The open future

A philosophy of dynamic development



Marinus Dirk Stafleu









1. The idea of law

2. Relations

3. Characters and character types

4. Evolution

5. The emergence of humanity from the animal world

6. Values and norms for human acts and relations

7. Artefacts

8. Lingual and logical artefacts

9. Associations

10. The state and the public domain







The philosophy of dynamic development is intended to be a critical update of the Christian philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, nearly a hundred years ago introduced by Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven. This philosophy is not based on biblical texts in an encyclopaedic sense, but is inspired and directed by the biblical message of God’s sovereignty over the whole of life. It lacks a critical analysis of the theme of dynamic development. Before the seventeenth century, philosophers adhered to a closed world view, in which everything worthwhile was contained either in the secretive revelations of alchemists, or in the books of Plato, Aristotle, and others, with medieval comments written by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian scholars, as well as in the Bible. This view was challenged by the voyages of discovery since the fifteenth century. From the sixteenth century onwards scientists found that they could open up their world by the use of daring theories, systematic observations, and unheard of experiments. Physics, biology, and ethology were developed at an amazing pace, at first assuming a closed determinist mechanist view, but later allowing of stochastic processes with an open end. Since the nineteenth century, evolution is recognized as the natural kind of dynamic development preceding history as its cultural form. Like evolution, history has an open future, for which people take their responsibility to act in freedom, both individually and together in free associations and on the public domain. Dynamic development is both made possible and restrained by laws. It also requires some latitude of randomness in nature, of human freedom in history, and of variability in both.

Sections 1-3 deal with three fundamental topics: the ideas of law, of relation, and of character. In this context, an idea is a limiting concept, not to be defined, but to be grasped in one’s intuition. Sections 4-5 are concerned with natural evolution as a dynamic process. Sections 6-10 discuss human acts, artefacts and associations with their relevance for the dynamical development of history and culture.


The open future


1. The idea of law


The idea of law is the critical realist religious view confessing that God created the world developing according to natural laws and normative commandments which are invariable because He sustains them. Christians know God through Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to the Torah, the Law of God. The idea of natural law as critically used in the physical sciences since the seventeenth century confirms this idea of law. Natural laws are not a priori given, but partial knowledge thereof can be achieved by studying the law conformity of the creation, which, in contrast to the eternal God, is in every respect temporal, in a perennial state of dynamic development.

The focus of the present section is on natural laws. Normative principles will be discussed later on.

The idea that invariant laws govern nature is relatively new. The rise of science in the seventeenth century implied the end of Aristotelian philosophy, having dominated the European universities since the thirteenth century. According to Aristotle, four causes, form, matter, potentiality, and actuality determine the essence of a thing and the way it changes naturally. Each thing, plant, or animal has the potential to realise its destiny, if not prohibited by circumstances. The aim of medieval science was to establish the essence or nature of things, plants and animals, their position in the cosmic order, and their use for humanity.

Although essentialism is still influential, since the seventeenth century it became replaced by the search for laws. The medieval distinction of positive law, given by people, from (mostly moral) natural law, ordained by God, was hardly ever applied in science.

About 1610 Johann Kepler formulated laws as generalizations in the form of a mathematical relation. Apparently, Kepler’s first law (planets move in elliptical paths with the sun at their focus) does not differ very much from the view, accepted since Plato, that the orbits of the celestial bodies are circular, albeit with the earth at their centre. After all, both circles and ellipses are geometrical figures. But Plato put uniform circular motion forward as being the essential form of perfect celestial motion, not as a generalization from observations and calculations. From Hipparchus and Ptolemy up to Nicholas Copernicus, astronomers have tried to reconcile the observed planetary motions with a combination of circular orbits. In his elaborate analysis of Tycho Brahe’s systematic observations, Kepler found the orbit of Mars to be an ellipse, with the sun in a focus rather than at the centre. A similar assumption could solve several problems for the other planets, too. Plato’s perfect circular motion was a rational hypothesis, imposed on the analysis of the observed facts. Kepler’s elliptical motion was a rational generalization of fairly accurate observations made by Tycho Brahe, a mathematical formulation of a newly discovered natural law.

Since antiquity, astronomers knew very well that planets as seen from the earth have variable speeds. They applied various tricks to adapt this observed fact to the Platonic idea of uniform circular motion. Kepler accepted changing velocities as a fact, and connected these to the planet’s varying distance to the sun as expressed in its elliptical path. He established a constant relation, his second law: as seen from the sun, a planet sweeps equal areas in equal times.

The introduction of the area law is the first instance of a method to become very successful in natural science. It related change to a constant, a magnitude that does not change. It means formulating several conservation laws, of energy, linear and angular momentum, of electric charge, etc. These laws impose restraints on any changes to occur.

Contrary to Ptolemy, Copernicus was able to estimate the relative distances of the planets to the sun. This allowed Kepler to find his third law, which Isaac Newton used to derive the inverse square law for universal gravity, explaining Kepler’s first and second laws as being approximately true.

During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries natural laws were considered instruments of God’s government. This could be interpreted either in a rationalistic sense, when natural laws were considered both necessaryand irrefutable, based on a priori principles (as with René Descartes or Immanuel Kant); or in a voluntaristic way, such that the world is as God willed it, but God could have made the world differently; or in an empiricistway: the laws are not irrefutable but can become known from empirical research (as with Isaac Newton, Robert Boyle, and John Locke).

Most classical physicists were faithful Christians, and many adhered to some variety of natural theology, assuming that God ordained the natural laws at the creation. At the end of the nineteenth century scientists started to take distance from this view, either because they became atheists, or because they asserted it to be theological or metaphysical, beyond the reach of physics. Therefore they avoided the metaphor of law, gradually replacing it by another expression of regularity. They never ceased to study regular patterns in nature. The word law remained in use mainly for the results of classical physics, in particular if expressed in a mathematical formula.

Realist scientists usually respond positively to the question of whether natural laws are valid independent of human interference. Aimed at finding regularities, the empirical method is firmly rooted in the prevalent scientific worldview. Laws discovered in the laboratory are declared universal, holding for the whole universe at all times. Otherwise, theories of astrophysical or biological evolution could not be taken seriously. With the purpose of studying the law-conformity of reality, science takes the validity of natural laws as a point of departure not to be proved. Laws of nature are not invented but discovered.

In contrast, rationalist, positivist and post-modern philosophers assert that natural laws are invented by scientists. Rationalists like René Descartes and Immanuel Kant assumed natural laws to be necessary products of human thought. Positivists like Ernst Mach considered natural laws to be logical-economic constructs, intended to create some order in the otherwise chaotic reality consisting entirely of observable phenomena. And post-modern philosophers hold that natural laws are social constructs, agreed upon by interested groups of scientists. These philosophers can neither explain the coherence of the natural sciences with each other and with mathematics, nor the successful application of natural laws in technology and medical practice. Their opinions effectively maintain that scientists are free and autonomous law-givers even with respect to natural laws. This is at variance with naturalistic determinism assuming that without exception everything is completely submitted to natural laws, humanity included. These two opposite views represent the age-old tension in humanistic philosophy of freedom and nature, of the autonomy of human thought versus the unrestricted rule of natural laws. Both contradict the realist view of laws being ordained by the Creator, leaving room for individuality.

Biologists often avoid the idea of natural law because of their abhorrence of essentialism. Therefore, it is important to distinguish essence from lawfulness. Essential (necessary and sufficient) properties do not determine a species. Rather, the genetic laws constituting a species determine the objective properties of the things or processes concerned, in particular their mutual genetic relations. These properties may display such a large statistical variation that necessary and sufficient properties are hard to find.

Other biologists are wary of the idea of natural law because they (like many philosophers) have a physicalist view of laws, in particular the outdated view that all laws are deterministic. An evolutionary account is considered a narrative about the history of life, a ‘just-so story’, an ad hoc explanation, rather than a theory about processes governed by natural laws. But these biologists will not deny that their work consists of finding order in living nature. The theory of evolution would not exist without the supposition that the genetic laws for life, empirically discovered since the nineteenth century, held millions of years ago as well. The question of whether other planets host living organisms can only arise if it is assumed that these laws hold there, too.

A third reason to take distance from the idea of law is the assumption that a regularity only deserves the status of natural law, if it holds universally and is expressible in a mathematical formula. A mathematical formulation may enlarge the scope of a law statement, yet the idea of natural law does not imply that it has necessarily a mathematical form. Neither should a law apply to all physical things, plants, and animals. More often than not, a law only concerns a specific set of these. Every regularity, every recurrent design or pattern, and every invariant property is to be considered lawful. In the theory of evolution biologists apply whatever patterns they discover in the present to events in the past. Hence they implicitly acknowledge the persistence of natural laws, also in the field of biology. Without some idea of law, evolution cannot be explained.

One more objection might be that laws ought to allow of predictions, which biological laws are supposed not to be. Apart from the question of whether this is true, it has become clear that physical laws are not always completely predictive.

As long as natural laws were considered instruments of God’s government, law conformity was easily identified with causality. The laws were considered to be causes, with God as the first cause. Immanuel Kant and his followers were of the opinion that the principle of causality is nothing but the presupposition of law conformity of all natural phenomena.

Isaac Newton assumed that the natural laws were not sufficient to explain God’s interference with the creation. Without His help the solar system could not be stable. When a century later Pierre-Simon Laplace proved that all planetary movements known at the time satisfied Newton’s laws, the idea that God would correct the natural laws was pushed to the back stage of theological discussions about miracles. At present, causality is seen as a relation between events, one being the cause of the other, subject to laws. But a law itself is no longer considered a cause. In physics causality always implies some form of interaction, for instance in experimental situa­tions: if you do this, that will happen.

In the seventeenth century physical causality was accepted without criticism. This changed with the publications of David Hume in the eighteenth century. He stated that any causal connection between two events is unprovable and possibly an illusion. He believed that causality follows from a psycholo­gical motive – the need of humans and animals to predict the effects of their behaviour, making decisions possible. As a deist, Hume stopped short of occasionalism, defended by the Cartesian philosopher Nicolas Malebranche. Like Descartes emphasizing that matter is completely inert, Malebranche believed that only God’s will would be the occasional cause of anything, according to Cartesian laws of motion and impact. In general, Hume became very sceptical about the possibility of mathematical science as pursued by mechanism and experimental philosophy, in general the pretension of reason to go beyond the empirical. Immanuel Kant tried to save the rationality of causality. He stated that causality, like space and time, is a necessary cate­gory of thought, necessary because people could not order their sensorial experience otherwise in a rational way.

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, natural laws were often identified with laws of force, interpreted in a deterministic way. Determinism is sometimes confused with causali­ty as well as with law conformity. It assumed that nature itself is ruled by causality entirely. Pierre-Simon Laplace asserted that we ought to regard the present state of the universe as the effect of its anterior state and as the cause of the one that is to follow.

Believing nature to be completely determined by unchangeable natural laws, determinism has always been an article of faith rather than a well-founded theory. In the twentieth century it is refuted by the discovery and analysis of radioactivity and by the development of quantum physics. Scientists agree that things and events are subject to laws leaving a margin of indeterminacy, contingency or chance, individuality and uniqueness, allowing of probability calculus.

This has consequences for classical situations, too, when it is often assumed that probability is an epistemological matter: it would only concern the investigator’s knowledge of a system. Ontologically, any system would be completely determined by physical laws. Only for quantum physics, intrinsically stochastic processes are acknowledged. However, this view does not withstand scrutiny. Consider the simple example of throwing a die. Classical physics assumed that the outcome could be predicted with certainty if the system were known in sufficient detail. If one pursues this path to the atomic level, one inevitably reaches a point where quantum fluctuations start to play a part. Therefore, if one accepts ontological indeterminacy at the quantum level, one has to accept it at a macroscopic level as well. One could not even say that for practical purposes, one could accept that the result of throwing a die is fully determined by physical laws, for the application of this principle to any practical case is virtually impossible. In fact, for the analysis of a game of chance one had better start from a random distribution of chances based on the symmetry of the game, and on the assumption that the actual process is stochastic. In this way modern physics applies symmetry principles successfully to find many verifiable probability relations.

Twentieth-century science has made clear that lawfulness and randomness coexist. Many laws concern probabilities about a collection of individual things or events, which are individually unpredictable but collectively answering statistical laws. Lawfulness does not imply determinism. It turns out that laws allow of individual variation. Quantum physics, chemistry, natural selection, and genetics cannot be understood without the assumption of random processes. Nevertheless, both law and individuality are absolutized in various worldviews. Determinism is upheld contrary to all evidence of random processes, in particular by naturalist science writers believing that everything can and must be reduced to material interactions. In contrast, some evolutionists believe that the biological evolution is a pure random process, not subject to any law. It seems difficult to accept that lawfulness and individuality do not exclude each other. In every respect, the dynamic development of reality has both a law side and a subject-and-object side (section 2).

Christians and other believers sometimes reject chance, assuming that God’s providence would not leave anything to chance, as if God could not have created a world in which His laws leaves room for randomness. This view is not only at variance with common experience and with the natural laws as far as these are known at present, but also with the Christian view that humans are created to be free and responsible for their acts. The idea of law implies that God rules the world according to His laws, but not by a detailed interference in everything that happens. Apart from acknowledging that God sustains the creation by His laws, humans should not pretend to know how His providence works.

A critical realistic view of natural laws not only implies their validity, but also the possibility of achieving knowledge of them, even if partial and tentative. It distinguishes the laws, which govern nature, being independent of human interference, from law statements as formulated by scientists. Newton’s law of gravity is a law statement having various alternatives, referring to the law of gravity as a natural law ruling the planetary motions and the fall of material bodies. The first is formulated by Newton and dates from the seventeenth century; the latter he discovered, but it dates from the creation. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Newton’s law statement was considered to be true, but since Albert Einstein’s general theory of relativity, it is considered approximately true. The Newtonian expression is sufficient to solve many problems, and is often preferred because of its relative simplicity. For a similar reason one may prefer sometimes Galileo’s law of fall, which Newton showed to be an approximation of his own statement of the law of gravity. Realists consider a law statement as true (or approximately true) if it is a reliable expression of the corresponding natural law. Positivists maintain that a law statement is true if it confirms to observable facts. Realists would call this a criterion for the approximate truth of a law statement.

Most people have only an intuitive knowledge of laws, of regularity. Without some knowledge of laws based on past experience, humanity would have no inkling of the future. Only because people trust the lawfulness of reality, they are able to act and to relate to each other and to their environment. In turn, because their expectations are usually confirmed, their belief in the reliability of their knowledge of laws appears to be warranted.

If the laws were completely deterministic, the future would be fixed and closed. Only because reality has a random component besides being lawful the future is open.  


 The open future


2. Relations


The view that anything is related to everything else is far less controversial than the idea of law, but as a philosophical theme it is equally important. The diversity of temporal reality cannot be reduced to a single principle of explanation. Like a prism refracts the light of the sun into a spectrum of colours, the unity and totality of temporal reality is refracted into a wide variety of temporal relations: among things and events; among people; between people and their environment and all kinds of objects; between individuals and associations; and between associations among each other. Also the relations of people with their God display the same diversity.

This treatise assumes that relations can be grouped into relation frames (also called law spheres or modal aspects of being). In each relation frame, all relations among subjects and objects are governed by one or more natural laws or normative commandments, characterizing the relation frame concerned. The relation frames are supposed to be mutually irreducible, yet not independent. They show a recognizable serial order. For instance, genetic relations are based on physical interaction. Kinetic relations can be projected on spatial relations, and both can be expressed in quantitative relations. Each relation frame presupposes the preceding ones (the spatial frame cannot exist without numbers) and deepens them (spatial continuity expands the denumerable set of rational numbers into the continuous set of real numbers).

Because nothing can exist isolated from everything else, the relation frames constitute conditions for the existence of anything. Experience, too, is always expressed in relations. As a consequence, these frames are aspects of being and experience as well as sets of relations.

This hypothesis views each relation frame as an aspect of time with its own temporal order. Simultaneity may be considered the spatial order of time, preceded by the quantitative order of earlier and later in a sequence, and succeeded by the kinetic order of uniform succession of temporal moments, the uniform motion from one temporal instant to another. In each relation frame the temporal order functions as a natural law or normative value for relations between subjects and objects, especially among subjects. Relations receive their meaning from the temporal order. Serial order is a condition for quantity, and simultaneity for spatial relations. Periodic motions would be impossible without temporal uniformity. Irreversibility is a condition for causal relations; rejuvenation for life; and without purpose, the behaviour of animals would be meaningless.

The relation frames each contain a number of unchangeable natural laws or normative principles, determining the properties and propensities of relation networks of subjects and objects.

The temporal order is the law side of a relation frame. The corresponding relations constitute the subject-and-object side of relational time. Philosophically speaking, something is a subject if it is directly and actively subjected to a given law. An object is passively and indirectly (via a subject) subjected to a law. Therefore, whether something is a subject or an object depends on the context. A spatial subject like a triangle has a spatial position with respect to other spatial subjects, subjected to spatial laws. A biotic subject like a plant has a genetic relation to other biotic subjects, according to biotic laws. Something is a physical subject if it interacts with other physical things satisfying laws of physics and chemistry. With respect to a given law, something is an object if it has a function for a subject of that law. Properties of subjects are not subjects themselves (physical properties like mass do not interact), but objects. Hence, not only the subject-subject and subject-object relations, but even the concepts of a subject and of an object are relational.

It is a matter of empirical research to determine which relation frames there are and how they are ordered, and its result as presented in this essay is at best tentative. Keeping this in mind, natural relations can be grouped together into six natural relation frames, preceding ten normative relation frames, to be discussed in section 6.

1.Putting things or events in a sequence produces a serial order. This order can be expressed by numbering the members of the sequence. The sequential order of numbers gives rise to numerical differences and ratio’s, being quantitative subject-subject relations. The subjects of the laws belonging to the first relation frame are first of all the numbers themselves: natural and integral numbers; fractions or rational numbers; and real numbers. All can be ordered on the same scale of increasing magnitude. Numbers are subject to laws of addition and multiplication. Everything in reality has a numerical aspect. Expressing some relation in quantitative terms (numbers or magnitudes) one arrives at an exact and objective representation. The numerical relation frame is a condition for the existence of the other frames.

2. The next relation frame concerns the spatial synchronous ordering of simultaneity. The relative position of two figures is the universal spatial relation between any two subjects, the spatial subject-subject relation. It is objectively given as the distance between two representational points, for instance the centre points of two circles. Whereas the serial order is one-dimensional, the spatial order consists of several mutually independent dimensions. In each dimension the positions of spatial points are serially ordered and numbered, referring to the numerical frame. Relative to each of these dimensions, there are many equivalent positions. Independence and equivalence are spatial key concepts, just like the relation of a whole and its parts. The spatial relation frame returns in wave motion as a medium; in physical interactions as a field; in ecology as the environment; in animal psychology as observation space, such as an animal’s field of vision; and in human relations as the public domain. Magnitudes like length, distance, area or volume are spatial objects, having a quantitative function for spatial subjects.

3. The third relation frame records how things are moving and when events occur. Relative motion is a subject-subject relation. Motion presupposes the serial order (the diachronic order of earlier and later) and the order of equivalence (the synchronic order of simultaneity or co-existence), and it adds a new order, the uniform succession of temporal instants. Although a point on a continuous line has no unique successor, it is nevertheless assumed that a moving subject runs over the points of its path successively. Hence, relative motion is an intersubjective relation, irreducible to the preceding two. The law of uniformity concerns all kinds of relatively moving systems, including clocks. Therefore, it is possible to project kinetic time objectively on a linear scale, independent of the number of dimensions of kinetic space.

4. Contrary to kinetic time, the physical or chemical ordering of events is marked by irreversibility. Different events are physically related if one is the cause of the other, and this relation is irreversible. All physical and chemical things influence each other by some kind of interaction, by exchanging energy or matter, or by exerting a force on each other. Each physical or chemical process consists of interactions. Therefore, the interaction between two things should be considered the universal physical subject-subject relation. Because the mechanist philosophers wanted to reduce all physical relations to kinetic ones, until the end of the nineteenth century they tried to eliminate the physical order of irreversibility.  

5. The biotic order may be characterized by rejuvenating and ageing, both in organisms and in populations of plants or animals. An organism germs, ripens and rejuvenates itself by reproduction before it ages. By natural selection, populations rejuvenate themselves before they die out. For the biotic relation frame, the genetic law is universally valid. Each living being descends from another one; all living organisms are genetically related. This applies to the cells, tissues, and organs of a multicellular plant or animal as well. Descent and kinship as biotic subject-subject relations determine the position of a cell, a tissue or an organ in a plant or an animal, and of an organism in one of the biotic kingdoms. Hence, the genetic law constitutes a universal relation frame for all living beings.

6. Teleology, being goal-directed, describes the psychic order. Behaviour, the universal mode of existence of all animals, is directed to future events. Recollection, recognition and expectation connect past experiences and present insight to behaviour directed to the future. Internal and external communication and processing of information are inter- and intra-subjective processes, enabling psychic functioning. Animals are sensitive for each other. By means of their senses, they experience each other as partners; as parents or offspring; as siblings or rivals; as predator or prey. By their mutual sensitivity, animals are able to make connections, between cells and organs of their body, with their environment, and with each other.

Although they are supposed to be mutually irreducible, the relation frames are not independent of each other. Except for the final one, all relation frames anticipate the succeeding frames. For instance, the set of real numbers anticipates both spatial continuity and uniform motion. Reversely, each relation frame (except the first one) refers back to preceding frames. The subject-subject relations of one relation frame can be projected onto those of a former one. Numbers represent spatial positions, and motions are measured by comparing distances covered in equal intervals. Energy, force and current are generalized projections of physical interaction on quantitative, spatial and kinetic relations respectively.

These projections are often expressed as subject-object relations. A spatial magnitude like length is an objective property of physical bodies. The possibility to project physical relations on quantitative, spatial and kinetic ones forms the foundation of all physical measurements. Each measurable property requires the availability of a metrical law (including a scale and a unit) for the relations to be measured and their projections.


The open future


3. Characters and character types


The realist idea of law assumes the validity of invariant natural laws and normative principles. These are not a priori stated as in a rationalist philosophy, but discovered like in the empirical sciences. As a consequence, law statements are fallible and revisable. Laws and principles give rise to recognizable clusters of two kinds. Generic laws for relations determine six natural relation frames and ten normative ones. Clusters of specific laws form characters (as I will call these) and typesof characters for kinds of individual things and events, artefacts and associations. Therefore, relations and characters complement each other. As will be shown, character types can be distinguished with the help of relation frames. Postponing the discussion of normativity, the present section deals with natural characters and their relations.

In the history of science a shift is observable from the search for universal laws, via structural laws, toward characters, determining typical processes besides specific structures. Even the investigation of structures is less ancient than might be expected: structuralism dates from the nineteenth century. In mathematics, it resulted in the theory of groups or symmetry, later to play an important part in physics and chemistry. Before the twentieth century, scientists were more interested in observable and measurable properties of materials than in their structure. Initially, the concept of a structure was used as an explanans, as an explanation of properties. Later on, structure as explanandum, as object for research, came to the fore. During the nineteenth century, the atomic theory functioned to explain the generic properties of chemical compounds and gases. In the twentieth century, atomic research was directed to the specific structure and functioning of the atoms themselves. Of course, people have always investigated the design of plants and animals. Yet, as an independent discipline, biology established itself not before the first half of the nineteenth century. Ethology, the science of animal behaviour, only emerged in the twentieth century.

Mainstream philosophy does not pay much attention to structures. Philosophy of science is mostly concerned with epistemological problems (for instance, the meaning of models), and with the general foundations of science. A systematic philosophical analysis of characters is wanting. This is remarkable, for characters form the most important subject matter of twentieth-century research, in mathematics as well as in the physical and biological sciences.

In the philosophy of dynamic development, the theory of characters summarized in the present section is the most theoretical, if compared with the idea of law (section 1) and the hypothesis of mutually irreducible relation frames (section 2). It is crucial for understanding the ensuing exposition of this philosophy.

It is quite common to speak of the structure of thing-like individuals having a certain stability and lasting identity, like atoms, molecules, plants, and animals. However, the concept of a structure is hardly applicable to individual events or processes, which are transitive rather than stable and lack a specific form. A dictionary description of the word structure would be the manner in which a building or organism or other complete whole is constructed, how it is composed from spatially connected parts. In this sense, an electron has no structure, yet it is no less a characteristic whole than an atom. Depending on temperature and pressure, a solid like ice displays several different crystal structures. The typical structure of an animal, its size, appearance, and behaviour depend characteristically on its sex and age, changing considerably during its development. The structure of an individual subject is changeable, whereas its kind remains the same.

A character defined as a cluster of natural laws, values, and norms is not the structure of, but the law for individuality, indicating how an individual may differ from other individuals of the same kind or of a different kind. The character of something includes its structure if it has one. It points out which properties it has and which propensities; how it relates to its environment; under which circumstances it exists; how it comes into being, changes and perishes. In this sense, an electron has no structure, but it has a character. Often, a character implies several structures. The structure of water is crystalline below 0oC, gaseous above 100oC, and liquid in between.

A character often shares its laws (sometimes expressed as objective properties) with other characters. Electrons are characterized by having a certain mass, electric charge, magnetic moment, and lepton number. Positrons have the same mass and magnetic moment, but different charge and lepton number. Electrons and neutrino’s have the same lepton number but different mass, charge and magnetic moment. Electrons, positrons and neutrino’s are fermions, but so are all particles, which are not bosons. Therefore, it is never a single law, but always a specific cluster of laws that characterizes things or events of the same kind.

These clusters should not be considered as definitions in a logical sense. It is very well possible to define electrons objectively by their properties like mass and charge only. But this definition says very little about the laws concerning other properties, like the electron’s spin, magnetic moment or lepton number. The definition does not tell that an electron is a fermion, that it has an antiparticle by which it can be annihilated, or that it belongs to the first of three generations of leptons and quarks. It does not follow from a definition that electrons have the tendency to become interlaced in atoms or metals and in events like oxidation or lightning. It does not depend on a definition that electrons have the disposition to play a part in electric and electronic appliances. Although science needs definitions, theories stating laws are far more important. At the turn of the nineteenth century electrons were identified as charged particles, starting the age of electronics, but the laws for electrons were gradually discovered in a century of painstaking experimental and theoretical research. One can never be sure of knowing the character of a thing or event completely. Human knowledge of most natural kinds is very tentative, even if it were possible to define them fairly accurately by some of their objective properties.

Besides characters, character types should be mentioned. An iron atom satisfies a typical character, different from that of an oxygen atom. They have also properties in common, both belonging to the character type of an atom. Because a natural kind is characterized by a cluster of laws partly shared with other kinds, it is possible to find natural classifications, like the periodic system of the chemical elements or the taxonomy of plants and animals. One may discuss the generic character of an atom or the specific character of a hydrogen atom. From a chemical point of view all oxygen atoms have the same character, but nuclear physicists distinguish various isotopes of oxygen, each having its own character. The biological taxonomy from species to phyla corresponds to a hierarchy of character types.

A character is not a single law, but a cluster of laws. It determines both a subjective class of potential and actual things or events of the same kind, and an objective ensemble of all possible states allowed by the character, describing the possible variation within a class.

The class of all potential things or events determined by a character is not restricted to a limited number, a certain place, or a period of time, but their actual number, place and temporal existence are usually restricted by circumstances like temperature. As a consequence of the supposition that natural laws are invariant, the class of individuals having the same character must be considered invariant as well. But the individual things and events belonging to this class are far from invariant. Any actual collection of individuals (even if it contains only one specimen) is a temporal and variable subset of the class. In an empirical or statistical sense, it is an example or a sample. A number of similar things may be connected into an aggregate, for instance a chemically homogeneous gas of molecules, or a population of interbreeding plants or animals of the same species. An aggregate is a temporal collection, a connected subset of the class defined above. Sometimes it is subject to a cluster of specific aggregate laws (like the gas laws). Probability is the relative frequency distribution of possibilities in a well-defined subset of an ensemble, subject to statistical laws. Empirical statistics is only applicable to a specific collection of individuals of the same kind.

As far as the realization of a character depends on external circumstances like the temperature of the environment, it is temporal, too. This is crucial for the understanding of astrophysical and biotic evolution.

A character considered as a cluster of laws determining the nature of a set of individuals allows of a certain amount of variation, giving room to the individuality of the things or events subject to the character. Therefore, a character is not deterministic. Although it determines a set of possibilities, it does not determine which properties are realized in a given individual. The range of individual variation is relatively small for quantitative, spatial and kinematic characters, larger for physical ones, and even more so for plants, fungi or animals.

The set of possibilities governed by a character may be called an ensemble. An ensemble’s elements are not things or events, but their objective states. An ensemble of objective possible states is as invariant as the corresponding class of potential subjective individuals. It is a set not bounded in number, space or kinetic time. It includes all possible variations of the individuals subject to the same character, whether the possibilities are realized or not. An ensemble reflects the similarity of the individuals concerned and the properties they have in common, as well as their possible differences, the variations allowed by the character. Variation means that a character allows of various possibilities, either in a specific or in a generic sense. For instance, the character of a triangle allows of specific variation with respect to shape and magnitude, as well as its position, which is not specific. The idea of an ensemble is useful whenever an objective representation is available. In biology, the genotype of each organism is objectively projected on the sequence of nucleotides constituting its DNA-molecules, the so-called genetic code.

In three ways typical kinds are connected to the relation frames introduced in section 2.

1. Primarily, each kind is specifically qualified by the laws for one of the sixteen relation frames. The universal relation of physical interaction, specified as for instance electric or gravitational, primarily characterizes physical and chemical things, processes and events. General and specific genetic laws constitute primarily the law clusters valid for living beings and life processes. The psychical relation frame, expressed in its goal-directed behaviour is the primary characteristic of an animal’s character. For natural characters, the qualifying relation frame is the final frame in which the things concerned can be subjects, in the succeeding frames they are objects. (This is not the case for normative characters.)

Each relation frame qualifies numerous characters. A traditional point of view acknowledges only three kingdoms of natural kinds, the physical-chemical or mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom. However, the quantitative, spatial and kinematic relation frames characterize clusters of laws as well. A triangle, for instance, has a spatial structure, oscillations and waves have primarily a kinematic character, and mathematical groups are quantitatively qualified. Each is characterized by a set of generic and specific laws.

2. Except for quantitative characters, a relation frame preceding the qualifying one constitutes the secondary characteristic, called its foundation. In fact, a character is not directly founded in a preceding frame, but in a projection of the primary (qualifying) relation frame on a preceding one. For instance, electrons are secondarily characterized by quantities; not by numbers however, but by physical magnitudes like mass, charge, and lepton number. These magnitudes determine to what amount an electron is able to interact with other physical subjects. Atoms, molecules and crystals have a characteristic spatial structure as a secondary characteristic, being as distinctive as the primary (physical) one.

For each primary type one expects as many secondary types as relation frames preceding the qualifying one. For biotically qualified wholes this means four secondary types, corresponding to projections of biotic relations on the quantitative, spatial, kinematic and physical relation frames, respectively. Prokaryotes (bacteria) and some organelles in eukaryotic cells appear to be subject to law clusters founded in a quantitative projection of the biotic relation frame. Being the smallest reproductive units of life, they are genetically related by asexual multiplication, subject to the serial temporal order. In multicellular organisms, eukaryotic cells operate as units of life as well, but eukaryotic cell division starts with the division of the nucleus, having a prokaryotic structure. The character types for eukaryotic cells, multicellular undifferentiated plants, and tissues in differentiated plants are founded in symbiosis, being the spatial expression of shared life.

3. The tertiary characteristic of a character is a disposition, the natural tendency or affinity of a character to become interlaced with another one. (Dooyeweerd calls this ‘enkapsis’, but he does not treat it as a disposition). This occurs either because the individuals concerned cannot exist without each other (a eukaryotic cell cannot exist without its nucleus and organelles, and vice versa) or because an individual has a natural tendency to become a constitutive part of another one, in which it performs an objective function. Whereas the secondary characteristic refers to properties, the tertiary characteristic is usually a propensity. A particular molecule may or may not have an actual objective function in a plant, yet the propensity to exert such a function belongs to its specific cluster of laws. Interlacement makes characters dynamic.

Some prokaryotes have the disposition to be part of a eukaryotic cell (cell with a nucleus). In multicellular plants, a eukaryotic cell has the disposition to be a specialized part of a tissue or organ. Plants of a certain species have the propensity to occupy a certain niche, to interbreed, and to be a member of a population. A population has the propensity to change genetically, eventually to evolve into a different species.

Tertiary characteristics imply a specific subject-object relation between individuals of different kinds. For instance, with respect to the cluster of laws constituting the structure of an atom, the atom itself is a subject, whereas its nucleus and electrons are objects. The nucleus and the electrons interact with each other, maintaining a physical subject-subject relation, but they do not interact with the atom of which they are constitutive parts. The relation of the atom to its nucleus and electrons is a subject-object relation determined by the laws for the atom. In turn, according to their characters nuclei and electrons have a disposition, a tendency, to become encapsulated within the fabric of an atom.

In physics and chemistry, the characters of atoms and molecules are studied without taking into account their disposition to become interlaced with characters primarily characterized by a later relation frame. But biochemistry is concerned with molecules such as DNA and RNA, having a characteristic function in living cells. Like other molecules these are physically qualified and spatially founded, witness the double-helix structure as a fundamental characteristic property of DNA. But much more interesting is the part these molecules play in the production of enzymes and the reproduction of cells, which is their biotic disposition.

Interlacement is only possible if the two or more subjects involved are somehow correlated to each other. Only because electrons and protons have exactly the same electric charge with opposite sign, atomic nuclei and electrons have the disposition to form electrically neutral, quite stable atoms. Atoms having an affinity to form a molecule adapt their internal charge distribution by exchanging one or more electrons (heteropolar bond); or by sharing a pair of electrons (homopolar bond); or by an asymmetric distribution of the electrons (dipolar bond). The character of a typical event like the emission of light is correlated with the characters of the emitting atom and the emitted photon.

Hence, taking into account its propensities, the specific laws for a physical subject like a molecule not only determine its structure and physical-chemical interactions, but its full dynamic meaning in the cosmos as well. The theory of interlacement avoids both reductionism (stressing the secondary, foundational properties of things) and holism (emphasizing the tertiary functions of things in an encompassing whole).


The open future 


4. The evolution of characters


The phenomenon of the emergence of new characters plays an important part in the natural evolution of the astrophysical universe; of stars and planets; of the chemical elements and their compounds; of the living world; and of animals. It should be understood as the realization of characters as sets of laws that were potentially but not actually valid before. The subjects of invariant characters come into actual existence if the circumstances permit it. Assuming that natural laws do not change, evolution occurs at the subject side of natural characters, not at their law side. Yet natural evolution is not a completely random process, but lawful dynamic development towards an open future.

The assumption that natural laws do not change does not exclude the idea of evolution at the subject side. Being clusters of universal laws, characters do not evolve, but their subjects do. This does not appear to pose a problem to the astrophysical or the chemical theory of evolution. The characters of physical and chemical things and events like molecules and molecular processes are supposed to hold for all times and places, taking into account the fact that their characters can only be realized in suitable circumstances. Evolution in the organic world is a random process with natural selection as a dynamic force. Genetic relations and sexual reproduction constitute equally important engines of evolution. These engines push evolution at the subject side. At the law side, the characters to be realized pull the evolution. It is restrained by the laws determining characters, which are gradually realized into populations of living beings.

With respect to physical and chemical characters like those of atoms and molecules, everybody seems to accept that the characters at the law side do not change, but are realized at the subject side when circumstances like temperature and other initial and boundary conditions are favourable. Biologists assume that the evolution of populations occurs within species, and occasionally between species, such that new species arise. This micro-evolution fits very well into the assumption that a species corresponds to a character. However, macro-evolutions like the emergence of eukaryotes from prokaryotes; of multi-cellular eukaryotes; or of plants, animals and fungi, remain unsolved problems.

Whereas for physical and chemical characters specific laws are sufficiently known, this is not the case for species. On a higher taxonomic level, about 35 contemporary animal phyla are known each with its own body plan. A body plan may be considered a morphological expression of the law for the phylum. It is a covering law for the characters of all species belonging to the phylum. It is remarkable that these phyla manifested themselves almost simultaneously (i.e., within several millions of years) during the Cambrium radiation, starting about 550 million years ago. Afterwards, not a single new phylum has arisen, none has disappeared, and the body plans have not changed. The evolution of the animal world within the phyla (in particular the vertebrates) is much better documented in fossil records than that of other kingdoms. It shows that it is an open process, which natural history can be investigated, but which future cannot be predicted.

Some evolutionists and many of their critics emphasize the occurrence of chance in Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection, often assuming that chance is at variance with law conformity. In fact, stochastic processes can only occur on the basis of existing characters. Biotic evolution starts from physical characters, and always builds on previously realized biotic characters. Psychic characters of behaviour have a physical and an organic basis. Chance plays an important part in the reproduction of plants and animals (and therefore in natural selection), but far less in their development after germination. The development of the human eyes in an individual animal after its conception is almost completely determined by natural laws. Although in the evolution of eyesight in several parallel genetic lines chance played an important part, yet it is not merely a chance process, as both evolutionists and their critics appear to believe. It was guided by pre-established laws.

As in the astrophysical, chemical, and biotic evolution, the dynamic evolution within the animal world requires a random push and a lawful pull. This pull is the character of the emerging animals. The random push is sexual reproduction, in which the animals concerned take an active part in choosing their mates, but which result is still largely a random process, although much less so than in plants and fungi, where hybridization occurs more often.

The view that natural characters realize themselves successively by evolution belongs to the prevailing scientific worldview. It should not be identified with evolutionism, considered a reductionist, naturalist and materialist worldview. It makes sense to distinguish evolutionism as a naturalist worldview applying the concept of evolution everywhere, from evolution as a natural phenomenon, as well as from the theory of evolution as a scientific construction.

Whereas Baruch Spinoza and Albert Einstein identified God with nature or with natural laws, naturalists replace God by nature, attempting to explain everything by natural causes, reducing all regularity to physical laws and natural evolution.

Naturalism is a form of reductionism, but apart from that, there appears to be little consensus about its contents. In short, ontological or metaphysical naturalism is the worldview rejecting supernatural interventions in reality, and assuming human life to be completely subject to natural laws. Physicalism, materialism, and evolutionism may be considered variants of ontological naturalism. Epistemological naturalism is weaker. It states that supernatural intervention, if it exists, is unknowable.

Even more modest, methodological naturalism states that supernatural intervention, if it exists and is knowable, should not be a principle of explanation in science. Methodological naturalism is shared by many scientists.

At the other side of the spectrum, some extreme naturalists cross the boundary between a worldview and a religion, by assuming that science proves that there is no supernatural origin of reality and of its laws. Evolutionism assumes that the theory of evolution provides not merely a necessary, but also a sufficient explanation for the emergence of the living world.

Evangelical creationism is proposed as a Christian alternative for a supposed atheist or agnostic evolutionism. Foundational creationism uses biblical texts as reliable data for scientific theories, as an authoritative source for empirical knowledge. Creationism rejects the view that evolution is a necessary explanation for the rise of humanity, considering the biblical text as both necessary and sufficient. Whoever rejects that worldview is therefore not committed to atheism or evolutionism. Rejecting creationism, many Christians and other believers accept the theory of evolution as a necessary but not sufficient explanation of the emergence of humanity from the living world. They assume that this evolution needs an additional explanation to become sufficient. In principle, the philosophy of dynamic development's view on history provides this extension.


 The open future



5. The emergence of humanity

from the animal world


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, stating 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. 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. There is no reasonable doubt that human beings, as far as their body structure is concerned, evolved from the animal world. However, 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 humans 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. 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 the human body differs from the animal body to a large extent. The size of the brain, the erect gait, the versatility of the human hand, the absence of a tail, and the naked skin point to the unique position of humankind in the world as it is known.

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. With their creation in the image of God humanity heralded the start of the kingdom of God on earth. 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, 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 these 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 makes room 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. 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 commandments. 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, several naturalists assume that persons are not free to act, and cannot be held responsible for their acts and the ensuing consequences. They 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 contradict common sense, they should carry the burden of proof. Apparently, their 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 anthropology holds that human beings and their associations are conditioned to be free and responsible according to normative principles irreducible to natural laws.

As far as animals can learn from their experience 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 since the start of civilization required the introduction of human-made norms as implementation or positivization of normative principles. Therefore, the idea of human freedom and responsibility has two sides. At the law side it means the active development of norms from 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. Likewise, 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 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 mankind 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. It is completely absent in the animal world. The transfer of experience as a dynamic engine of history in each normative relation frame replaces heredity as an equally dynamic engine of 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 less 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, or 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 deployed in this essay, 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 for example 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. Disease 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 improve 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. 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 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; as well as 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 with human normative activity.


 The open future


6. Values and norms

for human acts and relations


Being free and responsible images of God, men and women do not satisfy a specific character as described in section 3. They are individually characterized by their acts and by their relations to their God, to their fellow people, and to their natural and human-made environment. Human 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 subject to natural laws, human activity is relatively free and responsible, although one’s personal situation in one’s environment and in relations to other people often restrains one’s liberty to act.

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

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 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, as will be illustrated below.

This section surveys the principles pertaining to the ten normative relation frames. Both their number and their order are hypothetical, tentative and disputed. Sections 7 and 8 will show that these values determine the character types of artefacts (typical objects) and associations (typical subjects) in a similar way as has been discussed above for natural character types. Anticipating this, the present section will already mention several examples, stressing the dynamic development in history.

1. The progressive development of culture and civilization started and continues with skilled labour, the first normative principle to be introduced. Anyone ought to exert their work according to their skills. Progress may be considered the temporal order for technical development. An event, process, artefact or association as well as 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. This optimistic view was shattered during the First World War. The dynamic 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. They function as typical objects in the transfer of technical skills, or in a technical subject-object relation, in which a skilled subject (an individual or an association) may be its designer, its producer or its user. Technical progress as expressed in the dynamic 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. The religious calling of mankind is to till and preserve the earth in a responsible way.

2. 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. The production of aesthetic artefacts requires specific technical skills. 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 artists determine the perspective and the spectators have to follow them.

The products of the performing arts are subject to a specific set of human-made norms, like the text of a play, the choreography of a ballet, the score of a piece of music, or the script and the screenplay of a movie. Besides having an aesthetic character, these are first of all prescriptive. Although the performers are bound to the text, they are free to find their own interpretation, as long as it testifies to their aesthetic skills.

3. 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. For instance, a fossil is a sign of a formerly living body, and is therefore qualified by the biotic relation frame. In contrast, a man-made semiotic artefact is usually called a symbol. A rainbow is a sign that it is raining while the sun shines, whereas the Bible interprets it as 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.

4. 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.

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 the discussion between two logical sub­jects, attempting to achieve agreement about something on which their opinions differed before. 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 dynamic 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.

5. 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 their arguments. 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 certitude 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) appear to be founded in the logical frame and icons in the aesthetic one.

6. People seek company in unorganized communities with a network structure and in organized associations with some kind of authority. 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. Reverence is the leading social motive in the religious intercourse with God.

7. 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.

8. Keeping peace, good government, 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 is aptly called 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.

9. 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.

10. 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. Besides being related to others, each person also depends on other persons, on their 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.


 The open future



7. Artefacts 


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, 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 do 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. 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 of humankind.

As products of skilful labour, artefacts are either primarily or secondarily characterized by the technical relation frame. Artefacts primarily characterized by technical labour have a singular character, secondarily characterized by one of the natural relation frames. In contrast, artefacts being primarily as an object 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 of an appropriate kind, but otherwise quite different. For any specific character type, the most interesting problem will be to establish the relation frame determining its secondary characteristic.

In the philosophy of dynamic development an artefact is 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 human-made material remains. 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, although 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. The price of a painting has a quite different history than the painting itself has as an aesthetic artefact.

The characters of artefacts are in part determined by natural laws, limiting many possibilities. For another part they are determined by norms, expressing ethical conditions for the production, quality, and use of artefacts. Artefacts are not always things. Human-made events and processes (including the invention, design, production, and use of artefacts) are artefacts too.

Artefacts are not merely relevant for the relation frame by which they are characterized. They play an objective and instrumental part in all normative relation frames. For instance, without language all social relations, commerce, government, and justice would be impossible. In this way, artefacts have a very open character.

Artefacts function as instruments in the transfer of experience in asymmetric subject-subject relations. They are subjected to the normative order of time in the relation frames by which they are characterized, like pieces of art showing aesthetic renewal. Because the technical relation frame characterizes all artefacts either primarily or secondarily, artefacts should at least satisfy objectively the historical norm of progress. Therefore artefacts have a history of their own, constituting an important instrument for historiography as the interpretation of signs from the past. Indeed, each artefact is an objective sign of the dynamic history of human acts by subjective producers and users. Artefacts are objective witnesses of the past.

Artefacts sustain human experience, like sensory experience is sustained by various kinds of instruments and human labour by tools. Several examples of artefacts have already been mentioned in section 6. Because of their relevance for epistemology, more will be said about some typically lingual and logical artefacts, neither of them being material.


 The open future


8. Lingual and logical artefacts


A language is a dynamic artefact defined as a set of words (a vocabulary) subjected to 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 sign 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.

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.

With respect to logical reasoning, people make use of two different attitudes. The first is part of natural experience, which is much more than logical. Natural thinking is a direct relationship, not taking distance to the object of reasoning. It is no less rational than conceptual or theoretical thought, in which a thinking subject opposes its object. Applying logical artefacts, this detachment includes methodological isolation and idealization.

Such an opposing and therefore critical attitude does not occur in theoretical thought only. It occurs whenever human beings leave natural experience, by putting an artificial instru­ment between themselves and their object. A telling example is how people extend their sensorial abilities by using a telescope or a microscope. In this case, too, one assumes an opposing attitude, creating distance, and narrowing one’s vision. One sees further, but one’s field of view is diminished. The other senses (hearing, smelling, tasting, touching) are set apart. The observed object is more or less abstracted from the coherence in which it functions. This distance taking attitude is absent in the natural experience of people as well as in the functioning of animals. It allows people to take part in nature and to keep distance from it simultaneously.

In contrast to natural thought, conceptual or theoretical reasoning argues with the help of logically qualified artefacts, like concepts, statements and theories. Often these are experienced as being abstract, posing higher demands than lingual artefacts like words, sentences and texts. Nevertheless, besides science and philosophy, ordinary life and literature applies them often. A theory is an artefact, people making, inventing, improving, applying or rejecting theories. Theories are used as instruments of thought to form concepts and to prove statements. 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 as logical skills.

What is a theory? The Greek word theoria means something like contemplation. The word theatre is derived from it. Often an unproven hypothesis is called a theory. However, the earliest Greek philosophers already connected theoria to delivering proof, to deductive argumentation.

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 people to dispose of sources of absolute truth not open to critical empirical research. Examples are the rationalist view that the axioms of a theory should be self-evident, making theoretical thought autonomous; the positivist view that unbiased observations provide an undeniable source of truth; the firm belief of many philosophers that the laws of logic are inescapable, for people and for God as well; the authoritarian view ascribing authority to the utterances of great scientists; and religious fundamentalism deriving scientific data from a holy text. A non-fundamentalist scientific world view rejects the pretension of science to be capable of leading to absolute truth. Critical realists believe that a scientific theory should start from new and daring hypotheses, arriving at empirically testable conclusions by logical reasoning.

Characteristic for a theory is rendering proof, the logical deduction of theses from premises. If the proof is correct and the premises are assumed to be true, then one ought to accept the derived statements to be true as well. A theory is not strictly objective, but is accepted and used by one or more persons, individually or in social groups like the physical community. They accept some statements to be true, in order to prove others. Each theory consists of statements or propositions containing concepts.

1. 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.

2. 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. 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.

3. 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 human insights about reality, contributing to the open future of mankind and its dynamic development. 

This analysis leads to an investigation of dynamic processes like observation, experiment, data gathering, prediction, explanation, problem solving, finding and formulating laws, the systematization of knowledge, and its application in practical situations. In the course of history, several of these have been singled out as the foremost aim of science, but it appears that science derives its relevance from its diversity. In contrast, rationalist philosophers like René Descartes and Immanuel Kant exaggerated theoretical thought, believing it to be autonomously able to arrive at absolutely certain truths and to be the most important instrument of science.

However, theories have little use if they are not based in experience. Their axioms should reflect laws, and their propositions should be suggested and confirmed by empirical research. In the physical sciences experiments form a forceful instrument for investigating reality, both to find laws and to test theoretical results. Also in the other sciences, in which the experimental method is less applicable, empirical methods like observation and statistics play an important part in relating theories to human experience. Indeed, science is much more than theoretical thought alone. Its multiple applicability testifies to its reliability. The philosophical view that theoretical thought is autonomous, able to lead to undeniable truths, is unwarranted. As a religious belief it is part of the humanist world view proclaiming the autonomy of humankind independent of its divine Creator.


 The open future


9. Associations


The distinction between organized and unorganized social connections is very relevant for social philosophy. An unorganized group of people without leadership will be 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. For instance, the international lingual community is a subjective network requiring intertranslatable languages. It is divided into specific lingual communities of people speaking and writing the same language. The subjective semiotic network of people communicating with each other is based on an objective network of lingual acts; on signs, symbols and lingual artefacts like words and sentences; as well as on technical networks like telephone and internet. However, it is not an organized whole.

An organized social group with leadership and members will be called an association. It is also called a corporation, a company, or an institute. As an organized whole an association has authority at the law side and discipline at the subject side. 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 as a subject in all relation frames. Any association has members, sometimes called citizens (of a state) or employees (of an enterprise or a school). Some associations, like the European Union, have associations as members.

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. 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.

Like many individuals, 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, socializing 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.

The board has a restricted and temporal competence to act with authority within and on behalf of the association. Its authorization rests on the recognition by the members, on discipline. The governing board cannot long continue to act within the association if it fails 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 explodes 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 household.

Both individual persons and associations act as subjects in all relation frames, but contrary to human beings, each association has a specific character. It is primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames: a household by labour; an orchestra by aesthetics; a publisher by semiotics; a university by logic; a church by faith; a pub by social intercourse; a bank by economy; a state by its policy; a court by justice; and a hospital by care. Each of these is secondarily founded in a preceding relation frame, like a family in biotic descent and a church in the aesthetic celebration of faith. According to its tertiary character, an association can be interlaced with other associations, like a factory in a commercial enterprise, a canteen in a school, or a choir in a church.

Besides its specific character, as an organized whole each association satisfies a generic character, the same for all associations. This accounts for the many organizational similarities of specifically widely different corporations. The generic character of an association is primarily characterized by the political relation frame (because it has leadership, taking decisions binding for the association) and secondarily by the frame of companionship (because it has members). For most associations the specific character is not determined by the political one. The character of the state appears to be qualified both specifically and generically by the political relation frame. This affirms that the state is the most political of all associations, and explains why politics is often exclusively ascribed to state affairs. Yet each association has authority and a policy of its own.

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.

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 the generic character of any association is primarily characterized by the political relation frame and secondarily by the frame of companionship, primarily by policy and secondarily by social integration.

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 partake, 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 the 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. Here political organs can be represented in other bodies politic. 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.

The members of an association experience mutual solidarity, a sense of community. This is expressed in mutual forms of social conduct, coloured 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.

The authority within an association is restricted by its generic and specific character, by the values and norms valid for the group. First, the authority is restricted to the association itself: no association ought to rule over another one, except when one is part of the other. 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, conforming to the association’s specific character.

In the next section the relevance of associations for society at large will be discussed.


 The open future


10. The state and the public domain


States belong to the most important associations. There are several kinds of states, each with their own character, but answering to a single character type. 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. Free associations have flourished especially since the twentieth century, but some kinds, like families and enterprises, are much older. In the past, states have been modeled on both families and enterprises, and even on the church.

Opposed to the social contract theory, Protestants (in particular Calvinists) maintain the principle that associations are characterized by normative principles laid down in the creation, and by norms developed in the course of history.

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, independent of the republic which only exerts supervision of the public domain, has become the hallmark of the free Western society. Elsewhere it expands explosively too. The fact that Abraham Kuyper designed his view of sphere sovereignty in 1880 testifies to his prophetic mind. Pointing to an open future of a developing mankind, this is historically a much more interesting phenomenon than the victory of neo-liberalism proclaiming the end of history, according to Francis Fukuyama in 1992.

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 types 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; and that various mutually irreducible character types of associations can be distinguished. There is no better warrant for social freedom than this Protestant view of a civil society.

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. 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. 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, towards an open future. The meaning of sphere sovereignty is that any kind of authority is limited, in particular that of the state. It promotes the freedom and responsibility of individual persons. Because persons belong to various associations, they can be alternatively leaders in one and subordinate members in another association.

Both individual persons and associations are actors on the public domain. Each animal species experiences its own specific environment, 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. By skilful labour, human beings explore their natural environment and develop it into the public domain, which is based on a technical infrastructure: dikes, canals, roads, supplies of gas, water and electricity, radio and television, telephone and internet. This means that the specific character of the state as the guardian of the public domain is founded in the technical relation frame.

Considered as an association, any state’s generic character is qualified by the political relation frame and is founded in the frame of social intercourse. The state’s members are its citizens. The state also determines a people or nation as a community. In the Greek polis, women and slaves were not citizens, although they were inhabitants of the state. Since the nineteenth century, romantic nationalism 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. Nowadays nationality merely means belonging to the state, requiring national solidarity, patriotism instead of nationalism.

Whereas the state governs its citizens, inhabitants and properties according to its generic character, on its territory it rules the public domain according to its specific character. Besides individual persons many associations act in public. The state is the guardian of the res publica. In public, people do not necessarily act as citizens or even inhabitants 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 inhabitants or visiting tourists.

The public domain consists of a set of open communities. Each community depends on an internal network of intersubjective relations, between individuals and associations. Often it is based on an objective network. For instance, a lingual community is an intersubjective network of all people speaking the same language. Because lingual acts can be translated, forming an objective lingual network, all people and all associations take part in a world-wide intersubjective lingual public network.

Contrary to associations, public networks lack an internal authority and do not act like individuals. This does not exclude a peculiar kind of activity, 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.

The technical infrastructure forms the objective basis of all other networks constituting the public domain, consisting of relation networks 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 forms a semiotic network. Public science is constituted by various intersubjective networks of scientists, sustained by an objective network of theories. 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.

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 not voluntary, but regulated by law, and its internal organization is mapped on the public domain. Its specific character as a republic differs from that of other associations because it is tied to 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. A constitutional state is bound to its own laws and international treaties and is therefore subject to national and international courts of justice. With respect to its specific character, it should be emphasized that the state oversees the public domain, but does not necessarily own it, like it does not necessarily own the land. Technical public networks (traffic, telephone, internet) may be possessed 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. According to the Roman-Catholic principle of subsidiarity, on the public domain the state should refrain from activities that other associations can do better.

In a free society, the state as a republic warrants the liberty of people 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 upholds the public order and defends the public domain by means of its intervention powers: army and police.

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. However, the armed power is merely a historical consequence of the specific character of the state as guardian of the public domain. It does not characterize the state itself, 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, for instance 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 their own responsibility. Even a free market cannot function without public order.

Individual persons were always active on the public domain. Also the republic as its guardian and the protector of freedom has a long history. Since the Middle Ages, associations have strongly influenced the development of Western society, and they are starting to do so in the rest of the world. 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 the dynamic development of the characters of the associations, in particular where they meet each other on the public domain.

The national public networks become more and more interconnected. There are still separate, so-called sovereign states, but the corresponding public domains are no longer separated. This means that the various states have to open up their borders in order to coordinate their tasks as guardians of the public domain. Of old states have conducted treaties, sometimes forming coalitions. More recently, states form associations like the United Nations or the European Union, to which they transfer part of their sovereignty. Inevitably, this means that the states are becoming more and more interdependent, gradually growing into one global world.


 The open future




1. With the idea of law, the Philosophy of Dynamic Development (PDD) remains quite close to Herman Dooyeweerd’s Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea (PCI). The most important addition is the insight that the laws for the creation allow of a margin of indeterminacy, contingency or chance, individuality and uniqueness. The coexistence of lawfulness and randomness undermines any kind of determinism.

2.PCI discussed subject-object relations extensively, but paid little attention to subject-subject relations. Whereas PCI introduced the law spheres to be modal aspects of being, PDD interprets the relation frames first of all as laws for intersubjective as well as subject-object relations. Because nothing can exist isolated from everything else, it then follows that the relation frames constitute conditions for the existence of anything. The relation frames are aspects of human experience as well, because experience is always expressed in relations. They are also aspects of Dooyeweerd’s (not Vollenhoven’s) cosmic time which PDD considers relational. In each relation frame the relations are subject to a temporal order as the most general law for that frame.

In Dooyeweerd’s view the serial order of the modal aspects is the primordial expression of time, in which each aspect transcends the preceding ones. The final aspect (faith) is transcended by religion. In this order Dooyeweerd considers history to be a process in which the modal aspects are opened up. PDD presents a broader view of human history, taking into account the transfer of experience in asymmetrical subject-subject relations; the design, production and use of artefacts; as well as the development of  associations and the public domain.

The emphasis on relations has a large impact on PDD. It extends PCI’s scarce remarks on the natural relation frames and characters into a wide-ranging philosophy of development as investigated in the mathematical, physical and biological sciences. Networks of subject-subject relations and subject-object relations play a decisive part in the analysis of the function of the state on the public domain.

3. The theory of characters is a consequent elaboration of PCI’s theory of structures of individuality. Besides the primary qualification and secondary foundation of each character, PDD adds the tertiairy disposition of each character to become interlaced with other characters. This is inspired by Dooyeweerd’s view on enkapsis, but it is much more straightforward and general. Characters are defined as clusters of laws, which may include the general modal laws besides specific laws. Characters are the law side of individuality. There is an enormous variety of characters, but a much more restricted set of character types. Normative character types are not determined by variable norms, but only by invariant normative principles, besides natural laws. A character defines an invariant class of individual subjects besides an objective ensemble of all possible states allowed by the character, describing the possible variations within a class.

The physical aspect is not the first to qualify characteristic things as Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd assumed. Also important quantitative, spatial and kinematic characters exist.

Although this theory allows of a classification of character types, its main relevance is dynamic. It shows that the actual existence of individuals determined by a character is subject to developmental change. Therefore, in PDD the analysis of characters and character types is much more important than in PCI. 

4. Contrary to PCI, PDD presents a comprehensive view on the evolution of the astrophysical universe, of the chemical elements and their compounds, and of the evolution of the organic and animal world. Thereby it takes distance from the worldviews of evolutionism and of creationism. It shows that evolution has a random component on the subject side (e.g., the push of natural selection and of sex), but is guided by natural characters on the law side (e.g., the pull of genetic laws).

5. Whereas PCI never came to terms with theories of natural evolution, PDD shows both evolution and human history to depend on processes in which the development of characters (natural, artificial or social) is crucial. Rejecting creationism based on a literal interpretation of the Bible, PDD distinguishes scientific theories of natural evolution from popular evolutionism, the prevailing naturalist world view. PDD argues that evolution theories can provide a necessary explanation for the emergence of mankind from the animal world, but not a sufficient one, because this requires the introduction of principles which are not natural but normative. This provides a new perspective on Christian anthropology.

6.More consequently than PCI, PDD distinguishes normative principles, supposedly given in the creational order, from norms made by humanity and therefore culturally and historically different. Although human-made, norms belong to the law side of human culture. It means that humanity is not only active at the subject side but also at the law side of reality.

PDD considers ethics to be the study of normative activity, stressing the freedom and responsibility of any human being. It therefore rejects PCI’s supposition of a moral or ethical aspect, which had better be called the relation frame of loving care. PDD recognizes the political relation frame to be different from the justitial. Whereas there is no difference of opinion on the order of the natural relation frames, PDD proposes a quite different order of the normative relation frames than PCI does:























Loving care


In PCI the conceptual analysis of the modal aspects, their meaning nuclei and analogies (anticipations and retrocipations) appears to be most important, whereas PDD stresses their relevance for natural and normative character types.

7. PCI pays little attention to the characters of human-made artefacts, which for the understanding of anthropology and history are no less important than human acts and associations. PDD defines artefacts as specific objects, primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames. Technical artefacts have a singular character, qualified by the technical relation frame and founded in one of the natural frames. Other artefacts have a dual character, a concept absent in PCI. The generic character is qualified by one of the post-technical normative relation frames and is founded in the technical one. The specific character is qualified by the same frame as the generic character, and is founded in a preceding frame.

8. Artefacts sustain human experience and its transfer. PDD shows theoretical or conceptual thought to be different from natural thought because of the use of artefacts like concepts, statements or propositions, and theories. This leads to a view on epistemology quite different from Dooyeweerd’s. In PDD, stressing other forms of experience sustained by artefacts and being more interested in ontology than in epistemology, the analysis of theoretical thought is far less dominant than in PCI.

9. More precisely than PCI does, PDD distinguishes between organized associations and unorganized relation networks, communities connecting individuals and associations. Associations are specific human-made subjects having leadership with authority and membership with discipline. They have a dual character. Generically all associations are politically qualified and socially founded. Specifically each type of association is primarily qualified by one of the normative relation frames, secondarily founded in a preceding frame, and tertiarily by its disposition to become interlaced with other types of associations. Since the twentieth century, the relevance of associations is world-wide increasing. PDD applies Abraham Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty only to associations and not to communities, showing its increasing relevance for understanding society. PCI interprets it incorrectly as the irreducibility of types of associations, extending it as a metaphor to the irreducibility of the modal aspects. PDD uses the idea of sphere sovereignty to develop a fundamental critique of various views on societal relations.

10. Whereas PCI bases its extensive discussion of the body politic on the nineteenth-century idea of a territorial nation state, PDD starts from a quite different perspective. It introduces the concept of the public domain as an open set of communities, i.e., networks of subject-subject relations including both individuals and associations. Each network is characterized by one of the relation frames and is accompanied by an objective network. In the course of history, these communities have grown from local to national networks, but since the second half of the twentieth century, they more and more exceed national boundaries, becoming global.

The public domain is based on the technical community of subjective human labour and an objective technical infrastructure. The state’s generic character does not differ much from that of other associations, but according to its specific character it has a unique function. Within its territory it is the guardian of the public domain, and its specific character is therefore founded in the technical frame. It is politically qualified to make rules for the functioning of public networks, in order to keep peace, to warrant the freedom and further the responsibility of all its participants, whether associations or individuals, whether citizens or foreigners. Because the public domain more and more exceeds the national boundaries, the individual states have to share their sovereignty with each other and with supranational organizations. PDD downgrades the function of armed power, as organized in various kinds of intervention forces. Contrary to many Christian philosophers, PDD does not consider the state to exist because of sin.



  The open future 







1980, Time and again, A systematic analysis of the founda­tions of physics, Toronto: Wedge; Bloemfontein: Sacum.

1985, ‘Spatial things and kinematic events (On the reality of mathema­tically qualified structures of individuality)’, Philosophia Reforma­ta 50: 9-20.

1987, Theories at work, On the structure and functioning of theories in science, in particular during the Copernican revolution, Lanham: University Press of America.

1999, ‘The idea of natural law’, Philosophia Reformata 64: 88-104.

2000, ‘The idionomy of natural kinds and the biological concept of a species’, Philosophia Reformata 65: 154-169.

2002, ‘Evolution, history and the individual character of a person’, Philosophia Reformata 67: 3-18.

2003, ‘On aesthetically qualified characters and their mutual interlacements’, Philosophia Reformata 68: 137-147.

2004, ‘On the character of social communities, the state and the public domain’, Philosophia Reformata 69: 125-139.

2007, ‘Philosophical ethics and the so-called ethical aspect’, Philosophia Reformata 72: 21-33.

2008, ‘Time and history in the philosophy of the cosmonomic Idea’, Philosophia Reformata 73: 154-169.

2011, Chronos & Clio, De tijd in de geschiedenis, Amsterdam: Buijten en Schipperheijn.

2018, Nature and freedom, Philosophy of nature, Natural theology, Enlightenment and Romanticism.

2018, Encyclopaedia of relations and characters. I. Natural laws. II. Normative principles.



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