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Tips on Identifying Aspects

Suppose we wonder if something, let us call it X, is a separate aspect. Maybe X is something that Dooyeweerd was not aware of (such as the type of virtuality made possible by information technology), maybe X is something currently in another aspect that we believe should be distinct (for example, in the aesthetic aspect we have harmony, play and nuance and Seerveld has proposed that nuance should be an aspect preceding the analytic), maybe X is something that Dooyeweerd deemed to be trans-aspectual (such as knowing or time). It is clear that Dooyeweerd would have welcomed our exploration of the possibility that X could be a distinct aspect. So how should we proceed? (Direct jump to Questions to ask oneself.)

First, let it be clear that Dooyeweerd sought to identify aspects from the standpoint of na´ve (everyday, pre-theoretical) experience, rather then theoretical stance. He began his New Critique with

"If I consider reality as it is given in the na´ve pre-theoretical experience, and then confront it with a theoretical analysis, through which reality appears to split up into various modal aspects ... numerical .. spatial .. movement .. physical .. organic .. psychical .. logical .. historical .. linguistic .. social .. economic .. aesthetic .. jural .. moral .. faith."

By contrast, Bunge, though he likewise believed that philosophy should give place to empirical experience, he maintained that the 'systems genera' (as he called them) should be identified by science. We should bear this in mind as we try to identify aspects: while theoretical and scientific thought might have something to contribute, it should not be the first or most important identifier of aspects. Pride of place should always be given to pre-theoretical thought.

Here we assemble a number of guidelines to such a process.

1. The identification of an aspect is a lengthy process, a journey of exploration and sensitive observation, during which time many people are involved in thinking about themes, topics and concepts related to the aspect, and working out its details. Though we might be able to make a start on the journey in an afternoon, or by means of a few weeks of Internet discussion, the whole journey can take years.

2. It helps if all participants are open-minded and humbly aware of their lack of understanding of aspects, even those they think they know.

3. There should be deep (as opposed to lip-service) respect for Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects and his understanding of their kernel meanings.

4. The identification of an aspect involves both intuition and analytic thinking, sensitivity to each. Intuition, to grasp meanings, analysis, to sense meaningful distinctions and bring them to light. Lacking in intuition, we risk splitting things up into too many apparent irreducibilities and breaking things apart that are actually part of the same meaning. Lacking in analytic thinking, we risk the opposite.

5. The identification of an aspect requires us to be already intuitively understanding of the kernel meanings and themes of all the existing aspects. A prevailing too-narrow misunderstanding of an existing aspect will drive something that is meaningful in that aspect into another aspect. Conversely, a prevailing too-broad misunderstanding will conflate several aspect.

6. We must always centre on meaning rather than existence, functioning, knowing, etc. though these should all be considered as we so centre. So, for example, ask "To what extent can we say that K is meaningful in aspect X?" rather than "Is K a subject/object of X?"

7. We must be careful to distinguish between the actual K and our concept of K. This is not always easy to do - for example, the difference between number and amount. Also between our symbols for K and K itself (e.g. digits and amount).

8. We must be careful to distinguish between direct and metaphorical meanings. This is especially necessary when considering anticipations and retrocipations (for example, is linguistic pragmatics a social anticipation within the lingual, or is it social?) It is not always easy to develop a sensitivity to such distinctions.

9. Be aware that our understanding of any aspectual kernel will be influenced by our cultural assumptions and knowledge, whether we are pro- or anti- the prevailing culture. For example, one thinker criticised Dooyeweerd for assuming too 'classical' a view of aesthetics, as harmony, and seemed motivated to reject that rather than incorporate it into his thinking.

10. We would be wise to take note of what other sensitive thinkers have found and said about the aspect through the ages, and in a variety of cultures. Both scientific, philosophical and everyday thinkers.

11. Here is a number of specific questions that it can be helpful to bear in mind about our aspect X. Some of them are derived from the philosophical roles and characteristics of aspects discussed, and this is indicated by a hyperlink.

  1. Questions of a general nature:

  2. Questions concerning philosophical characteristics of aspects

  3. Questions concerning philosophical roles of the aspect as a sphere of meaning:

  4. Questions concerning philosophical roles of the aspect as a sphere of law:

  5. Questions concerning how this aspect qualifies entities we meet in life, such as:

12. A number of checks can be made that help to indicate (but do not prove) whether our identification of aspect might be valid:

  1. It can be useful to think negatively about the kernel meaning rather than positively [Strauss, 2000:4]. For example, the core meaning of the economic aspect can negatively be described as avoidance of excesses, and if we invert this, the positive kernel meaning refers to the way of having enough.
  2. We should be able to see these working out in everyday living.
  3. Many societal structures are qualified by an aspect, so we should be able to identify such structures for our aspect.
  4. X should 'feel comfortable' in its place in the aspectual sequence - for example, aspectual response times seem to lengthen monotonically from earlier to later aspects.

13. In this process, a powerful method proposed by Dooyeweerd is that of exposing antinomies. When we conflate two aspects, an antinomy occurs, such as Zeno's paradox, which Dooyeweerd explains by an attempted reduction of kinematic to spatial.

14. In this process, the methods worked out by phenomenologists can help, such as etymological analysis.

15. In undertaking such a process, we should be aware that we might have to rethink other aspects and our understanding of them. But we should do so sensitively, and err on the side of keeping them a they were in Dooyeweerd's view - since he was the master of this craft of aspectual identification.

16. We should be able to state clearly what makes the new aspect necessary:

17. Finally, we should guard against our own psychological ownership of our ideas about the aspect. Our psychological ownership should drive us gently forward as a motivation to keep us committed to the journey, but it should not in any way affect the direction in which the journey proceeds. But our initial intuitions about the aspect should influence the direction of the journey. But our initial intuitions are intertwined with our psychological ownership and need to be prised apart early in the journey.


Thanks to various contributors on Thinknet for comments. But especial thanks to Danie Strauss, whose own list of ten tips in his paper "The order of modal aspects", to which he directed me, furnished some that I had overlooked.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.

Compiled by 2005 Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 26 September 2003. Last updated: 21 November 2005 unet. 3 February 2006 imptce of na´ve expce ct. Bunge; rid counter; link to aspects. 20 March 2006 Structured the list of questions; direct jump to qns; added motivations.