presupposition

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.)

presupposition

I, 5, 7 (vóór-onderstelde; associated with totality as the foundation), 11 (voor-onderstelt)

Encylopedia of the Science of Law (2002). Distinction between subjective presuppositions [vooronderstellingen] and “that which is presupposed” [de vooronderstelde].

“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6, 1-20, at 14,(“ontische voor-onderstelden”).

“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6 (1941), 1-20 at 12: The selfhood, as the concentration point of the whole of individual temporal human existence, is the ontical condition (de voor-onderstelde as opposed to mere subjective presuppostions) for all theoretical abstraction. The ontical coherence of the modal structures is also such an ontical pre-suppositon in the sense of an ontical apriori structure.

The use of the term ‘presupposition’ must not be understood as a conceptual proposition that forms the beginning of a conceptual system. Nor are these presuppositions theological assertions or Biblical proof-texts. That kind of presuppositionalism is found in Cornelius van Til, but not Dooyeweerd.

Presuppositions of philosophic thought are the religious Ground-Motives that give the foundation [grondlegging], the ontical a priori conditions that make possible our thinking in the first place. We approach (approximate) these apriori conditions by way of Ideas. In particular, we form Ground-Ideas that give theoretical expression to our Ground-Motives (NC I, 506).

Presuppositions therefore relate to the religious a priori. This ‘a priori’ must also be understood differently than we are accustomed think of an a priori. It refers to the ontical conditions of the possibility of any thought. This has been misunderstood by many reformational philosophers. Dooyeweerd makes these distinctions clear in his debate with Cornelius Van Til. Dooyeweerd distinguishes between theoretical propositions and the supra-theoretical presuppositions lying at their foundation. (See “Cornelius van Til and the Transcendental Critique of Theoretical Thought,” Jerusalem and Athens, p. 75). Van Til’s failure to appreciate this distinction is caused by his rationalistic approach, and his propositional view of all presuppositions.

Dooyeweerd makes this same distinction in his Encyclopedia of the Science of Law. He distinguishes between subjective presuppositions [vooronderstellingen] and “that which is presupposed” [de vooronderstelde]. The transcendental Ideas of Origin, Totality and temporal coherence, are “subjective presuppositions.” They only point towards “what is presupposed.” Subjective presuppositions are our Ideas as hypotheses, pointing towards the supratemporal a priori conditions that make our Ideas possible. These a priori conditions are “what is presupposed,” but they are not themselves Ideas or even propositions.

The present translation (2002) of the Encyclopedia does not always adequately distinguish between these two meanings of presuppositions. See my article Dooyeweerd’s Encyclopedia of the Science of Law: Problems with the present translation. For example, the word for conditions [voorwaarden] is translated as ‘presuppositions.’ But the confusion in the present translation goes even further. Dooyeweerd says that for the supratemporal presupposed conditions of Origin and Archimedean point, “there is no criterion of truth other than the agreement of our subjective religious presuppositions with the self-revelation of God in his Word.” But with respect to the condition of temporal coherence (the third transcendental Idea), the subjective presuppositions related to them can appeal “to the structural states of affairs within temporal reality itself. By means of its investigations, philosophical thought must give a satisfactory account of these states of affairs…” (pages 78-79). Thus, it is only with respect to the third transcendental Idea (temporal coherence) where we can appeal to states of affairs. Unfortunately, the present translation of the Encyclopedia blurs this important distinction by adding (p. 78) the words ‘states of affairs’ to the ontical conditions, “that which is presupposed.” But states of affairs are always temporal naïve experiences of which we need to theoretically “give an account.” They are not supratemporal conditions.

The confusion between subjective presuppositions and what is presupposed is made complete when the 2002 Translation speaks of “the truly religious set of presuppositions, the religious ground-motive of thought” (p. 81). But what is religious is supratemporal, and what is supratemporally presupposed can never be “a set of presuppositions.” The original text says “the truly-religious presuppositions [De echt-religieuze vooronderstellingen]. There is nothing about any set! Dooyeweerd is not a presuppositionalist in that sense. In contrast to Vollenhoven, Dooyeweerd did not even view Scripture as a set of propositions that could be used for philosophy (‘See Dooyeweerd versus Vollenhoven: The Religious Dialectic).

In the Encyclopedia, Dooyeweerd says that it is only by means of the Gegenstand-relation that our theoretical Ideas can relate to these ontical conditions (“that which is presupposed”) while remaining within the bounds of theoretical thought. But this important insight into the importance of the Gegenstand-relation is obscured by the translation at pages 80-81, which even breaks up this discussion into two paragraphs, thus losing the connection. It should read,

Therefore by maintaining the Gegenstand-relation, the theoretical Idea relates the theoretical concept to the conditions of all theoretical thought, but itself remains theoretical in nature, thus within the bounds of philosophic thought. It is just in this that its transcendental character resides. For in theoretical thought, the transcendental is everything that, by means of the inner (immanent) structure of the theoretical way of thought, first makes possible theoretical thought itself; the transcendental is everything that stands at the basis of every theoretical conceptual distinction as its theoretical presupposition.

The ontical conditions are transcendent, but we can obtain a transcendental Idea of them within theoretical thought by means of the Gegenstand-relation. Theoretical Ideas are always of totality and unity of the aspects that have been distinguished by theoretical thought. Mere theoretical concepts are directed only to the theoretically distinguished aspects. Our theoretical concepts therefore must be led by the transcendental Ideas of coherence, deeper transcendent unity and transcendent Origin.

It is only because of our supratemporal selfhood that we can enter into the Gegenstand-relation:

The meaning synthesis of scientific thought is first made possible when our self-consciousness, which as our selfhood is elevated above time, enters into its temporal meaning functions. This supratemporal selfhood of our human existence is the religious root of our personality, which in its individuality participates in the religious root of the human race. (Encyclopedia of Legal Science (1946), 12, italics Dooyeweerd’s).

See also “Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6, 1-20, at 14, where Dooyeweerd speaks of the “ontische voor-onderstelden” of which we can “give an account” only by our ideas, not by our concepts. See endnote 9 below for this distinction of idea and concept.He says that Kant’s transcendental categories and forms of intuition are merely subjective presuppositions (vooronderstellingen) and not ontical conditions (ontische voor-onderstelden).Kant’s subjective presuppositions are themselves detemrined by transcendental ideas that are never critically examined.

Revised Sept 26/07

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