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Knowing, Imagining, Willing - The ThinkNet Discussion

This is the discussion related to Dooyeweerd's notion of act structure that took place early 2008.

It does not completely remove my doubts about the notion, but it is very helpful. So I am putting it up in full, in order to stimulate scholarship. It is in chronological order, and, to facilitate study, I have emboldened mention of other thinkers, and also hyperlinked the various topics mentioned into the main Dooyeweerd Pages.

Perhaps the best piece of the discussion is at the end, the succinct reply to my original questions by Gerrit Glas.

Here are the units of discussion:


Dear Thinknetters and Glenn, (and Nick)

About human being:
Proposition 14 of 32 Propositions (on Glenn Friesen's website: says

"The act-life of man reveals itself in three fundamental directions: knowing, imagining, and willing."

But do you know from where Dooyeweerd got this triple: knowing, imagining, and willing?
Why these three?
Why *only* these three?
Why are these three philosophically (transcendentally) necessary?
Or are they derived only empirically?

Andrew. 15 February 2008


See especially Gerrit Glas' reply later on: best.

Some Snippets on 'Where From'

Harry der Vederlanden: Anyone knowledgeable about Hannah Arendt? Didn't she use those three categories?

David Koysis: Hannah Arendt used the categories thinking, willing and judging, which were the projected titles of her three-volume work, The Life of the Mind. She completed only the first two volumes before her death. These categories she borrowed from Kant's three critiques: of pure reason, practical reason and

Bob Sweetman: Dear Harry et al. Both Lambert Zuidervaart and Ron Kuipers at the Institute for Christian Studies interact with the thought of Hannah Arendt in teaching and student direction. They might have something to say to the present query.

Michael Morbey: These appear to be traditional terms from the theory of mind. How does Dooyeweerd avoid a "faculty psychology" or does he? mmm See: "three components of mind: cognition, affect, and conation"

Jeremy Ive: Augustine gives us different triads, including: memoria, intelligentia, voluntas (De Trinitate:10.11.17&18)

Glenn Friesen: P.S.  Yes, I believe that we have experiential knowledge of these three directions from out of our supratemporal selfhood. Both Dooyeweerd and Baader attest to this experience.

From Bruce Wearne: 'Direction'?

18 February 2008 Andrew:

There are two Dutch scholars of Dooyeweerd's anthropology to whom this question should be addressed are: Gerrit Glas and Willem Ouweneel.

Moreover, the question as you put it is, in the first instance, very much one of exegesis and it may well be that with careful and rigorous critical cross-examination of the said proposition that an answer may be forthcoming.

To neglect such exegesis is to allow the questions raised to teeter on the brink of wrenching the proposition out of its original context and intent.

Here then is the translated form of Proposition XIV: "By the "acts" the Philosophy of the Law Idea understands all activities (verrichtingen) which come forth out of the soul (or spirit) but which function within the enkaptically structured whole of the human body. By these activities, under the leadership of normative points of view, man directs (richten op) himself intentionally (bedoelend) to states of affairs in reality or his world of imagination. By relating these (now) intentional states of affairs to his "I"ness he makes them internally his own. The act-life of man manifests itself in three fundamental ways, n.l. knowing, imagining, and willing.

They must not be isolated however as three separate faculties, because they are completely intertwined. In the intentional character of the "acts" lies their "innerness" (innerlijkheid). It is the performance (activity) which actualizes (realizes) the intention of the act. By this performance the knowing act, imagining act, and the act of volition are intertwined in the motivated process of decision making, which decision is then translated into deed." Moreover, as Paul Otto has impressed upon us in relation to In the Twilight it is also important to know who and in what context the translation of this "32 propositions" document came into existence. We also need to have explained why, in its English version, there is one more proposition than in the original Dutch version "De leer van de mensch in de wijsbegeerte der wetsidee". Moreover, in the English "version" there are footnotes explaining the text which are not found in the original, at least not in the original that I have - purchased in the 1970s from the Philosophical Interfaculty at the VU.

This then also raises questions about the initial translation and its purpose, but about the original statement and the way in which Dooyeweerd understood the status of these propositions in relation to his philosophical standpoint. Overall, it reads as a provisional statement - "Stellingen voor het referaat van Prof Dr H Dooyeweerd op de komende Jaarvergadering onzer Vereeniging". I have the date 1954 for this document - it is interesting because it also has echos of the "personology" developed at Harvard in those years by Henry Murray.

Perhaps it is another Groen van Prinsterer society translation ... it would be good to know something of the background to the document and its translation.

So are we say that Dr Friesen has offered a new translation? (ref "directions" in your quote and "ways" in the earlier translation. The word "directions" to my reading implies separation of three separate faculties which, clearly, contradicts the very next sentence!

From Jeremy Ive: Bibliography

(18 February 2008) Dear Bruce,

I agree that it would be very interesting to see how Willem Ouweneel and Gerrit Glas assess this. Judging by what each has written, they may well come out with rather different answers. Ouweneel is a strong defender of the 'supra-temporal heart', while Glas is more critical.

I'm thinking specifically of:

Glas, Gerit, 'Ego, Self and the Body. An Assessment of Dooyeweerd's Philosophical Anthropology' in Christian Philosophy at the Close of the Twentieth Century: Assessment and Perspective, ed. Sander Griffoen and Bert M Balk . (Kampden: Kok, 1995): 67-78.

Glas, Gerit, 'Churchland, Kandel and Dooyeweerd on the Reducibility of Mind States', P. R. 67 ( 2002): 148-172.

Ouweneel, W.J., De Leer van de mens: Proeve van een christelijk-wijsgerige anthropologie, (Amsterdam: Buijten & Schipperheijn, 1986).

Ouweneel, W.J., 'Supratemporality in the Transcendental Anthropology of Herman Dooyeweerd', P.R. 58 (1993): 210-220.

The 1986 Ouweneel, of course, is the work which Glenn Friesen uses.

There is also, of course, the useful piece by Philip Blosser

Blosser, Philip, 'Reconnoitering Dooyeweerd's theory of man', P.R. 58 (1993): 192-209.

... to which Michael Morbey replied 18 February 2008:

Reformational Christians can be reassured and confident that Dooyeweerd's supratemporal self or heart is never construed as mystically exceeding the limits of its created /meaning/. Cosmic time is mystically transcended, but the supratemporal self or heart is never more than /meaning/, to be distinguished from God's /Being/. Pantheism is not possible. In the transcendental direction of the double-movement of cosmic time the selfhood or heart is evidently not foundationally pre-functional. mmm

From Bruce Wearne: Need Establish Grounds; Dutch Translations

(18 February 2008)

Thanks Jeremy for bibliographically filling out my Glas and Ouweneel suggestions.

There is, I notice, one other point that I did not mention which is rather crucial. Where Andrew's quote says "directions" and the original-typed up English language version says "ways" the original Dutch reads:

"Het act-leven van den mensch openbaart zich naar de drie grond-richtingen van kennen zich verbeelden en willen, die echter niet tot aparte "vermogens" mogen worden geisoleerd, omdat zij volkomen in elkander grijpen."

The full Dutch reads:

Onder "acten" verstaat de wijsbegeerte der wetsidee alle van de menschelijke ziel (of geest) uitgaande, maar binnen het enkaptisch structuurgeheel van het menschelijke lichaam fungeerende verichtingen, waarbij de mensch zich, onder leiding van normatieve gezichtspunten, intentioneel (bedoelend) op standen van zaken in de werkelijkheid, resp. in zijn verbeeldingswereld, richt en zich die intentioneele of bedoelde standen van zaken innerlijk eigen maakt door betrekking op zijn ikheid.

"Het act-leven van den mensch openbaart zich naar de drie grond-richtingen van kennen, zich verbeelden en willen, die echter niet tot aparte "vermogens" mogen worden geisoleerd, omdat zij volkomen in elkander grijpen.

"In het intentioneele karakter der "acten" schuilt haar "innerlijkheid". Eerst de handeling verwerkelijkt de intentie der acte, waarbij ken-acte, verbeeldingsacte en wilsacte in het gemotiveerd proces der besluitvorming vervlochten zijn en het besluit in de daad wordt omgezet."

There are three sub-paragraphs unlike the 'earlier' English translation which collapses them. The use of the German menschelijke ("De Leer van den Mensch") seems noteworthy, leading me to wonder whether, by use of the German (mensch), Dooyeweerd was adopting a common Dutch academic style/device to formulate scientific statements, connecting this statement to the "heartland" of scientific formulations? (ie in the language in which many and varied influential leeren had been promulgated).

Is it not also noteworthy how richtingen appears throughout the passage. It is clear that Dooyeweerd intends to render terms is theoretically qualified ways - see also the qualification after his intentioneel (bedoelend). This may indicate something of the careful legal scholar looking for precise terms - in whatever lingual form - to make the exact case he wants to set forth.

I am not suggesting that 'fundamental ways' for 'grond-richtingen' is the only way or that it is completely correct - and note also that in relation to any Dooyeweerd glossary this key term for interpreting this 'list' of 'vermogens' reminds us of the concept of grond-motief. But insofar as 'directions' has (Cartesian?) potential to confuse the issue about the given inner unity of the acts of the ikheid, the former translation (ways) is, on the basis of the evidence before me, preferable to the latter (directions).

So I would strongly suggest that the discussion of the provenance of this 'three-foldness' first needs a clearer delineation of the kind of discussion document we are considering, the purpose of the 31/32 propositions, and how XIV sits in the 'flow of the argument' building on 1-13. Otherwise, we simply proceed with an implicit assumption that we know what we are dealing with before we have developed our own definitive interpretation of "naar de drie grondrichtingen van kennen zich verbeelden en willen" according to proper adherence to the norms for such exegetical vermogens.

Can you provide the full text of the latter translation?

From Michael Morley: Naïve Attitude Too; Husserl

18 February 2008


Hi Bruce and all,

Even though the choice of the triad, "knowing", "imagining", and "willing", does not seem to be completely arbitrary, we have seen there can be variations in the choice depending within limits, I suppose, on the 'cultural' context. Whatever the terms we choose, and theoretically set apart, they refer to a structural state-of-affairs in which they are intertwined in the reality of our experience which is much more than merely theoretical, intentionality being the common thread of all.

In terms of the triad, intentionality would find its place in the non-module of willing, volition, and conation. We know, however, that Dooyeweerd never deals with knowing apart from intentionality nor does imagination, as we see in your quotation, ever escape this purview. Moreover, it is obvious from Proposition XIV, that although many of us may have always linked intentionality with the theoretical attitude of thought, Dooyeweerd allows intentionality a much broader scope extending also into the acts of naïve (pre-theoretical) experience (cf. Al Wolters' very perceptive observation). We find here, in Dooyeweerd's distinctive formulation, intentionality as the ancient intentio animi of the mystics, subsuming all activities issuing forth from the soul or spirit or heart.

In the matter of the text and its most apt translation, 'way' seems to me to be more of a paraphrase than 'direction', or 'ground-direction' which is even closer to the original and is consistent with Dooyeweerd's usage of 'ground-' as a prefix. 'Direction' is also consistent with 'richten op' in your quotation below. By returning intentionality to an original signification consistent with the Divine Word-Revelation as revealed in the Holy Scriptures to our hearts by the Holy Spirit, Dooyeweerd is able to cut himself off from the dangers of Husserl's Phenomenology (which also draws from the tradition) and from the Vollenhoven-Afrikaaner interpretation of his intentiones such as we find in J.A.L. Taljaard's Polished Lenses.

The contradiction implied in your reading of "directions" seems to arise within the context of Dooyeweerd's _own_ terminology more precisely stated. The difficulty here is that the specific signification of a Dooyeweerdian scientific term is dependent upon the context of his whole philosophy, as he himself points out. Relative to our starting point we must be experiencing a so-called 'paradigm shift' or conversion as we read more and more deeply into his transcendental unfolding of meaning. Part of the work of the translator then must be to continually leave the interpretation of Dooyeweerd open to this possibility. Dr. Ford Lewis Battles discerned a similar process at work in the theology of John Calvin. If the "fundamental ways" of your next post is a good terminus a quo, then "directions" is a good approximation to Dooyeweerd's terminus ad quem.


P.S. As a matter of interest: Anthony Wilden's observations linking most modern conceptions of intentionality (Brentano, Husserl), cathexis (Freud), project (Heidegger, Sartre), and goalseeking (non-mechanistic cybernetics) with the Hegelian concept of desire - Anthony Wilden, System and Structure, Essays in Communication and Exchange, [London: Tavistock Publications, 1972, Second edition 1980, p.65]. See pages 41-42, 65, 67, 143n.8. We could add terms such as the epochè and the refraining from.

P.P.S. On the potential for spiritual danger in the practice of intentionality, Husserl's transcendental reduction or descent to the realm of the Mothers provides a hint. Hegel's descent to "rock bottom" is another example. The Antithesis is much more than an abstraction and I think it is prudent to add a note of caution when we examine topics such as the /intentionality/ implied in Dooyeweerd's "knowing", "imagining", and "willing". Better stay very close to Dooyeweerd or choose not to go there. Dooyeweerd himself hints at the dangers. (Husserl and the Mothers )

Chris Haeften: Supratemprality

18 February 2008

dear all, I admire your patience in bringing up the same questions time and again. I myself am not so patient, so, please, forgive me my curt questions. What does that mean: Cosmic time is mystically transcended? And if there is a distinction between God's Being and creature's meaning, would that then not exclude supratemporality (except in the sense of memory of self)? What is the double movement of cosmic time? If it is time it can only go towards the future, it seems. That then would be its only 'movement'. A heart without a function would be a dead heart, the heart of a dead man (which is no man at all, and hence has no heart at all), it seems to me, since there is only one kind of function, namely functioning. Chris

Michael Morbey: Supratemporal and Other Things

18 February 2008

Hi Chris,

I too agree with Jeremy that your questions are very pertinent. They are clear and to the point. They go right to the heart of the storm, so to speak, and that is good. If one is not there already, if there _is_ a there, it would be difficult in the extreme to take as starting point a supratemporal self or heart as elusive as a hidden player on the instrument of cosmic time or the ghost in the machine.

Dooyeweerd states that meaning is the being of all that is created and the nature even of this supratemporal selfhood which, he claims, exists in relationship to God and to the community of selfhoods which each and all are nothing in themselves. We are at the level of the shady nothing out of which we are created. Dooyeweerd's more proximate starting point for his philosophy is his transcendental critique of theoretical thought which he offers as the key to what he has to say, and his transcendental turn brings him into an experience and theory of cosmic time which partakes of the structure of contemplative mysticism well- studied in the scholarly literature available today.

The supratemporal selfhood then is given definition as in the duplex cognitio dei of the contemplative mysticism of John Calvin, also well-studied, and cosmic time itself reflects the mystical 'double-movement' in its reciprocally-related foundational and transcendental directions which mutually presuppose each other, with the former ultimately taken up in the latter.

It is helpful here to search the whole of the _New Critique_ for Dooyeweerd's intriguing formulations of the relationship of the foundational and the transcendental. At least proximately then, a transcendental self-reflective /return inwards/ is necessary to access the depths and riches of Dooyeweerd's philosophy. This is a turn that is not without psychic and spiritual dangers, all the more evident now that we know more clearly that Kuyper and Dooyeweerd worked in (and attempted to reform) a world they encountered in Franz von Baader on the fringes of the 19th-century Occult Revival which impinged, as Dooyeweerd pointed out, on the lives of many well-meaning Christians and on Anti-Revolutionary thought itself.

As for the notion of supratemporality, what I was trying to point out is the subtle distinction that created /meaning/ in the 'ontic' sense that Dooyeweerd intends it seems to comprise much more than cosmic time. The elusive selfhood can therefore be situated beyond (transcendent to) cosmic time without exceeding the limits of created meaning even though it remains in a status, as Dooyeweerd points out, of being-universally-bound-to- time.

There is a mystical sense in which Dooyeweed's supratemporal selfhood is disclosed in a process of recall or/ anamnesis/. Good point! Indeed, a heart without functioning would be a dead heart without the being clothed upon from above (II Corinthians 5) and a cul-de-sac or dead end without the mortality having put on immortality and the swallowing up of death by victory (I Corinthians 15:54).

Of course, philosophy itself can be engaged as a way of death (cf. Plato, Phaedo), even a Christian philosophy. In the Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church, the practice of death before death and resurrection before the Resurrection is even encouraged. There is properly a deadliness to Dooyeweerdian philosophy. We are not playing games. Not mere intellectual exercises!


P.S. _On the Idea and experience of philosophy as a way of death_ A nice description of the Hegelian descent - Much more than an abstract process of thesis, antithesis, and synthesis: "But before one can even attempt to put together the pieces of a fractured existence, one must find all the pieces, and to do so one must go to the ground upon which the pieces lie. They lie in the abyss of oneself, and Rousseau's /Confessions/ and Pascal's Pensées are but two journeys into the hell of the human abyss. The Phenomenology of Spirit is, of course, Hegel's journey into hell. As intimated earlier, Hegel descended into hell. But if one makes the journey down to where the shattered pieces lie and can successfully put them back together, then one must come back up, for to dwell in hell is madness..This putting together of the pieces of the dismembered soul is the equivalent of a conversion...A separate work could be written on the phenomenon of the descent in not only Hegel's philosophy but in the history of philosophy. Regarding the relationship between this key notion in Hegel's thought and the western philosophical and religious tradition, one should note the great debt /The Phenomenology of Spirit/ owes to Pauline thought. Not only is the descent equal to death, but this journey into the hell of ourselves is at the same time the ordeal whereby the 'deep things of God' are discovered (I Cor. 2, 10). This facing of death is a prerequisite to these 'deep things of God' or wisdom...The result is: first, the completion of the circle, a tying together of the threads woven by an archeology of being and a teleology of thinking, resulting in self-consciousness; second, the tying together of the broken pieces of the dismembered soul with threads of self-consciousness; and third, a turning about of the soul towards the sunlight of science" (Tom Darby, The Feast, Meditations on Politics and Time, Toronto/Buffalo/London: University of Toronto Press, 1982, pp.214, 215, 215n.34).

P.P.S. The dangers:

From Glenn Friesen: Supratemporal

18 February 2008

Dear Andrew,

I am copying this only to you, but feel free to use the information.  

Why are people looking at Hannah Arendt to answer your question?  She was a student of Heidegger, and we know that Dooyeweerd opposed Heidegger's views, including Heidegger's view of time.  As I have shown, Dooyeweerd obtained his idea of cosmic time from elsewhere.  Heidegger temporalized man's experience, and the threefold direction from the heart makes sense only on the basis of a supratemporal/temporal distinction.

For sources of Dooyeweerd's thought, you need to look much further back in time. I discuss how Baader uses a similar threefold distinction. See 'act' at

But I would not be surprised to find  discussions of this threefold direction of acts from out of our heart/soul center in philosophers from even earlier times. Neither Dooyeweerd nor Baader claimed originality.  There is a lot of historical work that needs to be done in tracing the roots of the tradition to which both belong.  We must view the threefold directions in terms of a supratemporal center; the directions originate or proceed from out of that center.  The directions are then expressed in our temporal body and its functions within the aspects. I have written about Dooyeweerd's descriptions of what proceeding from out of the supratemporal means, as well as what its expression in time means.

With that in mind -- a center expressing itself in a temporal periphery -- what other directions would you need other than these three in order to account for all of our life, which as Dooyeweerd says is simultaneously supratemporal and temporal?  Do not include temporal functions such as psychical, aesthetic, etc. as directions. Those are temporal expressions of our supratemporal center, and such expressions are based on the three directions which proceed from out of our center.  Dooyeweerd discusses how some of the temporal aspects, or modes of consciousness, correspond more to some directions than others.  See my "95 Theses" for the reference.

Blessings, Glenn

P.S. I write this from Florida, where I am riding roller coasters with my 6 year old daughter. I do not have my library with me, so please check the above reference from my Glossary, as well as the references in the "95 Theses."

From Gerrit Glas: Direct Answers To My Questions

18 February 2008

Dear Andrew, Bruce, Michael and others,

Hillie van der Streek (centrre for reformational philosophy) made me aware of the postings on anthropology the last few days, especially those on the three ground-directions of human act life. My name was mentioned, so, here I am.

Andrew's questions were

Why these three?

Answer: I have always thought that Dooyeweerd was making his own adapted version of the well-known Kant-Wolff faculty psychology which makes a distinction between knowing, feeling, and willing. The replacement of 'feeling' by 'imagining' could then be understood as an adaptation to the objection that 'to feel' is not an act, whereas to imagine IS an act. Of course, Dooyeweerds distinguishes his position from the classical Kant-Wolff position; but this in itself does not refute the observation that his distinction resembles the Kant-Wolff distinction.

I am not so sure that Dooyeweerd did not derive his notion of intentonality from Husserl and I also don't see very much of a problem if he indeed did so. However, even in that case he does not use intentionality in a strict phenomenological sense. In early phenomenology intentionality is not identical to 'having a subjective intention' even if this intention is purely a matter of thinking about something. In Husserl's phenomenology intentionality belongs to the fundamental structure of consciousness as being 'outside itself' by its very nature. It is a formal characteristic of consciousness that has nothing to do with felt intentions.

So, both his loose use of the term intentionality and the loose reference to faculty psychology (loose in the sense that this tradition is mentioned and at the same time discarded without much detail in the arguments) suggest that Dooyeweerds is giving his own twist to well-known and often-used concepts of his days.

Why *only* these three?

Answer: I don't think there are very deep reasons for this. I have had the same question for quite some time.

Why are these three philosophically (transcendentally) necessary? Or are they derived only empirically?

Answer: It is a well-known and often used distinction. Until today psychiatric clinical examination is based on the threefold distinction between knowing, feeling, and willing. There is no transcencental necessity in it. It would be interesting to review the evidence for the distinction in the light of cognitive neuroscience. It is well-known in current emotion theory and consciousness research that there are more dispositions/faculties than those three (attention for instance, memory, mood) and that feeling, imagining and knowing are working together very closely in our appreciation of the world (compare the work of Damasio for instance).

So, it seems to me. I am open for better suggestions,

Gerrit Glas

Copyright (c) 2002 Andrew Basden.

This page is part of a collection of pages containing ideas that are referred to within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome to Dooy @ basden . u-net . com.

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