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Understanding Research with Dooyeweerd

Introduction: What Is Research?

Research is for finding things out. Suppose we wanted to research people having breakfast. The very first question we face is: What do we research? What do we want to find out about breakfast. We could research the social relationships around breakfast, or the taste of breakfast food, or its nutritional value, or expectations people have about breakfast, or generosity at breakfast, economy of breakfast. Research focuses on one kind of issue - one aspect.

Contrary to popular assumptions, research does not yield certain truth, so much as beliefs about reality on which it is reasonable to rely. We call these beliefs "theories". For example, it is reasonable to rely on Newton's theories of physics, except when going to extremes, when Einsteinian or Quantum theories are more reasonable. Different fields - physics, psychology, sociology, theology, and so on - yield different kinds of theory, with different criteria for reasonableness.

Oversimplifying perhaps, there are two main types of research. What I call professional research, tries to gain understanding of individual situations: "Why did our profits fall last year?" What I call academic research, seeks understanding of the way the world works in general: "Why do profits fall?" Often they are done together. Research of both kinds is an investigation that tries to gain understanding, usually to answer "Why?"

This page is mainly about academic research, though most of it applies to professional research. During my research life, I have taken the mandate for academic research to be, to offer theoretical findings to contribute to humanity's bodies of knowledge that enhance our understanding of the way reality works. Contributing to humanity's bodies of knowledge places an onerous responsibility on research. So the findings of any piece of research are submitted for critical (usually peer) review, to be refined before being published, and then refined further by means of subsequent public debate of the published work.

To ensure reasonableness of reliance on theories, research involved systematic methods of study. These are different for each field - experiment in physics, surveys in sociology, etc. - and we will see why, below. We will not discuss the various methods and techniques available, as such.

Dooyeweerd's extensive philosophical discussion of theoretical thought can helps us understand several things about research in practical ways. (For the purposes of this page what Dooyeweerd called "theoretical thought" is what we call "research.") How, is discussed in Foundations and Practice of Research : Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy [Basden 2020], of which this chapter is a brief summary.

2. The Many Aspects of Doing Research

Just as eating breakfast involves many aspects, so does doing research. The main aspect of research is, of course, the analytical. In quantitative research, the quantitative aspect is also very important. Research involves method, planning and technology, and hence much of the formative aspect. It involves reading, communication and dissemination (lingual), other people (social), resources (economic), truthfulness and accuracy (juridical), sharing (ethical), and commitment, courage and belief (pistic). Less visible, until a breakdown occurs, are the biotic and psychical aspects (bodily and mental health) and physical aspect (e.g. power cuts). Chapter 10 of Basden [2020] discusses each aspect of doing research.

All are important in the reality of reseach. Research has its own form of everyday life. Dooyeweerd started from the premise that the researcher is a full human being, not just a methodical, logical machine - which has since been supported by many twentieth-century thinkers, including Husserl, Heidegger, Habermas, Polanyi, Foucault etc. Arguably, Dooyeweerd's account of research is deeper and more comprehensive than theirs.

A fundamental challenge is that research tries to understand the very aspects that make research possible. How can it do so? It is akin to asking how fish may understand water.

4. Dooyeweerd's Understanding of the Nature of Research

How do we ensure good research? According to Dooyeweerd, to answer that we must first understand the nature of, conditions for and limitations of, research ("theoretical thought"). Most before him had presupposed the absolute authority and neutrality of theoretical thought, but, because he recognised the multi-aspectual complexity of research, Dooyeweerd refused to do so (prefiguring many thinkers today).

So Dooyeweerd posed the question "What is the difference between theoretical and pre-theoretical (everyday) thought?" His answer: While pre-theoretical (everyday) thought adopts an "integral vision of the whole" [NC,I,84], theoretical thought abstracts aspects from the whole, thus narrowing its focus. Dooyeweerd called this an "antithetical attitude" to the situation we are researching or a "Gegenstand relation". See Basden [2020, 6-3.2.] and Clouser [2005] for fuller views.

Dooyeweerd wanted to counter the age-old presumption that faith (functioning in the pistic aspect) has no place in science or philosophy (theoretical thought, research). He argued both that faith has always lain at the root of theoretical thought ("immanent critique") and that it always will and must do so ("transcendental critique") [NC,I, 37]. Rather than just bolt faith onto research, he asked fundamental questions about the very nature of theoretical thought itself, identifing three "transcendental problems", in each of which faith, manifested in several ways, plays a fundamental role.

Dooyeweerd developed these arguments painstakingly for philosophy in NC,I, 38-68, but he believed they apply to scientific thought too, and later [NC,III, 168 ff] he briefly applied them to sociology. Further application, it seems, was left to us, and to do that is one reason for writing Foundations and Practice of Research : Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy [Basden 2020].

4. Applying Dooyeweerd's Ideas to Research

I have found that Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Problems closely match what occurs in the realities of research, and can help us understand research in all fields. Let us go through each in turn.

1. Dooyeweerd's idea of Gegenstand relationship is about clearly identifying a research aim. Every piece of research intends to answer some question about the reality it faces, so it is useful to express the aim as a Main Research Question, MRQ, that expresses this question clearly. There will (usually) be one aspect that primarily makes the MRQ meaningful (interdisciplinary research might have several). This is the core aspect of the research; core aspects define each field of research (column 2 of Table 1) and its boundaries. Each aspect gives rise to a different kind of MRQ, of which column 3 contains examples. Clarifying and committing to a MRQ is Dooyeweerd's Gegenstand relationship.

2. In research, TP1, of abstracting aspects, is about collecting data. We look at full multi-aspectual reality through the lens of the core aspect. We gather data that is meaningful to that aspect, so as to explore its laws without confusion from those of others. Examples: economists study costs, which are meaningful in the economic aspect; physicists study forces, meaningful in the physical aspect. For each aspect, different data collection methods are appropriate, such as experiment for studying the physical aspect, and opinion surveys for the social; see column 4 of Table 1 for some research methods appropriate to each aspect. Beware using another aspect's method inappropriately. Sometimes we collect data that is meaningful in other aspects, on which the laws of our core aspect most directly depends, especially in interdisciplinary research. In the human sciences, interviews are often useful for this, in which several aspects are listened to, to be separated out later during analysis. In most research, however, many aspects are excluded. Clear understanding of core aspects helps us avoid collecting irrelevant data.

3. TP2, of reuniting the abstracted aspect with others, emerges in research when analysing data to generate findings. Inappropriate application of the rationality of one aspect to things meaningful in another results in distorted and misleading findings, so we must be careful and the researcher takes full responsibility. Often the influence of other aspects is hidden. (This is why research papers should clearly describe research methods used.) I have found other aspects to present themselves in four ways during analysis. Dooyeweerd's warning to avoid antinomies applies mainly to the first. One is when studying how the core aspect depends on others, for example social aspect on lingual or pistic, biotic on physical or psychical. Another arises from thinking about future application of the findings of the research in the wider world - in which every aspect is potentially relevant. The third arises from preparing data for analysis, especially the judgement about which data are to be removed as outliers. For example, once physical data has been abstracted from measuring equipment, we must take into account the possibility of equipment malfunction (formative aspect) or even malicious sabotage (juridical-pistic). The fourth arises from methods chosen for analysis. In so-called quantitative methods, the quantitative aspect is obviously important, but in two ways, counting items or modelling factors. Counting items can give useful overviews, especially statistically, but quantitative modelling often distorts, because it assumes the laws that govern the core aspect may be reduced to quantitative laws. This may be valid in physics, but is less so in economics (e.g. the value of a rainforest) as discussed in Carney [2021]. In qualitative analysis, the analytical aspect is important, enabling us to distinguish and identify factors. Often this involves analysis of texts, such as interview transcripts, when the lingual aspect becomes crucial, in which aspects has proven very useful; see extensive discussion of this in 11.7 of Basden [2020]. In prototype development, used in the design sciences, the formative aspect is important. Awareness of aspects can help the researcher remain aware and responsible in employing the, often hidden, multiple rationalities involved.

4. TP3, of origin of meaning, exposes the presuppositions underlying the research, so as to invite subsequent critique and refinement that prepare findings for inclusion into humanity's bodies of knowledge. As discussed in Chapter 5 of Basden [2020], origin of meaning is the ground-motive that drives society's thinking forward and determines where to look for a new paradigm when we become dissatisfied with current ones, such as the Humanist ground-motive of Nature versus Freedom. Such issues usually arise in critical discussion of findings after publication, only after which are our findings ready for inclusion in humanity's bodies of knowledge. Suppose we publish a finding F. Then the following critical discussion might follow, over time:

Critic 1: "Finding F fails to consider factor X."

Critic 2, "The author has not analysed correctly, and should employ rationality R."

Rejoinder: "But X is not relevant, because Y. Rationality R is inappropriate because S."

Critic 3: "But S / Y are inappropriate in this field, because of P." (About paradigms in the Kuhnian and post-Kuhnian sense.)

Rejoinder: "But P is the current paradigm and is not appropriate; what is being suggested is a new paradigm Q." (Paradigm shift)

Critic 4: "But the Q must be resisted (or welcomed) because it is too authoritarian / imprecise."

The first two criticisms relate to TP1 and TP2, but the others relate to TP3. Paradigms P amd Q usually differ in which aspects make them meaningful [Basden & Joneidy 2019]. Paradigm shifts are resisted or welcomed by reference to a deeper origin of meaning - the deepest, religiously-held presupposition of ways in which reality is meaningful. "Authoritarian" and "imprecise" are absolute norms beyond which the thinking community dare not go, because they arise from opposite poles of a dualistic ground-motive (Nature-Freedom), hence their opposition serves as origin of meaning.

So it is important, says Dooyeweerd, that thinkers must openly declare their presuppositions when publishing their ideas. Ironically, it is the socio-critical and feminist thinkers that are keenly aware of this and do so, rather than Christian thinkers.

Dooyeweerd argued that three dualistic ground-motives is false, and offers the non-dualistic Biblical ground-motive in its place. It is this that opened his mind to consider the multi-aspectual nature of reality [Basden 2020, 117], and by which we may employ aspects to help us as discussed above. See Basden & Klein [2008] for a demonstration of the power of this for information systems research.

5. Research in Different Fields

The different kinds of laws that each aspect offers express why there are different fields of research. Different fields centre on different core aspects, ask different kinds of research questions and require different research methods. The above discussion applies, as far as I know, to all fields. Table 1 shows a number of fields of research associated with each aspect, along with some example main research questions that might be asked by academic research in each field.

Table 1. Fields meaningful in each aspect, with typical main research questions and appropriate research method
Aspect Science(s) Some questions Research Methods
Quantitative Arithmetic, Statistics, Algebra Is every even integer the sum of two primes (Goldbach Conjecture)?

If population growth is governed by the equation (P1 = A * P0 ( 1 - P0)) [Manson 2001] why does A = 3.8 give random population growth?

Deduction and theorem proof
Spatial Geometry, Trigonometry, some Toplogy Can an n-dimensional convex body admit an expansive homeomorphism? (Klee 1960) Geometric trigonometric proof
Kinematic Kinematics, Mechanics, Phoronomy, (Animation), some Topology How can we get linear motion from rotary motion? Topological proofs
Physical Quantum physics, Physics, Chemistry, Materials science, Geology, Astronomy. What is the electric charge radius of the proton? Laboratory experiment, underpinned by mathematics
Biotic Life sciences, physiology, biology. How do cells determine what size to grow before dividing? Experiments with observations and field studies, taxonomic analysis
Sensitive Psychology, Sensory sciences, Animal behaviour How does previous experience alter perception and behaviour?
How do migrating juvenile birds know where to go?
Experiments with control groups; stimulus-response trials, etc.
Analytical Logic, Analysis, some aspects of Cognitive psychology What are the limits of understanding thinking as a form of computing? Logical proofs; some overlap with the above, esp. for cognitive science.
Formative 'Sciences of the Artificial' [Simon]. Design science; History, Technology, Engineering How to optimally cut a cake so that every recipient feels they have a fair piece? Studies of what people have done (history).
Trial-and-error, simulation.
Game playing, puzzle-solving; Construct + test; Model building. Forensic methods, Risk analysis.
Lingual Linguistics, Semiotics, Exegesis, Hermeneutics, Translation How does grammaticalization function? Text analysis of various kinds, underpinned by the above. Discourse analysis.
Social Sociology, Organisational science
("Social sciences" sometimes refers to the sciences not only of this aspect but of succeeding aspects too.)
Does social media make us lonely? Surveys, questionnaires, interviews, focus groups, all analysed with regard to social phenomena, employing hermeneutical methods and model building. Longitudinal studies.
Economic Economics, Management science. Why is it that individuals or institutions in many countries hold only modest amounts of foreign equity? Input=output analysis. Surveys etc analysed statistically, with model building
Aesthetic Aesthetics. Art, Music, etc.
(Often the research is in the doing not just the observing, hence a blurring between the science and disciplines of the aesthetic aspect.)
What is the line between art and non-art? Creative forming and performing with observation and interviews. Study of composer manuscripts, diaries, autobiographies, etc.
Juridical Juridics, Legal science, Political science How may we compare Indian and Iranian laws? Theoretical review of cases and long term histories.
Ethical Ethics. Why do many people pursue hedonistic lifestyles? Anthropological studies with emphasis on attitude
Pistic Theology, also some of Anthropology. What is the relationship between belief, commitment, courage and motivation? Exegesis. Reference to sacred writings, hermeneutics, theorizing, anthropological studies
(Since this aspect depends foundationally on all others, all their research methods find a place here, but they need to be carried out with a sensitive awareness of the realities and richness of the pistic aspect.)

For a fuller discussion of this, see Basden [2021] or Basden [2020, Chapter 8], or "".

4. Conclusion

This page has briefly outlined how Dooyeweerd's ideas can help research in most fields, from the mathematical and natural sciences, through the psychological ones to social sciences and humanities. We showed how awareness of aspects can help us find our way amidst the complexity of real-life experience of doing research, looked at how Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique of theoretical thought can help us understand what is going on in research, and looked at the range of fields by aspect.

Much more can be said, but following these should make our research more systematic and productive, especially for interdisciplinary research. A fuller account may be found in Basden [2020].

See Also


Basden A. 2011. Enabling a Kleinian integration of interpretivist and critical-social IS research: The contribution of Dooyeweerd's philosophy. European Journal of Information Systems. 20, 477-489.

Basden A. 2019/2020. Foundations and Practice of Research : Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy. Routledge.

Basden A. 2021. Understanding the Relationships between Fields of Research. The Electronic Journal of Business Research Methods, 19(1), 27-41.

Basden A, Joneidy S. 2019. Dooyeweerd's understanding of meaning (2) Some implications. Philosophia Reformata, 84(2), 1-28.

Carney M. 2021. Value(s). William Collins.

Clouser R. 2005. The Myth of Religious Neutrality; An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. University of Notre Dame Press, Notre Dame, Indiana, USA.

Dooyeweerd H. 1955. A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, Vol. I-IV, Paideia Press (1975 edition), Jordan Station, Ontario.

Habermas J. 1986. The Theory of Communicative Action; Volume One: Reason and the Rationalization of Society, tr. McCarthy T. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

NC: See Dooyeweerd [1955].

Winch P. 1958. The Idea of a Social Science and its Relation to Philosophy, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.

This page, "", is part of a collection that discusses application of Herman Dooyeweerd's ideas, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments are welcome.

Written on the Amiga and Protext in the style of classic HTML.

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

Created: 14 January 2022 Last updated: 12 October 2022 See also. resch.proj.