Why Dooyeweerd's Suite of Aspects ?
Dooyeweerd's suite of fifteen aspects is used as a kind of checklist by many to indicate 'the' complete set of aspects of reality, even though Dooyeweerd himself claimed that no set of aspects is ever materially complete and all proposed suites will always stand in need of refinement. However, in asking himself what the aspects are, Dooyeweerd did attempt a complete coverage of the Meaning of temporal reality - which includes all being, functioning, norms, etc. This was indeed a bold attempt.
Please also see tabular comparison with other suites, prose comparison, and summary list of reasons to trust Dooyeweerd's suite.
How we use suites of aspects
We use suites of aspects all the time to make major distinctions in life, whenever we categorize things in a major way, for example:
- body-and-mind or Bunge's system levels (physical, chemical, biological, social, technical) - when we hold two things to be inexplicably different
- Checkland's 5 E's (efficiency, efficacy, effectivenes, elegance, ethicality) - when we say there are several things that should be considered separately
- Maslow's 'hierarchy' - when we identify distinct needs
- Habermas' action types - when we want philosophically distinct categories
- and so on.
Here is a more substantial example of aspectual argument: The human has been seen as thinker, from Plato's classical antiquity through to Descartes and the Enlightenment to modernity. But Smith [2009:44] argues that such reductionist approaches fail to honour the richness and complexity of the human person, and reviewed models of the human person that developed throughout the history of philosophy and theology. He classified these broadly as the human person as thinker, as believer and as lover. In this exercise we can see Smith thinking aspectually.
We think aspectually whenever we hold something needs to be considered separately from something else, or when we hold that something is fundamentally different from something else, or when we make major distinctions such as in government departments, and so on.
When we take, adopt, commit to, or use a suite of aspects we do so as a temporary commitment (pistic aspect). When we question a suite we function in the analytic aspect.
It should be pointed out that
('given', that is, on any human authority, though Dooyeweerd believed the aspects are a gift of the Creator.) That is, Dooyeweerd does not claim his suite is 'the' truth (i.e. given), but in practical living we often take to ourselves a suite of aspects in order to differentiate distinct areas of meaning. This is is whether the suite we 'take' is Dooyeweerd's or some other.
- no suite of aspects is 'given'
- but it may be 'taken'.
Why is Dooyeweerd's Suite Good?
So the question is: to what extent are we justified in taking (trusting) Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects, and are there any grounds for believing it might be better than other suites? It is clear that Dooyeweerd himself believed his suite made a definite contribution when he said, in the context of discussing radical types of entity, [NC, III:90]:
"How can we theoretically approach this articulation in the descending series of divergent structural types with their complicated bifurcations according to the principle of similarity and diversity? This is a problem which since PLATO's dialogues Sophistes and Politicos has repeatedly been discussed in philosophy, without having found an ontologically well founded solution."
Here are a few indicators why I personally find Dooyeweerd's suite better than any other I have yet encountered:
- Dooyeweerd's is better thought-out than most, in the following ways.
- All others seem to be a subset of Dooyeweerd's, which has wider coverage - though sometimes with merging of aspects. See Tables of Comparison.
- 'Triple' suites (e.g. physical-biological-mental, material-mental-social) often focus on the middle one and all reality 'above' and 'below' it; they exhibit a lack of interest in any serious distinctions in the 'above' and 'below' realms. Dooyeweerd, by contrast, was interested in all aspectual distinctions.
- Sometimes the distinctions others make are arbitrary (e.g. Bunge refused to consider psychological as a separate level out of 'fear').
- Dooyeweerd sought complete coverage of the meaning of temporal, created reality (even while admitting he would never achieve it). That is he did not add an 'Other' or 'and so on' category to the end of his list to hide behind.
- So Dooyeweerd's suite is more likely to be applicable across cultures. Choi (2000) has applied Dooyeweerd's critique to Korean culture and thought.
- Philosophically, because of the ground motive he adopted, he was 'allowed' to consider the possibility of diversity in coherence; those who take an immanence standpoint are constrained to reduce the number of aspects to a minimum because otherwise they must choose between diversity and coherence.
- He had no philosophical-political axe to grind in terms of the prevailing main camps of the day (such as postivism v interpretivism, Kantianism v Scholasticism, reaism v nominalism) because he placed himself outside all these. So he largely lacked any deep bias to one or the other that would have unknowingly distorted his attempt to delineate aspects. He was self-reflective in the Habermasian sense. It is not clear to what extent this is true of the proposers of other suites.
- Dooyeweerd's aspects are no mere scientific or logical categories but are of the rich everyday lifeworld. Dooyeweerd started from the lifeworld. He claimed [NC, III:90] that his suite "is well founded in the plastic dimension of the temporal order. And thus we are not in danger of falling back into arbitrary methods of logical classification ..."
- Most suites have the role of being little more than distinct categories. Dooyeweerd's suite is far more than mere categories; to him, aspects fulfil philosophical roles as:
- Likewise, Dooyeweerd investigated the characteristics of aspects:
- That is, Dooyeweerd worked out a comprehensive philosophical theory of aspects
- On the basis of this he offered a number of explicit ways to identify aspects, e.g. the method of antinomy.
- Dooyeweerd's suite has been subjected scrutiny of several types.
- Empirical-intuitive scrutiny: Dooyeweerd spent a lifetime of sensitive reflection on what the aspects are.
- Philosophical scrutiny: he employed the method of antinomy to test any proposal for aspects.
- Historical scrutiny: Dooyeweerd surveyed the aspects that thinkers have held as important over the last 2,500 years.
- Teleological scrutiny: discussing the role of each aspect in the total spectrum of Meaning.
- Dooyeweerd's theory of aspects is coherent with the rest of his philosophy, and not a mere add-on attempt at ontology.
- His suite of aspects seems to apply to itself; it is reflexive: self-consitent at a meta- or recursive level. (e.g. the non-absoluteness of the analytic aspect is why we can never absolutely find the 'complete, final' suite; the pistic enables us to adopt it; it has a number; it has harmony; aspects have laws; etc.)
- His notion of aspects is commensurate with his theory of entities, his epistemology, his theory of time, his transcendental critique of theoretical thought, his theory of normativity, and so on.
- It states its own limitations. Not only did Dooyeweerd admit his suite is not final, but he provided philosophical reasons from within his own thought why it is not.
- The kernel meanings of Dooyeweerd's aspects can be 'grasped' by intuition, rather than by theoretical thought. Some other aspectual thinkers have tried to define them by means of theoretical (analytical) thought, but Dooyeweerd believed they can never be fully comprehended in that way.
- His suite of aspects can also be used to understand what intuition is.
- This means his aspects are easy to grasp intuitively and people who meet them seem to like them. And they are relatively easy to teach and learn. Both Winfield (2000) and Lombardi (2001) support this: lay clients could understand and work with the aspects after a short period of learning. They can provide a basis for cross-cultural understanding.
Smith, James, K.A. (2009) Desiring the Kingdom. Cultural Liturgies. Vol.1. Baker Academic, Grand Rapids, USA. :Notes from Chapter 1 Homo Liturgicus
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.
Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.
Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 1 April 2005.
Last updated: 11 May 2005 link to new.aspects#trust.dy. 11 July 2005 a couple of quotes from NC. 3 February 2006 links; rid counter. 17 September 2010 reasons why Dooyeweerd's suite good updated from new.aspects and justification, which are now summaries of this.