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Proposals for New Aspects

Dooyeweerd proposed there were fifteen aspects of reality or meaning, aspects in which we function. But the question remains: was he right? He did not claim that his list of fifteen was the final absolute list, but rather that he had been thinking long and hard about it and found that these fifteen withstood all the tests he made of them. This page has two parts. In Part 1, we look at proposals made by thinkers in the Dooyeweerdian community for modifying Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects. In Part 1 we discuss principles for discussing and deciding such issues as whether a given candidate should be accepted as a new aspect or whether a couple of aspects should be merged.

See also tabular comparison with other suites.


Part 1 - Specific:

Part 2 - General:

Part 1 - Proposals for Different Suites of Aspects

A number of thinkers have suggested departing from Dooyeweerd's fifteen, normally by proposing extra aspects. This page attempts to bring together various proposals for different sets of aspects based on Dooyeweerd's original set. (For totally different sets of aspects, not based on Dooyeweerd's set, see other.suites.html.)

To help us critique proposals that modify Dooyeweerd's own, see guidelines in aspectuality.html. If Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects is a tier-2 proposal (i.e. trans-cultural positive proposal), then we should be rather cautious lest our desire to change things stems from our misunderstanding of Dooyeweerd's ideas.

Hendrik Hart's Fourteen Aspects

In his book 'Understanding our World: An Integral Ontology', Hendrik Hart gives a list of aspects which is very similar to Dooyeweerd's but omits the lingual aspect. I think this is because, at one stage, it was thought that language was a necessary prerequisite to thinking.

Donald de Raadt's Seventeen Plus Aspects

Donald de Raadt works in systems theory and management, and has sought to integrate Dooyeweerd's aspects with the Viable Systems Model of Stafford Beer. He has been closely involved in practical situations, and has come across various things that seem to him not to fit the fifteen aspects well. For these he has proposed extra aspects, and he has also moved the analytical aspect to first in the list. His proposed changed (to date) are:

Some support for the idea of new epistemic and operational aspects emerges when we consider the institutions of society, of which the different types seem to centre around aspects. If this is so, then what aspect qualifies a university and a technical or management college? Answer: epistemic and operational.

But I am cautious about these, for a number of reasons:

However, the discussion is far from ended, and my caution does not prevent me from sometimes thinking that de Raadt really has something here.

Zylstra's Extra Generative Aspect

Arthur Jones, a biologist, has suggested that the kernel of the biotic aspect is not life functions but rather generativeness and differentiation. Uko Zylstra (Dept. of Biology, Calvin College) replied with the following interesting email (Oct 2000):

Arthur Jones comments about differentiation as linked to the biotic sphere's kernel of "generation" does get at an important element of the biotic modality. The recognition of differentiation/generation/morphogenesis as a "kernel" of the biotic sphere led me to argue for it as a distinct modality from the biotic modality. I made that argument in my paper entitled: "Dooyeweerd's concept of classification in Biology" as one of the essays in the Festschrift for Evan Runner, "Life is Religion". In that essay I argue for a three kingdom classification of living things with the biotic, morphegenesis/differentiative, and sensory as the kernel modalites for the three kingdoms respectively. Although present classification theories in biology are usually based on a five kingdom classification model, I think the criteria for such a classification is less foundational than the one based on a modal analysis.

He therefore seems to be suggesting that there should be an aspect between the biotic and the sensitive whose kernel is morphogenesis.

Note that his argument is linked to the idea that kingdoms of natural entities are qualified by specific aspects. The argument seems to be as follows:

However, on the other hand, we can expect the boundaries between kingdoms to be blurred. So maybe these entities that seem intermediate are just part of that blurring?

Seerveld's Reinterpretation of the Aesthetic Aspect

The aesthetic aspect Dooyeweerd defined as centred on harmony. Seerveld criticised this for being too heavily influenced by classical views on aesthetics. Looking at what aesthetics has been more generally, he proposes that the kernel of what he would call the aesthetic aspect is nuancefulness, that is the nuance or suggestiveness of one thing found in another.

Roper, in an email, took a similar view. From his experience with music, he said, "In the first place, what is usually meant by musical harmony ... is something that is distinguished from melody, rhythm, polyphony and timbre. In other words it usually means the 'sounding together of different pitches'. I don't really think that you use the word 'harmony' in respect of music in this narrow sense. My problem then is, what do you mean by it? My point would be that all of the features of melody, harmony, rhythm, polyphony and timbre involve nuance or suggestiveness. Furthermore, even a simple melody or rhythm involves a unity and multiplicity of nuancefully qualified sounds, that may or may constitute a harmony. "

Seerveld's (and Roper's) view is important, in identifying nuance or suggestion as being something very important and distinct enough to require its own aspect. However, it may be criticised on the following grounds:

To ask "Is nuancing and suggesting a distinct aspect from harmonizing? Can one be subsumed into the other, or do we need both?" would seem the better question, and one which can perhaps help us to resolve this debate.

However Roper's comment on that suggestion of splitting into two aspects, of harmony and nuance, is that:

"I agree with it [my statement that 'So, I do not believe that nuance can encompass the whole of harmony, even though it does anticipate it.']. That is because I do not think that kernel of what we might call the aesthetic aspect is to be found in harmony. The latter, by virtue of the retrocipations to what I think is its kernel - unity and multiplicity - is differs from the aesthetic but, on the other hand, has a very important role in the aesthetic.

"My problem with your wanting to split the aesthetic in two is that there is no distinctive clarity in respect to the identification of the modal kernel of harmony. ... As I've indicated above musical nuances do not exist apart from their harmony (or disharmony). However, the same is of legal provisions, economic interests, and historical developments of various kinds. This does not mean that the latter are aesthetic."

Roper's Splitting of the Sensitive Aspect

The sensitive aspect covers two main things: sensory activity and emotion. These two things would seem markedly different, even though connected. So Roper (1992) proposed that it be split into two distinct aspects:

He also adopts Seerveld's redefining of the aesthetic aspect, and reorders the whole so that the aesthetic aspect of nuance lies before the analytic and not after it.

His view may be criticised as follows:

Stafleu's Political Aspect

In "On the character of social communities; the state and the public domain" [Philosophia Reformata 69(2):125-39, 2005] Marius Stafleu has suggested that the social aspect as currently constituted under Dooyeweerd, covers two distinct things: and that the latter should become a new aspect, the political, placed after the economic and before the juridical. (Stafleu seems to have dispensed with the aesthetic aspect that currently lies between those two aspects, largely taking Seerveld's line.)

Companionship is, says Stafleu, the basis for such social groupings as 'all German speaking people' and 'all Christian believers'. Authority and discipline are what characterise organized communities ('associations'), of which the state is the main example he discusses. He says in the abstract to the paper, "The view that organized social communities or associations differ from unorganized communities by having a kind of government or management exerting authority over the community appears almost obvious. Nevertheless it contradicts Dooyeweerd's view, distinguishing organized communities from natural communities because of their being founded in the technical relation frame (or modal aspect)", and argues that "associations have a dual character", "the principle of sphere sovereignty is the primary characteristic of an association", "the analysis of associations requires the recognition of the political relation frame", "the political relation frame is irreducible to the economical one", "the political relation frame is irreducible to that of justice" and then gives some application and noting that the state is of a special type.

Preliminary Comments

I have long felt the tension between the two parts of the social aspect: companionship and authority, and I think Stafleu is right to open up discussion about it. It is a pity that the main type of association he refers to, the state, is "exceptional", as he admits, which makes me wonder whether his thinking has been overly influenced by what is exceptional. Be that as it may, I can also understand something of Dooyeweerd's own thinking as he kept them together, and I have the following reservations about Stafleu's proposed solution, of splitting off a political aspect from the social one and placing it after the economic aspect:

An Aspect of Learning and Coming to Know?

I have great difficulty in deciding what learning is aspectually. Learning is the taking on of knowledge, coming to know, coming to experience, coming to understand, practicing, the storing away of information, the storing away of memories, memorizing, the taking in of new information and linking that meaningfully with what we had there before, being transformed in various ways, changing our habits, changing our attitudes, changing our world views, and many other things.

Those who would say that learning is analytic ignore the formative element of it. Learning by rote has an important lingual element. Learning by practice, especially in a sport, has an important pre-analytic, sensitive element.

If learning is meaningful primarily within one aspect (i.e. qualified by a single aspect) then it is clear that this aspect must be after all these aspects (because of Dooyeweerd's theory of aspectual dependency). But it is not clear which one. Yes, we can make a case for placing it within various aspects (e.g. the pistic since learning involves a commitment) but this seems like squeezing a round peg into a square hole.

One problem is that Dooyeweerd himself did not seem to discuss learning. The word 'Learning' does not appear in his index, and 'Education' only three times, all within the context of his discussion of the family as a social structure (NC III: 267, 274, 275). (It seems that a Dooyeweerdian view of learning and education is long overdue.)

I tend to the idea that learning is multi-aspectual, trans-aspectual, rather like 'being', 'becoming', 'functioning', and, especially 'knowing'. Learning's close association with knowing also suggests this.

Part 2 - Principles for Deciding Aspects

Only These Fifteen Aspects?

It has been claimed that Dooyeweerd himself never set out a clear list of all the aspects. Others derived the list from what he wrote. Therefore, it is claimed, we should not see his fifteen as absolute.

As we have seen, De Raadt (1997) kept on adding new aspects and rearranging them because he kept finding things in modern life that do not seem to him to easily fit into Dooyeweerd's proposed fifteen. He points out, quite reasonably, that when Dooyeweerd was working (mid twentieth century) neither systems science nor informatics had emerged as important areas of study, so we can expect to keep on finding new aspects as society moves forward and new technologies and ways of thinking develop.

De Raadt's reasoning is plausible. But it hits at the very root of Dooyeweerd's concept of aspectuality because it implies that we can never arrive at anything near a complete set of aspects, not even a good set. It could be argued that if new aspects need to be added every few decades then Dooyeweerd's concept of aspect is flawed.

Dooyeweerd does in fact list the aspects, both as a full list of fifteen (as on the first page of his Prolegomena of his New Critique of Theoretical Thought, and also at various places throughout the work, as either sub-lists or full lists. What he does not do is to claim an absolute truth for his list. However, it is clear that he at least believes these fifteen to cover all the aspects that he, in his years of thinking, has encountered.

Why We Might Trust Dooyeweerd's Suite

I believe that Dooyeweerd's set of fifteen is pretty good, and will stand the test of time if properly understood, because (this is summary of a fuller discussion).

Therefore we are justified in adopting his suite as a starting point, even though we may refine it sensitively as we use it.

New Aspect Needed?

Situation: we have a concept of something we experience in life around us, e.g. 'knowledge', e.g. 'humour'. We find it doesn't quite fit into the current list of aspects very naturally. Is a new aspect to be created for it? Or what do we do? We certainly do not want to 'force' things into the aspectual system. Here are some suggested tips on how to approach it; below we have specific guidelines; see also the new page on Identifying Aspects:

  1. Remember that the aspects are intuitively grasped, rather than logically defined. So give some priority to intuition.

  2. Remember that the aspects "do not refer to the concrete what of things or events, but are only the different modes of the universal how" (Dooyeweerd, New Critique, p.3). So, is my concept of a thing or an event, rather than of a 'how'? If so, I am bound to have difficulty if I go any further.

  3. Try to see if our single label actually refers to a number of different things. e.g. 'knowledge' probably speaks of at least two main activities: analytical thinking and communication of the results of thinking. In doing this, try to find a wide range of instances of the use of the concept, in a wide range of contexts and purposes. If we do find there are several things, then ask: does each now fit an aspect naturally?

  4. See if our understanding of an aspect is limited. For instance, for a time humour did not seem to fit anywhere. But then, in discussion I discovered the view that true harmony (kernel of aesthetic aspect) requires a certain amount of 'disharmony' (as it was first called), by which was meant, difference. Thus the element of surprise we find in life is of the aesthetic aspect. Hence so is humour. After that I found that Seerveld had written much on the element of play and humour in the aesthetic aspect.

  5. Maybe the concept is one of those few that are across all aspects. For instance, meaning and time are across, and outside, all aspects. So is behaviour and knowledge (in its widest sense). In the case of knowledge, it is likely that it is not confined to a single aspect, though de Raadt proposes the epistemic aspect for it, because Dooyeweerd was certainly not unaware of it (taking 200 pages or more to discuss knowledge). If Dooyeweerd had believed that knowledge were of an aspect he would surely have given it one.

How to Propose a New Aspect

We might think that something in life is not covered by the existing aspects, or we might believe a current aspect needs splitting in two. Here are some guidelines for what a proposal for a new aspect needs to contain before it can be appropriately judged and discussed. (Example: Gareth Jones is proposing a new Integrative aspect, splitting aesthetic 'beautiful harmony' into two aspects.)

See Tips on Identifying Aspects.

(I did make up a list of guidelines here. But then found a better list there, which I structured a bit.)

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments are very welcome.

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

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 4 October 2000. Last updated: 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 18 September 2001 Added Seerveld's aesthetic, subsection on need for harmonic aspect, and Roper's splitting of the sensitive. 17 September 2002 added contents and link to tiers. 25 November 2002 need.harmonic subsection moved to aesthetic.html. 26 December 2002 added Roper's cmts on aesthetic. 27 December 2002 added label. 3 March 2003 .nav, brought in only.15, trust.dy, new.aspect from aspectuality.html. 9 April 2003 rewrote why we can trust suite. 16 April 2004 Learning. 13 January 2005 Stafleu's political aspect. 11 May 2005 added that other suites are subset. 20 March 2006 Proposal for new aspect - then removed to idasp; links to idasp. 17 September 2010 more reliance on suite#good. 28 June 2011 error analytic+al. 11 April 2012 Stafleu's political aspect in contents (thanks to Rob Nijhoff). 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .nav.