thing

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.)

thing I, 37 (‘Dingwelt’], 46, 49 (ding-werkelijkheid), 50, 60 , 62, 130 (ding-ervaring)
II, 401, 403, 404,410, 488-89NC III, 65

Dooyeweerd’s view of “things” differs radically from what we are used to in empiricism. See my article “Individuality Structures and Enkapsis: Individuation from Totality in Dooyeweerd and German Idealism.”

(1) Dooyeweerd opposes any idea of substance. Unlike humans, things do not have a supratemporal center. Things perish because they have no supratemporal selfhood (NC III, 65).

(2) The unity of things depends on a coherence within time. The reality of things is inherently connected to things. Dooyeweerd says that the individuality of “things” in reality depends upon the inter-modal bottom layer of cosmic time:

Time, in its continuity, may not be cut off from reality, as a floating abstraction, and then joined to reality by means of a plus sign. Reality, in its typical thing-structure, is present in time’s continuous coherence.
In fact, reality has its inter-modal bottom-layer in the continuity of cosmic time.

And it is only in this cosmic temporal bottom-layer of every thing-structure that the individual whole of a thing is realized. Its individual identity receives its determination from its internal structural principle. It is this identity that is intuitively experienced in naive experience.
This identity is consequently more than functional. […]
The identity of a thing, rooted in the continuity of cosmic time, is, however not the metaphysical identity of a substance, as the absolute point of reference of its different “accidental properties.” Nor can it be the radical identity of the different modal functions of the thing concerned. The modal aspects of reality find their deeper identity in the central religious sphere alone. But temporal things are perishable, they do not have a supra-temporal selfhood; their thing-identity is only that of a temporal individual whole, i.e. of a relative unity in a multiplicity of functions. (NC III, 64-65).

(3) The unity or individuality of a thing must be sought within temporal reality, since it has no supratemporal root. But this unity is not itself of a modal character. Nor is it the sum of its individualized modal functions. And it cannot be the supratemporal identity of the modal functions. (NC III, 63). It is only a relative unity that is given by a thing’s individuality-structure.

Even the temporal identity of a thing cannot be experienced apart from the diversity of its modal functions; it is a relative identity, pointing beyond and above itself to the inter-modal meaning-coherence of time and the radical unity of meaning in the central religious sphere of our experiential horizon.(NC III, 67).

(4) All temporal individuality is only an expression of the fullness of individuality inherent in the religious centre of our temporal world (NC II, 418). This fullness of individuality is differentiated by cosmic time.

(5) The cosmic order of time is “the limit to our ‘earthly’ temporal cosmos” . The cosmic order of time “determines the structure of reality in its diversity of meaning, both as regards its modal and typical laws and its subjectivity, including its subject-object-relations.” (NC II, 3)

(6) Things do not exist in themselves. Dooyeweerd opposes the Kantian Idea of a thing-in-itself. He rejects the view that ascribes our sensations to things in themselves existing independently of the functions of our consciousness, so that our consciousness is one-sidedly dependent upon them (NC III, 45, 46). There is no formally knowable “world in itself.” Things do not exist independently of the functions of our consciousness. (NC III, 46).Not a single temporal structure of meaning exists in itself (an sich). (NC II, 30).

(7) Because things do not exist in themselves, Dooyeweerd rejects the distinction between primary and secondary qualities. (NC III, 36). “The identity of a thing, rooted in the continuity of cosmic time, is, however, not the metaphysical identity of a substance, as the absolute point of reference of its different “accidental properties” (NC III, 65).

(8) Dooyeweerd’s rejection of the “thing in itself” is not merely that things don’t exist without our having access to them (Clouser’s view). It is that they have “no existence apart from man,” and that they have no objective qualities apart from man. He says that God created the earthly cosmos in central relation to mankind. The ‘objective’ qualities of a sensory, logical, aesthetic and ethical character to natural things in themselves have meaning only in the subject-object relations of human experience. “…and the subjective functions of this experience cannot be ascribed to God, but are focussed in the human ego as their religious centre.” (NC II, 52, 53).

(9) The temporal world depends for its “reality” on man as this temporal root (NC I, 100; II, 53). There is no neutral reality and no static temporal cosmos “an sich” (NC I, vi). “Neutrality” does not just refer to religious presuppositions, but to the view that there is a world apart from humans. The metaphysical conception of a natural reality in itself, independent of humans, is un-biblical (NC II, 52). If there were a thing existing in itself, it would not at all exist for us (NC II, 56).

“…there cannot exist an ‘earthly’ ‘world in itself’ apart from the structural horizon of human experience.” (NC II, 549).

(10) The inorganic materials, the plant and animal realms, have no independent spiritual or religious root. Their temporal existence first becomes complete [fulfilled] in and through Man] (Vernieuwing en Bezinning, 30). In fact, the temporal world has its existence in humanity, its supratemporal root.

Our temporal world, in its meaning differentiation and coherence, is bound to this religious root of humanity; it has no meaning and therefore no reality apart from this root (WdW I, 65).

“Our temporal world, in its temporal diversity and coherence of meaning is in the order of God’s creation bound to the religious root of mankind. Apart from this root it has no meaning and so no reality. Hence the apostasy in the heart, in the religious root of the temporal world signified the apostasy of the entire temporal creation, which was concentrated in mankind.”(NC I, 100).

(11) It is because of this that things, as part of temporal reality, fell with humanity in the Fall. If that is so, then things are also in need of redemption. The dependence of the temporal on man is therefore ontic, a matter of reality. “No meaning, therefore no reality,” [“Geen zin, dus geen werkelijkheid”] (WdW I, 64). The entire temporal cosmos was concentrated in Adam, the temporal root before the fall (NC I, 60). “The falling away from God has affected our cosmos in its root and its temporal refraction of meaning.” (NC II, 33). It is therefore not the case that temporal reality has a separate existence, and that Dooyeweerd is merely saying that it has the capacity to be actualized by man. The Fall is not just a failure to actualize a potentiality. Without the idea of temporal reality depending for its existence on man, Dooyeweerd’s interpretation of the Fall makes no sense.

(12) In an online discussion, Clouser has expressed the view that things “existed for millions of years before there were any humans.” But he has confused Dooyeweerd’s idea of the creation of the supratemporal root with the temporal becoming or unfolding from that root. Humans as the supratemporal root existed “before” any temporal becoming, and before any “things” in the temporal world. The supratemporal root was created “in the beginning”–before cosmic time. This point is addressed by Dooyeweerd in NC II, 52, 53. It is true that man’s appearance “in time” does not occur “until the whole foundation for the normative functions of temporal reality has been laid out.” But this temporal priority does not refer to our creation as the supratemporal religious root and creaturely fullness of meaning. He says,

“According to the temporal relationship between foundation and superstructure in the cosmic world-order, man is not there before the things of inorganic nature. But, viewed from the supertemporal creaturely root of the earthly world, this inorganic nature, just as the vegetable kingdom and the animal kingdom, has no existence apart from man, and man has been created as the lord of the creation.”

(13) What gives things their individuality is their individuality-structure. Verburg says that theologians opposed to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy have not given enough attention to the fundamental difference between the idea of substance and that of individuality structures (Verburg 272). I agree with this remark. Dooyeweerd’s philosophy has frequently been interpreted as a theory of things and their different qualities. Hart, for example, says that it is a theory of things and qualities. Hart also speaks of functors and functions. This tends to view the functors as separately existing things. A similar emphasis on things is made by those who see Dooyeweerd’s idea of pre-theoretical experience as viewing things in their concreteness, and theory as abstracting the qualities or universal aspects from them (van Riessen, Strauss and Clouser). But both of these interpretations of Dooyeweerd do not take seriously enough Dooyeweerd’s radical rejection of any idea of substance. Dooyeweerd’s view of “things” is very different from British empiricism. To understand the radicality of what he is saying, I believe that we need to be “jolted” out of our view of what is “self-evident” in our reality. For me, the comparative study of other religions provided the perspective to see different ways of perceiving our reality. And I believe that this nondual perspective can help us to understand Dooyeweerd’s views of things as well.

(14) The plastic horizon of individuality structures is characterized by types, which are different for different groups of things and in which things alternately appear, form themselves or are formed, and disappear (II, 489).

(15) These types of individuality structures have a sphere sovereignty. They are arranged in an inter-structural enkaptic coherence frustrating any attempt to absolutize them. (NC III, 627).

(16) Because immanence philosophy rests on absolutizing, it can never come to a structural concept of a thing, but always either concepts of function or metaphysical substance (“De Theorie van de Bronnen van het Stellig Recht in het licht der Wetsidee,”1930, p.8/14). This is quite an astounding assertion. Immanence philosophy can never come to the proper structural concept of a thing!

(17) In this same 1930 article “De Bronnen van het stellig recht in het licht der Wetsidee,” Dooyeweerd says that things are qualified by their highest subject function, which he calls their “leading function.” Thus in a tree, the biotic function leads the numerical, spatial, kinetic and energy functions. In this article, he distinguishes natural things such as trees from spiritual [geestelijk] things, such as the state (qualified by the juridical function) or the visible church (qualified by the function of faith). In this way, each perishable [vergangkelijk] thing is limited by this sovereignty in its own sphere of its leading function. But humanity transcends all limits of this perishable cosmos.

(18) There may be several individuality-structures enkaptically interwoven with each other. Indeed it is this fact of enkapsis that makes the idea of beginning with a “simple” thing untenable (NC III, 54). There is no simple thing, because no single structure of individuality can be realized but in inter-structural intertwinements with other individuality-structures (NC III, 627).

(19) An individuality structure is based in the temporal bottom layer.

In fact, reality has its inter-modal bottom-layer in the continuity of cosmic time.
And it is only in this cosmic temporal bottom-layer of every thing-structure that the individual whole of a thing is realized. Its individual identity receives its determination from its internal structural principle. It is this identity that is intuitively experienced in naive experience.
This identity is consequently more than functional. […]
The identity of a thing, rooted in the continuity of cosmic time, is, however not the metaphysical identity of a substance, as the absolute point of reference of its different “accidental properties.” Nor can it be the radical identity of the different modal functions of the thing concerned. The modal aspects of reality find their deeper identity in the central religious sphere alone. But temporal things are perishable, they do not have a supra-temporal selfhood; their thing-identity is only that of a temporal individual whole, i.e. of a relative unity in a multiplicity of functions. (NC III, 65).

(20) It is cosmic time which gives individuality to things. Cosmic time has both an order and a duration. Together they make up cosmic time (NC I, 24).

(21) The individuality-structure relates to time-duration. The temporal bottom layer of each aspect is the coherence among the aspects. It is more than the sum of the aspects, and it is also a different dimension of our experiential horizon. He says,

Temporal reality does not end in the modal functions; it is not shut off in the modal horizon of the law-spheres. Rather, it has–if I may use this image–its inter-modal prolongation in the continuity of the cosmic coherence (NC III, 64).

(22) This inter-modal prolongation is what gives things their duration in cosmic time. There exists a typical structural coherence between directing and directed functions in the continuous real bottom-layer of a thing as an individual whole (NC III, 66).

(23) And this individuality structure relates to the temporal bottom layer of each aspect:

“Every modal function of this individual whole must have a bottom layer in the continuous inter-modal coherence of cosmic time in which any temporal reality is embedded.” (NC III, 63).

(24) We cannot isolate this temporal bottom layer of a thing-structure any more than we can isolate our intuition. We can only theoretically establish that the temporal duration of an identical whole (i.e. a linden tree), is bound to the maintenance of its realized internal structure. (NC III, 65).

The temporal non-modal unity and identity of things cannot be grasped in a theoretical time. this unity and identity has its foundation in cosmic time, which alone makes all experience and theoretical thought possible (NC III, 75)

(25) Things function in all law-spheres The individuality of things cannot be comprehended by human experience.(II, 488). It is not only theoretical experience, but any experience cannot comprehend this individuality! There is for Dooyeweerd no individual thing that is experienced. In pre-theoretical experience, we experience the interconnectedness and unity of things in their enkaptic relations. And even to isolate an individual thing is not part of our pre-theoretical experience, but rather, such isolation of the individual is already an act of theory.

(26) Stoker, a South African philosopher, wanted to adopt parts of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. but Stoker wanted to retain an idea of “substance.” Dooyeweerd responds to Stoker’s criticism that if a thing is only the sum of its functions plus time, then no real explanation of the individual internal unfolding-process has been given

“But it is fundamentally incorrect to suppose that a thing is nothing more than the sum of its functions plus time. Time is not an external something that joins itself to the various functions. But, as previously established in the general theory of the modal spheres, the various functions are intrinsically temporal in character. Even in the modal structures of meaning, cosmic time is always present in anticipating and retrocipating functions. the temporal horizon lurks beyond and in the modal horizon of reality. (NC .III, 64).

(27) Dooyeweerd says that Stoker may be correct that philosophy must take into account the intrinsic unity of things, and that things do not dissolve into their meaning sides into law and subject-side. But he also says that philosophy cannot “fall back” into the attitude of naïve experience which accepts things as given in their indivisible unity of creation without an explicated distinguishing of their aspects (I, 60).

(28) The horizon of individuality structures plays the dominant role in naive experience (II, 488). But even here, it is the individuality structures that are grasped:

Nu is in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee een der grondstellingen, dat de tijdelijke werkelijkheid zich in de naieve ervaring explicite slechts in haar individualiteits-structuren geeft en dat ook de individueele, aan deze ervaring vertrouwde, dingen door haar slechts in deze structuren worden gevat. [“De idee der individualitieteitsstructuur en het thomistisch substantiebegrip” Philosophia Reformata, 1943, 8e jrg., 3e en 4e kwartaal, 65-66).

[Now one of the fundamental points of the Philosophy of the law-Idea is that temporal reality gives itself in naive experience only in its individuality-structures, and that therefore the individual who has been entrusted with this experience, grasps things only in these structures.]

(29) Neither philosophy nor the special sciences can begin with the thing-structure of reality as a given temporal unity. In fact, the unity of concrete things in the diversity of meaning is a problem for philosophy (I, 49). We begin with the totality of meaning, which leads us to the diversity of meaning in its meaning-sides or aspects. (I, 47; not in NC). Dooyeweerd’s view should be contrasted with that of van Riessen, Strauss, and Clouser, who begin with individual things and then attempt to find universals by “abstraction.” But Dooyeweerd’s philosophy does not begin with individual things. Nor does he agree with this view of abstraction.

(30) The level of individuality structures relies on the higher dimensions of reality: the religious, the temporal and the modal

Finally, both the temporal horizon and the modal horizon encompass and determine the plastic horizon of the individuality structure of reality.(II, 491).

(31) The NC adds a statement about modalities–they do not refer to concrete “what” of things or events but are only the different modes of the universal “how” which determine the aspects of our theoretical view of reality (NC I, 3 ft.). The statement that modes refer to the “how” should not be taken to mean that there is in fact a “whatness” of things and events, at least not as usually understood in empiricism. The “what” is the individuality structure. See “Het Tijdsprobleem in de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee,” Part I 1940 Philosophia Reformata, 164.

(32) When in theory we isolate an individual thing (e.g. a linden tree), we are already engaged in theory. Even to focus on an individual linden tree is an abstraction:

…by limiting my theoretical attention to this concrete natural thing [linden tree], I am actually engaged in a theoretical abstraction. In veritable naïve experience, things are not experienced as completely separate entities. […]…the ‘simple’ only occurs in the full complexity of a universal interlacement of structures (NC III, 54).

The isolation of the individual is already a theoretical act! Thus it is incorrect to say that the pre-theoretical is directed to the individual and the theoretical directed to the universal. And he also says that even in naive experience we do not experience things as completely separate entities! Naïve experience does not separate a thing from its context with other beings (NC III, 60).

(33) Theory does not investigate the concrete things of our naive experience, but rather states of affairs that do not have ontic reality, but are an intentional ‘Gegenstand’ of our logical aspect.

Revised May 17/05; Dec 24/16

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