meaning

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.)

dependence I, 53, 66 (dependent), 74 (on law-Idea)
meaning I, 6 , 12, 14, 24, 33, 39, 51, 59 (of law), 61-62 (Stoker’s objection), 64, 74, 86, 132
II, 399, 407, 409, 422, 424, 492, 493NC I, 4 (meaning is the being of all that has been created; totality of meaning), 5 (Idea of the totality of meaning), 9 (genetic relativity of meaning; not self-sufficient), 10 (meaning points without and beyond itself), 11 (restlessness of meaning; arché transcends all meaning), 106

NC II, 30, 337 (consummation of meaning in Christ)

non-closed-up II, 424
non-self-sufficient I, 6, 11, 25, 64, 80, 81, 86
II, 424

Please see my paper Dooyeweerd’s Idea of Modalities: The Pivotal 1922 Article for a discussion of Dooyeweerd’s source of the medieval idea that creation is “meaning”.

Meaning is the “mode of being of all creaturely reality” (II, 27; NC II, 30).

There are several different but inter-related Ideas here:

1. The dependent nature of created reality. Meaning is the dependent mode of reality or existence (I, 73).

a) Temporal reality has no existence in itself. The temporal world exists only in humanity, its supratemporal root (NC I, 100; II, 53). And the supratemporal root has no existence in itself, either. It exists only in God, the Origin.

(b) God is Being, created reality is meaning. The law is the boundary between the Being of God and the meaning of the creation (NC I, 99). lex is boundary between Being of God and the meaning of the creation.But because temporal reality exists only in the selfhood, we find the meaning of the whole cosmos in our own meaning (I, 14; NC I, 11).

b) Created reality is non-self-sufficient. Only God the Origin is absolute and self-sufficient. When we regard created reality as self-sufficient, we end up by absolutizing it.

c) Dooyeweerd opposes any Idea of a self-sufficient substance. Only God the Origin is Being.

We may compare the non-self-sufficient and dependent nature of created reality with the Hindu doctrine of maya. Although this is often understood in the sense of “illusion,” there is an interpretation within Hinduism that regards maya as the creative power of God. As Ramana Maharshi says, the world is illusion only when it is regarded as separate from Brahman. I discuss this in more detail in my book on Abshishiktananda.

2. The referring nature of created reality. All created reality refers for its meaning to that which has expressed it. Referring is the flip side of expression. The idea of expression/referring is also related to the distinction central/peripheral. The central unity expresses itself in the periphery, and the periphery refers to the center.

3. Temporal reality is a lesser level of reality. Dooyeweerd wants to avoid the Idea of a chain of being, or the analogy of being. But he does have a view of different a priori levels.

4. As expression, temporal reality is the appearance of a greater level of being. But this appearance is not illusory. The aspects have an ontical reality. This is because they are the expression of a greater reality.

5. Temporal reality needs to be fulfilled and perfected. It points to the fullness of meaning.

6. Our language and our concepts cannot fully capture the nature of the fullness of meaning. Our Ideas can only approximate it.

7. We can point to the fullness of meaning in our symbols, such as the symbol of the prism.

8. Meaning is given by the origin. We do not impose meaning on an otherwise meaningless reality. That is how Dooyeweerd distinguishes his view of meaning from meaning-idealism.

Development of the Idea of Meaning

We may wonder to what extent Dooyeweerd’s view of temporal reality as “meaning” was influenced by his interest in Fredeerik van Eeden. The idea of ‘referring’ is often considered in relation to language. Frege distinguished between the sense and reference of language. But for Frege, the “reference” was something within temporal reality. Dooyeweerd turns it around so that reference points to something outside the temporal. We find this type of ‘referring’ in van Eeden, who writes of the linguistic or rhetorical foundation of knowledge, and the referring beyond. One of van Eeden’s works is entitled De Redekunstige Grondslag van Verstandhouding [The Rhetorical Foundation of Understanding] (Utrecht: Spectrum, 1975, originally published 1895). In my separate note on van Eeden, I have shown some similarities. Dooyeweerd speaks of the restless nature of created reality and its tendency towards God, the Origin. Tendency towards God, which is named “Love”in Johannes Viator: the uniting of that which is divided, the breaking through of limitation. This tendency he sees intuitively as the meaning of all words.

In his 1923 article “Advies over Roomsch-katholieke en Anti-revolutionaire Staatkunde” (Verburg 48-61), Dooyeweerd devotes 10 pages to ‘Kosmos en Logos.’ Cosmos is the whole ordered world of creation; logos is the realm of meaning. The logos is cosmic in character and precedes all knowledge.We can only speak about cosmos when we have looked at the area of logos. He says that logos is fitted into the cosmic order in an essential relation [wezensverband] that we do not and cannot know because our consciousness is itself enclosed [ingemuurd] in the logos and can never look out above the logos to its cosmic coherence. We know only the essential relation within logos. Within the logos are the giving of meaning (noesis), objects having meaning (noema), and the meaning itself (noumenon), as the fixed law-like signification that precedes all individual giving of meaning [als de wettelijk vaststaande beduidenis voorafgaande aan iedere individuele zingeving].

He goes on to say that the giving of meaning is the condition of all knowledge; it is nothing other than consciousness and intuition of meaning [bewustwording, schouwing van de zin]. But our giving of meaning can itself diverge from the objective fixed meaning. For example, we can mistake a tree for a man.

Josef Bohatec, the Calvin scholar, wrote to Dooyeweerd in 1935 regarding Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on meaning. He appreciated the determined nature [Bedingtheit] of creaturely being as opposed to Divine Being, the undetermined. But he thought that even in God we could speak of “meaning'” insofar as we considered his “polupoikile sophia” ( the “manifold Wisdom of God”; see Eph. 3:10).

Meaning in Baader

Sauer says that for Baader God gives meaning and we participate in this meaning. and if the concept cannot be shown to relate to the center, it is meaningless (Begründung 109; Werke 15, 160; Sauer: 26, 27).). Thus, concepts have to relate to the center to have meaning. This denial of the center, is an absolutization of the temporal. Baader says that this is what the Bible refers to as the denying Spirit of Lies, and the Murderer in the Beginning. This Lie consists in the finding of meaning in the temporal.

Meaning is the unfolding from the Center and the returning to that center. This is the meaning and goal of each organism:

Mit andern Worten: das Leben wird der Einheit auf solche Weise entfaltet und in der Zahl der Lebensglieder vervielfacht, verdoppelt und reflexirt zurückgegeben, und der Sinn und Zweck des Organism war eben kein andrer, als dieser Reflex, durch dessen Vollendung das Eine mit seiner realisirten Lebensfülle (Vielheit) ganz in allen einzelnen Gliedern und ganz in sich selber lebt.” (Philosophische Schriften I, 89)

[In other words: in this way life is unfolded from Unity and multiplied in the number of limbs of life; it is doubled and reflexively given back, and the meaning and goal of each organism is nothing other than this reflection. Through this fulfillment the One with his realized fullness of life (Multiplicity) lives completely in each individual limb and completely in Himself.]

Sauer says that the Idea of “inner sense [“innere Sinn”] is key to Baader’s epistemology (Sauer, 33). The interior is ‘intens,’ the exterior is ‘extens.’ (Fermenta; p. 40). The exterior is quantity, the mechanical. The interior is quality. Now in German, ‘Sinn’ can mean either (1) ‘senses’ as in our organs of sensation or (2) sense as ‘meaning’ or signification. Dutch has a similar twofold meaning, between ‘zin’ and ‘zinnelijk.’ Even English uses ‘sense’ in both ways: as organs of sensation, and as the sense of a statement.

Now it seems to me that Baader is using “inner sense” in both of these ways. The inner sense is that which is related to our central nature. Our sensations are our outer sense, in the periphery. Inner sense is an interiorization of sense. Spirit is not possible without Sense [Sinn] (Werke 13, 107). But he also uses the word as ‘meaning.’ Our inner sense is related to our intuition. Intuition without thinking is blind; thinking without intuition would be meaningless [“Schauen ohne Denken blind, Denken ohne Schauen sinnlos wäre”] (Werke 1, 191). Our inner senses look to totality (Sauer, 34). Thus, inner sense is the meaning relatedness to our center.

Revised Nov 4/04