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.)


Initially Dooyeweerd described his work as a kind of realism. He called it “critical realism.” His earliest reference appears to be in the article “Een kritisch-methodologische onderzoeking naar Kelsen’s normative rechtsbeschouwing”, part of which comes from 1922, but completed in 1926. (excerpts and discussion in Verburg 34ff). Verburg says that in this article Dooyeweerd defends “critical realism.” He refers to cosmic categories as ruling that which is opposed to our thought, which he calls the ‘denkvreemdheid.’ The cosmic categories are what he later will refer to as modalities. By this “critical realism” Dooyeweerd wanted to reject the autonomy of thought that believed it could creatively set its own categories. And he wanted to avoid the transcendental-logical characterization of that part of our self which is set-over-against the Gegenstand, and which he called the Gegensstandssfeer.

Later, Dooyeweerd rejected any reference to idealism. In his article, “Wat de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee aan Kuyper te danken heeft,” (De Reformatie Oct 29/37 pp. 63-65), he says that critical realism shows a compromise between Christianity and humanism.

The following quotation shows Dooyeweerd’s oppoistion to both realism and nominalism:

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.]

In the NC, Dooyeweerd takes the position that both nominalism and realism are in error. Dooyeweerd says that the law can never be detached from the subject. Because it is a side of temporal reality, the law-side cannot be separated from the subject-side. The WdW says that the Enlightenment gave no place to the individual in theoretical thought, and that it tried to separate the subject-side from logical law sphere in the law-side of reality (I, 132). This statement is not fully translated in the NC. The NC says that the Enlightenment tried to eliminate the individual in theoretical thought (NC I, 163).

Both nominalism and realism try to detach the subject-object relation from the meaning coherence. Dooyeweerd says that the Aristotelian realistic conception unavoidably leads to the copy theory. In the Aristotelian view, thinking is exclusively directed to the abstract universal which “grasps the logical copy of the materialized essential form of things in the intentional logical object.” But the “moderately nominalistic conception of Occam,” too, must have recourse to a copy-theory in order to head off absolute fictionalism (NC II, 388) (NC II, 388). Dooyeweerd says that not all nominalism is individualistic. Modern irrationalistic nominalism is universalistic in sociology (NC III, 222, ft.).

Baader also wants to overcome the opposition between realism and nominalism. The differences between them can be mediated (“Idealismus und Realismus sind zu vermitteln”). (Werke 12, 46). Baader says,

Man erinnert sich des Streits der Nominalisten und Realisten. Erstern galt nur das Einzelne (Atome oder der einzelne Peripheriepunct) als real, substanziell und wahrhaft, wogegen das Gemeinsame (Zentrale) ihnen für nichts, für ein blosses Wort ohne Sache galt; dagegen letztre (die Realisten) das Einzelne für nichts achteten und das substanzielle ausschliessend nur im Allgemeinen suchten. Lange und heftig genug ward zwar dieser Streit fortgeführt, er blieb aber darum ungeschlichtet, weil, wie es zu geschehen pflegt, beide Partheien nur zum Theil recht, im ganzen aber beide unrecht hatten; indem in der that weder das Allgemeine (Gemeinsame) ohne und ausser dem Einzelnen wirksam, wirklich und wahrhaft ist, noch das Letztere ohne das Erstere, d.i. indem beide nur in ihrer Concretheit wahrhaft, in ihrer Abstraktion aber unwahrhaft sind. So ensteht und besteht das lebendige Individuum als Einheit und Einzigkeit nur mit und in seinen einzelnen Gliedern, so wie jedes dieser Glieder nur durch, mit und in jener einheit existirt. Beide (die Einheit und die Glieder) said wirklich, indem beide sich wechselseitig ihre zwar unterschiedene aber weder getrennte noch confundirte Existenz verbürgen…(Philosophische Schriften II, 391).

[We can recall the disputes between the nominalists and the realists. The nominalists held that only the individual (atoms or the individual periphery-points) were real, substantial and true, and that the universal (Central) was nothing, only a mere word without matter. The realists on the other hand regarded the individual as nothing, and sought the substantial exclusively in the universal. This dispute was certainly continued long and vigorously enough, but it remained undecided because as it tends to happen, both parties were partly right, but taken as a whole, both parties were wrong, because in fact neither the universal (common) is not active, real and true without the individual, nor can the individual be so without the universal. That is, both are true only in their concreteness, but untrue in their abstraction. In this way the living individual arises and exists as a Unity and as an individual, only with and in its individual limbs. And each of these limbs exists only through, with and in this Unity. Both (the Unity and the limbs) are real, in that both reciprocally guarantee its distinct but neither separated nor confounded Existenz.]

I believe that this corresponds to Dooyeweerd’s distinction between a law-side and a subject-side. There is a central law, which is differentiated in cosmic time, which also differentiates the subject-side.