The open future:

Dynamic development of the creation



Marinus Dirk Stafleu


2018, 2021









1. Discovery of the law

2. Dynamic coherence

3. Abundance of kinds

4. Evolution of natural kinds

5. Natural behaviour and normative acts

6. Values and norms for human acts and relations

7. A growing humanmade world

8. Lingual and logical artefacts

9. Increasing socialization

10. The growth of the public domain











This paper intends to provide a critical update of the Christian philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, as proposed by Herman Dooyeweerd (Dooyeweerd 1935-1936, 1953-1958; McIntire (ed.) 1985; Verburg 1989) and Dirk Vollenhoven (Tol, Bril 1992) nearly a hundred years ago. It was inspired and directed by the biblical message of God’s sovereignty over the whole of life but it lacked a systematic analysis of the dynamic development of the creation, both natural and normative.

Before the seventeenth century, philosophers adhered to a closed world view, in which everything worthwhile to be known was contained either in the secretive revelations of alchemists; or in the books of Plato, Aristotle, and others from antiquity, with medieval comments written by Jewish, Muslim, and Christian scholars; and especially in the Bible. This view was challenged by the voyages of discovery since the fifteenth century, undermining many previously accepted insights. From the sixteenth century onwards scholars found that they could open up their world by the use of daring theories, systematic observations, and unheard of experiments. Mathematics, physics, biology, and ethology were developed at an amazing pace, at first assuming a closed determinist mechanist worldview, 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. 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 simply, but to be grasped in one’s intuition. Sections 4 is concerned with natural evolution as a dynamic process, section 5 with the opening up of natural behaviour into normative acts. Sections 6-10 discuss human acts, artefacts and associations with their relevance for the dynamical development of history, culture and politics.


1. Discovery of the law


The idea of law is the critical realist confession that God created the world developing according to natural laws and normative commandments. These are supposed to be invariable because He sustains them. Christians know God through Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to the Torah, the Law of God. In contrast to the eternal God, the creation is in every respect temporal, in a perennial state of dynamic development under the law as the upper boundary of the cosmos. 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 and disclosing the law conformity of the creation.

The focus of sections 1-4 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, animals and humans; their position in the cosmic order; and their practical use.

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 terrestrial authorities, from (mostly moral) natural law, ordained by God, was hardly ever applied in science.

About 1610 Johann Kepler broke with this tradition by formulating a law as a generalization of observed mathematical relations. At first sight, Kepler’s first law (each planet moves in an elliptical path with the sun at one focus) does not differ very much from the view, generally 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 regular 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 in twenty years, 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, a priori imposed on the analysis of the observed facts. Kepler’s elliptical motion was a rational generalization a posteriori of fairly accurate observations made by Tycho Brahe. It was 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, however, accepted changing velocities as a fact. He 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.

This area law is the first instance of a method to become very fruitful in natural science, by relating change to a constant, a magnitude that does not change by the motion. It means formulating of natural constants and of several conservation laws, of energy or electric charge, imposing restraints on any changes to occur.

By assuming that the apparent retrograde motion of the planets is a projection of the real motion of the earth around the sun, Copernicus was able to estimate the relative distances of the planets to the sun. Kepler observed that the third power of these distances is proportional to the square of the periods of revolution. This law was used by Isaac Newton to derive the inverse square law for universal gravity, explaining Kepler’s first and second laws as being approximately true.

Since Kepler, and especially due to Newton, natural science became the search for natural laws, their status and their justification, and later their restriction by randomness (Stafleu 2020).


2. Dynamic coherence


The view that anything is related to everything else is far less controversial than the idea of law, but as a philosophical idea 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 coherence of created 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.

These relations can be grouped into relation frames, also called law spheres or modal aspects of being and experience (Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, 3-4; Stafleu 2018, chapter 1). 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 mutually irreducible, yet not independent. They show a recognizable serial order in which earlier relation frames anticipate later ones, and reversely, later relations can be projected on earlier ones. For instance, genetic relations presuppose 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.

Each relation frame can be considered 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 expressed by the uniform motion from one 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.

It is a matter of empirical research to determine which relation frames there are and how they are ordered. Natural relations can be grouped together into six natural relation frames, of quantity, space, motion, interaction, life and feeling. Unavoidably this result is hypothetical, tentative, and open to correction.


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 quantitative 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; to be opened into 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 all other frames.

2. The second 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, as well as on a circular scale, representing the periodicity of kinetic time.

4. In contrast to kinetic time, the physical or chemical ordering of events is marked by irreversibility. Different events are physically related by an irreversible causal relation. 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 a number of interactions. Therefore, the interaction between two things should be considered the universal physical subject-subject relation. Because mechanist philosophers wanted to reduce all physical relations to motions, 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, fungus, 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 dynamic of the creation is inter alea expressed in the scientific and practical opening up of anti- and retrocipations in the relation frames. This is even more the case in the development of natural and normative characters, to which we now turn.


3. Abundance of kinds


The diversity of the creation is not only apparent in the relations between all that is, but no less in the rich variety of various kinds. Each species is determined by a specific cluster of laws, to be called its character (Stafleu 2018, chapter 1).

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 a posteriori discovered like in the empirical sciences. As a consequence, law statements are fallible and liable to revision. 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 and character types for kinds of individual things and events, artefacts and associations, each with their specific nature. In this way, relations and characters complement each other. We shall see that character types can be distinguished with the help of relation frames.

In the history of science a shift is observable from the search for universal laws, via structural laws, toward characters, determining both processes and structures. Even the investigation of structures is not as old as might be expected: structuralism dates from the nineteenth century. In mathematics, it resulted in the theory of symmetry groups, 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.

The theory of characters as summarized in section 3 is the most theoretical, if compared with the idea of law (section 1) and the hypothesis of mutually irreducible relation frames (section 2), but it is very important for understanding the dynamic of the creation, which is expressed in an overwhelming richness of species.

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 concerns its law side, including its structure if it has one. It points out which properties an individual 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: the set of specific laws distinguishing electrons from other particles. Often, a character implies several structures. The structure of water is crystalline below 0oC, gaseous above 100oC, and liquid in between.

A character is sometimes expressed by an objective property like the characteristic charge of an electron or a propensity like the electron’s disposition to form atoms. It often shares its laws with other characters. It is never a single law, but always a specific cluster of laws that characterizes things or events of the same kind.

A character is not a definition in a logical sense. Although each science needs definitions, theories stating and deriving laws are far more important. One can never be sure of knowing the character of a thing or event completely. Human knowledge of most natural kinds is very tentative and fragmentary, even if it were possible to define them fairly accurately by calling some of their objective properties and dispositions.

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.

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, 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.

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 specific laws as well (Stafleu 2018, chapters 2-4). A triangle, for instance, has a spatial structure, oscillations and waves have primarily a kinetic character, and mathematical symmetry 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. A character is founded in a preceding frame, not directly but in a projection of the primary (qualifying) relation frame. For instance, electrons being primarily physically characterized are secondarily characterized by physical magnitudes like their mass and charge, and are therefore quantitatively founded. 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 organisms this means four secondary types, corresponding to projections of biotic relations on the quantitative, spatial, kinetic and physical relation frames (Stafleu 2018, chapter 6). 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. So far the description of character types is parallel to Dooyeweerd’s analysis of ‘structures of individuality’ (Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III). This does not apply to the tertiary characteristic of a character, the natural tendency or affinity of a character to become interlaced with another one. This is not a property, but a disposition. Dooyeweerd calls this phenomenon  ‘enkapsis’, but he does not treat it as a disposition. This structural interlacement 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. Structural interlacement makes characters extremely dynamic.

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 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.

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 also its dynamic meaning. 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).

Although here is a large abundance of natural kinds, not everything has a specific character. For instance, a gas like oxygen has a typical character, but a mixture of oxygen and hydrogen has not. In this respect the theory of characters is less general than the theory of relations.


4. Evolution of natural kinds


Billions of years ago the then hot universe only contained two elements: hydrogen and helium. Now in terrestrial circumstances more than eighty stable elements are known, with countless compounds. The chemical evolution took place in stars and planets in natural processes during many centuries. 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; and of the living world as it appears on planet earth. 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 a lawful dynamic development towards an open and ever more varied future.

Being clusters of natural 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 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. Metaphorically, these engines push evolution at the subject-and-object 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. Evolutionists are inclined to neglect this dynamic pulling force, because they consider evolution to be a purely random process, subject only to mathematical and physical laws (Denton 2016).

With respect to physical and chemical characters like those of atoms and molecules, everybody seems to accept that at the law side these do not change, but are realized at the subject-and-object side when circumstances like temperature and other initial and boundary conditions are favourable. Biologists assume that the evolution of populations occurs within each 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 biotic 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. These phyla manifested themselves almost simultaneously (i.e., within several millions of years) during the Cambrium radiation, 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.

Lawfulness and chance are both conditions for natural evolution to be an open process, which past can be investigated, but which future cannot be predicted. Critics state 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 dynamically 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, which is a much more regular process.

As in the astrophysical, chemical, and biotic evolution, the dynamic evolution within the animal world requires a random push and a lawful pull. The pull is the character of the emerging animals. The 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.

The insight that natural characters realize themselves successively by evolution belongs to the prevailing scientific worldview. It should not be identified with evolutionism, a reductionist, naturalist and materialist belief applying the concept of evolution at all times.

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.

Some extreme naturalists cross the boundary between a worldview and a religion, by posing that science proves that there is no supernatural origin of reality and of its lawfulness. 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. It rejects the view that evolution offers a necessary explanation for the rise of humanity, considering the biblical text as both necessary and sufficient. Whoever rejects this biblical exegesis is therefore not necessarily committed to atheism or evolutionism. Rejecting creationism, many Christians and other believers accept the theory of evolution as a minimally necessary but not sufficient explanation of the emergence of humanity from the living world (Lever 1956; Dooyeweerd 1959; Van Till 1986; Klapwijk 2008; Geertsema 2021). Such an explanation may be suggested by comparing natural behaviour with normative acts.


5. Natural behaviour and normative acts


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 explained entirely in a natural scientific way. On the other hand, Christian philosophy 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 rise 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 natural behaviour of humans and animals differs from the normative acts performed by people in freedom and responsibility. The assumption that people have a position in the animal world does not mean that they are psychically qualified. The human body differs  in many respects from the animal one. The size of the brain, the erect gait, the manoeuvrability of the hand, the absence of a tail, and the naked skin point to the unique position of humanity in the surrounding world.

Animals are qualified by their goal-directed behaviour. People too behave naturally, but this is dynamically opened up by normative acts. Each individual act starts internally, within the boundaries of  one’s bodily and spiritual existence, as an intention (Dooyeweerd 1942; Ouweneel 1986). This is based on experience from the past, on imagination of the presence, on consideration of possible future consequences, and on the will to achieve something. After having reached a decision someone actualises this intention into a deed outside body and mind, in a subject-object relation or in a subject-subject relation. For their deeds people are responsible. Each act is qualified by one of the normative principles, being intuitively known to all. Actual acts are determined by norms derived from the normative principles, which leave space for the freedom and responsibility of the acting person.

The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea assumes that animals do not function as subjects in the post-psychic aspects. Because it considers the logical aspect to be the first normative aspect this means that animals can only be objects of thought, not subjects. However, some higher developed animals like the mammals share a limited measure of natural thought with people. It is meaningful to distinguish natural thought from conceptual or theoretical thought, being instrumental and exclusively human (section 8). In theoretical thought people take distance from whatever they think about. In contrast, natural thought is a direct subject-object relation. Conceptual thought implies the formation of concepts, propositions, and theories, and is therefore natural thought opened up by the formative, semiotic and logical aspects (Stafleu 1987, chapter 1).

In other ways, too, natural behaviour is opened up by the normative relation frames. This is fully the case with people, but in a restricted sense also with animals. Birds build nests and beavers construct dams. Mating behaviour often makes an aesthetic impression. Some animals know a primitive use of language. The significance of the dance of bees is well-known. Birds warn each other for danger. In groups of apes recognizable communication has been established. Many animals show social behaviour: bees, ants, birds during the annual migration, mammals in herds, ape families, etc. Sometimes a restricted kind of division of labour, economic behaviour and leadership is recognizable. In the breeding season a primitive kind of care is observable in various kinds of animals.

This subjective animal behaviour in the post-psychical relation frames is always primitive and instinctive. It is genetically determined, characteristic for the species, retrocipating, never anticipating. All post-psychic behaviour of animals serves their biotic and psychic needs, in particular the gathering of food, reproduction and survival of the species. In contrast, human acts are opened up, transcending heredity, anticipating, and ultimately religious.

The starting point of any Christian philosophical anthropology should be that people are called  from the animal world in order to command nature in a responsible way, to love their neighbours, and to honour their God. People are called to promote the good and to fight evil, in freedom and responsibility. Science and philosophy cannot explain this calling from natural laws, but it is an empirical fact that all people experience the calling to do good and to avoid evil. This fact is open for scientific archeological and historical research.

The question of when this calling took place can only be answered within a wide margin. It is comparable to the question of when between fertilization and birth a human embryo becomes an individual person, with a calling to be human. The creation of humankind before all times, including its functioning as God’s image, is different from its realization in the course of time. In contrast to the first, the latter can be dated, albeit within wide boundaries.

By leaving the animal world humanity took an active part in the dynamic development of nature. The opening up of the windows on humanity concerns all natural relation frames and the characters qualified by these. People extend their quantitative, spatial, kinetic, physical, biotic and psychic relations with other creatures, as well as with each other.

Whereas ethology studies animal behaviour, ethics is concerned with human acts qualified by the normative relation frames following the psychic one (Stafleu 2007). 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 take advantage of 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 normative relation frames. The desire to act freely and responsibly according to values and norms raises men and women above animals, a human society above a herd.

By distinguishing natural laws from values and norms, Christian philosophical ethics accounts for human freedom and responsibility. No less than animals, people are bound to natural laws, being coercive and imperative, though leaving a margin of randomness. Like natural laws, values or normative principles are given by the Creator as dynamic 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 cannot be derived from human existence as such, as if there are first human beings with their activity and next the morals. Each fundamental value is a condition for human existence in its rich variety.

Whereas different kinds of animals can be distinguished from each other by their genetically determined behaviour subjected to generic and specific natural laws, human activity opening up natural behaviour is relatively free and responsible, however much someone’s personal situation in their environment and their relations with other people may restrict their freedom to act. 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 unproved and perhaps 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.


6. Values and norms

for human acts and relations


Although not being coercive, the normative principles appear to be as universal as the natural laws. Since the beginning of history people are aware to be able to obey or disobey these principles, something neither people nor animals are able to do with respect to natural laws. Moreover they discovered that the normative principles are not sufficiently articulated. In particular the organization of human societies required the establishment of humanmade norms as implementation or positivation of normative principles. Therefore the idea of human freedom and responsibility has two sides. At the law side it means the development of norms from normative principles, which norms are different at different historical periods and places, in various cultures and civilizations. At the subject-and-object side individual persons and their associations are required to act according to these norms, such that freedom and responsibility can be warranted.

Historical development takes place in all normative relation frames, not merely at the subject-and-object side (as is the case with natural evolution), but at the law side as well. In natural evolution heredity functions as a driving force. Learned properties cannot be inherited.  In contrast, in each normative relation frame an asymmetric subject-subject relation functions as a dynamic engine of history driving the transfer of experience, for instance from one generation to the next.

The normative relation frames qualify the characters of both typical objects or artefacts and of typical subjects called associations. These will be mentioned occasionally in section 6, and will be discussed in more detail in sections 7-10.

Being free and responsible images of God, men and women satisfy no more than their acts a specific character as described in section 3. Their individual character, the set of their virtues and vices, is their attitude towards the law side of the creation, both natural and normative.

This section surveys the normative relation frames, the domain of human history and culture. Both their number and their order are tentative and disputed.


1. The progressive development of culture and civilization started and continues with skilled labour. After the natural relation frames this is the first normative one, called the historical or cultural aspect by Dooyeweerd who positioned it after the logical one. Initially the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea paid little attention to technology, but meanwhile an interesting group of reformational technical philosophers appeared. 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 asymmetric transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to their 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 (Verkerk et al. 2007). 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 like an enterprise) 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. The religious calling of mankind is to till and preserve the earth in a responsible way.


2. Like Calvin Seerveld (Seerveld 2001) but unlike Herman Dooyeweerd, I believe that the aesthetic relation frame succeeds the technical one. The Greek word technè and the Latin ars do not only mean technical ability, but art as well. Labour is a prerequisite of art and play.

History is usually divided into periods according to a dominant style, the normative law for aesthetic phenomena like fashion, decoration, plays and the fine arts. Aesthetic artefacts like a piece of art, a musical performance or a football match are subjected to the style of the time, and are instrumental in the transfer of aesthetic experience from an artist, an orchestra or a football team to their audience or spectators. By making images persons show themselves 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 the creation. 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 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 of a movie, having the character of a prescription. Although the performers are more or less bound to the text, they are free to find their own interpretation, as long as it testifies of their aesthetic skills.


3. An important engine of dynamic development is the human ability to remember and to make sense of things and events, and to communicate these with each other. Information is a semiotic form of the transfer of human knowledge. 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 human-made semiotic artefact is usually called a symbol. A rainbow is a sign that it is raining while the sun shines, whereas the Bible interprets it as a symbol of God’s covenant with the world. For the transfer of semiotic experience a language forms an important instrument (section 8). 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.

Apparently, rationality is concerned with ‘thinking about ...’, which emphasizes the subject-object relation. 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. A discussion is subject to the law of excluded contradiction.

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. So far the order of the relation frames is the same as Seerveld’s, but I think that faith succeeds reasoning. With Dooyeweerd this is the final modal aspect, opening a window on eternity, which I believe to be a prerogative of religion.

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 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.

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 (section 9). 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 this relation frame. 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 relation 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 as Dooyeweerd assumes (Stafleu 2004). At the subject-and-object side it means giving and accepting leadership as an asymmetric engine of dynamic development.

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 is 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 (section 9).


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, restoring order, compensating wrong doing, rectifying an incorrect news item, as well as repairing a defunct apparatus, restoring a piece of art, or reconstructing a document: all being acts of justice leading 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.


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. Besides being relatedto others, each person also depends on other persons, on their environment and on God. The care for one’s fellows, 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.


7. A growing human-made world


The history of humankind is stimulated by the invention and spread of human-made products, both typical objects and typical subjects. In contrast to acts both have a generic character and a variety of specific characters.

Typical objects will be called artefacts (sections 7 and 8), typical subjects associations (section 9). Whereas the character of a natural thing or process is defined as a cluster of natural laws, the character of a human product consists of values (normative principles) 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, 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 has the disposition to be interlaced with another artefact. The same applies to associations.


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.

We can now define an artefact as the generic name for any human-made object of human acts, 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 typically characterized by the aesthetic relation frame, an instrument in one’s aesthetic experience. As such it is not an economically qualified artefact, although it can clearly be an economic object. In contrast, its proceeds at an auction is an economic immaterial artefact, as a price 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 and dynamic 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. 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. Because of their relevance for epistemology, in the next section more will be said about some typically lingual and logical artefacts, neither of them being material.


8. Lingual and logical artefacts


A language is a dynamic semantic artefact defined as a set of words (a vocabulary) subjected to grammar and semantics, pronunciation and spelling, together acting as the specific character for the language. The rules for a language are not coercive but normative. 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 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, alphabetically ordered in a dictionary, in which words are not logically defined but described by other words. A sentence is 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 they are significant. They provide insight, but cannot function in a proof. Logical reasoning presupposes the use of language, but cannot be reduced to it.

In logical reasoning, people make use of two different methods (Stafleu 1987, chapter 1). 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 the second method, 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 eliminated. 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.

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 or world leaders; 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. 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.

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 various theories a concept may have different meanings, for the meaning of a concept depends on its context. A fundamentalist axiom of logical empiricism was that empirical concepts should be definable independent of any theory. Historicists accepted the other extreme, assuming that a concept is entirely dependent on its context. Critical realism takes an intermediate position: concepts, statements and theories have a relative autonomy with respect to each other, meaning that different theories are comparable.

The logical function of a theory is to establish the truth of theses by connecting these 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.

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   dynamic development of humanity.

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, from its propensity to study the creation in all its aspects.

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 increasingly important part in relating theories to human experience. Indeed, science is much more than theoretical thought alone. Its multiple applicability testifies to its reliability, but not to its infallibilty.


9. Increasing socialization


After having discussed artefacts as typical objects, we now turn to associations acting as typical subjects besides individual persons. The distinction between organized and unorganized social connections is arguably very relevant for social philosophy (Stafleu 2004). 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. Such 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-and-object side. Its board (whether monocratic or collective) is empowered and entitled to determine the course of affairs within the association and to represent it outdoors. 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 recognizably 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 its members.

Like many individuals, an association has a name and address. A flag, logo, or ideogram, and a mission statement symbolise the association’s identity. Members 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.

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 association cannot long exist if its board loses 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 social 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, as well as 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, the cult. 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. The dynamic of associations requires an increasing professional quality of their members.

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 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. This confirms that the state is the most political of all associations and explains why politics is often exclusively connected to state affairs. Yet each association has its own internal authority and policy.

Since the sixteenth century protestants argue and practice that associations belong to a character type of its own; that these types are irreducible to individual or collective interests; that associations are not subordinate but coordinate; that each person belongs to several associations; that there are no all encompassing associations; that several mutually irreducible character types of associations can be distinguished. There is no better warrant for freedom than this protestant view of a civil society (Chaplin 2011).

This principle of sovereignty in its own sphere is a social principle, characterized by the way people ought to cope with each other and with associations. It is also a political principle, for it indicates that an association does not derive its authority from other associations but from the creation order, from God’s sovereignty, such that it can never be absolute. It is not an organizational principle, like the Roman Catholic principle of subsidiarity, assuming that society exists of a hierarchy of higher and lower communities or organs, of which the state is the highest and all embracing. Its most important norm is that a higher organ should not be concerned with what a lower one can do. In 1931 pope Pius XI confirmed this principle in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno. Each association has an internal organization with its own dynamic, especially in large associations having an economic character (because of the internal division of tasks). The principle of subsidiarity is applicable whenever the organization has layers.

Sovereignty means a form of authority. Therefore sphere sovereignty is only applicable to associations, not to unorganized communities. It does not mean that each association is autonomous, independent of other associations. In fact associations form many kinds of networks in which they cooperate in order to achieve their aims. The meaning of sphere sovereignty is that each form of authority is restricted, in particular that of the state. It furthers the freedom and responsibility of individual persons. Because individuals may belong to different associations they can be alternately leaders in one and subservient members in an other association.

Both individual persons and associations are actors on the public domain, where associations (in particular enterprises) play an exponentially increasing part.


10. The growth of the public domain


Chapter 10 descibes the character type of the state. Each actual state has its own character, shaped in history, but some characteristics can be indicated to which each state ought to confirm during its dynamic development.

The character type of the state is dual. Generically the state has the character of an association as discussed in the preceding section. 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, but who ought to be called citizens has always been disputed. Sometimes a state has no individual citizens. A corporative state has associations as members. The state may also determine 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.

Like any other association the state ought to be subject to justice. If that is sufficiently the case we speak of a ‘rechtstaat’ in Dutch or German. In a constitutional state (the usual translation of ‘rechtstaat’) this is formalized in a constitution, limiting the power of the state and warranting the rights of others (individuals and associations). The constitution also indicates how citizens may influence the state’s policy. In a modern democracy (often uncritically confused with both rechtstaat and constitutional state) all citizens have the right to vote.     

Whereas the state governs its citizens, inhabitants and properties according to its generic character as an association, on its territory it rules the public domain according to its specific character. Besides individual persons many associations act in public. 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. All travellers should obey these rules, whether they are citizens, inhabitants or visiting tourists, but the state does not determine their destiny.

In my view, 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 a community 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.

In contrast 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. 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, political parties and commercial enterprises make propaganda in public. Public relations define society as a network of public social intercourse. Markets and financial networks have an economic public character. The states themselves, their provinces and cities 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. 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 as an association, it acts on the public domain as a subject. 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. 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.

In a free society, the state as a republic warrants the liberty of people and of associations to make use of the public domain and it stimulates the development of public networks. It maintains the objective structure and the functioning of the public networks. 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 the fall into 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 the intervention powers as organs of the state, which indeed may be 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.

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 and cross national boundaries. This means that the various states have to open up their borders in order to coordinate their tasks. 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.




In this paper on the dynamic development of the creation the character types receive almost as much emphasis as the relation frames, which form traditionally the face of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea. Whereas this introduces the law spheres as modal aspects of being, the present treatise interprets the relation frames primarily as dynamical laws for both intersubjective and subject-object relations, both very important for understanding both natural evolution and human history. Because nothing can exist isolated from anything else, the relation frames constitute subsequently the conditions for everything that exists. The relation frames are also aspects of human experience, because experience is invariantly expressed in relations. They are aspects of cosmic time as well.

The theory of characters as a complement of the theory of relations is a consequent elaboration of Herman Dooyeweerd’s conception of ‘structures of individuality’, with their primary qualification, secondary foundation and the tertiary disposition of each character to interlace itself with other characters. Characters form the law side of individuality and diversity. There is an enormous variety of characters, but a much more restricted set of character types. Normative character types of artefacts and associations are not determined by historically and culturally determined variable norms, but only by invariant normative principles, besides natural laws. Therefore philosophy will be more interested in character types than in the characters themselves, with which history is more concerned.

Being clusters of generic laws the relation frames are far more general than the specific characters. Whereas everything is subject or object to generic laws, many things, events, etc. don’t have a character. Atoms and molecules have a specific character, but mixtures do not. Artefacts and associations have a specific character, acts or communities do not.  

Theoretical or conceptual thinking differs from natural thought because of the application of artefacts like concepts, propositions and theories. This leads to an alternative conception of epistemology. The analysis of unorganized social communities and organized associations gives rise to a new view of the character type of the state and the public domain.

So it appears that the dynamic development of the creation is lawful, but also strongly depends on human activity.




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