Posts tagged Herman Dooyeweerd
18 Feb 2013
Your goal in life is to be free.
Free from nature.
You were born with a particular body, into a particular family, into a particular geographical, social and cultural context, and you were brought up in a particular way.
Your goal in life is to escape from that, and to discover your true self, independent of the constraints of nature.
It's striking how many aspects of our culture can be construed as attempts to do just that.
- We assert our freedom from nature by moving away from our town (or country) of birth, and by following a career path different from that of our parents.
- We value technology because it allows us to escape from our own "natural" existence, to forge our own identity, to be whoever we want, wherever we want, with whomever we want, whenever we want.
- Money sets us free, because with enough money we can escape from where we live and be anywhere on the planet within a few hours.
- Money sets us free, because we can change our bodies so they reflect our true identity. We can even change our biological gender.
- We perceive our true identity as having absolutely nothing to do with nature (particularly our biological gender), and it is discriminatory to suggest otherwise.
- We assert our freedom to control our bodies, even to the extent that anything that might depend on our bodies for its survival must, by definition, not be another human being.
This kind of attitude finds its way into the church too. Most obviously, in the liberal segments of the church, attempts are made to re-interpret the faith as if our identity as human beings is essentially genderless. But this attitude also finds its way into the more conservative evangelical segments of the church. To pick three bees from under my bonnet:
- We tell the gospel as the good news that we will one day escape from nature entirely, to live in an ethereal, heavenly paradise.
- We find is easy to reconcile the evolutionary narrative with the biblical narrative, because it doesn't matter to us whether agony and death are hard-wired into the present created order: after all, nature is inherently evil, and we are looking forward to escaping from it when this created order is discarded in favour of something completely different.
- We see environmental concern as a distraction from the work of the Kingdom, because this present created order is of no enduring value, and because our goal in life is to escape from it.
There are philosophical underpinnings for this battle between nature and freedom. I need to delve deeper into them, but for a starting point, read about the Nature-Freedom Ground Motive, as described by Andrew Basden, based on the writings of Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd.
17 Aug 2011
Thinking aloud, I wonder if we could characterise consumerism as being a view of the world in which the sensory aspect is the only aspect that matters. (In that sense consumerism would be reductionist, not in denying that the other aspects are real, but in denying that they are ultimately significant.)
So we could ask a consumerist some questions:
- How are you, Mr Consumerist? I'm feeling great/dreadful.
- Why do you want a new iPhone? My current phone makes me feel boring, and a new iPhone will make me feel good about life.
- That's not very rational, is it? So what?
- Why did you buy those expensive trainers? It makes me feel good to be seen in them.
- Why are you going somewhere exotic on holiday? I want the experience of something new.
- Why did you give money for the famine in Africa? It makes me feel bad seeing that on the TV.
- Why is it important to have law and order? It makes me feel safe.
- What exists in the cosmos, apart from yourself? Lots of things that have the potential to make me feel amazed, fascinated, satisfied, happy, amused, exuberant, loved and significant — and, sadly, lots of negative sensations too.
- Look, a tree! Yes, something that gives me the feeling of wonder, the sensation of seeing something I consider to be beautiful, the fascination of studying it, the thrill of climbing it, the satisfaction of reaching the top, the taste of its fruit, and the warmth of it burning in the fireplace.
- Tell me about God, if you believe in him? I believe in him, and he makes me feel loved, forgiven and good about myself.
- The Sun is one of around 100 billion stars in the Milky Way Galaxy, which is itself one of around 100 billion galaxies in the known Universe. Let me tell you how that makes me feel.
- What is important to you in life? I want to experience life: the feelings of affection and significance that come through family and friends, the feeling of satisfaction at doing an interesting job where I can make a real difference, the feeling of having a moral code and sticking to it, and the endless experiences that are available to me through technology, communications and travel.
A quick search online suggests that I'm perhaps not alone in this line of thinking. For example, Andrew Basden writes in A Presentation of Herman Dooyeweerd's Aspects of Temporal Reality:
Absolutization (undue elevation) of any aspect brings harm because it breaks inter-aspect coherence. Absolutization of aspects in theoretical thought leads to other aspects being either ignored (example: positivism) or explained away in terms of the favoured one (example: evolutionism). Absolutization of aspects in society’s mindset (example: consumerism) destroys other aspects of society, such as justice or generosity (p.24, my emphasis).
3 Aug 2011
The final chapters (11-13) of Clouser's The Myth of Religious Neutrality (1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10) present a brief overview of Dooyeweerd's philosophy, applying it in particular to society and the state. I'll try to give the gist of it here.
This "law framework theory" starts off by recognizing that reality as we experience it has many different aspects, each with its own properties and laws. Then the theory asserts that these aspects cannot be reduced to each other (so psychology is not "nothing but" physics and biology, for example). Instead, each aspect of reality is directly created by God, and depends directly on him for its existence. Here's a provisional list, which is probably best read from bottom to top:
historical [or cultural or technological]
Next the theory talks about "the natures of things" (p.260). Every thing or entity that exists functions in all of the aspects, whether actively or passively, and is subject to the laws of each aspect. So a rock functions actively in the quantitative, spatial, kinetic and physical aspects, but also functions passively in the other aspects. For example, it might be a stone in an animal's den (biotic), or used in a religious ritual (fiduciary). As such, all entities are described by type laws, defined as "laws which range across aspects determining which properties of different aspects can combine in individuals, and thus determine the types of individuals that are possible" (p.268).
In particular, each type of thing is characterised by one of the aspects (its leading aspect or qualifying aspect), which governs the properties of the thing as a whole.
This is getting a bit abstract, so let's apply it to society.
There are many different communities in society, such as businesses (characterised by the economic aspect), families (characterised by the ethical aspect), religious communities (fiducial), orchestras (aesthetic) and the state (justitial). These communities cannot be reduced to each other, because they have fundamentally different purposes, as described by their leading aspect. Each community has authority to act within that aspect (as in Abraham Kuyper's principle of "sphere sovereignty"), and this authority is derived from God and is subject to the laws God has created for that aspect. So "on this view there is no institution which can rightfully claim to have supreme authority for the whole of human life" (p.291).
So what is the state? It is not the ultimate authority, not even when that authority is given by the majority vote or is restricted by some set of individual rights that the state cannot violate.
By contrast, the law framework theory sees the state as the bearer, not the creator, of the authority it wields in enforcing justice. The will of the majority decides who shall be the bearers of that authority, but the authority itself derives from the law framework of creation and thus, ultimately, from God (p.311).
And what is the state for? It is not for regulating every detail of our lives. Instead,
The state ... has its own distinct kind of authority, an authority qualified by justice — more specifically, public justice. Its ability to carry out justice must extend to the whole of the public within its territory, of course. Nevertheless, its authority is limited to but one aspect of that public. And let me emphasize that it is precisely because justice is an aspect of all individuals and communities, that the state need not subsume them all as its parts in order to exercise its proper authority with respect to them. In other words, state authority need not be elevated above all others on the excuse that it needs totalitarian authority to ensure justice to all individuals and communities (p.296).
It is this kind of approach to reality, based on belief in a God who created the many different aspects of reality that we experience, that can give the state a clear role in wider society, without dominating society, and without being weak and ineffective in operating within its sphere of influence.
29 Jun 2011
What a strange question, I hear you say!
But if everyone's beliefs about everything are shaped by their own religious beliefs, as has been claimed, then that must include mathematics.
You (both of you) may recall the basic shape of the argument. Religious beliefs are beliefs about what is independently and unconditionally real (Chapter 2). And our beliefs about what is fundamental about reality will affect the kinds of hypotheses we will entertain when we are thinking about any particular area of reality, including mathematics (Chapter 4).
Here are some examples.
1. The Number-World Theory (Pythagoras, Plato, Leibniz). In this theory,
the numerals and other markings of mathematics stand for real entities in another world or dimension of reality (p.133).
In order for this to be true,
it would have to be the case that the quantitativeness of things relates to the other kinds of properties and laws true of them by being utterly independent of them all. Thus, the quantitative aspect is (at least part of) what things and their other kinds of properties depend on for existence (p.134).
The quantitative aspect as one of the aspects of our experience mentioned in Chapter 4, and is one of fifteen aspects identified by Herman Dooyeweerd. (The full list given in Clouser's book is: fiduciary, ethical, justitial, aesthetic, economic, social, linguistic, historical, logical, sensory, biotic, physical, kinetic, spatial and quantitative.)
Examples of the practical difference these religious beliefs have had on mathematics have been the resistance of the Pythagoreans to the idea of irrational numbers, and that of Leibniz to the idea of negative numbers.
There are more practical differences when we consider the intuitionists (Brouwer, Weyl, Poincaré), who make even the logical aspect to be dependent on the quantitative aspect. This forces them to deny "the existence of actual infinite sets" and therefore to "reject an entire branch of mathematics, the theory of transfinite numbers developed by Georg Cantor" (p.141).
2. John Stuart Mill, whose "theory was that numerals symbolise sensory perceptions" (p.134).
Mill defended this view of math[s] by arguing that not only the quantitative aspect, but all other aspects of our pre-theoretical experience are actually identical with its sensory aspect. That is, Mill's theory was that the nature of all reality is sensory (p.134).
This approach is similar to the number-world theory in selecting one (or two) of the aspects, and asserting that it is the non-dependent reality on which all of the other aspects depend.
3. Bertrand Russell, who took the logical aspect to be non-dependently and unconditionally real:
The logical laws, he says, are not only those to which all reality — actual or possible — must conform, but they are "the heart and immutable essence" of all things (p.144).
Thus mathematics "is nothing other than a short-cut way of doing logic" (p.135).
4. Instrumentalism, e.g., John Dewey, for whom the physical-biological aspect(s) have the non-dependent and unconditional reality:
through all his theorizing, he regards all other aspects as dependent on the physical-biological and never regards them, in turn, as dependent on anything else (p.144).
Under his theory, "humans are to be understood as essentially biological beings struggling to survive in a certain environment", and thus "all human cultural products are instruments" (p.136), helping us to survive.
Just as it is inappropriate to ask whether a hammer is true or false, it is equally inappropriate to ask that of mathematical tools. 1 + 1 = 2 is thus neither true or false, says Dewey, though it performs certain tasks well (137).
5. Belief in God, "which should lead us to the view that no aspect of creation is self-existent, nor does any generate any other since all are dependent on God alone" (p.145). Under this view of mathematics,
the abstractions we arrive at, numbers, sets, etc., will never be seen as independently existing realities. The are never more — or less — than the properties, relations, functions, etc., of the quantitative aspect true of the things and events of ordinary experience (p.146).
In summary, it would have been good to explore the practical implications of these different views more fully. While all of the views differ greatly on their understanding of the nature of mathematics, it is so far clear only in the cases of the number-world theory and of intuitionism that any specific theories of mathematics are affected by one's religious beliefs. But, for example, if I switch between the theories of Mill and of Russell, would I then be forced to change my beliefs about any specific theories of mathematics?
But I think enough has been said to demonstrate the point: that religious beliefs do indeed exert a controlling influence on mathematical theories.