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Jan Smuts' Holism: A Dooyeweerdian View

Jan Smuts coined the term 'holism', because wanted to see reality in terms of wholes rather than e.g. matter or spirit, and developed a theoretical approach in his 1927 Holism and Evolution. The idea of holism has since then been taken further, but Smuts' ideas are still current and worth examining. This pages discusses some of Smuts concepts, and how they relate to Dooyeweerd's ideas. The discussion is in the form of a table.

Jan Smuts' Understanding of Holism Compared with Dooyeweerdian Ideas
Smuts' Concept Dooyeweerd Affirms Dooyeweerd Questions Dooyeweerd Enriches
Holism, a way of thinking:
Focus on wholes rather than the parts of which they are made
The whole, not the part, is the important unit of existence. It is wholes, not parts, that function in response to aspectual law. But what is a whole? What constitutes its existence as that type of whole? Think Meaning rather than Being; Being derives from Meaningfulness. Each kind of whole may be seen as a whole by reference to the aspects that mainly give it meaningfulness.
Smuts then discussed several concepts that are relevant to his idea of wholes and holism ...
Wholes have internal structure, function and character.
Structure of individuality:
The ways in which each aspect is important to the kind of whole, both accounts for and guides the being and destiny of the whole. See page on entities
? Dooyeweerd's penetrating discussions of structures of individuality, esp. in [NC, Volume III].
Structure includes physical, mental, values, etc. Each aspect enables a different kind of structure. ? Expand Smuts' list with all Dooyeweerd's aspects.
Field: both activity and structure Both dynamic activity and static structure merge within Dooyeweerd's aspects. ?
Field: past, present, future potential Dooyeweerd's idea of cosmic time, which is different in each aspect. As wholes function, they 'generate' actuality. The aspects provide future potential. See time as not a 'railroad tracks' down which we travel, but in Dooyeweerd's way, of the generation of actuality as the subject-side responds to the law-side.
Actual wholes of a type vary a lot.
Structures of individuality: As a whole functions it 'becomes', each in a different way, depending on how it functions in each aspect. ?
"The activities of parts are directed to central ends", to maintain the whole as that whole.
Dooyeweerd's reinterpretation of part-whole relationship:
The being of a part, qua part, is constituted in the part being qualified by the same aspect as the whole, in terms of its primary function.
The dynamic changing that is governed by the laws of the whole, and its various fields intermingling. Freedom.
Multi-aspectual functioning:
The dynamism of a whole is constituted in its response to multiple aspectual laws, intermingled. The aspects interleave with each other innately.
Take all Dooyeweerd's aspects into account.
Freedom in creativity Freedom is constituted in meaningful response to aspectual law, which brings diverse good. Freedom is often seen as absolute antithesis to determination or constraint, because of the influence of the Nature-Freedom Ground-motive.
"Results are not directly a function of causes, but the whole absorbs and integrates the cause into its own activity; results appear as a consequence of the activity of the whole."
Aspectual Repercussions:
The whole, functioning as subject, responds to aspectual law and generates repercussions in each aspect: repercussions in multiple aspects. Most aspects allow a latitude of response.
(Actually, Dooyeweerd did not develop a systematic understanding of multi-aspectual repercussion, so maybe Smuts' discussion might inform and enrich Dooyeweerd.)
The whole is greater than the sum of its parts. Meaningfulness of whole adds to the meaningfulness of the parts by themselves.
Often, the aspect that qualifies the whole, and the part qua part, differs from the aspect which qualifies the part qua itself (as a whole in its own right). To physical parts, biotic meaningfulness is added, to biotic parts, sensitive meaningfulness, and so on.
'Greater' is often seen in terms of emergence, but that presupposes already the meaningfulness of the later aspect.
Progressive grading of wholes:
Smuts identified six distinct kinds of whole: material, body, animal, personality, groups, spiritual.
Each grade an aspect:
Each grade of whole is meaningful in a different aspect. Interestingly, Smuts' six cover most of Dooyeweerd's post-mathematical aspects, in similar order.
Smuts conflated the aspects of 'personality' (analytic, formative, lingual) and of spirituality (aesthetic - pistic). See Table that compares Dooyeweerd's aspects with others, including Smuts' gradings.
Quotations are from the Wikipedia page of holism.

It is interesting to see many close correlations between Smuts and Dooyeweerd here. More needs to be filled in.

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: 24 August 2016. Last updated: