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.)

Cosmonomic Idea The NC translation of ‘law-Idea’
law I, 14, 33, 57, 63, 74 (concept of), 80, 127, 129 and 131-32 (structural laws)
NC I, 187 (law and possibility).
Law-Idea I, v; 62, 63-64, 68, 73-74, 77, 83, 123 (in Litt), 124-125, 131
II, 407, 412, 421, 485, 486 (humanist), 487, 495, 497
law of time I, 57
law-conformity NC II, 591 (not abstract ‘Wesensgesetzmäszigkeit’), 598 (law-conformable structure)
law-order I, 56, 66, 76, 129 (divine law for the cosmos)
II, 407, 414
order of creation II, 491, 493, 495
ordinances of creation II, 482
religious law of concentration “Het dilemma voor het christelijk wijsgeerig denken en het critisch karakter van de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee,” Philosophia Reformata 1 (1936), 1-16, at 14.

See my book Neo-Calvinism and Christian Theosophy, pp. 188-200 and 382-384 for a history of how Dooyeweerd developed the law-Idea. The idea appears for the first time in his February, 1923 address, “Advies over Roomsch-katholieke en Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde” :

Waar nu het bewustzijn niets meer autonoom stelt, maar alles heeft ontvangen, in alles gesteld is, als objectieven zin, nu de wet der heteronomie onbeperkt in al het bestaande gaat heerschen, ook in het zingeven bewustzijn, komt de vraag naar den wetgever, den ordenaar, den schepper van zelf naar boven (cited by Verburg 48-61)

[When our consciousness no longer places itself autonomously, but rather receives objective meaning and is placed within it, then the law, which is heteronomous, is not limited in its rule over all of existence. This law also applies to the giving of meaning within our own consciousness. When we see this, the question arises of itself as to the Law Giver, the One who Orders, the Creator] (my translation).

The ideas comes from Franz von Baader, who made a similar play on words between the law [Gesetz] that places [setzt] us within the temporal world. See the entry for being placed or fitted into.


Verburg says that this is just a “passing reference to the law that would play such a great role in his thought. What Verburg does not note is the startling resemblance between this passage and that of Baader’s philosophy:

a) Baader opposes autonomy to the heteronomy of God’s law. Man made the mistake of exchanging his Ground for a cause in a narrow sense of dependence; he exchanged heteronomy with autonomy (Philosophische Schriften I, 35). Autonomy is failing to recognizing one’s inner principle, but rather seeing one’s self as his own Law, in the literal sense as being his own law (p. 37).

b) Just as Dooyeweerd makes a play on the words ‘stelt’ and gestelt’, Baader makes a play on the words ‘setzen’ and ‘gesetzt.’ Selbstsetzung is autonomy, and being ‘gesetzt’ is being placed or sub-jected to God’s law. this being ‘gesteld’ or ‘gesetzt’ is what the NC has translated as being fitted into the temporal world. In the WdW, Dooyeweerd substituted the word ‘gevoegd’ for ‘gesteld.’

Het is een wereldsamenhang, dien de mensch wel in zijn zelfheid transcendeert, naar waarbinnen hij met alle schepselen, die met hem in denzelfden wereldsamenhang gevoegd zijn, in universeele gebondenheid aan den tijd verkeert (WdW I, 36)

[It is a temporal coherence. Man transcends it in his selfhood, it is true,–but within this coherence he exists in a status of being-universally-bound-to-time. Man is bound to time together with all creatures that are fitted with him in the same temporal order] (as translated in NC I, 24

c) Even our consciousness is fitted within this law-order. This is the basis of Baader’s criticism of Kant, who never really answered the question of how our thought is itself possible. There is an ontical apriori, or what Dooyeweerd here calls “objective meaning” as opposed to the meaning that we try to give by ourselves.

d) The relation of intuition and thought is also key in Baader. In a variant of Kant, he says,

Schauen ohne Denken blind; Denken ohne Schauen sinnlos wäre (Werke 1,, 191 Sauer 46)

[Intuition without thinking would be blind; thinking without intuition would be meaningless]

Kant’s statement was that thoughts without content are empty, intuitions without concepts are blind.

Another very early use of this idea of being fitted is in Dooyeweerd’s 1923 article “De leer der rechtssoevereiniteit en die der staatssoevereiniteit in haar consequenties voor de verhouding van Overheid en onderdanen”:

In de natuur verschijnt de wet als scheppingsordinantie, op zedelijk en juridisch terrein als norm. De ethische en juridische normen zijn beide heteronoom, d.w.z. ze worden niet door de rede zelve gesteld, maar het wezen der rechtsorde en der zedelijke orde is normatief op ground van het goddelijk gezag, dat ze instelde.(cited by Verburg 62).

[In nature, the law appears as creation ordinances. In the moral and juridical areas it appears as norm. The ethical and juridical norms are both heteronomous, that is to say, they are not set [gesteld] by reason itself, but the essence of the legal and moral order is normative on the basis of divine authority that set [instelde] them].

These norms rely on the divine Idea of authority [Gezagsidee].

In a 1932 article, Dooyeweerd says that the law-Idea is the Idea of the deeper unity of the law-spheres. We can compare the law-spheres in their functional meaning only after we have discovered their supratemporal deeper unity in the Archimedean point of philosophy.(“De Theorie van de Bronnen van het Stellig Recht in het licht der Wetsidee” , “Handelingen van de Vereeniging voor Wijsbegeerte des Rechts, XIX (1932) from Mensch en Maatschappij, cited by Verburg).

The law-Idea became the way that Dooyeweerd referred to his philosophy. “De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee” literally means “Philosophy of the Law-Idea.” The New Critique translates law-Idea as ‘Cosmonomic Idea.’ This comes from ‘cosmos’ and ‘nomos,’ the word for ‘law.’ So it means “the law for the cosmos.” It therefore brings out the fact that the law is the law of God that governs the whole cosmos. The cosmos itself is wholly temporal, being within cosmic time. And the cosmos is that part of reality which finds its center in humanity as the root of temporal reality.

Dooyeweerd’s view of the place of the law is different from Vollenhoven’s. Dooyeweerd sees the law as one side of the cosmos. Vollenhoven sees the law for the cosmos as “outside” the cosmos.

The law limits and determines temporal reality (I, 14; NC I, 12). All possibility is only within law:

…the concept “possibility” only has a reasonable sense, if we pre-suppose the necessity of a law in relation to which subjective individuality retains its full latitude but nevertheless remains subject to the necessary determinations and limitations imposed on it. (NC I, 187).

Sometimes Dooyeweerd speaks of the law-order as the order of time. Cosmic time is the way that the law differentiates temporal reality from its supratemporal root. It is because Dooyeweerd views the law in this way that he can ask the question, how does subjectivity relate to the law in its Originsupratemporal unity and diversity of functions? (I, 57). He is therefore looking at it form the perspective of eternity, supratemporality, and cosmic time.

We are subject to, sujet, sub-jected to the law. The law-Idea implies the subject-Idea (I, 61). There is both a law-side and a subject-side to temporal reality.

God’s law is not just morality or juridical law. Morality and the juridical are only two of many aspects of reality. Dooyeweerd calls these aspects law-spheres. The law-spheres are the temporal expression of God’s law over all of temporal reality. Within cosmic time there are divergent law-spheres. But in their supratemporal root, all law spheres coincide, or are congruent. In its central sense, God’s law is love. Cosmic time differentiates both the subject-side and the law-side of reality. Dooyeweerd distinguishes between the law in its central religious unity and its temporal diversity (NC I, 99).

In Dooyeweerd’s view, the mistake of the Anabaptists was in not recognizing the distinction between central and differentiated law:

Anabaptists lost sight of the religious root of the temporal laws, and consequently placed the Sermon on the Mount, with its doctrine of love, in opposition to civil ordinances. Calvin strongly opposed this error. He proceeded from the radical religious unity of all temporal divine regulations and could therefore radically combat each absolutization of a temporal aspect of the full Law of God, as well as every spiritualistic revolution against the state and its legal order… (NC I, 518).

The law is the ontical foundation for all possibility of temporal meaning or existence. It is also the ontical foundation for our experience and for our thought. In his 1926 Inaugural address, Dooyeweerd says that the law-Idea allows us to epistemologically acknowledge previous spheres as substratra, by maintaining as analogies the previous law spheres; the idea builds on the substratum spheres. Even the simplest law spheres within their field hide anticipations that refer to the more complicated spheres and are the correlate of the analogies (Verburg, 98)

But although Dooyeweerd is clear that the law for the temporal cosmos is a side of the cosmos, he also seems to allow that there is a law that applies outside the cosmos–to the world of the angels, for example. For even beings in the supratemporal realm, or the aevum, are subjected to law, although not law in the more restricted sense of law for the cosmos. This is made clear in “Het juridisch causaliteitsprobleem in ‘t licht der wetsidee,” Anti-revolutionariare Staatkunde II (1928), p. 31:

Uit het bovenstaande moet de noodwendige conclusie worden getrokken, dat onze wetsidee nimmer exclusief kan zijn, in dien zin, dat zij de geheele schepping omvat.
Wij kennen niet den samenhang van wetskringen, waarin b.v. de engelenwereld is besloten.

[From the above discussion the necessary inference must be drawn, that our law-Idea can never be exclusive, in the sense that it includes all of creation.
We do not know the coherence of the law spheres in which for example the angelic world is enclosed.]

Baader also emphasizes God’s law as the ontical foundation for our experience, including our theoretical thought. Baader says that the law limits the creature; it is a Hemmung or limitation. The living creature finds himself as living, acting and productive within such a limitation or boundary [Grenze]. We are placed [gesetzt] in a magic circle [Zauberkreis] that cannot be crossed or broken through. This boundary is given to the creature as a holding fast, a placing [Setzenden], a bearing and a holding or nurturing (Begründung 28, 29). We are ‘fitted’ or placed [Gesetztsein] in this magic circle or ‘periphery.’ Baader derives the meaning of ‘fitted’ [setzen] from the word for law [Gesetz] (Begründung 29 ft. 12). Each creature is set under its law, in a region or place in which it is to serve God. Our bliss is found only in fulfilling this law and serving God (Weltalter 172, 178). The periphery is related to its supratemporal Center in an ‘organic’ relation. He speaks of “das Gesetz” and of all of temporal reality being placed (‘gesetzt’ within the temporal cosmos by that law. He also mentions that the meaning of subjectivity should be that which is sub-jected to, or ‘sujet’ to the law. and just as Dooyeweerd says that the law limits and determines our existence (I, 14), Baader speaks of it as a world-ordering and setting Principle. world law sets, places, the being of the World (Philosophische Schriften 1, 149).

Those who do not accept God’s law are forced to find a law within temporal reality. In theoeretical thought, they are forced to an autonomy or ‘self-law [from autos and nomos], finding the law within their temporal being. Depending on how the law is understood–as God’s transcendent law or as a law based on an absolutization of the temporal–we have different Law-Ideas. These Law-Ideas govern our experience and our theory as Ground-Motives.

The Law-Idea is an Idea, which means that it goes beyond a mere concept. Ideas are guided by our faith and point beyond temporal reality to our Ground Motive. We cannot have a concept of a Law-Idea, since it is the basis of the way we do our conceptualizing.

If the cosmic law applies to the temporal cosmos, what is the case in the afterlife, which Dooyeweerd says is not subject to time? Dooyeweerd refused to speculate about this. It is possible that there is another law that governs our existence in the afterlife. Or it may be that it is the same law, but not as differentiated by cosmic time. Some law seems to be necessary, since law is also the boundary between created reality and God.

Although Vollenhoven differs from Dooyeweerd as to the place of the law, he follows similar terminology of the law being set or ‘gesteld.’

God is dus niet correlaat met wet en kosmos, want die zijn beide van Hem [/56b2] afhankelijk: de wet is gesteld en de kosmos is geschapen.
(“Kort Overzicht van de Geschiedenis der Wijsbegeerte,” (Amsterdam: Theja) 1956, 42 pp.

[God is thus not the correlate of law and cosmos, for both are dependent on Him; the law is set and the cosmos is created].

Baader says that it is only God who gives the law and who places or fits temporal beings:

Gott setzt nur und wird nicht gesetzt, der Mensch (jede Intelligenz) wird gesetzt und setzt nicht’ (Werke II, 456).

[God only places things under law and is not Himself under law; Man (each intelligence) is under law and does not place things under law].

Baader also emphasizes that God is independent from all creatures (Werke 13, 165, 191).

Dooyeweerd makes the same point–God is not subject to law:

As Sovereign Origin, God is not subjected to the law. On the contrary, this subjectedness is the very characteristic of all that which has been created, the existence of which is limited and determined by the law (NC I, 99, ft. 1).

Revised Sept 26/07;Dec28/16