Of course, in real life, we find both deterministic and non-deterministic phenomena, so they cannot be completely irreconcilable. This troubled the mid-twentieth century philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, and he set out to get to the bottom of it. It took him back to the roots of our thinking, and the difference between Greek and Hebrew thinking.
This approach is not well known, but it is certainly interesting - and not just in an intellectual way. Having examined it for a decade, it seems to me to apply to information technology and systems at many points. Also to environmental sustainability. And, probably, to many other things. So, here is a brief overview of it, from the standpoint of information systems.
For a general description, see Clouser (1991), and for full theoretical treatment, see Dooyeweerd (1955) and Hart (1984). It has been applied to the design of IS by de Raadt (1991, 1994) and Grahn and Bergvall (1994). The clearest exposition of its relevance to systems design is by de Raadt (1994), and the following discussion will make copious references to it.
Immediately we see a departure from Greek thinking, which we tend to hold to this day, and which gave priority to the Entity Side. Entity-centred thinking postulates that laws are merely results of entities, if they exist at all, and that there can be no laws without entities. To illustrate: whence come social laws and norms? Answer: they arise merely from the operation, properties and needs of the entities that form the group within its harsh environment, and have done so over evolutionary timescales. In a different environment, or with different types of entities, the social laws might have turned out differently.
Dooyeweerd puts it the other way round: laws are no mere results of entities but stand distinct from entities and that there can be no entities without laws. An abstruse difference? Maybe, but with enormous significance, albeit subtle. Whence come social laws? Answer: they are given, and must be discovered. Could other social norms and laws have arisen in other contexts or with different types of entities? Not fundamentally, though the social aspect itself can be 'parameterised' by context.
He does not deny the importance of entities, but merely states that there is a difference between everyday and scientific thinking with regard to the two sides. In everyday living the entities stand to the fore, as it were, and the Law Side recedes into the background, but in science the Law Side comes to the fore while the entities recede. That is, when we analyse reality we should study the Law Side, not the behaviour of entities. It is the Law Side that expresses the fundamental Meaning, and it is the Law Side that enables entities to 'exist'. Entity-centred thinking assumes that entities stand to the fore in both everyday and scientific thinking; it makes the assumption that science must of necessity take the same stance as everyday life.
According to Dooyeweerd, the environment and society are not entities in the same way, except in the last sense.
Entities (things, systems) can function, and, if the entity is a person, this functioning can include knowing, acting, believing, loving, communicating, worshiping, etc.
Take urban planning, for example; we have the urban environment, people who live there, people who work there, planners, animals, plants, etc. Which is the active subject and which, the (passive?) object? Hart (1984), in his elaboration of Dooyeweerd's novel approach to the topic, differentiates two meanings of 'subject' or 'subjective': to be subject to laws and norms, and to be a centre of action and volition (as find in the subject of a verb of a sentence). The common sense of opposing 'subjective' feelings and values to 'objective' facts comes from the latter meaning when it is divorced from the former.
But, as Hart shows, the two meanings of 'subject' are closely linked in Dooyeweerd. A subject acts because she, he or it is subject to laws and norms, not in spite of them. (Dooyeweerd's conception of laws or norms is not one of rigid constraint nor of abstract generalization, as in most conventional thinking, but one of enablers of action and guides to action. It is these laws that make any action possible; hence the term 'Cosmonomic' that he chose for his philosophy. This is an area in which Dooyeweerd's thought is orthogonal to traditional debate, but we will not explore it further here.)
Given a knowing and acting subject, there is also a known and acted- upon object and a knowing and acting. In built environmental planning the object is the built environment itself, including physical buildings, traffic, economy, populations, etc. The subjects are the planners, people who live in the built environment, people who work there, etc. (Note the difference between population as an object and people as acting and knowing subjects.) They are subject to the laws of several aspects, discussed below. Also the animals, plants, buildings, etc. are also subjects, but to more limited sets of laws.
We can see many of the problems of sustainability as emanating from the artificial (but time-honoured) separation of subject and object. Two main streams of philosophical and theoretical thought over the last 500 years - realism and nominalism - have emphasized one or the other, and these two are part of Dooyeweerd's longer term (3000 year) analysis of theoretical thinking.
Shades of Goethe's naturphilosophie here: we are part of nature, not separated observers.
More on the Subject-Object below.
The names of both the modalities and the nuclei have a somewhat specialised meaning, some of which are elucidated in de Raadt (1994). Of particular interest to work in IS are the analytical, historical and lingual modalities. The analytical modality incoporates logic and modelling. The formative modality was called 'historical' and 'cultural' and 'technical' at various times by Dooyeweerd, and embraces technological and cultural activity, but we will refer to it as the formative modality. Since much use of IS requires the interpretation of symbols, the lingual modality is heavily involved in usage; for this reasons, de Raadt labels this the 'informatory' modality.
|Physical||Energy and matter|
|Biotic||Life and vitality|
|Juridical||What is due|
|Credal||Faith and vision|
Click Aspect name for its discussion page.
He investigated the elevation of two aspects in particular - analytical and formative. Absolutization of the analytical aspect gave us rationalism. Crucially, the analytical aspect is central to science and all theoretical thinking; we make distinctions to classify, to clarify and to argue. To do science we must make a clear distinction between the aspect of interest and all others, by isolating it and its laws from others. For instance in a test tube only physical laws are being studied and economic, social, ethical etc. effects are filtered out (they must of course come back in once we have discovered the physical laws). Reason also has distinction as its centre. Reason and science proved very powerful, not least because they removed personal interest from the scene. But some people saw in them a salvation from corrupt religion and feudalism and started to elevate them. So this aspect became absolutized, to rationalism. The whole of reality must then be subjected to Reason and Science; if not, it is no reality. Since personal human factors are removed, reality seen through spectacles of rationalism becomes depersonalized and harsh. All truth is rational in nature.
Absolutization of the formative aspect (Dooyeweerd at this point calls it the Historical or Cultural aspect) gives us various types of historicism, of which constructivism is one manifestation. This can be seen as an antithesis of depersonalized rationalism; it emphasises human creativity and construction. There is no truth; all truth is constructed.
But other aspects too can be elevated or absolutized.
Note: this emphasis on the Law Side of the cosmos explains the rather clumsy name 'Cosmonomic' that was given to the philosophy. In fact, law is seen as boundary between God and the cosmos.
However, the aspects are not a set but a list: there is a definite order amongst them. The laws of the later aspects depend on, and make use of, those of the earlier aspects. For instance, physical laws require and presuppose spatial laws. Biotic laws presuppose physical. And so on. It is part of Dooyeweerd's genius that he detected this ordering and dependency.
It is this analogical relationship that makes metaphor possible. Our ability to see similarities and communicate them is not due only to some fuzzy pattern matching algorithm in the brain but the activity of such an algorithm (if algorithm it be) rests on and presupposes this analogical relationship between the aspects.
Normative laws can be transgressed; we can decide to be rude to people or to speak nonsense, or to refuse justice. But they can never be set aside. That is, they always pertain, even if we ignore or spurn them, and results will follow. this is the basis of Dooyeweerd's approach to success and failure.
I have started a page to discuss normativity in more detail
Dooyeweerd's proposal about entities is that in all we do in real life we function across all Law-Side aspects. Kalsbeek (1975) shows how a manned space flight involves all aspects.
Clouser (1992) outlines three types of functioning - everyday (pre- theoretic or 'naive') functioning, lower abstraction, and higher abstraction. The latter is central to science .
For an explanation of this and deeper discussion of these issues, see the page on Functioning .
We function either as subject or as object in each aspect. That is, I can push something (as subject in physical aspect) or be pushed (as object in physical aspect). I can keep to budget (subject in economic aspect) and I can be made redundant (object in economic aspect).
The subject-object relationship is very important in Dooyeweerd's thinking, and takes on an unusual flavour since it is rooted in the Law Side rather than merely the Entity Side.
It brings together the three apparently separate meanings of the word 'subject' in the English language:
We return to the subject-object relationship later, when we discuss the differences between realism and nominalism .
|Independent entities||Denial of entities||Entities in relationship|
The ultimate dependence is on God, the Creator who is also Lover and Redeemer, and it is fundamental. It is so fundamental that God wrote it into the fabric of his Creation as inter-dependence or, as many now call it, interconnectedness. We are all caught up in the web of Meaning that is the modal aspects in which function. We do not just exist; we relate.
There are two types of relationship. There is the type that we form of our own will - for instance I am communicating with you as you read this - but these are transient and contingent. And there is the type that is necessary, necessary for whole and complete being - for instance, a snail and its shell; neither is complete without the other.
Dooyeweerd was intensely interested in the types of necessary relationship that pertain. For instance, there are subject-object relationships that we discussed above, and there are part-whole relationships (my arm is part of me). But there is also a third type that seems to be special to Dooyeweerdian thought: enkapsis.
Dooyeweerd's concept of individuality structure, especially as qualified by a leading modality, allows us to think of the marble and the statue as two distinct things, but necessarily closely linked by enkapsis. The marble is still marble, qualified by the physical aspect; the statue is statue, qualified by the aesthetic aspect. Two distinct individuality structures, but with an enkaptic relationship between them. 'Enkapsis' was a term Dooyeweerd took from a Swiss biologist and modified slightly. Dooyeweerd discusses several types of enkapsis:
Some might seem like part-whole relationships, but Dooyeweerd reserves that for situations in which the part has no meaning apart from its whole (as with my arm), while in these enkaptic relationships there is a degree of meaningful independence. In information technology the computer and its program would seem to have an enkaptic relationship - indeed, more than one.
The idea of enkapsis is so foreign to normal thinking that it can be difficult at first to see its significance, but it is an ideas that 'grows on you', and eventually you wonder how you could ever have worked without it.
A good explanation of enkapsis can be found in chapters 35-37 of Kalsbeek's book.
There is a discussion about science which makes particular reference to Thomas Kuhn's work.
Sadly, information system development has been seen as a fundamentally technical activity, and thus developers have tended to isolate a single modality (whether deliberately or not), and the result is technology-centredness. But if the IS is designed for use, development should be multi-modal.
Note that the results of our functioning - with or against the laws, shalomic or harmful - affect not only us, individually, but also other entities around us. The effect might not be immediate; in fact it seems that the later the aspect the longer term is the effect. For instance, Communism is a pistic statement about the nature of things, but it took humankind as a whole nearly a century to recognise its harmful effects: only after a century could we say on the basis of experience that Communism goes against the laws of the pistic aspect.
One major way in which a culture (or a manager or even each one of us) goes against an aspect is to ignore the whole aspect - just to overlook it. Either to not realise its importance, or to semi-deliberately deny its importance ("Oh, that's for wimps!"), or to elevate another aspect. The ignored aspect still pertains, however, and eventually problems emerge from its ignoring. This is discussed in a little more detail below.
This view of success, shalom, health is one part of Dooyeweerd's approach to success and failure in applying information technology. Also of environmental sustainability. See Lombardi and Basden (1997). It is particularly useful when handling an inter-disciplinary situation, as these two are.
Therefore an important proposition of the multi-modal approach is that if any modality is ignored during any functioning (e.g. system development and usage, e.g. land use planning and subsequent living) then the long term health and success of the system will be jeopardised, either because it is shelved before it should be or because it leads to unforeseen deleterious effects. As de Raadt and others have pointed out, system design is a continuing process, without a hard end-point, because usage of the system feeds back into its continuing development.
The laws of a modality are not emergent properties, and in particular are not 'socially constructed' (though knowledge about their laws might be). This gives the multi-modal approach to systems development a completely different flavour from those like Checkland's (1981) Soft Systems Methodology or Avison and Wood-Harper's (1990) MultiView methodology.
(Now, this bold statement must be qualified. It is not thought that the picture we have is the final one. The modalities need to be explored, and it might turn out, after due study and consideration, there are seventeen or twenty-five of them rather than fifteen. But the number is not likely to be very different from fifteen. Until proper study is undertaken, the fifteen proposed by Dooyeweerd seem at least to be a good starting point.)
De Raadt sees this in terms of homomorphism among the modalities, forming circular relationships among them. Industrialised societies, he claims, have disregarded the circular links between social ills and economic and technological systems. Such homomorphism makes possible a transduction of order from one modality into another. Thus, for instance, a medical information system is the result of transducing some order from the biotic modality to the informatory (lingual) one.
Approaches to anything in life (e.g. urban planning) that are based on realist philosophies have the danger of reductionism, resulting in ignoring salient aspects. It may not be absolute but shows itself in an imbalance, in which one aspect is given undue emphasis to the detriment of others. Doing so threatens sustainability of the environment or system we are dealing with.
In nineteenth century industrial Britain, for instance, emphasis was sometimes on provision of physical housing for human resources for factories, in the vicinity of the factory. Biological matters such as health and aesthetic matters such as beauty were seldom considered, resulting in slums that had to be cleared after World War II. In planning their replacement, open spaces, cleanliness and aesthetically clean lines were emphasised, while social issues and those of mobility, for instance, were ignored, resulting in dehumanizing schemes that were also energy- inefficient and expensive to maintain. These schemes are now being replaced, giving them an even shorter life than the slums they replaced, suggesting they were less sustainable. In urban planning, the imbalance in any culture depends on what is considered at that time to be the nature of the object that is the built environment.
Another problem with planning based on realist philosophy is that because the subject is de-emphasized the effects of the action and knowledge of the subjects are often ignored. A prime example of this is, of course, road-building, where the objects are the transport system and traffic volumes while the subjects are those who drive and those who plan journeys, and until recently the traffic generating effect of road-building has been ignored and even denied.
Therefore while less reductionist than approaches based on realist philosophies, there is still no guarantee of sustainability. There is not even any guarantee that sustainability will be greater than when adopting approaches based on realist philosophies. Approaches based on nominalism find integration and inter-communication, mentioned above, difficult.
We are concerned with sustainability at a time when it is clear that sustainability is threatened. Working more than fifty years ago, Dooyeweerd did not use that term but referred to the 'health' or well- functioning of a system and gave it a long-term meaning. His claim is that such 'health' or sustainability can only be achieved if we understand the nature and, he would say, meaning of the laws that govern both us and all external reality. Realist philosophy drives its adherents to reducing all types of laws to one, such as the laws of physics, of logic, or evolutionary biology, etc. Nominalist philosophy drives its adherents to a denial of all laws. Dooyeweerd wished to escape both dangers.
In fact, Dooyeweerd takes the matter one step further, claiming that what seem at first to be philosophical presuppositions often turn out to be religious ones.
All but the second are dualistic in nature, and thus result in temporal reality being split in two and dis-integrated.
Nature-Grace came from an attempt to merge the first two, this led to all sorts of oppressions and distortions, which led thinking people eventually to one of two reactions against it. One was the Reformation, which sought to recover some of the pure Creation, Fall, Redemption motive. The other was the Renaissance, which, assuming the problem lay with the God part, sought to remove it from the 'Grace' element, thus producing the Freedom element in the modern ground motive.
(Vollenhoven's analysis of the history of theoretical thought into three phases is similar: Pre-Synthesis, when the first two motives existed in separate communities, Synthesis, when they were merged, and Anti-Synthesis, which sought to break the synthesis.)
To have a dualistic ground motive actually goes against the laws of the pistic aspect. Hence, since we cannot set aside these laws, they will have an effect, a deep effect, a long term effect. And, since the pistic aspect is the last, it is, according to Hart (1984), open to God, the one which allows human contact with God. It is also the one that most deeply affects and influences our functioning in all other aspects. It does not mean that our functioning in other aspects necessarily goes against the laws of those aspects, but rather than it affects the sum total of our functioning and whole persons.
Thus Dooyeweerd maintained that it was important not only from a religious point of view but also from the point of view of healthy living in society and environment, and also from the point of view of healthy science, that we hold the Hebrew Ground Motive, which is seen through the revelation in the Bible. This will, of course, be unacceptable to many, and they will wish to reject at least this claim of Dooyeweerd's, and many, if they cannot have the rest of the system of thought without this claim will reject the whole system. But that just provides substantial evidence for the validity of Dooyeweerd's claim that all is ultimately religious.
This is why Clouser's (1992) book is entitled The Myth of Religious Neutrality .
What he meant was that the underlying presuppositions should be in line with what God has revealed via the Biblical revelation. Dooyeweerd was troubled by the fact that Biblical ideas do not seem to fit 'comfortably' with most theoretical thinking, yet he was not satisfied with the explanation given by both secularists and fundamentalists that religion has nothing to do with this world of science, technology, business and in particular thinking.
One example: as discussed above the Greeks assumed that the primary thing we can say about a thing is that it exists, and exists in its own right. Yet the Biblical revelation is that all is dependent on the Creator God, and cannot be truly known without reference to him. Therefore all attempt to 'know' a thing without reference to him is doomed to failure, however promising its start might appear. Another example: we experience meaning, and in a way that is integrated with our experience of things around us. Yet nobody has satisfactorily explained meaning in a way that integrated. Dooyeweerd believed that meaning is found in God.
He was convinced that there was a far deeper explanation, and gave his life to finding out what it was. First he went back to the start of theoretical thinking (Greeks) and worked his way forward, and compiled a careful critique; this is Volume 1 of his New Critique. But he did not want to just be negative. So he took the challenge of building an alternative framework, one that does not make God-avoiding assumptions right from the start, and one that is self-consistent. He wanted it to account for the unity and diversity that we experience. He wanted it to account for all sciences and knowledge. He wanted it to account for our everyday experience. And he wanted something that would speak into the intellectual debates in their own terms, and yet make God relevant thereto. He also wanted it to be able to address issues such as: what is the relationship between God and the cosmos that we experience and live in? The results of this work form Volumes 2 and 3 of his work.
I believe he succeeded in laying a useful foundation or starting point, though there is still much refinement to be done. Maybe there is a major flaw that will invalidate it all - but we will only find out by becoming immersed in it and exploring it for real.
(Some Christians are very hostile to Dooyeweerd's ideas. I believe their hostility is based partly on a misunderstanding, and partly on a pagan type of fundamentalism. I discuss this in a separate page.)
Carroll J M, (1990), "Infinite detail and emulation in an ontologically minimized HCI", in Chew J C, Whiteside J (eds.), "Empowering People: CHI'90 Conference Proceedings", New York, ACM Press.
Clouser R, (1992), The myth of religious neutrality in science and philosophy , University of Notre Dame Press.
de Raadt J D R, (1991), "Information and Managerial Wisdom", Pocatello, Idaho, Paradigm.
de Raadt J D R, (1994), "Enhancing the horizon of information systems design: information technology and cultural ecology".
de Raadt J D R, (1996), "What the prophet and the philosopher told their nations: a multi-modal systems view of norms and civilisation", accepted for World Futures.
de Raadt V D, de Raadt J D R, (1996), "A multi-modal and systemic critique to redesign the family", Proc. Swehol Working Conference, Maarssen, Utrecht, Netherlands, April 1996.
Dell P F, Goolishian H A, (1981), "Order through fluctuation: an evolutionary epistemology for human systems", Australian Journal of Family therapy, v.2, pp.175-184.
Dooyeweerd H. (1953-1955), "A new critique of theoretical thought", Vol. I- IV, Paideia Press (1975 edition), Ontario.
Grahn A, Bergvall B, (1994), "Performance indicators in Soft Systems Methodology", Proc. of 17th IRIS Confce (Information Systems Research seminar In Scandinavia), Oslo, Aug. 6-9 1994.
Hart H, (1984), Understanding Our World: An Integral Ontology , University Press of America.
Hirschheim R, Klein HK, (1989), "Four paradigms of information systems development", Comm. ACM, v. 32 (10), 1199-1216.
Kalsbeek (1975), Contours of a Christian Philsophy , Wedge Publishing Company, Toronto, Canada.
Polanyi M, (1967), The Tacit Dimension , Routledge and Kegan Paul.
Vickers G, (1983), "Human systems are different", Harper and Row.
Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 8 June 1998. Last updated: 24 September 1998 a bit more on neglecting aspects. 28 February 1999 altered re entity thinking and made link to new page there. 28 June 1999 link to new normativity page. 23 October 1999 links to God.cosmos.html. 24 November 1999 links to science. 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 21 November 2005 unets, .end.