Encyclopaedia of relations and characters,
their evolution and history
From evolution to history
8.1. The emergence
of humanity from the animal world
8.2. 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 19, 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, both in connection to the structure and
the function of the state. The specific characters of associations and their relations will be treated in chapters 10-18.
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 (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.
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
(8.3). It is also helpful for understanding natural evolution. Dooyeweerd’s critique of historicism (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 (8.5). Section 8.6 introduces the transfer of experience as the major engine of history.
philosophical anthropology ought to dissociate itself from naturalistic evolutionism that considers a human being merely as a natural product no more than any animal. 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. 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.”’
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.”
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. ‘If we describe what people or animals do, without inquiring into their subjective reasons for doing it, we are talking about their
behaviour. If we study the subjective aspects of what they do, the reasons and ideas underlying and guiding it, we are concerned with the world of meaning. If we concern ourselves both with what people are, overtly and objectively, seen to
do (or not to do) and their reasons for so doing (or not doing) which relate to the world of meaning and understanding, we then describe action.’
Dooyeweerd, too speaks of the human act-structure, ‘… the immediate temporal expression of the human I-ness, which transcends the cosmic temporal order.’ ‘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.’
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.’
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 should 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 a large margin of uncertainty.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history
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,
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.
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.
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.
This first trend in Dooyeweerd’s conception, narrowing down time to modal diversity, plays a decisive part in his theory of history,
as well as in his treatment of epistemology.
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.’ ‘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.’
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.
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.
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 (1.2).
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”.
The latter relation, mediated by Jesus Christ, is the foundation of Christian philosophical anthropology as discussed in the second part 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 (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.
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.
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. Although retrocipations are relevant,
Dooyeweerd emphasizes the disclosure of anticipations. 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.
Besides power, command, control, or mastery, Dooyeweerd considers cultural development, or the controlling manner of moulding the social process
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’.
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, 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.
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 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 (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 (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.
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. 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 is just as important as the disclosure of anticipations.
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,
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.
Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history
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, 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. It should be emphasized that in the normative relation frames, besides individual
people associations (organized social groups) can be subjects as actors of history (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 (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 (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.
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 understand why 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.
Hence, the meaning of history appears to be both a religious and an ethical affair.
of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history
8.4. Historism and historicism
Herman Dooyeweerd never came to terms with the theory of natural evolution.
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. 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.
Karl Popper calls this historicism. A recent
example is Francis Fukuyama. Romanticism absolutized
the subject 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.
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.’
‘It was believed that the understanding of x consisted in knowing the history of x.’
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 as well as 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.
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,
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).
Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history
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. 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 (according to Dooyeweerd preceding the historical one), and in particular with respect to the aspect of faith. 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’,
and Dooyeweerd discusses it quite extensively. 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’,
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’.
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. 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.’ 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.’
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.
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’.
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. 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,
Between the publication of the first Dutch edition of Herman Dooyeweerd’s main work (1935-1936) and of its second, revised translation into English (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’. An explanation
may be that these adherents 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.
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,
or in the duality of ‘direction and structure’ in reformed thought.
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 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, as we shall see in chapters
to come. 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.
Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. 8. From evolution to history
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, e.g., 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 goals 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, as well as 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). 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. 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.
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 qualified by the juridical relation frame. Customs determined by the relation frame of keeping company, as well as 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.
Stafleu 2008; 2015, chapter 16.
Stafleu 2019, chapter 11.
Reynolds 1976, xv, referring to Max Weber.
Dooyeweerd NC, III, 87-89.
Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV.
Popper 1982, 27-28; Popper 1972, chapter 6.
Cunningham 2010, 206-212.
Stafleu 2006; 2015, chapter 16.
Dooyeweerd NC (= 1953-1958),I, 101-102; II, 6, 561.
NC II, 298, 302-311.
NC I, 31-32; II, 79, 85, 102.
Stafleu 1970, 1980, 2002a; 2015.
Stafleu 2002a, 2002b.
NC II, 68-71, 192-217.
e.g., Vollenhoven in 1968, see Tol, Bril 1992, 207-209; Friesen 2005; Mekkes 1971, 109, 111, 179; McIntire 1985, 89-96.
NC II, 250-251, 255, 266; McIntire 1985, 92-93.
Seerveld 1964, 83; 1985, 79; Hart 1984, 194; Stafleu 2002b, 13; 2003, 138.
Dooyeweerd 1959a, 60-76.
NC II, 265-267, 296-297.
NC II, 319-330, 334-337.
Stafleu 1998; 1987, chapter 6.
e.g., NC II, 366-413.
Stafleu 2003, 2004, 2011, 2015.
Dooyeweerd 1959b; Verburg 1989, 350-360; Stafleu 2002b; Wearne 2011, 88-100; van der Meer 2018.
NC I, 467-495; II, 205-207, 217-221, 283, 354-356; Dooyeweerd 1959a, 53-104.
Löwith 1949; White 1973; Ankersmit 1983; Lemon 2003, part I; Stafleu 2019.
Fukuyama 1992; Lemon 2003, part III.
Ankersmit 1983, 171-182.
Ankersmit 2005, 143.
Stafleu 2019, chapter 9.
Huizinga 1937, 136-138.
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.
NC II, 189, 297-298.
Matthew 22.37; Mark 12.30; Luke 10.27.
NC I, 24, 31- 32; II, 2, 473, 480; III 781-784; Friesen 2005.
Dooyeweerd 1960a, 137.
Mekkes 1971, 121: ‘De mens kan zijn dynamisch tijdelijk bestaan op geen wijze transcenderen.’
like van Riessen 1970, 119-123; McIntire 1985, 84-86.
van Riessen 1970, 186.
Ankersmit 2005, 142-144.
Griffioen 2003, 170-172.
White 1973, 346; Von der Dunk 2007.