

then we realize with greater relevance that this is a translation of a 20 year-old document and it was initially formulated in a scholarly context dominated by Heidegger's Being and Time (1927) and, most relevantly, is engaged in the closest possible "discourse" with the Marburg Heidegger's opening comments on Plato.

Neither Heidegger, nor Plato's provocation bringing forth Heidegger's "Do we in our time have an answer to the question of what we really mean by the word 'being'?" (see p.1 / p 19 in Macquarie & Robinson Blackwell translation 1978) nor Husserl feature in the young Alvin's exposť of the deficiencies implicit in Dooyeweerd's statement.

But my sense (!) of this is that he has mis-read Dooyeweerd's authorial intention to set this forward, antithetically as it were, to the then contemporary developments in philosophy with this statement. It may be valid for some purposes to construe it as a "capsule statement" but it is part of a "capsule paragraph" which is part of a "capsule hypothesis" - a Prolegomena - and leads me to suggest that what Dooyeweerd is intending at this point is to say, straight up, as if to Heidegger himself - well you may see meaning in your immanentist way, but I analyse the meaning of meaning in terms of the religious root of the entire created order given to us in Jesus Christ. Theoretical reflection is no autonomous activity even if it retains its "distinctive integrity". Any concept, including a concept of meaning, exists in an "inter-modal cosmic coherence" - no aspect stands alone - they all refer "within and beyond itself" to all the others.

Over against the dominance of recent philosophical manoeuvrings (this was 1935 we tell the young American student in post WWII years - in 1933 Heidegger had joined the Nazi Party) and in WdW Dooyeweerd continues to set out how he well knows his work will be received by "immanence" philosophy and so says, in effect,

In this philosophical work, as I have already expounded it, to the best of my lingual ability, is my major hypothesis, (WdW p.5-6, NC1 p.3-4) by which the various sciences are delimited with respect to each other in their indissoluble interrelationship linked abstractly by concepts that cannot avoid referring and expressing to each other in manifold and ordered creational ways, you will have to reckon with meaning (de zin) as the being (zijn) of all that has been created (creatuurlijk zijnde), and the nature (zijnwijze) even of our selfhood...

It's poetry. The young Alvin might have hit the mark if he had said: this is important stuff but if this capsule statement is taken out of context and used dogmatically then all kinds of unintended philosophical consequences will result. Problem is young Alvin has effectively ignored context, even if he says he's not wanting to provide a full critique of the New Critique.

So yes (following Olthuis and Kooistra) we might say that this is the formulation of "what the Christian community has believed through the ages when she confessed that God created the world" (James H Olthuis The Reality of Societal Structures und 197? which, as a matter of fact, constitutes an attempted AACS/ICS intra-CRCNA Calvin College alumni "antithesis" to Plantinga's earlier formulation) BUT we would also have to add that it was formulated by Dooyeweerd not simply as some kind of banner to be flown from the Vrije Universiteit (see the etching of Jakop Slecht) but as part of Dooyeweerd's effort to announce his alternative to the radicalising humanist/-post-humanist philosophy of Heidegger et al - something like this:

Dear Reader, When you continue to read and become befuddled with this work I have been lucky enough to get published, do try to keep in mind that my use of the term "meaning" - how shall I say it? It is as a word that, as Plato recognised long ago, a word, a term, a concept that somehow in our use of it reveals to us that what we are confronted with what lies beyond our feeble creaturely grasp in language and logic, in words and ideas - ja that meaning is something that goes beyond what this philosophy can grasp about the nature of theoretical thought and with its dependent non-self-sufficient nature is actually the being of all that has been created and that too is us, our selfhood, our I-ness.

We're creatures under heaven Martin. And that is by no means a cause for resentment. Or as Dooyeweerd coined the term in his inaugural article for Philosophia Reformata - Het Dilemma voor het Christelijk Wisjgeerig denken en het Critisch Karakter van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee - onzelfgenoegzaam - self-insufficiency. (In the English translation of this term in NC "onzelfgenoegzaam" is rendered as "non-self-sufficient" and "self-insufficiency" see Herman Dooyeweerd (1955-56) I, pp. 4, 9, 21, II p. 333.)

Much of what I have said here in my attempt to exegete the sense of Dooyeweerd's statement is entirely missed by the student Plantinga.

That's my take Andrew. Here's the link to the republication of the article by the late Theo Plantinga. I also attach the Jakop Slecht etching mentioned above.

Thanks for the stimulus.


Jim Skillen's Response, with further Comments by Bruce

On 11 Jun 2018, at 3:26 am, James Skillen wrote:

[AB: Bruce Wearne then responded to Jim's text with a few sentence-long comments that he inserted inline. I have included these in Jim's response here. ]

Bruce, Andrew, and Thinknet friends:

In response to your comments in particular, Andrew (which I appreciate), I want to follow up on Bruce's words with a few comments.

1. First, inside D's critical evaluation of the pretended autonomy of theoretical thought, he is clear at the outset about the latter's dependency on pre-theoretical (naive, ordinary) experience. That is important, and I'll come back to it below (#4).

BCW: Yes another way of saying this is that any concept functions in all modal aspects ...

2. Second, it is important, even with regard to D's theoretical analysis of modalities and their interdependence, to emphasize the "referential" character of everything created. The non-self-sufficiency or dependency of everything is crucial and in direct contrast to the idea of "substance" as the independent or self-subsisting basis for "accidents" that refer to it.

3. Third, in addition to D's contest with Heidegger and other moderns, as Bruce points out, I think we should not forget the ancient Neoplatonic idea of a continuous chain of being that encompasses everything from pure form to the lowest material privation of being. This greatly influenced Christian theology and philosophy up through the scholasticism even of today in Reformed and Catholic thought. Part of D's play with "meaning" and "being" is to make the point that created reality does not share a common denominator of "being" with the Creator. And since everything created depends on, and refers to, God, then the "being" of all creatures is that of "meaning-refering, dependent, non-self-sufficient."

BCW: It is remarkable how D in his opening paragraphs issues a challenge that has critical echoes sounding on all sides of contemporary philosophy - find a way to challenge the "self-sufficiency law-idea" (i.e. by a sustained critique of the presumed dogma of the autonomy of theoretical thought) and philosophical sandcastles start crashing on all sides.

4. Finally, this is where I want to get back to "naive" or pre-theoretical experience. Reading your comments, Andrew, and your critical questions of Plantinga, it seems to me that you stay entirely within the framework of theoretical thought, which is understandable, given D's own project in NCTT and elsewhere. But that forces one (as it did Plantinga, which Bruce makes clear), to play with words in their abstracted philosophical usage. But that doesn't take us very far into D's suppositions, which are that all theoretical work of abstraction, concept formation, logical synthesis, etc., depends on the experiential wholeness of human beings, trees, animals, families, states, etc., etc.

BCW: i.e. all subject to the one creational law-order... here is the point of D's repeated reference to the concept of a "subject-object relation".

[JSk again:] And part of what he is presupposing, even when not stating it directly, is that all such creatures are meaning-refering, non-self-sufficient creatures.

[AB: Thank you, Jim. I do value Dooyeweerd's giving primacy to everyday experience and did not realise that my discussion of Plantinga comes across as staying within the framework of theoretical thought. But I suppose a philosophical critique might be expected to do so.]

So what I think we can and must do in respect to all of this is to remind ourselves of the very obvious sense in which, biblically speaking, the non-self-sufficient, referential "meaning" of life comes through when we recognize that our identity as persons, family members, married couples, teachers and students, farmers, doctors, citizens and governing officials, etc., etc., refer to God, in whose image we have been created-the God who reveals himself to us as father, mother, husband, teacher, law-giver, healer, shepherd, vineyard keeper, banquet host, etc., etc.

BCW: Let me suggest that any discussion by us of "[a] non-self-sufficient ... [human] identity" brings us slap bang up against contemporary attempts to redefine the human being by what are *legislative* attempts to accommodate a *substantialist* concept of "sexuality" and the post-modern moment of this is to hide it all under a bogus critique of "essentialism".

BCW explained that piece in the following: My contribution, having made my contribution to "Plantinga's criticism of Dooyeweerd" in the email to which Jim responds, now moves on and this post, "A further tweak" on Jim's post, concludes with a reference to the global whirlwind we confront. In public debate (and also in church circles all around the globe) these days there is a continual appeal - very often dogmatic and presumptuously uncritical - to the "substantial" reality of "sexuality". Jim's post suggests a way forward for biblically-directed public policy that will challenge this twilight of neo-liberalism that makes such great demands upon us in our scholarly efforts.

[JSk continued] To ask "who is the human being?" is to answer that humans are "the image of God." Nothing about who we are in our ordinary experience is self-sufficient. It all refers beyond itself to God. And it also continuously refers to other creatures and inter-human experience. That is the basis for all metaphors. God is a king but also the great shepherd. And we (and the Bible) also speak of God, or David) as a shepherd king. In the great mixed metaphor of Revelation, the new Jerusalem is like a bride coming down from heaven prepared for her husband. God is a rock, and Jesus is living water and the bread of life. Every creature and every relationship (just as every modality) has its own identity that is irreducible, and yet irreducibility does not mean substantive self-sufficiency.

Keep at it friends,


Response from Renato Coletto

FROM Renato Coletto Jun 11, 2018, 16:24


thank you for the effort. I was thinking that Danie Strauss also made a contribution to the topic and perhaps it should be taken into account if you plan to write something together. I think Danie's view was that one should distinguish between concept and idea and "meaning" (as HD uses it) belongs to the 2nd type (i.e. is a "concept transcending" term). Danie further noted that by using "meaning" to define the totality of the created order, HD might have been influenced by the linguistic turn. In fact, why should one privilege one modal term above the others? I cannot recall the whole explanation clearly, but it seems to me there were important clues there, that one may take into account when writing about the issue. If you want, I can send you a more precise text by Danie tomorrow.

[AB: Danie sent something, but not his response to Plantinga.]

The second important issue it seems to me, is substance. Here Roy's contribution seems to me quite crucial, when he denounces the attempts at identifying in reality something that, though it is said to depend on God, is something on which the rest of reality depends. Now, according to Roy,adding God to the picture, does not seem to change the dependency-relation that is pictured in the substance doctrines.

Or am I somewhat forcing Roy's arguments?

Perhaps you should write about the history of this discussion!


Response by Romel Bagares

FROM Romel Bagares Jun 12, 2018, 02:08

This recent debate on the psychology of belief between an atheist psychology professor Susan Blackmore and the recent cause celebre Canadian Jungian psychologist Jordan Peterson, esp. beg at 33:00 ( what Peterson brings out, that is) perhaps articulates in some way what HD says when he talks of Being as Meaning. Someone should give Peterson Roy's Myth of Religious Neutrality, because he comes close to saying here of what the divinity principle is as described by Roy in his book. Peterson is an "almost Christian"


Response by Kerry Hollingworth

FROM Kerry Hollingsworth Jun 12, 2018, 20:20

Dear Jim,

Thank you for your helpful comments, very much to the point.

I thought it might be useful to add a couple of comments for further clarification. But first, a quick comment about Heidegger. It is not exactly accurate to say that Heidegger was the dominant figure when Dooyeweerd was writing the WdW. At this particular time Heidegger was still in his "Philosophy of Existence" stage and his influence was by no means dominant. The figure who did commanded everyone's attention was in fact Max Scheler, a considerably more penetrating thinker than Heidegger, particularly on many of the questions that were of importance to Dooyeweerd.

The real issue that I wanted to comment on, however, was not so much the influences surrounding Dooyeweerd but rather the influences on Plantinga. Both Plantinga (and Woltersdorf) attended Harvard at a time when Positivistic philosophy, the Vienna Circle people, the Language Analysts and Analytic philosophers along with anyone proclaiming Mathematical Logicistic methodologies did in fact dominatenot just Harvard's philosophy department, but virtually every philosophy department in the US. Bertram Russell had already taught at Harvard in 1914. (T.S.Eliot was one of his students) Rudolph Carnap began teaching at the University of Chicago in 1936, the same year that Willard Quine was appointed as a faculty instructor to Harvard. By 1940 Russell, Carnap, Tarski and Quine could all be found at Harvard furiously discussing Carnap's Introduction to Semantics. By 1954 Carnap had succeeded Hans Reichenbach, the "scientific philosopher" at U.C.L.A.. Two years later Quine became a one year member of the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. This is the intellectual context in which our good Christian Reformed scholars did their graduate work, a department, and a national mentality wholly dominated by Analytic philosophy.

One has merely to site the plethora of names that had dominated Harvard's philosophy department, not to mention the leading departments of virtually every other major institution in the US, names such as Quine, Nelson Goodman, Putnam, Davidson, Russell, Carnap, Tarski, C.G. Hempel, Wilfred Sellars, Ernst Nagel, etc., etc., to understand that the "metaphysical concerns" of the European philosophers were simply not on their radar. At Harvard you did "real philosophy" not that "outmoded nonsense" that the Europeans clung to so desperately. I would think that that it was a virtual certainty that neither Plantinga or Woltersdorf read one line of Heidegger, Scheler, or any other "European" thinker. They were thoroughly ensnared within the confines of Analytic Philosophy because they were completely convinced that there just was not any other way to "do" philosophy. What has slowly evolved into what they call a "way to do philosophy christianly" is in effect an accommodation of the Christian symbols to Analytic philosophy.

This being the case, it ought to be rather obvious that the line in question would be quite unintelligible. It simply made no "analytical sense."

The second issue that I want to raise is one that I don't believe has been raised for some time, if at all. I refer to the insights of pagan and/or secular thinkers who properly see something of the lawfulness of the creation order. But I think that I will dilate on this issue separately from the above.


Response from Roy Clouser

FROM Roy Clouser Jun 13, 2018, 02:05

[AB: What Roy seems to be saying is 'Analytic is not positivist']

Dear Kerry,

While i understand your concerns when someone of Plantinga's standing as a philosopher criticizes Dooyeweerd, I must still disagree with the suggestion that doing philosophy as an Analytic philosopher is somehow influenced by Logical Positivism, which is the hidden culprit behind Al's negative assessment of "meaning is the being of created reality."

Positivism was not advocated by the leading Analytic philosophers. Those who were the role models for the Analytic method were people such as G E Moore, L. Wittengenstein, and J.L. Austin, all of whom lambasted Positivism with everything they cold muster. In fact, if anyone can be credited (or faulted) with having gotten the Analytic movement started, it would be Austin with his seminal work Sense and Sensibilia which utterly demolished the entire phenomenalist agenda. It's true that a number of Positivists wrote and argued in a way that was congenial to Analytic method, but that doesn't make Analytic method part of Positivism. (All dogs are animals but not all animals are dogs.) The only thing I've been able to discern as common property among all Analytic philosophers is the determination to do philosophy by paying as close attention as possible to the specific arguments given for any position, and then bring all the power of the advances made in symbolic logic to bear on those arguments. After all, as Rogers Albritton said to me at my graduate school entrance interview in 1961: "Of course, none of us call ourselves Positivists any more." Positivism was dead and buried that long ago.

It isn't even the case that being an Analytic philosopher commits or inclines a thinker to being a nominalist, let alone a Positivist. Such Analytic philosophers as Gideon Rosen, Dallas Willard, and DM Armstrong have written rebuttals of nominalism.

If there is a criticism to be made of the Analytic movement in general, I'd nominate boredom. In the hands of gifted thinkers such as Austin, Goodman, Albritton, et al, a careful and close logical analysis of some standard problem of philosophy can bring to light heretofore hidden connections to other issues that had not been recognized as connected to the problem. It can also result in some crushing critiques of seemingly well formed arguments - as when Alonzo Church decisively shot down A J Ayers' defense of Positivism, or when Russell showed that Frege's axioms for set theory contained a contradiction. Indeed - if you'll allow me some latitude here - I would add that at many places in the NCTT, Dooyeweerd argues in a manner any Analytic philosopher would admire (his critique of Kelsen, or Kant, e.g.). But in the hands of mediocre syncophants, the products of imitating the "Analytic" method is simply excruciatingly tedious.

Since the occasion for this exchange was an article by Plantinga, let me say that I find his use of the Analytic method in general to be clear, insightful, and helpful. For example, when he rebutted Michael Scriven's proposal that positive claims of existence need proof but negative ones don't. Scriven wanted it to turn out that people affirming God's existence need to prove it, while he didn't need to prove his denial of it (Plantinga showed that according to Scriven's own formula, Scriven's denial also needed proof). Moreover, I find Al to be wonderfully clear, which is another laudable emphasis of Analytic philosophy. This includes those points on which I disagree with him, as well as those on which I agree. At least the issues between us are clear to both of us, and we each know precisely where we differ and why. And, just for the record, he did write an article on whether existence precedes essence and found the existentialist case for that central, name-giving, claim to be unconvincing

For example I have disagreed with his claim (in the Nature of Necessity) that nonbeing is a property, so that there exists - or at the least there could exist - something that instantiates nonbeing. My point is that nothing can instantiate nonbeing since that is blatantly self-contradictory, which is the best argument i know for saying existence is not a property. So on that issue I side with Thomas Aquinas & Kant (and Dooyeweerd), while Al sides with Anselm and Hegel. But we do know where we stand.

I'd like to make one last point about the Analytic emphasis on logic. I've noticed that a number of people attracted to the WdW are put off by that emphasis. They see it as containing the implication that if someone doesn't know, say, at least first order predicate calculus and logic of relations, along with definite description and identity (and perhaps a cursory knowledge of modal logic), that they are not really qualified to do philosophy. If anyone does intend to say that, I couldn't disagree with them more. Some of the sharpest thinkers I've known or read didn't know any of those things, and I too resent the attempted snobbery.

The real value of logic is not merely to be able to show someone that he has offered an argument we can prove is invalid. It's not to try to embarrass anyone. The real value of it is that if we formulate the premises of someone's argument and can show his conclusion doesn't follow, we are then in a position to formulate the additional premises it would take to make the argument valid. In other words, we will have uncovered the hidden assumptions of the argument that may not even have been conscious to the person who formulated it. That puts everyone who wants to deal with the subject of the argument in a better position to do just that.




Burke M, Basden A. 2004. Towards a philosophical understanding of documentation: a Dooyeweerdian framework. Journal of Documentation, 60(4), 352-370.

Clouser R. 2005. The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.

Plantinga A. 1958. Dooyeweerd on meaning and being. The Reformed Journal, October 1958, 10-15. Republished in Myodicy 2006, and available at:

Strauss D.F.M, 2009. Philosophy: Discipline of the Dicisplines.

This page, '', is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext.

Copyright (c) at all dates below Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Created: 8 June 2018. Last updated: 18 June 2018 ameliorated harshness a bit. 20 June 2018 Better intro, and added contents, responses by BCW, JSk, RC. RB, KH, RC.