Philosophy of dynamic development


Encyclopaedia of relations and


their evolution and history 



 Part II: Normative principles




 Marinus Dirk Stafleu

 © 2018, 2019, 2021, 2022 M.D.Stafleu






8. From evolution to history

9. Acts

10. Living in a human-made world

11. Aesthetically qualified characters

12. Semiotic relations and characters

13. Epistemology

14. Trust

15. The relation frame of keeping company

16. Mutual service

17. Policy and justice                                                                          

18. The civil society and the public domain

19. Loving care    

Summary: An interlocking puzzle







Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 8


From evolution to history





8.1. The emergence of humanity from the animal world

8.2. Herman Dooyeweerd’s conception of history

8.3. The historical temporal order and its subjective correlate

8.4. Historism and historicism

8.5. The serial order of the modal aspects and the supratemporal heart

8.6. The transfer of experience as the engine of history


 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history



8.1. The emergence of humanity

from the animal world


In the following chapters we shall discuss a variety of characters and other structures as occur in philosophical anthropology, both in subject-subject relations and in subject-object relations. Among the structures to be investigated belong those of the normative relation frames with their mutual projections. From the outset it should be emphasized that subjects in the normative relation frames can be individual persons as well as organized groups of people with some kind of government, to be called associations.

Chapter 8 introduces the structure of asymmetrical subject-subject relations characterizing the historical transfer of experience in each relation frame.

Chapter 9 discusses the structure of human acts in the framework of philosophical ethics, the science studying the normativity of acts.

Chapter 10 introduces the character of artefacts, being objects qualified by one of the normative relation frames. In the technical relation frame they appear to have a single character, in the other normative frames a dual one.

The generic character of any association will be discussed in chapter 18, when we shall also investigate the structure of the civil society consisting of free associations and of the public domain consisting of intersubjective and objective relation networks, bothin connection to the structure and the function of the state. The specific characters of associations and their relations will be treated in chapters 10-17 and 19. 

In general, the analysis of the normative relations and characters in Part II of this encyclopaedia will be much less detailed than that of the natural ones, discussed in Part I.


Chapter 8 is concerned with the transition of evolution into history. The astrophysical, organic and zoological evolutions are discussed in chapters 5-7. After a review of the evolution of humanity from the animal world (section 8.1), section 8.2 identifies two trends in Herman Dooyeweerd’s conception of ‘cosmic time’, and elaborates their consequences for the philosophy of history.[1] The first trend, connecting time to modal diversity and the serial order of the modal aspects, prevails in Dooyeweerd’s analysis of history, ignoring natural evolution. The application of the second trend, emphasizing that in each relation frame the temporal order governs subject-subject relations and subject-object relations, sheds a new light on the interpretation of history conceived of as development of the culture and civilization of mankind (section 8.3). It is also helpful for understanding natural evolution. Dooyeweerd’s critique of historicism (section 8.4) and the distinction of faith and religion as well as the position of the aspect of faith in the serial order of the modal aspects play important parts in his discussion, in particular with respect to the possibility of transcending time (section 8.5). Section 8.6 introduces the transfer of experience as the major engine of history.


Christian philosophical anthropology ought to dissociate itself from naturalistic evolutionism that considers a human being merely as a natural product no more than any animal.[2] The criticism exerted by Herman Dooyeweerd and several of his adherents on evolutionism is right, as far as evolutionism states that the evolution of humanity from the animal kingdom should be explainable entirely in a natural scientific way.[3] On the other hand, Christian anthropology does not need to object to the hypothesis that humanity emerged from the animal kingdom. This view does not contradict the intention of the story of the creation in the first chapters of Genesis. As Roy Clouser observes: ‘Thus the interpretation of the biblical remark that God created Adam “from the dust of the ground” would not be that it is intended as a description of God’s act, but as a comment on Adam’s nature. To be sure, it is by God’s creative activity that humans come into being. But on this interpretation the expression “from the dust of the ground” should not be understood as a description of one causal deed in space and time by which a biologically human being came into existence, but as conveying the fact that part of human nature is that humans are made of the same stuff that the rest of the world is made of. Thus, humans never are, and never can be, more than creatures of God. They are not little bits of divinity stuffed into earthly bodies, which are degraded as “the prison house of the soul.”’[4]

The evolution of humankind, like the evolution of plants and animals, occurs partly according to natural laws, providing a necessary, though by no means sufficient explanation for the coming into being of humanity. Even Ernst Mayr observes: ‘The claim made by some extremists that man is “nothing but” an animal … is, of course, not true. To be sure, man is, zoologically speaking, an animal. Yet, he is a unique animal, differing from all others in so many fundamental ways that a separate science for man is well-justified.”[5] There is no reasonable doubt that human beings, as far as their body structure is concerned, evolved from the animal world. This is a hypothesis, for which no logically conclusive proof exists, and probably cannot exist. In scientific laboratories, evolution cannot be copied. Scientific evidence differs from logical proof. Science does not require logical proof for a hypothesis. It requires scientific evidential material that does not contradict the hypothesis, but corroborates it. During the past two centuries, such evidence has been found in abundance. Moreover, for the above-mentioned hypothesis no scientifically defensible or viable alternative appears to be available. For a sufficient explanation one has to take into account normative principles, irreducible to natural laws.

The theory of character interlacement accounts for the kinship of men and animals. The human body character is interlaced with an animal behaviour character, opened up into an act structure, determining the human position in the animal kingdom.[6]

Dooyeweerd, too speaks of the human act-structure, ‘… the immediate temporal expression of the human I-ness, which transcends the cosmic temporal order.’[7] ‘By “acts” the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea understands all activities starting from the human soul (or spirit), but functioning within the enkaptic structural whole of the human body. Guided by normative points of view, man is intentionally directed to states of affairs in reality or in his imagination. He makes these states of affairs to his own by relating them to his I-ness.’[8]

Likewise, both human beings and animals belong to the world of living beings because of their organic character, but they transcend it as well. Indeed, the character of animals is not primarily biotic, but psychically qualified by their behaviour. Hence, the assumption that humans have a place in the animal kingdom does not imply that they are psychically qualified. It does not exclude that a human body differs from an animal body to a large extent. ‘Since man’s neural development consists of essentially the same processes as that of other mammalian species (differing in the much greater extent to which those processes go on, to produce a relatively gigantic brain with a greatly exaggerated frontal portion and a number of other characteristic features) we can expect that our brains too develop along genetically programmed lines. In the case of animals this was postulated because behavioural responses tended to be species specific. Is the same true for man? This is the central question … Without wanting to prejudge the issue, it seems to be the case that some universal responses are clearly present in early life, but that they become less and less clearly evident as childhood proceeds; the conclusion that would appear to follow is that the relatively exaggerated growth of certain brain areas is concerned not so much with behaviour determination and restriction as with the opposite: The keeping open of options for behaviour to be modified and adjusted by conditioning of basic programmes.’[9] The size of the brain, the erect gait, the absence of a tail, and the naked skin point to the unique position of humankind in the cosmos.

The starting point for a Christian philosophical anthropology would be that human beings are called out of the animal kingdom to control nature in a responsible way, to love their neighbours, and to worship God. Persons are called to further good and combat evil, in freedom and responsibility. Science or philosophy cannot explain this vocation from the laws of nature. Yet it may be considered an empirical fact that all people experience a calling to do well and to avoid evil. As such it is open to scientific archaeological and historical research.

The question of when this calling happened for the first time can only be answered within a wide margin. It is comparable to the question of when (at which moment between conception and birth) a human embryo becomes an individual person, with a vocation to be human. The creation of humanity before all times, including the vocation to function as God’s image, should be distinguished from its realization in the course of time. Contrary to the first, the latter can be dated in principle, albeit within wide limits.


When leaving the animal world, humanity took an active part in the dynamic development of nature. This opening of windows on humanity concerns all six natural relation frames and the characters they qualify. People expand their quantitative, spatial, kinetic, physical, biotic and psychic relations with other creatures and with each other. The exploitation of energy and matter transformations, far beyond the use of fire and celts marks history. Initially, the mastery of nature meant hunting, domestication of animals and the collection of fruits. Only in agriculture and pastoral cattle-breeding, about 10,000 years ago, people started to develop living nature dynamically. They influenced the genetic renewal of plants and animals by cultivating and crossing, replacing natural by artificial selection.

Whereas ethology studies animal behaviour, ethics is concerned with human acts being characterized by the normative relation frames succeeding the psychic one. People have the will to labour or to destroy; to enjoy or to disturb a party; to understand or to cheat; to speak the truth or to lie; to be faithful or unreliable; to keep each other’s company in a respectful or in an offending way; to conduct a business honestly or to swindle; to exert good management or to be a dictator; to do justice or injustice; to care for or to neglect each other’s vulnerability. The various virtues and vices express the will to do good or evil in widely differing circumstances. The will to act rightly or wrongly opens the human psyche towards the relation frames following the psychic one. The desire to act freely and responsibly according to values and norms raises men and women above animals, a human society above a herd.


By distinguishing natural laws from values and norms, Christian philosophical ethics accounts for human freedom and responsibility. No less than animals, people are bound to natural laws, being coercive and imperative, though leaving a margin of randomness, as was argued above (1.1). Like natural laws, values or normative principles are given by the Creator as conditions for human existence, but human beings are able to transgress these. For instance, people ought to act righteously, but they do not always behave accordingly.

Normative principles are not derivable from human being as such, as if there are first human beings with their activity and next the morals. On the contrary, each fundamental value is a condition for human existence in its rich variety. Human freedom, too, cannot be the starting point of ethical conduct, for without normative principles freedom and responsibility would be quite illusory.

The naturalist fallacy is to reduce the normative aspects of reality to the natural ones. In order to deny normativity, naturalists often assume that people are not free to act, and cannot be held responsible for their acts and the ensuing consequences. Therefore they need to believe that everything is determined by natural laws. That view is highly remarkable, because both physics and biology heavily depend on the occurrence of stochastic or random events, and do not provide a deterministic basis for naturalism.

It is a generally held assumption that human beings are to a certain extent free to act, and therefore responsible for their deeds. Although this confirms common understanding, it is an unprovable hypothesis. Naturalist philosophers denying free will cannot prove their view too, but because they depart from common understanding, they should carry the burden of proof.[10] Of course, many human acts are based on a reflex or some other fixed action pattern, wired in the brain. Experiments to point this out cannot prove, however, that this is always the case. Martin Luther and John Calvin are often accused of some kind of ‘religious determinism’, because of the doctrine of predestination. However, both invariantly stressed the responsibility of every person for their acts.

Apparently, the naturalists’ problem is that they cannot both ascribe freedom and responsibility to animals, and maintain that human beings are just another species of animals, subject only to natural laws. In contrast, Christian philosophy holds that human beings and their associations are conditioned to be free and responsible according to normative principles irreducible to natural laws.


The fact that animals can learn from their experience shows that they have a sense for regularity, but only people consider normative principles. Though not coercive, in the history of mankind the normative principles appear to be as universal as the natural laws. From the beginning of history, human beings have been aware that they are to a certain extent free to obey or to disobey these principles in a way that neither animals nor human beings can obey or disobey natural laws. Moreover, they have discovered that the normative principles are not sufficient. In particular the organization of human societies required the introduction of human-made norms as implementation or positivization of normative principles. Therefore, human freedom and responsibility has two sides. At the law side it means the development of norms from the normative principles, which norms are different at historical times and places, and vary in widely different cultures and civilizations. At the subject side, individual persons and their associations are required to act according to these laws, which ought to warrant the execution of their freedom and responsibility.

For instance, all people appear to have a sense of justice. The normative principles like justice may be assumed to be universal, and should therefore be recognizable in the whole of history (as far as we know it), in all cultures and civilizations. Human skills, aesthetic experience, and language may widely differ, but are always present and recognizable in any human society. The sense of universal values appears to be inborn.

This has led naturalists to assume that human history can be described as biological evolution, in particular applying Charles Darwin’s ideas of adaptation and natural selection. They overlook the fact that Darwin’s theory necessarily presupposes genetic heredity. Natural selection is a slow process. The evolution of hominids to modern humankind took at least six million years, which is not even long on a geological scale. But human history is at most two hundred thousand years old. Because of human activity, it happens much faster than biological evolution, and is even accelerating. Moreover, human experience cannot be inherited. The historical and cultural transfer of experience in asymmetrical subject-subject relations is as diverse as human experience itself (8.6). It is completely absent in the animal world. The transfer of experience as an engine of history in each normative relation frame replaces heredity as an engine of biotic evolution. This is the nucleus of truth in the hypothesis that memes are the units of cultural transmission, comparable to inheritable genes in biotic evolution.[11]


Although there are relevant biological differences between human persons and their nearest relatives, the biological difference between a human and an ape is smaller than that between an ape and a horse. Humans and apes constitute different families of the same order of the primates. Yet it is now widely accepted that the fundamental distinction between human beings and animals cannot be determined on biological grounds only.

When paleontologists want to establish whether certain fossils are ape-like or human-like they have to take recourse to non-biological characteristics, like the use of fire, clothing, tools and ornaments, the burial of the dead. The age-old tradition of seeking the difference between animals and human beings in human ratio­nality seems to be abandoned. At present one looks for this distinc­tion in culture, in language, in social organization and the like. In terms of the philosophy of dynamic development this would mean that a human being is a subject in the post-psychic relation frames. Human activity is not merely directed to the fulfilment of biotic and psychic needs, but is directed to answering a calling.

The awareness of good and evil marks the birth date of humanity. Human beings have discovered the existence of good and evil, in the animal world, in their environ­ment, and last but not least in their own communities. Consider the phenomenon of illness of plants and animals. Every biologist can explain that illness as such is a natural process. Only from a human point of view does it make sense to say that a plant or an animal is ill, and that this is anti-normative. Illness is an anthropomorphic concept. Also the so-called struggle for life is experienced as anti-normative by people only.

All persons experience the calling to fight evil. This not only applies to evil observed in the plant and animal worlds, but also evil in themselves and in their fellow people. The calling to combat evil implies a sense of respon­sibility for plants and animals and for humanity. This is a very relevant distinction between humans and animals. An animal takes the world as it is, as given. A human person attempts to better the world. The awareness of good and evil constitutes the basis of culture. Through cultural development humanity started to transcend the animal kingdom. A person no longer experiences the world merely as being psychical, but also as being rational, historical, and so on. More and more, the belief in one's calling has played a leading part in their history.

The sense of calling to fight evil, which is at the heart of human existence, cannot be traced back in any scientific way. From a philosophical point of view one can only establish that it exists. The question of the origin of this calling cannot be answered scientifically or philosophically. In particular the difference between evil and sin is a religious question. Hence the development of humanity out of the animal kingdom cannot be completely scientifically explained. Besides insight into natural processes, it requires revelation about what it means to be created in the image of God.


The arguments in this section show that the theory of evolution may be able to provide necessary conditions for understanding the emergence of humanity, but by no means sufficient conditions. These should be sought in the normativity of the relation frames succeeding the natural ones, in the active part human beings take in the dynamic development of nature and society, and in God’s revelation.

The tertiary characteristics of natural things and events point to the possibility of the emergence of new structures with emerging new properties and propensities. It provides the original characters with meaning, their proper position in the creation. The phenomenon of disposition shows that material things like molecules have meaning for living organisms. It shows that organisms have meaning for animal life. The assumption that God’s people are called from the animal world gives meaning to the existence of animals. Both evolution and history display the meaningful development of the creation, the coming into being of ever more characters. The theory of relation frames and characters points to the natural evolution making the natural relation frames into windows on humanity, and interlacing the natural characters in human normative activity.


8.2. Dooyeweerd’s conception of history


Philosophy of history concerns various views of history, both res gestae (the things that happened) and its oral or written description, historia rerum gestarum. I shall hardly discuss the latter, also known as theoretical history or metahistory,[12] investigating the presuppositions, structure and methods of the science of history, and its relations to other fields of science and the humanities. Concerning the former, in Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of the cosmonomic ideathe theories of both time and history play an important part. One might expect that these two be strongly connected. However, his theory of time appears to have two different trends, and Dooyeweerd applies only one of them in his extensive discussion of history, completely ignoring the other one.[13]

In the first or restricted trend, time is related to modal diversity. Like sunlight is refracted by a prism into a spectre of colours, time refracts the totality, unity and coherence of meaning of the creation into a diversity of meaning, expressed in mutually irreducible modal aspects.[14] Though mutually irreducible, the aspects are not independent, displaying a serial ‘temporal’ order, such that later aspects presuppose (are founded in) former ones. Later aspects refer back to (‘retrocipate on’) earlier aspects in this order of time, whereas earlier aspects ‘anticipate’ the later ones. The meaning of each aspect is expressed in its meaning nucleus and in the meaning of its retrocipations and anticipations. Hence, the temporal structure of each modal aspect apart reflects the temporal order of all aspects together.

Clearly there are two terminal modal aspects, the first (quantitative) one lacking retrocipations. One might expect that the final one, the aspect of faith, lacks anticipations, but that is not entirely the case. According to Dooyeweerd, in the anticipatory direction each modal aspect ‘transcends’ the earlier ones. Ultimately, via the aspect of faith, the human self in its religion (its heart) transcends time, i.e., the modal diversity of meaning. In this way the aspect of faith anticipates religion.[15] This first trend in Dooyeweerd’s conception, narrowing down time to modal diversity, plays a decisive part in his theory of history,[16]  as well as in his treatment of epistemology.[17]

In the first trend,

‘... time in its cosmic sense has a cosmonomic and a factual side. Its cosmonomic side is the temporal order of succession or simultaneity. The factual side is the factual duration, different for various individualities. But the duration remains constantly subjected to the temporal order. Thus, for example, in the aspect of organic life, the temporal order of birth, maturing, adulthood, aging and dying holds good for the more highly developed organisms. The duration of human life may differ considerably in different individuals. But it always remains subject to this biotic order of time.’[18]

‘The logical order of simultaneity and of prius and posterius is as much a modal aspect of the integral order of time as the physical.’[19]


Apparently, in this restricted sense Dooyeweerd supposed neither that succession is the quantitative or perhaps the kinetic temporal order, nor that simultaneity is the spatial one. Rather, these express the serial order or sequence of the retrocipations and anticipations being simultaneously present in any modal aspect. The discreteness of the first expresses the ‘sovereignty in their own sphere’ of the modal aspects, i.e., their mutual irreducibility. Simultaneity points to the modal universality of each aspect, i.e., the laws in all aspects are simultaneously and universally valid. In contrast, duration as the subject side of time is not expressed in the modal aspects but at the subject side of the structures of individuality, where factual duration is developed in subject-object relations.[20]

In the second, more expanded trend, however, Dooyeweerd states that time is expressed in each modal aspect in a different way, each law sphere being an aspect of time. Simultaneity is now called the spatial order of time, to be distinguished from the numerical order of earlier and later in a series and the kinematic order of succession of temporal moments.[21]

Since 1970, I developed the second trend, in particular with respect to the natural modal aspects, arguing that the temporal order is the law for modal relations between subjects and objects, and even more between subjects and subjects (see section 1.2).[22] This view of time and its meaning may be considered relational, and the modal aspects may be called ‘relation frames’, each containing a set of natural laws or normative principles determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations. This includes the meaning of existence, for “‘meaning’is nothing but the creaturely mode of being under the law, consisting exclusively in a religious relation of dependence on God”.[23]

The latter relation, mediated by Jesus Christ, is the foundation of Christian philosophical anthropology as discussed in chapters 8-19 of this encyclopaedia.

In the first trend in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of time, retrocipations and anticipations relate the modal aspects to each other in a rather abstract way, in particular by direct or indirect conceptual ‘analogies’. In the second trend retrocipations and anticipations are first of all concerned with the characters of concrete things, events, processes, acts, artefacts and associations (see section 1.3). Character types are primarily qualified by one relation frame and secondarily founded in an earlier one. Third, these types determine the disposition of characters to become interlaced with each other, and to function in relation frames succeeding the qualifying one.

Dooyeweerd’s treatment of history, strongly determined by the first trend in his theory of time, is almost completely restricted to the opening up of the modal aspects. However, the historical development of the characters of natural and cultural objects, of associations, and of the public domain may be more to the point, like natural evolution occurs more in the characters of stars, plants and animals than in the natural relation frames. The assumption that God created the species conceived as characters of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, i.e. as sets of natural laws, is not contradicted by the evolution theory stating that these characters are gradually realized in subjective and objective natural processes.[24] This also applies to the constant and universal character types of human acts, artefacts and associations, consisting of invariant values (normative principles) and sometimes natural laws. In contrast, humans are actively involved in the realization of the corresponding characters, not merely at the subject side, but at the law side as well, for normative characters consist largely of norms, developed from values in the historical context of human culture and civilization. This accounts for the enormous diversity of human-made characters, although the number of invariant character types appears to be rather limited, as will be seen in the following chapters.


Herman Dooyeweerd conceives of history as cultural development, qualified by the ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ modal aspect (also called the technical one by some Dooyeweerdians, though not by Dooyeweerd himself), succeeding the psychic and logical aspects, having the meaning nucleus of power, command, control or mastery.[25] Although retrocipations are relevant,[26] Dooyeweerd emphasizes the disclosure of anticipations.[27] This means that the anticipatory or ‘transcendental’ direction in the cosmic order of the modal aspects is the dominant temporal factor in history. This view of history can be and has been criticized in several ways.

Several adherents to Dooyeweerd’s philosophy deny that history should be qualified by a single modal aspect.[28] Besides power, command, control or mastery, Dooyeweerd considers cultural development, or the controlling manner of moulding the social process[29] to be the meaning nucleus of the historical modal aspect. Occasionally development appears to be a biotic analogy in the historical aspect, ‘ultimately founded in the pure intuition of movement’.[30]

It cannot be doubted that the technical relation frame, characterized by human skilled labour, has a pivotal function with respect to history. Several authors consider it the first frame succeeding the natural ones,[31] the development of natural characters by human labour being the first instance of historical processes. Dooyeweerd emphasized that the historical aspect should be distinguished from history as res gestae, past events displaying all modal aspects. He states that an event can only be considered ‘historical’, if it contributes to cultural development in a positive or negative way, and he discusses various criteria according to which this may be decided.[32] However, many historical events are qualified by another relation frame, for instance by the political or the economic one, and according to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea an event cannot be qualified by two modal aspects simultaneously. Historical development is a feature of all normative aspects, not only at the subject side (like evolution is in the natural relation frames), but at the law side as well. Whereas the natural laws are imperative and coercive, modal normative relations between people (including their associations) are subject to invariant normative principles or values, which in the course of history people actualise into variable norms. As observed above, this encyclopaedia also distinguishes invariant normative character types from variable normative characters, developed by people in the course of history, and therefore extremely diverse. The cultural and civilizational development of associations like states, faith communities, enterprises, aesthetic companies and sports clubs, constitutes an important part of history. One can only pay attention to their typical differences if one has at least the intuitive insight that e.g. churches differ from states and enterprises primarily by their qualifying relation frame. Moreover, one should investigate how various character types having the same qualifying frame may differ secondarily because of their founding frames. For understanding their historical development it is also crucial to gain an insight into the various ways each association is disposed to become entangled with other ones, as is amply illustrated in the history of the relation of church and state (section 16.5). Reversely, one can only get insight into the invariant values and character types by studying how they are actualized into variable historical norms and characters. Philosophy of history and the science of history are mutually dependent.

It is almost evident that a specific science corresponds with any modal aspect. Dooyeweerd incorrectly reverses this statement, assuming that any science should be qualified by one of the modal aspects. Besides to history, he applies this argument to the science of ethics, for instance (section 9.6), but not to sociology or anthropology. If history would determine a modal aspect, one cannot escape the consequence that the same would apply to natural evolution, or one should assume that the historical modal aspect concerns evolution as well as history. Both alternatives do not seem to be attractive.

Dooyeweerd’s view of the opening up of the modal anticipations contains an ambiguity, surfacing when he discusses closed cultures. On the one hand he considers their existence to be a purely historical phenomenon, a primitive historical state of development. On the other hand, he considers the closed state of a culture to be a result of sin.[33] The opening process is guided by true religion, and when this is absent, the anticipations remain closed. However, Dooyeweerd cannot and does not want to deny that the historical disclosure of the modal aspects also occurs under the guidance of apostate religions, in particular the Greek and humanist ones.[34] He could have added various non-Western religions. It may even be doubted whether entirely closed human communities exist or have ever existed.

Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on the opening up of modal anticipations downgrades the historical relevance of the development of retrocipations and of characters. This may not have been his intention, but it is an unfortunate consequence.  As a case study has shown, for the development of a field of science retrocipations and the investigation of characters are just as important as the disclosure of anticipations.[35] Attempts to open up a field of science restricted to anticipations turn out to be quite fruitless.

Dooyeweerd’s view of history strongly depends on the first trend in his theory of time: the idea that time expresses the modal diversity of reality, the serial order of the modal aspects and the transcendental character of the anticipatory direction. It completely ignores the second trend in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, according to which each relation frame has it own order of time, the law for subjective and objective relations. Dooyeweerd pays much attention to subject-object relations,[36] but hardly to subject-subject relations, which may be even more important for the analysis of time. Moreover, in his treatment of history, relations on the public domain and the characters of acts, artefacts and associations play a minor part.


8.3. The historical temporal order 

and its subjective correlate


In the philosophy of dynamic development, the second trend in the theory of time interprets time in each relation frame to be the law or temporal order for intersubjective relations and for relations between subjects and objects. This allows of an alternative philosophical theory of history,[37] assuming that the temporal order at the law side of each normative aspect of human experience concerns first of all an asymmetrical subject-subject relation, expressing a kind of transfer of experience, acting like an engine of history. In the normative relation frames, besides individual people only associations (organized social groups) can be subjects as actors of history (see section  16.2).

Next, each normative temporal order appears to determine its own kind of artefacts, human-made objects, things or events acting as instruments of history (section 10.1). Artefacts should be distinguished from other objects.

At the subject-side of each relation frame, anything is either a subject or an object. The difference is relational and contextual. With respect to a certain law (or a set of laws), something is a subject if it is directly or actively subjected to that law, whereas it is an object if it is indirectly (via a subject) or passively subjected to that law. In the normative relation frames an object may be anything that is not a human being or an association of human beings. For instance, an animal may be an object for someone’s aesthetic experience, or it may be a juridical object in a lawsuit. However, an animal is never qualified as an aesthetic or juridical object. It can only be qualified as a psychic subject. As such it is a subject in the psychic relation frame as well as the preceding ones, and an object in the relation frames succeeding it. In contrast, a piece of art like a painting is an artefact, a human-made object aesthetically qualified by an artist and/or a spectator (chapter 11).

Artefacts functioning in the transfer of experience are further distinguished from other kinds of objects because of their character. A character is a set of natural laws, normative principles (values) and human-made norms determining the structure of the artefact (see section 1.3). Technical instruments have a single character, primarily qualified by the technical relation frame and secondarily founded in the natural ones. Other human-made artefacts (as well as associations) turn out to have a dual character, a generic and a specific one.[38] The generic character is primarily qualified by one of the normative relation frames succeeding the technical one. It is secondarily founded in the technical relation frame, expressing that any artefact is a product (a factum) of human activity. Hence the generic character distinguishes artefacts having different qualifications from each other. The specific character of an artefact is primarily qualified by the same relation frame as is the generic character, but secondarily it is not necessarily founded in the technical relation frame. Hence, the specific character allows us to distinguish various types of artefacts having the same generic character. The artefacts functioning as instruments in the transfer of experience in a certain relation frame are primarily qualified by the same relation frame, whereas a different frame qualifies other objects.


Being objects, artefacts function in subject-object relations besides in subject-subject relations. Suppose, for instance, that an archaeologist finds an inscription recognizable as the constitution of an ancient city. It has been a state law, a politically qualified artefact, during a certain historical period valid for the inhabitants of the city concerned. For present-day people, it is not a state law, but a historical document, a semiotically qualified artefact symbolizing a law. Without any relation to people, the inscription would have no historical meaning. This view of artefacts as instruments of historical development highlights the pivotal part played by the technical relation frame in history. Hence it is not difficult to appreciate that Herman Dooyeweerd called it the ‘historical’ mode of experience.

The religious meaning of any normative relation frame implies its meaning for history. In its most pregnant sense, Christians recognize the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the religious meaning of history. However, related to its temporal order, each relation frame expresses an aspect of historical meaning. This historical meaning is not first of all objective or subjective, but normative. At the law side, it expresses the historical development of values into norms and of character types into characters. At the subject side it expresses how people actually perform their normative tasks according to their ethos, their attitude towards values and norms.[39] Hence, the meaning of history appears to be both a religious and an ethical affair.


8.4. Historism and historicism


Herman Dooyeweerd never came to terms with the theory of natural evolution.[40] A tension can be perceived between his views on evolution and history. In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy there is no place for a modal aspect having the same function for evolution as the historical aspect has for history, and he never suggested that natural evolution is guided by religion, faith, or any other aspect.

Dooyeweerd considered it necessary to defend the existence of an irreducible historical modal aspect in order to criticise humanist historism.[41] Dooyeweerd interpreted historism as the absolutization of the historical modal aspect, either of its law side or of its subject side. The first occurs in Georg Hegel’s idealism, in Karl Marx’s historical materialism and in Auguste Comte’s positivism.[42] Karl Popper calls this historicism.[43] A recent example is Francis Fukuyama’s view on ‘the end of history’.[44] Romanticism absolutized the subject-and-object side, individualizing history, implying relativism with respect to the law side of reality. It only recognized accidental, contingent, individual occurrences, an endless stream of unique events.[45] Historism ‘emphasizes diachronism, for historism resolves everything in a continuous stream of historical development. Everything must be seen as the result of its previous history.’[46]  ‘It was believed that the understanding of x consisted in knowing the history of x.[47]

Dooyeweerd based his criticism on the correct view that one should never absolutize a modal aspect. However, the proposal to consider the order of time as the order for historical development in all normative relation frames is sufficient to criticize any kind of historism, for it starts from the acknowledgement of the variety and mutual irreducibility of normative principles determining both the normative relation frames and the character types qualified by these frames. These principles are not subject to the historical development of culture and civilization, but govern it. On the other hand, in their history people develop norms from normative principles or values and characters exemplifying character types. In this way it is possible to criticise the absolutization of history in historism (including its post-modern form, social-constructivism), and simultaneously to recognize its nucleus of truth making it so attractive.[48]

Hence, I do not consider historism to be the absolutization of a single modal aspect, not even the ‘historical’ one, for in the twentieth century history no longer absolutized progress. Rather, historism absolutizes history by relativizing everything else,[49] in particular denying the law-side of the normative relation frames, thereby destroying the meaning of history. Moreover, it interprets time in a naturalistic way (see below).


8.5. The serial order of the modal aspects

and the supratemporal heart


In Herman Dooyeweerd’s conception of history, the sequence of the modal aspects, expressing the modal diversity of the creation, is the primary temporal order.[50] In the first trend of his theory of time, it is crucial that the aspect of faith is the final one in the anticipatory order from the quantitative to the pistic aspect. In this ‘transcendental’ order, starting with the historical aspect and guided by the aspect of faith, all normative aspects are disclosed in the course of history. This view gives rise to several problems, for instance with respect to the position of the logical aspect preceding the historical one,[51] and in particular with respect to the aspect of faith.[52] The first problem can easily be solved by positioning the logical relation frame after the semiotic one, for which there are other reasons as well. The second problem ‘is very important to the Christian conception of history’,[53] and Dooyeweerd discusses it quite extensively.[54] If the aspect of faith has no anticipations, it could not take part in the historical process of cultural development, if this means the disclosure of anticipations. Moreover, Dooyeweerd assumes that the aspect of faith has a leading function in this historical process. However, it could not fulfil this function, if it were closed itself. But how could the aspect of faith be opened up (either in obedience to the Divine order or in apostasy), if it cannot anticipate a later modal aspect? Dooyeweerd’s solution to this problem is to assume that in the ‘transcendental’ direction of the modal aspects, the aspect of faith is opened up by religion, ‘activated by the Spirit of Civitas Dei’,[55] in which any person transcends the modal diversity of the modal aspects. Of course, this should not be interpreted such that religion is a kind of modal aspect itself, succeeding that of faith. Dooyeweerd emphasizes that religion differs from faith because it is not a modal aspect, but the heart of human existence, in which each human being transcends the diversity of time in order to arrive at the coherence of meaning either in his relation with God in Jesus Christ, or in an apostate direction. Anyone ought to perform her religious concentration ‘with all their heart, with all their soul, with all their mind’.[56]


In order to make this clear, Dooyeweerd introduced the idea of a person’s ‘supratemporal heart’, the concentration point of their selfhood, religiously directed to the true or supposed origin. Humans would be unable to have knowled­ge of themselves and of God, if they could not transcend the temporal horizon of their experience.[57] Later on Dooyeweerd changed his mind, stating: ‘by the word supra-temporal I never intended a static state, but only a central direction of consciousness transcending cosmic time. Perhaps it had better be replaced by a different term.’[58] In the light of the recognition of two different trends in his theory of time, this term could perhaps be ‘transcending modal diversity’. The idea that a human being should be able to transcend time clearly stems from the first trend, interpreting time as modal diversity of meaning, such that the unity of the human self should transcend time. Any person is supposed to have the intention to transcend the temporal diversity in order to gain knowledge of the origin, unity and continuous coherence of the cosmos.

However, in line with the second trend in the theory of time, it should be considered impossible to transcend time, according to Johan Mekkes’ dictum: ‘In no way man is able to transcend his dynamic temporal existence.’[59] In this trend there is no need for a supratemporal heart. The religious concentration towards Jesus Christ does not require any kind of transcendence of temporal relations. Rather, anybody is called to perform this concentration at any time, within all their temporal relations. In fact, it would only be confusing to call this ‘supratemporal’. 

The first trend in his view of time led Dooyeweerd to identify the anticipatory direction in the order of the modal aspects (the temporal order of historical development) with transcendence of the modal diversity. In the second trend, this identification makes no sense. Now the opening up of anticipations should be considered a process occurring entirely within time, never transcending the cosmic order. In this process, besides religion no modal aspect has a leading function, except the particular aspect to which the aspect to be disclosed is anticipating.

In the second trend, ‘transcending time’ could only mean ‘transcending the law side of reality’. However, this should be considered God’s prerogative.[60] No creature can transcend the law side of time, the temporal order. Nor can anybody transcend their subjective relations to other people, to their environment, or to God, except having intuitive or explicit knowledge of the law side of temporal reality. In line with the first trend in his philosophy of time, Dooyeweerd believed that the modal aspect of faith is exclusively a ‘window on eternity’.[61] In the second trend this applies equally to all relation frames, for each frame includes one’s relation to God through Jesus Christ, whether recognized or rejected. When people concentrate the religious meaning of their existence on their true or supposed origin, they do so in all relation frames.

Taking the second trend in the theory of time seriously implies assuming that the order of the relation frames is not transcendental, but merely serial, referring to the quantitative temporal order of a series. Likewise, the modal aspects are simultaneously valid, referring to the spatial temporal order. If we reject the existence of a separate ‘historical’ aspect (though maintaining the technical relation frame), the guiding function of the aspect of faith in history becomes superfluous. People and their religion rather than their faith guide historical processes. Each relation frame does not only determine subject-subject relations and subject-object relations, but also a religious relation between any human being and their true or supposed origin. Christians believe that this relation is mediated by Jesus Christ, who became a human subjected to the laws of the creation, in order to effect the relation between God and humankind as a subject-subject relation, a relation between Christ and any person. As a consequence, there is no problem in accepting that the final relation frame (which may or may not be that of faith) has no anticipations, just like the first one, the quantitative frame, lacks retrocipations.


Between the publication of the first Dutch edition of Herman Dooyeweerd’s main work (De wijsbegeerte der wetsidee, 1935-1936) and of its second, revised translation into English (A new critique of theoretical thought, 1953-1958), his emphasis shifted from the transcendental idea of law to the transcendental idea of cosmic time. In the former case, ‘transcendental’ refers to the Origin, who alone is able to transcend the law side of creation. In the latter case, it refers to the human capacity of transcending time (the diversity of meaning) according to the first trend identified above. Meanwhile, Dooyeweerd almost lost sight of the second trend in his conception of time.

He complains that ‘some adherents of my philosophy are unable to follow me in this integral conception of cosmic time’[62]. An explanation may be that these adherents[63] merely read the first trend in his philosophy of time, overlooking that only including the second trend makes the conception of time the genuinely integrating factor in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea. In particular, many philosophers reject the idea of a supratemporal heart, even if it is interpreted as intentionally rather than actually transcending the diversity of meaning.

Objections to the first trend in Dooyeweerd’s idea of time easily lead to a relapse into a naturalistic conception of time, in particular kinetic or physical time conceived as change.[64] Eventually, kinetic time as measured on a clock is complemented with diachronism and synchronism, e.g. in the dualistic tension between ‘process and structure’ or ‘development and context’ in historism,[65] or in the duality of ‘direction and structure’ in reformed thought.[66] Observation of the second trend in the idea of time evades the relapse into naturalism.


Recognizing two different trends in Dooyeweerd’s conception of cosmic time and opting for the second one, leads to exploring a view of history within the framework of the philosophy of dynamic development, different from Dooyeweerd’s. Rather than qualifying history by the historical modal aspect (though recognizing the pivotal part played by the technical relation frame in historical development), in this new view history applies to all normative relation frames, like evolution occurs in all natural frames. Instead of restricting the temporal order of history to the ‘transcendental’ (anticipatory) order of the modal aspects and the order of progress, historical development of culture and civilization in each relation frame appears to be subject to the temporal order in that frame conceived of as an aspect of time. This order is applicable to the transfer of experience in asymmetric subject-subject relations; to the development of artefacts; to the development of character types into characters of associations and to the development of networks on the public domain. Of course, it also applies to the opening up of anticipations in the various modal aspects, to which Dooyeweerd mostly restricts his analysis, as well as to the opening up of retrocipations. Dooyeweerd’s view of history determined by his ‘transcendental idea of cultural development’ hinges on his restrictive view of time, leading to the conception that a human being looking for coherence, unity and the origin of the creation should transcend the temporal diversity of modal meaning. Paying attention to an expanded view of time, recognizing temporal orders and relations in all modal aspects as specified in various characters, leads to a different, much richer and more empirical philosophical conception of history, and to a possible solution of some misunderstandings of Dooyeweerd’s revolutionary perception of time.


8.6. The transfer of experience as the engine of history


In the philosophy of dynamic development relations among subjects and objects play a decisive part. As an alternative to Herman Dooyeweerd’s conception of history, section 8.6 proposes asymmetrical subject-subject relations as instruments for the asymmetric transfer of human experience, an immensely dynamic force pushing historical development. Starting with skilful labour, in each normative relation frame this transfer will be considered as a driving force, a dynamic engine of history, active in the normative direction indicated by the temporal order in that frame

Let us briefly review the potential relevance of the second trend in the theory of time for the philosophy of history. It is obviously quite ambitious to look for the temporal order in no less than sixteen frames of reference. In the six natural relation frames, the temporal order is not only significant for the natural relations and their evolution (chapters 2-7), but for history as well. The ten normative relation frames will be surveyed in section 9.1.


The temporal order of earlier and later as depicted in a numbered series allows of ordering historical events into a diachronic sequence and determining quantitative relations like how much one event is later than the other one, measured in centuries, years, days and even hours or seconds.

The spatial temporal order of simultaneity allows of comparing and connecting historical events occurring synchronically at different places, making use of spatial relations like distance and environment.

The kinetic order of uniform flow is recognizable in historical processes, having a beginning, an end, a certain duration, relative speed and even acceleration.

The physical temporal order of irreversibility determines causal relations between historical events.

The biotic genetic order is expressed in several historical relations, for instance, in genealogies, in the metaphor of the birth, rise, flowering, decline and demise of an empire, or in the genetic relation or kinship between various languages, systems of state law, and civilizations.

The psychic order of goal-directedness lies at the foundation of all historical human acts, where it is disclosed into goal-consciousness, the goal people try to achieve.

So far the sixfold natural temporal order as relevant to history. Let us now turn to time and history in the normative relation frames.


I consider progress to be the technical temporal order for history (chapter 10), the normative principle for technological development as well as the foundation of the development of culture and civilization in the other normative relation frames. In this sense, an event, process, artefact or association and even a personality may be called ‘historical’ (though not ‘historically qualified’) if contributing to or hampering progress. As the engine of technical progress I consider the transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to children in households, from skilled to untrained labourers in workshops, and from teachers to pupils in schools. Technical artefacts function in a subject-subject relation in the transfer of technical skills, or in a technical subject-object relation, in which the subject (an individual or an association) may be its designer, its producer or its user.


The aesthetic order of time may be expressed as style, the law for aesthetic phenomena like fashion, decoration, plays and the arts (chapter 11). History is usually divided into periods according to a dominant style. Aesthetic artefacts like a piece of art, a musical performance or a football match are subjected to the order of style and instrumental in the transfer of aesthetic experience from an artist, an orchestra or a football team to their audience or spectators. At the law side, the aesthetic meaning of history is expressed in a religiously determined vision of the past, a worldview. At the subject side, by making images people show themselves as persons to each other and to their God. Religion finds its aesthetic expression in the cults, in the epiphany of God.


Memory may refer to the historical order applicable to any kind of semiotic activity (chapter 12).[67] The common name for a semiotic object is a sign, but the semiotic frame does not necessarily qualify a sign. For instance, a fossil is a sign of a formerly living body, and is therefore qualified by the biotic modal aspect. In contrast, a human-made semiotic artefact is usually called a symbol. A rainbow is a sign that it is raining while the sun shines, whereas the Bible makes it a symbol of God’s covenant with the world.[68] For the transfer of semiotic experience subject to the temporal order of memory, a language forms an important instrument. Without language, the individual memory of people would be as limited as animal memory. The use of language, both oral tradition and written texts, forms the basis of shared memory and remembered history. The semiotic meaning of history would be the interpretation of the past guided by the text of God’s revelation.


Prediction, explanation and rational choice are subjected to the logical temporal order of prior and posterior, in which a conclusion follows from premises (chapter 13). The artificial instruments of logic are numerically founded concepts, spatially founded propositions and kinetically founded theories. These artefacts have an instrumental function in the transfer of logical experience in a discourse or a discussion, subjected to the rational temporal order. The logical meaning of history appears to be the understanding of the past, the hope for the future, and eternal life as knowledge of God.[69]


Reformation may be suggested as the temporal order in the relation frame of faith and trust (chapter 14). Artefacts like myths, confessions, party programs and mission statements play an instrumental part in the reform of views and the transfer of beliefs. Often these lie at the foundation of associations, in particular but not exclusively of faith communities. Being narratives, myths appear to be founded in the semiotic relation frame. Confessions and dogma’s (often established after a theological investigation) seem to be founded in the logical frame, and icons in the aesthetic one. Besides, historical facts should also be considered artefacts, which truth is generally believed on logical arguments. Conviction and conversion may express the religious meaning of history in the relation frame of belief.


The order of time in the relation frame of keeping company (chapter 15) could be integration and emancipation. In this relation frame habits or customs play an instrumental part in education, the transfer of how to act as a civilized person in any company. Integration and emancipation are not restricted to children, however. Solidarity is a candidate for expressing the historical meaning in the relation frame of keeping company, and reverence for the leading motive in the religious intercourse with God.


In the economic frame (chapter 16) the normative order is best described as differentiation, without which economic acts like the exchange of goods or services would make no sense. As far as it can be owned and sold, anything may be an economic object without being economically qualified. The most obvious economic artefact besides capital and contracts is money as an instrument for trade, the transfer of services and commodities made possible by the economic division of labour. Mutual service could be considered the economic meaning of history. The service of God expresses religion in the economic aspect of human existence. Herman Dooyeweerd mentions both integration and differentiation as laws for cultural development, but he does not identify them with the relation frames of intercourse and economy.


The political temporal order could bear the apt name of policy (chapter 18). A state law is a human-made artefact qualified by the political relation frame, serving as an instrument in leadership and discipline, the transfer of policy. Peace should be the historical meaning of this relation frame. In a religious sense, anybody should be obedient to God. This means that neither leadership in an association nor that association’s sovereignty in its own sphere can ever be absolute, because it always concerns a mandate derived from the supreme Sovereign.


The transfer of justice is ordered by justification (chapter 18). A human right or duty is an artefact qualifiedby the juridical relation frame. Customs determined by the relation frame of keeping company, economic contracts and state laws have juridical consequences, playing an important part in the transfer of justice. The juridical meaning of history appears to be reconciliation.


Finally, the transfer of loving care (chapter 19) is subjected to the order of transience, each human being and everything created or man-made being vulnerable. In the transfer of love and friendship, circumstances to be taken care of may be recognized as artefacts primarily characterized by this modal aspect. I suggest redemption to be the caring meaning of history, whereas for Christians resurrection is the ultimate religious meaning of history.


Section 9.1 elaborates this overview of the normative relation frames and characters in more detail, now from the perspective of human acts.

[1] Stafleu 2008; 2015, chapter 16.

[2] Stafleu 2019, chapter 11.

[3] Dooyeweerd 1959b; Geertsema 2021.

[4] Clouser 1991b, 6-7.

[5] Mayr 1982, 438.

[6] Reynolds 1976, xv, referring to Max Weber.

[7] Dooyeweerd NC,  III, 87-89.

[8] Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV.

[9] Reynolds 1976, 87.

[10] Popper 1982, 27-28; Popper 1972, chapter 6.

[11] Cunningham 2010, 206-212.

[12] White 1973.

[13] Stafleu 2006; 2015, chapter 16.

[14] Dooyeweerd NC (= 1953-1958),I, 101-102; II, 6, 561.

[15] NC II, 298, 302-311.

[16] NC II, 181-365.

[17] NC II, 466-485.

[18] NC I, 28.

[19] NC I, 30.

[20] NC I, 28.

[21] NC I, 31-32; II, 79, 85, 102.

[22] Stafleu 1970, 1980, 2002a; 2015.

[23] NC II, 31.

[24] Stafleu 2002a, 2002b.

[25] NC II, 68-71, 192-217.

[26] NC II, 229-259.

[27] NC II, 259-298.

[28] e.g., Vollenhoven in 1968, see Tol, Bril 1992, 207-209; Friesen 2005; Mekkes 1971, 109, 111, 179; McIntire 1985, 89-96.

[29] NC II, 195-196.

[30] NC II, 250-251, 255, 266; McIntire 1985, 92-93.

[31] Seerveld 1964, 83; 1985, 79; Hart 1984, 194; Stafleu 2002b, 13; 2003, 138.

[32] Dooyeweerd 1959a, 60-76.

[33] NC II, 265-267, 296-297.

[34] NC II, 319-330, 334-337.

[35] Stafleu 1998; 1987, chapter 6.

[36] e.g., NC II, 366-413.

[37] Stafleu 2011.

[38] Stafleu 2003, 2004, 2011, 2015.

[39] Stafleu 2007.

[40] Dooyeweerd 1959b; Verburg 1989, 350-360; Stafleu 2002b; Wearne 2011, 88-100; van der Meer 2018.

[41] NC I, 467-495; II, 205-207, 217-221, 283, 354-356; Dooyeweerd 1959a, 53-104.

[42] Löwith 1949; White 1973; Ankersmit 1983; Lemon 2003, part I; Stafleu 2019.

[43] Popper 1957.

[44] Fukuyama 1992; Lemon 2003, part III.

[45] Ankersmit 1983, 171-182.

[46] Ankersmit 2005, 143.

[47] Danto 1985, 324.

[48] Stafleu 2019, chapter 9.

[49] Huizinga 1937, 136-138.

[50] For a different opinion on the order of the modal aspects, see Seerveld 1964, 83; 1985, 79; Hart 1984, 194; Stafleu 2006, Introduction; 2011, chapter 1; 2015.

[51] NC II, 237-241.

[52] NC II, 189, 297-298.

[53] NC II, 297.

[54] NC II, 297-330

[55] NC II, 297.

[56] Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27.

[57] NC I, 24, 31- 32; II, 2, 473, 480; III 781-784; Friesen 2005.

[58] Dooyeweerd 1960a, 137.

[59] Mekkes 1971, 121: ‘De mens kan zijn dynamisch tijdelijk bestaan op geen wijze transcenderen.’

[60] NC I, 99.

[61] NC II, 302.

[62] NC I, 31.

[63] like van Riessen 1970, 119-123; McIntire 1985, 84-86.

[64] van Riessen 1970, 186.

[65] Ankersmit 2005, 142-144.

[66] Griffioen 2003, 170-172.

[67] White 1973, 346; Von der Dunk 2007.

[68] Genesis 9.12-17.

[69] John 17.3.



 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 9







9.1. Values and norms for human acts

9.2. The awareness of values

9.3. Philosophical ethics is part of philosophical anthropology

9.4. Values are conditions for human life

9.5. The relation frame of loving care does not characterize ethics 


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 9. Acts



9.1. Values and norms for human acts


Being images of God, men and women do not satisfy a specific character as introduced in chapter 1.[1] The individual character of a person does not concern a set of laws and norms, but an attitude with respect to the law side of the cosmos. Human persons are not characterized by a cluster of specific laws, which they (like animals) would satisfy imperatively, but by an entirely different relation to the laws. People are conscious of regularities, they know laws, they formulate existing and make new laws, deriving norms from normative principles, and they obey or transgress laws. Persons are able to formulate laws as statements and to logically analyze these, to develop new characters and to apply them according to their own insights and needs.

As far as an individual person is ascribed a character or personality, this is the set of their virtues and vices, constituting their orientation in moral space, as Charles Taylor describes it:

‘To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand. ... What this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary.’[2]


A person’s individual character is their attitude with respect to natural laws, norms and values, concerning the way a person deals with their fellow people and with nature. There is an enormous diversity of virtues and vices. Some can be related to a relation frame, some to a type of action or association. People are part of nature, called from the animal kingdom (section 8.1), opening up natural characters and developing interhuman relations and normative characters in their history.

A person’s virtues and vices are not properties, but propensities, the disposition to act in appropriate circumstances. According to Immanuel Kant[3], somebody’s character is determined by the features of the will to make use of the spiritual talents (like intelligence, sensitiveness, ability of judgement) and the qualities of the temperament (like courage, resoluteness, tenacity in the exertion of plans). In their acts people reveal their individual character. Whereas animals are characterized by their behaviour, human beings open up animal behaviour into normative acts. This seems to be in accord with Herman Dooyeweerd’s thesis that human beings are characterized by their ‘act-structure’: ‘The character is the typical temporal expression of the individuality of the human spirit in the act-structure or boundary-structure of the human body. As a temporal type of individuality, the character is sharply distinguished from the “heart” as the spiritual centre of human existence.’[4] However, if we conceive of the concept of a character as a set of general and specific laws (as we do throughout this encyclopaedia), this concept cannot serve as identifying the individual character of a person.

In philosophy it is common to distinguish I from self. I stands for identity. ‘It is by relating to oneself and others as well as to objects and events in the world that the subject (the child) acquires his or her identity.’[5] Self stands for the relation to other subjects and to objects, in which a person takes distance from their individual I in order to achieve a relation to their self. I becomes self in relations to other people, to objects and to God.

Dooyeweerd, who did not make the modern distinction of I and self, also emphasizes relations: ‘The mystery of the human I is, that it is, indeed, nothing in itself; that is to say, it is nothing as long as we try to conceive it apart from the three central relations which alone give it meaning. First, our human ego is related to our entire experience of the temporal world as the central reference point of the latter. Second, it finds itself, indeed, in an essential communal relation to the egos of its fellowmen. Third, it points beyond itself to its central relation to its divine Origin in Whose image man was created.’[6]

The I-ness expresses itself in a variety of acts. ‘This act-structure is indissolubly connected with the human I-ness as the religious centre, from which all temporal internal acts originate, including the activities expressing these human acts.’[7]

This idea of the individual human character or personality approaches but does not yet arrive at the nucleus of human being. This nucleus is a person’s religion. Each person has an individual character and stands in the presence of the Lord. The latter is not the end, but the principle of a Christian anthropology. A Christian’s attitude to God’s laws is characterized by obedience.


People are individually characterized by their acts, expressing their attitude towards the laws, their relations to their God, to their fellow people, and to their environment. These acts are more or less good or bad, according to universal values like skill, beauty, significance, rationality, reliability, social coherence, mutual service, good governance, justice, and loving care. Whereas different animal species can be distinguished because of their genetically determined behaviour types subject to natural laws, human activity is relatively free and responsible.

In the course of history people elaborate the normative principles or commandments given in the creation into norms. Whereas values are universal standards for human activity, norms are human-made concrete directives, varying considerably between various cultures and during the course of history.

‘Values are central standards, by which people judge the behaviour of one’s own and that of others. In contrast to a norm, a value does not specify a concrete line of action, but rather an abstract starting point for behaviour. Therefore, values or principles are ideas, to a large extent forming the frame of reference of all kinds of perception. Often, a value forms the core of a large number of norms.’[8]


Like natural laws, values or normative principles are supposed to belong to the creation, being universal and invariable, commandments given by God. Both people and associations are subject to these commandments, which they can obey or disobey. Values characterize the relation frames following the natural ones. Norms are human-made realizations of values, historically and culturally different. The distinction of invariant normative principles as part of the creation and variable norms as made by humans is not made by Herman Dooyeweerd and some of his adherents, who usually speak of positivation of norms, derived from the medieval idea of natural law. This contradicts the common sense meaning of the concept of a norm as a rule. More important is, however, whether the development of norms occurs at the law side or the subject side of human experience, about which Dooyeweerd is not altogether clear. In the course of history, people actualize values into changeable norms, determined by their culture and civilization.[9] Assuming that norms are law-like, I prefer the view that historical development occurs in all normative relation frames, not only at the subject-and-object side (as is the case in the evolution of natural characters), but also at the law side.


Philosophical ethics investigates the normativity of human acts (section 9.1). Chapter 9 argues that the awareness of values is inborn (section 9.2). Ethics is part of philosophical anthropology (section 9.3). Values guiding all human acts are conditions of human life (section 9.4). Ethics cannot be related to a single relation frame whether called ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ (section 9.5). Because people are able to transgress values and norms, human conduct cannot be seen apart from the distinction of good and evil, of sin and redemption. Values and norms are not merely valid for the acts of individual persons, but just as well for their relations to their fellow people and other creatures, for human products and social connections.


The question of what people do finds an easier answer than the metaphysical question of what or who a human is, because it leads to empirical research. Human being (in the philosophical sense) is an abstraction; human acts are concrete and diverse. Human conduct always happens in cooperation with other people and interacting with things and events. This means that normative principles, which are usually intuitively known, can be further explored in philosophy, ethics, history, cultural anthropology, and other humanities.

Emphasizing the variety of human acts leads to the question of how people differ in their various cultures, and how they deal with their differences in their civilization. Human freedom and responsibility and the manners by which people apply these individually or in community make that people differ more from each other than they have in common, although they share universal values.

In the course of history, people actualize the universal values into changeable norms, dependent on their culture and civilization. Historical development occurs in all normative relation frames, not only at the subject-and-object side (as is the case in the evolution of natural characters), but, as observed, also at the law side. In each normative relation frame asymmetric subject-subject relations can be found acting as engines of history in the transfer of experience.

This section surveys ten normative principles (see also section 8.6), to be investigated in more detail in chapters 10-20.


Technical progress - The progressive development of culture and civilization started and continues with skilful labour. Progress may be considered a normative principle for technological development. An event, process, artefact or association and even a person may be called historical if contributing to or hampering progress. During the nineteenth century, progress was not viewed as a normative principle, but as an inevitable factual feature of Western history. However, this optimistic view was shattered during the First World War. The engine of technical progress is the transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to children in households; from skilled to untrained labourers in workshops; and from teachers to pupils in schools. Technical artefacts like tools are instruments in the history of tilling the earth, the opening up of the natural characters and their succeeding technical development. The character of a technical instrument is its design, the set of natural laws and norms the apparatus should satisfy. Technical artefacts are primarily characterized by the technical relation frame and secondarily founded in one of the natural frames. Technical artefacts function as typical objects in an asymmetric subject-subject relation in the transfer of technical skills; or in a technical subject-object relation, in which the subject (an individual or an association) may be its designer, its producer or its user. Technical progress as expressed in the development of many kinds of technical artefacts is an important part of historical research. Besides, all natural subjects (things, plants, animals) may be objects for technical development. By their skilled labour with the help of technical instruments, people develop natural characters in the course of history.


Beauty - History is usually divided into periods according to a dominant style, the normative law for aesthetic phenomena like fashion, decoration, plays and the arts. Aesthetic artefacts like a piece of art, a musical performance or a football match are subjected to the style of the time, and instrumental in the transfer of aesthetic experience from an artist, an orchestra or a football team to their audience or spectators. By making images people show themselves as persons to each other and to their God. Religion finds its aesthetic expression in the cults, in the epiphany of God.

For the transfer of the aesthetic experience of beauty people use artefacts like novels and other pieces of art, as an important contribution to the dynamic development of history. In each piece of art or performance, the perspective of the spectator, auditor, or reader plays an important part, constituting a weighty criterion for judging its quality. The artist determines the perspective, and the spectator follows suit.


Significance - An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember, to communicate, and to make sense of all kinds of things and events. People transfer these to each other in the form of information, the significant form of human knowledge. Memory refers to the historical order applicable to any kind of semiotic activity. The common name for a semiotic object is a sign, but the semiotic frame does not necessarily qualify a sign (section 8.6). A language may be defined as a set of words (a vocabulary) subjected to a grammar and semantics, pronunciation and spelling, acting as the specific character for the language concerned. According to the grammar, words are transformed and connected into sentences, which in turn are combined into narratives or texts. Semantics determines the meaning of words in the context of a sentence and a text. The generic character of any lingual act and lingual form is primarily qualified by the semiotic aspect and is secondarily founded in the technical one, in lingual skills. The specific character of a word is secondarily founded in the quantitative aspect. Words are the elementary units of a language, alphanumerically ordered in a dictionary, in which words are not logically defined but described by other words. A sentence appears to be founded in the spatial relation frame, for in a sentence the words find their position determined by syntax. A narrative or a text is kinetically founded, for it consists of a flow of sentences according to a plot.


Logic – Logic is derived from the Greek logos, meaning word or conversation rather than reason, derived from the Latin ratio. Nevertheless, logic is the name of the science of reasoning, of analysis and synthesis, of drawing conclusions. The logical relation frame concerns the relevance of argumentation as a universal value for humanity. Everything we want to know, anything that presents itself to our experience, is object for our reasoning. The ratio of history consists of finding logical connections between events and their consequences, the explanation of recorded historical events based on earlier events, circumstances and human intervention.

Reasoning always concerns the solution of a problem. In part, history consists of imagining and solving new problems, increasing rational insight. By generating and solving problems and communication of their solutions people create a rational order in their environment. In a logical sense, an event is historical if it contributes to a solution of a problem contributing to the growth of common knowledge.

Whereas language is ambiguous, inviting interpretation, logic wants to hear arguments. In order to find out whether the truth of a statement can be proved, one has first to establish its semantic meaning. If we interpret the sun as the celestial body occupying the centre of the planetary system, the statement ‘she is the sun of my life’ cannot be true. Everybody will understand that the sun here has a metaphorical meaning, interpreted differently than in astronomy. Metaphoric expressions are not logically true, but are significant. They provide insight, but cannot function in a proof. Logical reasoning presupposes the use of language, but cannot be reduced to it.

Apparently, rationality is concerned with ‘thinking about ...’, but this emphasizes the subject-object relation too much. Whoever wants to put the subject-subject relation to the fore may observe that logic concerns convin­cing. This means the discussion between two logical sub­jects, attempting to achieve agreement about something on which their opinions differed before. In this way they arrive at a rational order in their environment. This can be done either in a direct manner, or indirectly, in an abs­tract, objectifying and theoretical way. The discussion, if logical, is subject to the law of excluded contradiction. Within a certain context agreed upon, no contradictions are allowed.

Continuously people confer with each other, exchanging information and drawing conclusions for the future. The logical engine of history is the transfer of rational knowledge and insight, with logic as instrument to analyse past events and predict future events. Logical extrapolation, as in prediction, explanation and rational choiceis subjected to the logical temporal order of prior and posterior, in which a conclusion follows from premises.


Reliability - Whereas the meaning of language is to speak the truth, and the meaning of logic is to prove statements to be true, on their own force these cannot arrive at reliable truth. To arrive at certitude people must be convinced of the validity of the starting points of their argumentation. Acts of faith are characterized by the mutual trust of people and their trust in all kinds of objects, in science, and in their God. The temporal aspect of this universal value is expressed in the wish to reform the world while preserving what is good. In the relation frame of faith events may be called historical if promoting reformation or withholding it.

Artefacts like myths, confessions, party programs and mission statements play an instrumental part in the reform of views and the transfer of beliefs. Often these lie at the foundation of associations, in particular but not exclusively of faith communities. Being narratives, myths appear to be founded in the semiotic relation frame. Confessions and dogmas (often established after a theological investigation) seem to be artefacts founded in the logical frame, and icons in the aesthetic one.


Social coherence - The home base of education and nurture, the nuclear family (or its replacement) educates children to keep each other’s company and that of others. Education serves as the dynamic engine of integration, the temporal order for the relation frame of companionship.

In this relation frame habits or customs play an instrumental part in education, the transfer of how to act as a civilized person in any company. Integration is not restricted to children, however. Emancipation is a candidate for expressing the historical meaning in the relation frame of keeping company, and reverence for the leading motive in the religious intercourse with God.


Mutual service - Whereas each animal kind is specialized in its Umwelt, human beings are able to perform many different tasks. In the economic frame the normative order is best described as differentiation, without which economic acts like the exchange of goods or services would make no sense. Mutual service is the dynamic engine of economic differentiation. The service of God expresses religion in the economic aspect of human existence.

As far as it can be owned and sold, anything may be an economic object without being economically qualified. The most obvious economic artefact besides capital and contracts is money as an instrument for trade, the transfer of services and commodities made possible by the economic division of labour.


Good governance -Keeping peace, accountability, and democracy or participation are universal political values, not reducible to one of the other relation frames, not even the frame of justice. At the subject side it means giving and accepting leadership as an asymmetric engine of development. The political temporal order could bear the apt name of policy.

A state law is a human-made artefact qualified by the political relation frame, serving as an instrument in leadership and discipline, the transfer of policy. Peace should be the historical meaning of this relation frame. In a religious sense, anybody should be obedient to God. This means that neither leadership in an association nor that association’s sovereignty in its own sphere can ever be absolute, because it always concerns a mandate derived from the supreme Sovereign.


Justice - In order to open the future, justice meets history as the unfinished past. The past cannot be undone, but sometimes one can do something about its consequences. The history of civilization means not only integration, differentiation, and policy, but also correcting events, administering justice, restoring order, compensating wrong doing, rectifying an incorrect news item, as well as repairing a defunct apparatus, restoring a painting, or reconstructing a document: all being acts of justice opening the future. In the course of time this leads to conceptions of what is right or wrong, a legal order.

A human right or duty is an artefact qualifiedby the juridical relation frame. Customs determined by the relation frame of keeping company, economic contracts and state laws have juridical consequences, playing an important part in the transfer of justice.

Justice belongs to the universal values of humanity. It is a condition for human existence in each society. Justice is not an abstract idea, but concerns concrete acts, doing right or wrong, acting correctly or illegitimately. It means to give each their own. The juridical relation frame is concerned with the attribution of rights and obligations, with retribution,and with distribution, in the case of unjustified inequality.


Loving care - Each human being and everything created or human-made is vulnerable and is therefore in need of care. People have always tried to diminish their vulnerability, to become invulnerable, independent, autonomous, and complacent. Reality shows that each person depends on other persons, on his environment and on God. The care for fellow men, compassion, misericordia or pity means showing respect for people who suffer or are hurt, knowing to be vulnerable oneself. Contrary to loving care, people take advantage of each other’s vulnerability, by insulting, robbing, dominating, injustice, maltreating or murdering. The denial of mutual dependence leads to the fall into sin.

The care for vulnerable people like widows, orphans and the poor belongs to the nucleus of the Gospel. The miracles wrought by Jesus and his disciples according to the New Testament do not testify of God’s omnipotence (Jesus rejected this emphatically when tempted by the devil), but of his care for vulnerable people. The gospels do not present Jesus as an almighty magician, but as a healer. The early Christians expected the end of the times to be imminent. They were not concerned with the politics of the government. But they developed a new life style and new ways of living together, characterized by love for one’s neighbour, mercy, charity and care for vulnerable people. Besides the principle of justice (to each their due), Christians accepted the principle of need (to each what they need) as a fundamental value.

Vulnerability concerns the corporeal and spiritual health of people as well as their labour, their joy, their use of language, etc., including their rights. Loving care can be projected on all preceding relation frames. Care concerns both the weak in society (children, sick, elder and jobless people) and human relations like hospitality, compassion, empathy, sympathy, antipathy, aversion and indifference. People enlighten each other’s troubles by sharing them. In love and care people confirm each other’s humanity, denying it in hate or ignoring it in neglect.


9.2. The awareness of values


Because Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven assumed distinction to be characteristic for the logical aspect, they believed that it directly follows the psychic aspect, the sixth and final natural one in the serial order of the modal aspects. According to Danie Strauss, the logical aspect should precede all normative aspects, because normativity presupposes the possibility of distinguishing good and evil.[10] As a bizarre consequence, one should assume that either the logical aspect is not normative, or that this aspect precedes itself. However, distinguishing and making connections rest on the recognition of similarities and differences, belonging to the kind of experience that human beings have in common with animals, or at least the higher animals, and are primarily characterized by the psychic relation frame.[11] Moreover, the knowledge of values is not based on logical analysis and argumentation, but on psychically based intuition (‘naïve experience’, according to Dooyeweerd), as I shall argue now.

Biological ethology studies the psychically qualified behaviour of animals, which is not subject to values or norms, but to natural laws, in particular to the character of the species to which the animal belongs (chapter 7).[12] Like an animal is characterized by its species-specific behaviour,[13] a human is an acting being, but there is an important difference. Animal behaviour is stereotype, directed to its organic and psychic needs. It is purposeful, goal-directed, but not goal-conscious. People share this natural behaviour, much of what they do is genetically programmed or laid down in their memory. Besides, human acts are normative and to a certain extent free. People are conscious of what they are doing, such that they are responsible for what they do or do not do.

Every individual person’s act starts internally, within the limits of their corporeal and spiritual existence, as an intention (section 7.6). This is based on experience found in the past, on imagination of the present, on the consideration of the eventual future consequences of an act, and on the will to achieve something. After arriving at a decision a human being actualises this intention into a deed outside body and mind, in a subject-object relation or in a subject-subject relation, sometimes only concerning oneself. These acts are characterized by one of the normative principles (section 9.1), which everyone knows intuitively, like economical, juridical, or logical. They are determined by norms derived from normative principles, as far as the actor knows and acknowledges these norms, which anyhow allow of a margin for the freedom and responsibility of the acting person. Besides individuals, organized associations are able to prepare and perform such acts in an analogical way.

Psychic and biotic needs determine animal behaviour as well as related kinds of human behaviour. In contrast, human acts are characterized by the relation frames succeeding the psychic one. People have the will to labour or to destroy; to enjoy or to disturb a party; to understand or to cheat; to speak the truth or to lie; to be faithful or unreliable; to keep each other’s company in a respectful or in an offending way; to conduct a business honestly or to swindle; to exert good management or to be a dictator; to do justice or injustice; to care for or to neglect each other’s vulnerability. The various virtues and vices express the will to do good or evil in widely differing circumstances. The will to act rightly or wrongly opens the human psyche towards the relation frames following the psychic one. The desire to act freely and responsibly according to values and norms raises a man or woman above an animal, a human society above a herd.

Human feelings have a primary or a secondary character. Feelings that people have in common with animals, like fear, pain, cold, hunger or complacency, have a primary psychical character, being qualified by the psychic relation frame. Besides, people have a secondary feeling for values like proficiency, beauty, clarity, truth, reliability, respect, service, discipline, justice and loving care. These values primarily characterize the ten normative relation frames starting from the technical one. Founded in the psychical relation frame, the feeling of justice for instance, is a projection (retrocipation) of the juridical frame on the psychic one. It has primarily a juridical, secondarily a psychic character. The awareness of values points to a human propensity that is not yet articulated, a hereditary intuition, shared by all people, laid down in the human genetic and psychic constitution. When education articulates this intuition, one starts speaking of a virtue or a vice. In education, the inborn feeling of justice is developed into the virtue of righteousness. Because both righteous and unjust people have a feeling of justice, they are responsible for their deeds. The same applies to all virtues.[14]

Animals have a sense of regularity, but only people are able to achieve knowledge about natural laws as well as about values and norms. This knowledge rests first of all on intuition, next on image formation, interpretation and argumentation, finally on conviction. During this process, people develop experienced values into norms within the context of their history, culture and civilization. The science investigating values and norms from a general point of view is usually called ethics.


9.3. Philosophical ethics is part of

philosophical anthropology


‘Ethics’ is derived from the Greek ethos and ‘moral’ from the Latin mos (plural mores). Both mean habit, custom, usage, and manners. Each human being has the disposition (aptitude, tendency, propensity, inclination or insight) to act in a right or wrong way. This constitutes ethics’ field of investigation. For individuals or groups this disposition comes to the fore in their individual or shared virtues and vices, and in their ethos. By ‘ethos’ I understand the subjective judgement of values, the attitude of people toward human acting in any relation frame, the way they judge good and evil. It is the subjective mentality or worldview of a human being or a group, in contrast to values and norms, which are valid for people.[15] Before discussing Protestant ethics, I shall briefly recall some leading views on ethics in the history of Western philosophy, in order to show that they are not directed to a single relation frame, but to the normativity of human conduct at large.[16]


Virtue ethics emphasizes the subject of activity, a man or woman with his or her good or bad properties and customs. The inner self expresses itself in practical life. In concrete situations, the practical wisdom of the golden mean between opposing extremes looks for the most suited act.[17] The virtues can be rationally derived from the nature of man. Virtue ethics directs itself to the motivation of the actor, the individual man, wishing to realize himself by his virtues. In his Nicomachean ethics,Aristotle defines human happiness or well-being (eudaimonia) as the goal, purpose or aim (telos) of human existence. In the form-matter scheme this telos is the highest form that a good man may reach.[18] Therefore, his ethics is also called teleological (goal-directed). Aristotelian ethics is a preparation for a philosophy of social and political life, because a gentleman can only achieve well-being in the polis (the city-state), the human society, warranting the development of the virtues. The Roman Empire replaced polis by cosmopolis, during the Middle Ages interpreted as the church and the state, reflecting the dualism of mind and body. Since then clerics and others associate virtues with the human spirit, and vices with the human body, in particular sex. Celibacy, aversion of corporal labour, ascetism and avoidance of the world are consequences. There is an enormous variety of virtues,[19] sometimes to be related to a relation frame, sometimes to a type of activity or association.

Besides the naturalistic virtue ethics, egoism, hedonism and existentialism also stress the subjectivity of acting, paying most attention to the actor.[20]


Deontological ethics emphasizes the norm for human conduct, what one ought to do (Greek: deontos), the self-imposed duty and moral law, since the twentieth century in particular human rights. Immanuel Kant considered man to be autonomous (being a law onto himself), but he restricted the individual self-sufficiency by the categorical imperative (unconditional duty), based on pure reason. This universal law is summarized in the golden rule: act always such as you would like everybody to act.[21] Kant presents various readings, the most general being: ‘act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it be a universal law’.[22] (Maxim means the subjective principle to act, to be distinguished from the objective principle, i.e. the practical law.)

In Jesus’ words: ‘Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.’[23] But whereas Jesus thereby refers to the law and the prophets, Kant states that the autonomous individual determines ethics on rational grounds, according to ‘… the idea of the will of every reasonable being as a general law-giving will’.[24] This generalized autonomous individual is an abstraction in which concrete individual people seem to get lost.[25] In its elaboration Kantians have stressed what one ought not to do: ‘don’t ever to another what you don’t want to be done to yourself,’[26] but Kant considered this negative expression of the categorical imperative to be trivial.[27] The ethics of duties is reduced to precluding acts that restrict the freedom of other people, without paying attention to the consequences. For instance, according to Kant it is not allowed to lie, even if one could save a friend’s life. Kant’s absolutization of the prohibition of lying is a consequence of his rationalism: lying is a transgression of the logical principium contradictionis. Whereas for Aristotle justice is the summary of virtue, since Kant a division of ethics and justice appears.[28] Ethics becomes internalized, it concerns the individual attitude of people towards their rights and duties, whereas justice becomes external, a system of laws given by the state, which one has to obey, even if it would contradict one’s ethics. In the present-day debate about norms and values one often makes distinction between internally experienced values and externally applied norms.


Ethics of purpose or result, like utilitarianism or consequentialism, stresses the object of human activity, the goal or result to be achieved. Extremely formulated: the end justifies the means. An example is the raison d’état, good is what the state serves, such that treaties are only binding as far as they serve the national cause. The word goal has not the same meaning as telos in Aristotle’s form-matter scheme. Rather, it is related to the goal-directed behaviour of animals. The purpose and the consequences of each act apart determine its quality, the balance of the advantages and disadvantages. Like the Kantians, the utilitarians look for a universal value, which they find in the greatest happiness of the greatest number, in the optimalisation of the individual happiness. Utilitarians attach much value to making contracts, in which the partners balance their interests. A variant of utilitarianism is contractualism, presuming the theory of the social contract,[29] but Kantians do the same.


Ethics of responsibility (e.g.,Hans Jonas[30] and Emmanuel Levinas) started from alarm about autonomous developments in technology. It emphasizes subject-object relations, the responsibility of people for their conduct with respect to mankind as a whole or its future. It pays attention both to the persuasion of people and the effects of their acts, whether intended or not. Henk Jochemsen and Gerrit Glas call their inceptive Christian ethics an ethics of responsibility.[31] They present it as a synthesis of the former three ethics, from which they borrow the main elements (actor, norm, goal or effect),[32] and identify responsibility with the care for fellow people, mankind as a whole, nature and environment. However, ethics concerns all kinds of human activity, which is more than care alone (section 9.5). Responsibility, too, is not restricted to the aspect of loving care. It may be doubted whether a synthesis of various brands of non-Christian ethics could give rise to a genuine Christian ethics, which should start from the creation as given by the Creator. It cannot derive its values from the nature of man (as in Aristotle), from a rational categorical imperative (as in Kant), or from the optimalization of the interests of all people (as in utilitarianism). Its values are given as normative principles in the creation.


Other views on ethics include emotivism, reducing morality to subjective feelings and assessments: something is good if it appeals to somebody or if it provides somebody with a pleasurable feeling; proceduralism, reducing the ethical debate to a discussion about procedures or protocols; and moral pluralism, due to the fact that modern society is not dominated by a single world view. Because of pluralism, people fall back to individual emotivism, which one tries to canalize by procedures.[33]

However much these views differ, it would not be wide of the mark to conclude that they have in common how one ought to behave. This allows of defining ethics as ‘part of philosophical anthropology investigating the normativity of human acts’.


9.4. Values are conditions for human life


In line with this common definition, I consider Protestant philosophical ethics to be part of philosophical anthropology, in particular concerned with normativity in human acts. By making distinction between natural laws, values and norms, it makes room for human freedom and responsibility. No less than animals, people are bound to natural laws, being coercive and imperative. Like natural laws, values or normative principles are given by the Creator as conditions for human existence, but human beings are able to transgress these. For instance, people ought to act righteously, but they do not always act so. Norms are historically and culturally determined realizations of values, for which people are fully responsible, both for their formulation and their application.

Protestant philosophy also assumes the mutual irreducibility of the relation frames with their normative principles and the activities that they characterize. These are not derivable from human being as such, as if there are first human beings with their activity and next the morals.[34] On the contrary, each fundamental value is a condition for human existence in its rich variety. Human freedom, too, cannot be the starting point of ethical conduct, for without normative principles freedom and responsibility would be illusory. Culture and civilization are based on normative principles or values, which people are able to positivize into norms, in freedom and responsibility.[35] Cultural values are skills, beauty, clarity, truth and certainty. Civilized values are respect, servitude, discipline, justice and love. As observed, each of these determines a normative relation frame (modal aspect). Ethics ought to pay attention to values and norms; to subjects and objects; to their mutual relations in all relation frames, associations and social communities; and to the religious relation of humankind to the origin or Arche of everything. To reflect on norms and values is not a scientific monopoly. The view that people have on norms and values, on good and evil conduct, their ethos, is tied up with their religion.[36] This does not mean that one’s ethos depends on the belief in a personal God, for who does not believe in a transcendental God still has an ethical view. It has been attempted to reduce the ethos, the motivation of human activity, to the evolution of the human species, to egoism, to a social contract, to human reason, justice or love, but in vain.[37] Christians ought to follow Jesus in any respect, to act like him, who as the son of men is God’s true image.


Philosophical ethics is not a specific science, but is part of anthropology, or of practical philosophy if preferred, i.e., the philosophical reflection on human activity.[38] According to Dooyeweerd, human beings have an act-structure,[39] meaning that philosophical anthropology should direct itself to human activity.In this sense, both philosophical ethics and praxeology can be considered part of anthropology.[40] Ethics concentrates itself on normativity, on the problem of good and evil. All norms are rules for human conduct, to which people can confirm or not. Ethics is also concerned with casuistry, the balancing of norms and normative principles in practical situations, in which various norms could lead to contrary views. Because norms and values operate in all relation frames and in all kinds of communities, specific ethics are developed, like the ethics of an enterprise, of contracts, professional ethics, medical ethics, the ethics for care or for the environment. Sometimes these are formalized into a code of conduct. Nevertheless, ethics should never be contrasted to other kinds of human activity, in dualisms like neutral facts versus subjective values, or neutral science versus practice determined by one’s worldview, as is usual in Kantian and positivist philosophy. Human activity is never neutral with respect to values and norms. Protestant philosophy rejects the existence of a neutral field of human activities, to which one can apply a Christian ethics as an afterthought.[41]


9.5. The relation frame of loving care

does not characterize ethics


Arthur Schopenhauer was perhaps the first to qualify ethics by love.[42] He acknowledged three basic motives for human conduct: egoism or love for oneself; malice, the impulse to do wrong to somebody else; and compassion or the impulse to keep an eye on the well-being of someone.

Since the end of the seventeenth century, ethics is often related to sexual behaviour.[43] This suggests that ethics, the science of good and evil human acts, be directed to a single relation frame, which is evidently not the case with human activity in general. Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven called the relation frame of loving care the ‘moral or ethical’ aspect, with the love for one’s neighbour as its meaning nucleus.[44] While rejecting the Kantian dualism of external justice and internal moral,[45] Dooyeweerd nevertheless distinguishes the juridical from the ethical modal aspect. One could simply accept this by concluding that ‘ethics’, like many other words, has various meanings.[46] André Troost makes distinction between philosophical ethics or praxeology on the one hand, and on the other hand ethics as a special science, the study of the ethical modal aspect and structures qualified by this aspect.[47]  He assumes that Dooyeweerd’s view on ethics is influenced by the rejection of the distinction between theoretical and practical philosophy.[48] In this context, Dooyeweerd discusses philosophical ethics, without any relation to the ‘ethical’ modal aspect. In contrast, elsewhere Dooyeweerd[49] discusses the ‘ethical’ modal aspect without mentioning practical philosophy. He distinguishes modal ethics from religion, not from theoretical philosophy.

There seem to be five not entirely independent arguments to connect ethics to loving care.


The first argument criticizes the common definition of ethics (‘part of philosophical anthropology investigating the normativity of human acts’) as being too broad and unspecific. Each science ought to be characterized by one of the relation frames, e.g., physics and chemistry by the physical aspect, history by the historical or cultural aspect,[50] and ethics by the ethical aspect. From this point of view, Dooyeweerd observes: ‘So it appears that Aristotelian ethics lacks the modal unity of meaning in its enumeration of the different “virtues”’.[51]

In this respect, I concur with Aristotle. Philosophical ethics is no more a special science than anthropology or philosophy itself. As observed above, this view does not exclude a specific ‘ethics of care’ (e.g., medical ethics, ethics in marriage or nuclear family), but its existence does not warrant to call the relation frame of loving care exclusively ethical. André Troost, who has written most extensively about reformational ethics, distinguishes praxeology, ‘the philosophical basic science for all sciences directed to the normative aspects … a succession and elaboration of philosophical anthropology’ from ethics as a specific science directed to the ‘moral aspect of love’.[52] This view seems to overlook that there are other specific forms of ethics, like business ethics or professional ethics, which are not necessarily guided by love for one’s neighbour.


The second argument identifies the demand for care with the responsibility for one’s neighbour, considering the latter to be the nucleus of ethics. However, responsibility inheres all kinds of human acts, the whole human culture and civilization, not only care. If ethics is defined as ‘the systematic study of responsible human conduct’,[53] it cannot be identified with the science of loving care. Moreover, ethics is not primarily concerned with responsibility, but with normativity, as argued above.


Another argument concerns the coupling of care to suffering, and of suffering to the fall into sin, considering the distinction of good and evil to be the nucleus of ethics. Indeed, care concerns vulnerable people. However, each human being is vulnerable, even if they do not suffer. That is not an effect of sin, but part of the creation. Even the creation of man and woman points out their mutual dependence. The world has been created vulnerable. Otherwise, love would have no creational meaning. The relation frame of loving care characterizes both marriage and the family, and this is by no means connected to suffering. The care for one’s household is not necessitated by sin. Each human being is vulnerable and in need of care, each human being has shortages and depends on other human beings. This does not only apply to poor, sick, disabled or jobless people. Recognition of the human shortage implies the rejection of the human autonomy. It is tempting but wrong to interpret illness and death, natural disasters and accidents, as effects of the fall into sin or as acts of the devil.[54]

The prototype of a vulnerable man is Job, losing his children, his wealth and his health. His theological friends did their utmost to put Job responsible for his suffering, but he rejected this emphatically. In the end, God took Job’s side, not by confirming or denying his guilt or by providing an explanation of evil, but first by denying the complacency of the creation,[55] next by recognizing Job’s vulnerability, and restoring his family life, his health and wealth. In all acts for which people are directly or indirectly responsible, one finds good and evil, not merely in suffering. If vulnerability and care would be effects of sin, they could never relate to an aspect of the creation, or to a normative principle characterizing a relation frame.


The fourth argument states that ethics does not cover all kinds of normativity. It suggests that not all norms are ethical norms.[56] If somebody makes a logical or lingual mistake, one would not speak of unethical conduct. However, it would certainly be unethical if somebody would not correct his mistakes if these are pointed out to them, or if one would make such mistakes deliberately. In my view, making an error of thought deliberately (or, if not deliberately, refusing to correct it) is as much unethical as is hating somebody. Of course, it makes a lot of difference if somebody willingly or unwillingly makes a logical or lingual mistake or even causes someone’s death. Nevertheless, in both cases one is held responsible for one’s deeds, because one ought to respond to norms. Apparently, this argument states that human conduct is only unethical if it is deliberate, which should equally apply to all normative relation frames. Hence, this cannot sustain the introduction of an ‘ethical’ aspect, which anyhow is characterized by loving care, not by deliberate action. 


The final and strongest argument reduces all virtues to love. According to Dooyeweerd, ‘there can be no single really moral “virtue” which in the last analysis is not a manifestation of this modal nucleus of the ethical law-sphere.’[57] Dooyeweerd cites John Calvin:

‘the whole chorus of virtues is summarized in love. For it is the rule of the whole of life and of all actions; everything that is not reduced to it, is wrong, how great the splendour may be it has in another respect.’


Apparently, Dooyeweerd[58] considers values (like justice) to be virtues only as far as they anticipate the ‘ethical’ modal aspect. This would mean either that justice is not a virtue, or that justice is reducible to love. (The same applies to all values or normative principles determining the relation frames succeeding the psychical one). I reject both alternatives. Whereas Aristotle assumed friendship between male citizens of the polis to be the summit of all virtues, Christians ascribe this position to love. This accords with my view that the relation frame of loving care is the final relation frame, superseding all others, including that of faith.[59] Hence, the love for God and one’s neighbours opens up and deepens all human acts qualified by the earlier relation frames. Contrary to Dooyeweerd, I believe that virtues are related to all kinds of values and norms, not specifically to loving care. The fifth argument would be valid if it were assumed that human conduct is only unethical if it harms vulnerable people, for it would imply that ‘ethical’ means caring for vulnerable people and for vulnerable objects. However, it would contradict the tradition of ‘ethics’ as being directed to normativity, in which unethical conduct means acting against normative principles and accepted norms. The problem of good and evil cannot be reduced to a single relation frame.


I conclude that the common definition of philosophical ethics being ‘part of philosophical anthropology investigating the normativity of human acts’ does not contradict a Protestant view of ethics. The arguments in favour of restricting ethics to the science studying the relation frame of loving care and the characters that it qualifies are insufficient to deviate from the common view. Hence, calling this modal aspect ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ should be considered a confusing mistake.

This may even have confused Dooyeweerd in his penetrating analysis of Humanist philosophy.[60] He characterizes this philosophy by the dialectical antithesis of ‘nature’ and ‘freedom’, or the ‘ideal of science’ versus the ‘ideal of personality’.[61] This appears to refer to the distinction between the ‘natural’ relation frames (the mathematical, physical, biotic and psychic modal aspects) and the ‘normative’ ones. However, Dooyeweerd states that the ‘ideal of personality’ rests on an hypostatization of the ‘moral’ modal aspect,[62] without any other argument than that in Humanist philosophy ‘personality’ is identified with ‘morality’. Apparently, this can only make sense if in humanist philosophy morality does not have the meaning of loving care, but the wider meaning of normativity. 

[1] Dooyeweerd NC III, 87-89;  Arendt 1958, 20, 333

[2] Taylor 1989, 27, 28.

[3] Cited by Comte-Sponville 1995, 78.

[4] Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XXVI:

[5] Glas 2001, 27, 48-49; 2006, 41:

[6] Dooyeweerd 1960b, 181-182.

[7] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 153; Dooyeweerd 1942; NC III, 87-89.

[8] Van Doorn and Lammers 1959, 99; Hübner 1978, 108.

[9] Hoogerwerf 1999, 14; Kinneging 2005, 74-84.

[10] Strauss 2000.

[11] Stafleu 2002, section 7.3.

[12] Graham 2004, 58-61.

[13] Stafleu 2002, hoofdstuk VII; 2015, chapter 13.

[14] Aristotle, Ethics, I: 9, II: 1.

[15] Aristotle, Ethics II: 1; MacIntyre 1981, 38; Troost 1986; 2004, 47-49, 228; Verbrugge 2001, 154.

[16] MacIntyre 1967; 1981; Singer (ed.) 1991; Jochemsen, Glas 1997, chapter 5; Graham 2004.

[17] Aristotle, Ethics II: 6.

[18] Aristotle, Ethics I: 7; MacIntyre 1967, chapter 7; Verbrugge 2001, 154.

[19] Troost 1986; Noddings 1995, 13-14, 150.

[20] Graham 2004, chapters 2, 3 and 5.

[21] Kant 1785, 48, 74, 95-96, 108.

[22] Kant 1785, 73

[23] Matthew 7: 12; Luke 6: 31.

[24] Kant 1785, 87.

[25] Noddings 1995, 161.

[26] Tobit 4: 15.

[27] Kant 1785, 86.

[28] Aristotle, Ethics V:1; Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 140-142.

[29] Graham 2004, chapter 8.

[30] Achterhuis et al. 1992, 139-176; Verkerk 2004, 46-47.

[31] Jochemsen, Glas 1997, chapter 6; Schuurman 1998, 169-174.

[32] Jochemsen, Glas 1997, 179.

[33] Jochemsen, Glas 1997, 129-133; MacIntyre 1981, chapters 2 and 3.

[34] Van Woudenberg 1992, 107.

[35] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 237-238.

[36] Graham 2004, chapter 9.

[37] Midgley 1991; Kymlicka 1991.

[38] Aristotle, Ethics, III: 2; VI; Troost1986; 1990; 1993.

[39] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 87-89.

[40] Troost 1990, 1993.

[41] Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-108.

[42] Schopenhauer 1981, chapter 7; Franken et al. 2003, 85

[43] MacIntyre 1981, 38-39, 233

[44] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 3; II, 140-163; Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-109; Jochemsen, Glas 1997, 157-162

[45] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 140-163.

[46] Klapwijk 1994, 159.

[47] Troost 1990.

[48] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 528-541.

[49] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 140-163.

[50] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,II, 192-217.

[51] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 146.

[52] Troost 1990, 57, 71.

[53] Jochemsen, Glas 1997, 174.

[54] Luke 13: 1-5; Jochemsen, Glas 1997, chapter 2.

[55] Job 38-41.

[56] Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-107.

[57] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 152.

[58] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 152-153.

[59] Stafleu 2006, chapter 10.

[60] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, part II.

[61] Stafleu 2019.

[62] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 149-151.

 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 10


 Living in a human-made world





10.1. Artefacts

10.2. Technical progress

10.3. Progress by instruction

10.4. Inventions promote technical progress

10.5. Cooperation

10.6. Public works


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 10. Living in a human-made world



10.1. Artefacts


History concerns the world as people have made it. This chapter elaborates the character of artefacts and their function in history, as witnesses of the past and as instruments in the transfer of experience. For this purpose two kinds of experience will be distinguished. (1) The natural, naïve, or intuitive experience is directly founded in sensory observation. Artefacts and their history, too, are objectively observable. (2) Besides there is an indirect, detached form of experience, in which people make use of some kind of instrument as an intermediary. This may be a material expedient, like a microscope, with which people enlarge their visual power. It may also be a logical makeshift, like a theory used to think about a problem. This kind of experience is based in technical relations, it is artificial.

Asymmetrical subject-subject relations act as instruments for the transfer of human experience, an immensely dynamic force pushing historical development (section 8.6). Starting with skilful labour, in each normative relation frame this transfer acts as a driving force, a dynamic engine of history. In this historical process, artefacts play a decisive part.

Evolution and history proceed with the actual development of natural respectively normative characters. The history of mankind is stimulated by the invention and spread of human-made devices, both typical objects and typical subjects. Typical objects will be called artefacts, typical subjects associations. Whereas the character of a natural thing or process is defined as a cluster of natural laws, determining a class of individuals and an ensemble of possibilities (section 1.3), the character of a human product consists of values and norms besides natural laws.

Because people are free to develop their own norms from invariable normative principles, the variability of the characters of artefacts and associations is quite large. Abstracting from norms one finds a much more restricted set of character types. These types would not depend on culturally and historically variable norms, but only on natural laws and normative principles or values, both supposed to be invariant existential conditions for created reality. This means that character types are no more variable than the natural laws and normative principles of which they consist.

Associations and artefacts corresponding to character types function in any normative relation frame as typical subjects or objects respectively. Each type is primarily qualified by one of the normative frames. It is secondarily founded in a projection of the qualifying frame on a preceding normative or natural frame. Tertiarily, each artefact or association has the disposition to be interlaced with another one of a different character, contributing to the open future (section 1.4).


In this encyclopaedia, ‘artefact’ will be the collective name for any human-made object of human conduct, a product having a typical structure primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames. This is a much wider definition than that applied in technology, where artefacts are technical products, or in archaeology, where artefacts are man-made material remains. In this chapter artefacts or constructions are often not primarily technical, and by no means always material. In each relation frame artefacts are distinguished from other objects which are not typically characterized by that relation frame. A painting, for instance, is a material aesthetic artefact. It is an object characterized by the aesthetic relation frame, an instrument in one’s aesthetic experience. As such it is not an economic artefact, though it can clearly be an economic object. In contrast, its proceeds at an auction is an economic immaterial artefact, established by a buyer and a seller. The price of a painting is primarily not characterized by aesthetic but by economic relations, and only secondarily by its aesthetic quality, rarity, and so on. Therefore, besides its primary aesthetic and secondary technical type, the painting also has an economic function. The price of a painting has a quite different history than the painting has as an aesthetic artefact.


We shall find that artefacts primarily characterized by technical labour have a singular character, secondarily characterized by one of the natural relation frames. Next we shall see that artefacts being primarily characterized by one of the succeeding relation frames satisfy a dual character, an interlacement of a generic and a specific character. The generic character, distinguishing for instance an aesthetic artefact from what is not an aesthetic artefact, is secondarily characterized by the technical relation frame, because all artefacts are human-made, requiring technical ability to make and handle them. The specific character type distinguishes various types of for example aesthetic artefacts from each other. It is primarily characterized by the same relation frame as the generic character, but secondarily by a preceding one (not necessarily the technical one), and tertiarily by any relation frame. In this way one distinguishes between, for instance, music and painting, both being primarily characterized by the aesthetic aspect, both requiring technical craft, but otherwise quite different. For any specific character type, the most interesting problem will be to establish the relation frame determining its secondary characteristic.

The characters of artefacts are in part determined by natural laws, for instance limiting many possibilities. For another part they are determined by norms, expressing ethical conditions for the production, quality, and use of artefacts.


This theory of types is based on the theory of relation frames (section 1.2), but also serves as its indispensable complement. Artefacts are not always material things. Events and processes (including the invention, design, production, and use of artefacts) playing an objective part in history can also be considered as artefacts if not of a natural kind. Therefore artefacts show an enormous diversity. The theory of characters attempts to bring some order in this variety, by characterizing the artefacts according to the relation frames.[1] But from the start we should stress that this philosophical theory of types merely provides a skeletal scheme, overrided by the wealth of possible variations. The following sections will illustrate this for the technical relation frame, emphasizing the relevance of artefacts for understanding history.


10.2. Technical progress


The first normative relation frame succeeding the natural ones is, I suggest, the technical frame of cultural command. Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of the cosmonomic idea calls this the historical aspect, but in chapter 8 I developed a view of history different from Dooyeweerd’s. Because Dooyeweerd focused his discussion of the aspect of command on the historical opening process, he completely neglected technology. In a tradition related to his philosophy, a Christian philosophy of technology has been developed by Henk van Riessen, Egbert Schuurman, Maarten Verkerk, Andrew Basden (on information technology), and others. As a supplement to their work this chapter offers an alternative view on the technical relation frame and on artefacts as part of the philosophy of dynamic development.

The development of the natural relation frames requires first of all skilled labour. Human acts invariably involve some kind of work. The ability to perform skilled labour is a universal value, an ethical command, a condition for progress as the temporal order for the technical relation frame. The intuition of progress as a value is neither due to the Enlightenment in the eighteenth or nineteenth century, nor to the Renaissance. The later belief in progress identified progress as a cultural value with the factualhistory of the seventeenth to nineteenth-century science and technology. The Eurocentric belief in progress considered the technical and scientific progress even as characteristic for the whole of the history of mankind.[2] In 1931 already, Herbert Butterfield criticized the ‘Whig Interpretation of History’ describing history as a continuous progress after the model of the British Empire. This belief turned into a deep disappointment at the outbreak of the great European war in 1914, when science and technology became instruments of mass destruction.[3] Progress does not have the compulsory law conformity of a natural law, but is a value. (As far as one can speak of progress in the natural evolution (for instance pointing to an increasing complexity), this is not a value or norm, but the effect of a natural process, having no normative character as such. Herein plants and animals do not play an active part comparable to that of human beings in technical progress.)

As a normative principle, progress acts as the temporal order for the technical relation frame, as the directive meaning of technology. It does not say that technology necessarily progresses, but as a norm it says that it should contribute to progress. The history of technology concerns the elaboration of objects and invention of artefacts besides training and instruction as the dynamic engines of technical progress.

The view of a progressing humanity is not shared by all. The natural experience of time in a traditional society is cyclical, resting on an everlasting repetition of events in days, years, and generations. Many cultures have a cyclical view of history,[4] and some even see more decline than progress. In the nineteenth and twentieth century, a cyclical view was defended by Friedrich Nietzsche,[5] and by Oswald Spengler, Pitrim Sorokin, Arnold Toynbee, and Fernand Braudel.[6] Economists still consider the cyclical succession of booms and recessions.

In contrast, Aurelius Augustine’s The city of God (413-426) viewed the history of salvation as a continuing process, from creation, fall into sin, and redemption, to the rise of God’s Kingdom until the second coming of Christ. This history has its centre in the coming of Jesus Christ on earth, since the eighth century marked as the zero point (AD) of the Western era. Only in the fourteenth century, Francesco Petrarch applied the linear image to secular history.[7] The view of a cyclical succession of empires, like the Assyrian, Persian, Macedonian, and Roman ones, preceded the progressive division of the idealized antiquity, the Dark and Middle Ages, and the New Era. The New Era was the Renaissance, followed by the Enlightenment, characterized by progress, since the nineteenth century by development.[8] Marxists considered a succession of historical societal types based on ‘forces of production’: original communism in an idealized primitive society; slavery society; feodalism; bourgeois capitalism; and finally the communist ideal state.[9]


The ethos of labour is the driving force of technical activity, the starting point of culture. It says that anyone should do one’s work properly, according to one’s talents and abilities achieved by education and practice. It is the responsibility all workers bear for their labour, for which they will be called to answer. The virtue of labour, the worker’s moral, is their skill, their craftsmanship. The reverse is to act sloppy, to deliver faulty work. The ethos of labour as the knowledge to be called to work in God’s vineyard is not a monopoly or invention of Protestants, even if the sociologist Max Weber ascribed it to them.[10] Japanese and other Asians have an extraordinary ethos of labour, too.[11] The spread of technology in Europe, leading to the prosperity of the Middle Ages, is especially due to some monastic orders, in particular the order of Citeaux (Cistercium), founded in 1115 by Bernard of Clairvaux. The Cisterciensians were not merely concerned with meditation, but also with labour. The monks sought a humble connection between prayer and work. In order to make the combination of praying and working possible, they had to learn to work efficiently. Mostly they worked for the monastery, but neighbouring farmers were eager to follow their example. The sixteenth-century Protestants adopted the labour ethos from the monks in a revised way.[12] From antiquity to the Renaissance the high culture was characterized by contempt for ordinary work, whereupon nobility, clergy, clerks, and scholars looked down. In contrast, the Protestants rehabilitated labour, small wonder, because many Protestants were artisans. Martin Luther and John Calvin interpreted a profession as a calling, making work the Protestant form of prayer.[13] They considered the meaning of labour to be the disclosure of the earth, of the relation frames preceding the technical one. As a reaction, since the seventeenth century people are forced to work.[14]

Meanwhile, labour also derives meaning from the frames succeeding the technical one.


10.3. Progress by instruction


The widely shared opinion that homo sapiens would be distinguished from animals first of all by the human mind is only acceptable if sapiens is not interpreted in the narrow sense of rational as in rationalism, but in the much wider sense of wisdom. Various kinds of wisdom can be recognized, starting with know-how or expertise, to know how to perform skilful labour, and to improve it. By expanding this practical insight and transferring it to others, people further technical progress. Next they deepen their practical knowledge by their imagination, interpretation, reasoning, and trust.

The skills that people may acquire or, if these are inborn, may develop, provide them with power. People are able to exert power over their environment and they preponderate their fellows by their ability to calculate, their spatial insights, their mobility, their ability to exert physical force, their talents for organization or control. They exert this power by using instruments, for instance their weapons. Sometimes they do that individually, but usually in a social connection. The history of mankind is full of power and powerful people abusing their preponderance, confusing power with authority. Sadly, it seems that historical development did not start when people began to use tools to command nature, but when they started to do that in order to exert power over each other.


People acquire skills and transfer these to others. A skill can be learned. Transfer of skills happens in an asymmetrical subject-subject relation, distinguishing teachers from their pupils. A student is not a passive object of teaching, but an active subject in the acquisition of skills. The teacher teaches and the student learns, and each has their own responsibility, respecting each other’s freedom. The possibility to transfer skills from one generation to the next distinguishes people from animals and forms one of the starting points for the future of mankind. It is the dynamic engine of technical progress. All kinds of human labour require skills that are not inborn, but have to be invented or learned from each other, in the household, at school or in courses, or on the floor. In a society that is not yet strongly differentiated, transfer of skills, knowledge, and insight takes place in a labour situation. Growing up, children learn from their parents by imitation in the household. In other labour situations, like farms or monasteries, newcomers learn from experienced labourers. The European medieval guilds organized the professional schooling in the cooperation of masters, paid journeymen, and unpaid apprentices.


Without schools progress would be very slow. The Greek word scholè means free time. Students are temporarily exempted from labour in order to qualify for future labour. In an agricultural society children went to school in the winter. In the busy summer months they had no holiday, but had to assist in harvesting. In an industrial society the holidays (now free from school) are spread over the year. The replacement of child labour by schooling in the nineteenth century laid the basis for the twentieth-century prosperity. Since the nineteenth century vocational tuition in schools increasingly replaces instruction on the floor. In a differentiated society teachers are professionals and learning is organized in schools. The connection between tuition and labour is often indirect. Primary schools teach skills anybody (as far as possible) has to master, like reading, writing, and arithmetic. Secondary schools are more tuned to the ambitions and potential abilities of the child itself. The boundary is about the beginning of adolescence. In a modern society most pupils conduct a vocational study after secondary school. For instance, a medical school prepares for the practice of a doctor as well as for the practice of a medical investigator. After the school follows the real practice, sometimes so much different from what the school has taught that many experience a practice shock. Modern practices develop so fast that the professionals have to take a refresher course time and again.

Transfer of cultural skills occurs in the original handicraft form by imitation, by giving examples. In a differentiated culture an increasing role is played by practical exercise (learning by playing), language (giving instructions), formation of theories (understand what you are doing), and trust on what you have learned. Yet even professionals learn their skills mostly in practice. In order to prove one’s skills, one takes a logically characterized exam. As a semiotically characterized sign of ability one makes an inventory of one’s learning, receiving a diploma, certificate, or testimonial.

Instruction is not only for technical skills, but also for skills characterized by the succeeding relation frames. Schools teach skills in making and using artefacts, aesthetic skills in the arts, sports, and plays, and lingual skills in the native and foreign languages. Children learn to trust their teachers and themselves. They acquire logical skills like development of theories and argumentation, social, economic, and political skills, learning to take care of each other and of their environment.


10.4. Inventions promote technical progress


In this encyclopaedia, the character of a natural thing or process is defined as a cluster of natural laws, determining a class of individuals (chapter 1). In addition, the characters of human products consist of values and norms besides natural laws. The character of a technical artefact is called its design.[15] An object made according to a design, satisfies natural laws and ought to satisfy the norms laid down in the design. Clearly, the design, the character of an artefact, is a collection of natural laws and norms. Nobody is ever completely free in making a feasible design, because its realization is bound to natural laws. As Francis Bacon observed, nature can only be controlled by obeying its laws.[16] Maurits Escher sketched beautiful examples of impossibly realizable designs, being contrary to natural laws. The progress of mankind is reflected in the history of technical artefacts. It is not sufficient if an artefact works. It also has to satisfy norms, like safety, beauty, clarity, and having a fair price.  

Sometimes a technical character is so new that it enters history as an invention. Often an invention is an improvement of an extant design, a renewal. Sometimes it concerns a not yet completed design, in need of further development before it is suitable for production and use.

Inventions and discoveries mark historical progress, opening human possibilities. They enable people to extend their freedom and responsibility. In designing, the human activities characterized by the succeeding relation frames play a leading part, first in playful imagination, next in language, experimental and theoretical research, as well as in the trust people have in new technologies. Inventions alone do not suffice. People have to develop them and apply them in their practices, otherwise they remain toys. Only if tested and used in practice, an invention has historical meaning. This process has a historical life time. Each technology starts as an invention, develops itself into an application, becomes obsolete, and comes to its end when replaced by a new technology.


A technical artefact is an object, designed, made, and used by people in their technically skilled labour, individually or working in a group. It is secondarily typified by one of the six natural relation frames. The tertiary characteristic is mostly found in the application of an artefact, either in another technical artefact or its production, or in artefacts characterized by a later relation frame. Projections of the technical relation frame on the preceding natural frames define six secondary types of technical activities. The following impression may illustrate that skilful activity is as old as humanity, almost everywhere present, historically grown, and showing an enormous progress especially since the twentieth century.

a. Arithmetic is a skill, the technique of counting and calculating. Of old, children learn to count with their fingers or a bead frame. In mental arithmetic they apply all kinds of technical tricks, such as the multiplication tables and long divisions. An early application of arithmetic is book-keeping. Later on, mathematics was applied in the sciences and the humanities and in many practical situations. In order to solve a problem one makes a mathematical model, allowing of calculations and providing quantitative insight. Statistics is a well-known example. For making models and exerting calculations we use an abacus, a slide rule, an adding machine, a calculator, a till, or a computer.

b. Labour leads to formation and transformation, usually with the help of tools. Philosophers of technology sometimes restrict technical labour to material transformation, to production. However, forming refers to the spatial relation frame and is therefore unfit to characterize all technical labour. People try to bring order and orient themselves in space. For both they use instruments, like a compass or a measuring rod. The science of space is called geometry, long ago arisen as surveying in areas where a large river regularly overflows the country. The aim of measurement is to collect quantitative data fit for calculations, for instance for the collection of taxes. This is only possible if some kind of law conformity exists for the magnitudes to be measured, a metric system.[17] In the nineteenth century measuring instruments were mainly based on optics and mechanics, nowadays mainly on electronics, including finding the position of airplanes, ships, and cars.

c. Human beings have much more freedom of moving around than any animal. The most natural motion of people is walking, but even that is learned and technically supported by shoes, pavement, and staircases. A person may master many more ways to move, think of the motions required for a sport like volleyball. More often we move on a bike, in carriages, boats, airplanes, in lifts, and on escalators. The wheel as the proverbial invention dates from about 3400 BC, but only in the sixteenth century the Spaniards introduced it in Central America.[18] Navigation is a technical problem for sailing rivers and seas, since the seventeenth century strongly improved by the development of clocks. Modern traffic came about when natural energy sources like running water, wind, and animals were replaced by steam engines in trains and ships, internal combustion engines in cars and air planes, and electromotors everywhere else. Besides moving themselves, people transport goods and energy. Images, opinions, and information move around the earth, nowadays in particular electronically, by telephone, radio, television, and internet. In antiquity and the Middle Ages, too, news spread amazingly fast.

d. Many people associate technology with the use of machines. The conversion of energy and matter, as in chemical industry, seems to characterize technology. Nevertheless conversion only determines one of six secondary types of technology. The use of fire is one of the oldest human skills. The  inventions of processing stone, bronze, and iron mark the beginning of archaeological eras. In physical labour, too, people transform matter and energy. Corporeal labour is a physically founded technical act, even if supported by tools and machines. Tools are older than we know of, but machines to convert natural energy into a form useful for people date from the Middle Ages. The watermill and the windmill were not invented in Western Europe, but were applied here for the first time on a large scale, for grinding corn, sawing wood, making paper, and tilling swamps. The industrial revolution started when the working of iron and winning of coal made the construction of steam engines both possible and necessary. The first steam engines were applied in coalmines.

e. Agriculture as development of living nature has experienced several reforms, recognizable as such only after the fact.[19] The first land reform is the transition from nomadic cattle breeding to agriculture. The prosperity of the later European Middle Ages is reducible to the second land reform.[20] Meanwhile in China agriculture developed in a no less revolutionary way.[21]

About 1100 European agricultural production increased strongly, partly because of an improved climate, but in particular because of improved methods. One of these is the application of the deep and curved plough on wheels, allowing tilling the land much more effectively than before. Another one is crop rotation. By alternatively cultivating a field and letting it lie fallow the next year, one prevents plant disease and exhaustion of the soil. A better method turned out to be a cycle of three years: to grow one harvest in the spring of the first year, a different one in the autumn of the second year and to let the field lie fallow during the third year. This increased the production by one half. A third improvement was the introduction of shoes and a breast harness for horses. The older method of a harness around the neck is suited for oxen, but not for horses. Horses are not much stronger than oxen, but they are faster and able to work two hours a day more. Especially the latter aspect meant that the transition from oxen to horse traction did not occur everywhere without protests, for the labourers had to work longer. In Southern Europe oxen remained more common. Horses need different fodder (oats), which the farmers first had to learn to grow, but which introduction fitted into the three-year cycle. Increasingly, farmers started to grow materials like flax for the rising industry besides food for their own and their cattle, and for the growing population of the cities. Another agricultural reform occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth century, influenced by industrialization, mechanization of agriculture, and the introduction of artificial fertilizers. By scientific research and by schooling, agriculture and cattle rising received a better theoretical basis. The green revolution (about 1960-1980) meant the introduction of a new agricultural technology in the third world, such that there is sufficient food for the growing world population. Where there is still shortage of food, it is said to be caused by faulty distribution, disasters, wars, corruption, exploitation, managerial impotence, and plain poverty.[22] In some European countries one more agricultural revolution is mentioned, occurring in the eighteenth century and characterized by the draining and irrigation of lakes and morasses and the expropriation of agricultural land (formerly in common property or property of churches and monasteries) in favour of more modern management.[23]

In the final decennia of the twentieth century, information technology was introduced into modern agriculture. Fertilizing, irrigating, draining of land, feeding of cattle, milking of cows, and processing of agrarian products are automated to a large extent. Although all agricultural technology is biotically founded, the word biotechnology received the more restricted meaning of genetic manipulation. Improving plant and animal species is as old as mankind, but the genetic influencing of breeding is specifically a twentieth century technology. Since the second agrarian revolution, the number of agrarian labourers decreased, but only since the second half of the twentieth century less than half of the working population is employed in food production.

f. People always used animals as a source of food and clothes, as a means of transport, to exert labour and to support various kinds of activities like hunting or safeguarding.[24] Except for food and the production of clothes, animals cannot be used directly, they have to be tamed and trained, domesticated and controlled. Cattle breeders try to increase the proceeds of meat, milk, eggs, or labour performances. Genetic manipulation of animals is not modern, only some methods like artificial insemination are. In traffic and as a source of labour, animals have almost disappeared in modern countries. All the more they can be found as domestic animals and in many kinds of sports. The psychical relation frame is characterized by control, inter alia (chapter 7). Besides animal behaviour, all technical acts are controlled, too. This receives special attention if control is a separate part of a technical process. In particular during the twentieth century this has led to automated processes of many kinds. Automation is not only an instrumental phenomenon, it also occurs in individual human acts. Several kinds of activities or skills (like cycling) that we at first have to learn taking pains, we develop by habituation into automatisms, into the formation of fixed action patterns in our brain.[25]


The overestimation of the natural sciences has led to dating the rise of Western technology in the seventeenth century, when classical mechanics developed, or with the industrial revolution in the eighteenth century, marked by the invention of the steam engine by Thomas Newcomen in 1711-1712, improved by James Watt in 1765. The view that technology as a science only started in the eighteenth and nineteenth century may apply to the scientific training of engineers. However, the science of mining dates from the sixteenth century[26] and architecture even from a century before, in particular in Italy. The scientific research of mechanical clocks booked many successes in the seventeenth century.[27] The underestimation of medieval technology is no doubt connected to the view of the philosophers of the Renaissance on the ‘dark’ Middle Ages and of literates on technical labour.

In fact, the start of Western technology and the break with the developments outside Europe took place much earlier, since about 1100, when the second agricultural reform with its innovations caused a formerly unknown rise of prosperity, witness the building of the Gothic cathedrals.[28] One could make a long list of medieval inventions. The inventions of paper (cheaper than papyrus or parchment) and book printing (circa 1450: movable type; block printing is much older) are more peaceful and no less important than all the weaponry applied during the crusades, the Hundred Year’s War and the religious wars. The chimney, essential for heating in northern areas, has changed society remarkably since 1100. Together with the application of window glass it made possible to heat separate rooms, increasing the need of privacy. Next I mention the rudder, the compass and all other improvements in shipbuilding (where sailboats replaced galleys), wind and water mills, church bells, mechanical clocks, stringed instruments, the wheelbarrow, the spinning-wheel, an improved weaving-loom, the button and buttonhole, knitting, iron casting applying bellows, spaghetti, brandy and beer, stone pavement, spectacles, the lace driven by feet, the crank and fly-wheel, horse shoes and stirrups.

Changing ordinary life radically, many of these inventions were known in antiquity or were imported from outside Europe, where they often functioned only as toys, as curiosities.[29] Apparently, only the Christian culture in Western Europe was able to bring inventions to practical use. In the twelfth century, the Byzantine, Arab, Indian, and Chinese civilizations were much more advanced than the European one. In the thirteenth century, the first four stagnated, whereas Europe made a passing manoeuvre. Herein the technological progress has been an important, perhaps decisive factor.[30] The influence of the Byzantine and Arabic culture on the European one is demonstrable, that of the Chinese and Indian far less. Yet Bala calls the Western-European medieval culture ‘a sandwich of Chinese technology and Arab science’.[31]

Medieval inventions like dykes, windmills, the cure of herrings, and the superior shipbuilding laid the foundation of the prosperity of the Low Countries in the fifteenth and sixteenth century and the emergence of the Dutch Republic.[32] In all sections of the population, the widely applied technology requires a conscious and constant willingness to maintain and improve existing apparatus and to learn about it. This leads to a critical and inquisitive mind. In this way, the late-medieval technology contributed to the emergence of modern science in the seventeenth century, after people had liberated themselves from Aristotelian views. Science historians are not always aware of this. They usually consider the relevance of technology for experiments and instrumental observation subservient to the formation of theories. Consequently, widely divergent explanations of the rise of natural science in Western-Europe are to be found .[33]

Until the middle of the nineteenth century, technology developed independent of natural science, which like mathematics has long been tributary to technology.[34] One of the founders of seventeenth-century mechanics, Galileo Galilei was inspired by Italian shipbuilding, architecture, and musical theory. Besides Italian artists-engineers like Leonardo da Vinci and Michelangelo Buonarotti, in the Netherlands Simon Stevin, Cornelis Drebbel, Willebrord Snellius, Isaac Beeckman, Antoni van Leeuwenhoek, and Jan Swammerdam were raised in the crafts.[35] René Descartes and Christiaan Huygens maintained close contacts with instrument makers. Astronomical research forming the foundation of Isaac Newton’s mechanics, as well as biological research depended on the telescope and the microscope, both invented in connection with the arts. The invention and development of the steam engine in the eighteenth century stimulated thermodynamics in the nineteenth century. Only after physics and chemistry displaced the focus of their research from the first four relation frames to the characters of electricity, magnetism, atoms, and molecules, these sciences were able to promote the technical development of plastics, electric technology, electronics, and informatics. Technology accompanied by scientific research is first applied in the nineteenth-century chemical industry, electric technology, and electronics. Since then it has expanded to any kind of industry.[36] For their progress, scientists were, are, and will be strongly dependent on technical appliances.


The techni­cal development since the end of the eighteenth century is known as the industrial revolution. An important difference, perhaps the most characteristic one, between handicraft and the industrial way of labour consists in the construction of identical, hence exchangeable parts of machines and other apparatus. In handicraft each product is unique and each part irreplaceable. The industrial revolution could only get going when one succeeded in making and reproducing parts so precisely that one part could replace another one. A theoretical condition for this is insight in the way a part functions in the larger whole. Therefore one should be able to abstract from anything of minor importance and to concentrate on the properties which two different objects have in common such that they can replace each other.

A social consequence of the industrial revolution was that not only the produc­ts became exchangeable, but the people who made them as well. Each craftsman delivering a distinct product was as unique as his products. The industrial labourer delivers a prescribed product and is therefore as exchangeable as that product – exchangeable by another worker or by a machine. The standar­dising of parts led to an excessive division of labour, in which each labourer only made a part of the end product, becoming alienated from the total product. Karl Marx saw this sharply.


10.5. Cooperation


Although associations are human-made, they are not usually considered artefacts: they are subjects rather than objects. Their generic character will be discussed in chapter 19, but their specific characters will be part of the present and forthcoming lemmas.

People cooperate in their labour, in labour associations (not to be confused with trade unions), characterized by collectively performed labour, like in a factory or an office. These are often interlaced with other labour associations or with associations characterized by a succeeding relation frame. Such interlacements are recognizable by looking at relations of authority. The more technical acts are interlaced with each other or with other activities, the more labour needs organization and leadership. Historically, this is accompanied by a shift from individual handicraft to organized and industrial production. Handicraft is directed to an individual product. Even if the makers use previously shaped materials, they command the process from the begin to the end. They have a direct relation with the user, customer, or buyer. Technology not based on handicraft is organized production with division of labour and mass production, often accompanied by scientific research.


Depending on the nature of the work, a labour association can be secondarily characterized by one or more natural relation frames. Besides quantitatively typified groups of collectors, hunters, or fishermen, one of the oldest labour associations seems to be the household, consisting of all living together in a home. A household is by definition coupled to a house or some other building, meaning that it is secondarily spatially characterized. Schools have a caretaker. Large offices, factories, and hospitals have a domestic service department. The nucleus of a common household is a nuclear family, which character is, however, not characterized by the technical frame, but primarily by the relation frame of loving care, and secondarily by biotic kinship and by education in the relation frame of companionship. The household is a real labour association in which all members should have their own task, in which they cooperate. The traditional view that unpaid domestic work is not labour testifies of an overestimation of the economic relation frame and of working in a large organization in which one can make a career. Moreover, it is contradicted by the possibility to let others do domestic work, e.g. a charwoman, servant, housekeeper, or butler (whether or not resident) taking part in the household without being a member of the family. In their household, children learn to work, to deal with instruments. They become familiar with the environment, having nowadays largely an artificial character. In their household the parents share the authority, but with respect to the domestic work, traditionally the housewife plays an executive role. Children learn discipline, to accept (and sometimes to exert) leadership. If the head of the household is the same as that of the family, the corresponding characters are interlaced in a natural way. The character of the household of a monastery or a student dormitory is not interlaced with that of a family.

Long ago, the extended family and the tribe formed the basis of all working groups, in hunting, cattle-breeding, agriculture, commerce, and early industry. In a little differentiated society, a labour association often coincided with a household, like in family enterprises. The differences between Western societies and those of Africa or Asia still rest on the amount of interlacement of family and work.[37]


Originally a farm was a labour association having the character of a household, interlaced with a nuclear family. In that case the character of a farm is primarily characterized by technical relations, and secondarily by biotic ones, providing the basic needs of life for the household. In a more differentiated society an agricultural enterprise produces for the market and is characterized by the economic relation frame. As a labour association an agricultural enterprise is biotically typified and a cattle farm psychically. As an enterprise it is economically characterized, interlaced with one or more labour associations.

Other working groups, too, had in the past the character of a household. This applies in particular to the handicrafts, which already implied a differentiation of labour. Usually children got a place in the labour association. Labourers from outside became members of the household and were treated as members of the family. For a long time, the household served as a model for any labour association, from a monastery to a royal court.

In a differentiated society, labour associations depart from households in order to develop into associations between an employer and one or more employees, in principle having no other relation but that of the labour association. In particular this is not necessarily based on a family or tribe. This process has clearly an economic character, being motivated by the differentiation of labour. Like we have seen with artefacts, we can distinguish between the technical nature of labour, secondarily characterized by one of the natural relation frames, and its technical or non-technical purpose. For instance, dependent on the kind of exerted acts and the produced artefacts, a labour association may have an economic purpose (a factory); an aesthetic one (an orchestra); a semiotic, information aim (a daily paper); or an internal technical one (as part of a larger labour association). An enterprise that primarily produces for the market (not directly for a client), is economically characterized. With the character of an enterprise the characters of one or more labour associations are interlaced. These are still characterized by labour, but have an economic purpose.

After the tie with the household got lost, employers treated their employees on large estates and in factories often as parts of the production process, as was earlier the case with slaves. Workers did not earn more than the costs of their living sustenance. Well into the twentieth century these were considered as costs of labour, the costs to maintain the labour force. Women and children of labourers had to work too. Labourers could be replaced by animals or machines if these were cheaper. The scientific formulation of all this was given by Frederic Winslow Taylor in The principles of scientific management (1911) with the introduction of the assembly line, in which the workers functioned as parts of a large machine.[38] Because of the professionalization of labour, gradually the insight broke through that labourers are co-workers, deserving to earn more than what is necessary for the sustenance of life.

Simultaneously one started to understand that labour which can be performed by animals or machines is not really fit for human life. In the twentieth century such kind of labour became more and more automated. Since the Middle Ages, labourers opposed replacement of people by animals or machines, for fear of losing their jobs and their income. At short notice, this happened often enough, but on the average, the introduction of machines increased the production. Not only the profits of the entrepreneurs advanced, but in the long run the general prosperity as well, leading to new employment on a higher human level. This higher level means that labourers in their work realise an important amount of freedom and responsibility. It requires a labour organization different from the assembly line.


Both the increasing relevance of associations and the specialization of human labour implied a growing professionalization of the labour force and the growth of specialist schooling.

Transfer of technical skills, like making and using technical artefacts, finds a natural place in each labour association, but for this purpose ever more specialized schools are serving. As an association, a school or university is a labour group of teachers and other employees, directed by a master or governing board. In class, teachers have authority over their pupils. To the disciplinary relations between the board and the teachers other norms apply than to those between teachers and their pupils.

The character of a school, its constitutive law, is its curriculum, an organized plan for teaching and learning. Having a curriculum distinguishes a school from all other kinds of associations, and different curriculums define different types of schools. The curriculum does not always indicate what is actually taught in the school, which, in fact, often deviates from the curriculum. Rather, the curriculum stipulates what ought to be taught and learned, leaving a more or less large margin of freedom and responsibility for both parties involved. It is a set of values and norms. Teachers should be familiar with the curriculum and command its contents. They should be trained in exerting the curriculum, with respect to both its contents and the required pedagogic and didactic skills.


10.6. Public works


Networks can exist either of multiply connected subjects (persons or associations) or of objects and accordingly may be called intersubjective respectively objective. In the technical relation frame the emphasis lies on the objective networks constituting the technical infrastructure, but the intersubjective labour networks should not be overlooked. Of old, employers and employees have formed networks, small-scale or large-scale, together forming an unorganized labour force. Besides individuals, many kinds of associations operate here too, like trade unions, employment agencies, and the labour exchange. In a well functioning society each individual has an entrance to the labour market according to their capacities, as well as to various associations, as employer or employee. Because it concerns a public network, the government may proclaim rules to protect the weak, requiring relevant certifications for vital activities. Labour networks further the application of inventions and other renewals, contributing to progress.


In the course of history applying their skilful labour, people developed the natural environment into a complex set of technical objective networks. Without gas, water and electricity, street lighting, sewers, telephone connections, networks for radio, television and internet, a modern society cannot be imagined. Yet most of these networks hardly existed before the beginning of the twentieth century, when electricity and electrical appliances became available at a large scale. Before, the infrastructure was restricted to staircases, streets and roads, including dikes, bridges, and waterways, since the nineteenth century railways and other kinds of public transport. In the twentieth century, lifts, conveyor belts, air lanes, tunnels, and pipelines were added. No town or village could organize labour without some infrastructure, connecting various cities, villages, districts, suburbs, and streets. The technical infrastructure allowing of traffic and transport is an expression of the interdependence of people in society. It arose and grew together with human settlements. Ultimately, networks connect people, and on an increasing level of abstraction, houses, buildings, settlements, quarters, and cities. Ever more people labour on public works, the expansion and maintenance of objective networks.


Technical networks refer to natural relations. Objective networks exist of nodal points and connecting lines,  made visible on a map.[39] In a road system, a road connects one crossing with another one. The nodal points refer to quantitative relations. The number of nodes and the number of connecting lines coming together in a node determine the capacity of the network. The importance of a node, as in a telephone exchange, is quantifiable by the number of people or associations making use of it. In densely populated areas the network is finer branched.

The network consists of spatial connections. The distances between the nodes play an important part. Because of its spatial structure several types of networks can be distinguished. In one type (e.g., a road network) each node has a small number of direct connections with other nodes. In another type (e.g., airports) there is a small number of hubs having a large number of direct connections with other nodes. Some networks, like the water conduit, connect the clients only with the supplier, not with each other. In the intersubjective networks individual persons as well as associations act as nodal points of relations. Although networks often started from a centre (see the road-system of England or France), they all develop across the national boundaries into a non-centred and non-hierarchical system, without a central government.

An objective technical network is always kinetic. It concerns traffic of people or transport of goods on motor roads and railroads, over sea and through the air; transport of oil, gas, water, and waste through pipes; of energy through the electric net; of signals through the telephone net and the cable. Networks allow of the distribution of goods, including information.

Transport through a network costs energy and needs a motor. Pedestrians, cyclists, cars, and planes take their engine and energy along, an electric train the engine but not the energy. In other cases the network contains one or more pumps. Liquids and gases are literally propelled by pumps, sewage sometimes by gravity, electric energy by a power station, signals by servers and transmitting stations.

A public network is usually not static, but organic, it ages and is renovated, it requires sustenance. It branches off, new nodes are formed, and the network becomes more detailed. The network differentiates itself. Bicycle lanes and footpaths appear besides car roads, where public transport gets its own lane. Local networks have the propensity to become connected, requiring mutual adaptation. Transfer stations connect different networks in the same area: an airport with a bus station, a train station with a bicycle store, a harbour with a railway-yard. The invention of the water closet flush at the end of the nineteenth century coupled the waterworks to the sewerage, probably decisive for the general introduction of both networks, called the ‘venous-arterial system’ for the municipal society.[40]

Transport and distribution require control, nowadays called logistics. The oldest form of control concerns traffic rules, but increasingly modern communication means are used to control transport. Control is part of the network and is not necessarily applied from a fixed centre.


The public technical networks form the basis of human culture and civilization. They connect people with each other and give them freedom to move, to meet each other, to develop, and to differentiate. That requires a sense of responsibility. The functioning of public networks is only possible if people treat them responsibly. The existence of technical networks is due to efforts of the past, and ought to be sustained, improved, and extended for the benefit of future generations. Public networks form a piece of history subject to the normative principle of progress.

The state may subject a network to rules for its use: rules, norms and standards, sometimes designed by international institutes, like the International Organization for Standardization (ISO). On the road one has to comply with the traffic rules. For the domestic electricity net both a European (230 Volt, 50 cps) and an American (110 Volt, 60 cps) standard exists. For industry and commerce standard measures apply, for technology internationally agreed norms. Such rules, established and maintained by or on behalf of the government, are not intended to limit one’s freedom, but first of all make the freedom to use the network possible. The introduction of the metric system in the nineteenth century stimulated the functioning of networks. By the standardising of parts it became possible to connect appliances made in different factories to the public networks.

So it appears that the original function of the government is the establishment and maintenance of rules (eventually using violence) for the safe use and maintenance of public objective networks. At an early stage these concerned the construction of fences and entrances of settlements, of roads therein and between them, and of dikes and canals serving irrigation. It seems obvious that initially the heads of family or tribe exerted the function of guardian of these networks, and that the historical origin of the state is to be found there.

[1] Stafleu 2003.

[2] Toulmin, Goodfield 1965, chapter 5; Fukuyama 1992, 30-33 (chapter 1); Hobsbawm 1994, 19 (introduction, II); Doorman 1994.

[3] Van Doorn 2009, chapter 20.

[4] Berkhof 1958, 14-15; Cairns 1962; Popper 1945, 20-22 (about Plato).

[5] Löwith 1949, 197 (appendix 2).

[6]  Braudel 1949; Cairns 1962, 353-455;Toynbee 1972; Fukuyama 1992, 91-93 (chapter 5); 2014, part IV; Burke 2005, 158-159.

[7] Aylmer 1997, 250; Baumeister 2001, 161-162.

[8] Huizinga 1937, 131-135.

[9] Van het Reve 1969, 70-85; Fukuyama 2011, 49.

[10] Weber 1904-1905; Taylor 1989, chapter 13; Landes 1998, chapter 12.

[11] Landes 1998, chapter 23, 27.

[12] Weber 1904-1905, 80, 115-122; Schilling 1968, 136, 163-164.

[13] Weber 1904-1905, chapter III; Carroll 2004, 71-74 (chapter 3).

[14] Foucault 1961, chapter 2.

[15] Schuurman 1972, 384. See Verkerk et al. 2007 about technical design.

[16] Bacon 1620, 39, Aphorism 3.

[17] Stafleu 2002a, 1.2, 3.1.

[18] Diamond 1997.

[19] Jonas 1979, 192.

[20] Duby 1961-1962, 13.

[21] Landes 1998, 41-46 (chapter 2).

[22] Achterhuis 1988, 311-328.

[23] Procacci 1968, 218-222, 230-245.

[24] Diamond 1997, chapter 9.

[25] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 7.

[26] Agricola 1556.

[27] Landes 1983.

[28] White 1962; 1978; Duby 1961-1962; Eamon 1994; Landes 1998, chapter 4.

[29] Since 1954, the early development of technology in China is described in the multi-volume work of Joseph Needham (ed.), Science and civilization in China.

[30] Landes 1998, chapter 3.

[31] Bala 2006, 62.

[32] De Vries and van der Woude 1995.

[33] Dijksterhuis 1950; Hooykaas 1972; Landes 1983; 1998; Cohen 1994; Gaukroger 2006; Wootton 2015; Stafleu 2019.

[34] Gaukroger 2006, 35, 41-43.

[35] Romein and Romein 1938-1940, 178-205, 451-469; Dijksterhuis 1950, 358-368 (section IV, IIA-B).

[36] Stafleu 1998, chapter 3; Jonas 1979, 195.

[37] Fukuyama 1995, part II.

[38] Verkerk 2004, 63-83; Verkerk et al. 2007, chapter 8.

[39] Castells 2000, 501.

[40] De Swaan 1988, 140-151 (section 4.5).



 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history

Chapter 11


Aesthetically qualified characters





11.1. Aesthetical acts and aesthetically qualified objects

11.2. The arts are characterized by having an aesthetically qualified object

11.3. Aesthetically qualified acts performed in subject-subject relations

11.4. Characters of aesthetically qualified associations

11.5. Festivities shape communities


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 11. Aesthetically qualified characters




11.1. Aesthetical acts and


aesthetically qualified objects




Discussions about the aesthetic relation frame (or modal aspect) are often focused on subject-object relations, on objects of arts, their production and their perception. A Christian philosophical anthropology emphasizes human subject-subject relations and human acts, including more than the production of artefacts.[1] According to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, any kind of human act has an aesthetic aspect. Yet, I shall restrict myself to types of characters (or structures of individuality) that are aesthetically qualified. I shall discuss acts, which objects are not typically aesthetic (section 11.1); acts, which objects are aesthetically qualified (section 11.2); acts performed in subject-subject relations (section 11.3), and characters of aesthetically qualified associations (section 11.4).




The aesthetic relation frame is not restricted to the arts, if only because objects that are not aesthetically qualified still have an aesthetic aspect. For instance, we enjoy the beauty of nature, and with respect to technically qualified artefacts, the aesthetic design is often important. Moreover, the aesthetic relation frame also qualifies sports (section 11.3). Philosophical discussions are often restricted to high art. But aesthetic relations include the spontaneous aesthetic pleasure in the daily experience of all people. The practicing of art and sport by amateurs is no less important than that of top players. Enjoyment is an existential condition for human beings. Man is no less homo ludens than homo faber or homo sapiens.[2]


In all aesthetic relations, people show themselves to each other, directly or through one or more objects. People display themselves in a natural way by their facial expression, gestures and posture, expressing joy or sorrow, their love or hate, their approval or disapproval. They play with each other and imaginatively decorate their life.[3] They enjoy each other’s company, a book, a meal, or a film.


In aesthetic relations people do not show themselves without inhibition. They appeal to each other’s fantasy and imagination. The playfulness implies that people withhold something, they display by concealing themselves, starting with their clothing, a characteristic distinction between men and animals. Aesthetic relations are both playful and exciting, though not everything that is exciting is also aesthetic. Enjoyment is not merely relaxation; it requires imaginative attention, a right mood, being tuned to the object of the aesthetic act.


Aesthetically qualified acts can be distinguished according to their foundation in the preceding relation frames. Like Calvin Seerveld but unlike Herman Dooyeweerd, I believe that the aesthetic relation frame succeeds the technical one (which in turn succeeds the psychic frame), and precedes the semiotic and logical relation frames.[4] The Greek word technè and the Latin ars do not only mean technical ability, but art as well. Art is always interlaced with labour, and labour is a prerequisite of art and play. Both art and sport are only enjoyable if they are produced on a technically acceptable level. On the other hand, semiotic interpretation and theoretical insight are not necessary conditions for the enjoyment of art, sport or play, though interpretation and insight are certainly helpful for understanding both art and sport.




Based on the preceding relation frames, the following aesthetically qualified activities can be distinguished:


a. I consider collecting to be a quantitatively founded aesthetically qualified activity. Collecting is an inborn activity. Children collect shells, post stamps and Pokémon pictures. Adults collect books, compact disks or curiosities. We find professional collections in libraries and museums. A collection is not always aesthetically qualified; a university library has a different purpose. But collectors have pleasure in stamps or in books. They are excited about a first imprint or a unique stamp, and they strive after a complete or representative collection on a well-defined field. The collection should not contain doubles, unless these show variations. The aesthetic value of a collector’s item is determined by its quality and its rarity, that of a collection by its completeness and uniqueness.


b. There are many different kinds of spatially founded aesthetic activities. People decorate their home, paying attention to the colour of paint, the pattern of wallpaper, the design and the environment of their house. They present themselves to their visitors by their furnishing. People enjoy drawings, photos, paintings and many other objects, not merely for domestic use but because of their beautiful shapes as well.


c. Music and dance provide a kinetically founded pleasure. Sometimes it seems that recreation is our only motivation to move. We walk, cycle and dance only for pleasure. We like to look at the moving pictures in films and television. Music is a form of motion. It is not accidental that dance and music are related, for both are rhythmic. People sing spontaneously, with or without words.


d. People find pleasure in achieving things, in accomplishing something that requires an extraordinary effort or skill, like mountaineering. To test one’s ability, to find the limits of one’s possibilities, to beat a record, to train and exercise, may be considered physically founded aesthetic activities. ‘Other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity. The intuitive idea here is that human beings take more pleasure in doing something as they become more proficient at it, and of two activities they do equally well, they prefer the one calling on a larger repertoire of more intricate and subtle discriminations.’[5]


e. People have pleasure in plants and flowers, and gardening can easily be recognized as a biotically founded aesthetic activity. Playful competition is an aesthetic projection on biotic competition (section 11.3).


f. Like in all human activities, the senses play an important part in aesthetically qualified acts. We look at sports and plastic arts, we listen to music, we taste our meal, we smell wine, we touch for erotic experience, and often we combine several senses in our aesthetic contemplation. People show themselves playfully by their clothing, hairdo and make-up, by adorning and flirting, and many other kinds of behaviour by which boys and girls, men and women, homo- and heterosexuals simultaneously attract each other and keep one’s distance. Besides showing themselves, people like to play parts, to imagine being someone else.


g. We play with all kinds of artefacts. Sometimes, artefacts are designed for pleasure, like toys or playing cards, but we also enjoy other things, like cars, which are not aesthetically qualified, but are nevertheless designed to be beautiful. Words, too, are artefacts with which people like to play both in jokes and in rhymes.


These are examples of aesthetically qualified activities having objects, which, as such, are not aesthetically qualified. Probably, nobody would consider these acts as being ‘art’.




11.2. The arts are characterized by having


an aesthetically qualified object




I shall not attempt to present an essentialist definition of art. Walter Gallie argues that all definitional theories are ‘… vitiated through and through by the ‘essentialist fallacy’: they presume that whenever we are in a position to define a substance or activity, we must know its essence or ultimate nature …’[6] In this section I shall argue that the arts are aesthetically characterized acts having aesthetically qualified objects. Moreover, I want to show that both the artful act and any object of art has two interlaced characters, of which the first one characterizes it as an object of art, whereas the second one distinguishes one kind of art from another one.[7]


This applies to products (thing-like or material objects of art like paintings), to productions (event-like objects like a musical performance), and to precepts (written objects, like a stage-play, a musical score, a libretto, or a choreography). Calvin Seerveld calls literature ‘secondary art’: ‘Literature is not performed and is not something for exhibition as are all the other arts.’ However, originally, written texts were intended to be recited, to be heard. Hence, like musical scores, stage-plays, film scripts, and the choreography for a ballet, poems and novels may be considered semiotically qualified and aesthetically founded precepts for aesthetically qualified performances.[8] Each object of art occurs in two different kinds of subject-object relations, in which either the artist (painter, musician, composer), or the spectator is the subject. These two relations constitute a subject-subject relation when artists present their object to an audience.


One can enjoy a landscape or a painting of a landscape. In both cases an aesthetic subject-object relation is involved. Yet, we speak of art only in the latter case, when the object of the relation is aesthetically qualified. Because the aesthetical relation frame is universal, each thing or event may be an object for aesthetic contemplation. It is only an object of art if it has been purposefully produced and accepted as such. ‘Art is an object or event conceived and structured by human design to be perceived by our senses, and characterized by an imaginative and allusive finish that affords the piece its own independent identity.’[9]  


Objects of arts are subjected to aesthetic norms, applied both by the artist and the spectators. ‘Every subjective valuation receives its determinateness by being subjected to a norm, which determines the subjectivity and defines its meaning. There exists no aesthetic subjectivity apart from a universally valid aesthetic norm to which it is subjected.’[10]


Like all norms, aesthetic norms are variable, historically and culturally determined. Yet, certain principles are invariant, allowing us to appreciate objects of art originating from widely varying cultures and histories. First of all, an object of art should be enjoyable.[11] It should also be exciting, requiring the spectator’s imagination. Otherwise it is boring kitsch. Other norms can be found in projections of the aesthetic relation frame on preceding frames.[12] Simplicity may be considered a quantitatively founded norm, style, harmony and composition spatially founded, elegance and rhythm kinetically founded. An object of art may give a dynamic, a lively or imaginative impression, and testify of technical ability.


All art appears to be primarily aesthetically qualified and secondarily technically founded. The secondary qualification refers to the activity of the artist, being characterized by aesthetic mastery, the ability to express aesthetic experience.[13] The mastery characterizing both a good artist and good art is technical as well as aesthetic. A strictly technical control is necessary but not sufficient, for the character of an aesthetic act or object can only be founded in an aesthetic projection on an earlier relation frame, in this case, a projection on the technical relation frame. Art cannot be merely aesthetic, because there are other aesthetic activities that are not art (sections 11.1 and 11.3). If the artist’s aesthetic mastery is lacking, a purely technical command may still lead to appreciable results. A technically able painter may restore a damaged painting. Books, photo’s and films can be copied, paintings reproduced, and music recorded, requiring technical control but no aesthetic mastery. The primary characteristic of an object of art means that it expresses the imagination of the artist. Each artist develops his own style (or his own variant of a common style), recognizable in all his works. It shows his artistic control on a specific domain. Artistic styles are both historically and culturally determined, and contemporary artists inevitably display related styles.


The relation between the artist and his object does not exhaust the character of an object of art. Each art demands an audience. ‘A work of art … demands to be constructed by the viewer to whom it is presented. It is … not something we can simply use for a particular purpose, not a material thing from which we might fabricate some other thing. On the contrary, it is something that only manifests and displays itself when it is constituted by the viewer … The artist’s creativity needs its audience, and for the audience, creative art provides ‘the experiences that best fulfil the ideal of “free” and “disinterested” delight ... An artist who cannot capture the attention of an audience is a failure, whatever merits may be thought to lie in the work, but a great work of art stimulates and directs the perceptions of the audience, and is not only passively subject to appreciation.’[14] The activity of a spectator is not founded in the technical relation frame, for to enjoy a painting does not require the ability to paint. Rather, the spectator’s activity is psychically based, like the names spectator and audience suggest. This does not imply that for a spectator, an object of art is psychically founded. Listening to music if recognized as the free creation and reproduction by imaginative artists differs profoundly from listening to the song of a bird.


Spectators must have an inquisitive eye for painting, an experienced ear for music, and generally, a good aesthetic taste.


The spectator’s activity in particular concerns the tertiary characteristic of objects of art, by which I understand a character’s disposition to become interlaced with other characters. Quite apart from the intentions of the artist, an object of art can be applied in various circumstances, according to the spectator’s responsibility and freedom. The spectator can give an object of art their own interpretation. A piece of music can be performed to celebrate a marriage. A painting can be used to illustrate the preaching of the gospel or as a financial investment. The possession of a famous painting may enhance somebody’s social status. ‘Art can have numerous functions in society and can be used for a variety of purposes: diversion, therapy, social status, propaganda, collateral, or fetish. But Christians would be wrong to equate its validity with its usefulness, no matter whether that ‘usefulness’ was in giving a lot of people pleasure or morality or something spiritually valuable. Art is not a means to an end, it is not a function of something else. Art stands or falls on its own artistic contribution in God’s world. To think of art, or practice it, as a tool for some other purpose is to sell it out to a technocratic bend of mind, damning it to a permanent identity crisis and reducing it to a kind of colonial status at the beck and call of touring VIPs for approved cultural missions.’[15]


The distinction between the primary aesthetic qualification of an object of art, and its tertiary disposition to become interlaced with activities having a different character, sheds a new light on the age-old discussion about l’art pour l’art, applied art, etc. Herman Dooyeweerd rejects l’art pour l’art as an absolutization of the aesthetic aspect, but he accepts ‘… its intention to defend the right of free artistic expression against those who intend to make art always serve a specific utilitarian or moral purpose.’[16] ‘Art needs no justification. The mistake of many art theorists (and not only of Christian ones) is to try to give art a meaning or a sense by showing that it ‘does something’. So art must open people’s eyes, or serve as a decoration, or prophecy, or praise, or have a social function, or express a particular philosophy. Art needs no such excuse. It has its own meaning that does not need to be explained…’[17] ‘The artist, with his special gifts, has a specific task, a very special and wonderful calling. It is not to play the prophet, nor to be a preacher, nor to evangelize. It is to make life better, more worthwhile, to create the sound, the shape, the tale, the decoration, the environment that is meaningful and lovely, and a joy to mankind.’[18] ‘The relationship we are aiming to develop with artists is not merely as customers in the art market buying an impersonal product, nor as imperial patrons dominating the subservient artist, nor as outsiders set against a freelance genius with a good press agent. The relationship we non-artists seek is one with an artist who provides binoculars for helping us to look at the world and imaginatively to understand it more.’[19]


The disposition to interlace objects of art into other activities is subject to norms that are not necessarily aesthetic. ‘The peculiarity of incapsulated art is that the artist is called not only to meet the aesthetic law of allusivity, but also to satisfy, within the artwork, the norm for the other kind of activity which the artist has agreed to serve. The portrait painting must have, in its composition and pigmented colour, the quality of metaphor to conjure up the person’s hidden strengths, yet it must also present recognizable features of the sitter, and show attachment or respect, or at least disclose some of the sitter’s character.’[20]


So far the generic character of all kinds of art, which as the leading character distinguishes art from non-art. A second character that allows of a distinction between various types of art always accompanies it. It follows from the fact that each object of art is an artefact, something purposefully made by somebody. A natural thing or event cannot be an object of art. The accompanying character is, therefore, determined by the applied technique: painting, sculpting, dancing, or making music. It leads to a great variety of arts, which can be grouped according to the relation frames preceding the technical one into types of art (section 11.1). Collecting and exhibiting of objects of art is a quantitatively founded type of art (even if it is not commonly recognized as such). The plastic arts constitute a spatially founded type of art, with painting, sculpting and ceramic as variability types. Music and ballet are variability types of the kinetically founded type of art, and theatre appears to be psychically founded (section 11.1). Between the variability types many transitions can be discerned, and arts of different types can be interlaced. For instance, the character of an opera (besides its leading character as a piece of art) is that of a theatrical play, interlaced with the characters of a musical performance, of ballet, of the plastic arts applied in the scenery, and of the costumes. The opera is performed according to a libretto, a musical score, and a choreography, which are semiotically qualified. It is performed by an opera society, interlaced with an orchestra and a ballet society, and with the technical operation behind the scene, including that of the opera house. Like any other art, opera needs an audience.


The activity of writers or composers and their products, too, show an interlacement of two characters. The first one is the aesthetically qualified and technically founded character of all arts. The prescriptive character of a score, script or choreography is not qualified by the technical relation frame (as thing-like or event-like objects of art), but by the semiotic one. Because this frame succeeds the aesthetic one, written precepts open up the aesthetic experience. With respect to literature, it may depend on one’s point of view which of the two interlaced characters should be considered ‘leading’ or ‘accompanying’, i.e., whether one considers a novel as a piece of art different from other kinds of art, or as a book different from other kinds of books.


The recognition of the two interlaced characters of an object of art allows us to understand the phenomenon that something that was not intended to be an object of art is later recognized as such. For instance, a medieval artisan assigned to make an altarpiece for a church was probably not aware of making an object of art. But when looking at it in a museum, we need not take into account its original destiny as part of the preaching of the gospel, in order to appreciate it as a beautiful piece of art. In my analysis, this means that its aesthetic character is not entirely objective, but part of a subject-object relation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. ‘To call something beautiful is not just to describe it but to react to it… On the other hand, … In declaring an object to be beautiful, we also mean to say that there is something about it which will make other people like it as well.’[21]




11.3. Aesthetically qualified acts

performed in subject-subject relations




Sports and the distinction between amateurs and professionals are relatively recent phenomena, mostly developed during the twentieth century. This may be the reason why they have drawn little attention from philosophers. It might seem peculiar to state that the same relation frame as the arts qualifies games, even if we use the same verb in music or football being played. Herman Dooyeweerd assumes that sport is qualified by the modal aspect of social intercourse.[22] Of course, many people are members of a sport club because of its social aspect (see chapter 13), but this also applies to the membership of a theatre club. However, one may enjoy a football match as much as a film or a concert without being in the company of others, for instance via radio or television. The experience of joy is not basically different whether one attends to a football match or a concert. Hans-Georg Gadamer considers art as a play, ‘… the anthropological basis of our experience of art …’[23] However, both in the arts and in sport, playful imagination is characteristic. Both are perpetrated by amateurs as a creative and stylized form of human experience of joy and pleasure. In a developed society, both are professionally done as well, requiring more expert spectators. Both exist because of the human earthly imagination. Neither is an imperfect representation of some ideal of beauty or harmony. ‘My attempt to reform the Western philosophical tradition on BEAUTY as the norm for good living and sound art is to posit that the nuclear moment of what has come to be called ‘aesthetic’ is lucidity; a playfulness which assumes vital, sensitive formative ability is at the core of imaginativity. The norm for the imaginative side of experiential life is, ‘Be allusive!’ ‘Fool around’ in the connotations of your speech, in the conjectural dimension of your thinking, within the diplomatic element of your just-doing, a trifle flirtational in keeping troth with your neighbour. When imaginative functioning is at its zenith, a quality of celebrative festivity fills the event.’[24]


Yet, a competitive game is not an art, because it lacks an aesthetically qualified object. ‘Art can have content, whereas sport cannot… a play or a book or a painting can be about something, but it would be senseless to speak of a game of tennis or football being about anything. Moreover, it is in the meaning or content of a work of art, what it communicates, that the value is often supposed to lie, a meaning that may be examined again and again. Art like sport consists in structured activity, whereas unlike sport art can also have content, be about something.’[25] Whatever objects are used (balls, hockey sticks, chess-pieces) are merely instrumental. A competitive game is an almost pure subject-subject relation. Its character is primarily aesthetically qualified and secondarily founded in a playful and imaginative projection on the biotic relation frame.


Usually, competitive sports are constituted by strict rules. The rules of play form a cluster of norms; one ought to stick to the rules. Who transgresses a rule plays false or is a spoilsport, unless having the intention of creating a new play.[26]


In the order of the relation frames, the following rules can be recognized.


a. The rules determine the number of players, e.g. two in chess, four in bridge, eleven in soccer.


b. Each game has a playroom, e.g., the chessboard or the football field, with a characteristic spatial layout. A football field is divided in different areas in which different rules apply, like the offside rule. The rules are only valid within the playroom.


c. The rules determine which motions of players, pieces or the ball are allowed, as well as the duration of the play. Rules are only valid during the game.


d. There should be a balance of strength between the teams. A match between two players or teams that differ too much in this respect is not sporting and even boring, it lacks suspense. The distinction between youth, men and women sports is based on this rule, as is the distinction between the various divisions or classes in football and other sports. In chess and tennis, players have a rating.


e. The rules determine which player or team wins or loses a match. In a tournament, the rules determine who survives, and who drops out.


f. The rules state which acts are allowed, how players have to behave, and what is considered misconduct. The behaviour of the players is determined by the norm that players are bound by the rules and that the competition is restricted to the play and must not be continued after the play is finished. Players ought to play the ball, not the opponent. The rules may determine how the players show themselves, by their clothing and back numbers, and which different parts they are allowed to play.


g. The rules determine which techniques are allowed and which are forbidden. For instance, in football the rules determine in which circumstances a player is allowed to touch the ball with his hands.


In each established transgression of a rule the game is interrupted (although some sports know an ‘advantage rule’, applied if the interruption would favour the transgressor). Usually the play is resumed after a correction is applied, sometimes the play will be ended, in which case the offender is declared the losing party. Observe that the rules apply restrictions that make the play possible and define it. The rules create an order, defining the character of e.g. chess as well as the class of all games of chess. Besides, it defines a finite or infinite ensemble of widely different matches. The rules allow both the players and the spectators to exert their playful imagination and expertise.


The rules of play do not determine the quality of playing. Who sticks to the rules is an honest player, but not necessarily a good player. The referee has a juridical function, judging whether the players adhere to the rules, and punishing them for transgressions. But he does not judge whether the party is an aesthetically interesting one or not. This is not subject to rules, but to aesthetic norms or standards, for which winning alone does not suffice.[27]


The role of the spectators during a football match does not differ from that during a musical performance, except that in a match the spectators take sides. Hence, the characteristic distinction between art and competitive sport is that sport lacks an aesthetically qualified object. A competitive sport is an aesthetically qualified activity based on a subject-subject relation, rather than on a subject-object relation. As a consequence, it appears not to have a leading character besides an accompanying one.




11.4. Characters of aesthetically qualified associations




This section deals briefly with the specific character of aesthetically qualified voluntary associations (for the generic character of associations, see section 16.2). They may be concerned with art as well as with sport. We should distinguish between the mutually intertwined characters of e.g. a football team and a football club. A football club is not a subject in a football match. Its character is socially qualified, not aesthetically, though it has an aesthetic destiny. It is an organization engaged to promote (not to play) soccer. It also promotes social contacts between players, sponsors and fans. It organizes football teams. A club may very well be engaged in various sports, and even in other aesthetically qualified activities, for it is not subject to the rules discussed in section 11.3.


In contrast, a football team is able to act as a subject in a football match. A football team can only play football. It should not be engaged in other activities. As a subject in a competition, it is aesthetically qualified and biotically founded. Any association is characterized by having an identity apart from the identities of its members. Hence, to the earlier discussed rules for competitive sports must be added rules about the replacement of players during a match. Associations are also characterized by the division of tasks. In the case of aesthetically qualified associations, this means having rules about the various parts played by them. Finally, each association is characterized by having a leadership, and discipline among the members. In a club, both leadership and discipline differ from those in a team.


As a consequence, a team is not a part of a club. Teams and clubs are subjected to different norms and have quite different characters. Neither is a team independent of a club. In a free society, a voluntary association organizes itself; it is ‘sovereign in its own sphere’. But a football team does not organize itself, it is organized by the club, who (before a match) determines who its captain is, who its members are, and which parts they will play.


Most of this applies equally to associations devoted to the promotion of an art. In the case of performative arts like music, a similar interlacement of the socially qualified organizing music company with an aesthetically qualified performing orchestra may occur. However, as a performing association, an orchestra is not biotically founded (for art is not competitive), but technically founded, because it is engaged with the cooperated production of a piece of music. (This does not mean that the arts are alien to competition: there are prizes, salons, juries, etc. Competition occurs everywhere, but only the sports are characterized by competition). Its object does not differ from what we have discussed in section 11.2. As an association an orchestra has a conductor, division of tasks and discipline. The orchestra has an identity independent of the identity of its members. 




The theory of characters based on the philosophy of dynamic development turns out to be applicable to aesthetically qualified acts. These include the arts and many other kinds of acts as well, in particular the sports. The arts are subject to two interlaced characters. The leading character distinguishes art from non-art; the accompanying character makes distinction between various types of art. This applies (1) to the plastic arts, having a material or thing-like object; (2) to the performative arts having an event-like object; and (3) to the prescriptive arts, having an object with a semiotically qualified character besides an aesthetically qualified one. The sports do not have an aesthetically qualified object and lack this twofold characterization. An association devoted to the promotion of sport or art is socially qualified and technically founded. A team exercising a competitive sport (or a performative art) has an aesthetically qualified and a biotically (respectively technically) founded character.




11.5. Festivities shape communities




Feasting and mourning are typically social activities displayed in an association or in a community, in the form of public celebrations, at the commemoration of an important event in the past or at a new start. In each settlement, weddings and burials alternate, where family members, friends, and vague acquaintances meet each other and start new binds. At fixed times seed and harvest are celebrated, in which sports and art contribute. The significance of public festivals for the society means that the state always takes a large part in the cults. The policy of any state is to confirm its legitimacy in cults, promoting celebrations and memorial days, wherein the state shows itself the bearer of authority on the public domain. In the Greek and Roman culture the performance of tragedies and comedies served a public interest. In Western countries, the government supports music temples, theatres, sports grounds, and stadiums, where aesthetically characterized associations show their arts. Each celebration has its own cultural style, in history formed and renewing, but always recognizable.


Museums and libraries have an important function to make art available to anybody, but art also takes part in public life outside museums, theatres, and concert halls. Architecture is the pre-eminent art of the public space. A city shows itself in its architecture, not only of buildings, but also of monuments, parks, and squares. A gothic cathedral determined the skyline of a medieval European city. Buildings with their towers or minarets draw the attention and enhance the status of the city population. The town government presents itself by a hall showing the glory of the city.


Celebrations often have a religious meaning. An old form of cult took place in the household, where the family members surrounding a fire honoured their ancestors. A remnant is the set of family photos on the mantelpiece. Until recently the hearth in a home formed a focus of family life (focus originally meant hearth[28]), since the introduction of central heating replaced by the television. Another focus is the dinner table, where the family daily enjoys its meal.[29] In Greek and Roman antiquity the hearth was the centre of the home cult, making visible the bond with ancestors and posterity. In Rome, where the senate initially consisted of family heads, the celebration of the hearth in the temple of Vesta on the Forum Romanum was the centre of the political cult, tended by the Vestal virgins.


Of old, the centres of celebration form a network of aesthetic renewal.  Pilgrims marched from one holy place to another, theatre players and musicians travelled between auditoriums, and sports manifestations attracted sportsmen and spectators from a wide environment. The cyclically returning competitions, games and championships are since the twentieth century expressions of national and international networks of sport associations.


Rites or rituals are the rules for the worship or cult (section 11.5), playing a recognizable part in all faith communities, as well as in public celebrations associated with the state instead of the church, like a national memorial. Also sport manifestations and artistic events like concerts have their rites, as well as academic celebrations and sessions of a court of justice. There is a close connection between the cult and public feasts. Christmas and Eastern highlight the Christian year and a marriage is confirmed in a church service. In the cult myths are celebrated, the faith stories, keeping the past alive by continuous repetition. The meal, uniting the family, which believers open and close by saying grace, is in the church the Eucharist, assembling the congregation. In the worship, service rites are exerted according to a carefully laid down script, using ritual cloths, decorations and pictures, with a lot of drama, poetry, and music. In the cult so many aesthetic acts play an important part that one could consider the cult as a whole to be aesthetically typified, with an ideological meaning. Cults do not constitute an ideology, but in the cults people show their ideology, celebrating their belief and confirming their community.


Speaking of a culture or a civilization usually points to a socially integrated network characterized by a cult and manifest in aesthetic artefacts.[30] Cultural is now almost identical with regional, like in the Indian or the Central-American culture. Since the nineteenth century culture is becoming global. Especially film, music, and sport have an international style, but also other arts are ever less connected to nations or regions. This applies for instance to classical music, originating from the European culture, but since the twentieth century performed and interpreted by non-Western musicians and conductors all over the world. Architecture and fashion are no longer national. The clothing people wear does not recognize national or class boundaries. Fashion works integrating, in contrast to the traditional costumes, which like uniforms act distinguishing. Sometimes one interprets globalization as the domination of one (Western, American) culture over other cultures, but globalization appears within Western culture too. Aesthetically typified means of communication, like radio, television, gramophone, cd, and dvd, contribute significantly to aesthetic renewal. Great events like the Olympic Games, the world championship soccer, and tennis tournaments draw world-wide attention. Among the arts especially music and film are globalized. That does not only concern Western products. There is also an increasing interest in non-Western art: jazz and blues are everywhere performed and appreciated.




[1] Rookmaaker 1962; Zuidervaart 1995.

[2] Huizinga 1938, XI.

[3] Huizinga 1938, 13.

[4] Seerveld 2001; Dooyeweerd 1953-58 I, 3.

[5] Rawls 1971, 374.

[6] W.B. Gallie, cited by Graham 1997.

[7] Stafleu 2002.

[8] Seerveld 1964, 90

[9] Seerveld 2000, 8.

[10] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,.III, 152; Graham 1997, 157-162.

[11] Graham 1997, 4-5.

[12] Seerveld 2000.

[13] Dooyeweerd, 1953-1958, III, 109-128.

[14] Gadamer, cited by Graham 1997, 16.

[15] Seerveld 2000, 11.

[16] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,III, 139.

[17] Rookmaaker 1970, 229.

[18] Rookmaaker 1970, 243.

[19] Seerveld 2000, 59.

[20] Seerveld 2000, 124.

[21] Graham 1997, 13.

[22] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 589.

[23] Graham 1997, 15-19; Huizinga 1938, 10, 16.

[24] Seerveld 2000, 160.

[25] Graham 1997, 21, 42.

[26] Huizinga 1938, 17-18

[27] MacIntyre 1967, 85-87.

[28] Borgmann 1984.

[29] Borgmann 1984, 297-298.

[30] See Toynbee 1972, analysing the rise, flowering and fall of 31 civilizations.





Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 12


Semiotic relations and characters





12.1. Significance

12.2. Signs and symbols

12.3. Spoken and written languages

12.4. Grammar and semantics

12.5. Lingual artefacts

12.6. The specific character of a language

12.7. The language community and the public opinion

12.8. Nations as communities


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 12. Semiotic relations and characters



12.1. Significance


Recollection, communication, and interpretation of signs and symbols are human acts characterized by the semiotic relation frame (the more common expression lingual modal aspect is too restrictive, as will be argued below: signs and symbols are no less semiotic than languages). The possibility to attach significance to all kinds of things and events, to store it in one’s memory and to share it with others as information, belongs to the universal values determining human existence (section 12.1). Signs and symbols, inscriptions and stories, remind us of memorable events from the past. These are instruments to establish the truth about the past and the present (section 12.2).

Section 12.3 discusses the difference between spoken and written languages. Section 12.4 argues that grammar and semantics (sema = sign) form the law side of any language. Section 12.5 is concerned with lingual artefacts like words and sentences. Section12.6 marks the difference between the generic character of any language and its specific character. Section 12.7 discusses language communities, and section 12.8 contrasts these with nations.


To tell the truth is clearly a universal value. Events are only significantly historical if stored in the form of signs in a collective memory. After technical progress and aesthetic renewal, I propose significant recollection to express the semiotic temporal order for history.[1] Someone’s individual memory as part of the brain’s activity is more psychical than semiotic. People remember various facts and events from the past, as well as action patterns, acquired skills like reading or cycling, experiences, trauma’s, and dreams, images resting on sensory observation and imagination, values and norms. The complement of memory is forgetting, together forming a filter for human experience, both individual and collective. To sustain memory and counteract forgetting, people use symbols as instruments, in particular their language.

Written notes may be intended for a personal use or for a limited circle of correspondents. Nevertheless, in principle each document is accessible to anybody commanding the language in which it is written. The collective memory of mankind is in the past especially laid down in inscriptions, symbols, and stories; next in manuscripts copied and collected in libraries and archives; since the fifteenth century in printed books and periodicals; and since the twentieth century on electronic information carriers. Thanks to the collective memory we understand our world better.[2] Without this collective memory each individual or each generation would have to start ever again.

Selection and interpretation of signs and texts determine the semiotic relation frame. Logical analysis, synthesis, and rendering proof complete it to become science.

An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember, to communicate, and to make sense of all kinds of things and events. People transfer these to each other in the form of information, the significant form of human knowledge.[3] Language is the most important instrument for the transfer of semiotic experience, of meaning carrying information. When the transfer is one-sided, as is usually the case in history, one speaks of tradition, otherwise it is communication. The semiotic normative principle for both is the value of mutual understanding. Communication of significant information characterizes more or less synchronous semiotic subject-subject relations, provided that all parties involved are willing and able to understand each other. Interpretation and elucidation characterize semiotic subject-object relations.[4] When a sign or symbol cannot be interpreted clearly it loses its semiotic meaning of transfer of information. Who deliberately gives unclear signs or a wrong interpretation uses language deceitful.  Only by responding to the norm of clarity people can understand each other and the world.

A norm for meaningful use of language is that people speak the truth. When someone says ‘it rains’, this has only meaning if it is assumed that they intend to affirm that it rains.[5] Even lying is only possible in a context in which speaking the truth is the norm.[6] The meaning of the use of language is that people give significance to and speak the truth about the world, about their fellow people, about themselves and about the God whom they proclaim.

But if language is an instrument for finding and communicating the truth, what about poems and novels, with their fictive characters and events? Even these lingual utterances ought to speak the truth, but because it concerns lingual forms which are secondarily aesthetically characterized, their truth comes to the fore in the image they evoke. Like any piece of art, a novel or a poem ought to be veritable. This aesthetic truth is not reducible to semiotic, logical, or ideological truth.


12.2. Signs and symbols


When people communicate, they exchange experience in the form of information, applying various kinds of artefacts. Signs, symbols, and languages play such an important part in history, historiography, and philosophy of history, that we cannot avoid discussing them extensively.

Various views of language are influenced by nominalism, via positivism and analytical philosophy of language arriving at present-day constructivism. This movement is characterized by the neglect of the structure of a language, which is also recognizable in artistic currents like dadaism[7]. In the twentieth century structuralism formed a counter movement, first in France (Ferdinand de Saussure: Cours de linguistique générale, 1915), later in America (Noam Chomsky: Syntactic structures, 1957).[8] Structuralism also plays a part outside the science of language, for instance in Mario Bunge’s philosophy of the sciences[9]; in Claude Lévi-Strauss’s anthropology[10]; and in the historiography of the Annales.[11] The philosophical model developed in the present chapter is related to structuralism.

Chapter 12 concerns languages conceived as semiotic artefacts with a character of their own, to be distinguished from other semiotic artefacts like symbols or codes. We shall pay attention to both the lawfulness of a language and its historic nature, with the most intriguing question, whether or not the ‘natural’ languages confirm a universal character type. As instruments for the transfer of significant experience languages are so important that many people think that the semiotic aspect is no more than that, that semiotic is identical with lingual. Because I shall apply a more restricted definition of language (section 12.3), I shall first make a few remarks on signs and symbols in general (section 12.2).


The semiotic relations arising because people assign significance to anything constitute the field of study of semiotics, the science of the general principles of the structure of sign systems. The semiotic relation frame presupposes the technical one, for people make their symbols, their sentences and their texts themselves. Use of language presupposes formation of language and their command. The semiotic frame also transcends the aesthetic frame, for each symbol, each emblem, each word is not merely an image, but also signifies something. On the other hand, the semiotic relation frame enriches the technical and aesthetic frames. Complicated technical apparatus require naming their parts and explaining their functioning. Aesthetic experience is deepened when people are able to give it significance and to interpret it.

People symbolize and interpret their environment, their relations and their acts. People need to communicate their internal experiences to their fellows, to utter themselves. They do not only express their feelings, but also their views, thoughts, insights, judgments, questions, their plans, assignments and reports, commands and prohibitions. They attribute significance to things and events, thereby understanding or misunderstanding the cosmos. By means of signs, symbols, and especially language people allot themselves and others a place in the cosmos, in history, and in the future. The use of signs, symbols, and language is an existential condition for people and their history. By means of signs people understand, interpret, and structure their world: their natural environment, their fellows with their acts, artefacts and associations, themselves, and their relation to their God.[12]


Signs can be distinguished from symbols and language, artefacts that are characterized by semiotic relations. We call something a sign if it has an objective function in a semiotic act, but is not itself a typical semiotic artefact. A sign provides information, significant knowledge, based on interpretation. For a biologist, a fossil can be a sign of the existence of ammonites, extinguished sixty-five million years ago. We give someone a beautifully polished fossil as a sign of friendship. A car is a sign of someone’s prosperity and status. Family resemblance is a sign of biotic relationship. A sign never means something as such. It only exists in the semiotic act of someone who assigns the objective sign a subjective significance. A sign is also called a symptom. During centuries, fever was understood as a sign of an excess of blood, hence the practice of bloodletting. Nowadays one interprets fever as a symptom of influenza or corona.

Only a semiotic act transforms an object into a sign. A fossil is only a sign of evolution if a biologist interprets it as such. Because of a sign we understand a situation. In a restricted sense also animals can observe signs, if that fits their biotic and psychic needs. Apes are able to learn several dozen signs, sometimes more than a hundred, without forming combinations of signs with a new significance. Animals communicate with each other by means of signals, for instance warning shouts and marking a territory. These are not semiotic artefacts, but parts of reality as observed by the animals concerned. Such signals concern the elementary needs of individual animals and of the conservation of the species. An animal signal acts immediately, for instance in a reflex, as a trigger in an action pattern. If the animal is not in the proper state to react, it ignores the signal. In their communication, only people use self-made symbols, artefacts having significance each apart or combined with other symbols.[13]


There is a direct relation between a sign and what is signified. When the streets are wet, it is a sign that it has rained, we interpret the sign by means of a causal relation. Similarly, a sign may point to a biotic, psychic, or mathematical relation. In contrast, if a sign rests on a convention, we call it a symbol.[14] No smoke without fire: smoke is a sign of fire. But a smoke signal is more than a sign. It is a symbol with a significance that people assign to it arbitrarily, after their own discretion, according to an agreement. A symbol is a sign to which people attribute a common significance, even if there is no non-semiotic relation at stake.


Historians, too, understand the past only by interpreting signs, symbols, and texts. They gratefully make use of philology, the science analysing texts critically. Empiricists, assuming that science especially depends on unbiased observations, doubted the possibility of history as a science, arguing that the past is not directly observable.[15] Meanwhile it has become clear that the criterion of direct observability is not even applicable to the natural sciences. Electrons, quarks, and black holes are no more observable than genetic relations expressed in DNA-configurations. In fact all sciences interpret signs. Therefore this cannot prevent history from operating as a full-fledged science.[16] The assumption that scientific observations should be unbiased is also invalid for any science. Just like any other science, history works with hypotheses and theories,[17] besides applying methods specific for history.


12.3. Spoken and written languages


The ability to use language is inborn. Usually children learn speaking before their fifth or sixth year, independent of the culture in which they live or the language they learn. Yet ‘natural languages’ do not exist. What we call ‘natural’ is a language like children time and again invent or discover for themselves, and subsequently adapt to their environment.[18] A language is an artefact, grown in history. A ‘living’ language does not live in a biological sense, but is used by living people and changed in their culture. Classical Latin is not a living language, Church Latin is. Linguists estimate the number of living languages at 5000-7000, of which circa 440 may disappear within one or two generations.[19] Usually a language has two forms, spoken and written (a third form is sign language). The difference is connected to the applied means of communication: telephones use spoken language, e-mail is written. The relation between a spoken language and a written or printed one is sometimes fairly strong, as in the European languages; sometimes it is weak, as in Chinese; sometimes unknown, as in languages of which only the written form is handed down. Some languages merely have a spoken form. Sign languages form a separate group, each with its own grammar and semantics.[20]

The Western alphabetical principle is based on the agreement of a letter or syllable with a sound.[21] Because the number of sounds is limited, the number of letters in an alphabet can also be reasonably small, but large enough to represent an almost unlimited number of words. The relation between a written and a spoken language is never unequivocal. Written Chinese is spoken in various ways. In England, Australia, or America people pronounce the same written English text quite differently.


Spoken and written languages are not always exchangeable. More than written language, spoken language is fit for the expression of emotions, the transfer of skills, and the description of art. The reverse is true for conceptual thought and the accumulation of knowledge in libraries. Therefore, written use of language contributes more to the history of mankind than spoken language. Especially the invention of the alphabet has led, in the languages that use it, to a relative autonomy of written language. This process is accelerated by the introduction of book printing, twenty-eight centuries later, gradually making the population literate. By the invention of telephone, film, radio, and television, the relevance of spoken language increased. By the rise of fax, text processor, internet, and e-mail, written language recovered its position. The social media introduced a kind of shorthand spelling.


It seems obvious that written language is derived from spoken language, but sometimes the spoken form is lost and the written form preserved. Originally a written text was a prescription for a spoken text, or a mnemonic for the transfer of a message. Who is reading silently often speaks the words in their mind. In a developed society written language received a certain autonomy, a character of its own, independent of, though entwined with, the corresponding spoken language. The agreement between the spelling of a word and its pronouncement is often far away. Grammar is less binding for spoken than for written language. Spoken language is sustained by differences in pitch and emphasis, speed, rhythm, or pauses, by gestures and facial expressions. Written language uses graphic means like initials, capitals, punctuation, and illustrations, printed texts by the use of capitals, underlining, bold printing, or initials. A spoken lingual act has the character of an event with a limited duration. A written text has the character of a thing and can be copied. However, nowadays also spoken language can be recorded and reproduced on thing-like bearers of information like a tape or a cd. A written lingual form like a book or an encyclopaedia may be much more voluminous than a spoken lingual form would admit.


In spoken language, the phonemes or sounds form a distinguishing element, in written language the letters (usually called ‘characters’, which might be confusing in the present encyclopaedia) play that part. Each spoken language has a characteristic set of phonemes. In all spoken languages together linguists count at least 558 consonants, 260 vowels and 51 diphthongs. Till the age of six to eight months, children are able to distinguish all 869 phonemes. After that, their brain restricts itself to a much smaller set, occurring in their mother’s language. American English uses 52 phonemes, the Kalahari-desert language !Xũ (Khoisan) holds the record with 141 phonemes. A collection of phonemes is not a language (it lacks both grammar and semantics) and it is not even a part of the language. Like the alphabet it is a separate code, a set of semiotic objects with a character of its own, interlaced with the character of the spoken language. Observe that a written language has no relation with phonemes, no more than a spoken language has with letters.


A code could be defined as a coherent system of symbols including rules for its use. Besides the alphabet, the number system is a code. The rule for our number system, invented in India, is that in a number the position of a digit determines in part its value. (This necessitated the introduction of zero). The character of a number system does not only consist of semiotic rules, but also of mathematical laws about addition and multiplication. The Roman number system has different semiotic rules (it lacks zero) and has therefore a different character than the position system. Digits are symbols, without constituting a language. Digits can be combined into numbers and numbers can be added and multiplied, but these combinations are quantitative, not semiotic. The symbols in mathematical formulae are connected in a mathematical way, but mathematical formulae do not form a language. Only metaphorically we can speak of a mathematical language. The statement that mathematics is the language of natural science is a metaphor, intended to express that many scientific relations can be projected on mathematical relations.

Traffic signs, too, are symbols, yet do not form a language. They are part of a code, with the rules of traffic as its character. A traffic sign refers to a traffic situation, for instance a one-way-street. A sign with an arrow does not point to another sign, but indicates a traffic direction. You cannot explain the significance of a traffic sign with the help of other traffic signs.


12.4. Grammar and semantics


A language is a semantic artefact, grown in the course of time and continuously changing. In a real language, the applied symbols have not merely significance outside the language, but they derive their significance also from each other. Grammar indicates connections between the symbols, whereas semantics determines what these signify, in terms of the symbols themselves. A dictionary explains the significance of a word in words. Grammar (including syntax) regulates how words are declined or conjugated, how to put them together, how words are connected into sentences and sentences into a lingual act or text. Semantics determines the significance of words in the context of the sentence and is therefore not independent of grammar. For spoken language formal or informal rules of pronunciation exist, and for written language more or less standardized spelling rules. All these rules are norms, not natural laws or normative principles. Some are old and persistent, like the grammar of an ordinary language. Others are recent and easy to change, like spelling rules. Semantics is much more plastic than grammar. In each language it is easier to add new words (often by borrowing from other languages) or to apply a new significance to words, than to change its grammar. The existence of norms for the use of language, for instance grammar, pronunciation, and spelling rules, does not restrict the human freedom to use language, but makes it possible and meaningful. In each language, with the help of grammar people can generate an infinity of sentences from a finite number of words.[22] Only by commanding the rules of the language someone is able to apply them fruitfully and amend them creatively, like for instance poets and cabaret performers do. Someone who does not keep to a grammatical or semantic rule makes an error, unless they intend to renew the language, for norms are not invariant natural laws or normative principles.

Spoken language, written language, and sign language each have their own character if standardized in one way or another. Such a character consists of more or less uniform rules (grammar, semantics, pronunciation, spelling, and rhetoric), accepted by a dominating group (usually the intellectual middle class) and disseminated via education. These rules emerged in the course of history. They continually change, usually gradually, sometimes abruptly, like in a spelling reform. Rhetoric, the theory of eloquence, determines which metaphors, figures of speech and tropes (projections on the aesthetic relation frame) a language allows.


12.5. Lingual artefacts


A language consists structurally of words, sentences, texts, and narratives, all symbolic forms of language signifying something. Like pieces of art, lingual forms have a dual character. Their generic character is primarily typified by the semiotic relation frame and secondarily by a projection on the technical relation frame, by the formation and command of language. In their lingual acts people understand, form, and use semiotic artefacts like words, sentences, and texts. These lingual forms are to be distinguished by their specific character, primarily typified by semiotic relations and secondarily by a projection on a preceding relation frame. We shall look at words (to be considered quantitative units of language), sentences (spatial), texts (kinetic), and narratives (physical).


a. Words

As the smallest unit of a language I do not consider a phoneme or sound, a letter or a gesture, but a word as the elementary bearer of significance.[23] As a projection on the quantitative relation frame a language is not a set of sounds or letters, but a set of words. The use of an alphabet in written language allows of ordering words in an alphanumerical sequence in a dictionary, describing their lexicographic significance. A dictionary does not provide a logical definition of a concept, but a semantic description of a word by a sentence or a synonym. A vocabulary summarizes the words belonging to the language and the semantics determines their ambiguous or unambiguous significance. The grammar determines how words can be declined or conjugated, and how one may derive one word from another by prefixes and suffixes, endings and compounds. A word is built from syllables, but usually these have no significance of their own. By replacing a syllable by another one, or by adding or omitting syllables, the significance of a word changes, like ‘im-’ changes the significance of ‘possible’ in its opposite.

Each word has the disposition to become combined with other words into a sentence, in which words have a grammatical and semantic function. Only in its context a word gets its definitive significance.[24] Because of their function in a sentence, grammar distinguishes nouns and adjectives, adverbs, articles, and verbs with their various forms. In a sentence the words stand in a sequence, projecting language on the quantitative relation frame. However, the order is not quantitative, not primarily subjected to quantitative laws. It is a significant sequence, subjected to the lingual rules of the syntax.

Etymology is the science concerned with the history of words. For a long time, people thought that words could be reduced to the things they signify, but this turned out to be a naturalist illusion. The function of nouns is to name persons, matters, events, acts, and their properties (‘the Middle Ages’) and to classify or categorize (‘this is a horse’). In the eighteenth century one wondered if a natural classification (like that for minerals, plants, or animals) agrees with a natural choice of words.[25] Assuming that the semiotic relation frame is irreducible and language a historically grown artefact, such a natural system is probably not possible.


b. Sentences

In a sentence words provide in a grammatical order simultaneously and together a descriptive significance, which they could not give separately. According to syntactic rules a sentence connects words to a new unity, in which each word has its grammatical position. In different languages the order of the words is often radically different, much more than the significance of the words [26] The specific character of a sentence may be considered primarily semiotic and secondarily spatial. A sentence has the disposition to take part in a spoken or written text, explicating its significance.

Although we utter a sentence as a succession of words, its significance is usually only clear when it is finished. A sentence is limited by the first and final word. A composed sentence has parts. (In terms of the theory of sets, contrary to a part of a sentence, a word is not a part, but an element of a sentence.) A sentence consists of a number of words, each with its own grammatically and semantically determined position. Change of relative position usually changes the meaning of the sentence.

In each language the character of a sentence is determined by its syntax, the part of grammar giving rules for the structure of sentences. In a sentence words and word groups can be distinguished because of their function in the sentence, like subject, predicate, direct and indirect object.[27] In a sentence the verb (in various forms) expresses a relation between the subject and the predicate.[28]

Each sentence deepens both the form and the significance of the words occurring in the sentence. The syntax determines the variable word form, for instance the personal form of a verb (e.g., I am, you are, he is). Very important in many languages is the perfect or imperfect tense in verbal forms, allowing us to distinguish between past, present, and future. For this purpose, many other lingual acts are available as well. Each language is not merely historically formed, but also expresses our common sense of history.


c. Texts

The specific character of a text like a chronicle or a report appears to be characterized primarily by semiotic relations and secondarily by kinetic ones. One sentence follows another, the significance of each sentence influencing that of the preceding and succeeding ones. The text forms the context of the sentence. The information contained in succeeding sentences is connected. Sometimes one uses copulatives, like ‘first’ or ‘next’.

Hermeneutics provides semantic rules for the interpretation of texts, the exegesis or lingual analysis, in which texts are compared to texts. Medieval Biblical exegesis distinguished literal from allegorical, and figurative from analogical exegesis. Modern is the difference between lingual, historical, and theological exegesis of the Bible. Besides narratives and texts also words and sentences have an exegetical function. A classifying noun refers to agreements and differences, not by definition but by interpretation. When calling an object a chair, we interpret it as such. As is well known, it is very difficult to form a logical concept of what we mean by a chair, to give a logical definition of a chair. But in our language the significance is clear and translation into other languages usually gives few problems. In a translation we use a dictionary, giving one or more translations of all or the most common words. Translating lingual acts does not occur word after word, not even sentence after sentence. The text and the context also determine the translation. Even then each translation involves rewriting, changing the significance somewhat. Traduire c’est trahir, translation is treason. Each translation rests on an interpretation.[29] Therefore it is difficult to design a program for a translating computer: interpretation is a human activity.


d. Narratives

A narrative is distinguished from a chronicle or report because it gives a stylized interpretation and points to causal connections. A story concerns an event or a progressive series of events, a story line (a plot or act) giving an interpretation, with a beginning, a middle part, and an end according to Aristotle. Each story or discourse is subjected to the norm of relevance. In the story only texts ought to occur which are relevant, having significance for the course of the tale. At the end of the story the listener or reader should be able to remember what the tale was about from the beginning. Therefore an oral story should not be too long, and it is advisable to structure the story in short parts. A complicated story like a novel has several narrative lines. People tell stories in order to bring order into their lives, to determine their identity, their position in society, their convictions, to justify their deeds and to give meaning to their existence, to explain what they do.[30] People give their history objective meaning by telling a story about it. This form already dates from Greek and Roman antiquity, as Nancy Partner explains:

‘The openly identified narrator who is the known author; the substitution of collected information for inspiration by muse or authorial omniscience; the use of prose for a complex extended narrative; close attention to causal relations, motive and fortune as the determinants of events; the organized state as the defining unit of human society, and the predominance of political action and war as subject matter are all legacies from antiquity.’[31]


However, ‘narration is not the only form of explanation they [i.e. historians] use, but it is one of the more common and most characteristically historical forms … A story explains how and what – not why - … explaining is understood to mean … making clear, plain, and understandable ...’[32]


12.6. The specific character of a language


This very preliminary and tentative analysis concerns the generic character, which I believe all languages to have in common and which distinguishes each language from whatever is not a language. Besides, each language has its own specific character, its own grammar and semantics, indicating the differences between various languages. The agreements between languages not only point to their common descent, but according to Noam Chomsky also to the existence of a ‘universal grammar’,[33] being the unchangeable generic character type of the languages. This is expressed in the structure of words, sentences, texts and narratives, questions, commands, instructions, and figures of speech, primarily characterized by the semiotic relation frame and maybe secondarily by the relation frames preceding the semiotic frame. It appears that all languages have this law conformity in common, and that also the inborn lingual capacity of children (the start of their command of a language) is structured by the universal generic character type shared by all languages.

Someone commands one’s native language or a foreign language if being able to apply grammatical patterns automatically and without errors, with a relatively large vocabulary, which meaning is known in a given situation. Poets, cabaret performers, and authors display a creative, aesthetically developed command of language. They deal with the grammatical rules in a playful way, forming new words or sentence constructions, or giving words a new meaning in a surprising context. Especially novel writers show their artistic command of language by their narrative ability. Also other professions require specific lingual command, like journalism or advertising.


12.7. The language community

and the public opinion


The native speakers of a language form a lingual community. It is not an association (an organized whole), for it has no government. Nor is it a semiotic subject, for a language community does not speak or write, it does not listen or communicate. Only people belonging to the lingual community and associations do that, being active lingual subjects. A lingual community is objectively defined by a language or a group language, with its characteristic vocabulary, semantics and grammar, constituting an objective infrastructure of lingual acts. The lingual community itself connects persons and associations constituting an intersubjective network. Translations connect the various language communities into a world-wide semiotic network.


Each language has emerged in history, sometimes from one or more other languages, and it develops continuously. (If not, it is correctly called ‘a dead language’). About the origin of the first languages next to nothing is known, no more than about the evolution of the larynx and the centre of speech in the brain as the biotic and psychic base of the human ability to speak. It has been suggested that spoken languages emerged from wordless hymns and that rituals preceded the formation of language.[34] Renaissance scholars have much speculated about an original paradise language, being lost at the building of the tower of Babylon, remnants of which would be traceable in Hebrew.[35] In this supposedly natural primitive language each word would have an immediate and transparent meaning. However, being artefacts, languages are not natural but formed in history. In the course of history a language changes together with the collective memory of the lingual community. The language provides the lingual community with a history. Related languages show typical agreements, both grammatical and semantic.[36] Dutch, Flemish, Surinamese, and Afrikaans form a family, as well as Frisian and English. Both families are part of the Germanic group of languages, belonging to the Indo-European family of languages together with the Romanic, Slavonic, and Greek groups. Circa 3000 BC these still formed one language. This taxonomy (family tree) does not include all languages with certainty. The origin of Basque is unknown. Finnish, Hungarian, and some other languages form a separate group. Sometimes the formation of a new language from existing ones is observable, for instance when a pidgin becomes a Creole language.[37] (A pidgin is a strongly simplified mixed language without a grammar of its own, having a limited purpose, for instance to allow of trade on a market. A Creole language (of which several tens are known, among others in the Caribbean) emerges from a pidgin by an increasing complexity and semantic richness and ultimately adopting its own grammar.)

All lingual communities maintain connections by means of bilingual or multilingual participants. Regional, national, and world-wide languages can be distinguished by their communicative power, depending on the number of people commanding the language as their mother tongue or as a second or third language.[38] Usually one language functions as lingua franca, the local or international language of trade. Since the second half of the twentieth century this is American English, not the largest mother tongue, but the most widespread second language.

Lingua franca was originally a medieval mixture of Italian, French, Spanish, and Greek, spoken in the trade around the Mediterranean. In Indonesia, with active support of the government, Bahasa Indonesia (Malaysian) supplanted both Dutch and Javanese (the largest mother tongue) as second language.[39] Latin is the lingua franca for the Roman-Catholic Church, Arabic for the Islam.


Because lingual acts can be translated, the collective memory constitutes an objective network of information, in principle accessible for anyone. For the history of mankind the development of communication networks is very important.[40] These include three ‘media revolutions’: the invention of written language, of book printing, and of electronic media.[41] The lay-out of the Roman road system did not only serve the displacement of troops, but also the postal system. Post delivered by messengers is probably older than written texts. The South-American Incas communicated with each other without the use of writing. Writing was invented about 3500 BC by the Sumerians, circa 3000 BC by the Egyptians, about 2000 BC in China and before 600 BC in Mexico. The alphabetic script is probably invented only once, about 1700 BC by the Canaanites, who only used consonants. The Phoenicians developed it further circa 800 BC, and the Greeks added signs for vowels.[42] Perhaps the signs for scripts were initially intended as mnemonics for messengers. Written language is almost indispensable to the trade among settlements and in the organization of political associations surpassing a single settlement. With written language, the first large empires emerged, and the first professional writers were perhaps imperial officials.[43] Since the fifteenth century, technical inventions have improved semiotic communication: book printing, the optic and electric telegraph, telephone, radio, and television. Technical networks, like the telephone net, are interlaced with semiotic networks like daily papers and periodicals, publishers and book shops, radio, television, and internet.


People utter their thoughts by their language, making them public and preserving them for the future. Until the fifteenth century this happened mainly orally, by addresses, proclamations, and sermons. Since the invention of book printing the oral forms made place for books, papers, and periodicals. The public opinion in a modern society is formed by the press and since the twentieth century by other media too. Written language is more public than spoken language, printed work more than a manuscript. Thanks to radio and television, spoken language has returned to the public domain. The Queen’s English is the language of the public domain in England. Daily papers, movies, radio, and television are mass media, directing themselves unilaterally to a large public. Letters, telephone calls, and e-mail are bilateral. Internet is an interactive system involving many people simultaneously.


As the guardian of the public domain, the republic ought to protect the freedom of communication and expression of one’s opinions, though it is sometimes necessary to indicate limits in order to make the freedom of others optimal. The freedom to criticize the acts of the government has proved to be the best warrant against government arbitrariness on the public domain. With the rise of daily papers and periodicals, later of radio and television, since the eighteenth century the public opinion has a large influence on the policy of the government and of other associations. Sometimes the elite uses a different language than the common people. That language now does not serve to communicate, but to exclude people from functions in the administration and education.


12.8. Nations as communities


In contrast to a lingual community a people or a nation is more subjectively than objectively characterized. Besides a supposed (usually dubious) common descent, there is no objective criterion for it. Nevertheless the subjective feeling of tribal relationship can be extremely strong, especially if stimulated by a shared history of glory and heroism, or of suppression and martyrdom. Sometimes one supposes that a people or nation is or ought to be objectively characterized by a language. Then a people or nation is conceived as a lingual community. At the medieval universities students speaking the same language united themselves into a nation.[44] Nowadays someone’s nationality means being a citizen of a state, irrespective of the language spoken. Especially in the nineteenth century, romanticism glorified both the people’s language and the nation.[45] It attempted to found the state by the nation, identified with a lingual community. Romanticism considered the vernacular as part of the popular culture. Nationalists defined the nation ethnically, by descent or race, with the vernacular as a criterion. The romantic ideology assumed that the nation can be formed most efficiently by pointing out a common enemy.[46] In the nineteenth and twentieth century this gave rise to serious conflicts, inclusive of genocide.

In the twentieth century the romantic idea of nations was undermined by two contrary developments.[47] On the one hand, the result of regional conflicts was that parts of the people got a large measure of independence, like in Belgium or Great-Britain, or became entirely independent states, like in the Soviet-Union, Yugoslavia, and Czechoslovakia, or fell into anarchy like in Afghanistan, Iraq, and large parts of Africa. On the other hand states formed supranational units, like the European Union. Only at the end of the twentieth century one begins to understand that speakers of minority languages deserve respect and that civil rights should be independent of the language or dialect in which citizens express themselves. India, South-Africa and the European Union experiment with a multilingual state.[48] In the European Union seven languages are spoken by more than twenty million inhabitants: German, French, Italian, Polish, Spanish, Dutch, and Romanian. Outside their own boundaries only English, French, and German play a part in Europe, followed at a distance by Italian, Spanish, and Dutch.[49]


Since the seventeenth century the concept of the nation state emerged in Europe. Hence it is older than romanticism. It indicates that the state is meant for the citizens and is not the property of a ruler, that the state ought not to identify itself with the government, but with the citizens. In the nineteenth century one started to conceive the nation state as a state in which one nation or lingual community is dominant. In that case The Netherlands would be a nation state, whereas Belgium would not. Sometimes the state favours a lingual community and discriminates other ones, as has been the case in Belgium for a long time. The inclination to prescribe coercively the use of a single language in a state, not only for administration and justice, but also for education and other cultural events, is almost universal. It even applies to countries like Switzerland, Belgium, and Canada, where the dominant language is not a national but a regional privilege.

[1] Von der Dunk 2007.

[2] Von der Dunk 2007, chapter III.

[3] Langer 1960, 8 (preface).

[4] Wittgenstein 1953, I nr. 304; Staal 1986, 261.

[5] Tarski 1944.

[6] MacIntyre 1967, 74, 92.

[7] Conrad 1998, chapter 5

[8] de Witte 1970; Staal 1986; Pinker 1994; see also Foucault 1966, who, however, does not want to be called a structuralist.

[9] Bunge 1967a,b.

[10] Boyne 2000; van Keulen 2005

[11] de Vries, van der Woude 1995, 18-19.

[12] Cassirer 1944, 27; Langer 1960, 35 (chapter 1).

[13] Cassirer 1944, 31.

[14] Langer 1960, 39-42 (chapter 2).

[15] Danto 1985, 94-95.

[16] The assumption that scientific observations should be unbiased is invalid for any science. Just like any other science, history works with hypotheses and theories, see Danto 1985, 96-111, besides applying methods specific for history.

[17] Danto 1985, 96-111.

[18] Pinker 1994, 32 (chapter 2).

[19] Scientific American, August 2002, 64; Pinker 1994, 280-282 (chapter 8).

[20] Pinker 1994, 36-41 (chapter 2).

[21] Foucault 1966, 136-139 (section 4.6); Pinker 1994, 207 (chapter 6); Diamond 1997, chapter 12.

[22] Pinker 1994, 89-92 (chapter 5).

[23] Pinker 1994, chapter 5.

[24] Wittgenstein 1953, I nr. 43; De Witte 1970, 59; Smart 2000, 453-455.

[25] Foucault 1966, chapter 5.

[26] Foucault 1966, 107 (section 4.2).

[27] De Witte 1970, 66-74., see

[28] Foucault 1966, 116-121 (section 4.3).

[29] Gadamer 1960, 181, 307, 309, 386-390.

[30] MacIntyre 1981, 210-219; Somers 2001, 362.

[31] Partner 1995, 31.

[32] Fischer 1970, 130.

[33] Pinker 1994, 20-22 (chapter 1).

[34] Langer 1960, 138 (chapter 5); Staal 1986, 260-261, 298, 343.

[35] Foucault 1966, 57-65 (section 2.4).

[36] Pinker 1994, chapter 8.

[37] Pinker 1994, 32-36 (chapter 2).

[38] De Swaan 2001.

[39] de Swaan 2001, chapter 5.

[40] Toynbee 1972, 288-295.

[41] Wiersing 2007, 769.

[42] Pinker 1994, 207 (chapter 6); Diamond 1997, chapter 12.

[43] Rutgers 2004, chapter 3.

[44] Knowles 1962, 160, 165.

[45] Popper 1945, 302-311; Russell 1946, 651-659; De Swaan 2001, 85-87 (section 4.2), 184-190 (section 8.1); Safranski 2007.

[46] Arendt 1963, 99 (section 2.3).

[47] Hobsbawm 1994, 489-497 (chapter 14, V).

[48] de Swaan 2001, chapter 4, 7, and 8

[49] de Swaan 2001, 200 (section 8.2).






Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 13







13.1. Logical extrapolation

13.2. Transfer of argued knowledge

13.3. Concepts, propositions, and theories

13.4. Fields of science

13.5. Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique of theoretical thought


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 13. Epistemology


13.1. Logical extrapolation


Logic is derived from the Greek logos, originally meaning word or conversation, whereas reason is derived from the Latin ratio. Nevertheless, logic is the name of the science of reasoning, of analysis and synthesis, of drawing conclusions. The logical relation frame concerns the relevance of argumentation as a universal value for humanity. Everything we want to know, anything that presents itself to our experience, is object for our reasoning. The ratio of history consists of finding logical connections between events and their consequences, the explanation of recorded historical events based on earlier events, circumstances, and human intervention. Therefore I suggest that extrapolation indicates the logical temporal order as well as the logical meaning of history, its ratio. In any logical act generalising, formulating an established or assumed regularity plays an important part.[1]

An act of reasoning always concerns the solution of a problem, in particular the explanation or at least elucidation of a sequence of events. In part, history consists of imagining and solving new problems, increasing insight. By generating and solving problems and communication of their solutions people create a rational order in their environment. In a logical sense, an event is historical if it contributes to a solution of a problem contributing to the growth of common knowledge.[2]


Whereas language is ambiguous, inviting interpretation, a logical act requires arguments. In order to find out whether the truth of a statement can be proved, we have first to establish its semantic meaning. If we interpret the sun as the celestial body occupying the centre of the planetary system, the statement ‘she is the sun of my life’ cannot be true. Everybody will understand that the sun here has a metaphorical meaning, interpreted differently than in astronomy. Metaphoric expressions like ‘he takes his life in his hands’ are not logically true, but are significant. Though having semantic meaning, and providing insight, they cannot function in a proof. Logical reasoning presupposes the use of language,[3] but cannot be reduced to it. Argumentation requires a logical command of language with an unambiguous formation of concepts.

If a logical argument wants to establish whether a statement is or is not true, this is only possible if the corresponding sentence is grammatically correct, having semantic significance. The statement ‘tonight the sun will set at 20.05 hours’ is grammatically correct and has semantic meaning. It can be true or false. But the grammatically incorrect sentence ‘tonight the sun 20.05 hours sets at’ or the meaningless sentence ‘tonight the roof sets at 20.05 hours’ are both neither true nor false. They cannot play a part in a logical reasoning. On the other hand, a logical argument may sustain a conviction. Therefore I think that the logical relation frame succeeds the semiotic frame and precedes the relation frame of trust.


13.2. Transfer of argued knowledge


Continuously people confer with each other, exchanging information and drawing conclusions for the future. The logical engine of history is the transfer of reasoned knowledge and insight, with logic as instrument to analyse past events and predict future events. In the West, Aristotle laid the basis for logic as a science. (In the course of history, other forms of logic have been designed elsewhere, for instance in China and India[4]). His Organon reigned almost unchallenged until the rise of formal logic in the nineteenth century, which is more able to represent relations. Especially the transfer of systematic knowledge acquired in a scientific way has proved to be a strong and dynamic engine of history.

Discoursesand dialogues are typically logicalacts to transfer and propagate knowledge. Both consist of reasoning, making connections, drawing conclusions, explaining and predicting. The start situation is a difference of opinion or an uncertainty about a state of affairs. The aim is to evaluate the past and to get agreement about future behaviour. However, characteristic for a discourseor a dialogue is not the object of discussion, but the subject-subject relation and the context in which the discussion takes place. The context determines the rules and therefore the character of the debate.[5] In an actual discussion these rules are often implicit. They are called upon only when one of the parties transgresses a rule blameworthy. Then one asks for a time-out, in which first the rules are discussed. For instance, someone may object to an abundance of rhetoric, a wrong metaphor, or an ambiguity. It may turn out that people agree about many rules but far less about their application, a reason to call for a mediator.


In logical acts like a debate, a conference, or a discussion, the partners try to reach an agreement by argumentation about something that was at first contested or disputed.[6] The aim is to solve a problem and thereby to gain insight, to contribute to a rational order of the experienced reality and to decide about future behaviour, to common action. The discussion partners ought to keep the logical norm that they may contradict each other but not themselves.[7] This formulation seems to deviate from the law of excluded contradiction, which law, however, is restricted to subject-object relations. A statement or an argument should not be internally contradictory. In that case the logical law is a norm for the reasoning subject, but it concerns an object, knowledge that should not contain contradictions. In contrast, contradiction has a positive role in a subject-subject relation. Reasoning without contradiction makes no sense, because the aim is to solve contradictions. To forbid contradictions in a discussion is authoritarian. To prohibit a difference of opinion leads to an untimely end of the discussion. On the other end, whoever catches somebody with a contradiction in their point of view wins the argument.

The law of excluded contradiction is a universal logical value. As a logical rule for behaviour it excludes contradictions, not because they do not occur, but because they should not occur. At first sight this may not look like an ethical rule, until we realize that each lie is a contradiction. Who lies, contradicts himself, knowing that the contrary is true. The interdiction to lie is not a natural law, but a universal normative principle, to be applied by everyone in freedom and responsibility. It is not only valid for individual people, but also for associations, because different spokesmen should not utter contradictory statements. In several situations this principle may collide with other values. Someone may tell something that is not true, for instance in order not to betray a friend. Values are only valid in combination and they relativize each other. A rationalist like Immanuel Kant believes that a lie is always rejectable, because ratio surpasses any other value.


Primarily logically characterized artefacts like concepts, statements or propositions, and theories, are used by people to prove that they are right, if certain suppositions are acknowledged.[8]

Human knowledge does not always arise indirectly, by means of such artefacts. Natural experience is immediately directed to the world and to fellow people. Often it does not ask for proof, but for practical knowledge (know-how), aesthetic recognition, or semiotic information. People know a lot that they do not want or are unable to prove. Often their knowledge rests on hearsay, from television for instance. Since Parmenides it is usual to restrict ‘real’ human knowledge to the result of theoretical argumentation, reserved to a philosophical or scientific elite. Pure knowledge is then considered to be provable, scientifically founded. However, a great deal of human knowledge is not of a scientific character, and even scientific knowledge is not purely theoretical. Each form of knowledge can be used in reasoning, even if it is not a product of reasoning itself.


13.3. Concepts, propositions, and theories


Conceptual or theoretical reasoning is to argue with the help of logically qualified artefacts, like concepts, statements or propositions, and theories.[9] Often one experiences these instruments in the transfer of logical experience as being abstract, posing higher demands than words, sentences, and texts. Nevertheless, ordinary life applies them as often as the sciences and humanities do. In history ideas and theories exert a large influence.

In conceptual arguing, the use of language is indispensable. We cannot imagine concepts without words, statements without sentences, or a theory without an elucidation, and daily parlance does not always make the distinction. We can establish the truth of a statement only after we have understood its significance. The statement ‘x+2=5’ is true if x signifies the number 3 and is false if x signifies another number. It is neither true nor false if x would signify a person, for the statement ‘Peter+2=5’ makes no sense. From the seventeenth century till the first half of the twentieth century, philosophers like Gottfried Leibniz, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Bertrand Russell, and Rudolf Carnap have tried to reduce logic to a universal unambiguous language.[10] Reversely, there have been philosophers treating grammar as a part of logic. These attempts at reduction turned out to be unsuccessful and seems to be abandoned by philosophers. Yet it has borne fruit, resulting in formal logic. This, however, is not a language but a code, a coherent set of symbols with rules that are not lingual but logical.


A theory is an artefact, people making, inventing, improving, using, or rejecting theories. We use theories as instruments of thought to form concepts and to prove statements. Theoretical reasoning is a human activity, in which someone interrupts the direct relation, characterizing natural thought, by placing a theory between themselves and the object of thought. A theory mediates between subject and object. It is an instrument with a logical character, in which only arguments play a part. Theoretical reasoning abstracts from other ways to achieve experience, for instance, feelings, images, and metaphors.

This opposing and therefore critical attitude is not a privilege of theoretical reasoning. It occurs whenever someone uses artefacts in their acts. A clear example is the way by which somebody extends their observation capacity by the use of a teles­cope or a micros­cope. In this case, too, someone adopts an opposing attitude, taking distance and narrowing their experience. One sees further away, but decreases one’s field of sight. What one observes is disengaged from the coherence in which it naturally functions. This distance taking attitude is absent both in the natural experience of people and in the functioning of animals. It allows people to take part in nature and to take distance from it simultaneously. Often the results of theoretical thought have a strained relation with natural thought, contradicting common sense. For this reason, a theory requires proof. But in practice, theoretical thought is never separated from natural thought. Theoretical activity requires common sense and intuition as well.


Each theory functions in three logical relations. In a logical subject-object relation a theory is an instrument between the logical subject (the designer or user of the theory) and the logical object (the contents of the theory). Each theory has a logical form and a non-logical content. The latter category covers observations, for instance. A theory only contains statements, but a statement may describe an observation. In a logical subject-subject relation, such as an argument, a discussion or a debate, a theory functions as a proof. The participants in a debate should agree about the starting points and methods of proof, otherwise the discussion is meaningless. They try to convince each other about affairs in which they did not agree initially. The participants in the debate are bound to logical rules or laws. A theory is indirectly subjected to these laws, functioning in a logical law-subject relation. In all three relations, logical subjects are involved. We cannot consider theories apart from the people who make use of them.


What is a theory? The Greek word theoria means something like contemplation. Our word ‘theatre’ is derived from it. Often an unproven hypothesis is called a theory.[11] However, the earliest Greek philosophers already connected theoria to delivering proof, to deductive argumentation. Since then, a theory is an instrument for the delivery of proof, the logical deduction of propositions from presuppositions (premises), as a movement of thought referring to the kinetic relation frame. When the proof is correct and one assumes that the premises are true, then one ought to accept the derived propositions as equally true as the premises. A theory is a deductively ordered set of propositions accepted to be true.[12]


Fundamentalist philosophers assume that a theory should start from well-known and generally accepted evident truths, in order to derive initially unknown statements. Fundamentalism or foundation thinking is any ideology supposing science to dispose of sources of absolute truth, not open to critical empirical research.[13] Examples are the rationalist view that the axioms of a theory should be self-evident; the positivist view that unbiased observations provide an undeniable source of truth; the firm belief of almost all philosophers that the laws of logic are inescapable, for people and for God as well; the standard view that mathematics is founded in logic; the authoritarian view ascribing authority to the utterances of great scientists; and the religious fundamentalism deriving scientific data from a religious text.[14] A non-fundamentalist scientific world view rejects the pretension of science to be capable of leading to absolute truth. Critical-realists like Karl Popper believe that a theory should start from new and daring hypotheses, by logical reasoning arriving at testable conclusions.[15]


Each theory consists of statements or propositions containing concepts. Theoretical concepts serve to identify things, events, processes and relations, and to establish similarities and differences. They form the base of theoretical analysis, of logical identification and of classification. A concept refers to a class of similar things and to differences between classes. Therefore the character of a concept is primarily characterized by the logical relation frame and secondarily by the quantitative frame. According to the logical law of identity, each thing and every event is identical with itself and distinguishable from other things or events. In the course of a logical argumentation one cannot with impunity change the identity of objects to be discussed. Another fallacy is equivocation, to identify two states of affairs that are not identical.


A concept is introduced into a theory by presenting a definition (which is a statement). The view that a definition automatically leads to the existence of the defined object, implied by the identification of thinking with being, is an essentialist fallacy. The weaker view, that one has to lay down the significance of a concept once and for all, contradicts scientific practice. A dynamic theory deepens and clarifies the significance of a concept during the theory’s development. This means that the initial definition may be adapted, of course without causing contradictions within the theory, in particular maintaining the identity of the objects indicated by the concept. In various theories a concept may have different meanings, for the significance of a concept depends on its context. A fundamentalist axiom of logical empiricism was that empirical concepts should be definable independent of any theory. Historicists accepted the other extreme, assuming that a concept is entirely dependent on its context. Critical realism takes an intermediate position. Concepts, statements and theories have a relative autonomy with respect to each other, meaning that different theories are comparable.


The logical function of a theory is to establish the truth of statements (theses, propositions) by connecting them deductively to other statements which truth is accepted, even if only tentatively, hypothetically. However, each statement itself already makes logical connections, both between concepts and between the objects signified by the concepts. Therefore, the character of a statement is primarily characterized by the logical relation frame and secondarily by logical connection being a logical projection on the spatial relation frame.

Whereas concepts appear to be founded in quantitative relations, and statements in spatial connections, theories are founded in deduction, the logical movement from one statement to another one. The possibility to interlace these logical artefacts with each other allows of opening up the human view of reality, contributing to the open future of mankind and its dynamic development. 


13.4. Fields of science


There is some agreement between logical and semiotic artefacts: concepts and words, propositions and sentences, a theory and a text. The question may rise whether various complexes exist (analogous to languages) of concepts, statements, and theories having a character of their own? The answer is affirmative. Such a complex is called a special science or field of science, each having its own methodology and history, its own concepts and coherent theories, its periodicals, scientific society, conferences, and university departments. The knowledge of a field of science is usable in other fields, if they apply similar concepts. Like the vocabulary of a language grows by finding new significances, each field of science continuously develops new concepts.

Like a language has a grammar, a field of science has a method to generate new statements and theories, to find solutions for its problems. Related sciences like physics and chemistry have corresponding methods. Unrelated sciences like sociology and mathematics have widely different methods. Historiography, too, has its own methodology.[16] Each method is logical, deductive and inductive, theoretical and experimental. Methods determine the character of the field of science, such that one may speak of different cultures, like different languages agree with different cultures. The philosophy of a field of science does not only study its presuppositions, but also its methodology.

A field of science investigates the law side of reality and is as such a practice of its own.[17] Besides practices exist that do not investigate but apply the results of science. The practice of a court of justice differs from that of jurisprudence. In justice one uses concepts, statements, and theories, often derived from jurisprudence. But the methods of justice differ from those of jurisprudence, having quite different characters. Likewise, a general practitioner has a practice applying medical knowledge. Exerting pure medical science is left to others.


13.5. Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique of theoretical thought


In A new critique of theoretical thought Herman Dooyeweerd attempted to lay bare the basic presuppositions of any philosophy, in particular humanist thought.[18] His transcendental critique of theoretical thought proceeds through several phases.[19] The first phase concerns the question of the structure of theoretical thought. Dooyeweerd states that in theoretical thought the logical aspect opposes all the other aspects. He never considered the possibility that theories are human-made artefacts, as instruments used by people who thereby oppose reality. Otherwise than Dooyeweerd, I have answered this question by considering theories, statements, and concepts to be artificial instruments of thought, acting between thinking subjects and objects of thought.[20] By the introduction of these logical artefacts, reality is taken apart because it induces an opposition of a logical subject and its logical object, which is absent in natural thought.

Dooyeweerd seems to assume that this opposition only occurs in theoretical thought. However, it applies to any subject-object relation in which artefacts are involved as instruments. There are also far more artefacts than theories and ideas – telescopes, houses, cars, clothing. Hence, distinguishing logical subjects, logical objects, and theories as logical instruments concerns only one of our fundamental modes of experience. The logical aspect of human experience is only one of its segments.

This leads to the second phase of Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique, namely the question of how one arrives at a synthesis between those parts of reality which theoretical thought has taken apart. Dooyeweerd observed that the synthesis only becomes apparent by way of critical self-reflection, because the human subject is involved. Hence, the third phase of transcendental critique is to ask how this critical self-reflection is possible. Dooyeweerd stressed that self-knowledge is impossible without revelation, in line with John Calvin’s view that true self-knowledge is only possible by, and nearly identical to, knowledge of God.[21] Calvin did not mean a theoretical idea of God as René Descartes did. Calvin referred to God, the father of Jesus Christ, who reveals him to us. Descartes’ God was subject to logical laws, but calvinism asserts that not only natural laws but even the laws of logic hold true only as long as they are maintained by the Creator, because of his covenant in which Jesus is the mediator. This view opens the possibility of rejecting rationalism, and of investigating the lawful structure of the world with the help of logical instruments like theories.

Calvin formulated the principle that the lawfulness investigated by science is grounded in the creation, being subject to laws maintained by the Creator according to His covenant with humanity. As Dooyeweerd observed: ‘Calvin’s judgement: “Deus legibus solutus est, sed non exlex”, (“God is not subject to the laws, yet not arbitrary”) touches the foundations of all speculative philosophy by laying bare the limits of human reason set for it by God in His temporal world order.’[22]

This covenant warrants the possibility to achieve reliable knowledge of reality. Calvin underlined Nicholas of Cusa’s thesis that human beings cannot achieve autonomous knowledge about God, because true knowledge of God depends on divine revelation. Empirical scientific knowledge of created reality depends on active research, by instrumental observation and experiment. Scientists are bound to the states of affairs with which they are faced. But God is not subject to scientific research.

This view cuts off the idea of theoretical self-knowledge. Self-knowledge is a fruit of religion and can be true or false, not according to the criteria of some theory, but because the religious premise is true or false. According to Calvinism, man is not self-sufficient, but completely dependent on his Creator. He is allowed to investigate the creation, but should never presume to become its master, whether in thought or in any other activity.

Theories can be used to obtain knowledge of laws, but cannot help us to get knowledge of God. Only because He sent Jesus Christ into the world to become subject to the laws, God has made Himself known to us. This is the main content of Christian faith.

It may be worthwhile to compare Dooyeweerd’s view of critique with that of his contemporary Karl Popper.


13.6. Karl Popper’s critical realism


The spirit of the Enlightenment remains influential. During the twentieth century Karl Raimund Popper was one of the most important philosophers of science. In 1982-1983 he published a postscript to The logic of scientific discovery (1959), the English translation of Logik der Forschung (1934). The postscript’s three volumes,[23] written mainly during the years 1951-1956, are specifically directed to physics, treating respectively realism, determinism and quantum theory. Much could be found earlier in Popper's publications after 1959, several of these collected in Conjectures and refutations (1963) and Objective knowledge (1972).

As a critical-realist, Popper believes that scientific theories ought to say something meaningful about reality. In these theories laws are concerned with things and events, subject to laws. Laws and subjects are correlates, one cannot understand one without the other, and they are mutually irreducible. The attempt to reduce subjects completely to laws leads to determinism, whereas to separate subjects from laws leads to an unlimited indeterminism. Popper’s realism is a reaction to the romantic logical-positivism of the Vienna Circle, inspired by Ernst Mach.

For Karl Popper’s views on criticism the distinction of three ‘Worlds’ is important. He argues that World 1 (physical and biological objects) is in part indeterministic. Moreover it is influenced by World 2 (the human and animal psyche) and World 3 (the products of the human mind).[24] As a naturalist, Popper insists that ‘… something exists, or is real, if and only if it can interact with members of World 1, with hard, physical, bodies.’[25] Therefore the interaction between the three Worlds is a crucial element in Popper’s views.’ Our universe is partly causal, partly probabilistic, and partly open: it is emergent. … Man is certainly part of nature, but, in creating World 3, he has transcended himself and nature, as it existed before him. And human freedom is indeed part of nature, but it transcends nature – at least as it existed before the emergence of human language and of critical thought, and of human knowledge. Indeterminism is not enough: to understand human freedom we need more; we need the openness of World 1 towards World 2, and of World 2 towards World 3, and the autonomous and intrinsic openness of World 3, the world of the products of the human mind and, especially, of human knowledge.’[26]

The assumption of three independent but interacting Worlds contradicts monistic materialism, physicalism or philosophical behaviourism, as well as the ‘identity theory’, asserting that mental experiences are, in reality, identical with brain processes.[27] According to Popper the human identity is expressed in the partial autonomy of World 3, the set of all ideas and theories freely invented by people. Responsibility has a critical function, not only with respect to others, but first of all regarding oneself. Who withdraws from critique acts irrationally, irresponsibly, succumbing sooner or later to authoritarianism, repression and dictatorship. It is clear that Popper believes in this critical function. Poppers idea of human freedom ultimately depends on human autonomy.

Karl Popper’s philosophy is characterized by rational criticism, objectivity, realism, and the hypothetical-deductive method. From this position he criticises subjectivism, idealism, and inductivism, which he usually identifies and radically rejects. His critique is immanent as well as transcendent.

Immanent or intratheoretic critique attacks a theory from within, by accepting its basic assumptions but nothing else.

Transcendent or intertheoretic critique comes from outside, starting from a theory with alternative presuppositions.[28] Popper rejects the view that immanent critique is relatively unimportant, because it can only point out inconsistencies. Each theory intends to solve a problem, and immanent critique may consist of the proof that the problem is not solved, or that the solution is not better than that of a competing theory, or that the solution yields merely a problem shift. But transcendent critique is also acceptable. It leads to a comparison of two theories, such that we may prefer one to the other.[29] The most effective is a combination of immanent and transcendent critique: make clear what is wrong with a theory, and propose a viable alternative.

Referring to Immanuel Kant, Popper also discusses transcendental criticism. This method accepts scientific knowledge as a fact, investigating the principles explaining this fact.[30] Popper believes that transcendental critique can only be applied negatively, i.e., by criticising current views. He rejects an inductivist theory leading to the denial of the hypothetical-deductive method, considering theories to be superfluent.[31] By this double denial Popper achieves a confirmation of the hypothetical-deductive method, of course. This cannot be based on the experience that this method is fruitful, because that would be an inductive argument. It can neither be proved via the hypothetical-deductive method - that would be a petitio principii – like one cannot prove induction in an inductive way. What remains is that Popper believes in his method, just like the inductivists believe in theirs.

This is how transcendental criticism ought to operate: not convincing but revealing. It makes clear the driving motive of the philosophy concerned. It is directed to the pretentions of philosophical thought. One may wonder whether it is applicable to Popper’s views, as far as the transcendental critique is directed to the certainty of scientific results, because Popper maintains that there is no such certainty. However, Popper upholds other certainties. He is convinced of the hypothetical-deductive method, of logic, of realism, of objective truth, of the existence of natural laws, and of the relevance of rational criticism. Popper admits this, but he calls it metaphysics – it concerns statements of a superscientific character. The impossibility to achieve certain knowledge concerns theoretical knowledge, found with the help of theories, from the world outside us.

It is advisable to distinguish science from theoretical thought. In contrast to natural thought, theoretical thought is instrumental, it is thinking with the help of theories, propositions, and concepts. Theories have a characteristic logical structure, and are not characterized by any purpose. They can be used for many different goals: to make predictions, to solve problems, to provide explanations, both in science and elsewhere. In contrast, science as a human activity is characterized by its purpose: the opening up of the law side of reality. To achieve this, theories are invented, developed and applied, together with many other methods, like observing, measuring, experimenting, researching literature or the internet, archaeological digging, etc. Besides theories as logical instruments scientists apply their experience, their intuition, and their affection, their feeling of harmony and economy of thought, etc. Of course there is a strong connection between science and theoretical thought. Science does not only want to discover law conformities, but also to connect these rationally, to generalize, to draw conclusions and testing these, for which other theories are required. Reversely, theories almost always contain law statements, such that science can help to formulate theories. Therefore it will not be necessary to distinguish scientific activity from theoretical thought in every context.

Popper’s critique of inductivism can be summarized as: induction has no theoretical foundation, there is no defensible theory of induction. For Popper this means a rejection of induction. But by distinguishing theories with their hypothetical-deductive character from science, one at least creates room for the possibility that induction plays a heuristic part in science, even if induction is not theoretical but heuristic.

Transcendental criticism proceeds in several phases.[32] The first concerns the structure of theoretical thought, placing theories, statements and concepts as instruments between the thinking subject and the object of thought. This means that reality is taken apart, implying an antithesis between logical subject and logical object that does not exist in natural thought. This leads to the second phase of transcendental critique, the question of how to arrive at a synthesis of what is taken apart in the first phase. The answer to the problems of the first and second phase Popper finds in the theory of three worlds. The three worlds influence each other, and the synthesis between Worlds 1 and 2 is wrought by World 3. The ideas and theories are free inventions of humanity, but are tested in World 1 objects. This synthesis can only be achieved by critical self-reflection. Popper observes that by their theoretical activity, persons can transcend themselves.[33] By producing theories in freedom, persons transcend themselves, achieving an intellectual self-liberation.[34] Therefore, the third phase of transcendental critique is expressed as: how is this critical self-reflection possible? Popper’s answer is: by the method of rational criticism, by trial and error, by learning from one’s mistakes. By this method persons are able to transcend themselves. This also concerns the community of thought, for Popper expressly invites everybody to criticise him.

However, such a community can only exist by the grace of a common faith, a religious motive, constituting the driving force for their thought and activity. Popper recognizes the existence of regulative or ‘metaphysical’ ideas, the ideas of origin, unity and coherence of reality, directing theoretical thought. From these ideas one cannot derive theoretical knowledge, but these determine the methods of theoretical research. Popper is clearly driven by the Enlightenment motive of nature and freedom. He looks for a synthesis of nature and freedom in World 3, where a person in freedom poses hypotheses, in order to test these in World 1. By this synthesis a person liberates himself. By the rational critique humankind transcends itself, becoming free of prejudgments. However, Popper does not transcend logic, which he considers tautological, and therefore not subject to criticism. Without any critique he accepts that logic and mathematics are not empirical sciences.

The coherence of the three Worlds is weak, as weak as the interaction between René Descartes’ res extensa and res cognitans. Karl Popper does not come further than the assumption that there must be some kind of interaction between Worlds 1 and 2, and also between Worlds 2 and 3. Within World 1 there is a continuous coherence of physical things, plants, animals, etc., and within World 3 there is a corresponding coherence of ideas. Popper demarcates empirical, i.e., testable ideas from ideas that are not testable, in logic, mathematics and metaphysics. The demarcation occurs in World 3 and is not bridged. Therefore the tension between nature and freedom is also manifest in World 3, such that World 3 cannot constitute a synthesis between Worlds 1 and 2. By their rational critique people cannot transcend the Enlightenment dialectic of nature and freedom.

Karl Popper’s idea of self-transcendence appears to be an illusion.

[1] Hempel 1965; Ankersmit 1983, 108-128; Munz 1997, 857-863.

[2] Popper 1959; Stafleu 2016, chapter 4.

[3] Van Eemeren et al. 1978, 50-54; Stafleu 2016, 1.6.

[4] Fischer 1970, 263.

[5] Perelman 1977; Van Eemeren et al. 1978.

[6] Van Eemeren et al. 1978, 12, 56.

[7] Van Eemeren et al. 1978, 51.

[8] Stafleu 2016, chapter 1

[9] On the character of concepts, propositions and theories, see Stafleu 1987; 2002a, 8.3; 2016; on models see Stafleu 1998, 6.2.

[10] Carnap 1928, 1939.

[11] Popper 1959, 59; 1983, 33. However, Popper 1983, 113, 178 and 292 affirms that a theory is a deductive set of statements.

[12] Stafleu 1987, 15-19; 2016, chapter 1; Braithwaite 1953, 12, 22; Bunge 1967a, 51-54; 1967b, I, 381.

[13] Wolterstorff 1976; van den Brink 2004, 44-45.

[14] On creationalism, see Sewell 2016.

[15] Popper 1959; 1963.

[16] Fischer 1970; Bentley (ed.) 1997.

[17] Verkerk et al. 2007, 262 and chapter 9.

[18] Dooyeweerd NC I; Stafleu 2019.

[19] Dooyeweerd NC, I, part I; Strauss 2009.

[20] Stafleu 1987, 2016.

[21] Calvin 1559, I, 1.

[22] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 93.

[23] Popper 1982a, 1982b, 1983.

[24] Popper 1972, chapters 3 and 4; Popper, Eccles 1977, chapter P2; Popper 1982a, 114-130.

[25] Popper 1982a, 116

[26] Popper 1982a, 130.

[27] Popper 1982a, 117.

[28] Popper 1983, 29.

[29] Popper 1983, 30.

[30] Popper 1983, 87, 316, 339.

[31] Popper 1983, 334, 339.

[32] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 38-52.

[33] Popper 1983, 27, 154.

[34] Popper 1983, 157, 259-261.






Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 14







14.1. The relation frame of faith

14.2. Certainty

14.3. Contents of faith

14.4. Profile of an organized faith congregation

14.5. The separation of church and state


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 14. Trust


14.1. The relation frame of faith


To arrive at trustful certitude people must be convinced of the validity of the starting points of their argumentation. Acts of faith are characterized by the mutual trust of people and their trust in all kinds of objects, in science, and in their God.[1] The temporal aspect of this universal value is expressed in the wish to reform the world while preserving what is good. In the relation frame of faith events may be called historical if promoting reformation or withholding it. Faith convictions have the image of being conservative, because believers resist changes which they do not consider progress. Indeed they request to trust what positive results have been reached in the past, but everybody in their own way attempts to improve the world. They express the belief that a better world is possible and they hope this to realize by their acts and propaganda. An ideology that isolates itself, considering its views sacrosanct, shunning all criticism, is inclined to resist all reforms, and to petrify the society that it dominates. In contrast, a living culture is able to experience a renaissance, by reforming society and itself.[2]

Abraham, Moses, and the Old Testament prophets are early examples of world reformers. Several important religions emerged about a half millennium BC, during the Achsenzeit (axis time).[3] Later Christianity and Islam caused revolutions. Since the Middle Ages, religious orders intended to reform the church from within or to defend the church against heretics. The Reformation aimed to renew Western Christianity. All religions and ideologies are based on prophecy or propaganda of their faith, often taking the form of a provocation. Churches and political parties spend much time and energy to the spiritual education of their members and to propaganda among non-members. A church without a vision on the future petrifies. Each faith, each ideology, each political current has a world view, which has to be adapted to a changing world. Tradition hands down an inspired vision of the past in the form of a myth, a holy script, a confession, or a declaration of principles. In its world view, a faith community shows that the content of its faith has visionary meaning for the present and the near or far future.

Each faith and each ideology propagates reform. Without hope, without trust in the future, nobody can live. Hope makes patient (‘… to be patient is to be prepared to wait until the promise of life is fulfilled.’[4])  and believers need not be revolutionaries. Faith and ideology are based on an expectation for the future, whether or not argued. The prophets and apostles did not predict the future in the usual logical sense, but they preached reform as an ethical and religious mission: a new heaven and a new earth.[5]

Therefore an inalienable part of each faith and each ideology is eschatology, a view of the future of mankind. The Christian tradition knows diverse variants. The apocalyptic vision, assuming that the world will perish in disasters, may lead to the avoidance of the world. Only after the apocalypse the kingdom will appear as a new heaven and a new earth. The teleological view believes that humanity is developing according to a preordained plan, according to laws inherent in the universe, with God’s kingdom at the end. The prophetic vision assumes that the dynamic development of humanity depends on the freedom and responsibility of human beings. The kingdom starts with the coming of the Messiah and develops as far as people are ready to work for it. Comparable views can be found in all faiths and ideologies, as well as in the literary genre of utopia.[6]


14.2. Certainty


Whoever has a mission to reform shall have to convince others. Believing is often understood as an individual and private act: I believe. ‘Here I stand, I can do no other,’ Martin Luther said. (It is a myth, constructed by the editor of Luther’s collected works, yet ‘… the most memorable thing Luther never said … can stand for the motto of all Protestants – ultimately, perhaps of all western civilization.’[7]) But he added: ‘God help me’, and he did his utmost to convince others of his faith. Indeed, everybody is responsible for their own beliefs. Neither the state, nor the church, nor any other authority should curtail the freedom of conscience. Yet many people experience their faith not as a private affair, but as an intersubjective assignment. Who insists on their opinion wants to convince others. Everyone is inclined to transfer opinions, sometimes in public. Both faith communities and political parties make propaganda, through mission or election campaigns. Of old, the faith stories are transmitted from generation to generation, orally in the past, later in writing. The Bible, too, may have originated in this way. One can convince someone by a logical argument, by an interpreting story, by a recognizable image, or by one’s works.

Faith has an important position, both in the personal life of people and in society. Declaring it self-sufficient always has serious effects, like crusades, pogroms, the inquisition, and the slaughters under communist regimes. The cultural and social petrification influenced by the Islam is a recent example. Also Protestantism, though arisen when resisting Roman-Catholic oppression, could not withdraw from religious suppression of dissidents. By interpreting biblical texts out of their historical or liturgical context, orthodox Protestants (like no less orthodox Catholics, Jews, and Muslims) know how to discriminate women and homosexuals, and to restrict the liberty of many people.

The strongest form of transfer of faith occurs in the education of children. In the nuclear family education is influenced by their parents’ views. It is no accident that many people have the same faith as their parents. When that is not the case, they often experience the breach as painful. Also schools have their views on education and learning. In part this determines the choice parents make for the school of their children. Direct mission is maybe less convincing than giving good examples. Political parties and trade unions also make propaganda for their views. In art and science a common world view leads to the founding of schools, necessary to reject vested views or paradigms and establish new ones. Firm convictions constitute the engine of each kind of reform.

Reform may proceed gradually, by the painful process of convincing, or achieve the character of a revolution, in which an ideology is pursued with violence. The application of violence in revolutions, crusades, and holy wars often results from an ideology, a reasoned faith, which adherents are so much convinced of its arguments, that they cannot understand that others do not share their opinions. Then the myth of conspiracy arises, the myth that the blinded adversaries are governed by Satan, by capitalism or communism, or by personal interest. When the adversaries cannot be convinced, they have to be subdued by violence.

Since the eighteenth century Romanticism has glorified revolutions,[8] but history appears to show that gradual change is often more effective.[9] As far as a revolution succeeds in bridging social or economic contrasts, to counteract political misgovernment, to end juridical inequality, or to fight poverty, this is often due to reforms started long before, such that the revolution at most causes acceleration, but more often a temporal deceleration.[10] Ideologies have a leading function in reforms, but may be very dangerous in the hands of extremists, both revolutionaries and their reactionary adversaries. The non-violent actions of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela may have had more effect.[11]

Mutual respect presupposes some extent of mutual trust. In the course of history it was assumed that one faith or ideology should rule society as an integrating factor. This view leads almost inevitably to discrimination of people adhering to a different ideology, to suppression, persecution, and religious wars. A characteristic of civilization is, however, that adherents of different ideologies respect each other and that members of various faith communities do not denounce each other. The freedom of faith or ideology should not be restricted by the norms for the relation frame of companionship. In contrast, the freedom of speaking about it in public ought to testify to mutual respect. By mutual tests one’s own faith is deepened, along with self-confidence and mutual trust. Therefore I believe that the relation frame of social intercourse succeeds that of trust.


14.3. Contents of faith


In their endeavour to improve the world people make use of documents, like transmitted stories, manifests, or programs, in which they express their belief in the future. Often this is a myth.

The word myth (from muthos, spoken word) has originally the meaning of a faith story, often concerned with the past, the emergence of humankind, of the tribe or of a village. Sometimes a myth also contains an expectation regarding the future.[12] In this case one sometimes speaks of a utopian scheme. A myth marks the transition from prehistory to history. Usually, a myth cannot be proved and therefore it received the negative image of an unreliable story. Someone accepting its truth does so because believing the story, not because it can be proved. Such a myth we find in Genesis 1-3, the story of creation, fall into sin and the promise of a redeemer. A myth does not present verifiable historical facts. It presents a world view having a connective and inspiring function in a community. In an association the foundation or the mission statement sometimes plays a comparable part, like a confession of faith in a church, a statement of principles in a political party, or a scientific world view directing research in a field of science.[13]

A myth is different from literary fiction, like John Tolkien's The lord of the rings. You may enjoy Tolkien’s book or the movie without believing anytime in the existence of hobbits, elves, and orks, or the spell of a ring. Similarly, you may enjoy the literary quality of the psalms or Isaiah’s prophecies without accepting these as faith documents. But nobody can be a Christian without believing that the Bible as a faith story is the true foundation of their religion.

A faith story like a myth is not a scientific text. Since the nineteenth century, scientific research of the scriptures has sown doubt about the reliability of the Bible. This research supposed wrongly that for Christian faith the Bible acts as a historical book or a scientific discourse. The Bible has not the intention to write history in Leopold von Ranke’s objectivist sense. Just like Homer’s Iliad and Odyssey,the Bible books may be used as documents for historical research, for each faith document has an historical origin. It is delivered by former generations, or put into words by a prophet like Ezra or Mohammed, an apostle like Paul, a preacher like Buddha, a reformer like Martin Luther, a philosopher like Karl Marx, or a scientist like Charles Darwin. During the nineteenth and early twentieth century, mechanism and determinism were prevalent myths in physics and beyond, succeeded by evolutionism since the twentieth century.

For the church, the bible is not first of all a historical document, but a normative directive for faith. Nobody needs to accept on historical grounds that Jesus is the son of God – the bible itself indicates that this is a confession of faith, not a scientifically verifiable fact. No more does anybody need to believe on the basis of historical research that Jesus has risen from the death, even if the bible mentions a large number of witnesses having met him alive after his death.[14] Christians accept the resurrection not primarily as a historical fact, but as the corner stone of their confession. ‘If Christ was not raised, then our gospel is null and void, and so is your faith.’[15] It is a dogma, a hopeful statement of faith. Meanwhile no Christian can doubt the historicity of the man Jesus. Because God became a human, He is part of human history. We could say that a myth as a faith story is primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith and secondarily by the semiotic one. Dogmas (often accepted by the church or another authority after theological investigation) appear to be characterized secondarily by the logical frame, and icons by the aesthetic frame.

A faith story may be immanent or transcendent. An immanent myth is directed to someone or something within the observable world. Nature religions, ancestor worship, the Orange myth in the Netherlands or Northern Ireland, humanist stories about the social contract or the Enlightenment, and the Communist Manifesto (1848) are examples. Transcendent faith stories refer to someone outside the created world, to the Creator and Redeemer, or to one or more Gods. Theism and deism are transcendent faiths; pantheism and atheism are immanent. (Theism confesses a personal God being concerned with the creation; deism assumes that the creator does not meddle with the creation; pantheism identifies God with nature, and atheism denies the existence of a transcendent God.[16])

Some transcendental faith communities are based on a holy script, a written revelation. Jews, Christians, Muslims, and others believe the truth of their book, but like any text it requires an exegesis. Various currents within each of these faith communities differ by varying interpretations, from orthodox to liberal. Orthodoxy objectifies faith to a precisely described content of faith, guarded by ecclesiastical or scriptural authority, to which one can only subject oneself (Islam = submission). Jewish, Christian, Islamic, and humanist fundamentalists show remarkable similarities, both in their literal interpretation of the Holy Scripture and in their intercourse with dissenters, characterized by intolerance, even if this does not necessarily deteriorate into violence.[17] Liberalism takes faith to be subjective and noncommittal, all human beings determining what they believe. According to a third view, a faith story is neither objective nor subjective, but normative. It indicates according to which values people ought to believe and live. In the faith community they elaborate these values into norms, applying them in freedom and responsibility, taking into account the circumstances in which they live.

More than Catholics, Protestants emphasize the personal rather than the communal confession of faith. They become responsible members of the church by making a public confession. The French word protester does not mean protest, but to witness or to confess (to protest is protester contre, but also ‘to protest against’ contains a confession of faith.[18])

The word protestatio was used for the first time in 1529 as the name of a document presented by Martin Luther and Ulrich Zwingli at the diet of Speyer, as a confession of the faith they shared.[19] Je proteste que Jesus Christ est le Seigneur du monde: a Protestant is a confessor. This means that Protestantism started before the Reformation, for instance with John Wyclif in England and John Hus in Bohemia. The ‘modern devotion’, from Geert Groote and Thomas à Kempis till Desiderius Erasmus and Menno Simons, strongly influenced Dutch Protestantism, which is not so exclusively Calvinian as is often assumed.[20]


14.4. Profile of an organized faith congregation


Besides free associations there are social groups which membership is not entirely voluntary. Into the nuclear or extended family or the state a child is born, and in principle or in practice this also applies to a faith community. In a little differentiated society faith is unbreakably connected to the family, the band, the tribe, or the state. In most churches this is still expressed in infant baptism, in other faith communities by the circumcision of boys. With or without such rituals most people belong unasked for to a faith community from their birth. However, not every child is admitted to an organized faith community, though consciously or unconsciously parents educate their children according to their own convictions. If parents leave their children free in their choice of faith, this rests on the conviction that this ought to be done so, if it is not a matter of negligence.

History knows both organized and unorganized faith communities. Christianity, Jewry, and Islam are not associations, but unorganized communities with a network structure. The originally Christian word ‘church’ (Greek: kuriakè, of the Lord) indicates an organized congregation, an association with members and a board. It may be a synagogue or a mosque, as well as a congregation, parish, or diocese, a national or international church, like the Catholic Church. A monastery or religious order, too, is an organized faith community. Like any other association, a local, national, or international church has a dual character.

Its generic character is primarily politically characterized by authority and discipline and secondarily by the relation frame of keeping company. In this respect a church does not differ much from other associations. Almost all Christian churches base their official authority in the apostolic succession, the ordination of an office holder by one or more other office bearers, in the inverse course of history going back to the apostles being the first office keepers. Local congregations are united into a regional, national, or worldwide connection. In Calvinian churches, one office bearer is not above another one, the church council being the head of the congregation. Other churches have an episcopal system, with an office hierarchy. The superstructure exerts authority over the congregations, coordinating many practical affairs, like the schooling of officials. In the Protestant churches one observes an increasing congregationalism, in which people are first of all members of the local parish, having little interest in the denomination and not caring very much about the central authority.

The specific character of a church, distinguishing it from other kinds of associations, is primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, by the transfer of experience of faith. This character is secondarily an aesthetic kind of worship or cult (see section 11.5), the common celebration of the shared faith. When the church becomes less dogmatic, stressing its doctrines lesser, its liturgy as prescription for worship comes more to the fore. In Catholic churches, the pastor is a priest, with the most important task to celebrate the mass, conceived as a repetition of Christ’s sacrifice. In a Protestant church service, the ministry of the word is central and the pastor is called a minister. Rabbis and imams, too, are not priests but ministers of the word. However, the preaching of the word is part of the celebration, including prayer, singing, collects, and sacraments, such that these associations, too, should be considered to have an aesthetic type rather than a semiotic one.


A church’s common content of faith is usually laid down in a confession, in a series of faith statements or dogma’s, determining the church’s specific character, its denomination. It indicates what the faithful ought to believe. All faith communities distinguish the true doctrine from false ones. They would not be trustworthy if they would not hold their own faith to be true. That does not take away that people may recognize organized and unorganized communities starting from different doctrines in their own right, if only because one should be aware of one’s own fallibility. Moreover many people are convinced that ecclesiastical dogmas are in part historically determined.


According to most Protestants a church cannot be identified with the Christian religion, with the relation to God, for then it would not be a human association. The intersubjective relation celebrated by a church concerns the shared beliefs about the relation to God and about the ways religion is expressed in the faith community and in dayly life. For this reason, there are so many different denominations and differences within churches, each specifying their religion into a faith, consisting of various views which are by no means all formally laid down in a confession or a church law. Many believers experience the dissension of and within the churches as a deficiency, as a consequence of sin. Nevertheless, the diversity is also an expression of the liberty of conscience and the responsibility of all people for their convictions and the ways to celebrate them. The problem of dissension arises from the identification of one’s own faith community with the true church or the kingdom of heavens. In contrast to the official Catholic view until the middle of the twentieth century, Protestants believe that the assembly of all believers is not a temporal association with an internal authority. They consider the body of Christ, the assembly of all believers, not as a temporal association with an internal authority installed and maintained by men, but as a purely religious community, in which Christ himself assembles his disciples and acknowledging no other authority than God’s.

Religion or world view as the concentration point of human activity in all relation frames is not restricted to the frame of faith. Immanuel Kant too distinguishes religion from ecclesiastical belief,[21] assuming that religion is universally based on reason and hardly differs from ethics, whereas faith concerns the specific dogmas of the churches. Whereas Herman Dooyeweerd as well as Kant merely distinguishes religion from faith, Karl Barth places religion as Unglaube (unbelief) over and against true belief: Religion is an attempt of autonomous man to achieve knowledge of God: ‘The impotent, but also haughty, presumptuous as well as helpless attempt, by which a man should want to but is unable to achieve, because he only can do that when and if God himself gives it to him: recognition of the truth, recognition of God).’[22]

Of course, faith and religion have much in common. Inter alia, religion concerns the final certainty which a person trusts unconditionally, his ultimate faith. However, a world view is more than trust alone. Protestants believe that all of ordinary life is drenched with religion, which cannot be confined to any church. Like John Calvin and Immanuel Kant,[23] Abraham Kuyper distinguished the visible church as a temporal ecclesiastical institute, an association organized by men, from the invisible church as a religious community of all believers, the body of Christ. Kuyper reproached the Roman-Catholic Church for identifying its own visible church with the invisible one, not recognizing other churches. Until the twentieth century, the identification of the body of Christ with one’s own temporal organized faith community, conceived as the only true church, has led to charges of heresy and persecution because of faith. The ecumenical movement in the second half of that century led many churches to the mutual recognition of each other’s celebration of word and sacrament, of being a church, and of the offices. Since the second Vatican council also the Roman-Catholic Church recognizes each Christian faith community to be an expression of the body of Christ, celebrating community in the service of word and sacrament.


Freedom of faith is not restricted to Christian belief, for it includes each conviction, each ideology. It implies political freedom as well, the freedom to propagate political convictions on the public domain. Interest and action groups usually restrict themselves to a part of the public domain. In contrast, a political party is concerned with the public domain as a whole, and with the internal organization of its guardian, the republic. A political party is an association primarily characterized by the relation frame of faith, but it is not secondarily typified by worship. Therefore it is not a church. Sometimes a political party is based on state power, sometimes it is an interest group, but it ought to be free from the state and to serve general interest, according to its ideology. Its primarily ideological character is secondarily based in an argued program of principles, a political manifesto and an action program.[24]

A political party is exclusively directed to the public domain including the republic that administers the public domain, whereas the church is primarily concerned with the relevance of its faith to its members. The character of a political party is typically interlaced with that of the state, in a way that no longer exists for the church since the separation of church and state. The political ideology implies first of all an argued view of the state and public government. Nevertheless the similarities between faith communities and political parties are striking. For some people their party is a substitute for the church, for others a place where people from separated churches can meet each other. The members of a political party trust each other more than they trust members of a different party.


14.5. The separation of church and state


In the relation frame of faith and trust the public domain may be called oecumene, originally the inhabited world, now the as yet not realized norm for an intersubjective network of Christian, Jewish, Islamic, or other faith communities. Ecumenism expresses that its members ought not to fight each other. On the basis of a common conviction, they ought to live together in a sphere of tolerance, respecting each other’s freedom of conscience. In each Western city churches form a network of social services, with an undeniable integrating function.

The view that on the public domain freedom of worship ought to exist is often considered a fruit of the Enlightenment. However, the Dutch Republic proclaimed the freedom of conscience already from its foundation in the Union of Utrecht on January 6, 1579. It recognized the freedom of worship since 1650, albeit that until the end of the eighteenth century only the Reformed church was allowed to preach its faith in public.[25] Also in the Middle Ages many examples can be given of countries and cities tolerating views of minorities. Yet the public domain has long been dominated by a single faith or ideology, repressing, persecuting, or expelling those who believe differently. Countries with a state faith tolerate other faiths sometimes only if their adherents worship in buildings not recognizable as churches, or segregate into a ghetto. Only in a differentiated, free, in particular municipal society, different faith communities can manifest themselves freely.


During the eleventh-century struggle about the right of investiture of bishops, culminating in 1122 in the Concordat of Worms, the Catholic Church declared itself independent of the Holy Roman Empire.[26] At the end of the Middle Ages, stimulated by the Reformation, many European states came into conflict with the Catholic Church because of its tremendous wealth: it owned up to one third of all land. The separation of church and state, already in the early fourteenth century proposed by William of Ockham,[27] is adopted by the Enlightenment philosophers and laid down in the constitution of the United States after its foundation in 1776, almost two hundred years after the Union of Utrecht. In Europe it is gradually introduced after the French revolution. The Roman-Catholic Church reluctantly acquiesced in the separation of church and state since the second Vatican council (1962-65). In many Islamic countries, the state is not separated from the faith community, but two countries with a large Islamic population (Indonesia and Turkey) are interesting exceptions. The Islam does not know an international co-ordinating authority, like the Catholic Church has. Comparable to Protestantism, it is sometimes nationally organized, like in Morocco or Saudi-Arabia, where the king is also the head of the Islam.

Wherever a society displays tribal characteristics, the relation between faith and government is strong. In a little differentiated society the community coincides with the tribe or the settlement. The first settlements were faith communities as well. The majority of the inhabitants of many villages or quarters still belong to the same church. The first large empires arose from coalitions of tribes, each with its own God. Possibly for this reason they are characterized by polytheism, without separation of faith and government. In the Greek polis and the Roman Empire too, state and religion were strongly interlaced. In contrast, Buddhism, Christianity, and Islam (which binds itself to the state if circumstances allow it) emerged as popular movements, against state or tribe worship.


The Christian medieval division of public authority between the church and the state was based on the dualism of mind and body. In this view the church is competent on the terrain of the salvation of the citizen’s soul and all spiritual matters. The state was almost exclusively concerned with the bodily affairs. This dualism may have led to a totalitarian society, because it supposed that everything belongs either to the competence of the church or to that of the state. A matter of continuous concern was, whether education belongs to the domain of the church or of the state. This problem can only be solved by recognizing that church and state do not exclusively divide the terrains of life. With his vision of sphere sovereignty, Abraham Kuyper pronounced the independent character of social groups, deriving their right of existence neither from the state, nor from the church. In the struggle between state schools and church schools, Kuyper pointed out a third road: free, independent schools.

Earlier than others, Calvinists accepted the separation of church and state, being co-ordinate rather than subordinate. This does not mean that the Calvinists considered the state to be religiously neutral. They propagated the idea of a Christian state, like any association subject to divine ordinances rather than to the church. Both church and state should take part in ordinary life, being religious in all respects.


The separation of church and state implies the recognition that the republic (rather than the church) is the guardian of the public domain, and the obligation of the republic to warrant the freedom of other associations than the state to manifest themselves in public, no less than individuals. By no means does it imply that churches do not have a public task. Like political parties and interest groups they have a message for society and a message for their members about society. Each church ought to have the freedom to testify in public of its faith, converting people according to reformation as the directive order of time for the relation frame of faith. Even if faith communities tolerate each other, they often react negatively to apostates, being rejected from the faith community and sometimes from society at large.[28] The propagation of faith by missionaries is not allowed in many countries. Where people or associations are not allowed to testify of their urge of reformation, society is in danger of petrifying into conservatism.


The separation of church and state since the Middle Ages has led to a continuing reinforcement of the position of the state at the cost of the church. Since the Enlightenment, with its belief in universal reason, the state has even taken over the function of the church as the all encompassing institute of faith, degrading the church to a part of the state. According to Georg Hegel, in the ideal state the private interests of the citizens coincide with the general interest.[29] Their freedom consists of acting in complete rational harmony with the state:

‘The perfect State is the perfectly rational structure in which men fully understand their inevitable relations to each other and to everything else, and which they perpetuate by freely willing it …’[30]


In the twentieth century this view constituted the basis of fascist, national-socialist, and communist states.

‘This is one of the most powerful and dangerous arguments in the entire history of human thought. … Objective good can be discovered only by the use of reason; to impose it on others is only to activate the dormant reason within them; to liberate people is to do just that for them which, were they rational, they would do for themselves, no matter what they in fact say they want; therefore some forms of the most violent coercion are tantamount to the most absolute freedom. This, of course, is the great justification of the State despotism advocated by Hegel and all his followers from Marx onwards.’ [31]


It sharply contradicts the insight that the state as a republic only guards the public domain in order to warrant the real freedom of individuals and associations. This insight, that in the second half of the twentieth century became common, led to a decrease of the significance of the state in favour of other associations. The increasing globalization stimulated this phenomenon, because especially large associations operate on the public domain ever more across the boundaries of the separate states.

[1] Armstrong 1993, 33, 229 (chapters 1, 6).

[2] Burckhardt 1905, 64 (section 1.3), 71 (section 2.2).

[3] Jaspers 1949, 14; Armstrong 1993, 42-43 (chapter 1).

[4] MacIntyre 1981, 234.

[5] Cassirer 1944, 55.

[6] Kuiper 2009, chapter 2.

[7] MacCulloch 2003, 131.

[8] Doorman 1994, 67-69; Safranski 2007, chapter 2; Stafleu 2018, chapter 11.

[9] See Popper 1945, 170-181 on the distinction of ‘utopian’ and ‘piecemeal social engineering’. 

[10] See the analysis of the French revolution by Groen van Prinsterer 1847; de Tocqueville 1835-1856, 235-313; Arendt 1963; Schama 1989. See also Solé 1997.

[11] Hoogerwerf 1999, 199-205.

[12] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 325-330; Langer 1960, 188 (chapter 7); Smit 1987, 83-85; Troost  2004, 232-233; Von der Dunk 2007, 157-234; Ankersmit 2005, 400-405 (section 8.10).

[13] Stafleu 1998, 1.5.

[14] I Corinthians 15, 6.

[15] I Corinthians 15, 14.

[16] Clouser 1991, chapter 3.

[17] Borradori 2003, 36 (introduction), 50 (section 1.1).

[18] MacIntyre 1981, 71.

[19] MacCulloch 2003, xx.

[20] Huizinga 1919, chapter 14, 16; Romein and Romein 1938-1940, 31-56, 75-97; Duby 1961-1962, 252-253; Israel 1995, I, chapter 3; MacCulloch 2003, 22-23; 2009, 510-511, 535-543 (chapter 16).

[21] Kant 1793.

[22] Barth 1957, 51-53 (original edition: I 2, 327-330).

[23] Calvin 1559, III; Kant 1793, 142 (section 2.2).

[24] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 605-624.

[25] Israel 1995, 397-435 (chapter 16), 539-560 (chapter 21), 737-775 (chapter 27), 1151-1199 (chapters 38, 39).

[26] Fukuyama 2011, 262-267.

[27] Duby 1961-1962, 296-297.

[28] Hoogerwerf 1999, 71-72.

[29] Hegel 1840, 52-69; White 1973, 108.

[30] Berlin 2006, 247.

[31] Berlin 2006, 124. See also ibid. xxviii-xxix.


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 15



 The relation frame of

keeping company







15.1. The ambiguity of the word ‘social’

15.2. The meaning of the relation frame of keeping company

15.3. The relation frame of keeping company does not imply authority

15.4. Companionship

15.5. Education

15.6. Customs

15.7. Clubs and interest groups

15.8. Society


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 15. Keeping company


15.1. The ambiguity of the word ‘social’


In writing, Herman Dooyeweerd avoided using the term ‘social aspect’. In Dutch it is called ‘omgangszijde’,[1] which in the New critique is translated into ‘the aspect of social intercourse’,[2] but could perhaps better be translated by ‘the aspect of keeping company’ or ‘companionship’, or more freely, ‘meeting people’. However, in the New critique’s index of subjects and authors it is already called the ‘social aspect’,[3] probably because the English language has no satisfactory equivalent for ‘omgang’, and this name has become customary.

So, what’s in a name? I am fully aware of the unavoidable ambiguity of words. For instance, I know very well that in English ‘a company’ is an economically qualified enterprise, not to be confused with ‘keeping company’. Hence, one should feel free to stick to the label ‘social aspect’, if one is aware of the many different and sometimes conflicting meanings of the word social. For example, in the political and societal use of language, the word social often refers to collective care, easily leading to the misunderstanding that collective care is qualified by the aspect of social intercourse instead of by the relation frame of loving care. Hannah Arendt rightly observes that the nineteenth century ‘social problem’ had better be called the ‘problem of poverty’.[4]

The word social (from Latin socius = companion or ally) usually corresponds to society at large, not to one of its aspects.[5] Social activity concerns what people do in communities or associations, which is most of the time not qualified by the relation frame of companionship. Hence, Dooyeweerd used the word social mostly not in connection to the aspect of keeping company, but ‘in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike’.[6]

Some people seem to believe that anything being done by two or more people together is ‘social’. In several papers and books since 1970,[7] I have argued that for the analysis of both relation frames and characters (Dooyeweerd’s modal aspects and structures of individuality), subject-subject relations are far more relevant than subject-object relations, being as important as law-subject relations. I believe that the modal aspects are mostly concerned with these three types of relations within the relation frames, to which one should add the mutual relations between these frames, the anti- and retrocipations. That is why I prefer to call the modal aspects ‘relation frames’. Now it will be clear that the subject-subject relations in the natural relation frames, such as the quantitative difference or ratio of two numbers, the kinetic relation of relative motion, or biotic genetic relations, cannot be called social. I believe that in the normative relation frames, i.e., those succeeding the natural ones, subject-subject relations play a similar constitutive part. I shall give some examples later on. But if the ‘social aspect’ is to be distinguished from the other normative ones, one had better not consider the subject-subject relations in the latter aspects to be ‘social’. On the other hand, in line with Dooyeweerd’s preference for using the word social ‘in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike’, one may consider which types of subject-subject relations should be called social. My suggestion would be to speak of social subject-subject relations if and only if they occur within unorganized communities; within associations; or within public networks, including society. I admit that this choice is arbitrary, but making it one had better avoid the expression ‘social aspect’, not because it would be wrong, but because it lacks precision.[8]


15.2. The meaning of the relation frame

of keeping company


Both subject-subject and subject-object relations in the natural relation frames are subjected to natural laws, being coercive, imperative. In the normative relation frames, such relations are subjected to norms, during history derived from normative principles or values. I assume that each normative relation frame is characterized by invariable normative principles. In the case of the relation frame of keeping company, which I consider to be the foundation of civilization, I believe these principles are aptly expressed by respect. Keeping each other’s company in a decent way requires having respect for each other’s integrity, privacy and dignity, for instance by being polite. In contrast to universal normative principles, given in the creation, norms are variable, human-made, historically and culturally determined. The normative principle of having respect for each other is expressed in a great variety of norms, such as how to greet each other.


Human intersubjective relations find expression in many ways, depending on various circumstances. I discovered that in several if not all normative relation frames asymmetrical relations between people indicate some kind of cultural transfer. In the technical relation frame this appears to be the transfer of skills from a master to a pupil; in the aesthetical frame the transfer of e.g. musical experience from an orchestra to its audience; in the semiotic frame the communication of interpreted information from a speaker or writer to a listener or reader. In the frame of companionship, this transfer may be called education: how children and adults learn to behave as decent and civilized people, in order to get a place in society. It is the transfer of customs, manners and norms from one generation to the next. I submit that these various kinds of cultural transfer constitute a large part of human history, acting as ‘engines of history’ (chapter 8).


Next, subject-subject relations occur in all kinds of unorganized communities. A lingual community, for instance, is characterized by the intersubjective relation of speaking the same language (section 12.7). As a community it is characterized by the way its members have social intercourse with each other, which in this case is lingual, whence it is founded in the semiotic aspect. But one could also argue that it is primarily semiotically characterized. This apparent ambiguity arises from the fact that such a community has no character (as I understand it) of its own. Rather, it is objectively determined by the genuine character of the language concerned, which however is neither a community nor an association, but a semiotically qualified artefact.

It does not seem to be difficult to point out unorganized communities or relation networks characterized by the relation frame of companionship. People frequently join parties in which no specific authority is present, like a coffee break at work or at a meeting, a birthday visit, a reception, a wedding or a funeral, in a canteen, pub, bar or restaurant. The manners in a small party differ from those in a large one, being more or less formal, displaying more or less social control. The norm for a party is cosiness. By their manners, all present should contribute positively to the conviviality that nobody excludes. Someone not adapting himself is ignored or expelled. At a party one may arrive conveniently or inconveniently. One cannot join a party just like that, that would not testify to respect. One greets, looking or asking whether one is welcome. Leaving a party, one apologizes and says goodbye. Someone who disobeys these unwritten rules is called uneducated or uncivilised. A party is not an association, for it has no members and lacks a governing board.


Intersubjective relations are more formal in associations, i.e., organized communities having members and some kind of government exerting authority. In this context, the way one keeps each other’s company is determined by relations characterized by the association concerned, in particular those determined by authority and discipline. Each association has its own social manners and someone becoming a member should make himself familiar with these manners. Someone becoming an employee in an enterprise, a member of a chess club, or visiting a café will soon become acquainted with the ruling conventions, customs and habits. It takes more time and effort to integrate into a new country after migration or into a local church after one’s move to a new city. The social norm for any association is coherence, solidarity or ‘social belonging’.[9]


Associations specifically qualified by the relation frame of keeping company are first of all clubs, like societies for students or for elder people and sports clubs. Besides, the relation frame of keeping company appears to qualify organized interest groups. Its members entrust the promotion of their interests to the association. In a differentiated society people have diverse interests, pursuing various goals. The members of a pressure group may be individuals or associations. Practitioners of the same profession unite into interest groups. Like unions of employees or employers these are founded in the technical relation frame, in labour. Besides we know associations for the promotion of the interests of youth, students or elder people, of cyclists and car drivers, of animals, the environment, nature conservation and a lot more.


Networks of normative subject-subject relations constitute the public domain. In my view, any normative relation frame characterizes such networks. In the relation frame of companionship, the public domain is called society, where individuals and associations ought to respect each other’s manners, customs and interests. Hence, society does not exist of people, but of public social relations between individuals and associations. An unstructured set of human beings does not constitute a society but a crowd. Civilization requires respect for each other’s interests. An intensive form of promoting interests is the formation of social networks. Making contacts, seeking support, becoming a member of a board, visiting receptions, lobbying, demonstrating and striking are all activities on the public domain to promote interests. Hence, the public social network, called society, partly consists of what is aptly called public relations. Civilization leads to a public social moral, often clashing with the mores of classes, standings and cultures. On the public domain various interests meet each other. The state government guards the general interest by balancing, protecting and if possible promoting the private interests of individuals and associations. The general interest consists in the proper functioning of the public domain.

In the twentieth century, the character of unorganized or organized groups forming a network was studied by the systems theory of Talcot Parsons, Niklas Luhmann and others. The systems theory exerts a large influence on the science of organizations, in which Luhmann was inspired by electric and electronic networks, Parsons by living organisms and both by cybernetics, the science of control. According to Parsons, an interactive system consists of a number of interacting units; a set of rules determining its extension; an ordered interactive process, and an environment with which interaction takes place continuously and systematically. Interaction means that each participant is both actively and passively involved in the process. According to Parsons, this may lead to a stable and orderly result if the participants keep to a common normative base. Luhmann denies that norms form a necessary element of a social system.[10] (More about organizations in section 15.5).


Finally, for a Protestant philosophical anthropology, the relation of anybody with Jesus Christ is a decisive subject-subject relation. In fact, any religion finds its expression in each normative relation frame, not only in that of faith. Intercourse with God requires reverence for God and respect for the faith of other people. Blasphemy and swearing injure believers and is therefore at least uncivilized and ill mannered. Orthodox Jews expand the reverence for God unto his name, which they avoid to pronounce. The intercourse with God is sometimes called mystic, gnostic or esoteric. In all worships, prayer is a form of keeping company with God. In Revelations, John compares the daily company of the parish with Christ as that of a bride with her groom – more intimately would not be imaginable.


In the present chapter, I prefer concentrating on subject-subject relations. This does not mean that I would consider subject-object relations unimportant for the understanding of the normative relation frames, as amply demonstrated in chapters 10-13. In fact, I believe that each normative frame qualifies artefacts, being products, instruments or phenomena of human activity, including typical events, processes and circumstances caused by people. Briefly put, I consider customs, habits, manners and conventions to be artefacts qualified by the relation frame of keeping company, giving form to social intercourse. In a petrified society, manners are formal, making an old-fashioned impression. In a developed society, customs (etiquette) allow people the freedom to keep each other’s company in a responsible way. Manners are habits, they have been formed in the course of time, they differ locally, they change and are influenced by the situation in which one happens to be. Fashions and customs are differentiated norms, which one ought to keep within a large margin of freedom, based on the unchangeable and universal value of mutual respect. Someone diverging from a habit without any apology shows lack of respect and is impolite.


15.3. The relation frame of keeping company does not imply authority


In chapter 17, I propose to divide the juridical aspect into two, separating the political from the juridical one. My view, expressed in section 15.2 above, that the relation frame of keeping company is ruled by respect as a normative principle should not be interpreted as being related to any kind of authority, except within associations. I admit that in authoritative cultures people make that connection. According to Aristotle, honour is the goal of public life, the main part of the happiness or well-being (eudaimonia in Greek) of a free man, i.e., someone being free to dispose of his household, his wife, his children, his slaves and his other possessions.[11] Honour is the confirmation that one has done well to other people. To be censured for his acts is considered to be dishonourable and shameful. In some cultures honour is still the highest good. Someone losing honour has to take revenge (like in a duel), or commit suicide (like harakiri). Up till the eighteenth century, nobility considered it its chivalrous task to defend the honour of itself or of king and country, eventually with the loss of one’s life or that of others. Only the nobility and the clergy were worthy of esteem, ordinary people merely received contempt. In a modern society honour is only given to people having done something extraordinary. Remains of the former honour can be seen in forms of address like colonel, father (for a priest) or professor, majesty, excellency or your honour. In particular in a hierarchical organization like the army these titles play an important part. Honour is a public form of one-sided respect. In the past, honour corresponded to the position someone had in his household or family or society. Nowadays honour is individual and marginal. This also applies to its complement: insult and defamation of one’s honour.[12] In the past, insults often led to violent conflicts: rows, feuds, duels, vengeance or wars. In a civilized society one tries to settle insults amicably or in court. Not one-sided honour, but mutual respect, esteem and appreciation form the foundation of a modern, free and civilized society. A free society can only exist if besides individual persons, various associations respect each other concerning their own responsibility.[13] A social group has its own group culture distinguishing it from other groups. Usually, a cultural elite sets its fashion. Sometimes, a group within a group has a subculture. If it dissociates from the larger culture, it is called a counter culture. A society displaying various cultures on the public domain is called multicultural. Such a society can only succeed if based on mutual respect for each other’s cultural differences.


During my investigation of characters, I discovered the duality of widely differing characters like those of physical particles, works of art, and associations. This empirical insight is not based on some a priori hypothesis, but I believe and argue that it helps to understand these characters. The generic character of any association I believe to be qualified by the political frame, and to be founded in the frame of keeping company. The specific character of an association may be characterized by any normative relation frame, and is founded in its projection on a preceding frame. This view allows of a much larger variety than Herman Dooyeweerd’s, who holds that all associations except the natural ones are founded in the technical or formative aspect, or the cultural or historical aspect. Hence, in Dooyeweerd’s analysis, the only distinguishing feature is the qualifying aspect: juridical for a state, pistic for a church, economic in a company, etc. I find this unsatisfactory in several ways.

Besides the arguments given above based on my analysis of the internal organization of an association, there is another reason why I do not agree with Dooyeweerd’s assumption about its foundation. It results from a slightly different view on the technical relation frame. I prefer to call it the technical frame, qualifying skilful labour, referring to the Greek technè, meaning art, craft, ability or command. I put forward that one should not confuse the command based on technical skills (which, indeed belongs to the technical frame) either with psychic control (as occurring in any nerve system, chapter 7) or with the command based on political power or authority. On the one side, one does not need to be skilful in a technical sense to exert authority, which requires more wisdom than skills. On the other hand, to have acquired some technical skill does not entitle anybody with some kind of authority in an association.

In my view authority cannot be reduced to power, control or command over people, like Herman Dooyeweerd does. If some authority has to resort to the exertion of power, it is a testimonial of incompetence, only excusable if the relation of authority and discipline is severely disturbed. Dooyeweerd refers here to the historical modal aspect, assumed to be foundational for all organized communities (with the exception of naturally founded associations like the family). I argued my disagreement by pointing out that authority interpreted in this way cannot be distinguished from coercion. Therefore, associations in which unjust coercion occurs are rightly condemned. My argument in this context that there are states (in the course of history probably the vast majority of states) that do not consider themselves subject to justice does not imply that these states are justified in taking this view. It only implies that the character of a state cannot be qualified by the juridical relation frame, for otherwise one should have to admit that such states are not states at all. Hence, I do not agree with Dooyeweerd assuming that without the juridical aspect qualifying it, the state ‘would degenerate into an organized military gang of robbers, because of its very foundation in armed force’.[14] In contrast, it seems obvious that a state cannot exist without a government, qualified, as I argued, by the political relation frame.


15.4. Companionship


Social integration may be considered the temporal order for events in the relation frame of social intercourse or companionship (the Latin word socius means companion). The meaning of integration is to direct social development. Emancipation means to further the integration of backward, often discriminated groups. Integration within a city or country does not occur when people adopt each other’s culture (that is assimilation), but when they learn to associate with each other in a respectful way. Yet, integration means that a minority group adjusts itself to a dominant majority. This concerns in particular the relation frames following that of social intercourse: economics, politics, justice, and care. Therefore one may have to learn to understand the dominant culture (in particular its language), but this should be possible without abandoning one’s own culture.

Mutual respect or recognition, accepting each other’s differences, indicates the universal value for integration as the foundation of any society, even if a society without any kind of suppression is more the exception than the rule. Even after the Dutch Republic, the United States, and revolutionary France accepted the equal rights of their male citizens, they defended the inequality of other people, in particular slaves. Each movement of emancipation aims at abolishing the arrears of a group of citizens. Respect for women, for people of a different race, for people with a deviating sexual disposition or religion had to be forced at many places and times. Emancipation is strongly connected to social development. All emancipation and liberation movements in the nineteenth and twentieth century were born from protests against unjustified and unjust discrimination or inequality. Discrimination is based on a lack of respect for the differences between people. The part played by people in society does not merely depend on their specific properties, talents, schooling, and interest, but also on the way they are integrated in society, the way they are able to express their specific responsibility in freedom. Where this integration is absent, one gets crime, gangs, hooliganism, class struggle, resistance, and revolution. Successful integration of a more or less homogeneous group of immigrants seems to take about forty years. Only the third generation is integrated, witness their command of language, school performances, mixed marriages, and the position at the labour market. However, the history of the black people in the United States proves that it may take a much longer period. Individual immigrants or small groups sometimes perform better.


Mutual respect, the central social intersubjective relation, presupposes some extent of mutual trust. In the course of history it was assumed that one faith or ideology should rule society as an integrating factor. This view leads almost inevitably to discrimination of people adhering to a different ideology, to suppression, persecution, and religious wars. A characteristic of civilization is, however, that adherents of different ideologies respect each other and that members of various faith communities do not denounce anyone else. The freedom of faith or ideology should not be restricted by the norms for the relation frame of companionship. In contrast, the freedom of speaking about it in public ought to testify to mutual respect. By mutual tests one’s own faith is deepened, along with self-confidence and mutual trust. Therefore I believe that the relation frame of social intercourse succeeds that of trust.


15.5. Education


The home base of education and nurture, the nuclear family (or its replacement) educates children to keep each other’s company and that of others. Education serves as the dynamic engine of integration, the temporal order for the relation frame of companionship. Sometimes called the origin of all virtues,[15] politeness lays the foundation for the discipline required by the household and the school. Education means making children able to keep company in a cautious way, with other people, with plants and animals, with properties and the environment. This ability also concerns the manner by which people have social intercourse in other associations than the family as well as in public, in harmony with the customs and the laws of the country in which they live. Who has been educated elsewhere shall have to get used to these, which is also a kind of education.

The norm for education is that children grow to adulthood, meaning the ability to arrange their life in freedom and responsibility. Education has a strong ethical component: how you ought to behave both in social contexts and in all human acts. If people have insufficient norm consciousness due to lack of education, they must be forced to learn it, for instance in their work situation, in the army, in a hospital, or in prison.

In a totalitarian society, the state or the church tries to take over the task of education from the parents, entirely or partially. Its failure points out that education is a civilization task for parents, even if they often fall short of the mark. Only in extreme cases where the parental education is evidently absent, the government ought to interfere. Even then a constitutional state does not take the education over, but it nominates replacing educators.

Besides parents educating their children, children educate each other, by keeping each other’s company, by playing together. Grandparents and neighbours taking care of children educate them as well, under the parents’ responsibility. In a day nursery and at school, nurses and teachers adopt part of the pedagogic task. Education occurs in all situations in which children meet others: at home, in the street, at school, in shops, in clubs, in the church, in a disco, and even at work. Nevertheless, the parents are responsible for the integral education, until their child has grown up. This responsibility comes to the fore in the choice of opportunities frequented by their children, the occasions where they seek each other’s company. Education succeeds best in the practice of keeping company, by practiced norm consciousness rather than by theoretical instruction.[16]

Like schools provide the children an entrance to culture (the first five normative relation frames), education introduces them to civilization (the next five frames). Education (the German Bildung[17]) is not the same as schooling, instruction, or training, even if the latter is often called education. Therefore parents should not be concerned with the contents of instruction. Nevertheless, education is continued at schools. The Protestant view that the school should be supervised by parents finds its ground in the strong connection between education and learning, complicated by the fact that the school is responsible for the contents of learning (the curriculum) and the parents for education. Teachers are trained for the contents and for the didactics of their teaching, as well as for the pedagogy of education. As a result, the school is foremost suited to sustain the parents’ educational task. As a child grows older, at school the accent shifts from education to instruction. Someone is called an adult when their education is finished, having learned to keep one other’s company. There is no necessary connection between education and learning in schools for adults.


15.6. Customs


Exchanging presents is a universal means of establishing and maintaining companionship, to be distinguished from economic being of service.[18] A present (a book, for instance) is an object in this act, but it is itself not characterized by that frame. In contrast, customs, habits, manners, and conventions may be considered to be artefacts qualified by the relation frame of keeping company, shaping social intercourse. In a petrified society, manners are formal and extensive. In a developing society, customs (etiquette) allow people the freedom to keep each other’s company in a responsible way. Manners are habits, they have been formed in the course of time, they differ locally, they change and are influenced by the situation in which one happens to be. Customs are norms which one ought to keep, based on the invariant and universal value of mutual respect. Whoever diverges from a habit without any apology shows lack of respect and is impolite. They should be ashamed, and their relatives or friends are ashamed because of one’s behaviour. Shame is a strong means for maintaining the customs of company.[19]

The words ‘habit’, ‘habitude’ and ‘habituation’ are related to ‘habitat’, the natural home of a species of plants or animals. The set of habits which someone achieves in one’s education and applies when keeping company is called one’s habitus, determining one’s behaviour to a large extent, making it predictable.[20] Someone accepting the common habits finds a place, a living in the community. Who refuses to do so is not socially integrated. Guests accept the customs of their host, who respects the diverging habits of the guests. Immigrants ought to take up the customs of their new country. Somebody keeping the customs in all circumstances and respecting those of others has good manners and is a civilized person.


15.7. Clubs and interest groups


An unorganized group of people meeting with the purpose of keeping each other’s company is sometimes called a party. It is a community, to be distinguished from an organized association, which generic character is secondarily characterized by the relation frame of companionship, but primarily by the political frame, by authority and discipline. A party also differs from a community which is not typified by companionship, but for instance by a shared language or belief. The manners in a small party like a birthday differ from those in a large one like the public at a football match, being less formal but with more social control. The norm for a party is cosiness, indicating the temporal order of integration. By their social conduct, all persons present should contribute positively to the group’s conviviality, excluding nobody.

A space where people meet is sometimes called an opportunity. A place to eat or drink, a restaurant, pub, or club, is often more intended to keep company than to take food. Many institutes have a representative meeting place. A sports club has a bar. A church building has a cultic purpose, but it also has a social function. Sometimes it includes a special meeting space. Churches and institutes of care exploit youth hostels and clubs for elder people. In all these places different customs prevail and those present should adapt to the atmosphere determining the opportunity.


Associations characterized by the relation frame of keeping company are first of all social clubs, like societies for students, the youth at large or elder people. A football club or a theatre company is typified by the frame of keeping company, having an aesthetic focus.

Besides clubs, the relation frame of keeping company characterizes organized interest groups like trade unions, even if these usually find their destiny elsewhere, for instance in the economic or political frame. Its members entrust the promotion of their interests to the association. Clubs and interest groups play a historically important part in the emancipation of minority groups. However, opposite movements also occur. Since the 1970’s, the differences in income and wealth between the highest and the lowest has increased everywhere,[21] accompanied by a decreasing mobility between ethnic and age groups, and the rise of powerful oligarchies.[22]


15.8. Society


Society consists of public relation networks integrating individuals and associations.[23] Making contacts, seeking support, being a member of boards and committees, visiting receptions, lobbying, demonstrating, and striking are social activities on the public domain to promote interests. Nowadays the ‘social media’ play an increasingly important part.

On the public domain various interests meet each other. The general interest consists of the right functioning of the public domain. The republic guards this by balancing the interests of private persons and associations, protecting these and if possible promoting these. In particular the republic ought to enable the social integration and emancipation of diverse parts of the population. Whether it should also stimulate, facilitate, or control these is disputed, in particular because the effects of these actions appear to be limited.


Since several decades people consider themselves increasingly as world citizens and multiculturalism takes centre stage, as if it were a new phenomenon. However, multicultural societies existed also in antiquity, in large cities like Alexandria or Rome. In Jerusalem the apostle Peter surprised his audience by making himself clear to many groups of the population. In Athens, Paul met a multitude of Gods.[24] Chinese and Indian cities are old examples of a multicultural society. Cities in the United States, Canada, Australia, and South-America present more modern examples. In villages and city quarters one may still find small communities with a more or less homogeneous culture, but every large city displays a multitude of cultures. Therefore it should not surprise that immigrants feel better at home in a city than in a village. There culture prospers, like in the cities of the Dutch Republic, owing their wealth but also their welfare to an official policy of partial tolerance of faith, giving rise to a reservoir of talent of both citizens and immigrants.[25]


Until the First World War both the Hapsburg and the Ottoman empire maintained a form of group tolerance in a multicultural society. After the Turks conquered a large part of Europe and the Near-East, they allowed the Greek-orthodox, Armenian-orthodox, and Jewish minorities the freedom to exert their faith, and even to govern themselves according to their own norms, on the condition that they recognized the supremacy of the Islam.[26] Their relations with the Muslims were strongly regulated. In particular any missionary activity was prohibited. Moreover individual Muslims were not allowed to change of faith. Although the minorities as a group had a large measure of self-governance, the individual freedom of conscience was strongly restricted. This form of repressive tolerance is one-sided, imposed by the government which could anytime withdraw it, like Louis XIV did in 1685 with the Edict of Nantes (1598).[27] Real tolerance rests on mutual respect, which the republic should not enforce but protect.


From the Reformation to the American and French revolutions, citizens have liberated themselves from monarchy, nobility, and ecclesiastical hierarchy, taking over the leadership of the network society. In the nineteenth century, when the cities displayed ever more differentiation without much integration, the idea of a cultural unity transferred from the settlement to the nation. Nationalists believed that the cultural differences within a country could be bridged by an often mystic unity.[28] In the nineteenth century Protestants were more inclined to nationalism than Catholics or Jews, and liberals more than socialists. Often one emphasized the uniqueness of the nation by dissociating from other nations, getting these in wrong. In Protestant countries one identified the nation with Protestantism, and Catholics and Jews were kept outside the nation, by calling them ‘transmontanists’ and ‘internationalists’ respectively. Nineteenth-century Austrian-Hungarian and German anti-semitism was initially more nationalist than racist, but it became a fertile breeding-ground for the genocide of the twentieth century. After the rivalries between settlements grew into conflicts between peoples, the search for the own identity degenerated into the glorification of the nation and atrocious wars. Outside the national borders one only recognized enemies and allies against enemies.[29] Nationalism is a perverse form of historism, because it disdains the history of other peoples, predominating that of its own. Georg Hegel and his adherents have provided this view with a philosophical justification:


‘The self-consciousness of a particular Nation… is the objective actuality in which the Spirit of the Time invests its Will. Against this absolute Will the other particular national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World ...’[30]


The national state, characterized by absolute power, cannot but strive after expansion. This view, influential not only in Germany but also elsewhere in Europe, has led to the long European war (1914-1991).

Only later the European countries, having had in preceding centuries the pretention to export their civilization to their colonies, laboriously arrived at the insight that cooperation based on mutual tolerance should be preferred to nationalism. Then it also appeared that Europe’s main export product to the third world was not the pretended civilization, but nationalism.


Integration of newcomers takes place in the family, at school, and on the floor,[31] in the direct environment and in shops, in churches and mosques; in short: in the public domain, much more than in the state. Nationalism has proved to be a bad form of integration. It is an attempt to counter the integration of others. It does not contribute to the historical development of a free society, but is reactionary throughout. Nationalism is a modern form of tribalism, in which one’s own tribe is the measure of society. It does not lead to social integration, but to discrimination and expulsion.

The twentieth century witnessed an upsurge of tribalism in Yugoslavia. After the death in 1980 of Yosip Broz (better known as Tito), who ruled the country since the second world war under a nationalist communist regime independent of the Soviet Union, the six constituting republics fell apart and started a civil war lasting from 1992 to 1999. The warring tribes were Serbs, Croats, Muslims, Albanians and others. The war could only be ended after intervention by NATO troops. Several war leaders were convicted by the Yugoslavia Tribunal at The Hague.


Differences in social intercourse are expressed in classes and castes. Civilization leads to a public moral, often at variance with the morals of castes, classes, and cultures. Class differences come to the fore especially in places like clubs, pubs and restaurants designed for social intercourse. With respect to one’s own class one behaves with solidarity, to a lower class condescending, to a higher class in a submissive or insurgent way. Sometimes the classes are so strongly separated that transitions are impossible, like the nobility and the bourgeoisie in Western-Europe, or the castes in India. Who does not belong to a caste is expelled, being a pariah.

As a competitor of nineteenth century nationalism, the industrial revolution induced the class struggle. Class formation as a social stratification of the poor, middle groups, and the rich appears to be a consequence of economic differentiation. However, class distinctions come more to the fore in differences of descent, education, training, use of language, intelligence, faith, habits, wealth, and income. Nowadays classes are also distinguished because of age. The youth culture differs considerably from that of adults or aged people. The aging of the population in Western countries leads to the emergence of a distinction between young and old, between working and retired people. According to Karl Marx the contrasts between the ruling and the oppressed classes, determining history, are entirely of an economical nature.[32] Different historical periods are distinguished by a dominant way of production. Therefore, class contrasts in a feudal system are different from those under capitalism. The activities of individual people are, according to Marx, so much determined by their class membership that they miss freedom to act and cannot be held responsible for their deeds. Marx identified the state with the ruling class. (Sometimes Marx distinguished three classes, the owners of land, capital and labour. Sometimes he only recognized a class if it is class conscious.[33]) The nineteenth-century class state did not function as a constitutional state, but as a means to take care of the interests of the oncoming industry, without shame exploiting labourers, including women and children.[34] According to Marx this is unavoidable: under capitalism, the state is the dictatorship of the bourgeoisie. After the social revolution, for which class consciousness is a condition, first a temporal dictatorship of the proletariat would arise, which under Vladimir Lenin, Joseph Stalin, and Mao Zedong grew to the merciless dictatorship of the Communist Party. Ultimately, in a classless society the state ought to die out, according to the Communist Manifesto (1848).


[1] Dooyeweerd  1935-36, I, 3.

[2] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 3.

[3] Dooyeweerd NC IV, 209.

[4] Arendt 1963, chapter 2.

[5] Delanty 2000.

[6] DooyeweerdNC II, 70, 140-141.

[7] Stafleu 1970; 1986; 2002a.

[8] Basden 2005; Stafleu 2005.

[9] Kuiper 2004, 26.

[10] Lechner 2000.

[11] Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, I: 5.

[12] MacIntyre1981, 116.

[13] Arendt 1958, chapter IV.5.

[14]  Dooyeweerd NC III, 434

[15] Comte-Sponville 1995, 19-20 (chapter 1), 43 (chapter 3).

[16] Verbrugge 2004, 22-24.

[17] Gadamer 1960, 8-17.

[18] Burke 2005, 69-70.

[19] de Jong 2007, 271-272, 305.

[20] de Jong 2007, 387, 390-396.

[21] Piketty 2013.

[22] Fukuyama 2011, 8-9, 17.

[23] Toynbee 1972, 43; Marx, cited by Bentley 1997, 451; Kuiper 2009, 14.

[24] Acts of the Apostles 3:11-26 and 17:15-34.

[25] Fernández-Armesto, Wilson 1996, 173 (chapter 7).

[26] Kymlicka 2002, 230-231.

[27] Borradori 2003, 33-34 (introduction), 60 (section 1.1), 96-97 (section 1.2), 158-162 (section 2.1), 195-199 (section 2.2).

[28] Calhoun 2000. See also 5.3.

[29] Schmitt 1963, 62-64.

[30] Hegel, cited by Popper 1945, 317.

[31] Scheffer 2007, 409-419.

[32] Van het Reve 1969, 103-117; de Jong 2007, 73-79.

[33] Burke 2005, 33.

[34] Hardt, Negri 2000, 53, 156-157.




Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 16


Mutual service






 16.1. The meaning of the economic relation frame

 16.2. Economic differentiation

 16.3. Being of service

 16.4. Instruments for transactions

 16.5. Entrepreneurs and enterprises

 16.6. Markets


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 16. Mutual service




16.1. The meaning of

the economic relation frame


Stressing the relevance of subject-subject relations often leads to a richer (or at least a different) understanding of the relation frames than by seeking a ‘nuclear meaning’ besides retrocipatory and anticipatory, elementary and complex abstract concepts as used in the various sciences. The view of the economic aspect presented in this encyclopaedia differs from Herman Dooyeweerd’s neo-classical one: ‘…the sparing or frugal mode of administering scarce goods, implying an alternative choice of their destination with regard to the satisfaction of different human needs.’[1]

The word economic has at least two different meanings. The first meaning is to treat available means efficiently or suitably. In this way Dooyeweerd conceived of the economic modal aspect (section 16.3).[2] The view of characterizing the economical frame by frugality and maximizing of utility originates from the so-called neo-classical economic theory (in vogue circa 1850-1930). Dooyeweerd’s argumentation is not derived from an analysis of the economic relation frame itself, to which he paid very little attention, but from supposed analogies like the economy of thought, the sparing or frugal use of arguments.[3] However, abundance is just as characteristic for economy as shortage: the larger prosperity, the more commerce. Scarcity is a modern concept, since Thomas Hobbes a starting point of social (not merely economical) considerations.[4] The supposition seems to be that there is no commerce in abundant matters, like air. However, there is also no trade in things that are (almost) completely scarce, like unicorns or moon stones. In my view, surplus or scarcity of any object makes only economical sense in subject-object and subject-subject relations. For a buyer, scarcity is most important, for he has a shortage. For a seller, surplus dominates, for he has something left. In a good exchange, both make a profit (which is more than quid pro quo). Of course, they make choices, but that is not typically economical, but is part of human freedom and responsibility. People do not differ from animals because they act efficiently with scarce means, but by their many-sidedness, their versatility. Each animal species is characterized by its often unsurpassed special skills, during the evolution developed between the species. No man can spin like a spider, reaching a maximum effect with minimum effort. In contrast, homo sapiens as a species is not specialised. The development of the cerebrum and the manual skills make human versatility possible. People are able to do anything, making specialisation within mankind necessary. This leads to the view that the exchange of services is a better characteristic of the economic relation frame than frugality. In the second and nowadays more common sense of the word economy, economists recognize it to be a universal aspect of human acts, characterized by the profitable exchange of goods and services.[5] In this relation frame, people make their labour and its products available to each other. This exchange of services seldom occurs directly, usually money is involved, in which case a service earns a promise of a transferable service in return. By dividing tasks and exchanging services it is possible to reach prosperity if people cooperate in peace.[6] In this sense, economical activity expresses the mutual dependence of people and is an existential condition for all human beings. It is a form of civilisation if all parties concerned gain a profit. Trade is any transaction in which possession is transferred from a seller to a buyer, even if a merchant acts as an intermediary. It is an economically qualified subject-subject relation, an asymmetric exchange relation between a buyer and a seller, in which both individuals and associations may be involved. The more complicated chain from producer to consumer appears to be founded in labour, hence in the technical relation frame. Till the nineteenth century, the household (oikonomia in Greek) as a working unit functioned as the economical model, both for an enterprise and for the state. In an undifferentiated labour unit, the workers possess the means of production: tools, raw materials, intermediate and final products. In a modern enterprise, labourers are employees and the enterprise possesses the means of production. An enterprise is an association, directed by an entrepreneur instead of a head of family. The economically qualified character of a company may be interlaced with that of a labour community like a factory. A large company is built up from units recognizable as technically qualified work or production groups, interlaced with economically qualified commercial groups (purchase, sales, marketing) and logically qualified research and development groups. Such groups may have both internal and external suppliers and clients. In a modern company each department has its own management and responsibility within the organization, its own budget and a more or less well-described task. Besides there are supporting services (personnel, staff, tax department, administration, controllers, cleaning, canteen, protection, reception), which are not typical for an economically qualified company, for these are found in any large organization. The age-old view that a household, city or country should be economically independent of others is called autarky or self-sufficiency. Aristotle and his medieval adherents, who considered autarky to be the ideal situation of a household, a city-state or a monastery, did not object to the exchange of accidental surpluses, as long as for their livelihood the parties were not dependent on goods only obtainable through exchange. When exchange is necessary, traders will enter who according to Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and even still Emil Brunner only strive after boundless profit.[7] Striving after autarky (mercantilism) played a part in the trade policy of many countries. International trade has long been dominated by the view that a country can only become richer at the cost of other countries. A better view is that commerce needs a market, the economic expression of the public domain. Often entrepreneurs give the impression that their only aim is to make money for the shareholders, themselves and sometimes their employees. A more normative view is that a responsible company should be concerned with the profits of all its ‘stakeholders’, including clients, suppliers, the environment, and society at large, giving expression to the fundamental economic subject-subject relation of mutual service. For to serve each other (not to be frugal) is the religious meaning of the economic relation frame, like Jesus Christ served humanity, and his disciples serve him.


Like Herman Dooyeweerd, though for different reasons, I assume that the economic relation frame succeeds that of keeping company, for people ought to show respect for each other before they can exchange mutual services. Obviously, the economic subject-subject relation requires negotiating. In a politically qualified decision process, one has to negotiate too, taking into account a balance of costs and effects as well as the mutual interests of all parties concerned. Therefore, I suggest that the political relation frame presupposes those of economy and keeping company. This may lead to a deeper understanding of the organization within an association (section 19.5).


16.2. Economic differentiation


Often history distinguishes between an undifferentiated or  underdeveloped and a differentiated or developed society. In the first nothing happens, in the second everything is on the move. Probably, as extremes on a gliding scale both do not really occur. Human societies are not entirely stationary or in every respect turbulent, entirely undifferentiated or completely developed, but at different rates differentiating and developing. Differentiation is an ongoing historical process, characterized by the mutual rendering of services as a universal value. As a normative principle it may be conceived of as the economic temporal order for human acts.[8] Economic relations cannot exist without differentiation of skills, property, and needs, without competition and marketing, without organized activity. Mutual rendering of services, made possible by differentiation, is a condition for the development of a society respecting cultural differences.

A more or less undifferentiated society is marked by people being exclusively members of a family without their consent. At a marriage one of the two partners transfers to the family of the other one. The distinction between norms and natural laws is weak or absent. At a somewhat higher level of differentiation several families or bands are united into a tribe having a common faith, and several tribes into a state, initially keeping its tribal basis.[9] Rising economic relations stimulate this differentiation process. Later on, free associations, being independent of family relationships take over many functions from the tribe or state, restricting the family and the household to their nuclear activities. Commercial companies and other emancipating associations often come into conflict with the vested interests of the state or families, even if these are mutually interlaced as in the case of family or government enterprises.[10]

Unorganized commercial relations, which are probably as old as human existence, stimulated cultural relations sowing doubt of tribal norms.[11] The wish to regulate and protect traffic relations furthered the formation of states from tribes. A differentiated society, in which people are economically dependent on each other, is a hallmark of civilization. Differentiation, the emergence of social diversity from original uniformity, has its historical source in the division of labour, followed by the exchange of goods and services. An old division of labour is that between fruit gathering women and hunting men in nomadic bands. Long before the industrial revolution, division of labour was applied in the construction of large buildings and in ship-building, textile industry, and clock industry.[12] Yet the time that the majority of the population was involved in agriculture, cattle-breeding, fishery, and domestic services is not very far behind us. Until the nineteenth century, specialization, the number of professions, and mutual dependency increased slowly, but the industrial revolution accelerated this process significantly.

Economic differentiation, inevitably including inequality of incomes and wealth,[13] starts where society becomes dense, where the density of population increases, where villages grow into cities (the ‘urban revolution’ during the Bronze Age, circa 3000 BC[14]). The mutual rendering of services starts from specialization, think of a smith, a miller, or a fisherman, being willing and able to invest in an enterprise. This often started as a family affair, in which parents transfer their specific ability to their children. Sooner or later many family affairs were forced to employ or train able labourers from outside the family. As long as these were treated as family members, the character of a family business remained, but in modern countries this has virtually disappeared, except in small shops.

In the medieval European cities widely differing guilds emerged as organizations of specialized family enterprises. The guilds were differentiated with respect to each other, each representing its own specialism: jewellers, cloth weavers, farriers. Often, the guilds were an organic part of the city government or the local church, partaking in the defence of the town or in processions. A guild educated and examined pupils, restricted mutual competition by price agreements, guarded the quality of its products, organized festivals and funerals.

Enterprises as organized economically typified associations only exist since the late Middle Ages, when trade and industry started to emancipate themselves from state, church, and family ties. Besides the differentiation or specialization of enterprises among each other, one observes an increasing differentiation within each company with respect to the tasks performed by the employees, especially if enterprises grow to such an extent that division of labour is both possible and necessary.


16.3. Being of service


Philosophers, theologians, and many other people have often judged negatively about economic activity, because they consider its motive to be greed (not entirely without justice). Yet it contributes significantly to human civilization and it constitutes a main factor in human development. Instead of greed, being of mutual service ought to be the dynamic engine of economic differentiation. The history of economy as a science distinguishes the pre-classics; the classical school from David Hume and Adam Smith to John Stuart Mill, circa 1750-1850; the neoclassical school, circa 1850-1930, in which Karl Marx inter alia played an important part; modern economy, personified by John Maynard Keynes; and nowadays probably postmodern neo-liberal economy having Friedrich von Hayek and Milton Friedman as figureheads. Since the classical school, economists recognize economics as a universal aspect of human activity, characterized by the profitable exchange of goods or services. In this framework people place their labour and its products at each other’s disposal. According to Adam Smith, it is a human ‘… propensity to truck, barter, and exchange one thing for another. Whether this propensity be one of those original principles in human nature, of which no further account can be given; or whether, as seems more probable, it be the necessary consequence of the faculties of reason and speech.’[15] The exchange of services occurs seldom directly. Usually a service yields the transferable promise of a service in return. Thereby all kinds of intermediaries operate, like banks, as well as artefacts, like money.


As observed above (section 16.1), the word economy has still another meaning, namely to act in an efficient and appropriate way with the means available.[16] This emphasizes economic subject-object relations at the cost of subject-subject relations. Surplus and deficit are relative concepts. For the buyer deficit is the most important, for he lacks something. For the seller the surplus dominates. In a good exchange both have a profit.

In an economic sense, people are not distinguished from animals because of acting efficiently with scarce goods, but by their versatility. Each animal species is characterized by its often unsurpassed specialism, developed between the species in the course of the natural evolution. No human being is able to spin like a spider, achieving with a minimum of effort a maximum effect. In contrast, humanity as a species is not specialized. The development of the neocortex and of manual dexterity makes its many-sidedness possible. People can do almost everything, making specialization within humanity profitable. By dividing labour and exchanging services it is possible to cooperate in peace, achieving prosperity.[17] Economic acting expresses the mutual dependency of people. It is a condition for human existence, a form of civilization if all parties concerned profit from it. It surpasses keeping company, for people do not only show respect for each other’s diversity and interests, but profit from these in common interest. Because economic acting rests on giving and keeping promises, it also presupposes mutual trust. A promise ought to be faithful.

Trade is an economically qualified subject-subject relation, an asymmetric exchange relation between a buyer and a seller, in which both individuals and associations may be involved. Trade is any transaction in which possession is transferred from a seller to a buyer. Often a merchant acts as an intermediary, like a broker. Banks mediate by providing credits.


In Western society, economic acting, in particular making profits, has often been viewed with suspicion. This probably rests on the supposition that goods have a fixed, objective value. In a fair trade the goods or services to be exchanged should have an equal value, subjecting trade and service to the norm of quid pro quo. This makes it difficult to imagine that in an economic transaction all parties may make a profit of their own. Aristotle and his medieval adherents did not object to the exchange of accidental surpluses, as long as for their livelihood the parties did not depend on goods only obtainable through exchange.[18] When exchange is necessary, traders will enter who only strive after a boundless profit, according to Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther, and Emil Brunner.[19] Even Karl Marx objected to trade by barter and the use of money.[20]


Apparently, in a feudal system no barter existed, because the farms were self-supporting. However, at least seasonal labourers, serfs, and slaves got food and shelter for their labour. A European medieval fortified farm or castle with a neighbouring settlement, successor of the Roman familia, was a relatively undifferentiated working community, qualified by technical labour rather than by the economical relation frame. The leadership rested with the head of the family, and there was hardly any division of tasks. Philosophers and theologians inspired by Aristotle considered such a self-sufficient community as an ideal, and monasteries strived to it as well. In reality, of old there were markets everywhere, realizing mutual trade, in which the farms and monasteries exchanged their surplus products for goods they did not produce themselves. Moreover, pedlars have always been around, trading between settlements. With the development of various crafts and the growth of settlements into cities mutual dependency increased, and commerce contributed to the increasing wealth, making an end to the feudal Middle Ages.

The concept of a household, city, or country being economically independent of others is called autarky or self-sufficiency. Striving after autarky (mercantilism) played a part well into the twentieth century in the trade policy of some countries. A mercantilist state aims at realizing an internal uniform market, restricting imports and expanding exports, and to inhibit the export of money and raw materials.[21] Discussions about international trade, colonialism, and development aid have long been dominated by the view that a country can only become richer at the cost of other countries.


Economic subject-subject relations are not only found in trade, but also in a production chain, connecting producers with consumers. No production process is possible without clients. Before the twentieth century only rich people were interesting consumers. They consumed the proceeds of land and enterprises, of soil and capital. France knew serfdom (binding farm workers to the landowner) till the end of the seventeenth century, Germany till the end of the eighteenth century and Russia till the end of the nineteenth century. Landowners considered the wages of their labourers as costs, to be restricted to the costs of sustenance of the labourers as production elements. It was not considered wrong to employ women and children as parts of the production process, for they were eating as well. Capitalism, separating capital and labour, initially did not lead to the liberation of labourers. Liberal entrepreneurs treated their workers as economic objects like horses on the land and machines in the factory, which could replace the labourers if that would cost less. Only in the twentieth century one started to realize that all people as consumers are economic subjects, that consumers pull the production process, and that the profit of enterprises is sustained by a maximum spending power. Besides owners and entrepreneurs, employees are consumers. Moreover, there is a transfer of assets to consumers who do not partake in the production process: children, students, unemployed, sick, and elder people. The assumption that production is served by low wages made place for the view that economy profits from the spending power of many.


The recognition of employees and consumers as economical subjects forced manufacturers to take into consideration their demands. Factory work changed from fordism, judging the work of labourers only by efficiency, wherein the producer decides what to put on the market, to toyotism, recognizing the responsibility of employees, and accepting that the consumer influences the product he wants.[22] (‘Fordism’ and ‘toyotism’ are named after the car factories applying the mentioned principles for the first time.) The transition from supply-controlled fordism, featured by mass production at the assembly line and a hierarchical vertical leadership, to demand-controlled toyotismwith a horizontal network structure in the factory, is possible by informatizing and automatizing the production. Modern capitalism recognizes employees, suppliers, and consumers to be indispensable participants in entrepreneurial production.


16.4. Instruments for transactions


In the course of time people have invented many kinds of artefacts to enable commerce. Each transaction rests on an agreement or contract between two or more parties. Also price, money, capital, and credit are economic artefacts, instruments in the transfer of possession.


Possession of goods or services may be considered the general expression for the economic subject-object relation, in which the object is not necessarily economically characterized. One can hardly speak of an economic good if nobody possesses it. In a tribal society, land belongs to a family or a village and cannot be transmitted, except by inheritance, when the land usually goes to the oldest son. In such a society land is not an economic good, it is not negotiable. Only in an economically differentiated society private possession is possible, in the hands of individuals or associations. Until the nineteenth century, possession was mainly a private affair. Since then it is concentrating in enterprises and banks, insurance companies and pension funds.[23]

Although economy primarily seems to concern the exchange of material goods, the economy of mutual servicing (neighbourship) may be older. Before one started to exchange products, farm workers got their due in the form of food and shelter. In an economic sense, possession is something people may dispose of temporally or permanently and that they can transfer to someone else. Hence nobody possesses their head or hand in an economic sense, as long as they cannot transfer it or hire it out to someone else.

Possession is not necessarily a material object. For instance, people dispose of the power of labour, a specific skill, or a patent, which they may place as a licence at the disposal of somebody else. Possession requires management, anticipating the political relation frame, whereas property is a juridical relation. Rightful possession implicates the existence of unjust possession, acquired by deceit or theft. One can possess something rightfully without being the owner, for instance by borrowing or renting it. This one cannot sell, though one may sublet it. Possession implies the duty of care, anticipating the relation frame of care. All natural objects and many kinds of artefacts can be objects for commerce, but one should not possess people. Trade of children, women, and slaves ought not to occur. Human rights are inalienable and therefore no economic goods.

Someone may acquire possession by an economic act, by buying, renting, or inheriting. Whatever someone possesses, he can sell, hire out, give away or leave. Whoever gets something as possession by cheating a commercial partner, by paying a too low price, or by stealing or robbing, contradicts the economic norm: ‘thou shalt not steal’.[24] Possession, management, and property are inalienable elements of economic acts. Who like Karl Marx considers property as theft, denies economic activity. In contrast, a civilized man satisfies the minimal economic norm of quid pro quo, or expands it into the norm that in any transaction all parties involved make a profit.


A transaction is an economic act in which people exchange goods and/or services for an agreed price. Philosophers and economists have deeply thought about the question of whether it is possible to ascribe an intrinsic or absolute value to an object or service, apart from transactions. This is inspired by the traditional view that the norm for economical conduct would be quid pro quo, such that the exchanged goods should have objectively the same value. They distinguish intrinsic utility (value in use),functioning in a subject-object relation, from relative exchange value, established in a subject-subject relation.[25]

However, utility is not a purely objective property of the object, for it depends on a subject-object relation. Someone may attach more value to an object than someone else may do. The utility of a glass of water depends on your thirst. The law of diminishing surplus value says that the more you possess of something, the less its surplus value is. If an object would have the same value in use for anybody, trade would even be impossible. Barter is only profitable if the good acquired has more value than the good traded in. The exchange value is no more an objective property of a product. In an economical chain in which a product from the producer via wholesale and intermediate trade reaches the shops, the exchange value increases in order to allow the traders to compensate for their costs and to make a profit.


It belongs to the calling of people to place their given talents to each other’s disposal. To be of service is the meaning of economy and differentiation is the economic meaning of history. Someone may let or hire their possessions to someone else. This leads to a relation of debt: someone owes money and interest to someone else. Also this relation is subjected to the norm that both parties should make a profit. Who borrows money ought to pay it back with the agreed interest at the agreed time. Interest should not be excessive, not deteriorating into usury. Nobody ought to acquire so many debts that redemption becomes hopeless. Yet sometimes an occasion may arise that debts should be remitted partly or entirely, in order to give someone the opportunity to make a new start. In that case the duty of care surpasses the right of repay. An economic norm is that someone pays their debts, until they cannot do that anymore. A bankruptcy is a form of finishing a debt, which should never lead to slavery.


In suit of Aristotle, medieval philosophers assumed that money only serves as an objective measure for prices.[26] They considered it unnatural if money could bring forth young. (The Greek word tokos means both interest or rent and child.) Therefore it was forbidden for Christians (as it still is for Muslims) to ask for interest when making a loan, at least from co-believers.[27] Giving and accepting interest they left to believers of a different faith, in particular Jews, bearing the stamp of being usurers. The philosophers assumed that saving money makes only sense if it serves as a nest egg, an old-age benefit, or insurance for adversities. They did not understand that in economy the perspective for the future plays another part. Entrepreneurs invest in order to make earnings later on. Giving and taking credit with interest is an economical transaction, from which both parties hope to profit. (Medieval scholars never questioned the legitimacy of land rents, being one of the most important sources of income for both the church and nobility.[28])

Capital means investing in the future. ‘In all civilizations, capital fulfils two economic functions: first, it provides housing (…), and second, it serves as a factor of production in producing other goods and services.’[29] Hunters investing time and labour in making a spear or a bow and arrows were early capitalists, their hunting gear being their capital. They ran a risk, for if they did not catch anything they could better have spent their time and energy to collecting fruits. Capitalism in the modern sense of the word emerged during the Renaissance, stimulated by Protestantism, objecting less than others to taking interest and making a profit.[30] Contrary to Martin Luther, John Calvin did not object to taking interest. In Geneva he introduced a maximum rate of interest of five percent.[31] The Bible, too, only knew a prohibition of taking interest of needy fellow members of the nation.[32] Capitalism in a wider sense did not only emerge in Europe.[33]


16.5. Entrepreneurs and enterprises


Producers, consumers, traders, and entrepreneurs act as economical subjects, both individually and in groups. The household is nowadays mainly considered as a consumption unit, but as a labour group it functioned till the end of the nineteenth century as an economic model, not only for an enterprise but for the state as well. A small company was conducted like a household, a large one (like the Dutch United East-Indian Company) as a state.[34] Nevertheless, already long before the Renaissance economic enterprises existed, directed to taking risks and making profits or losses. Production in enterprises in which capital and labour are separated, is more modern. An enterprise is an association, directed by an entrepreneur instead of a head of family. It is secondarily typified by organized and differentiated labour. Gradually, enterprises have become the most important actors in the transfer of goods and services, with the market as a public place of trade.

The primarily economic character of an enterprise is interlaced with that of one or more labour groups like a factory. The entrepreneur disposes of the means of production, possessed by the enterprise. These are distinguished into invested capital (buildings, machines, transport means, stock) and the labour potential. The latter includes both the actually present labour force and skills and the potential employment offered by the enterprise. The ratio of capital and labour may vary strongly, from a more or less completely automated capital intensive enterprise to a labour intensive enterprise like an accountants firm. Especially in small enterprises the entrepreneur is often the co-owner of the capital as well as one of the co-workers. In large enterprises these functions are separated. The director of the enterprise is responsible to the suppliers of capital (for instance, shareholders) and to the employees. In practice, the influence of both is limited, the entrepreneur being in command. Entrepreneurs are responsible for the quality of their products and the production process. Responsible enterprise is more than making profit. It implies to create a good working climate, to maintain a reliable relation with suppliers and clients, and to prevent forged competition and pollution of the environment.[35]


In an undifferentiated labour group, the workers possess the means of production: tools, raw materials, intermediary and end products. In an enterprise, labourers are employees and the means of production are possessed by the enterprise, as property or hired. Both the invested capital and the labour potential have an economic value. As a consequence, it is possible to sell an enterprise. Usually the employees will then stay with the enterprise, including the directors, although reorganization may follow the sale. Without a profit, an enterprise cannot exist for long, but making profit should not be the most important aim of an enterprise. That is to be of economic service to shareholders and to employees, as well as to suppliers and clients.

An entrepreneur as an economic subject considers all means of production to be economic objects. Labour too forms a kind of cost. Yet in an enterprise each co-worker as an employee is an economic subject placing their labour at the disposal of the enterprise, as well as being a technical subject as a labourer. A well functioning modern enterprise recognizes its employees as co-workers, as subjects, not as objects, as wage-slaves. Like other nineteenth-century economists, Karl Marx assumed that the value of a product is determined by the cost of labour needed to produce it on the average.[36] However, labourers do not get paid for their labour, but for their labour potential. According to Marx this is the value of the goods that workers need to provide for their family and to reproduce. The labourers get paid less than the value of the goods they produce. Fear for unemployment and starvation forces the labourers to work a few hours a day more than would be needed for their livelihood. Marx calls the difference the surplus value of labour. It is the source of all incomes not derived from labour, constituting the heart of capitalism. Marx confirmed the view that entrepreneurs are exploiters, because they pay for labour less than it is worth. As a dialectical thinker, Karl Marx opposed the labourers, conceived as the possessors of labour force, against the owners of money or goods.[37] He did not recognize an enterprise to be a cooperation in which all parties make a profit, but he considered it the place of a continuous struggle between capital and labour, in which capitalists are parasites at the cost of workers. If right, however, both labourers and suppliers of capital put their possession together at the disposal of the entrepreneur, organizing both into a profit making venture, in which all participants bear their own responsibility.


16.6. Markets


A public network of trade relations is called a market, characterized by competition as an economically qualified intersubjective relation. There are many specific markets: gold market, fruit market, labour market, and the stock exchange, with payment networks like clearing banks. Old artefacts like money and modern devices like credit cards facilitate the function of the market. On the market both individuals and associations operate, in particular economically qualified enterprises: shops, brokers, big business. The normative principle for any economic act is to serve each other, such that all parties have a profit.

Although markets are as old as human society, it is a quite new insight that competition as a consequence of the freedom of choice is a condition for economic functioning on the public domain. On the market, competition (both between buyers and sellers) has a strong influence on prices, according to the law of supply and demand. In transactions by private contract that do not take place on the market, without competition, this law plays a less important part. Supply and demand are not constants. Increasing the production increases the supply. Advertisement promotes the demand by publication of the availability of competing products, their quality and their prices.

The public character does not mean that everybody is admitted. On many markets only specialized merchants are welcome. The public character of the market means that the prices, available stocks, and other economically relevant data are public.[38] Someone who suppresses information relevant for the public functioning of the market contravenes the rules. The disclosure of the conditions of sale makes that different markets (for instance in different places) form an economic network. The prices for vegetables in one place influence those at other places. The offshoots of the network are the shops, where the consumers, the end users, buy their wares usually at a fixed price. Supply, price, and quality differ in various shops, such that the consumer too has access to the market. International markets are not, as is often assumed, controlled by multinational concerns, but by networks of enterprises.[39]

Competition and price setting aim at balancing supply and demand. When a market gets gravely out of balance an economic crisis may occur. The most well known crisis is the exchange crash of Thursday October 24, 1929, when the supply exceeded the demand to a very large extent.[40] In classical economical theory, the balance was the norm for the economic relation frame. According to Adam Smith, in a situation of balance on the free market the market price equals the natural price.[41] This view is based on the traditional norm of quid pro quo. The better norm that all parties in a transaction should profit is in accord with a growing economy. The motor of economic growth is on the one hand the push of technology, labour productivity, and labour differentiation, on the other hand the pull of the growth of the world population as consumer and its increasing prosperity.[42]


Classical economists connected wages to the necessaries of life of the labourers and their families.[43] They reduced the price of goods via the price of labour to the price of food. In a prosperous society, in which food is a diminishing part of one’s packet of expenses, this reasoning seems no longer tenable. According to the neo-classical theory of values the amount of labour used to produce something determines its price.[44] After a product is finished, labour costs only play a part if the product is replaceable, if it competes with a new product at the market. Labour costs seem to have hardly any influence on the price of land or of irreplaceable products, like art or antiques.[45] However, the quality of such products, very important for their price, depends on the labour performed to make and maintain these.


From the eighteenth century the liberal view holds that the republic should be concerned with economy as little as possible, according to the device laissez faire, laissez-passer (let things slide). Private persons and their associations taking care of themselves will promote the general interest. In the classical economical thought since Adam Smith, the relation of autonomous persons to the world is all-important. The market is not primarily a meeting between persons, but a meeting between any individual separately with a relevant price. The market is a mechanism. Adam Smith considered human labour not primarily ‘… as a mutual human relation and an expression of community, but as an individual effort to be exerted by anyone in a certain combination of labour, land and capital.’[46] This view expresses a form of egoism.[47] If everybody acts out of self-interest, Smith supposed that an invisible hand causes society as a whole to make the maximum possible profit.[48]

An opposite view is that the state has its own economical task on the public domain. Taxes and import duties are meant to provide the state with an income, but are also useful political instruments to control, stimulate, or slow down economic developments. Besides, the government should watch critically the interests of private persons and associations in administrative measures, letting them pay for it, if necessary. Sharper than before, the general interest is separated from all kinds of group interests. In the middle of the twentieth century, many economists believed that the influence of the government on the market is decisive, that the administration is the most important economic actor on the public domain, partly because the government has a large budget and is in control of extensive budgets for defence, education, and care. Besides, some governments control the markets in some detail, by establishing minimum or maximum wages and prices; by giving subsidies or tax allowances to farmers, shopkeepers, or starting entrepreneurs; by regulating the import and export of products; and by stimulating or obstructing competition. The government often attempts to control the amount of money, the interest rate, and the exchange rate. By its economical policy, the government may serve various goals.[49]


Because a well functioning free market has a public character, the state as the guardian of the public domain ought to supervise it. The credit crisis since 2007 revealed a failing supervision of the Western governments on the supply of credits by banks, who were more concerned with the trade in money and derived products than with their primary task: facilitating the activities of enterprises and private persons, in particular by providing capital. The republic should oppose fake competition, enforcing public economical information. For instance, the government may take action when sellers conspire to keep goods out of the market in order to increase the prices. Yet, the surveillance by the government is limited. The market as a public network ought to be free. When the state tries to suppress free trade, illegal forms of trade occurs, like smuggling or black-market transactions.


Of old markets have been international, stimulated by the growing world trade and the release of trade barriers. Globalization is usually considered an economic phenomenon, starting with international trading on markets, next being expressed in the activities of enterprises crossing the boundaries. In particular this limits the influence of smaller countries, which is a reason why the European countries unite in a mainly economical union, and why almost all countries in the world are members of the World Trade Organization. Globalization started with the principle of the free sea, in the seventeenth century formulated by Hugo Grotius. In the twentieth century the term globalization got a negative ring, caused by a global protest against the influence of internationally operating enterprises and the cooperation of the wealthy countries. Colonialism, after the Second World War gradually abolished, is according to anti-globalists replaced by a system of post-colonialism, in which the rich countries still exploit the poor ones, among other things by excluding them from the Western markets.[50]


[1] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 66; Kee 1996; García de la Sienra 1998; 2001.

[2] Dooyeweerd NC II, 66.

[3] Dooyeweerd WdW II, 84-90; NC II, 66-68, 122-129, 135-137.

[4] Achterhuis 1988, 12-13, 34, 47-59.

[5] Haan 1972-1974.

[6] Smith 1776, 11-20.

[7] Aristotle, Politeia; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, both cited in Medema, Samuels (eds.) 2003, 11, 23; Hoogerwerf 1999, 63, 79, 151.

[8] Taylor 2007, 256-263 (section 4.3).

[9] Popper 1945, 190.

[10] Fukuyama 1995; Castells 2000, 188-205.

[11] Popper 1945, 194.

[12] Landes 1983.

[13] Piketty 2013.

[14] Goody 2006, 28-29, 47-48.

[15] Smith 1776, 21.

[16] Dooyeweerd NC II, 66, 122-129, 135-137; Achterhuis 1988, 12-13, 34, 47-59.

[17] Smith 1776, book 1, chapter 1.

[18] Aristotle, Politeia, cited in Medema, Samuels (eds.) 2003, 11; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, cited in ibid. 23.

[19] Hoogerwerf 1999, 63, 79, 151.

[20] Delfgaauw 1961, II, 156, 266-267; de Jong 2007, 84-85.

[21] Smith 1776, 275-304; Medema, Samuels 2003, 30; Rutgers 2004, 57.

[22] Landes 1998, chapter 27; Hardt, Negri 2000, 289-290; Castells 2000, 166-172; Verkerk 2004, chapter 8.

[23] De Swaan 1988, chapter 6.

[24] Exodus 20:15.

[25] Smith 1776, 34; Jevons 1871, 424-425.

[26] Aristotle Ethica Nicomachea, book 5.5, cited in Medema, Samuels (eds.) 2003, 14-15; Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, cited in ibid. 25.

[27] Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, cited in Medema, Samuels (eds.) 2003, 24-29.

[28] Piketty 2013, 531.

[29] Piketty 2013, 213.

[30] Weber 1904-1905; Russell 1946, 198-199; MacCulloch 2003, 604-607; de Jong 2007, 194-205; Graafland 2007, 107-109.

[31] Hoogerwerf 1999, 97.

[32] Graafland 2007, 221-223.

[33] Goody 2006, chapter 7.

[34] De Vries and van der Woude 1995, 499-538; Landes 1998, chapter 10.

[35] Graafland 2007, 177-183.

[36] Marx 1867, 380; Van het Reve 1969, 86-102.

[37] Arendt 1958, 160-161 (section 4,5).

[38] Jevons 1871, 427.

[39] Castells 2000, 208.

[40] Hobsbawm 1994, chapter 3, see also chapter 14.

[41] Smith 1776, 163-165.

[42] Graafland 2007, 163-173.

[43] Smith 1776, 67; Ricardo 1817, 275.

[44] Smith 1776, 36-39; Ricardo 1817, 259.

[45] Smith 1776, 67; Jevons 1871, 439.

[46] Goudzwaard 1976, 27.

[47] Baier 1991.

[48] Smith 1776, 167.

[49] Rawls 1971, 244-249.

[50] Hardt, Negri 2000, 244-249; Goudzwaard et al. 2007, chapter 8. See also Beckert 2014 for an extensive narrative of the ‘empire of cotton’ over the past centuries.



 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 17


Policy and justice





17.1. The political relation frame

17.2. The political relation frame is irreducible to the economical one

17.3. The political relation frame is irreducible to that of justice

17.4. Making laws

17.5. Courts of justice should be independent of the state

17.6. The state has an exceptional dual character

17.7. Coercive power and territory are not fundamental characteristics of the state

17.8. Public order and public justice


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 17. Policy and justice



17.1. The political relation frame




Like all human activities, the management of an association, being an organized social group with authority and discipline, is subject to norms of justice. Nevertheless, the generic character of any association (section 19.4) is not qualified by principles of justice, but by principles of good management and discipline besides the principle of sphere sovereignty. Modern management has become a profession, qualified by the political aspect and quite different from the profession of lawyers. People do not easily change of profession, and to become a manager requires skills that can be learned and developed. Often, a manager is involved in the government of quite different associations, and managers switch easily from one specific kind of association to another, without changing of profession. The conduct of an association may be unjust, even criminal, and still be effective. But if the management loses its authority and the members of the association forgo their discipline, the association will resolve.


The analysis of the generic character of an association and of the generic and specific character of the state will provide a number of arguments pointing to the existence of a political relation frame, to be distinguished from that of justice. The next two sections will argue that this frame is irreducible to those of economy and justice.


Before, it should be pointed out that the political is really a universal relation frame, not only characterizing associations, but determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations as well. The political subject-subject relation of authority and discipline is not restricted to associations having sphere sovereignty, but is observable in any kind of deliberation or meeting, if its purpose is to reach an agreement. Outside the context of sovereignty, authority is recognizable as leadership. Decisions and resolutions are the objects of political activity. Policy as a subject-object relation means preparing, deciding, exerting and evaluating of decisions, usually in subject-subject relations which are not necessarily politically characterized. In the preparation of a decision one considers requirements, desirabilities and possibilities, when deciding one makes choices or establishes priorities. Decisions make little sense if not exerted, and are only effective if evaluated in time. Policy is not restricted to the government of a state, but applies to the management of any association. In a less structured sense, all people make decisions all the time. Deciding is a universal human condition.


Good management as a normative principle refers to the preceding relation frames, in particular to the economic one and that of social intercourse. It makes an assessment of the economic consequences of any decision (a cost-effect analysis), not only for itself, but also for others. It takes into account the social interests of members, clients and neighbours, and is often influenced by organized and unorganized lobbies. Good management also refers to later relation frames, if it abides to principles of justice and loving care.




17.2. The political relation frame is 

irreducible to the economical one




Contrary to the views of Herman Dooyeweerd and most of his adherents, I suggest that a political relation frame should be inserted between the economic and juridical ones.[1] The former is not characterized by either scarcity or rational choice, as is often assumed (section 16.4). In all normative activities, human beings are free and responsible actors, implying choice. In my view, economic activity concerns the profitable exchange of goods and services, depending on both scarcity and affluence: a buyer needs something that a seller has in abundance. Economy is based on differentiation of abilities and division of labour of all kinds (section 16.1). An economic subject-subject relation is objectified by a negotiated contract, which does not require authority or discipline, even if it has juridical consequences.


On the other hand, the political normative principle of authority and discipline presupposes the economic one of mutual servitude. Both small and large associations have an internal organization with division of tasks, in their management as well as in their membership (section 19.5). Even a nuclear family shows a division of tasks, between the parents in the exertion of their authority, as well as between the members of the family (parents and children), in the proceedings of family life. But the economic normative principle of mutual servitude cannot be reduced to the political one of authority and discipline.


The internal organization of an association, its hierarchy and division of tasks, guided by the political principle of authority and discipline, is founded in the economic relation frame. In a business considered as an association, the employer and employees are members. Their relation of authority and discipline is determined by the generic character of the business, objectively expressed by rules and assignments. Its specific character determines their relation as an economical subject-subject relation, objectively expressed by a labour contract. The latter relation also occurs in an association that is not a business, yet employs people. Whether the employees of an association should be considered members depends on the character of their labour contract.


If an association’s specific character is not economically qualified, it may be interlaced with an organization having the economically qualified specific character of a business. For instance, a hospital’s specific character is qualified by the relation frame of loving care. It may be managed by a medical doctor. It has a specific organization (the hierarchy of doctors, nurses, secretaries, cleaners, etc.) and division of tasks with respect to medical care. Its character is interlaced with an organization having the specific character of a business, which may be managed by a financial expert but should be subservient to the character of the hospital as a health institute. It should be considered wrong to reverse this interlacement, i.e., to manage a hospital like a business, and to treat patients first of all as economical clients.




17.3. The political relation frame is irreducible to that of justice




Although political philosophy is nowadays firmly distinguished from the philosophy of justice, it may still be controversial to state that the political relation frame is irreducible to that of justice. The best way to make this clear is to point out some undesirable consequences of their identification. I shall do that referring to the generic and specific character of the state. I propose that both characters are politically (not juridically) qualified. In the present section, I shall discuss the relation of state law and justice besides the idea of a constitutional state, in the next section the juridical character of courts of justice.




Contrary to the Dutch wet and the German Gesetz, the English word law often means justice (recht in Dutch, Recht in German). In order to make myself clear, I shall use the expression state law meaning any written law decreed by a state, avoiding the word law in the sense of justice, wherever possible.


From the eighteenth till the first half of the twentieth century, legal positivists like Herbert Hart in England and Hans Kelsen in Austria identified justice with state law. Legalism assumes that almost all rules of justice are state laws, that the state laws are complete in principle, and that the judge has no other task than to apply the state laws.[2] This implies the separation of the political formulation from the juridical application of justice. With respect to the former, the courts are subject to the legislative organs of the state, with respect to the latter they are independent organs of the state, whereas the executive organs of the state are subject to the justice applied by the courts. This system of checks and balances, essentially Charles Montesquieu’s trias politica (1748), assumes that the three powers (executive, legislative and judicature) are organs of the state. It has the intention to warrant the freedom of the citizens. Arisen in the framework of Enlightenment philosophy, it does not even consider the possibility that justice and authority cum discipline are mutually irreducible normative principles. Herman Dooyeweerd (who developed his views before the Second World War) was aware of the difference between politics and justice and of the pitfalls of legal positivism. Nevertheless, he assumed that the juridical aspect qualifies the character of the state, and he did not recognize the existence of a political aspect irreducible to the juridical one.[3] However, in the second half of the twentieth century, legal positivism came under fire, first because people became aware that courts of justice are at liberty to interpret the state laws. Jurisprudence is as much a source of justice as state laws are. Legalism assumes that only the state legislative is allowed to interpret its own laws.




Legalism has two contrary variants. In the liberal variant, stressing individual freedom from the state, everything is allowed that is not forbidden by state law. In the name of this view a lot of injustice has been performed. For instance, in the nineteenth century slavery and child labour were considered to be just (i.e., legal) until the governments introduced laws prohibiting it, when it became illegal. People defending this view sometimes distinguish between what they consider to be just or unjust (legal or illegal) from what may be considered ethically or morally right or wrong. What is not forbidden is legally just, but is not necessarily ethically right. As long as there is no law against it, it is a moral matter whether one takes part in slavery or child labour. This is a consequence of the view that state law defines what justice is. It is contrary to the view that principles of justice are given in the creation, and should be positivized into norms, including state laws. This means that one makes laws because one considers slavery and child labour to be unjust, not in order to make them unjust. Something may be unjust, even if it is legal.


Alternatively, in the socialist variant of legalism, everything is forbidden that is not allowed by the state government. In practice this view leads to an abundance of rules and suppression of unavoidable resistance. Its best illustration is the Soviet-Union, which downfall in 1990 was caused by its top-heavy bureaucracy. We find this variant in a weaker form in countries influenced by social democracy, prohibiting many kinds of activities unless licensed by the state.


Both variants identify justice with state law. In an extreme form, legalism leads to the attitude known by the German Befehl ist Befehl: to defend a legally correct but (according to universally accepted normative principles) unjust act, because one is ordered to do so by some authority. It identifies justice with the political principle of authority and discipline. This view has become notorious during the nazi-regime, and has been rejected afterwards by Western courts. However, it did not only occur in Germany, for it is a consequence of legal positivism. It deprives both individual citizens and associations of their freedom and responsibility to act not only lawfully, but rightfully as well.




From the assumption that the state laws determine what justice is, legal positivists concluded that any state is a constitutional state (Rechtsstaat). However, the German or Dutch concept of Rechtsstaat is not quite the same as the Anglo-Saxon concept of constitutional state. The United Kingdom is considered a constitutional state, even if it has no written constitution. Twentieth-century history has made us painfully aware that legalism does not exclude the existence and functioning of dictatorial states, whose conduct may be lawful but is unjust. Nowadays most people consider a constitutional state to recognize fundamental human rights; to have independent courts of justice and to submit itself to its own laws; to have constitutional rules according to which valid laws are made; and sometimes to be a democracy.[4] This is a mixture of juridical and political principles, intended to restrict the power of the state, referring to the foundation of the specific character of a state (section 17.6). In my view, the definition of a constitutional state that only refers to the foundation of the state’s character may be necessary but is not sufficient.


I suggest that the idea of a constitutional state (rechtsstaat) opens up and enriches the original character of the state. It points to an important historical stage in the development of the state. It does not mean that the state laws are always just (according to legal positivism) or should be just (according to people who reject legalism), but it requires that the state government is itself subject to justice. In matters of justice, the state is not a sovereign. The sovereignty of the state refers to its members (the citizens), its internal organization, and to the public domain. Sovereignty is not a juridical but a political principle, a matter of authority and discipline, even if these have juridical implications (section 17.4). The Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty does not rest on a right, but on the character of each association having its own management, exerting authority, requiring discipline from its members, and representing the association. The state’s sovereignty is no exception to this political normative principle. Human rights do not constitute the basis of the state, even though they limit the rights of the state and other associations.


A constitutional state is always a state; it cannot exist without authority and discipline, without dominion of its territory. But a state (even a democratic state) can exist without being a constitutional state, as long as it exerts authority in the public domain. Hence, I disagree with Herman Dooyeweerd: ‘A real State cannot find its qualifying function in any other than the juridical aspect, and without this leading function it would degenerate into an organized military gang of robbers, because of its very foundation in armed force.’[5] This is not only the case when (for instance) a state conquers another one, ruling the conquered land and its inhabitants. The international recognition of the government of a state does not depend on its being rightful (de jure), but on its factual political power (de facto). A state ceases to exist (for instance after a revolution or an invasion) if its government can no longer maintain public order, even if that government is just. We should firmly distinguish between a state that submits itself to justice and a state that does not. Only the former should be considered a constitutional state (rechtsstaat).


I conclude that the rejection of legal positivism implies the recognition of the mutual irreducibility of the political and juridical relation frames.




17.4. Making laws




Besides rules or laws, also decisions, plans, and compromises are political artefacts shaping history. The difference between a law and a decision mainly concerns the way it is enacted, and therefore the authority they have. Their generic character appears to be secondarily characterized by the technical relation frame, in the ability to make decisions which a good manager ought to have. The specific characters of rules may widely differ. In a company these are usually economically characterized, in a church by faith, but even then economic decisions cannot be avoided. On the public domain government rules prevail above those of other associations. Recommendations, orders, and instructions based on rules are primarily political artefacts as well.


In a decision making process, one distinguishes the stages of preparing, making, exerting, and evaluating of decisions. At the preparation one determines requirements, desirabilities, and possibilities, when making decisions one makes a choice or states priorities.


A decision may have an incidental or a general, lawlike character. If someone decides to buy a car, or if a president nominates a minister, these are incidental decisions. If the government decides to increase income tax, it is a general lawlike decision. Lawlike decisions are called laws, rules, or regulations, and are often collected in constitutions or law books. Incidental decisions, such as appointments, are usually subject to general rules, like a collective labour agreement. In early history, incidental decision making preceded the making of laws, having priority sometimes. The next stage is that a government is itself subject to laws.


Both individuals and associations are competent to take decisions. In an association a competent board is in charge, sometimes delegating part of its authority to a lower organ or a subordinate. In a complex association decision making is complex too and often hierarchical. Sometimes decisions at a lower level require consent on a higher level. If in concrete situations the application of decisions leads to contradictions or obscurities, a higher instance has to turn the scale.




The laws or rules within an association, like a state, a church, a company, or a club, should form a coherent set. It did not exist always, it has grown in the course of history, it differs locally, and it changes continuously. In such a system, the philosopher of law Herbert Hart distinguishes two kinds of laws.[6] Rules of the first kind have content, prescribing, preventing, regulating, or constraining human acts in the domain for which the law is valid. These rules grant rights or impose obligations upon members of the community. Rules of the second kind are only concerned with the status of the rules of the first kind. These determine how laws of the first kind are made or amended, uphold or abolished, pointing out which laws are legal and hence valid within the legal system. Apparently, the first kind of laws is primarily politically characterized, the second kind juridical.


According to Hart, the most fundamental of the latter rules is ‘the rule of recognition’. It rules how doubts and uncertainties are settled, providing the authority to resolve them. It is the source of legal validity, from which the legality of any law, minor by-law or legal document is derived, as well as the legitimacy of any court of law and its proceedings, and any action by a legal officer.[7] In some countries (like the United States, Germany, and the European Union) a supreme court decides whether primary rules are valid according to secondary rules. In other countries (like the United Kingdom and the Netherlands) parliament has this privilege. In many countries, the way rules of the first kind are made is laid down in the constitution, often together with a bill of rights, a declaration of the rights and duties of the citizens. It defines the character of the state. In clubs similar rules may be found in the statutes, defining their character, being less easily amendable than additional regulations.




Only people and associations can be juridical subjects having rights and obligations. Animals have no rights, but people have obligations with respect to animals, with respect to all what lives, the environment, and valuable artefacts, being juridical objects. In general, these objects are not characterized by juridical relations. In a lawsuit concerned with a house as part of a heritage, the house is a juridical object, although the juridical relation frame does not characterize a house. Rights and obligations, too, are not subjects but objects. They follow from habits, contracts, or rules, and are, therefore, human-made artefacts characterized by juridical relations. Habits are artefacts primarily typified by the relation frame of keeping company, contracts by the economical one, rules and decisions by the political frame. Only the rights and obligations following from these are primarily juridical artefacts. Also the fundamental rights, which do not follow from habits, contracts, or rules, are artefacts formed in history. Besides in subject-object relations, these juridically characterized artefacts also play a part in subject-subject relations, when the right of somebody implies the obligation of someone else. Therefore, rights and obligations are not absolute. There are situations in which various rights contradict each other, or somebody cannot keep their obligations. Someone’s conscience is often decisive in the choice one has to make in such a situation. In other cases a judge makes a decision binding all parties.




In many societies unwritten laws exist, sometimes called customary law, but in a modern society to a large extent rights and obligations are laid down in the constitution, other laws, and rules given by a government, in statutes and regulations of associations, and in agreements. They form the written sources of justice, to be found in official and non-official publications. In the eighteenth and nineteenth century many people subscribed to the legal positivist’s view that written law (the letter of the law) is the only source of positive justice, hence the equivocation of ‘justice’ with ‘law’ in English. Other sources of justice were only acceptable if the law referred to them. The argument for this formalism were legal security and legal equality, which would be harmed if a judge would not stick to the objective, literal text of the law.


Principles of justice have been actualized into countless norms. As formal sources of justice one distinguishes, in order of prevalence: treaties, being agreements between states; the constitution, laws and other regulations ordained by an organ of the state; rules and decisions valid within an association; jurisprudence, being the interpretation of law texts, established in juridical practice, sometimes based on the intentions of the legislature, as follows from reports of its considerations; contracts, and customs, which are not always documented. There are also informal sources, like the principle of good or bad faith, and logical analyses by jurists.


Besides one speaks of historical sources of justice, like the French Code Civil (1804); Roman law (rediscovered in Bologna in the eleventh century);[8] the canon law of the Catholic Church (compiled by Gratian, circa 1140), especially important for family law; and old German or Anglo-Saxon law, important for goods, neighbour, and heritage law.[9]


Finally, material sources of justice may be called. These are political or societal developments forming the historical background for formulating justice. For instance, the Second World War gave rise to treaties laying the foundation of the United Nations and the European Union. Also changing views, for instance regarding homosexuality, may give rise to changes of the law.




In different countries, present-day laws differ quite substantially, though there are at least three causes why legal systems are similar. The first cause is the intuitive feeling of justice, the juridical consciousness of values, common to all people. The view that a sales contract has juridical consequences including rights and duties for buyer and seller is the same in all cultures, even if it is differently formalized in written laws. All cultures know some kind of property right, though in some cultures private property of land is absent. In a little differentiated society there is no individual right of property. This only belongs to the family or the tribe. A remains of this is the right of inheritance. The right of property of land in continental Europe (in contrast to the Anglo-Saxon countries) does not include the subterranean minerals. Second, the juridical systems in different states often have the same historical roots, like Roman law, laid down by emperor Justinian I in the Codex iustinianus (534), rediscovered at the end of the eleventh century, or the Code Napoleon for continental Europe. In the Anglo-Saxon countries Roman law has had less influence than the common law tradition, valid for the whole state. It developed gradually from customary justice, which was often locally different.[10] Third, the increasing contacts between people in various countries and cultures necessitate a certain amount of harmonization of different juridical systems. For instance, the United Nations has formulated the fundamental human rights in a universal declaration binding for all member states. The European Union tries to harmonize justice on its territory.




People have, grant, receive,and lose rights. Some rights are transferable, and sometimes a judge may take away someone’s rights, for instance one’s freedom of movement. Fundamental human rights are inalienable, as John Locke observed. In a free society these are due to all. They are irreducible to other values and cannot be founded rationally.[11] In suit of Aristotle, medieval philosophers summarized the normative principles under the term natural law (ius naturale), in contrast to human lawgiving (ius positivum).[12] Sometimes one considered natural law to be the ordered structure of the cosmos, the law for the nature of things, plants, animals, and men. In this case, the normative principles are conditions for human existence. Others identified the natural law with the divine law revealed in the Holy Scriptures, in particular the Ten Commandments. Since Hugo Grotius, humanism transformed the idea of natural law into human rights.[13] Some assume that the fundamental rights are products of cultural development.[14] Protestant philosophy considers the fundamental rights to be temporal actualizations of irreducible and invariant normative principles of justice.


Unlike civil rights, human rights are not granted by the state, but should be recognized by each state. In 1948 the United Nations proclaimed the Universal declaration of the rights of men, inspired by the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain.[15] In thirty articles, this declaration describes the fundamental human rights, since then accepted by all members of the UNO, at least on paper.[16] In fact human rights are still coupled to civil rights, such that in many countries refugees, asylum seekers, and stateless persons are without rights, or having fewer rights than ordinary citizens in many countries.[17] Several countries even deny their own citizens the human rights to which they formally subscribe. European citizens may appeal to the European Court of Justice if they believe that their government violates their human rights.


The right of life and self-defence appears to be biotically founded. Any person has a right to live and any person has the obligation to respect, protect, or save the life of another person. The interdiction of manslaughter is one of the most fundamental in any society. In the course of history, the right of self-defence has shifted from the individual to the tribe, from the settlement to the state. Initially the rights of individuals were subservient to those of the larger community. In an underdeveloped society individuals and associations have no rights. They can only expect grace from the powers to be. Roman justice was the first to allow civil rights, initially conceived of as the right of self-defence against the state. It was restricted to the patres, the heads of established families, represented in the Roman senate, and it collapsed during the Byzantine empire. After Christianity became the state religion, the secular and clerical authorities struggled for power until the end of the Middle Ages. The Reformation actualized the right of insurrection. The right to make war (ius belli) is only allowed to sovereign states, not to other associations and not to parts of a state. The fact that the United Nations (uniting sovereign states) restricts this right, does not diminish this principle. When individuals and/or associations come into conflict with each other or the state, they have to turn to a court of justice, whose judgment will be carried out by the state, if necessary with the use of violence. Nowadays, conflicts between states are more and more subjected to the judgment of a court of justice.


In contrast to the rights of life and self-defence, freedom rights are usually not secondarily characterized by the biotic relation frame, but for instance by the political relation frame (freedom of association); the economic frame (the freedom to exchange goods and services); the frame of keeping company (freedom of meeting each other); the frame of trust (freedom of opinion and worship); the logical frame (freedom of scientific research); the semiotic frame (freedom of speech and writing); the aesthetic frame (freedom to express oneself in imagination, for instance in cartoons); or the technical frame (freedom of choice of profession). All these freedoms are accompanied by obligations, such that the freedom of somebody does not stand in the way of another one’s freedom. State laws restrict freedom rights in a political way. Obligations implied by a contract and respect for the freedom and responsibility of other persons restrict rights in an economic or social sense. Hence freedom rights are projections of justice on the preceding relation frames. They especially concern the functioning of individuals and associations on the public domain.


Besides freedom rights there are political rights, applicable to the members of a state as well as of any association. For instance, this applies to the right to vote, the right of information and consultation, the right of approval, the right to criticize governors, and the right to end the membership of an association.




17.5. Courts of justice should be


independent of the state




A court of justice deals with juridical subjects and objects. In a humanist philosophy, based on the autonomy of human beings, only individuals can be juridical subjects. The influence of the Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty in Western culture can be seen in the concept of a legal person (rechtspersoon, better to be replaced by juridical subject), applicable to any association besides individual persons. The principle of sphere sovereignty acknowledges associations to be subjects and would lose its meaning if the concept of a juridical subject were considered fictitious. In order to be able to act on the public domain, an association must be known by the state government, requiring some kind of registration. In a constitutional state, to be acknowledged as a juridical subject should be a right, only to be denied by court order, for instance if the association has a criminal purpose. In a country with an absolute government (an absolute monarchy or a dictatorship), it is not a right, but a privilege, granted by the state. For instance, the Soviet-Union did not recognize the freedom of people to form associations or to convene meetings without explicit consent of the state, guided by the Communist Party. On the other hand, the European Union requires its member states to be constitutional states. European citizens and associations have the possibility to appeal to the European Court of Justice if they believe that their rights are violated by their government.   


Sovereignty is not a juridical but a political principle. The principle of sphere sovereignty does not rest on a right, but on the fact that each association has its own management, exerting authority, requiring discipline from its members, and representing the association. The idea of the constitutional state implies that the state itself is a juridical subject, not an absolute sovereign. As a juridical subject, it can be and often is a party in the course of justice. For example, in criminal justice the attorney represents the state as a juridical subject, but they are not the judge.


Juridical subjects have both rights and duties, being typical human-made objects qualified by the relation frame of justice. However, both rights and duties only function in subject-object relations,[18] and in particular in subject-subject relations. An isolated person like Robinson Crusoe has little use of his rights. The right of one subject often implies duties for another one. The rights of one subject, whether a person or an association (e.g., the state), are limited by those of other subjects. Hence, rights and duties are often in conflict, that’s why we need judges, even if there is no question of criminal conduct. No right should ever be absolutized.


If objective rights and duties are originally juridical, we call these fundamental. According to Roman-Catholic and humanist ‘natural law’ scholars, fundamental rights can be derived from human nature. Others assume that the fundamental rights are products of cultural development,[19] The fundamental rights should not be derived from, but recognized in the state’s constitution. This view is expressed by the United Nations Organization requiring its member states to recognize the ‘universal declaration of human rights’. Only by court order can somebody be deprived of his fundamental rights, for instance his liberty to act in the public domain. I consider fundamental rights to be temporary positivations of invariable normative principles of justice.


Other objective rights and duties follow from objects playing their typical part in subject-subject relations characterized by relation frames preceding the juridical one. Typical artefacts qualified by the relation frame of social intercourse are customs. The kind of rights and duties following from customs is sometimes called customary law (gewoonterecht). In the Anglo-Saxon countries Roman law has had less influence than the common law tradition, valid for the whole state. It developed gradually from customary justice, which was often locally different.[20] In a lawsuit, the interests of people or associations are taken into account, besides the public interest. Contracts are economically qualified artefacts giving rise to various rights and duties. Finally, state laws as well as rules and other decisions made by the management of any association have juridical consequences. In all these cases, whenever there is a conflict about objective rights or duties, the parties in the conflict may appeal to a court of justice. Objective justice, referring to the relation frames preceding the juridical one, is not only found in state laws, but at many other places too. 


Courts of justice are concerned with juridical aspects of any kind of human activity. Their independence from state government means that courts of justice are not necessarily organs of the state. In private law, the state is usually not even a party. On the public domain, the state sometimes acts as an organ of justice, in particular with respect to criminal acts. The office of public justice, being an organ of the state and a specific juridical subject, brings criminals to court and executes the judgments of courts. However, even on the public domain, the state does not only act in a juridical sense.


In a civilized country, a court of justice (or a system of such courts) forms an association with a dual character. Its generic character is like that of any association qualified by the political relation frame, for higher courts have authority over lower courts, which assert discipline by adhering to the rulings of the higher courts. Its generic character is founded in the frame of social intercourse. Its members are judges, adhering to many typical customs. Its specific character is qualified by the juridical relation frame. The character of the courts of justice is interlaced with that of the office of public justice.


Only by distinguishing the political from the juridical relation frame is it possible to explain why in a constitutional state the courts of justice should be independent of the government; why the courts are competent to judge whether the state adheres to its laws; why the courts are competent to judge whether lower laws are consistent with higher laws; and why the acceptance of international courts of justice does not infringe on the sovereignty of the state.




17.6. The state has an exceptional


dual character




We can now summarize the dual character of the state. Its generic character as an association is qualified by the political relation frame and is founded in the frame of social intercourse (section 19.4). In this respect, the state’s members are its citizens, forming a people or nation as a community organized by the state. Nationality means state membership and includes national solidarity. Since the nineteenth century, romantic philosophy has tried and failed to found the character of a nation in ethnicity, race, or language, on the expense of many wars and much suppression.


The specific character of the state is politically qualified as well, in a unique way. Whereas the state governs its citizens and properties according to its generic character, on its territory it governs the public domain according to its specific character. The state is the guardian of the res publica. In public, people do not act as citizens of the state. For instance, the state regulates traffic on public roads and in public transport, and all travellers should obey these rules, whether they are citizens or visiting tourists. In the past, women and slaves were not recognized as citizens, but they freely used the public domain. Besides individual persons, associations act in public, not as citizens of the state, but as clients of the public networks, for which they have often to pay. The public domain does not form a community, but an intersubjective network, or rather a set of networks.[21] Associations acting on the public domain are nodes in a network of their own, connecting the association with other associations and with persons, e.g., the clients of the association, according to its specific character. These external relations should be distinguished from the internal political relation of authority and discipline between the members of the association according to its generic character. Members of an association acting as if they were its clients undermine the internal discipline and mutual solidarity.


Even society is neither an organized nor an unorganized community, but the public intersubjective network of social intercourse, open to anyone. The idea that society is, was or should be a community comprising the whole of humanity is a romantic fiction. The unity of mankind is neither to be found on the public domain, nor in any association, but only in the religious community of the body of Christ.[22]




Let us consider the concept of the public domain related to the specific character of the state in some detail. Each animal species experiences its own specific environment, called its Umwelt, determined by the animals’ biotic and psychic needs. Humanity is not restricted to an Umwelt, for the whole cosmos is its boundless home. Human beings explore and develop their environment in many ways, first of all by technical labour. They transform the natural environment into the public domain. The public domain arises from technical labour, for it consists first of all of a technical infrastructure: roads, supplies of gas, water and electricity, telephone, internet. As an artificial objective network, it refers not only to the spatial, but to all relation frames preceding the technical one. This means that the specific character of the state is founded in the technical relation frame.


The technical infrastructure forms the basis of all other networks constituting the public domain, consisting of relations between subjects, both individuals and associations. Each relation frame succeeding the technical one determines its own characteristic network of public subject-subject relations, in which both individuals and associations partake. Architecture is the public art par excellence and public buildings serve the arts, sports and cults. Public opinion is its semiotic expression, public science its logical one. Churches and political parties make propaganda in public. Public relations define society as a network of public social intercourse. Markets and financial networks have an economic public character, where the government imposes taxes. The states themselves, their provinces and cities as well as their governments form a public political network. The courts form a network of public justice sustained by the state, and the public health and welfare networks are increasingly important in all Western countries. Hence, I reject the view expressed by Herman Dooyeweerd ‘… the principle of public interest must itself have a typical juridical qualification which delimits its supra-arbitrary structural meaning.’[23]


In a free society, the state warrants the liberty of individual people and of associations to make use of the public domain and it stimulates the development of public networks. It maintains the objective structure and the functioning of the public network. Besides, the state maintains the public order and defends the public domain by means of its intervention powers.


Hence, the state has an exceptional dual character. Its generic character as a political association differs from that of other associations because its membership is compulsory and its internal organization is mapped on the public domain. Its specific character differs from that of other associations because it is founded in the public domain which guardian it is, and to which not only its citizens, but all people and all associations have access; or rather should have access, for the public order is a normative one.




The state should not be identified with the public domain. With respect to its generic character, it acts on the public domain as a subject like any other association. With respect to its specific character, it should be emphasized that the state oversees the public domain, but does not necessarily own it. Technical public networks (traffic, telephone, internet) may be owned by various kinds of competing associations. Markets and the channels of public opinion had better not be owned by the state. People ought to be free to use the public domain, and the public rules of the state should have no more ambition than to warrant this freedom and to facilitate public networks. The Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty implies that besides individual persons, associations should be free to operate on the public domain. The Roman-Catholic principle of subsidiarity can be interpreted such that on the public domain the state should refrain from activities that had better be done by other associations.




17.7. Coercive power and territory are not fundamental characteristics of the state




Historically, the defence of the public domain was probably an important incentive to develop tribal coalitions into warrior states. The assumption that the state is characterized by its ‘sword power’ has led many Christian theologians and philosophers to believe that the state exists ‘because of sin’. This view, due to Augustine and criticized by Thomas Aquinas, was accepted by Abraham Kuyper and by Herman Dooyeweerd, in contrast to Jonathan Chaplin and Roy Clouser.[24] Dooyeweerd too, supposing that the character of all non-natural organized communities are founded in the ‘historical’ aspect characterized by human command, based the character of the state in coercive power: ‘There has never existed any State whose internal structure in the last instance was not based on organized armed power, at least claiming the ability to break any armed resistance on the part of private persons or organizations within its territory.’ ‘The universal validity of the normative structural principle of the State  implies the territorial monopolistic organization of military power as its typical foundational function.’[25]


In contrast, I believe that the armed power is merely a historical consequence of the specific character of the state as guardian of the public domain.[26] It does not characterize the state, but rather the intervention powers as organs of the state, which indeed are necessary ‘because of sin’. Like all types of characters, that of the state is given in the creation, and is not caused or changed by the fall into sin. Because the public domain is expressed in all relation frames, in a developed historical situation the state as its guardian has a protective function in any frame. The specific political character of the state means that it orders the public domain, by formulating and maintaining its positive laws. The state maintains peace on the public domain. Even imperialism is always defended by the intention to bring peace, from pax Romana to pax Americana. Nowadays, the maintenance of peace is considered the shared responsibility of all states.


Besides the police and the army the intervention powers include many other organs of the state, including inspectors of public education, health, or safety. Intervention powers do not rule the public domain, but intervene if people or associations threaten to disturb the public order. The intervention powers are not intended to restrict the freedom and responsibility of individual people or associations. Rather, they ought to ensure that anybody is free to use the public domain according to his or her own responsibility. Even a free market cannot function without public order.


The words ‘domain’ and ‘network’ should not lead to the assumption that the public domain is spatially founded. No doubt, the state’s territory is spatially determined, but it does not characterize the state. It merely points to the fact that the sovereignty of each state is limited by that of other states. Since the seventeenth century, the open sea is considered to be free, a public domain not subjected to state sovereignty. This also applies to the Antarctic and the moon. National public networks are coupled to each other, forming international public networks. Mediated by treaties and organizations like UNO and NATO and influenced by NGO’s (non-governmental organizations), even the states themselves form a political network, in many respects dominated by one or a few ‘super states’. The term ‘globalization’ points to the increasing international character of trade, economic associations and public markets, but it could be used with respect to the other relation frames as well. The modern public domain cannot be restricted to one’s country. Associations, freely acting on the public domain, have a tendency to transgress state boundaries. It is inevitable that the states become more and more integrated with each other, and people become inhabitants of the world rather than of their country.




17.8. Public order and public justice




The state as a republic maintains the order on the public domain by giving rules for its use by individuals and associations. The state maintains these rules and eventually punishes trespassers. This specifies any state as a body politic.


The state’s authority is intended to maintain the public order, both within and outside its borders. It is an old wisdom of unknown origin, that public peace requires a strong defence power: si vis pacem, para bellum, if you want peace, prepare for war. It is recommendable to prevent concentrations of power. Meanwhile the history of mankind shows more war than peace. The first Greek historians, Herodotus and Thucydides, even believed that only war deserves the attention of historiography.[27] This was still the opinion of Edward Gibbon in the second half of the eighteenth century, when other historians already developed a broader vision of their profession.[28]


It is striking that during wars ordinary life continues. War is often a challenge, respectively defence of authority, motivated by maintaining the peace or the establishment of a new order. In practice the war faring parties intend to extend their authority or to defend themselves against it. War is a violent means of realizing policies.


Marxism believes that imperialism and capitalism are connected.[29] Even without economic motives, states with an imperial character are inclined to expand their internal power without restrictions and to intervene in other states. By the intervention an imperial state attempts to enforce peace, on conditions dictated by the empire.[30] The Roman state imposed the pax romana to its neighbouring states; the European countries did the same in their colonies; Japan tried it between 1900 and 1945 in South-East-Asia; the Soviet-Union in Eastern-Europe and elsewhere; and the United States with more success first in North-America, next on the Western hemisphere, and since the middle of the twentieth century around the whole world, until they found the limits of their power in South-East Asia and in the Middle-East. An empire can also behave as isolationists, as imperial China did many centuries, and Americans sometimes advocate. Besides isolationism, American foreign policy knows unilaterism and internationalism, i.e., unilaterally acting on its own authority or internationally consulting other countries, for instances in the NATO or in the United Nations.


The Second World War, succeeded by the decolonization of Africa and Asia, signified the end of European imperialism, of the extension of the sovereignty of European states beyond their own territory.[31]




The state maintains the public order and defends its territory by means of intervention forces, such as the police and the army. These are called intervention forces, because police and army only act when citizens or associations respectively other states do not stick to the rules or to treaties.[32] They may intervene whenever the public order is threatened. Intervention is legitimate in an exceptional situation of crisis. Intervention is a typical police matter, and it is not accidental that ‘police’ differs only one digit from ‘policy’.


Armed force is not allowed to any association that has not the character of the state. However, the republic may leave its defence to another state, or to an alliance of states like NATO. Within a state member states, provinces, or cities often have their own police, not subject to the authority of the central government. It may provide a private organization with a license to maintain the order on a limited area. In many countries civilians have the right of self-defence and the right to carry weapons. Companies may have an internal security service. In civilized countries these exceptions are severely limited, subjected to a licence granted by the government and to juridical approval after the fact.




At the foundation and expansion of the European Union imperialistic motives were strikingly absent. The main political motive was to prevent wars among the member states by increasing their mutual dependence. By admitting Greece and Cyprus as member states, the European Union has decided to make no distinction between the Western and Eastern Christian culture. It even considers the admission of Islamic Turkey. The European Union bases its unity not on a culture dominated by one faith or a common language, but on respectful social intercourse instead of war, on mutual free trade instead of autarky, on democracy, the constitutional state, and the welfare state – in other words, on a shared Western civilization recognizing a large variety of cultures.


The establishment of an international order may be a form of imperialism, whether or not indicated with the word globalization.[33] Michael Hardt and Antonio Negri understand by Empire not an organized empire, but the postmodern network of capitalist powers dominating the world, ‘… a decentred and deterritorializing apparatus of rule that progressively incorporates the entire global realm within its open, expanding frontiers.’


Alternatively one finds a growing insight, that although each state is responsible for maintaining the public order on its own territory, it can no longer be completely autonomous for the maintenance of peace and safety.[34] The national networks constituting the public domain of each state are multiply connected, such that the mutual dependence increases. States have always concluded treaties in order to form political networks or alliances. Since the second half of the twentieth century more and more supranational organs arise, taking part of the sovereignty from the states concerned. The state ought to serve the public interest, but in international transactions self-interest often prevails. However, international organizations like the United Nations use the general interest of mankind as their line of action. This is globalization in the right sense of the word. The role of the United Nations to maintain the peace is, however, restricted for the time being.




Public justice is concerned with trespassers of the public order. Whenever someone acts contrary to rules valid on the public domain, in particular whenever someone threatens the freedom or safety of other people, the state may bring them to justice, and punish them according to public law. After the judges have pronounced their verdict, the state uses its power to execute it.


A constitutional state should recognize and protect the fundamental rights as far as these are operative on the public domain. For instance, the government ought to protect the freedom of speech in public, but it should not be concerned with a church board’s interdiction of a publication in its periodical. That belongs to the internal jurisdiction of that church.


Historically, the common distinction between private and public justice has grown out of the liberal humanist dualism of the individual citizens and the state.[35] In the Middle Ages public law was divided between clerical and state law, but according to humanist views church law is a form of private law. The principle of sphere sovereignty implies that each association has its own laws and justice, that cannot be fitted into the dualism of private and public law. Like any other association the state has its own organization. Its rules are laid down in the constitution and other laws. It concerns the relation between the government and the citizens. It defines the rights and duties of the citizens as members of the state, as well as the division of competences between various organs of the state, and the way of arriving at valid decisions.


In public justice the republic represents the general interest, and there is no equality between the state and other juridical subjects. The latter include all individual persons (not only citizens) and all associations operating on the public domain, as well as their mutual relations as far as these are public, such as those between an enterprise and its clients on the market.




All associations exert disciplinary measures. The distinction of public criminal law of the republic and the right of correction within an association is that only the government may use violence in the persecution, and that the judge may order to use violence at the punishment of criminals, for instance by restricting their freedom. This does not only concern the access to the public space, but also the free disposal of income and properties or the right to exert a certain profession. Individuals and associations are not allowed to inflict punishment violently, that would be an exertion of vengeance, not unlike a war between two states.


The character of an association determines the nature of the penalty they mete out. In a nuclear family the penalty has an educational purpose, at school it aims at a learning effect. A penalty should always be accompanied by mercy,[36] taking into account the circumstances of the perpetrator. A punishment should always aim at reconciliation and remission. When that does not succeed, in each association a penalty may lead to an expulsion, in a labour situation to discharge, in a club to the end of membership, in a church to refusal of the sacraments, in a state to exile or imprisonment. Like any other association, the state punishes transgressions within its sphere, for instance by withdrawing the right of voting.


More important is that the republic should protect the free use of the public space, acting correctively when people or associations infringe on the rights of others, and prosecuting trespasses of the public order.


[1] Stafleu 2004.

[2] Franken et al. 2003, 115-116.

[3] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 437; Dooyeweerd NC, III, 379-508; Chaplin 1995; 2011; Zwart 1996.

[4] Franken 2003, 366-367; 379.

[5] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 434.

[6] Hart 1961, 89-96; Dworkin 1967, 65-68.

[7] Tebbit 2005, 41-42.

[8] Knowles 1962, 155-163.

[9] Franken et al. 2003, 101.

[10] Rutgers 2004, 50, 186; Fukuyama 2011, 254-261.

[11] Tebbit 2005, chapter 7.

[12] Tebbit 2005, 9-14; Haldane 1991.

[13] Buckle 1991.

[14] Franken et al. 2003, chapter 2.

[15] Hoogerwerf 1999, chapter 7.

[16] Huntington 1997, 208-214 (chapter 8).

[17] Kymlicka 2002, 254-255; Devisch, Verschraegen 2003.

[18] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 391-413. See Marshall 1985.

[19] Franken 2003, hoofdstuk 2.

[20] Rutgers 2004, 50, 186; Fukuyama 2011, 254-261.

[21] Castells 2000.

[22] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 214-216.

[23] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 438.

[24] Kuyper 1898, 64-66, 74-75; Dooyeweerd NC, III, 423-424, 506; Chaplin 1995, 25-29; Clouser 1991a, 268-269.

[25] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 414; III, 420-421.

[26] Chaplin 1995, 27.

[27] Cartledge 1997, 25.

[28] Rudwick 2005, 181-194.

[29] Daalder 1990, 291-299; Hardt, Negri 2000.

[30] Hardt, Negri 2000, 167.

[31] Hobsbawm 1994, chapter 7.

[32] Hardt, Negri 2000, 17-18.

[33] Hardt, Negri 2000, xi, xii; Beckert 2014.

[34] Goudzwaard et al. 2007, chapter 6.

[35] Franken et al. 2003, 240-244.

[36] Nussbaum 2001, section 7.6.



 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 18


The civil society and

the public domain







19.1. Actors on the public domain

19.2. Historical views on state and society

19.3. The origin of authority 

19.4. The generic character of any association 

19.5. The organisation of an association 

19.6. A strong state and a strong society


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 19. The civil society and the public domain



18.1. Actors on the public domain


This book is concerned with relations and characters. The difference between associations and communities, between the civil society and the public domain reflects this distinction. I conceive the public domainas the set of public objective and intersubjective relation networks, often forming communities. Here three kinds of actors operate: individual persons; different kinds of associations like enterprises, hospitals, churches or clubs, each having a specific character, together constituting the civil society; and the state as the guardian of the public domain, with its generic character of being an association among others, and its specific character as a republic, serving the res publica. Of old, individual persons were everywhere active in public, but free associations become more and more dominant as social players on the public domain.


To be distinguished from an association, an unorganized social group of people without leadership I shall called a community. Instances are a lingual community; a nation or people; a social class or caste; a culture or a civilization; a party during a reception; or the public during a concert. A community has a social coherence, forming an intersubjective network, often sustained by an objective network, like a lingual community requires a common language. A lingual community and the public opinion are not active subjects, no more than Christianity, the market, society, a (sub-) culture, or a civilization. Communities cannot work, talk, act, show respect for each other, or negotiate. They do not bear responsibility and are not answerable. Sometimes a community is objectively determined by an artefact, like a lingual community by a language; sometimes by a common ideology, like communism; sometimes by a connection with an association, like a nation or people is connected to a state; sometimes it is related to an event, like a party with a birthday. The suggestion that an unorganized community may act as a subject is at most a metaphor.


This does not exclude a peculiar kind of activity within a community, influencing the accompanying objective networks. Fashions, the markets, languages, the public opinion, etc., continuously change because of irregular subjective interactions between the actors on the public domain, much like a herd of beasts or a swarm of birds behaves communally without leadership. The individual freedom of the actors on the public domain implies that their acts are to a large extent unpredictable, but it turns out that their collective behaviour is subject to statistical laws, allowing of, for instance, life insurances. This does not mean that communities do not have reality or would be unimportant. The public domain consists of a variety of communities, each characterized by one of the normative relation frames: the technical infrastructure (section 10.6); festivities shaping communities (section 11.5); the language communities (section 12.7) and nations as communities (section 12.8); fields of science (section 13.4); the ecumene (section 14.1); social relation networks (section 15.8); and markets (section 16.6).


Any organized social group with members and leadership may be called an association.[1] Herman Dooyeweerd calls this an organized community, whereas for what I call a community he uses the term ‘interindividual and inter-communal relationship’, later abbreviated to ‘interlinkage’. An association is also known as a corporation, a company, a union, an institute like a church or a nuclear family, a congregation, or a club. As an organized whole an association has authority and discipline. Its board (whether monocratic or collective) determines the course of affairs within the association and represents it outdoors. For that it is empowered and entitled. It acts on behalf of the association like an individual person. Any association has members, sometimes called citizens (of a state) or employees (of an enterprise or a school). Some associations, like the United Nations Organization or the European Union, have associations (in this case, the states) as members.


Because an association maintains its identity at the leave of members from the association and the resignation of members of the board, it may be considered as a subject itself, with its own character, actively subjected to normative principles and involved with their realization into norms.[2] As far as it concerns its functioning on the public domain, it is called a ‘legal person’. Usually, the authority is restricted to members of the association (and to the objects possessed by the association) and within the association by the freedom and responsibility of the members of the association.

An association can act as a subject, like a person, because it has its own continuous identity, independent of the identity of its members. Members can leave and new members can join the association. An association can remain to exist even if its first members, its founders, have withdrawn their membership or are deceased. Like any individual an association has a name and an address. A flag, logo, or ideogram, and a mission statement symbolise the association’s identity. It is important if its members can identify themselves with the association, socializing them. In a household any member should feel at home. As a metaphor this also applies to other associations. Immigrants are supposed to do their utmost to struck root in their new country. This is no less true for new members of any other association.


The governor or governing board of an association has a restricted and temporal competence to act with authority within and on behalf of the association. Its authorization rests on the recognition by its members, on discipline. ‘Political power is ultimately based on social cohesion.’[3] The governors cannot long continue to act within the association if they fail to earn the respect of its members, for instance by neglecting to consult them. They are accountable to their members. On the other side, the members of an association ought to have respect for the leadership, and for each other, expressed by mutual solidarity and a sense of communality, by connectedness, otherwise the association will explode sooner or later. These are normative principles, which not every association satisfies. Sometimes an association only exists by the grace of the exertion or threat of violence. This may occur in a state, a criminal gang, or a terror group, and also in a marriage or a household.


The republic as the guardian of the public realm and the protector of freedom was always present in one form or another after humanity became settled, but since the Middle Ages, the public significance of other associations increases explosively, such that the open future of the public domain seems more in the hands of free associations (churches, enterprises, NGO’s) and associations of states (UNO, NATO) than in those of the various states apart. Their mutual relation is under duress because of widely different views on the relations between the state and other associations; the relations among states and their sovereignty; the relations among associations and with individuals; and the freedom and responsibility of individuals and of associations. All these mutual relations promote or inhibit their dynamic development, in particular where they meet each other on the public domain. The necessity to develop forces them to reflect on their characteristic identity, especially if this is threatened by external influences. Structurally, the general trend seems to be that associations become less intertwined with associations of a different type, contrary to the trend that they get more publicly involved with each other. The church takes distance from the state, enterprises return to their core activities, trade unions discharge activities which are not directly related to the promotion of labourers’ interests, and families suffer the loss of many functions.


The leading motive of chapter 18 will be the freedom and responsibility of citizens and associations acting in a civil society on the public domain, to be warranted by the state. This requires both a strong society and a strong state.  


18.2. Historical views on state and society


Views on the meaning of associations as part of a civil society differ widely. Opposite to the Protestant view that each association has a character of its own, with sphere sovereignty independent of the character of a state, one finds the family based society; Catholic and romantic organicism; liberal individualism; socialist collectivism; and post-modern historism.[4] Section 18.2 briefly reviews these ideologies, finding that associations have strongly influenced the development of the Western civil society, and are starting to do so in the rest of the world, moving toward an increasingly open future of the public domain. We shall see that the freedom of associations to act on the public domain is strongly connected to the freedom of individuals to do the same.


Bands and tribes

A tribal society based on a nomadic band or an agricultural tribe rests on subordination; on the distinction of men and women; of close and removed family members; of masters and servants or slaves; of patrons and clients; of believers and unbelievers. This old social form based on kinship and ancestor worship characterizes an undifferentiated totalitarian society in which someone belongs exclusively to one community, to wit, the family, band, tribe or caste, whether or not acting as an association with some kind of authority.[5] When people meet each other, they do so as members of their family or tribe, not as individuals. These communities can be found in the past of all cultures, sometimes still in the Third World, and it is favoured not only by romantics, but also in some Christian, Jewish, and especially Muslim orthodox circles. In several Muslim countries in the Middle East tribal relations are still dominant. Without these one cannot understand the political situation in Lybia, Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan, or Pakistan. They often coincide with religious controversies between Christians and Muslims, or between Sunnites and Shiites.

Only in the Western world tribalism was abandoned in a process which probably started in the sixth century, when and where the Catholic church became dominant.[6] In a tribal society property rights are often determined by kinship. In particular land is not owned by individuals but by a family. After someone deceased their property remained within the family. During the Middle Ages the church achieved much property, in part because of the tithe of ten percent tax on income. Often it owned up to one third of all cultivated area, being the most important source of income and wealth. The church wanted to keep this property in its own hand, allegedly because it was necessary to sustain the poor. Therefore it forbade the priests and monks to marry and have children, and it promoted an individualized practice of heritance among the laity, such that after their death they would leave their property to the church. As a result the tribal society disappeared from Europe much earlier than in other parts of the world.

The relations within an undifferentiated society may be quite complicated, depending on one’s position in their family and of the family in the tribe. A tribe has many kinds of functions which in a modern society are exerted by other associations or by individuals. By the loss of these functions the family or tribe has generally speaking no meaning left as an organized group. Only the marital bond and the nuclear family as basis of the education of children remain. The extended family only remains as an unorganized community. This is a relatively recent Western phenomenon. In many countries family relations still play an important part, for instance in family companies. In a modern society, enterprises in which the employees consist entirely or mainly of family members are usually very small. Enterprises being the property of a single family are more common.

In the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia and Africa, tribal politics is still common.[7] However, also in the West, ethnicity remained forcefully present. In particular, populism has an ethnic background.


Polis and cosmopolis

In the philosophy of Plato and Aristotle too, the Greek polis is not differentiated. Their ideal city state (already out of date in their time) is a totalitarian community, a commonwealth, to which everything is subordinated and in which the citizens find their happiness (eudaimonia) and their destiny (telos). In a well-ordered polis, a few rationally trained men govern as philosopher-kings. They direct well-trained spirited guardians serving as defenders and administrators, whereas the lower classes are engaged in production and commerce.  At the city boundaries the political community halts. Only free men have rights, excluding women, slaves, and foreigners. Their mutual connection is not the family, but friendship. Family ties are subordinated to the polis.[8]

The Roman Empire extended the polis to cosmopolis, in which an increasing number of people achieved citizen rights, but it still attributed a large autonomy to the familia, including slaves and clients besides family members.[9] The senate consisted of important family heads. The Roman Empire was as totalitarian as the Greek polis, but in both citizens could bring each other to justice.


Multi-tribal states

The assumed, by no means always factual, biotic relationship of the tribe’s members with each other and with their ancestors constitutes a natural bonding myth for the emergence of the tribe. The ancestors were worshiped as its founders. When tribes were united into a state, a new myth attributed the state a divine origin.[10] The first large empires deified the power of the kings.[11] In order to enhance their authority the rulers were worshiped as God or majesty. Like the Chinese and Byzantine emperors, Charlemagne and his anointed successors believed that they received their authority directly from God.[12]

In the twelfth century the Catholic myth emerged that the state derives its authority from the church and through the church from God. At the end of the Middle Ages, the myth of the divine origin was weakened by a theory about the right of insurrection. In some countries, hereditary royalty is a remainder of this, in particular if the head of state is simultaneously the head of the state church.

The first association organizing itself independent of family and state was the Christian church, at first repressed, next tolerated, then made into a state organ in the Eastern Roman Empire, and finally in the West involved in a power struggle with the emerging nation states.


Society as an organism

Society as an organismis originally especially a Western Catholic view, later also contemplated by romantic philosophers. The rise of Christianity stroke at the roots of the totalitarian Roman state. The young church only recognized the emperor’s authority on worldly affairs. Augustine’s book De civitate Dei assumed the existence of two communities, the city of God and the city of the world, separated because of the fall into sin.[13]

After the Roman empire elevated Christianity to state worship, medieval philosophers and theologians considered society to be an organic bi-unity, consisting of the church equipped with the spiritual sword, and the subordinated state armed with the secular sword.[14] Martin Luther too adhered to a doctrine of ‘two regiments’.[15] Eastern-orthodox theologians identified the church with the state. If the church is subordinated to the emperor one speaks of caesaro-papism. In many countries, Muslims adopted a similar view, though in shiite Iran the state is subordinate to the clergy. The relation between the medieval church and state corresponded with that between the human supernatural soul and natural body. The church was concerned with the eternal salvation of people, the state with their worldly well-being.


The assumption that the state is subordinated to the church implied first that the state should not be concerned with internal affairs of the church, second that the church decided which matters belonged to the domain of the church, and which matters belonged to the state’s jurisdiction. According to Thomas Aquinas all communities, except the church, are organic parts of the state, like parts of a body. This totalitarian view was mitigated by the principle of subsidiarity, stating that each social activity is subsidiary. It ought to support the members of the social body. The principle of subsidiarity assumes that society exists of a hierarchy of higher and lower communities or organs, of which the state is the highest and all embracing, with the most important norm that a higher organ should not be concerned with what a lower one can do. In 1931 pope Pius XI confirmed the principle of subsidiarity in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno, and in particular the Catholic philosopher Jacques Maritain elaborated it.

Indeed, the principle of subsidiarity is applicable whenever an association as a whole has more or less autonomous parts. Such a relation of a whole and its parts is found in a state divided into provinces and municipalities; a national or international church with regional dioceses and local parishes; a national party with local branches; a holding company with more or less independent subsidiary companies; or a chain of shops. The principle of subsidiarity may be considered an important strategy for the internal organization of an association, in which the separate parts receive as much freedom and responsibility as possible. It determines the relation of both the United States and the European Union (as well as Canada and Switzerland) to its member states. It opposes a centralized government. However, the organicist view on which it is based provides no insight into the relation of mutually independent associations, because it does not recognize these. At most it tolerates them.

Because the Roman-Catholic Church circa 1965 abandoned the idea of an all-embracing society, some politicologists now consider the vertical principle of subsidiarity and the principle of sphere sovereignty (also called horizontal subsidiarity, see below) as being slight differences within a converging view that they call communitarism or Christian pluralism.[16] It is the political philosophy of Christian-democratic and conservative parties in Europe. The principle of recognition of the independence of all kinds of associations is, however, not equivalent to an internal organization principle within such associations.

Ultimately, in the Western society, the church once more became separated from the state. This led to freedom of faith, the recognition that any person is free in one’s conscience, being fully responsible for their relation to God. People who are free in their conscience also demand freedom in other respects. The rise of free associations apart from family ties and the state does not accidentally coincide with the recognition of freedom of faith. It formed the basis of a republican and democratic society, not founded on tribal or nationalistic views, but on free associations.


Medieval European feudalism is a specific form of organicism. It was based on the division of the population into three estates. Nobility and clergy were strongly hierarchical, with the king at the head of nobility and the pope heading the church. Lacking such a hierarchy, the third estate distinguished free people (especially living in the cities), slaves, and  serfs which were bound to the land on which they lived and worked, serving their noble or clerical lord. In North-West Europe serfdom disappeared in the fourteenth century, perhaps due to the mid-century plague. In Eastern Europe it lasted into the nineteenth century.

Free associations only existed in the cities. The local guilds were labour associations.


Liberal individualism

Liberal individualism recognizes only individuals to be original members of society.[17] They ought to have as much freedom of acting as possible. Each association is considered to be a voluntary set of individuals, no more than the sum of the members of the set. Individuals may form a union with a determined goal, based on a contract, which they can break or revise at any time. Liberals reject the specific character of associations. Enlightened natural law scholars like Jean Bodin, Johannes Althusius, Hugo Grotius, Thomas Hobbes, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, and Immanuel Kant, attempted to found the state in the myth of a social contract.[18] (In contrast, John Rawls uses the theory of the social contract to found justice (as did Kant too), not the state.[19]) The state is now legitimized by a voluntary agreement of citizens, a contract in which the citizens transfer their natural rights in part to the collective state. Thomas Hobbes characterized the state of nature as an unlimited anarchy, but John Locke assumed that people have naturally inalienable human rights, to be respected by any sovereign.[20] The reason for the formation of a state is to warrant these rights. For Jean-Jacques Rousseau not the state, but the community (the people) is the bearer of authority. In the romantic period this became the nation.

Contrary to Bodin, Althusius emphasized that authority should never be an absolute sovereign. At each level in the state, the ruler should be checked by a representation of the people, a view later developed by Charles Montesquieu. Rousseau propagated the absolute and undivided sovereignty of the people. Hobbes preferred the reign of a single person having the consent of his subjects, because he considered a strong government necessary to suppress haughty people.[21] For Locke it became a small step to the sovereignty of the parliament. It became a leading motive in British political thought. Because it clashes with the idea of sharing sovereignty in the European Union, it led to the ‘brexit’ in 2019. The idea of a social contract with checks and balances (section 5.4) forms the foundation of the constitution of the United States of America.[22]

The theory of the social contract rests on the Enlightenment principle that any individual is autonomous, having primacy above any association. Its critics observed that people never lived outside a community and contested the view that the state can be seen as a set of autonomous individuals.[23] Anybody is a member of the state without being asked, based on birth, not on a contract. Philosophers defending the idea of the social contract readily admit this to be a theoretical fiction, having no historical ground.[24] It appears to be more likely that the modern state emerged from a multitribal community.[25] An intermediate form would be a class or caste state, in which people are classified according to their birth status. Both the recognition of individual rights apart from tribe or state and the recognition of the independence of associations that are not bound to a family or the state, are more recent than the emergence of states apart from tribal ties. The liberation from tribal ties constitutes an important part of the historical development of modern society.

Enlightenment philosophers based the sovereignty of the people on the contract theory. They often overemphasized democracy, without recognizing that this is not characteristic of the state, with its specific character of being the guardian of the public domain. Rather, democracy is a form of management that can be realized in many associations besides the state. Participation of the members in the leadership confirms the view that the generic character of any association is founded in relations of keeping company.


Socialist collectivism

During the nineteenth century, socialist collectivism arose as a romantic reaction to individualistic liberalism. It too does not allow of much room for independent associations, because it considers society to be the all-encompassing social reality. Collectivism overemphasizes the public domain, which it often identifies with the state. Calling man a social animal, Karl Marx assumed that whatever a man does has the society as its perspective and should serve the community. According to nineteenth-century romantic nationalism and twentieth-century fascism, this community was the people, determined by its language and culture. According to national-socialism this was the Volksgemeinschaft, determined by a common race.[26] According to communism it is the proletariat, represented by the everything embracing communist party. In some Islamic states it is the common faith, laid down in the Koran and in tradition.

For social-democrats, who were usually strongly related to trade unions, the collective is the labour community embracing all institutions and associations, not only the state, factories and companies, trade unions and political parties, but also families and schools, preparing children for their position in the society conceived as a labour community, as well as clubs, if these fulfil a useful function in society. Because everyone ought to find a position in the all-encompassing labour community, unemployment is the largest nightmare of social democrats.

None of these views has an eye for the existence of free associations, even if the social-democrats recognize the rights of association and of assembly.

Whereas liberals stress the autonomy and freedom of any individual, socialists have the tendency to emphasize that human beings are determined by their social environment, as well as by their physical, biological and psychic constitution.



The historistic myth legitimizes the state exclusively on the basis of historical developments, for instance its factual origin from a family or tribe, or a coalition of tribes. The transition from family groups (for instance of hunters/gatherers) via tribes to states is strongly connected to the increasing population density and the growth of settlements to cities.[27] The people are subordinate to the prince, like the Roman family is subordinated to the pater familias. The monarch is the owner and his successor the heir of the sovereignty.[28] Therefore there is no clear separation between the fortune and income of the monarch and that of the state. The traditionalist or conservative current within historism (Edmund Burke, circa 1800 and Friedrich Hayek, second half of the twentieth century) rejects both the theocratic view about the divine origin of authority and the rationalist contract theory. In a long process complex systems like states are made by and for people, ‘results of human action but not of human design’.[29]

Earlier, Johann Gottfried von Herder, the founder of historism, emphasized that each human community is unique and separate from its neighbours.[30] This historistic view, denying structural normative principles for associations, has given rise to nationalism (section 15.8).

From the Reformation to the American and French revolutions, citizens have liberated themselves from monarchy, nobility, and ecclesiastical hierarchy, taking over the leadership of the network society. In the nineteenth century, when the cities displayed ever more differentiation without much integration, the idea of a cultural unity transferred from the settlement to the nation. Nationalists believed that the cultural differences within a country could be bridged by an often mystic unity.[31] In the nineteenth century Protestants were more inclined to nationalism than Catholics or Jews, and liberals more than socialists. Often one emphasized the uniqueness of the nation by dissociating from other nations, getting these in wrong. In Protestant countries one identified the nation with Protestantism, and Catholics and Jews were kept outside the nation, by calling them ‘transmontanists’ and ‘internationalists’ respectively. Nineteenth-century Austrian-Hungarian and German anti-semitism was initially more nationalist than racist, but it became a fertile breeding-ground for the genocides of the twentieth century. After the rivalries between settlements grew into conflicts between peoples, the search for the own identity degenerated into the glorification of the nation and atrocious wars. Outside the national borders one only recognized enemies and allies against enemies.[32] Nationalism is a perverse form of historism, because it disdains the history of other peoples, predominating that of its own. Georg Hegel and his adherents have provided this view with a philosophical justification: ‘The self-consciousness of a particular Nation … is the objective actuality in which the Spirit of the Time invests its Will. Against this absolute Will the other particular national minds have no rights: that Nation dominates the World ...’[33]

The national state, characterized by absolute power, cannot but strive after expansion. This view, influential not only in Germany but also elsewhere in Europe, has led to the long European war (1914-1991).

Nationalism has proved to be a bad form of integration. It is an attempt to counter the integration of others. It does not contribute to the historical development of a free society, but is reactionary throughout. Nationalism is a modern form of tribalism, in which one’s own tribe is the measure of society. It does not lead to social integration, but to discrimination and expulsion.

As a competitor of nineteenth century nationalism, the industrial revolution induced the class struggle. Class formation as a social stratification of the poor, middle groups, and the rich appears to be a consequence of economic differentiation. However, class distinctions come more to the fore in differences of descent, education, training, use of language, intelligence, faith, habits, wealth, and income. It is expressed by the popular opposition of ‘the people’ and ‘the élite’.

The twenty-first century saw an upsurge of nationalism, most successfully with rulers like Vladimir Putin, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, Viktor Orbán, Hugo Chávez, and Donald Trump, but also with Britain’s brexit and several minority populist political parties elsewhere.



The central question from antique to modern philosophy concerned the possibility of autonomous human persons to achieve absolutely certain knowledge, on the basis of propositions which anybody can understand to be true. In twentieth-century philosophy human knowledge lost the central position which it had occupied since René Descartes. Postmodernism takes leave from the modernist project of the autonomous person, from the domination of nature, and from fundamentalism.[34] As a reaction to the horrors of the long European war (1914-1991) and the decline of Marxism and existentialism, postmodern philosophers and historians rejected the ‘grand narratives’, the all encompassing idealistic views on humanity and its history, including Christianity, which did not convince them any more.[35] More than the original Enlightenment, postmodernism stressed the social connections within human communities.

Postmodern social constructivism poses that each truth is bound to culture, dependent on the insights of individual scientists and of the scientific community. Nobody is a tabula rasa, an unwritten piece of paper absorbing knowledge from outside through the senses. According to social constructivism, human beings construct their knowledge from a tangle of experiences, and no one’s construction is  better than that of anyone else. This self-destroying relativism lost much of its credibility because it could neither explain the success of the natural sciences investigating the hidden structure of organic and anorganic matter, nor the undeniable applicability of modern technology and medicine based on natural science. ‘Science, as a method and practice, is a social construct. But science as a system of knowledge is more than a social construct because it is successful, because it fits with reality.’[36] ‘Realism, the belief that science gets at the truth, is the only philosophy that doesn’t make the success a miracle’.[37]

Postmodern philosophy flourished between 1980 and 1995, afterward soon losing much adherence.[38] Nevertheless, postmodern relativism came to be one of the main philosophical roots of populism.[39]



Although it has its roots in nineteenth-century nationalism and in post-modernism, the term ‘populism’ came in vogue only in the twenty-first century. Populist movements emerged in Europe and the America’s since the 1980’s. There is no generally accepted definition, perhaps because populism takes various forms in different countries. However, there is some agreement about several common features.[40]

As a competitor of nineteenth century nationalism, the industrial revolution induced the class struggle. Class formation as a social stratification of the poor, middle groups, and the rich appears to be a consequence of economic differentiation. Whereas world-wide the average income increased steadily, since the 1970’s the differences in income and wealth between the highest haves and the lowest have-nots increased even more.[41] It was accompanied by the rise of powerful oligarchies, as well as a decreasing mobility between social classes, ethnic and age groups.[42] Class distinctions come to the fore in differences of descent, education, training, use of language, intelligence, faith, habits, wealth, and income. Populism assumes the existence of two more or less homogeneous units of analysis: on the one hand 'the people' or ‘the nation’; on the other side 'the elite' or ‘the establishment’. These maintain an antagonistic relationship: a positive valorisation of 'the people' and a denigration of 'the elite'.

For the public opinion, populists favour the social media with their emphasis on subjective truth, above the elitist traditional communication channels, stressing objective facts. They tend to ignore the results of elitist science with respect to the changing climate, for instance. Scientific arguments against their views are ignored.

Populism stresses the idea of popular sovereignty, preferring direct democracy above representational democracy. Each populist movement pretends to represent the people better than the formal democracy of elected representatives which they mistrust.

Populists have an ethnic view of the people, making them kindred to tribalism. Because they want to keep their own ethnic group pure, they abhor immigrants, in particular Muslims. In the Middle East and elsewhere in Asia and Africa, tribal politics is still common.[43] However, also in the West, ethnicity remained forcefully present. In particular, populism has an ethnic background.

Populism is sometimes called a ‘thin ideology’. It has to be fleshed out by a right or left ‘thick ideology’, like liberalism or socialism, giving rise to right and left-wing populism. An alternative is some kind of religious populism, like Islamic or Hindu nationalism.


Sphere sovereignty

Opposed to the social contract theory, a Protestant (in particular Calvinian) tradition maintains the principle that associations are characterized by normative principles laid down in the creation, and developed in the course of history. In the social differentiation and integration process, neither individuals, nor free associations, nor the state or the church play a primary part. For the formation of associations people are responsible, and human freedom makes use of the possibilities presented by each character type.

Sphere sovereignty (soevereiniteit in eigen kring) is originally a typical Dutch term for an unsuspected widespread phenomenon. In particular during the twentieth century, the existence of free associations, having their own administration independent of the republic which only exerts supervision of the public domain, has become the hallmark of the free Western society, even if it is not always recognized as such. Elsewhere it expands explosively too. The fact that Abraham Kuyper designed his view of sphere sovereignty in the nineteenth century testifies to his prophetic mind.[44] In fact, this is historically a much more interesting phenomenon than the victory of neo-liberalism proclaiming the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama.[45]

If in one respect Protestantism collides with Catholic, liberal, collectivist, and totalitarian views, it concerns their insight into associations. Since the sixteenth century, Protestants argue and practice that associations belong to a character type of their own; that these are irreducible to individual interests or to the interest of a collective; that associations are not subordinate but co-ordinate; that each person belongs to several associations; that no all-embracing association exists; that nobody is embraced completely by any association whatsoever; and that various mutually irreducible character types of associations exist. There is no better warrant for freedom than this Protestant view of a civil society. The ongoing discussion of the idea of a ‘civil society’  seems to overlook this Protestant interpretation.[46]

The principle of sphere sovereignty is a societal principle, characterized by the way people deal with associations and keep each other’s company. It is a political principle too, because it indicates that an association does not derive its authority from other associations, but from the creational order, from God’s sovereignty, such that authority should never be absolute. It is not an organizational principle. Unlike the above mentioned principle of subsidiarity, it is not applicable to the mutual relations of the state with its provinces and local communities, as far as these are subordinate parts of the state.

Sovereignty presupposes some kind of authoritative rule. Therefore, the principle of sphere sovereignty only applies to associations, not to unorganized social communities. The view that sphere sovereignty applies to the authority in associations can be found both in Abraham Kuyper and in Herman Dooyeweerd.[47] Moreover Kuyper also speaks of sphere sovereignty in ‘spheres of life’, like art or science, which Dooyeweerd develops into the ontological principle of creaturely diversity or mutual irreducibility of modal aspects and character types.[48] In order to avoid this ambiguity I prefer to limit the concept of ‘sovereignty’ to bearers of authority and authority having instances, and ‘sphere sovereignty’ to the governor or board of an association.

Sphere sovereignty does not imply that associations are autonomous, independent of other associations. In fact, associations form many kinds of networks, in which they cooperate to achieve their goals. The meaning of sphere sovereignty is that any kind of authority is limited. It promotes the freedom and responsibility of individual persons. Because they belong to various associations, they can be alternatively leaders in one and subordinate members in another association.

The principle of sphere sovereignty does not in the least mean that each association should have an ideological foundation. The typically Dutch and Belgium phenomenon of the ‘verzuiling’ (the compartmentalization of society from about 1850 to 1980[49]) could make that plausible, but Kuyper’s principle applies to associations having no relation to any world view as well.


18.3. The origin of authority


The principle of sphere sovereignty implies that society is not an undivided comprehensive whole with a single authority. Also in this respect it differs from all other views discussed above. It depends on the Christian view of the divine lawful origin of authority, allowing of and even implying a division of human authority. Freedom and responsibility of individuals and of associations in the civil society would be severely threatened if the state or any other institute would have unlimited power. In fact such a state is not strong but unstable. A really strong state has a strong civil society as its counterpart.

The question of the meaning of the state and other associations is therefore related to the question of the origin of authority.[50] Isaiah Berlin considers ‘the problem of obedience’ to be the heart of political philosophy.[51] In concrete cases the foundation, expansion, contraction, or disappearance of a state rests on conquest, revolution, rebellion, or liberation from foreign domination.[52] This indicates how a state is historically arisen or disengaged from one or more other states, how a state came to power, but it does not answer the question of the origin of the republic’s or any other association’s authority. The answer to this question strongly depends on one’s world view and is often expressed in a myth, a faith story legitimizing the authority.

Christians believe that the state is an institution of God and the authority of the government is given by God.[53] This can hardly be valid for any concrete state in its historical form, but it can be true for the general character type of the state and, in fact, for all types of associations. In his often cited letter to the Romans, Paul does not call the state but any government: ‘Every person must submit to the supreme authorities. There is no authority but by act of God, and the existing authorities are instituted by him.’[54]

In this view the profile of an association originates from God’s laws, not from its historic realization. Nevertheless any board exerts authority by the grace of God, the supreme sovereign, who does not provide a license to act arbitrarily but lawfully, according to divine normative principles. Each government ought to satisfy the universal political norm that it should not abuse its authority. If a government satisfies this norm, the members of the association ought to obey the authority within the association’s limits.

There is an important difference between the specific character type of the state and that of other associations. Whereas each association exerts authority within its own sphere, the state as a republic also exerts authority on the public domain.

In the state as well as in other associations, authority is often conceived in a conservative way: to maintain the existing order at all costs. A more progressive view insists that any authority should display leadership with respect to the dynamic development of the association and its membership, and as far as the state is concerned, the development of the public domain.


Although political philosophy is nowadays sharply distinguished from philosophy of law (and politics from the theory of law), it is still controversial to state that politics differs from justice. Until recently, the European part of humanity lived in an era that derived its juridical concepts entirely from the state, conceiving of the state as a model of political unity.[55] The best way to make this clear is to point to a number of unwanted consequences of their identification.

Traditionally, the rule of law means that justice is bound to laws, not merely to the conscience and insight of judges and others.[56] However, Francis Fukuyama (admitting that ‘... there are as many definitions of “rule of law” as there are legal scholars...’) defines the rule of law such that ‘... the individual holding political power feels bound by the law ... The rule of law is a separate component of political order that puts limitations on a state’s power.’[57] This may be considered a definition of a ‘constitutional state’ (Rechtsstaat).

The moderating principle of equity attempts to prevent unintended consequences of the application of a rule. According to Aristotle, the principle of equity allowed judges to moderate the rigidity of the law, without transcending the limits of the law.[58] The rule of lawalso means that the juridical process should proceed independent of political rulers.[59] Justice should transcend the specific interests of the parties involved in civil or criminal lawsuits. It should pass judgment neutrally and impartially.[60] Evidently, this is a norm, not to be confused with the fact that judges may be influenced by their class, their education, or by the public opinion, and are sometimes corrupt.

In order to warrant legal security and equality of rights, since the end of the eighteenth century Western states have codified existing law, by systematically collecting and revising laws into comprehensive codes. The Code Civil (Code Napoleon, 1804) has had a large influence on civil justice, like the Code Pénal (1810) on criminal law.

The rule of law has a political meaning as well. The Christian view that human authority is derived from God’s authority implies that it is subject to God’s law, to the normative principles laid down in the creation and known to all. These are the principles of mutual love, justice, good government, mutual service, respect, trust, reason, clarity, joy and skilful labour. Since the Enlightenment declared humans to be autonomous, they had to take recourse to a legalistic view of law.


From the eighteenth century to the middle of the twentieth century, legal positivism identified justice with the written laws of the country (section 17.3).[61] According to Mark Tebbit, the nineteenth-century utilist Jeremy Bentham was the first legal positivist, followed by John Austin and in the twentieth century by Herbert Hart in England and Hans Kelsen in Austria.[62] However, already in the sixteenth century, Jean Bodin developed a ‘naive legalistic variety of juridical positivism’.[63] Influenced by pragmatism,[64] American judges are more realistic and less legalistic than their European colleagues. For instance, for American commercial life rights and duties are usually not laid down in laws (as in Europe), but in jurisprudence. According to positivist legalism a rule or law was legal if justified by a higher law. The highest law was the constitution, derived from an earlier constitution and ultimately from a mythical social contract, succeeding the state of nature or ‘original position’.[65] Romantic optimists like Jean-Jacques Rousseau considered this an ideal situation in which no injustice occurred. Pessimists like Thomas Hobbes believed it was a state of homo homini lupus, man is a wolf to man, a state in which justice does not exist.

In legalism the lawful order was narrowed down to legislation. Legal positivists rejected Thomas Aquinas’ rationalist natural philosophy, considering justice to be of divine origin, knowable from human nature, in conformity with Aristotle’s philosophy. Plato derived justice from the unchangeable world of ideas, and Hugo Grotius from human reason. 

Legalism overrated the laws of the state. It held the doctrine stating that nearly all rules of justice are legal rules, that in principle the law is complete and that a judge has to apply the law without questioning it.[66] Legalism is inspired by utilitarian enlightenment philosophers believing that simple and elementary rules, derived from reason and natural law, had to take the place of intricate traditional law ruling European society of their time.[67] This implied the separation of political formulation and juridical application of justice. Concerning the first, courts of justice are subjected to law-making organs of the state. Concerning the second, the courts are independent of the government, whereas the executive organs of the state are subjected to justice administered by the courts of justice. This separation and balance of powers (Charles Montesquieu’s trias politica, 1748) presupposed that the three powers (executive, legislative, and judicial) are all organs of the state. (In fact, Montesquieu did not discuss a separation, but a dispersal of powers, like he found in England. He also believed that the judiciary should not be an organ of the state.[68]) The separation of the three powers intended to warrant the freedom of the citizens. Emerged from humanist philosophy, it did not even consider the possibility that justice and authority with discipline might be mutually irreducible.

In the second half of the twentieth century legal positivism came under fire, however, first because courts of justice took the freedom to interpret laws. Jurisprudence became as much a source of justice as the laws of the country, in the USA even more so than in Europe. Legalism presupposes that only the legislature is allowed to interpret its own laws. It is the task of a judge to provide an interpretation of the law applied to the case in question. According to legalism, judges may only administer justice according to the written law. In practice, they also take into account principles of justice, jurisprudence, influential commentaries, the circumstances, and interests of all parties, changing views, and practices. They have a large margin, for instance if the penal law only indicates maximum penalties. Judges may interpret a law slightly different from the intentions of the legislative. In extreme cases they may even decide against a law. This means that administering justice is not an abstract activity, but a very concrete one. Though it is juridically typified, in principle judges take into account all aspects of human being.


Legalism has two faces. From a liberal point of view, stressing the individual freedom of citizens with respect to the state, everything that is not prohibited by law is just and therefore admitted. In the name of this view a lot of injustice has been committed, which new laws had to prevent. For instance, in the nineteenth century slavery and child labour were not lawfully prohibited and therefore admitted, until slavery was forbidden, and child labour restricted by law. According to the liberal world view, only then child labour was unjust. People defending this variant sometimes say that what is not prohibited by law is just but not necessarily moral. It is a moral question whether one makes use of the fact that the government allows or tolerates certain matters. It is a moral question whether one accepts slavery or child labour as long as there is no law interdicting it. ‘For natural lawyers, the legal principles revealed by a purely descriptive account of law are inherently moral; for positivists, the law in its actuality is the practical expression of a political decision, the moral content of which is quite irrelevant.’[69]

This is a consequence of the view that the law determines what is right or wrong. It opposes the view that justice is a universal principle, to be actualized into norms, including state laws. This means that one makes laws because slavery and child labour are unjust, not to make them unjust. The distinction between just and unjust action is always part of ethics. It is immoral to act unjustly, whether this act is prohibited by law or not. Legalistic attempts to slip through the meshes of the law, not only popular with tax payers, are immoral if it leads to behaviour contrary to the principles of justice. Formalistic legalism sometimes means that a judge acquits a criminal because of mistakes made by the police or the attorney.[70] Of course, police and the attorney have to respect the rights of the accused, and the judge ought to penalize trespassers. However, it runs counter the common sense of justice when a criminal is acquitted because of a formal mistake.

In another variant of legalism everything is prohibited what is not allowed by the state. In practice this leads to an abundance of rules and to suppression of inevitable resistance. The best illustration is the Soviet-Union, which ultimately collapsed under its top-heavy bureaucracy in 1990. However, this variant not only occurs in a dictatorship, but also in a moderate form in countries influenced by social-democracy where many kinds of activities are subject to a licence by the government.

Both views identify justice with written law. They consider the state as the only source of justice. Legalism is a consequence of statism, the overrating of the state, considered as representative of the volonté générale (the general will, the public interest) exclusively determining what is right. An extreme form is known as Befehl ist Befehl: people having done injustice defend themselves by saying that they only obeyed a command from a higher level, ultimately from the state. This view, identifying justice with the political principle of authority and discipline, has become notorious since the Nazi-regime and has been abolished by Western justice.[71] However, it was not restricted to Germany, for it is a consequence of legalism, reducing justice to laws given by the state. It deprives both individuals and associations the freedom and responsibility to act in all circumstances not only legally, but also just. Even if he finds justice in the laws of the country, a judge ought not to pass a sentence in the name of the law, or of the queen, or of the state, but in the name of justice as a universal value, irreducible to state or politics.

Legalism can be warded off by recognizing that the juridical relation frame is irreducible to the political frame, and that the state as a politically characterized association does not surpass justice but is subject to it, like any other association and each individual. The distinction of the political from the juridical frame has important consequences for the analysis of the characters of associations, in particular of the state.


In the words of Abraham Kuyper (1880), any association is sovereign in its own sphere. In a civilized and free society, this sovereignty is never absolute. It is restricted both by the individual freedom of its members and the internal sovereignty of other associations. The authority of its management should not be extended beyond its competence, and only its members are required to observe discipline. The fact that this Protestant view is effectively dominant in present-day Western society is remarkable, for it contradicts both the humanist ideal of autonomous individual subjects and the Roman-Catholic view on church and state, even with the mitigating principle of subsidiarity (section 18.2). Sovereignty presupposes some kind of authoritative rule. Therefore, the principle of sphere sovereignty only applies to associations, not to unorganized social communities, as Kuyper erroneously assumed.

Abraham Kuyper’s political view of sphere sovereignty differs from Herman Dooyeweerd’s, who interprets it as the ontological principle of creational diversity. For example, Dooyeweerd applies the term sphere sovereignty to the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects, ignoring the fact that no modal aspect is ruled by a sovereign.[72] ‘Whereas for Kuyper sphere sovereignty had been primarily a sociological principle which provided a guideline in practical politics, Dooyeweerd expanded it into a general principle of ontological irreducibility, applicable also to such categories as life and matter, faith and emotion.’[73] He puts sphere sovereignty at the law side of reality, applying it both to modal aspects and to types. However, any sovereign is a subject, even if they positivize norms into laws or rules, and the political principle of sphere sovereignty applies to associations being subjects as well. For instance, according to Dooyeweerd the university (as a type) would have sphere sovereignty with respect to the state (as a different type), whereas I maintain that the principle of sphere sovereignty implies that any university (as an individual association) should have sphere sovereignty with respect to any state. Contrary to Dooyeweerd’s, my view has the consequence that two universities have sphere sovereignty with respect to each other. However, I fully agree that the university as a character type is irreducible to the type of the state.


The relation between authority and discipline is not a subject-object relation but a normative subject-subject relation. Authoritative rule becomes authoritarian or autocratic if the authorities treat their subjects like objects, if discipline becomes subordination, in the extreme if discipline reduces to slavery. Being a member implies to play a more or less active part in the association. In any association, the membership should participate in the decisions of the authority, which ought to consult its members about its decisions. Participation in whatever form is not a peculiar Western cultural phenomenon. Rather, it is a universal political normative principle to which any association should confirm according to its specific character.[74] State democracy differs from the voice of the people in the church or labour co-partnership. Like any normative principle, it can be positivized into norms and rules in many different ways.


It should be observed that this encyclopaedia describes various types of social communities and their characters. According to the philosophy of dynamic development, these types belong to the law side of creation. Types are given and can be discovered as laws for the creation. A type is determined by a set of invariable natural laws and normative principles like those of justice or love of one’s neighbour. On the other hand, with the exception of natural characters, a character is a set of natural laws and normative principles as well as variable positivized norms. Hence, the character of a particular social community is in part the product of human activity. In my view, the historical development of natural characters starts from the technical relation frame of human labour, which therefore has a pivotal function in history. For this reason, Dooyeweerd calls the technical relation frame the ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ modal aspect of ‘control, command, mastery or power’. By assuming that all associations (except for the natural ones like marriage and family) are founded in this modal aspect, Dooyeweerd reduces authority to power, control or command over people, in the state to be conducted by justice, in the church by faith, in a business by economical principles. In both respects, I offer a different opinion.

First, the fact that associations are actualized and differentiated in the course of history should have no consequences at all for the characterization of various character types of social groups. It is not an argument against the assumption that the generic character of any association is founded in the relation frame of social intercourse, and we are free to investigate the foundation frame of its specific character without presupposing that it is invariably the technical one.

Second, in my view authority cannot be reduced to power, control or command over people. If some authority has to resort to the exertion of power, it is a testimonium paupertatis, a testimonial of incompetence, only excusable if the relation of authority and discipline is severely disturbed. The political principle of sphere sovereignty is not expressed in the secondary foundation, but in the primary qualification of the generic character of associations.


18.4. The generic character of any association


Because human beings always act in relation to each other, political philosophy cannot neglect social philosophy. In particular the distinction between organized and unorganized social connections turns out to be relevant for understanding the dynamic development of humanity. Besides, the growing number of professional specialists is a condition for the diversification of social groups. Quite often, associations are formed by professionals sharing a common goal.

Whereas the public domain consists of objective and intersubjective networks, civil society may be considered the set of free associations and their relations. We shall investigate their character types. The present section discusses the generic character of any association. The specific character of several association types are described in chapters 10-17, 19.


An organized social group with leadership, to be called an association, has a governing person or board with authority over the group. It is also known as a corporation, a company, or an institute. In Gemeinschaft und Gesellschaft (1887) by the sociologist Ferdinand Tönnies, Gemeinschaft corresponds especially with an unorganized community characterized by social cohesion, like a family or a circle of friends, whereas with Gesellschaft one should rather think of a businesslike organized association like a company. Tönnies assumes that in society an evolution takes place from a Gemeinschaft to a Gesellschaft.

Such an association is the state, the guardian of the public domain. If a state does not tolerate other associations besides itself, one speaks of state absolutism. The recognition of free associations independent of the state is called pluralism.[75] Free associations have flowered especially since the twentieth century, but some kinds are much older. Because they also act on the public domain, this becomes ever more important.

Like individual persons, but contrary to unorganized communities, associations act as subjects in all relation frames. An association has its own continuous identity, independent of the identity of its members. It maintains its identity at the leave of members from the association and the resignation of members of the board. It has its own character, it is actively subjected to normative principles and it is involved with their realization into norms.[76] Usually, the authority is restricted to members of the association (and to the objects possessed by the association) and within the association by the freedom and responsibility of the members of the association, especially if these are professionals.

Like any individual an association has a name and address. A flag, logo, or ideogram, and a mission statement symbolise the association’s identity. It is important if its members can identify themselves with the association, which socializes them. In a household any member should feel at home. As a metaphor this is also stated about other associations. Immigrants are supposed to do their utmost to struck root in their new country. This is no less true for new members of any other association.

It may be questioned whether associations are subjects in the natural relation frames as well as in the normative frames (Jonathan Chaplin doubts this.[77]) However, there are large and small associations (which can be counted), referring to the quantitative aspect; they often act on a restricted region, where they need to have an address (spatial), and from which they move occasionally (kinetic); they interact in various ways (physical); they grow (biotic) and observe each other (psychic). It is true that associations having no bodies cannot be measured or weighed (as Chaplin argues), because as subjects associations are characteristically different from material bodies, acting in their own characteristic way. Therefore I shall assume that associations, like individual persons, act as subjects in all relation frames. They may be called typical subjects, in contrast to artefacts as typical objects.


Section 18.4 investigates the supposition that character types of associations, conceived as sets of normative principles, are recognizable constant factors in human culture and civilization. In contrast, the norms determining the actual characters of concrete associations are formed in history, and therefore culturally different.  

Each association appears to have a dual character. The specific character distinguishes diverse types of associations from each other, each specific type being primarily characterized by one of the relation frames. Often a specific association counts professionals among its members, specialized in the activity deployed by the association. The generic character is the same for all associations. (In contrast, the generic character of human-made artefacts is primarily characterized either by the technical relation frame, or by one of the other normative frames, when it is secondarily characterized by the technical frame, section 10.1.) Before investigating the specific character type of a number of associations, first the generic profile shared by all associations will be discussed.[78] Establishing an association as an organized whole, it accounts for the many organizational similarities of otherwise widely different corporations.


The governor or governing board has a restricted and temporal competence to act with authority within and on behalf of the association. Their authorization rests on the recognition by the members, on discipline.[79] The members of the board cannot long continue to act within the association if they fail to earn the respect of its members, for instance by neglecting to consult them. Moreover the members of an association ought to have respect for each other, expressed by mutual solidarity and a sense of communality, by connectedness. Otherwise the association would explode sooner or later. These are normative principles, which not every association satisfies. Sometimes an association only exists by the grace of the exertion or threat of violence. This may occur in a state, a criminal gang, or a terror group, and also in a marriage or a household.

Therefore the generic character of an association is primarily qualified by the political relation frame (because it has leadership) and secondarily founded by the frame of companionship (because it has members). For most associations the specific character is qualified by a different relation frame than the political one, for instance the character of the church by the frame of faith and the character of an enterprise by the economic frame. Only the character of the republic as the guardian of the public domain appears to be qualified both specifically and generically by the political relation frame.


The authority within an association is restricted by its generic and specific character, by the values and norms valid for the group. In the first place the authority is restricted to the association itself: no association ought to rule over another one.[80] (This restriction is only tenable if the two associations belong to different specific kinds.) In a modern, plural society, the state does not rule over the church or the church over the state. Enterprises should be able to display themselves freely. Freedom of associating and assembling should be acknowledged. Second, in each association the authority ought to be restricted by agreements and rules, by division of authority and members’ participation. Third, the bearers of authority ought to account for their acts. Fourth, it should be clear how bearers of authority are nominated, how long their term of office is, and how they transfer their office to someone else. In the course of history, these general rules have been developed in various ways, conform the association’s specific character. It is obvious that in an association the office is to be distinguished from the officers.


It is quite common to interpret the authority in an association in a juridical sense. Yet it seems better to consider the authority as a political form, not characterized by justice but by policy, by competent decision making, directed to the realization of accepted goals, and on the prevention and solution of conflicts, the maintenance of peace within the association, with other associations, and with individuals the association connects with. In a football match the referee has a juridical function, whereas the leadership is allotted to the captain and/or the coach. The leadership in an association as policy determining, decision making, executing, and maintaining organ is generically characterized by the political frame, next by the relation frames characterizing the association’s specific character. The maintaining task of the authority means that it takes care that the members accept and execute the decisions taken. A leadership neglecting this task soon loses its authority.

Discipline means accepting of guidance and respecting those who are in command. It aims at the integration of the members into an adequately functioning social group. In some associations discipline is more obvious than in others, compare for instance a jail or a barracks with a hospital, a school, or an enterprise. However, leadership and discipline are both conditions for the existence of any association. Where leadership or discipline are lacking, the organized group gets lost. Therefore I propose to characterize the generic character of each association primarily by the political relation frame and secondarily by the frame of companionship, primarily by policy and secondarily by social integration.[81]


Democracy, accountability, or participation, roughly conceived as the leadership’s obligation to consult the association’s members and to account for its deeds, is not merely a norm for the state, but for every other association as well. It can have many forms, like direct democracy (in which all members of the association participate, for instance in a small enterprise, or in a referendum). More common is representative democracy based on elections or representation. In the first case the elected is usually not directly accountable to the voters, in the second case this is a possibility. In order to prevent dictatorship, against de view accepting only democracy according to the principle of one man, one vote, one finds the pluralistic view looking for democracy in a multitude of decisive organs within the state, especially as grown in Protestant countries.[82] In the Dutch Republic, the Provincial States consisted of representatives of the cities and the States-General assembled representatives of the Provincial States. In the German Bundesrat and in the European Council of Ministers, the member states are represented. Populists reject this kind of democracy.

The members of an association experience mutual solidarity, a sense of community.[83] This is expressed in mutual forms of social conduct, more specified by the characterizing relation frame of the association’s specific character. Solidarity in a labour group differs from the love between siblings in a nuclear family. In a church solidarity comes to the fore in a different way than in a football club. In a state solidarity is expressed in civic responsibility and patriotism. Many associations endeavour to promote solidarity, by means of facilities like a canteen, by organising events like communal festive or memorial days, or by publishing a magazine.

As a tertiary characteristic, an association may be interlaced with other associations. Many large associations are interlaced with an economically characterized organization,having a bureaucratic character of its own (section 18.5). Because an association is a subject in all relation frames, it may assume a specific purpose to act in a relation frame that does not primarily or secondarily characterize it. Several examples will be given below.


The characters of both artefacts and associations are subject to historical development, in two ways. First, characters are sets of laws, to be realized at the subject side in the course of time. Normative characters share this property with natural characters. Second, at the law side these characters consist of natural laws and normative principles, but also of norms, which may differ widely in various cultures and at different times. In order to delimit the latter diversity, philosophy is often forced to restrict its investigation to character types, which do not contain variable norms, but only presumed invariable values, besides natural laws.

The assumption of invariable character types does neither imply that states, churches, enterprises and hospitals, or art products and languages have always existed, nor that they would not widely differ from each other, and change forever. In fact, the hypothesis of invariable character types allows us to compare these characters as they developed in the course of history.

The purpose of this chapter is to investigate invariant character types for associations. Only these types are apt to be described in a general philosophical framework. The characters themselves develop in history dependent on culture and civilization. In this sense these are products of human activity. This means that within each given characterization an enormous variation of characters of associations is to be expected. Only if associations satisfy a common invariant profile, a character type, it will be possible to recognize them, to compare them and to write their history.


In the preceding chapters we have already discussed a large variety of associations. First of all, people cooperate in their labour (section 10.5). Next they play together in aesthetically qualified associations (section 11.4). In the course of history, besides libraries and bookshops typically semiotic associations emerged, like publishers and editors of books, papers, periodicals, and other informative media. Sometimes these are interlaced with public broadcasting, which is not merely concerned with spoken language, but also with plastic arts or music. Semiotic associations often consist of or rely on professional authors, journalists, etc.

Enterprises maintaining communicative networks (like the telephone), have an objective function in the semiotic relation frame. They do not communicate information themselves, but facilitate it. Also associations which do not have a semiotic character communicate with each other and with individuals.

Special institutes with the purpose of achieving collective scientific knowledge are relatively recent. Until the seventeenth century, scientific research was not organized, but was exerted like a craft by usually isolated individuals. Only during and after the Renaissance learned societies or academies arose having no other purpose than to perform science. Sometimes they installed observatories or laboratories, usually connected to universities, enterprises, or hospitals. Since the twentieth century, independent enterprises do contract research. Research is by no means always purely scientific, if we understand thereby the investigation of the lawfulness of nature and society. Many institutes are directed to the collection of data (e.g., for the benefit of hospitals or for forensic research), or for the development of new technologies. This is called applied research. The members of the board of such an institute and its co-workers are partly scientists, but the supporting staff plays an increasing professional part.

Because scientists specialise, more and more scientific societies arise, with the purpose to organize congresses, to publish scientific results, and to award many kinds of prizes and medals. By means of peer-reviews, the editors of scientific periodicals pass a judgment of scientific work. Within an institute superiors, seniors, or colleagues judge the work of students and of junior or senior co-workers.

We investigated already the profile of an organized faith congregation (section 14.4); of clubs and interest groups (section 15.7); of enterprises (section 16.5); of political parties (section 14.4); of courts of justice (section 17.5); and of institutes of care (section 19.4).

Apart from the state, the actors on the public domain are both individual persons and publicly acknowledged associations, forming the civil society. The civil society can only function appropriately in a public domain which allows of the freedom and the responsibility of the people and the associations who use it. This freedom and responsibility should be warranted by the republic.  


18.5. The organisation of an association


Each association has a specific internal differentiation, a division of tasks and authority. This is the organization or bureaucracy of the association.[84] It has a character of its own, interlaced with but usually to be distinguished from the dual character of the association itself. Because the division of labour is economical, the primarily politically characterized organization is secondarily a projection on the economic relation frame. Sometimes the members of the organization are not members of the association, but employees. Therefore, in an enterprise the organization cannot always be distinguished from the association itself. The organization of an association maintains economical relations with clients and suppliers. These relations are not based on authority but on contracts.

The larger an association, the more important its organization. Sometimes the organization gets so much attention that an association which is in fact primarily not economically characterized is conducted like an enterprise. However, when a hospital starts behaving like an enterprise, the danger arises that the patients are treated like clients whose health is subordinated to the profit they generate. Within an organization a social order exists, influencing the social intercourse. Even the simplest association has an internal division of tasks and regulations of authority. Often these lead to the formation of departments within the association or the organization. If an organization acts according to strict lines from above to below (top-down), one speaks of a centralized or vertical hierarchy, in which higher instances delegate authority to lower ones. If the authority of the departments is emphasized, the leadership having a mandate, the organization is decentralized, horizontal, or flat, having a network structure. In the case of delegation a higher instance may revoke each decision of a lower one, in the case of a mandate this is not generally possible. Then only the mandate can be withdrawn entirely or a great deal. The departments have a limited freedom and responsibility. They are obliged to account for their labour after the fact. The network structure confirms the increasing professionalism of highly schooled co-workers and their own responsibility. Therefore horizontal organizations appear to have more future than hierarchical vertical structures.

An organization requires rules and an administration, if only a list of the members and a cashbook. In large associations, in particular the state, the organization or administration has received a relative independence from the government, in the nineteenth century recognized as the ‘fourth power’.[85] An abundance of internal rules gives rise to bureaucracy becoming a burden. Among other things, the organization is important for the communication of the board with the members of the association. For external relations the association has a public relations officer or office. For enterprises advertising is mandatory.



18.6. A strong state and a strong society


We can now provide an answer to the question:  What characterizes a strong state and what a strong society?

The key words are freedom and responsibility on the public domain.

A strong society is a set of networks of individual persons and associations which are free to act and to exert their responsibility on the public domain according to shared values. It is a generally held assumption that human beings and their associations are to a certain extent free to act, and therefore responsible for their deeds. Although this confirms common understanding, it is an unprovable hypothesis. Naturalist philosophers denying free will cannot prove their view too, but they should carry the burden of proof, in particular because they cannot account for a free civil society. Only as far as human beings are free to act, their acts can be judged to be more or less good or bad, according to universal values like skill, beauty, significance, rationality, reliability, social coherence, mutual service, good governance, justice, and loving care.

A strong state acts as the guardian of the social networks, recognizing and protecting the freedom and responsibility of the actors on the public domain, respecting their rights and obligations, as stipulated by a clear set of public laws. As a constitutional state aiming at good governance it subjects itself to norms of justice. A strong state defends the public order against criminals and aggression. It does not seek war but peace and cooperation with other states. 

A state can only be strong if it has a strong civil society (consisting of associations free of the state and the church) as its counterpart. A strong state recognizes the plurality of a strong society.

[1] Dooyeweerd NC III, 177; Kalsbeek 1970, 260, 349’; Chaplin 2011, 111-116.

[2] Dooyeweerd NC III, 198, 472.

[3] Fukuyama 2011, 42.

[4] Griffioen, van Woudenberg 1996; Woldring 2001; Chaplin 2011, 14-16.

[5] Dooyeweerd 1931, 160-164; NC III, 346-376; 1959, 70-84.

[6] Fukuyama 2011, chapter 16.

[7] Chua 2018.

[8] Dooyeweerd NC III, 198-214; Griffioen 2003, 13.

[9] Dooyeweerd 1962, 169.

[10] Franken et al. 2003, 357-359.

[11] Schilling 1968, 104-105.

[12] Duby 1961-1962, 24-26.

[13] Hoogerwerf 1999, chapter 3.

[14] Luke 22:38.

[15] Ruppert 1987; Hoogerwerf 1999, chapter 5.

[16] Woldring 2001; Griffioen 2003, 56; Chaplin 2011, 16.

[17] Hobsbawm 1994, 167 (chapter 4, V); Calhoun 2000, 534.

[18] Rousseau 1762, 68-69 (section 2.4); Russell 1946, 601-610; Achterhuis 1988, part I-III; Tebbit 2005, 94-102; Fukuyama 2011, chapter 2, 82.

[19] Rawls 1971; Sandel 2009, chapter 6.

[20] Fukuyama 1992, chapter 14.

[21] Achterhuis 1988, 28.

[22] Hardt, Negri 2000, 164-166; Fukuyama 2011, 29.

[23] Burckhardt 1905, 20 (secion 1.1); Popper 1945, 122; Midgley 1985, chapter 17, 18; Fukuyama 2011, 30, 34, 439.

[24] Rawls 1971, 11; Von der Dunk 2007, 182-192.

[25] Popper 1945, chapter 4.

[26] Safranski 2007, chapter 15-17.

[27] Diamond 1997, chapter 14.

[28] Groen van Prinsterer 1847, 66.

[29] Hayek 1978; Fukuyama 2011, 251-253.

[30] Fukuyama 2018, 60.

[31] Calhoun 2000. See also 5.3.

[32] Schmitt 1963, 62-64.

[33] Hegel, cited by Popper 1945, 317.

[34] Smart 2000; Cahoone (ed.) 2003, 1-13; Wiersing 2007, 660-687.

[35] Lyotard 1979.

[36] Wootton 2015, 540; 580-592.

[37] Wootton 2015, 568, quoting Hilary Putnam.

[38] Wiersing 2007, 683-687.

[39] Schaap 2017, chapter 5.

[40] Mudde, Kaltwasser 2017; Schaap 2017.

[41] Fukuyama 2018, 77-78.

[42] Fukuyama 2011, 8-9, 17.

[43] Chua 2018.

[44] Kuyper 1880; 1898, 72-80 (lecture 3); Dooyeweerd 1959, 46-58; Clouser 1991, 290-302.

[45] Fukuyama 1992

[46] Chaplin 2011, chapter 11.

[47] Chaplin 2011, 138-151.

[48] Dooyeweerd NC I, 101-102; II, 3-54; 1962, 213; Marshall 1985, 126.

[49] Van Doorn 2009, chapter 7.

[50] Fukuyama 2011;

[51] Berlin 2006, 19.

[52] Burckhardt 1905, 20-24 (section 1.1).

[53] Groen van Prinsterer 1847, 50-56.

[54] Romans 13:1.

[55] Schmitt 1963, 46:

[56] Tebbit 2005, 8.

[57] Fukuyama 2011, 245-246.

[58] Tebbit 2005, 9, 31.

[59] Tebbit 2005, 79-80.

[60] Tebbit 2005, 79.

[61] Franken et al. 2003, chapter 2; Dworkin 1967, 63-64; Rutgers 2004, 175-176; Böhler 2004, 28-30; Kinneging 2005, 381-398; Tebbit 2005, 15-48.

[62] Tebbit 2005, 18

[63] Dooyeweerd NC III, 666; Lemon 2003, 116.

[64] Tebbit 2005, 21-32.

[65] Rousseau 1762; Toulmin, Goodfield 1965, 144-148; Rawls 1971, 15-19; Graham 2004, chapter 8; Tebbit 2005, 94-102; Kuiper 2009, chapter 7; Fukuyama 2011, chapter 2.

[66] Franken et al. 2003, 115-116.

[67] de Tocqueville 1835-1856, 286.

[68] Montesquieu 1748, 219-231 (part II, book XI, chapter 6).

[69] Tebbit 2005, 11.

[70] Böhler 2004, 54-55.

[71] Tebbit 2005, 35-36.

[72] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 101-102.

[73] Wolters1985, 7; Marshall 1985, 126.

[74] Chaplin 1995.

[75] Schmitt 1963, 74-78; Kuiper 2009, 231-242; Chaplin 2011, chapter 1.

[76] Dooyeweerd NC III, 198, 472.

[77] Chaplin 2011, 103.

[78] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 177, 180-181; Griffioen and van Woudenberg 1996.

[79] Fukuyama 2011, 42.

[80] Dooyeweerd 1962, 213-215.

[81] Stafleu 2004.

[82] Daalder 1990, 407-408.

[83] Comte-Sponville 1995, 110 (chapter 7).

[84] Fukuyama 2001, 134.

[85] Rutgers 2004, 66.



 Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,

their evolution and history



Chapter 19


Loving care





19.1. Care for the future

19.2. Friendship and marriage

19.3. Circumstances

19.4. Institutes of care

19.5. Public welfare


Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 18. Loving care




19.1. Care for the future




The final relation frame concerns all kinds of care, having the love for one’s neighbour as a universal normative principle. Each human being is vulnerable and should therefore care for their fellows. This leads to the suggestion that transitoriness marks the order for events in the frame of care. The whole of creation is perishable, in need of care, in order to be prepared for an open future.


People have always tried to restrict their vulnerability, to become invulnerable, independent, autonomous, self-sufficient, complacent, and immortal. Simultaneously people know to be dependent on other persons, on their environment and on their God. Therefore everyone looks for friends, colleagues, or allies. Companies make arrangements, and nations agree on coalitions. This may look like self-interest, but life is only possible if all parties concerned share their interests. However, in the frame of care more than the promotion of interests is at stake. Knowing to be vulnerable, the care for one’s fellows implies compassion, misericordia, or pity for people who suffer or are hurt. However, people often do not care for each other, but take advantage of each other’s vulnerability, by insulting, robbing, dominating, injustice, maltreating, or murdering. The denial of mutual dependence leads to the fall into sin.


Vulnerability does not merely concern the bodily or mental health of people, but also their labour, enjoyment, use of language, up till their rights. Loving care may be projected on all preceding relation frames. Besides caring for weak people in society (children, sick, old, or jobless people), this also concerns human relations like interest, hospitality, compassion, sympathy and antipathy, dislike and indifference. People lighten each other’s troubles by sharing these. In their love and care people strengthen each other in their humanity, which they deny in hate or neglect.




Since the rise of Christianity the care for vulnerable people like widows, orphans, and the poor belongs to the core of the Gospel. The miracles performed by Jesus and his disciples according to the New Testament do not testify to divine power (Jesus rejected this emphatically when tempted by the devil[1]), but to the care for vulnerable people. Jesus does not present himself as a mighty magician, but as a healer, a saviour. The early Christians expected a soon end of the times.[2] They were not concerned with the policy of the government. But they developed a new style of living and new forms of society, characterized by love for one’s neighbour, mercy and care for vulnerable people.[3] Besides justice, Christians accepted the principle of need as a fundamental value.[4] Karl Marx joined this with his characterization of an ideal society as: ‘From each according to his ability, to each according to his needs.’[5]


In the West, until the second half of the nineteenth century, the care for the weak was brought about mainly by Christian initiatives.[6] Since ancient times, also Jewish and Muslim communities pay much attention to relief of the poor, one of the five pillars of the Islam.


Stressing the autonomy of man, humanism has trouble with people requiring care.[7] Indeed, the humanist ideal is that everyone cares for themselves, able to manage their own, being independent of other people. Michel Foucault states that the Enlightenment project of free and equal citizens could only be fulfilledby systematically keeping all people outside society who were ill, mad, old, and handicapped, as well as criminals.[8] Being placed in institutions, they were made invisible. From a religious experience that sanctified it, poverty became slowly but steadily a moral conception condemning it.[9] According to Foucault the emancipation of free citizens involved the seclusion of dependent people.


Care is not merely a relation of dependence between people, but also of people with their God. In the New Testament God asks for care. As the man Jesus he made himself vulnerable, up till the death. Who cares for a human being, cares for the Son of Men, Jesus told his disciples.[10]




Commemoration reminds people of their dependent and transitory existence, and places history in the relation frame of care. Leave-taking is a part of the ending of an important phase in one’s life, the parting of school, the end of a career, a transfer, or an emigration. A farewell is therefore not necessarily mournful. It may be an expression of hope for the future. Sometimes people make it a party. A farewell involves an aesthetic celebration, a funeral or a cremation, a reception with speeches, flowers, and presents, as signs of personal interest, compassion, and comfort. The final care of a deceased often appears in their will, leaving part of their wealth to the poor, the church, or another good cause. Reversely, the ultimate care given to or expected from our fellow men is the farewell of life, in particular if it concerns the temporal end of an intimate relation. We commemorate the deceased in gratitude by placing a tombstone or a monument, or by organizing a memory service. We conserve their work in a museum or a library. We distinguish people by naming streets or buildings after them. By commemoration we take care of the transitive past. We experience that nobody is irreplaceable – in particular when we stand for the task to replace an irreplaceable person.


People are mortal, and they know it. At their death their active contribution to the future ends. The vulnerability of people gives rise to fear, in particular death agony. Jesus Christ’s suffering, slave death, and resurrection, form the core of Christian belief, of their hope for the future. Death is not the end of human existence, because Christ conquered death, opening the future. Through the ages, for many people the prospect of resurrection has been the ultimate consolation at death, a window on eternity, confirming anybody’s transitoriness.




19.2. Friendship and marriage




In a situation in which somebody needs care, there is an asymmetric relation between the care provider and the care receiver. This is a subject-subjectrelation, even if professional caregivers are inclined to objectify their clients or patients. In the course of history, providing care has become a paid job, but the care for friends, family and neighbours remains. The expression ‘love for one’s neighbour’ indicates that the responsibility of anybody for one’s fellow human being is a function of their relative position in society. It starts close by, in marriage, in the nuclear and extended family, with neighbours and colleagues, and expands from there. In the absence of neighbouring love loneliness looms. Without love a human being has no place on earth. Love is a condition of existence for everyone. Each human being needs love. Who does well encounters well. The motivation to do well may arise from the expectation of a remand in the future, close by or far away, or from gratitude for care experienced in the past.[11] Children take care of their parents, because their parents took care of them. People are grateful for their prosperity, willing to let others share in it; or for their health, taking care of ill people; or for their freedom, visiting captives. They thank God because he loves them, and they love others like themselves. Or they ought to do so.




Friendship is a human subject-subject relation characterized by loving care, transferring the experience of love by sharing it.[12] Therefore, friendship is the engine reconciling us with our being perishable. Friendship does not give rise to the formation of some association, not even in the form of a marriage.[13] Friendship is not organized; it has no government, and is dependent on the identity of the friends. Friendship satisfies the norm of trust: once a friend always a friend, unless the other becomes unfaithful.[14] A long separation needs not be a hindrance. It is striking how easy people renew old friendship connections, sometimes after many years. Clearly friendship is based on shared remembrances. Friendship makes people strong; they can appeal to each other. Friendship is also vulnerable, if one deserts the other. A good friendship only ends with death, when we take leave forever, at the funeral or cremation.


Friends believe and trust each other. Often a friendship starts in the frame of keeping company. People meet each other in various circumstances and become friends, sometimes for a short time, sometimes for life. Co-workers keep company as colleagues and the accompanying solidarity may develop into friendship. Also in professional groups, at parties, and among neighbours friendships arise. Politicians consider the members of their party as friends. The members of a faith community call each other brothers and sisters and treat each other as friends. Friendship is often the start of a marriage.


For Plato and Aristotle friendship between free men was the highest virtue, the relation transcending all other relations and structuring the daily life in the Greek polis.[15] They completely lacked a vision on a universal love for one’s neighbour. Since the twentieth century in the West homosexual relations left the sphere of taboo. They are no longer forbidden or even punishable.  Even Christians – at least in Europe – are less negative about these. It may be expected that this trend will continue in the twenty-first century.




If there is one Biblical refutation of the humanist project of the autonomous person, it is marriage: ‘So God created man in his own image; in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.’[16]


Marriage is a unique bisociation, naturally founded in the sexual relation, in the psychic relation frame. Assuming that marriage is intended to form the basis of a nuclear family, Herman Dooyeweerd believed that marriage is a kind of association, founded in the biotic aspect. I do not share this view, first because unlike a nuclear family a marriage lacks the properties of an association; and second because it also functions if it does not lead to the formation of a family. I shall only discuss the kind of marriage between a wife and husband, though in many respects my analysis also applies to same-sex marriages.


Culturally, marriage is secondarily characterized by mutual trust, hence by the relation frame of faith. It is not surprising that marriage between members of different faith communities encounter resistance and are rare. Loving care forms the strongest connection in any marriage (or cohabitation) of two individuals who have pledged each other their troth until death separates them.[17] Marriage is the most common, the most important, the surest, and simultaneously the most vulnerable relation two people may start. Since the Reformation, Protestants have emphasized that in marriage ordinary life is shown to full advantage.[18] The vulnerability of marriage is evident from the large number of divorces as well as many cases of humiliation, ill treatment, violence, and rape in wedlock.[19] Because of its vulnerability, when a marriage goes wrong it is advisable to call in a third party, not to decide whether a marriage should be dissolved, but to determine the conditions for divorce, in order to protect the most vulnerable partner and eventually the children. In a constitutional state, the third party is a competent judge, lawyer, or mediator. It appears that divorce (after the norm of love is no longer operative) is subject to justice, whereas marriage is not. Therefore in Western countries, the law and judges only pay attention to the juridical aspects of marriage (rights and duties), without touching its being characterized by the relation frame of loving care.[20]


The norm for marital troth excludes adultery, promiscuity, carelessness, and neglect. Meanwhile it is clear that psychically typified sex (what people have in common with animals) should be distinguished from gender, the culturally developed human form of sexual differences. The distinction between men and women, which is not merely natural, is determined especially by culture and civilization.[21] This means that both partners are incomplete and need the other as a supplement. Marriage is more than its sexual foundation, more than a sexual relation. It is a community in which husband and spouse share their lives in the most intensive way imaginable. It remains even if a sexual relation is no more at stake.




Since Aurelius Augustine, the Western church connected sex directly with sin.[22] It interpreted Jesus’ virginal birth as immaculate conception, with the implication that ordinary conception is stained with sin. Priests ought to be celibate. The Catholic Church bases celibacy on the statement that the love of a priest, monk, or nun should first of all be directed to Christ. The Council of Trent in 1563 condemned the Protestant view that ‘the married state excels the state of virginity or celibacy, and that it is better and happier to be united in matrimony than to remain in virginity or celibacy’.[23]


Protestants reject resolutely the view that marital love should interfere with the love for Christ. Nevertheless, Protestants no less than Catholics were wary of sex. This has some truth as far as no interhuman relation is as vulnerable as love based on sex, requiring much care, and easily being derailed.


A marriage does not derive its validity from the confirmation by the state and/or the church. The institute of marriage is independent of and much older than those of church or state. A marriage has legal consequences laid down in laws or a contract. Civil marriage is no more than a registration, leading to lawful rights outside marriage. Since the Middle Ages, the public promise of marriage intends to establish that bride and groom marry each other in freedom, not forced by e.g. the family. The Catholic Church considers wedding to be a holy sacrament, the factual marriage contract. Protestant churches interpret it as the celebration of marriage, closed and often consummated by husband and spouse before.[24] During the civil and church marriage ceremonies they confirm in public the promise of marriage that they have given each other earlier, declaring that they want to operate on the public domain as a unity.


A marriage connects two families. Enforced marriages are characteristic of a tribal society and still play a part in countries governed by a dynasty. Here a marriage is not first of all an engagement of two persons, but a relation between two families, dominated by laws of inheritance. In each society family members exert pressure to prevent a misalliance, a marriage outside the family’s class or faith community. Most important for families is, however, to have children who can carry on the tradition. In this sense marriage is the most fundamental engine of history, for a society neglecting the care for children comes to nought.




19.3. Circumstances




One could mention countless artefacts that are not characterized by the frame of loving care, but find their destination in this frame. Medicines belong to the oldest artefacts in health care. Eyeglasses were invented in the thirteenth century, the frame connecting the glasses with one’s ears in the nineteenth century, when health technology started to soar highly. The performance and enjoyment of the arts can have an important therapeutic effect. A love letter is a lingual piece with a love destination. Much scientific research is directed to care. Faith utterances are meant as consolation for sick or dying people and their next of kin. People use artefacts like pictures to keep cherished memories of good and bad days.




Besides these artefacts having their destination or purpose in the frame of care, we can distinguish artefacts primarily typified by this frame. By this I mean the objective circumstances in which people (or objects) need precaution, care or after-care. Even somebody who gives help should be in the circumstance to do so. Someone who is in a situation of distress needs help from whoever is available and capable. Often this requires an amount of expertise or competence.


Circumstances requiring care are, for instance, one’s health, hygiene, appearance, or security; purity of air, soil, and water; labour and the assurance of income in case of illness or unemployment. Next we know the care for the quality of technical products, buildings, schools, science, economy, decision-making, accounting, and justice. In all these cases the obvious norm is to act carefully. It is not difficult to show that these examples are primarily characterized by care and secondarily by various other relation frames.


Circumstances are artefacts, because (except natural disasters) people cause them and they can be completely or partially prevented or remedied. People are responsible for the circumstances they live in. They ought to enlighten the circumstances of those who ask for care, which have to act on it as well. In the nineteenth century one realized that a good water supply and sewers could preclude contagious illnesses like cholera.[25] Maintenance of everything that we are responsible for belongs to household care: cleaning of the home, washing and repairing of clothes, servicing of a car, gardening, maintenance of tools, utensils, and pieces of art. For this we have all kinds of instruments, from a dishwashing brush to a washing-machine.


The relation frame of care characterizes the safety of people too. Safety as precaution means protection against natural dangers, against unwanted consequences of technology, or undesirable use of power with technical means. By building a house we protect us against heat or cold, against wind and rain. We protect us and our children against the dangers of electricity by applying reliable isolation and a safe construction of electric appliances. We protect us against the risks of traffic by buying a well designed car, by servicing it regularly, by driving carefully, and by taking into account the behaviour of others. We protect us against burglary by reliable locks, and putting valuables in a safe. Safety is part of the labour circumstances, to which an employer should pay careful attention. Safety and maintenance appear to be secondarily characterized by the technical relation frame. Another form of protection as a precaution is insurance against the financial consequences of circumstances like unemployment, illness, fire, or old age. Insurances appear to be not technically but economically typified.


In a developed society, the government formulates requirements for labour circumstances in factories and offices, with respect to safety, hygiene and health, wealth, the duration of labour, and minimum wages. It is striking that in the laws concerned all relation frames play a part, both those that precede the technical one and those that succeed it.[26] In problems of safety and health, for instance, it concerns spatial, physical, chemical, biotic, and psychic circumstances. In welfare besides social, economic, political, and juridical factors, information and participation are relevant. Employers have an obligation of care for their employees and both are obliged to take care of the course of affairs in the company.




19.4. Institutes of care




In 2006 in Germany a 4600 year old grave was found with skeletons of a man and a woman with their two children, as established by a DNA test. The four were killed by violent means and were buried in a loving position. It appears to be the oldest known nuclear family, dating from the Stone Age.


In a Western society, someone engaging in a marriage leaves the parental home, usually with the intention to start a family. Marriage has the disposition to grow into a nuclear family. In other cultures married persons remain part of a larger family or tribe. In some cultures polygamy or polyandry occurs, but in Western culture monogamy is the norm. In Western society the family – apart from the nuclear family – has especially the character of keeping company. This agrees with the fact that family members, in particular grandmothers, often take an important part in the education of children, if we assume that education is characterized by the relation frame of keeping company. In case of the death of one or both parents often a family member replaces them in their educational tasks. Although unorganized, also in the West the extended family connection remains important. Family history receives an increasing interest.


In a socially primitive situation the relations of authority between husband and wife rests on physical force, meaning that usually the husband prevails. The naturalistic view that the husband should be the head of the family finds no official support in Western culture, but is still widespread. For the male primacy, conservative Jews, Christians, and Muslims often invoke the Tenach, the New Testament, or the Koran, books concerned with agricultural common life of 3000, 2000, or 1200 years ago, in a culture in which the task of the husband included the protection of his family against violent attacks. Yet views of male supremacy are derived more from Greek philosophy and Roman law than from the Bible.[27] However, Christianity and humanism pretend to bring freedom, also of naturalistic prejudices. In a differentiated family situation, in which husband and wife cooperate with each other and their children in many different ways, authority is divided.




The natural nuclear family is primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by biotic descent.[28] However, by adoption or otherwise a child can also be placed in a foster family. In this case the foster parents are distinguished from biotic or birth parents. Like a natural nuclear family, a foster family as well as an orphanage or a boarding-school is primarily characterized by the normative relation frame of care, but secondarily by the frame of keeping company, by education. Apparently, a natural nuclear family has both a natural and a normative cultural secondary character.


It seems obvious that children are vulnerable and in need of the loving care of their parents, but it is a norm violated in many ways during history.[29] Children have been sacrificed, exposed, neglected, maltreated, enslaved, raped, and murdered. In many cultures children have no rights and their parents can dispose of them arbitrarily, as if parents were the owners of their children, possessing them. Although each culture appeals to parents to educate them well, only since the seventeenth century the nuclear family is in the West more important than the extended family, because of the differentiation of society shifting many tasks from the extended family to more specific associations, like schools.[30]


The most important function of the nuclear family is the mutual care of all its members, not only the children. Therefore, the nuclear family is primarily characterized by the norm of careful love. This concerns providing food, clothing and protection, education and schooling, for which the parents are responsible until the children can bear the responsibility themselves, when they have come of age. It is already a part of education to make children increasingly co-responsible for the mutual care in the household.


Often a nuclear family forms the nucleus of a household in their home, in which each member has their own position and tasks. The home (also for singles) is the starting point for all labour and a daily resting place after ending this. It is the place where the nuclear family celebrates its coherence, in the daily meals, in reading books to each other, in playing, and in viewing television together. Family members tell each other their experiences and share their concerns. They consult each other and argue, sometimes leading to quarrels, but more often ending in agreement.


Even if the children become adults and leave the parental home, the family relation remains as a special relation, in which the parents feel responsible for their children. Increasingly the reverse occurs, the children taking care of their parents. Although the family connection ends when the children leave the parental home, the family relation remains as a special form of friendship. Its nature and intensity are historically and culturally determined. The family relation extends by the loving acceptance of daughters and sons in law and of grandchildren.




In a more or less undifferentiated society, collective or social care rests with the family, later becoming a sideline of the church, the guilds, or the state. In a modern society, collective care is organized into free associations that are qualified by the relation frame of care itself. These associations take up a growing part of common means. This has led to the view that social care is the task of the republic, sometimes called the ‘welfare state’. Another view grants the social responsibility to free associations, supervised by the state as far as they act on the public domain. Three character types of associations may be distinguished which as active subjects in the history of care become increasingly important: practices, institutions, and insurances.


The practice of a general practitioner, a dentist, a physiotherapist, or a psychotherapist, appears to be primarily characterized by the relation frame of care and secondarily by the technical one. Although single practicing doctors still exist, a practice is increasingly a labour unit, in which several doctors with their assistants cooperate. It may be interlaced with an institute like a hospital, if its co-workers are not employed by the hospital, but practice their job there partly or entirely.


A developed society knows numerous charitable associations for the care of the fellow men. Originally these had the character of a household, providing a shelter to homeless people. Hospitals, maternity hospitals, almshouses, orphanages, old people’s homes, and psychiatric clinics are known in Western society since centuries, but their importance has increased enormously since the twentieth century. Besides, society has to care for prisoners, unemployed people, unmarried mothers, foreigners, and asylum seekers.


Suchlike associations are primarily characterized by loving care and secondarily by the relation frame of keeping company. Often they are interlaced with a faith community like the Salvation Army; with a club typified by the relation frame of keeping company; with an economically characterized company; or with a training institute, like a university hospital.  In some cases an institute of care belongs to the state. There may be valid arguments for these kinds of interlacements, but in general one had better keep to the Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty, emphasizing the associations’ mutual independence.




Quite a few people believe that altruism (disinterested care) is characteristic for care, distinguishing people from animals. Evolutionists (in particular sociobiologists) have done their best to show that altruism occurs in the animal world as well and can be explained by the current evolution theory. However, care based on mutual interest occurs more often and is more efficient. A system wherein people are insured of care should be preferred above a system in which the poor depend on the rich for charity. Insurance is preferable above charity. People insure themselves for personal interest, in case of fire, burglary, or an accident. As long as these events do not occur to us, we share anonymously in the misfortune of others.


When people insure themselves mutually they achieve a right on care if they need it. The exertion of care they leave to experts and specialized institutions. Insurance pays for care, and is therefore secondarily characterized by the economic relation frame. Insuring is a projection of the relation frame of care on the economical one and has right of care as a juridical consequence. Often insurance is part of a collective labour agreement. Many countries have compulsory collective insurances, in which all citizens take part. Even these insurances can very well be implied by social organizations licensed by the state. Especially in Europe, the twentieth-century development of a public system of ‘social’ (i.e. collective) insurance is an administrative and political renewal of the first order, an achievement of administrative technique which relevance, though severely underestimated, is comparable to representative democracy.[31]




19.5. Public welfare




The republic should oversee the care for public networks: construction, maintenance, and free accessibility for anybody. Minimally the government takes care of public safety. In the eyes of many people, safety transcends rights. In times of war or threats of terrorism, the government may take measures having strained relations to the constitutional state. Lawyers rightly require public attention if this happens, because it is of public interest that the government and its organs are subject to justice in all circumstances.[32] Moreover, besides combating any infringement of safety, the government ought to cooperate in taking away its probable causes – youth unemployment, to mention a single example. Therefore a modern state does not restrict its tasks to police and defence, but it furthers public welfare. In the fight against diseases like epidemics threatening the public domain, the government has always seen a task for the state. To this also belongs the supervision of the networks for public health, care for the elders, and so on.




Poverty is not merely a problem for the poor, but it is also a threat to public order, the peace of labour and public health.[33] On the public domain charity lasts only if everybody can expect that others are charitable too.[34] Since the late Middle Ages this led to the foundation of many kinds of municipal institutes for the care of poor and ill people.[35] Gradually the care for vulnerable people became a state matter.[36] A welfare state does not leave organized care to free associations, but accepts the responsibility for care.[37] This ideal of the communist and socialist movement was abandoned almost everywhere at the end of the twentieth century. However, the other (liberal) extreme, that a republic should not be concerned at all with care, is no more acceptable in a modern civilized society. State supervision of the quality, costs, and accessibility of public care for all appears to be necessary.


Guarding the public domain, the republic offers protection to its citizens, in particular the vulnerable in society. For instance, the protective function of the state implies that nobody falls outside the system of insurances, on the one hand by making insurances obligatory, on the other side by compelling insurance companies to refuse nobody as a client, both with the motive to preclude an appeal to public funds. However, care supersedes right. This means that people should receive care, even if they have no right of care because they are not insured by their own negligence or otherwise.




The public domain is the human extension of the animal Umwelt, and people remain responsible for the environment. The republic cares for protection against natural disasters, for instance by constructing dikes, and it protects the environment. The care for the environment, the diminishing natural resources, the increasing world population, health care, and war on poverty, require ever more international cooperation. In this respect, the state has been preceded by non-governmental organizations (NGO’s) like the Red Cross, Amnesty International, and many church organizations.




[1] Matthew 4: 1-11, Luke 4: 1-13.

[2] Meijering 2004, 144-147.