subject-object relation

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.)

subject-object relation I, 130
II, 401, 406NC I, 28 (time duration is the factual side of cosmic time; it further discloses itself in the subject-object relation), 42 (subject-object relation in naive experience), 43 (not to be identified with the Gegenstand-relation)NC II, 366ffLast article: “De Kentheoretische Gegenstandsrelatie en de Logische Subject-Objectrelatie,” Philosophia Reformata (1975) 83-101.

“Het transcendentale critiek van het wijsgeerig denken,” Philosophia Reformata 6 (1941), 1-20 at 9: The subject-object relaitonis experienced as structural, holding for every possible subjective act, and not merely for an individual subjective act. For example, the colour of a rose is understood in relation to every possible subjective perception.

The subject-object relation can be looked at in two different but related ways:

(1) Our distinguishing of different realms of reality. Inorganic, organic and animal human realms. We are the subject, and we distinguish other temporal beings.

(2) A subject-object relation within the aspects themselves. See NC II, 369. In the succession of the aspects, there is an earlier and a later. The earlier aspects are “objectified” in the later. See my extensive discussion of this relation in my “Imagination, Image of God and Wisdom of God: Theosophical Themes in Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy” (2006). I discuss in particular how the subject-object relation provides the basis for Dooyeweerd’s understanding of perception.

Distinguishing different Realms

Both Baader and Dooyeweerd refer to pre-theoretical experience in terms of the Subject-Object relation. But in this Subject-Object Relation, they use the terms ‘subject’ and ‘object’ differently than we are accustomed to in Western philosophy.

They use the word ‘subject’ in the sense of being subject to God’s law.

The word ‘object’ is also used differently. In the British empiricist tradition, an object is something that exists independently of us, and that we then perceive by our senses. The object has certain primary qualities that exist whether it is perceived or not. There are then certain secondary qualities that are perceived by us subjectively, but that do not inhere in the thing itself. Both Baader and Dooyeweerd reject the possibility of a thing existing in itself [Ding an sich]. Dooyeweerd says that the so-called secondary qualities are object functions within the thing itself. His rejection of any idea of a Ding an sich is related to the view of Man as the supratemporal root:

In contrast to mankind, neither the inorganic elements nor the kingdoms of plants and animals have a spiritual or religious root. It is man who makes their temporal existence complete. To think of their existence apart from man, one would need to eliminate all the logical, cultural, economic, aesthetic, and other properties that relate them to man. With respect to inorganic elements and plants, one would even need to eliminate their capability of being seen (Roots 30).

Dooyeweerd rejects the naïve realist view of sensation (NC III, 22). So does Baader, who says that objects are not to be seen as the source of sensory impressions working upon a separate thinker (Weltalter 48, 364). Our sensations are not the source and cause of our thinking function (Werke 5, 53). As Sauer says, there are for Baader no positivistic facts that are not already involved in the universal process of sensation, knowing and understanding (Sauer 21).

The Subject-Object relation is how we distinguish different realms of being from each other. Dooyeweerd gives an example of Subject-Object relation in viewing a linden tree (NC III, 55). Like all individuality structures, the tree functions in all modalities. In some modalities it functions as a subject (humans are not the only subjects). The tree has subject functions in the modal spheres of number, space, motion, energy and biotic (it is subject to, and itself actively responds to arithmetical, spatial, kinematical, physical, and biotic laws). The biotic aspect is the subject function which is the ultimate functional point of reference for the internal structural coherence of the tree. Dooyeweerd calls it the qualifying function of the tree’s structure.

But the tree exists “for us”; it therefore has ‘object functions’ in the remaining modalities. In the psychic modality, it has a sensorily perceptible image. In the logical modality, it is the object of a possible concept. It is the object of possible culture in the historical aspect; an object of symbolical signification in the linguistic; it has a social object function (parks); it is the object of economic valuation; it is an object of aesthetic appreciation; it is a legal object; it is an ethical object of our love or hate; and it is a faith object of our belief–e.g. that it has been created by God, or that it is merely a product of nature, or that it is inhabited by a demon or good spirit.

These object functions in the tree are there in the tree’s own structure. These are real functions, and should not be regarded as secondary qualities that inhere only in the perceiving subject. There is no distinction between primary and secondary qualities (sensory qualities such as colours, tones, temperatures, pressures, etc.) (III, 37).

Objective functions therefore have a real ontological status. A tree that falls alone in the forest makes a sound only because it has an object function related to our possible hearing. Objective functions of things have meaning only in subject-object relations of human experience; subjective functions are focused in the human ego (NC II, 53 ). Even our logical thought would not be able to objectify anything logically, if reality had not been given a logical object side in the Divine order of creation (NC II, 390). The tree cannot be considered apart from its relation to subjects that perceive it. These object functions “belong to things themselves in relationship to possible subject functions which the things do not possess in the aspects of reality involved.”

Dooyeweerd says that in our naïve experience, we unreflectingly ascribe these objective functions and qualities to things and to so-called natural events within modal aspects in which it is not possible for them to appear as subjects. Thus as adult men who have outgrown animistic representations, we know perfectly well, that water itself does not live. Nevertheless, in the aspect of organic life, we ascribe to it the objective function of being a necessary means for life. Similarly, a rose does not feel or think or engage in aesthetic valuation as a subject; but we can objectively ascribe these qualities to it (NC I, 42).

For Dooyeweerd, a key part of our pre-theoretical experience is the ability to distinguish between these same different realms of being (NC III, 33). He distinguishes the material or inorganic, the vegetative or organic, the animal, and the human; the first three realms are each qualified by a different pre-logical aspect of temporal reality (NC III, 83). But humans are not qualified by any aspect. Humans participate in all aspects, but their supratemporal center goes beyond all aspects (NC I, 51; III, 88). Humans are the religious root and only humans have existence in the sense of ex-sistere. And Dooyeweerd says that only humans can enter enstatically into time by means of their intuition. Other creatures are ‘entirely lost in time’ (NC I, 32). They are ex-statically absorbed by their temporal existence (NC II, 480). The human ex-sistere is therefore also related to enstasy, in the sense of a standing-within our supratemporal center.

In the subject-object relation, the subject and object within the same law-sphere are both individual. “For in its realization this modal relation has always individual relata on its subject-side (NC II, 370-71). Thus, objectivity must not be seen in terms of universals. Modal objectivity cannot be reduced to modal conformity to law (WdW II, 306).

Baader also refers to the inorganic, organic and animal realms. Baader says that not all beings are subjects in the same way. There are different realms of being. In addition to humans, there are the realms of minerals, plants and animals (Fermenta I, ft. m; Werke IV, 150). The Subject-Object relation therefore concerns how subjects such as myself relate to other beings that are subject to God’s law. Baader’s idea of the Subject-Object relation has to do with the I and the Not-I . There is the Not-I above me, the ‘Thou’ that is opposite me [gegenüber], and the Not-I that is below me (Philosophische Schriften I, 57 ft.; Werke 8, 66).

Baader distinguishes between created and emanated beings. Man was breathed out by God, or emanated, in distinction to the world that was created (Zeit 40). Humans have a supratemporal center, but animals do not. Because of this, an animal does not perceive time like we do; this also means that animals do not become bored (Elementarbegriffe 553; Zeit 27 ft.7). We share with the animals what Baader calls ‘purely outer seeing.’ Animals do not share with us the inner seeing related to our central being (Zeit 56).

The subject-object relation can also take place within theory. It does not have the character of the Gegenstand-relation though. (NC II, 468; not in WdW). This explains how there can be anticipations in some subject-object relations.

Baader says that our theory is based on a Gegenstand: ‘Philosophy is thinking or reflection over a Gegenstand’ (Werke 8, 36; cited by Sauer 23). Since Kant and Fichte, the word ‘object’ has been used in the narrow sense of ‘that which finds itself in front of me.’ Baader says it should apply equally to that which is above and below me–to that to which I am subordinated and that which is subordinated to me. Fichte has completed reduced the concept of object to an enemy obstacle (Fermenta V, 7). Our knowledge differs depending on which realm we are considering–the supratemporal, or one of the temporal realms [animal, vegetable, mineral]. The manner in which God knows Man, or in which Man knows an animal, are not the ways in which an animal knows Man or Man knows God). Our ‘knowing’ cannot be used in the same sense when the knowing subject finds itself face to face with (gegenüber) the known object, as when the subject stands above or below it. Knowing, insofar as it is downwards from a higher to a lower, is a ‘fathoming and a founding’ [Ergründung und Begründung], and also an ‘understanding and a circumscribing’ [Begreifen und Umgreifen] (Susini II, 30, 31, citing Werke I, 51, s.2; Weltalter 116).

We are not normally face to face with the realms of minerals, plants and animals. But in the Gegenstand relation we attempt to place ourselves on the same level, to become gegenüber these other realms. We may compare this to Dooyeweerd’s view that theoretical thought involves a tegen-overstelling (WdW I, 21). This expression has been translated as ‘opposed to’, meaning a kind of logical opposition or antithesis. It is perhaps better viewed as ‘standing opposite.’

Baader distinguishes between a passive, contemplative knowledge, and a more active knowledge (Susini II, 30). Our passive knowledge is the Subject-Object relation, where we contemplate, or are spectators of objects above and below us. Baader uses the words anerkennen, kennen and Wahrnehmen for this passive knowledge. Our active knowledge is erkennen. It is an active work, an effort of grounding [Ergründung] and a battle [Kampf].

Subject-Object Relation within the Aspects

Dooyeweerd gives an example, of our naive observation of a tree. In simple perception of a tree I objectify it.

“I objectify the thing’s actual subjective reality-functions within the psychical perceptual representation of my senses.” (I, 50; not in NC)

My perception in the psychical aspect objectifies the tree’s subjective physical functions. Within my subjective psychical function, the tree does not function as a subject, but only as an object. Thus, when we observe a tree, the subjective physical (reality) functions are objectified within my psychical function. When we perceive purely temporal beings, we form an image of them; this is the psychical objectification.

Earlier aspects are “objectified” in later aspects. This Idea of “objectification” can understood in relation to Dooyeweerd’s idea of cosmic time. Thus, it cannot be understood from those who adopt Vollenhoven’s viewpoint, since he denied this view of temporal succession.

As aspects succeed each other in time, the earlier ones are objectified. This objectification of earlier aspects occurs in each sphere. (NC II, 366ff). The aspect of feeling has this relation of objectifying earlier aspects (WdW II, 401). In the subject-object relation, our psychical aspect forms psychical images of the past moments. But our feeling is restricted to these retrocipatory moments. Dooyeweerd says that the possibility of objectification in the modal aspect of feeling is primarily bound to the retrocipatory structure of this aspect (NC II, 373). Note the use of the word ‘primarily’ here. IN the WdW, Dooyeweerd said that was always the case. But Dooyeweerd retracted that view in an article in the Correspondentie Bladen of June, 1942. He says that after reflection he had to give up this view. We can also anticipate logical and post-logical aspects in our feeling (e.g. an objective sensory beauty, an objectivy sensory cultivation, an objective sensory symbolism).(Verburg 264 and NC III, 376).

It is unclear to me whether his retraction refers to the subject-object relation after naive experience has been deepened, and after these anticipatory spheres have been opened up. In any event, as I understand it, this does not change his view of concepts, which remain only retrocipatory.

As I interpret Dooyeweerd, it is only at the psychical stage of the succession of the aspects that our experience becomes concrete. This is a view that he shares with Frederik van Eeden. But post-psychical functions cannot be objectified in feeling in the same way (NC II, 376).

There is also a logical subject-object relation. But this must be distinguished form the Gegenstand-Relation. In the subject-object relation, our logical aspect objectifies these psychical images. Enstatical logical analysis is restrictively bound to sensory perception and can only analytically distinguish concrete things and their relations according to sensorily founded characteristics (NC II, 470). Naive analysis or thought does not penetrate beyond the objective outward appearance of our sense [objectieven “oogenschijn”]. It uses pre-scientific, practically oriented distinctions that find their basis in the sensory side of experience and are not systematically ordered. (II, 404, 470). And yet Dooyeweerd also says that the sensory aspect of perceiving does not at all play that preponderant role in naive experience which the current epistemological opinion ascribes to it (III, 38). I believe he is contrasting his view of empiricism with the usual kind of empiricism that begins with things in themselves, things that exist in a neutral way without their relation to humanity as their root. The post-logical aspects cannot be logically objectified in the same way as the pre-logical ones (II, 321; NC II, 391).

I do not think that these two ways of looking at the subject-object relation mean that there are two different kinds of relations. Our distinguishing of ourselves from other realms of reality occurs through the temporal aspects. The subject-object relation in our psychical function “objectifies” the previous aspects that have already preceded it. This is the sensory function, as well as the forming of images of the moments that have already occurred (See NC II, 370). The logical subject-object relation then distinguishes those images from each other and compares them.

The objectification by the sensory aspect is a kind of empiricism. And the comparison of images implies a correspondence theory of truth. NC II, 374. A sensory representation is the optic copy of an individual image within another individual objective perceptual image: the inverse copy on the retina is another image than the original objective image. But Dooyeweerd’s ’empiricism’ and ‘correspondence theory’ is different from normally understood. His empiricism is different from British empiricism because he does not believe in things in themselves that are unrelated to our existence. and he does not believe that the biotic subject-object relation can be reduced to sensory impressions. That is psychological empiricism. A pre-psychical subject-object relation is a mother bird feeding her young (NC II, 373). Things exist only within their human root. Similarly, his correspondence theory is not a copy theory in the sense of copying a reality that is independent of us.

I believe that this increasing objectification in the succession of aspects also makes our experience more concrete. It proceeds from the least concrete to the most concrete. Some of this may have been obtained from Van Eeden. See succession.

Naive concept formation is bound to the sensory image. This image has potential anticipatory relations to logical characteristics. It must be actualized by subjective logical-feeling.(II, 376).

Revised Sept 25/07; Dec 24/16