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.)

individuality structure I, vii; 46-47 [ding-structuur), 59, 79
II, 410, 488-89, 492NC II, 417 (true structural concepts of individuality); 555, 557′32 Propositions on Anthropology
individual structure II, 485
typical total structures NC I, 41 (typical total structures of individual things and concrete events)

“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6 (1941), 1-20 at 7-8.In individuality structures, the modal aspects are grouped in a typical manner into an individual totality relation, which overarches the aspects as a typical whole.

Because Dooyeweerd’s philosophy begins with the idea of a supratempora totality, he then needs to show how individual things and events are individuated from out of that totality. See my article: “Individuality Structures and Enkapsis: Individuation from Totality in Dooyeweerd and German Idealism.”

Our experience of indiviudality-structures is the lowest of the four levels or dimensions of the horizon of human experience. It depends on and is encompassed by the higher levels, the religious, temporal and modal. It is this horizon of individuality structures in which we experience the individuality of things.

Dooyeweerd’s Idea that our experience of individuality is given in individuality structures is opposed to any philosophy that asserts that things are based on substance or that things exist in themselves. Dooyeweerd rejects all ideas of substance or ‘ousia’

The identity of a thing, rooted in the continuity of cosmic time, is, however, not the metaphysical identity of a substance, as the absolute point of reference of its different “accidental properties (NC III, 65).

All temporal things depend for their existence and reality on humanity as the supratemporal root. See things for a detailed discussion of how Dooyeweerd’s conception of things is different from our “normal” empiricist way of viewing reality.

The horizon of individuality structures  plays the dominant role in our naive experience. (II, 488). Naive experience grasps reality in its plastic structure (NC III 36).

But even in naive experience, it is the individuality structures (and not “things” that are subject to structures) that are grasped:

Nu is in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee een der grondstellingen, dat de tijdelijke werkelijkheid zich in de naieve ervaring explicite slechts in haar individualiteits-structuren geeft en dat ook de individueele, aan deze ervaring vertrouwde, dingen door haar slechts in deze structuren worden gevat. [“De idee der individualitieteitsstructuur en het thomistisch substantiebegrip” Philosophia Reformata, 1943, 8e jrg., 3e en 4e kwartaal, 65-66).

[Now one of the fundamental points of the Philosophy of the law-Idea is that temporal reality explicitly gives itself in naive experience only in its individuality-structures, and that therefore the individual who has been entrusted with this experience, grasps things only in these structures.]

Thus, Dooyeweerd’s philosophy rejects the view that naive experience begins with things, and that the individuality structures are “abstracted” from these things. Things are not separable from their individuality structures in this way. We cannot obtain true structural concepts of individuality by means of the procedure of gradual abstraction. Nor can we obtain theoretical insight into the modal structures of the law-spheres by gradual abstraction (NC II, 417).

Nor does our theory begin with things (I, 47). Methodologically, we must examine aspects before things [thus, they are not abstractions of thing!] (I, 49). The individuality structures are determined by the temporal and modal horizons. Thus, the modes are not abstractions of something previously existing (II, 492).

This is confirmed by his last article, “De Kentheoretische Gegenstandsrelatie en de Logische Subject-Objectrelatie,” Philosophia Reformata 40 (1975), 83-101. In that article, Dooyeweerd says that contrary to Strauss’s assertions, we do not have implied knowledge of aspects in pre-theoretical experience. Nor are aspects deduced or abstracted from things. That is a “serious misunderstanding.” Aspects are therefore not kinds of properties, as is often asserted in reformational philosophy. It is the other way around: the modal aspects lie at the basis of individuality structures; things are individuations of the empirical functions of the aspects. Dooyeweerd says that Strauss’s rejection of the Gegenstand-relation reflects the most common prejudices of modern epistemology. And Dooyeweerd emphasizes that the ideas of the irreducibility of the modal spheres and their coherence are not to be separated from the transcendental idea of their root-unity in the religious center of human existence. Dooyeweerd distinguishes between aspects and functions. It is not the aspects that are individualized in individuality strcutures–otherwise the aspects would cease to exist. It is the empirical funcitons of the aspects that are individualized.

Dooyeweerd says that immanence philosophy cannot understand this. Because immanence philosophy rests on absolutizing, it can never come to a structural concept of a thing, but always either concepts of function or metaphysical substance. (“De Theorie van de Bronnen van het Stellig Recht in het licht der Wetsidee,”1930, p.8/14). This is quite an astounding assertion. Immanence philosophy can never come to the proper structural concept of a thing!

In this same article he says,

“In de kosmische tijdsorde ligt de kosmische wetsorde besloten, welke zowel de volgorde der wetskringen als de individueele ding-structuur der werkelijkheid bepaalt. Wie echter in de logos zijn Archimedisch punt zoekt als een instantie “quae nulla re indiget ad existendum”, moet noodzakelijk die kosmische wetsorde uit het oog verliezen, de tijdelijke werkelijkheid uiteenscheuren en daarmede ook de individueele zin-structuur der werkelijkheid uit zijn wetenschappelijk denken elimineren.”

[In the cosmic order of time the cosmic law-order lies enclosed, which determines both the succession order of the law-spheres as well as the individual thing-structures of reality. Whoever seeks his Archimedean point in the Logos as an example of “quae nulla re indiget ad existendum”–that which needs no res in order to be–must necessarily lose sight of the cosmic order of time, must tear apart the temporal reality and therewith must also eliminate from scientific thought the individual structures of meaning of reality].

It is within individuality strcutures that the temporal becoming of creatures takes place This is denied by evolutionism, which assumes a nominalistic concept of species and concentrates entirely on the variability of form types (‘32 Propositions on Anthropology,’ Proposition XXIX).

Christian theologians and philosophers have also misunderstood the radical nature of this Idea of individuality structures. Verburg says that theologians who are opposed to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy have not given enough attention to the fundamental difference between the idea of substance and that of individuality structures.(Verburg 272). I agree with this assessment. But many of those who claim to be adherents of Dooyeweerd have also misunderstood the significance of this Idea. They keep trying to bring back some Idea of substance. Stoker was explicit in seeking to re-introduce an Idea of substance. But other reformational philosophers bring in similar notions when they try to separate a “thing” from its individuality structure.

Magnus Verbrugge has advised me that, Dr. H. van Riessen, who was a professor at the University of Delft in the 1950’s, and Dr. P.A. Verburg, professor in linguistics at the University of Groningen visited Dooyeweerd and implored him to come up with a new term replacing that of individuality-structure. They said that their students had a problem with understanding this new term in his philosophy, which was difficult enough . They suggested that it be replaced by the word ‘idionomy’ (from the Greek words idios: peculiar or special, and nomos: law). In other words an individuality structure would be a particular law. Dooyeweerd did not agree with this proposal.

We can see how van Riessen had difficulties with the Idea of individuality-structures. Van Riessen’s philosophy follows Vollenhoven’s philosophy, which differs greatly from Dooyeweerd. Vollenhoven had been van Riessen’s doctoral supervisor at the Free University. Like Vollenhoven, van Riessen begins with things and then “abstracts” universals from them. D.F.M. Strauss, who was Vollenhoven’s student, has a similar view, as does Roy Clouser. But Dooyeweerd disagrees with this view of abstraction. Dooyeweerd’s philosophy does not begin with individual things. Vollenhoven places the law “outside” the cosmos. This tends to give more individuality to things that are within the cosmos and subjected to a law outside of it. It is a much more “thinglike” view of reality. It is also very different from Dooyeweerd’s view of there being a law-side and a subject-side to the cosmos. Vollenhoven therefore cannot see individuality structures in same the way that Dooyeweerd does. Vollenhoven also denies the supratemporal heart, and the temporal succession of the aspects. For Dooyeweerd, the supratemporal heart is the key of knowledge to understanding his philosophy. Temporal reality and things rely for their existence on this supratemporal root. Individual things are differentiated by cosmic time. They arise in time, and endure only so long as their individuality structure. The factual duration of a thing depends on preservation of its structure of individuality (NC III, 78-79). Things are their individuality structure, and nothing in themselves. They are ” structures of temporal duration.” Dooyeweerd himself speaks of both structure and typical unity in the same sentence:

“…een individualiteitsstructuur als zodanig niets anders is dan een in de kosmische tijdsorde gegronde typische eenheid in de verscheidenheid van de modale functies.” (Grenzen van het theoretisch denken, 80)

[…an individuality-structure as such is nothing other than a typical unity in the diversity of the modal functions, grounded in the cosmic order of time.]

Unfortunately, because Vollenhoven’s philosophy has been assumed to be similar to Dooyeweerd’s, van Riessen’s suggestion ‘idionomy’ has again been raised. I am advised by Magnus Verbrugge that a concern has arisen in relation to the translation of Volumes II and III of Dooyeweerd’s Reformation and Scholasticism. Verbrugge argues that the word “structure” is ambiguous and can mean both the “entity” and also the “structure” of such an entity in the sense of the modal laws displayed by that entity, or what Verbrugge calls “the aspectual features of such individual entities.” Verbrugge points to the first page in chapter 3 of Volume III of Reformation and Scholasticism, which discusses the living cell body. Dooyeweerd says, “a living organism is nothing but an individuality structure.” On the next page he writes about “…the genuine biochemical constellation in the individuality structure of a living organism.” Verbrugge says that this therefore becomes: “the genuine biochemical constellation in the individuality structure of an individuality structure.” Verbrugge says that it is meaningless to talk about the “structure of a structure.” He therefore has proposed to translate “individuality structure” as ‘idionomy.’

I do not believe that Verbrugge’s conclusion follows. It occurs only if we try to separate a thing from its individuality structure. Verbrugge also points to enkapsis as an example of there being different structures in a thing. But again that is to misunderstand Dooyeweerd. His whole idea of how the human body is a whole of intertwined individuality structures shows that individuality structures are not separate “things.” Our body is not made up of four different things. There are structures within structures, but nowhere is there a thing that is separate from these structures.

It is true that there are some places where Dooyeweerd does speak of subjective individuality as being different from its structure:

Een individualiteitsstructuur is uiteraard niet de subjectieve (resp. objectieve) individualiteit zelf. Ze is veeleer een grondleggend wetsprincipe, dat de dingen, gebeurtenissen, handelingen, samenlevingsvormen, enz. in haar individuele werkelijkheid eerst mogelijk maakt; een wetmatig kader, waarbuiten zij niet tot bestaan kunnen komen. De appelboom in het algemeen is niet een individueel werkelijk ding; ook niet alleen maar een naam waarmee alle mogelijke individuele appelbomen worden samengevat, en evenmin is het zomaar een begrip waaraan objectieve werkelijkheid zou toekomen. Het is integendeel een structuurprincipe, dat, in de tijdelijke wereldorde gegrond, door Gods scheppingswil bepaald is. (Grenzen van het theoretisch denken, Baarn: Ambo, 1986, 54).

[An individuality-structure is certainly not the subjective (or respectively, objective) individuality itself. It is much rather a a foundational principle of law which makes things, events, acts, societal organizations, etc. first possible in their individual reality. It is a framework of law-regularity, without which they could not come to existence. The apple tree in general is not an individual real thing; it is also not merely a name by which all possible individual apple trees may be understood together, and even less is it merely a concept which will acquire objective reality. It is in contrast a structural principle, that is grounded in the temporal world order, and determined by God’s creative will.]

But Dooyeweerd is here distinguishing subjectivity (the subject-side) from the law-side. Subjective individuality (or objective individuality) is given by the continuity of cosmic time, and cannot be analyzed by theoretical thought. But this does not mean that there is an individuality that exists apart from its law-side.

He goes on to say that the individuality structure is a totality structure that is rooted in the continuity of the cosmic order of time; it goes beyond the boundaries of law spheres; it is inaccessible to theoretical analysis but is rather the presupposition of any structural analysis. But the individual totality is an individual unity in the diversity of her modal aspects. The individuality structure expresses itself in the aspects just like the cosmic order of time expresses itself in the modal structure of the aspects. The diversity of the aspects is accessible to theory (58-59). Typical total structures have no duration. They belong to law side of cosmic time (NC III, 79). The duration of things is given by the subject-side of reality.

The statement that the individuality structure “expresses itself in the aspects just like the cosmic order of time expresses itself in the modal structure of the aspects” refers to the fact that each individuality structure is qualified by an aspect, and that this aspect retains its sphere sovereignty from out of the central reality.

Clouser seems to have taken van Riessen’s view of individuality-structures as being separable from a thing. He has said (in an online discussion)

A comment: “individuality structure” is one the worst terms D. came up with and is highly misleading. It does NOT mean an individual thing. It refers to the LAW that makes possible things of that type. That is, it makes possible the combination of properties of different aspectual kinds that constitute that TYPE of thing. (Calvin suggested this idea in Inst. II,2,16.) That’s why I used “type law” instead.

Although Clouser is right that there is a distinction between law-side and subject-side, I believe that he is wrong in attempting to separate things from this law. But then he subscribes to the view that theory involves the “abstraction” of universals from things. I do not agree with his revision of the term ‘individuality structure’ in favour of the term ‘type law.’

In contrast to these revisions of Dooyeweerd’s terminology, I believe that we need to take seriously that Dooyeweerd means what he says when he writes that “a living organism is nothing but an individuality structure.” There may be biochemical constellations in that structure. But that does not mean that there is some “thing” or “entity” that is other than the structure. It does mean that there is a subject-side to the law-side. To translate ‘individuality-structure as ‘idionomy’ would not only be contrary to Dooyeweerd’s own view. It would in my opinion again bring in the idea of an entity as a separate substance which is subject to the ‘idionomy.’ This attempted revision to Dooyeweerd’s idea of “individuality structures” wants to preserve the idea of a thing that is subject to these structures. And this is related to a view of abstraction of universals from these things, a view that Dooyeweerd expressly rejects.

So what are individuality-structures?

(1) In 1947, Dooyeweerd gave a simplified explanation of what a thing-structure is:

What is a structure? It is an architectonic plan according to which a diversity of ” moments ” is united in a totality. And that is only possible so long as the different ” moments ” do not occupy the same place in the totality but are rather knit together by a directive and central “moment”. This is precisely the situation with regard to the structure of the different aspects of reality. They have an enduring structure in time which is the necessary condition for the functioning of variable phenomena in the framework of these aspects (“Introduction to a Transcendental Criticism of Philosophic Thought” Evangelical Quarterly XIX (1) Jan 1947).

(2) This “knitting together” of a “diversity of moments” is something that is understandable only in relation to Dooyeweerd’s Idea of aspects and moments within the aspects as following in a temporal succession. Their being knit together by a “central moment” implies a supratemporal center. This is what Dooyeweerd means when he says that things are qualified by a leading function, and that this is related to the sovereignty in its own sphere of that aspect. And this Idea of knitting together a diversity of moments is incomprehensible if, like vollenhoven, we deny that there is a temporal succession in our experience of the aspects.

(3) In a structure of individuality, the leading function qualifies every individuality totality belonging to the same kingdom orrealm. The foundational function has the nuclear type of individuality.(NC III, 90-91).

(4) An individuality structure is based in the temporal bottom layer.

In fact, reality has its inter-modal bottom-layer in the continuity of cosmic time.
And it is only in this cosmic temporal bottom-layer of every thing-structure that the individual whole of a thing is realized. Its individual identity receives its determination from its internal structural principle. It is this identity that is intuitively experienced in naive experience.
This identity is consequently more than functional. […]
The identity of a thing, rooted in the continuity of cosmic time, is, however not the metaphysical identity of a substance, as the absolute point of reference of its different “accidental properties.” Nor can it be the radical identity of the different modal functions of the thing concerned. The modal aspects of reality find their deeper identity in the central religious sphere alone. But temporal things are perishable, they do not have a supra-temporal selfhood; their thing-identity is only that of a temporal individual whole, i.e. of a relative unity in a multiplicity of functions. (NC III, 65).

(5) It is cosmic time which gives individuality to things. Cosmic time has both an order and a duration. Together they make up cosmic time (NC I, 24).

(6) The individuality-structure relates to time-duration. The temporal bottom layer of each aspect is the coherence among the aspects. It is more than the sum of the aspects, and it is also a different dimension of our experiential horizon. He says,

Temporal reality does not end in the modal functions; it is not shut off in the modal horizon of the law-spheres. Rather, it has–if I may use this image–its inter-modal prolongation in the continuity of the cosmic coherence (NC III, 64).

(7) This inter-modal prolongation is what gives things their duration in cosmic time. There exists a typical structural coherence between directing and directed functions in the continuous real bottom-layer of a thing as an individual whole (NC III, 66).

(8) And this individuality structure relates to the temporal bottom layer of each aspect:

“Every modal function of this individual whole must have a bottom layer in the continuous inter-modal coherence of cosmic time in which any temporal reality is embedded.” (NC III, 63).

(9) The plastic horizon of our experience of individuality-structures is characterized by types. There are different types of individuality structures which are different for different groups of things and in which things alternately appear, form themselves or are formed, and disappear (II, 489). Types can be further divided into genotypes [stamtypen] and phenotypes [variabiliteitstypen, fenotypen] (Grenzen van het theoretisch denken, Baarn: Ambo, 1986, 65).

(10) These types of individuality structures have a sphere sovereignty. They are arranged in an inter-structural enkaptic coherence frustrating any attempt to absolutize them. (NC III, 627).

(11) There may be several individuality-structures enkaptically interwoven with each other. Indeed it is this fact of enkapsis that makes the idea of beginning with a “simple” thing untenable (NC III, 54). There is no simple thing, because no single structure of individuality can be realized but in inter-structural intertwinements with other individuality-structures (NC III, 627).

This view of individuality structures is such a different view of the nature of reality that we need to be jolted out of our normal empiricism. I have found the study of comparative philosophy to be helpful in this regard. The debates between Hinduism and Buddhism regarding whether or not there is a substance are particularly helpful. The buddhist idea of “impermanence” and “dependent origination” is of some help here, in that it views things as having no substance. The Hindu view, like that of Dooyeweerd, relates temporal reality to a supratemporal selfhood, but denies that temporal reality has any being in itself. Whether or not the selfhood should be regarded as substance was a matter of debate with Buddhism. The Buddhists said that not only did the selfhood have not substance, but that there was “no-self.” We see a similar debate in whether Dooyeweerd’s philosophy ascribes Being to God (he does). See Being. But temporal reality has no existence in itself, no substance. Its mode of being is that of meaning.

By denying created things a metaphysical substantial being we have not detracted anything from their proper reality and activity, which is fundamentally distinct from the Divine Being of the Creator. we have only stressed that this reality is of the character of meaning, which cannot be independent and self-contained (NC III, 74).

Even our supratemporal selfhood exists only as meaning in relation to the Origin. Adherents of Dooyeweerd have not taken these Ideas seriously. They have spiritualized them so as to make them mean only that we believe that temporal reality has been created. But then they want to give an independent existence to that creation, as substance, or as things that are subjected to a law outside the cosmos.

Development of the Idea of individuality structures

Verburg says that Dooyeweerd originally referred to things as an individual unity of subject functions [subjectseenheid].

Plant, dier, mensch etc. zijn kosmische subjectseenheden, d.w.z. zij bezitten reëele subjectsfuncties in onderscheiden wetskringen, doch zij zijn als ding, als subjecteenheid eerst gequalificeerd door hun meest gecompliceerde, reëele subjectsfunctie. (“Het juridisch causaliteitsprobleem in ‘t licht der wetsidee,” 1928, p. 28; Verburg 112, 126).

[Plant, animal, humans etc. are cosmic subjective unities, i.e. they possess real subject functions in law-spheres that are distinguished from each other, but as things, as subjective unities, they are first qualified by their most complicated, real subject function].

This seems to be Vollenhoven’s view of things (See Isagoogè). But Dooyeweerd’s idea of individuality structures developed in a way that Vollenhoven could not accept (See Vollenhoven’s response to Dooyeweerd address to the Association for Calvinistic Philosophy on January 2, 1964 (cited by Verburg 381). This seems to be because individuality-structures are individuations from out of totality, an idea that Vollenhoven did not accept. Thus, the idea here of “subjective unities” is different from Dooyeweerd’s later idea of individuality structures.

Dooyeweerd also quickly changed his view about regarding humans as temporal “things.” In the same year, 1928 he wrote “De Bronnen van het stellig recht in het licht der wetsidee,” (1930), Antirevolutionaire Staatkunde, 2e jrg. 1928. At page 12 he writes about the structures of things. He still refers to things as ‘subjective unities” and he now refers to their “leading function” which opens up the anticipatory spheres in their earlier subject functions. But all things that have such a leading function within cosmic reality are perishable, “limited to the temporal.” Man transcends the cosmos in the root of his person. Therefore he has no such leading funciton. Each perishable thing is limited by the principle of sovereignty in its own sphere, but man as such transcends the cosmos. It is only in his temporal funcitons in his natural and spiritual relations that he is subjected to sovereignty in its own sphere. (Cited by Verburg 121). In his 1942 article “32 Propositions on Anthropologyy” Dooyeweerd says that man’s temporal body is an enkaptic interweaving of four individuality structures).

In “De Structuur der rechtsbeginselen en de methode der rechtswetenschap in het licht der wetsidee,” (1930) Dooyeweerd refers to an “individual unity of subject functions.” Verburg thinks that the use of the word ‘individual’ is significant here. (Verburg 126)

Comparison to Baader

Baader also opposed any idea of substance as self-existent. He says that temporal things are set-together This word ‘zusammengesetzt’ is also a play on words of ‘Gesetz’ or law. There is therefore a similarity between Dooyeweerd’s Idea of individuality structures. Usually, Baader refers to different modes of production as ‘elements’ or ‘factors.’ For example, he refers to “elements and factors of perception.” In their central inner sense, these elements are identical; in their outer sense–the temporal world–there is only a composition of elements which are put together [zusammengesetzt] into temporal beings (Werke IV, 100). Temporal beings are a result of the breaking up of the supratemporal unity–they are not an integral unity, but a non-unity [Nichteinheit]; temporal things are put together and subject to dissolution [zusammengesetzt und auflösbar]. (Elementarbegriffe 538, 538). Temporal things have individuality only in time; their temporal life must lead to Death. But Man was not destined to remain in the region of brokenness (Zeit p. 28 ft. 9).

Like Baader, Dooyeweerd also speaks of the transcendent identity of the modal functions that is experienced in the religious root of our existence (NC II, 479). Dooyeweerd’s view of temporal beings is also similar to Baader’s view of things being put together [zusammengesetzt] in time. Neither Dooyeweerd nor Baader accept the idea of substance that is put together to make things. Structures of individuality are given by time and are wholly temporal. Temporal things are perishable; they do not have a supra-temporal selfhood; their thing-identity is only that of a temporal individual whole—a relative unity in a multiplicity of functions (NC III, 65). Temporal beings have an ‘individuality structure’ based on a temporal ordering of the modes, and this is what gives temporal things their duration in time (NC III, 79).

Revised Sept. 26/07