a priori

Linked Glossary of Terms
(references to De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee, unless indicated. See concordance for correlation with pages in the New Critique. The concordance is in pdf format.)

a priori I,5, 12, 23, 26, 31, 34, 51-52, 54, 57, 61, 63 (law-Idea), 68 (structure), 70 (Ground-Principle), 72 (choice), 75, 127
II, 8 fn1 (a priori nature of reality can only be known by experience), 403, 422, 482, 486-87, 491, 493, 496

NC I, vi (supra-theoretical a priori), 9 (conditions of all knowing)
NC II, 489 fn1 (different levels of the a priori), 546, 548, 550, 553 (a priori modal structures); 554 (synthetical a priori, subjective-fallible a priori, cosmological a priori); 559 (a priori horizon), 560 (levels of the a priori), 573 (a priori structural laws), 574 (false a priori insight), 593(a priori determined by the Divine order), 596 (transcendental a priori knowledge), 597 (transcendental a priori structure)

“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6 (1941), 1-20, at 7). Page 13: ontical apriori structure of theoretical thought.

a posteriori NC II, 577 (so-called a posteriori theoretical insights)
conditions I, 31, 51-52
II, 407, 408, 414, 484
universal validity “Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6, 1-20, at 14

Dooyeweerd’s use of the term a priori must not be seen in purely logical terms. God’s law, to which we are subject, is the a priori foundation for all our experience. In our transcendent selfhood we either acknowledge this basis for our experience, or we turn our hearts against God and attempt to set up our own a priori foundation. Instead of the law (nomos) of God, we try to set our own law in autonomy (from autos meaning ‘self’ and nomos meaning ‘law’). When we set our own law, we absolutize an aspect or aspects of our experience. In Western thought, we have frequently absolutized the logical aspect of our experience, which we then posit as ‘subject’ as over against the experience of the senses.

The a priori should also not be regarded as a conceptual axiom or presupposition of our philosophy. It is an ontological condition of all knowledge. It is our principle or beginning.

It is not our theoretical ideas that our universally valid, but rather the ontical structure that forms the foundational framework in which thinking is even possible (“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6, 1-20, at 14).

There are various dimensions to the horizon of our experience. Dooyeweerd refers to these as a priori levels of our experience. This sense of a priori is cosmological as opposed to ontological:

There is an a priori complex in the cosmological sense of the structural horizon of human experience. This a priori as such has the character of a law. And there is also a merely subjective a priori complex in the epistemological sense of the subjective a priori insight into that horizon. We can distinguish the two a priori complexes simply as the structural and the subjective a priori. Only the subjective a priori can be true or false in an epistemological sense. (NC II, 548).

The horizon of our experience is the a priori meaning-structure of our cosmos itself, in its dependence on the central religious sphere of the creation, and in subjection to the Divine Origin of all things (NC II, 548).

Kant’s idea of the “subjective a priori” rests on a view of subjectivity that Dooyeweerd rejects. Furthermore, Kant’s use of a priori is used only in a logical sense and not in a foundational sense. The contrast between “a priori” and “empirical” is useless in the light of the cosmonomic Idea. It assumes a metaphysical separation between noumena and phenomena (NC II, 546).

Baader says that a priori refers to our inner experience and a posteriori to the outer. What Kant called a priori and a posteriori is ab interiori and ab exteriori (Lichtstrahlen 103; Werke I, 326). In other words, this distinction is that between the inner center and the outer periphery (Werke I, 348). Insofar as the religious dimension for Dooyeweerd is the dimension of our central, inner selfhood, there seems to be a correspondence between Baader and Dooyeweerd here. Dooyeweerd says,

“Our transcendental a priori knowledge remains subjective and must always be put to the test of the Truth. Within the transcendent horizon of experience we must trace its deepest root.” (NC II, 596).

“The a priori structure of reality can only be known from experience. But this is not experience as it is conceived by immanence-philosophy.” (NC II, 7, footnote 2).

In an early article, Dooyeweerd refers to Kant’s modalities of possibility, reality, and necessity. He says that possibility is a hypothetical form of judgment; reality is a modality of the intuitive consciousness [schouwend bewustzijn].(Feb 1923 “Advies over Roomsch-katholieke en Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde” (Verburg 48-61) 10 pages entitled ‘Kosmos en Logos).

The basis of Dooyeweerd’s criticism of Kant is that our thought is subject to these apriori ontical conditions that alone make thought possible. A similar criticism of Kant was already given by Baader a hundred years before Dooyeweerd.

The Encyclopedia of Philosophy says that Baader ‘turned the critical method he had learned from Kant against criticism itself.’ Baader says that the first work of philosophy must be to seek out the mediations and limitations under which humans attain to the free use of their faculty of knowledge (Werke 1, 324). This sounds like Kant’s transcendental critique. But Baader says that these limitations are given by God’s law to which creation is subject. The law is a structural a priori–the law must always precede the finite being as its true a priori (Zeit 32, 33 fn. 14). Sauter says that Baader took Kant at his own word: the Critiques are only a Propädeutik to a positive philosophy; we must take the step from a transcendental to a transcendent philosophy [Betanzos 40, citing J. Sauter: Baader and Kant (Jena: Fischer, 1928).]

Dooyeweerd also applies Kant’s transcendental critique against Kant (NC I, 118). This is why Dooyeweerd’s work is called A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Kant sought to show the conditions under which thought is at all possible. But these conditions must show the possibility of the self itself that is thinking. There are conditions for the thinking that Kant takes for granted. The structure of our thinking experience has an a priori character. This is different from the Kantian notion of the a priori as meaning only ‘non-empirical.’ The a priori is ontical; it precedes thought as well as empirical investigation (NC II, 550). Like Baader, Dooyeweerd says that the transcendental direction of theoretic thought pre-supposes the transcendent (NC I, 88). Critical theory must lead to the genetic relativity of meaning (NC I, 9).

For Dooyeweerd’s first discussion of how his idea of the a priori differs from that of Kant, see my article Dooyeweerd’s Idea of Modalities: The Pivotal 1922 Article.

Revised Jan 11/09; Dec 23/16