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.)

ego [ik] I, 59, 129
II, 400NC I, 4 ft 1, 5; 58-60; 115 (transcends all modal functions and all temporal individuality-structures)
NC III, 71 ft 1Grenzen van het theoretisch denken, 81
egos [ikken] I, 6
temporal coherence of self I, 5
NC I, 4 ft 1

Dooyeweerd uses the terms ‘zelfheid’ [selfhood], ‘ikheid [I-ness], and ‘ik’ [I or ego]. Is there a difference in these terms? Is ego the same as the act-structure, and is it distinct from the selfhood? Dooyeweerd is not clear, and these notes are exploratory.

Selfhood [Zelfheid], I-ness [ikheid]

I have tried to be consistent in translating ‘zelfheid’ as ‘selfhood’ and ‘ikheid’ as ‘I-ness.’ Dooyeweerd uses both terms in a supratemporal sense, referring to the supratemporal totality. And both terms are used in relation to the ideas of heart and religious root. Dooyeweerd rejects any idea of a purely temporal selfhood. He and Vollenhoven disagreed on this key point. Vollenhoven spoke of a purely temporal, pre-functional center to our being. Dooyeweerd rejected that view. See NC I, 31 fn1 and my article Dialectic. Our selfhood transcends the coherence of its functions:

We shall subsequently see why this deeper totality necessarily transcends the mutual coherence of all modal aspects of temporal reality, just as our selfhood transcends the coherence of its functions in these aspects (NC I, 4, ft. 1).

Our selfhood is not merely the coherence or systasis of meaning (WdW II, 400).

The New Critique sometimes translates ‘zelfheid’ and ‘ikheid’ as ‘ego.’ I think that such a translation is a mistake, since modern psychology generally uses ‘ego’ in a sense that is related to temporality. We can think of Freud’s distinction between ‘ego’ and ‘id.’ And Jung speaks of a temporal ego which we transcend in favour of a supratemporal Self. Thus, to translate these words as ‘ego’ is to suggest precisely the opposite meaning from Dooyeweerd’s view of a supratemporal selfhood.

Dooyeweerd distinguishes our supratemporal selfhood from our ego that is individuated in time. One reason that this has not been noticed may be that for those reformational scholars who deny a supratemporal selfhood, there is no distinction to be made. Even Troost, who supported the idea of a supratemporal selfhood, did not see the distinction between selfhood and ego in Dooyeweerd. Troost himself then suggested introducing this distinction (although he used the terms ‘ego’ and ‘selfhood’ in exactly the reverse manner):

Unfortunately we have no other way to describe this nucleus, this being, this depth, except by metaphorical language. It transcends our comprehension…It is for this reason that Dooyeweerd alternately speaks of ego and selfhood, even though he means the same thing. In theoretical anthropology I recommend the consistent use of ‘ego’ for the transcendent ‘supra-temporal’ ego as concentration-point of our whole concrete human existence in time. ‘Self’ could be used to describe the temporary existence. (A. Troost: The Christian Ethos (Bloemfontein: Patmos, 1983, 62, cited by Kobus Smit in Kuyper Reconsidered, p. 131).

Whether one uses the term ‘selfhood’ to refer to the supratemporal or the temporal would not make a difference, provided that the distinction between a supratemporal and a temporal “I” were maintained. But others who use this distinction (like Jung and transpersonal psychologists) reserve the term ‘selfhood’ for our supratemporal self. In any event, Troost is wrong. The distinction between selfhood and ego is found in Dooyeweerd.

Ego [ik]

I have used ‘ego’ to translate ‘ik’ (or its plural ‘ikken’). Ego is a more individual sense of the self. For example, Dooyeweerd refers to the individual ego [ik] (WdW I, 129).

But is that individual ego supratemporal or temporal? Or both? I believe that it is both. But this is not to be understood as a diversity of supratemporal hearts as individual egos. Nor is ego to be understood as an individual self that is of an entirely temporal nature. Rather, ego is to be understood as the supratemporal selfhood individuating within time, in a nondual relation to Totality. To understand this, we need to analyze Dooyeweerd’s work in more detail.

1. For Dooyeweerd, man is a composite being. We are simultaneously supratemporal and temporal beings:

Concerning the first supposition, suffice it to say that the heart (or the soul) of man in its (her) temporal expression in life (as spatiality, movement, organic life, feeling, thinking, acting, etc.) is of course subjected to time. These temporal expressions of life can during our life here on earth not be separated from their root or center. We ourselves are, in all of our temporal actions–that is in our whole life in this “body”–subject to time.

The question is merely whether in the heart, the religious center of life, we do not at the same time transcend (in the sense of going out above the temporal) the cosmic order of time–into which all transitory things are fitted.

In my view it is indeed the case [that in our heart we also transcend and go out above time]. If that were not so, then the undeniable sense of eternity in man’s heart could not be explained, and it would indeed be difficult to maintain the continued identical existence of the “soul” after bodily death. (Second Response to Curators)

Man transcends time in his selfhood, but within the temporal coherence, man is universally-bound-to-time (NC I, 24). Dooyeweerd also says this in his 1960 article, “Van Peursen’s Critische Vragen bij “A New Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Philosophia Reformata 25 (1960, 97-150, at 103:

En slechts in en uit Hem leren wij in de gemeenschap van de H. Geest verstaan, in welke zin wij in het centrum onzer existentie de tijd te boven gaan, ofschoon wij tegelijk binnen de tijd besloten zijn [italics Dooyeweerd’s]

[And only in and from out of Him do we learn to understand, in the fellowship of the Holy Ghost, in what sense we transcend time in the center of our existence, whereas we are simultaneously limited within time.]

We are restricted and relativized by (but not at all to) our temporal cosmic existence (NC II, 561).

2. Our supratemporal selfhood expresses itself in our temporal body, or what Dooyeweerd calls the “mantle of functions” (functiemantel). But in making this distinction between selfhood and temporal mantle, Dooyeweerd is not introducing another dualism. Our selfhood is not one of our temporal functions. It is not, for example, merely our rational function. It is the supratemporal center, or heart, out of which all of our temporal functions proceed and are expressed.

3. This mantle of functions is a structural whole made up of four separate enkaptically intertwined individuality structures: the inorganic, the organic, the biotic and the act-structure. Unlike temporal individuality structures, man as a whole cannot be qualified by any temporal functions:

Man is not qualified as a “rational-moral being,” but only by his kingly position as the personal religious creaturely centre of the whole earthly cosmos. In him the rational-moral functions also find their concentration and through him the entire temporal world is included both in apostasy and in salvation (NC III, 783).

4. So, although our acts come forth from our supratemporal center, they are expressed within our temporal mantle of functions. The human body is the free plastic instrument of the I-ness, as the spiritual centre of human existence (NC III, 88).

5. Dooyeweerd says that there is a fundamental dichotomy between our supratemporal selfhood and our temporal mantle of functions, and that after death, they will be separated (Tijdsprobleem, 216). Dooyeweerd says “the body will disintegrate when its tie to the soul is severed (in temporal death).” [‘32 Propositions on Anthropology‘]. But even this fundamental dichotomy must be understood not as a dualism, but in a nondual way. Dooyeweerd uses the new word ‘twee (-een-)heid’ or ‘two-unity’ to express this nonduality of supratemporal self and temporal body:

Just because of this, the Philosophy of the Law-Idea seeks the biblical dichotomy of soul and body not in the temporal, but in the nonduality of the supratemporal religious center or root (the “heart” or the “soul”) and the whole temporal mantle of functions (the “body”)] [Kuyper’s Wetenschapsleer, 204, my translation]

6. Our true existence is at the same time individual (in its temporality) and supra-individual (in its supratemporal selfhood):

The central and radical unity of our existence is at the same time individual and supra-individual; that is to say, in the individual I-ness it points beyond the individual ego toward that which makes the whole of mankind spiritually one in root in creation, fall and redemption (NC I, 60).

7. The supratemporal selfhood is not itself individual, but supra-individual. Dooyeweerd criticizes any view according to which the supratemporal is itself individual. Such a view of individuality is based on an irrationalistic personalism. Dooyeweerd criticizes Scheler for such a view:

Nor can he [Man] be what he [Scheler] calls the ‘personal correlate of an absolutely individual cosmos.’ This idea of a microcosm is dominated by the radically irrationalistic personalistic view of the transcendental horizon of human experience. The subjective individuality determines this horizon, making it both individual and cosmic, and “essentially and necessarily” different in each person. Even absolute truth becomes absolutely different for each individual person. Scheler’s “idea of God” is only “realizable” by an individual revelation. This Idea remains a merely intentional, theoretical hypostasis for any one who has not received this individual, most personal revelation. From this hypostasis the possibility of a real experience of the “macrocosm” can never be understood. (NC II, 593).

8. Man’s supratemporal selfhood was created as the religious root of temporal reality. That is why temporal reality fell with man. That is also why Christ the New Root was required to redeem the world. For Dooyeweerd, it is crucial to recognize that creation, fall and redemption all relate to the religious root. We now participate in Christ the New Root. See the excerpts that I have compiled from Dooyeweerd’s Twilight of Western Thought.

9. Dooyeweerd emphasizes the undifferentiated nature of this religious root. Even God’s common grace was shown to this religious root in its undifferentiated state.

10. Differentiation and individuation occur within time. Cosmic time splits up both the central law and the central subject-unity.

11. The supratemporal root is that out which our individuality comes, as well as the individuality of the cosmos itself. This religious root differentiates and unfolds itself (NC II, 7, 8, 418, 561).

12. Our individuality is given to us in temporal reality. It is in this temporal expression that our root unity has its individuality, its ego [ik]:

Bij de mens is het lichaam als enkaptish structuurgeheel een typische uitdrukking van de “geest” als religieuze worteleenheid, die in het Ik haar individualiteit heeft.[…]
De mens is in geestelijke zin geschapen als heerser van de tijdelijke kosmos; zijn lichaaamsvorm is van deze centrale positie de tijdelijke uitdrukking en het is de act-structuur, die juist door haar essentiële betrokkenheid op het geestelijk centrum van het Ik aan de menselijke lichaamsvorm dat typisch stempel opdrukt.(Grenzen, 81)

[In humans, the body as an enkaptic structural unity is a typical expression of the “spirit” as religious root unity, which has it individuality in the ego [het Ik]…
Man is in the spiritual sense created as lord of the temporal cosmos; his bodily form is the temporal expression of this central position, and it is by its essential relation to this spiritual center of the ego that the act-structure gives the typical stamp to the human bodily form]

13. Although we become more and more individual within cosmic time, Dooyeweerd says that the transcendent selfhood is not individual:

The subject of the full human experience, i.e. human selfhood, remains individual and this individuality remains inherent in the experiencing subjectivity within the temporal horizon. But the transcendent and transcendental structure of this subjectivity cannot be subjectively individual itself (NC II, 592, italics Dooyeweerd’s).

14. We experience our individuality within time. Man experiences his individual existence within the temporal horizon exclusively in the one and only cosmos into which he has been integrated together with all creatures. He also experiences his individuality in the various structures of the temporal society relationships (NC II, 594).

15. As part of our individuation in time, we develop an act-structure, which is the most encompassing of the four individuality structures that make up our body or mantel of functions. This act-structure is not given to the infant at birth, but develops over time. See notes on consciousness. Therefore, this act-structure may correspond in some way to what psychology describes as the developmental ego. For the act-structure, like the developmental ego, are both entirely temporal.

16. With other egos [ikken], I as ego form a temporal society and community. But both individual and communal egos have a religious root that is supra-individual. This is a spiritual community of the we, directed to a divine Thou. (NC I, 59, 60). The spiritual community must not be confused with any temporal community.

17. This view of the root of humanity as supra-individual is also found in Kuyper. Dooyeweerd cites Kuyper’s view that individuals do not exist in themselves; there only exist membra corporis generis humani. Christ is head or reborn humanity (NC II, 248).

18. Our individual ego is merely the concentration point of our individual existence (NC I, 59). Dooyeweerd’s point is that it is different from the selfhood, which is the concentration point of the entire temporal cosmos (NC I, 100).

19. Our ego is our temporal self-consciousness. This temporal self-consciousness does not have a static self-consciousness from the outset, but becomes more and more individual:

And within the temporal horizon man’s self-consciousness does not from the outset have a static individuality. Rather it becomes more and more individual. This takes place in a process of development which is also historically determined. The cosmos itself cannot be called individual. It is not an actual being. Its only temporal meaning-coherence is rather the structural frame-work within which the individuality of temporal things, events and societal relationships are only possible. […] The individuality of human experience within the temporal horizon has a societal structure excluding any possibility of a hermetically closed “microcosm” (NC II, 594).

20. Dooyeweerd speaks of our having fallen away from our true selfhood in the fall (I, vi, 31). Our true selfhood is not in time. But in the fall we fell away into the temporal horizon (NC II, 562). Our true Selfhood remains supratemporal, but we act as if our temporal consciousness were our selfhood.

21. When fallen man forgets his true supratemporal selfhood, he may still refer to a true selfhood as distinct from his ego. He regards the selfhood then in terms of freedom as opposed to the causally determined ego. But this is not a true distinction between selfhood and ego. For in this elevation of freedom, fallen man is still only absolutizing a part of temporal reality:

We can project an idol of our “true ego” and elevate this idol to an “ideal selfhood” which is placed over against our “empirical” I-ness considered as the “objectivation” of our self in the “past” and subjected to the natural law of causality. If in this case our “ideal selfhood” is related to the freedom of the “present” and the “future,” there is born a dialectical time-problem in the existential conception of the ego, due to the dialectical ground-motive of nature and freedom. But the “authentic”, the “fundamental” I-ness (or whatever you will name it) will ever recede from our view, as long as this latter is dispersed in time. A truly critical hermeneutic method in philosophical anthropology has the task to lay bare the origin of these dialectical problems as to the ego and true selfhood of man, and to unmask the temporal ideals projected about it. A purely temporal ex-sistere may never be identified with the ex-sistent character of the religious centre of human nature which is implied in its tendency towards its divine Origin (NC I, 58 fn 3).

So our true selfhood can never be conceived of as temporal. Nor can it be conceived of as the absolutization of an aspect of the temporal.

Individual supratemporal hearts?

Some people, like Peter Steen, have interpreted Dooyeweerd as saying that the supratemporal heart was created as a totality and that it then individuates into separate supratemporal hearts (Steen, 44, fn6). Steen relies on ‘32 Propositions,’ where Dooyeweerd says that there are two kinds of generation:

The creation of man (both body and soul), which, According to the Scriptures, the creation of man has been completed, both as to his body and his soul. But this completed creation works itself out in a creaturely way by generation. This generation has both a bodily and a spiritual (religious) side. With respect to its bodily side, which takes its course in cosmic time, humanity is generated of one blood [Acts 17:26 K.J.V.]. With respect to our spiritual side (not taking place in time) we are the “spiritual seed” of Adam and as a result, share in his fall into sin. Through the regeneration by the Holy Spirit, this natural line of spiritual generation is interrupted. The natural line of spiritual generation from Adam is the condition (but not the line of direction) for the regeneration by the Holy Spirit. The “natural” man, the anthroopos psychikos, is first, after that comes the “spiritual” man, the anthroopos pneumatikos, religiously rooted in Jesus Christ. (De leer van den mensch in de W.D.W., Corr. Bladen 5 (1942), translated as ’32 Propositions’, re-translated by myself).

Steen seems to think that this leads to the creation of separate supratemporal hearts. But I believe that that is a misreading. My reasons are:

a) Dooyeweerd’s emphasis is on the completion of creation in the supratemporal root, which then works itself out.

b) The spiritual generation is our share in Adam’s fall. To speak of “spiritual seed” does not necessarily imply the existence of separate supratemporal hearts. Indeed, the following statement, that the spiritual generation is “interrupted” by the regeneration by the Holy Spirit, shows that separate hearts could not have been intended, for how could their separate creation or generation be interrupted? What is interrupted is the fall into sin. Our fall in the undifferentiated selfhood is redeemed by Christ, in Whom we now participate.

c) If I am wrong in this analysis, then ‘generation’ still seems to be different from ‘individuation.’ We are the image of God, and so we musts understand generation from the religious root analogously to the differentiation in the Trinity. God’s only-begotten Son does not result in a tri-theism. The begetting does not create absolutely distinct Beings. Similarly, whatever ‘generation’ means, it cannot result in totally separate supratemporal hearts. We participate in Christ, the New Root, but in a nondual way.

d) What does this mean for the afterlife? Dooyeweerd indicates that our individuality continues. How can this be, if there are no separate supratemporal hearts? Dooyeweerd does not explain this. I am satisfied by the idea that the afterlife is a redeemed nature, and just as our present individuality is a result of the expression of our selfhood in time, so our future individuality will be assured by an expression of the selfhood in a redeemed nature. The individuality is in the expression, whether temporally or supratemporally. It may be that in fulfilled time, we also receive our individual selfhood in a fulfilled state, with a new or fulfilled ‘body’ in which to express itself. But even then, our fulfilled selfhood would not be absolutely separate and distinct from Christ, the New Root. To seek for any further individuality is a sign of a humanistic view of individuality. It is to fall into a desire for a substantial selfhood, and to forget that we are “from, through and to” God as our Origin.

Development of the ego/selfhood distinction

In his article on Frederik van Eeden, Dooyeweerd refers to “the intuitive dream-life of our second ‘I.’” (Also discussed in Henderson’s book Illuminating Law, 22-24). Van Eeden certainly had an idea of a transcendent, unifying selfhood, which he obtained from Hindu thought. Jung later obtained his idea of the Self from the Hindu Upanishads.

Ego and Selfhood in Baader

Baader also distinguishes between an individual ego and the central I-ness. There is a distinction between my true self, and my egoity (Ich-Ichheit) (Werke 2, 358; Fermenta Book V, s. 26). He speaks of losing oneself to find oneself. God elevates himself in the self to divinity as soon as the self ceases to elevate itself to egotism. (Fermenta,194, V.23). The sinking of the creature in God is the giving up of our false selfhood [schlechten Selbstheit] (Werke 12, 346).

Baader cites Eckhart:

So lange du suchest ich, mir, mich, icht,
So erlangst du wahre Erkenntnis nicht.
Wenn du in Christo Gott will leben,
so musst du dich Ihm ganz ergeben;
Die Selbheit, Ichheit lassen stehen,
Deines willens ganz und gar ausgehen,
Auf dass Gott in deine leere Selbstheit mag gehen. (Begründung 105 ft.)

Here is a very rough translation:

[As long as you seek I, me, my, self
You will not reach true understanding
If you want to live in Christ God
then you must give yourself wholly to Him;
Let stand your selfhood, I-ness
Let your will wholly and completely end
That God may enter in your empty selfhood.]