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The Pistic Aspect

Also called: Faith, Certitudinal, Confessional, Credal, Ultimate aspect

Briefly ...

We experience the faith or pistic aspect intuitively in aspiration, commitment, certainty and belief.

Aspiration is our deeply-assumed view of what is ultimately good, and in business this is vision, motivating commitment.

Pistic is that "immediate certainty which manifests itself ... in practical life" [Dooyeweerd, 1955,II:299]. This ranges from tiny assumptions we make e.g. the chair we sit on will bear our weight, right up to the firm ideological or religious belief for which people give their lives. Clouser [2005] calls the latter "religious" belief. We might call them small pistic and big pistic. Pistic has to do with meaningfulness of our lives, with hope and morale. Pistic has to do with things of the Ultimate and Absolute. Activities like dignifying, aspiring, trusting, worshipping, praying, religious ritual and celebration are primarily pistic. Dooyeweerd's main explicit discussion of the pistic/faith aspect itself is in [1955,II:291-334], but his entire New Critique of Theoretical Thought [1955] can be seen as an argument that faith underlies all else.

This aspect heralds several good possibilities for temporal reality, courage, loyalty, hope, meaningfulness and openness to the Divine at all levels. It is because of this aspect that we intuitively expect meaningfulness in all our experience, and seek it, either in the True Divine or in a substitute. At the societal level, it enables changing the direction of society towards what Lonergan [1992] calls longer cycles of creation and healing.

Faith-functioning can be negative in several ways as well as positive. In addition to absolutizing faith itself, which was an error of mediaeval Roman Catholicism, there are several corresponding negatives associated with this aspect, including cowardice, disloyalty, despair and meaninglessness. Against openness to the Divine is apostasy or idolatry ("absolutizing of what has been created" [Dooyeweerd, 1955,II, 309], and stubborn resistance to good or truth. Against societal creation and healing Lonergan [1992] places longer cycles of decline due to general bias.

As with juridical and ethical aspects, the pistic is found at personal, group and societal levels, for example the courage of those who stand alone, group beliefs (including Weltanschauungen) and the mindset that pervades society and the presuppositions that determine the direction in which theoretical thinking develops. The latter is a kind of societal infrastructure.

Defining the Aspect x

Kernel: x

(Basden's intuitive rendering: "Vision, commitment, certainty and belief; aspiring, trusting, worshipping. Introduces courage, hope and openness to the Divine and change in the attitude and direction of society")

rather than:

Here is the earlier list:

Some central themes x

Things to do with God and Spirituality

Note: SInce this aspect is post-social, the full development of these themes and kernel issues involves society. There is a personal element (such as an individual's faith and their holding out against the establishment beliefs), but much of this aspect can only be understood in terms of society.

To do with identity

Our identity is to do with who we believe we are, deep down, often without thinking about it. Our identity is what we believe out place is in the scheme of things, what is most meaningful about it. Identity is often symbolized by religious objects - for example is not to be Mexican linked to the Virgin Mary?

"You are part of an international movement" has a strong pistic thrust to it; it locates a person's identity in something much larger, and they, by implication, important and probably transcendentally worthwhile. (The implication of course is sometimes false - though it is usually meaningful and it is meaningfulness that is pistic.)

Things to do with commitment

Things to do with our vision of who we are

To do with Meaningfulness: Value and Importance

Things to do with our Hope

About belief

About commitment

Because the pistic aspect is to do with commitment, it can emerge as deep, sharp joy or anger.

To do with Perspectives, Ways of Seeing Things, etc.

Combinations of the Above

By including this aspect among all the others, Dooyeweerd was saying something very important: religion, vision, commitment etc. are not to be given special status, neither elevated nor set aside, in our thinking. As Russ Reeves has well said,

"The inescapability of religion is also important - in religious studies, there is surprisingly little clarity regarding what 'religion' actually is, and it is defined in a variety of odd ways (and often left undefined), something some people have but others don't. Dooyeweerd's perspective not only makes more sense, but makes religion a universal (and useful) analytical category."

The tendency to elevate or set aside such issues can be linked to the Nature-Grace Ground Motive.

In brief, pistic functioning is to do with two things:

On the latter point, consider the following visions for a business:

Which would most inspire the workers and managers in the firm to work together and make a long-term success of the firm? Consider the firms that have lasted more than 100 years, and ask what proportion of them started off with each type of vision. In the UK and Ireland we have Lever Bros, Cadbury's, Boots, Guinness, and so on. A disproportionate number started off with the fourth vision. While the first vision might inspire the small circle of owner's friends, and the second and third, the mobile middle managers whose sole aim in life is excitement, it is the fourth that can inspire right through the firm. It is not sufficient to have any vision, but a 'right' vision. (Think: what does 'right' mean? Shalom?) (Think: are all faiths equal?)

Common Misconceptions x

The Aspect Itself

Other Names for Pistic Aspect

(Terrible name, 'pistic'! Dooyeweerd chose it, based on the Greek word pistis meaning a deep-seated kind of faith, rather than what we declare or think we believe. What is a better word? At least once CPMH:56], Dooyeweerd called it "certitudinal aspect" and often "faith aspect". Seerveld calls it the "confessional" aspect, and de Raadt (1994), the "credal" but those emphasise the role of declaring (lingual aspect). Clouser (1992) uses the word "fiduciary", but that is almost as incomprehensible as "pistic". Gunton et al. [2017] use the term "ultimate aspect", reflecting not only its terminal position in the sequence of aspects but also the idea of holding something to be of ultimate meaningfulness and importance, underlying and pervading all. Of the alternatives, I prefer "ultimate", but for now I prefer to stick with the original word - because it invites curiosity and further explanation. )

Shalom - Contribution x

Detrimental Functioning and Repercussions x

Most pistic harm comes from absolutization of what should not be absolutized. Many 'isms' are viewpoints in which some aspect is absolutized; aspects should not be. The result includes reduction to an overly narrow view, with consequent problems, an attitude of reductionism, and the marginalization of many valid and important points of view.

Non-Absoluteness x

This pistic aspect retrocipates all the others. That is, it affects their functioning in subtle yet important ways. So pistic functioning (believing, aspiring, etc.) involves the meaning of all other aspects. The consequence of this is that it is very difficult to crisply conceptualize pistic functioning or properties; any attempt to do so will always find fuzzy incursions in and from other aspects.

Special Science x

Theology? But the problem is that the nature of theology in the West has been immensely distorted by the nature-grace dualism . Theology is sometimes seen as the study/science of God. But what we are talking about here is the study/science of our vision of what we are, our most deep- seated beliefs and commitments.

Institutions x

Contributions from the Field x

The science of the pistic aspect includes theology but also studies of the activity of faith. Here are a few examples of the kinds of thinking of the latter type, any of which might be useful in research in the pistic aspect (Thanks to Terry Miller for bringing these to my attention):

Ontology Has Bad Name

Habermas believed ontology, the study of what 'is', to be in ruins. In these days there is large swing against positivist science, essentialism, philosophical realism, etc. towards interpretivist research, philosophical nominalism, and the like. Ontology is contrasted with epistemology, and there is an undercurrent message, "Ontology is Bad; Epistemology is Good." But in real life most of us, including interpretivists, act as though we ontologically believe. How come? What is ontology? Why does it have such a bad press these days?

To see ontology as involving the pistic aspect helps: ontology involves commitment, whereas epistemology involves only the analytical or lingual aspects (depending on whether you see it as analysis or language games). In real life, we function in every aspect, so we function pistically too, and hence make ontological commitments - that is at least those minor commitments about little things in life. When we go to the loo we don't just hold an epistemological opinion that there is a loo there, we commit to it!

Why has ontology got a bad name? If ontology is pistic functioning, then we can perhaps explain this by harm of pistic functioning, which is idolatry or any giving of undue importance to something. Most ontology, or essentialism, has assumed self-dependent Being. As Clouser (1991) argues, this is a kind of idolatry, giving divine status to something that is not divine. Functioning against the laws of an aspect leads to repercussions, and the pistic has the longest response time, so gradually the harm from this pistic commitment starts to congregate, then have effect, then be noticed, then realised, then reacted against. Hence the reaction against ontology.

But ontology, if we function in line with the laws of the pistic aspect, and give God is proper respect as God, can give us freedom and joy ahd shalom.

The Aspect Among Others

Functioning in the pistic aspect retrocipates onto our functioning in all earlier aspects in various ways. For example, pistic commitment motivates ethical self-giving. In the reverse direction, functioning in earlier aspects can 'target' the pistic; for example assent to a creed is usually social functioning, and only pistic if it expresses one's deepest faith-commitment.

Law-dependencies x

Analogies x

Retrocipatory Impact on Earlier Aspects

The pistic aspect, being the final one, antecipates none, but retrocipates all. That means that our pistic functioning impacts and shapes our functioning in all earlier aspects. For example, if we hold a hidden agenda, then what we say is seldom the full truth (lingual), our relationships with others can be strained (social), our use of resources can be warped (economic), we might even engage in corrupt practices (juridical). And correspondlngly for good pistic functioning of faithfulness, openness and lack of idolatry.

Antinomies x

Common Reductions x

Reductions of other aspects to this faith aspect:

Reductions of faith aspect to others. Non-religious thinkers have argued for the primacy of such features as

in the determination of our beliefs [thanks to SNW for this; references to these thinkers to be added and discussed later].

Notes x

Dirkzwager's Comments

Arie Dirkzwager sent to me (private communication) some useful comments on the Pistic aspect:

".. the pistic .. has as its central meaning the relation of the created to its Creator; faith and trust on the subject side and responsibility for the creation towards its Creator. In Jesus Christ we know it as a Father-Child relationship. This can be disbelieved and denied, with disastrous consequences for the whole of cration."

"It [sustainability] is a quite new concept and I think we should ask ourselves why it came to the fore. I think it is a natural and timely event in the course of the unfolding process. Just recently man realised that he made a mess of the creation (his "environment" and his "thinking") in the course of history, and thus mankind became conscious of it's responsibility (and it's guiltyness). This is essentially a process that opens up the pistic modality. Here it is decided how the problems are to be solved. Unwarranted faith in technological systems design (a kind of reductionism) without a fundamental philosophical insight into the true nature of the creation obstructs real solutions and may cause new, unforeseen problems."

"The main criterion is if it will lead to the whole of creation 'praising the Lord'."

"Artificial Intelligence might offer some quite good methods to be used in ELSIE [a knowledge based system], whether one believes that "human thinking and intelligence" in ALL it's modalities can be "duplicated" on the computer or not. The crucial pistic question is whether ELSIE implicitely suggests to it's users that it (the computer) can take over their responsibility or make them less responsible."

The Myth of Religious Neutrality

The last harm above about apostasy goes directly counter to the prevailing assumptions about theoretical statements. I apologize for any offence it might have caused. We have assumed that science should be 'neutral' and should never make absolute claims about religious beliefs. This is a big issue but deserves brief treatment here.

When people in mediaeval Europe used absolute claims about God for their own corrupt or trivial ends one of the most pernicious types of oppression grew. A reaction set in that drove into the deepest recesses of our culture the idea that one should never bring God into the affairs of the world such as science, philosophy, economics or politics (hence some parts of the USA Constitution).

But this cannot be. If God is, then our science, philosophy, economics, politics, and everything else is most deeply affected by that. Now, nobody can prove God is, or even prove what God is like, just as nobody can prove their own existence even to themselves - there is a fundamental limit to reason and proof . But that epistemological limitation does not affect the ontological status of the influence of God on his world. However, there is plenty of evidence on who God is, what he is like: he acted into the world over the last 4000 years and beyond, and communicated with us.

So, while the first two harms above are phrased in neutral form, the third one is not. It is making a bold statement that if we go against who God really is then harm will come - usually in the longest term - while if we go with who God is then ultimate and most wide-ranging good will come.

Roy Clouser (1992) published a book The Myth of Religious Neutrality , whose title I adopted for this section, in which he argues cogently and readably for the non-neutrality of science. He proposes three basic types of religious commitment, and shows how these affect our basic pre-suppositions about a few sciences like mathematics, physics, etc.

Pistic Commitment in Science

Popper argued that in science one can never prove an hypothesis; one can only disprove. A logical reason for this: it takes only one counter-case to disprove an hypothesis, in spite of million supporting cases. Therefore the work of science is to try to disprove hypotheses. Also, there is good practical reason why scientists should try to disprove their hypotheses: by doing this we weed out and discard those that are shaky. You test the strength of a piece of steel with a hammer, not a feather. In the same way, if your hypothesis stands up to serious attempts to disprove it, by seeking evidence against it, then it can be a more reliable foundation on which to build future thinking.

But we find scientists everywhere trying to prove their hypotheses, rather than disprove them. Why is this? Most academic papers show positive evidence, not attempts at finding negative.

(Of course, in the initial stages of formulating hypotheses, and getting them to the stage where serious disproof is appropriate, it is useful to look for evidence in favour. But in many (most) cases, that is all that happens. Why is this?)

It would seem that in many cases it is because of a pistic commitment that scientists have toward their pet hypotheses. It is sometimes known as psychological ownership, and is a pistic commitment even though in a mild form. Scientists, as humans, are pistically committed to their pet theories.

This is ironic, in a field (science) which claims to be free of such commitments and to be entirely logical or empirical. Yet because scientists are human, it should not be unexpected.

Indeed (and I'm grateful to Herb van den Dool for pointing this out) Polanyi said almost as much in his Personal Knowledge (which from its title could be seen as an antidote to Popper's Objective Knowledge?). As Herb points out, in referringing to Nick Woltersdoorf, actually "for the most part it is hard to disprove hypotheses, especially when they come in packages of big theories. For the most part scientists will first attempt to see if there was an error in the observations. If only they feel there can be no error there, they will attempt to only make small adaptations to their theories rather than throw them out. So in a sense hypotheses can't really be disproved either."

We also find pistic commitments, of a deeper kind, to paradigms in science - to ways of looking at things. These paradigms dictate what research questions are considered worth exploring (and funding), and what types of answers are deemed satisfactory. In too many cases these adherances to paradigms take the form of almost unthinking following of (intellectual) fashions. Things outside these paradigms are sometimes sneered at. This is the downside of pistic commitments.

Best and Worst

C.S.lewis once said (Reflection on the Psalms, 1961, Fontana) "Of all bad men, religious bad men are the worst." He was commenting on the Psalms in the Bible that contain vindictive 'cursings', and on the curious fact that these are worse than almost anything found in ancient pagan literature. He said:

"The Jews sinned in this manner worse than the Pagans not because they were further from God but because they were nearer to Him. For the Supernatural, entering a human soul, opens to it new possibilities both of good and evil. From that point the road branches: one way to sanctity, love, humility, the other to spiritual pride, self-righteousness, persecuting zeal. And no way back to the mere humdrum virtues and vices of the unawakened soul. If the Divine call does not make us better, it will make us very much worse."

This fits well with the pistic aspect being the last aspect, and even more with the kernel of the pistic aspect being our vision of who we ultimately are, what we place our faith on, what we commit ourselves to at the deepest level. It is, if you like, the deepest aspect.

What that means, or at least implies, is that 'spiritual' does not equate with 'good'. There is a tendency today, as we move away from materialism, to think that materialism = bad and therefore spiritual = good, but both C.S. Lewis and Dooyeweerd would suggest otherwise. Dooyeweerd suggests otherwise because he proposes that the pistic is merely one aspect of our functioning, rather than as a 'higher' level of reality.

The upshot of this is that our functioning in the pistic aspect can be either good or bad, beneficial or harmful, in line with or against the grain of pistic reality. So it is in principle possible for people to be very spiritual and yet very wrong in their pistic functioning - and even to be very good in their ethical functioning, to boot, so they seem such nice, good, wholesome people. And C.S. Lewis suggest that it is also possible in practice, and even common in practice.

What is good pistic functioning, and what is bad, is another issue. But Dooyeweerd would claim something that today would be unacceptable.


An 'ism' is when we absolutize or idolise some aspect. See idolatry, below.

World Views and Pre-suppositions

Our View and Treatment of Animals

Recently there have been reports of the cloning of a sheep from genetic material taken from an adult at laboratories not many miles from my birth- home in Scotland. Today (27 February 1997) BBC Radio 4 hosted a discussion The Moral Maze on such genetic science: is it morally acceptable. (They took the Kantian idea of morals as 'ought' rather the Dooyeweerdian one as self- giving love but that just meant the discussion rambled interestingly and infuriatingly over many aspects.)

One issue that came high on the agenda was that animals should not be treated in such ways - as mere artifacts for human convenience - but one witness suggested that actually the animals were well treated. This set me thinking: there are at least two types of 'treatment' of animals here. One was speaking about our (pistic) view of what animals are, the other about whether we threaten the life functions of the individual animals.

Let's take it further: it seems there are at least four different types of animal treatment here, each related to an aspect. (I admit it: I have used the aspects as a given taxonomy in order to help me tease out the differences - but they do seem helpful; see what you think.)

Biotic treatment refers to what we do to the animals' life functions. Sensitive treatment refers to how we help or hinder them to to be sentient beings. The difference between these can be seen in much current discussion in the UK about the treatment of animals: they might be given enough food, and be kept warm and free of disease (often by injection of drugs), but we pen them up and so limit their ability to function in the sensitive aspect.

Juridical treatment refers to giving animals what is due to them - their rights, if you like. Pistic treatment refers to what we think animals are - and influences what we believe animals are due.

Well, cloning a sheep might satisfy the biotic and sensitive aspects, and, in the case of the individuals involved, might even largely give them what is due to them. But it (might) go against the pistic, namely that animals are created by God, belong to him, are loved by him, and given their own dignity by him, whereas we treat them as merely convenient media for our drug research, or as mere economic objects.

(The question of eating animals is, arguably, another matter: eating something does not necessarily detract from its dignity - or does it? I will not discuss that here.)

Deep Effects on our Functioning in Other Aspects

Our ultimate vision of ourselves and our ultimate commitment affects how we view all other aspects.

Even so-called neutral scientific research is influenced in this manner. For instance, during the age of behaviourism in psychology there was an assumption that "Thou shalt not ask what goes on inside the human mind" and that only inputs and outputs could be studied. For instance, in architecture during the 1960s in the U.K. anyone who proposed a pitched roof was considered a 'traitor'. These are pistic influences.


Idolatry is the elevation of something to an ultimate status, and thus making a pistic commitment to it. This lies at the root of the most dangerous type of reductionism. See also Absolutization.

Uniqueness and Non-uniqueness of Humanity

The mediaeval Roman Catholic view, which elevated the sacred over the secular, led to the idea that what uniquely characterises humanity is possession of a human soul. This, to R. Catholics, is partly why abortion is so abhorrent: it destroys a human soul.

I think Dooyeweerd's view would have been that what sets humanity apart is that we can function as subjects in all aspects, while animals etc. can function as subjects in only the earlier aspects and only as objects in later ones. This sort-of includes the R.C. view, in that functioning as subject in this pistic aspect allows us to have a relationship with God.

Much more to be written and discussed here.


Hart (1984), in Understanding our World, suggests that this aspect, being the terminal one, is the one that is opened to the ultimate, namely God. And that this is the essence of human spirituality. Might be; I'm not sure, but at least it makes some sense.


Amori Vermeulen sent the following message:

I posture a separate modality: Hope, retrosipating on Love and anticipating on Faith. This is the guiding aspect for the act of education of a child. The kernel of hope is Anticipation (verwachting).

Sounds good. But is hope really part of this pistic aspect? Certainly, it seems intimately tied up with our vision of what/who we are. I've asked him to examine the possibility in more detail, especially guided by our 'A New Aspect?'.


What kind of research might be needed related to this aspect? Often, since the timescale of the full pistic aspect is of the order of a century, research will take an historical turn. But at the individual level, we have immediate changes in belief etc.


Maslow, A. (1954). Motivation and Personality, 3rd edition. Longman.

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: by 7 May 1998. Last updated: 18 May 1998 (added thing from Herb vdDool). 29 May 1998 added theme of worth etc. 31 May 1998 moved Real Downsizing to ethical aspect where it belongs. 30 August 1998 Marx. 30 August 1998 rearranged and tidied. 2 November 1998 added re Hope. 29 November 1998, 1 December 1998 Added a few more themes. 31 January 1999 Added re. how to discern pistic. 10 January 2000 CS Lewis about best and worst. 7 February 2001 quote from Russ Reeves, removed mailto. 5 March 2001 shalom added to an moved earlier. 21 March 2001 Ontology section; categorised the many themes. 21 September 2001 two-bullet summary added to themes. 14 March 2002 new list of kernel. 1 April 2002 dr. Johnson quote, rearranged ending. 24 April 2002 added Bourdieu quote to show effect of pistic on economic; moved creeds to dependency. 1 August 2002 people not going quiet. 14 September 2002 Note after themes about being post-social. 10 March 2003 .nav, 'certitudinal'. 22 July 2003 para on 'right' vision. 30 November 2003 life-giving commitment. 14 January 2004 all actuality is commitment. 28 April 2004 harm of absolutization; admin. 1 November 2004 Canada diverging; a misconceptions; some tidying. 24 August 2005 new .nav,.end, changed kernel, themes. 5 January 2008 rearranged 'harm'. 9 February 2008 link to absolutization. 8 September 2008 role models. 16 December 2008 branding. 12 June 2009 reputation. 30 April 2010 Buck-fuller. 22 September 2010 Dooyeweerd's and Basden's kernel. 12 October 2010 illusion. 4 February 2011 Seerveld 'confessional'. 6 March 2011 reductions to other aspects. 19 March 2013 link with ethical. 26 March 2013 dependency in cognitive science of religion. 16 May 2013 research. 23 August 2013 some extant ideas on pistic function from the field, some stuff shifted to Research, Ontol 'has a bad name'. 28 August 2013 Chas Taylor, more Maslow, more research. 21 December 2013 theme commitment, conspiracy. 6 January 2014 vision in construction. 12 May 2015 Hegel. 25 May 2015 alternative names at start rewritten. 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .end; better .nav; removed link to Elsie, and tidied up some lines. 11 March 2016 Gramsci. 21 September 2016 briefly. 19 January 2017 nonabs: fuzzy. 10 October 2017 Added identity; changed bullets to headings. 17 April 2018 promise. 13 November 2019 importance, motivation. 25 January 2021 Ultimate aspect; rewrote label bit. 2 April 2021 Revamped the Defining The Aspect; added re.persp section, with example of Professional Help; moved alt names to separate section. 1 February 2022 Example of pistic-identity statement, mandatory. 8 June 2022 Jacinda Tan, Anorexia Nervosa as identity; bolded Field. 28 October 2023 Big and small pistic. 4 May 2024 authentic self. 15 May 2024 sharp anger; on retro impact, canon.