A collection of papers 

written between 1986 and 2018


© 2018: M.D.Stafleu

Weeshuislaan 31

3701 JV Zeist, Netherlands









1. Some problems of time - some facts of life (1986)

(Philos­op­hia Reformata 51 (1986) 67-82).

2. Criteria for a law sphere (with special emphasis on the ‘psychic’ modal aspect, 1988).

(Philosophia Reformata 53 (1988) 171-186).

3. Being human in the cosmos (1991)

(Philosophia Reformata 56 (1991) 101-131).

4.The cosmochronological idea in natural science (1995)

(S. Griffioen, B.M. Balk (eds.), Christian philosophy at the close of the twentieth century, Kampen, 93-111).

5. Comments on anticipations (1997)

(Philosophia Reformata 62, 129-144).

6. 'The idionomy of natural kinds and the biological concept of a species’ (2000)

(Philosophia Reformata 65 (2000) 154-169).

7. Evolution, history, and the individual character of a person (2002)

(Philosophia Reformata 67 (2002) 3-18).

8. Time and history in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea (2008)

(Philosophia Reformata 73 (2008) 154-169).

9. Emergence in and from the natural world (2011)

(‘Properties, propensities and challenges: Emergence in and from the natural world’,paper delivered at a conference in Amsterdam, 2011, published  in  Glas, G., de Ridder, J. (eds.) 2018, The future of creation order, vol. 1, Philosophical, scientific, and religious perspectives on order and emergence, Cham, 119-134).


Cited literature


See also on this web-site:  


Evolution of organic characters (2002): Encyclopedia I, chapter 6.

Characteristics of animal behaviour (2002): Encyclopedia I, chapter 7.

Chronos & Clio, Time in history (2012).

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







Arguably, Herman Dooyeweerd is the most important Protestant philosopher of the twentieth century. Tempus vitam regit, time reigns life,[1] could have been his motto. His first exposition about ‘cosmic time’ appeared in 1931.[2] The intended but never completed fourth volume of his Wijsbegeerte der wetsidee (1935-36) would treat it extensively.[3] Instead, he published his theory of time in a number of papers and subsequently in his A new critique of theoretical thought (1953-58).[4]

According to Dooyeweerd, besides being ontic aspects of reality, epistemic aspects of human experience and principles of explanation, the mutually irreducible law spheres or modal aspects have an intrinsic temporal structure. Like a prism refracts sunlight into a spectre of colours, cosmic time refracts the unity of the creation into about fifteen law spheres.[5] Cosmic time has a law side and a subject side. At the law side, cosmic time shows the cosmonomic temporal order of succession in a discontinuous series as well as the order of simultaneity, whereas at the subject side it expresses itself as factual duration.[6] In particular, cosmic time is expressed both in the serial order of the modal aspects and their simultaneous validity, and within each modal aspect by the ‘retrocipations’ and ‘anticipations’ referring backward and forward to the other aspects. In each of the modal aspects cosmic time is expressed in a specific meaning concerning both temporal order and duration.[7] Dooyeweerd explicates this for the biotic and the logical aspect.[8] Apparently, Dooyeweerd did not suppose that succession is the quantitative temporal order and simultaneity the spatial one. Rather, both express the temporal order in any modal aspect in a specific way. Likewise, duration indicates cosmic time at the factual or subject side in a specific way in any modal aspect and in any structure of individuality. According to Dooyeweerd, factual duration is developed in subject-object relations.[9] The most important temporal order is the order of the modal aspects, expressing  modal diversity.[10] In each modal aspect it returns in the order of the meaning nucleus, the retrocipations and the anticipations.


Regarding the temporal order, since 1970 I developed a more radical view than Dooyeweerd’s.[11] I stated that succession in a series is an expression of the quantitative temporal order, and simultaneity is the spatial temporal order.[12] Besides, each modal aspect has its own temporal order, not reducible to succession or simultaneity. I pointed out that time at the subject-side is expressed in subject-subject relations even more than in subject-object relations. I observed that duration had better be considered a kinetic expression of individual temporal existence. Generally speaking, the subject side or factual side of cosmic time is expressed in subject-subject and subject-object relations. At the law side, too, one finds temporal relations in the form of projections (retrocipations and anticipations) from one modal aspect onto another one. That’s why I prefer to call the modal aspects relation frames, consisting of general natural laws or normative principles, pertaining to these relations. In this way I have analysed the first six ‘natural’ relation frames as well as numerous characters qualified by these frames,[13] and I intend to proceed analysing the normative aspects and character types in the present book.

Time should be considered to have both a law side and a subject side, expressed in all relation frames. The law side is the temporal order, the law or laws for subject-subject relations and subject-object relations, expressing time at the factual side of reality. What we call ‘time’ in ordinary life and read from clocks is based on the kinetic relation frame (we compare time with the motion of the sun or a clock work), finding its meaning mostly in a social context. We use our watch and calendar to make and keep appointments. However, from a philosophical point of view, the ordinary view of time is only one of its aspects. In a spatial metaphor, one says that philosophical anthropology is concerned with the position of mankind in the cosmos.[14] All relation frames function as frames of reference, in which human experience is ordered, such that it finds its proper place in the creation. Consequently, my view of time is radically relational. This idea of time means that everything is related to anything else.


Protestant philosophy considers people as well as all other individuals to be created, temporal and directed to redemption. These three dimensions determine the religious meaning of human existence in the following way.[15]

Being created points to anybody’s relation to the origin of the creation, it means the vertical relation with the Creator of heaven and earth. The unity of the creation can only be found in the religious relation of a human being with God through Jesus Christ.[16] Western philosophy from Parmenides to existentialism considered being to be the most general, indefinable concept, almost obvious and self-evident, yet a continuously recurring problem. It includes the being of God, usually specified as perfect being. Protestant philosophy breaks radically with this view. In stead of being only God is indefinable. Being can be specified as being created, being dependent on God, who has created everything.[17] Therefore, a view on being human cannot be religiously neutral. Being is lawful, subject to laws given by God. Between created reality and its Creator, the natural laws and normative principles constitute a boundary that no person can surpass. As subject or as object, all individuals are subjected to natural laws, values and norms. The development of the cosmos in the evolution, the realisation of natural characters, takes place at the subject side. Protestant philosophy confesses that like normative principles or values, natural laws are given in the creation. However, history also concerns the law side, because people develop norms being part of the characters of artefacts and associations to be realised. I consider evolution to be a subjective natural process, in which chance or randomness plays a part within the limits set by invariable laws of nature. In contrast, mankind takes an active part in history, both at the law side (developing normative principles into norms and character types into characters) and the subject side (the application of norms in concrete acts), in the freedom and responsibility of any human being for their conduct.

Being temporal points to the coherence of the creation and consists of horizontal relations. This concerns, for instance, the relations of an individual or an association with other individuals or associations, between subjects, between objects, and between subjects and objects. The projections of one relation frame on another one and the mutual interlacements of characters implicate horizontal relations between laws. This complex of horizontal relations constitutes time, having both a law side and a subject side. The distinction of law and subject with their mutual relations is a fundamental idea in Protestant philosophy.[18]

Directed to redemption means that the ‘created universe waits with eager expectation for God’s sons to be revealed’.[19] Everything created is concentrically directed to the son of men, Jesus Christ. Besides natural time (including the evolution), cosmic time concerns history, having its centre in the coming of Jesus Christ on earth. The fall into sin and the redemption affect all human relations, including cosmic time. The end of times does not mean the end of cosmic time, but the radical elaboration of the redemption.[20] This concentric direction of anybody toward God is called religion (to be distinguished from faith). In their religious concentration onto God, human beings meet Jesus Christ, who became a man among all men and women. God reveals himself in time.[21] Therefore, nobody needs to rise above time in order to get knowledge of Him.


These metaphorically intended spatial concepts of vertical, horizontal and concentric could be amplified by the metaphor of the horizon. If houses, trees or mountains do not obstruct our view, the horizon means the end of what we can see. We know that our standpoint determines the horizon. We could climb a hill or a tower in order to shift our horizon. We can change our horizon by moving around. Then we may discover that the horizon being the boundary of our sight is not the end of the world. Analogously, we speak of the horizon of human experience.[22] It is plastic, temporal, individual and culturally determined, and capable of extension and diminishing. This metaphor makes clear that people do not experience the cosmos from outside, from a fixed point of view, but from a variable standpoint within the cosmos. In this way we can research the cosmos from the viewpoint of every relation frame.

The horizon of time, determined by evolution and history, is less individual than the experiential horizon, but it does change. The total existence of the creation is displayed in time, conceived as the network of all possible relations between all possible creatures and their law conformities. Because reality develops, the horizon of time expands. This opening-process concerns the cosmos as a whole, stars and planets, living beings, animals, the evolution and history of mankind, the individual development of each human child. The dimensions of this horizon relate to past, present and future. The past leaves traces and the research of these traces gives us insight into the evolution and the history of the cosmos. Paleontological research of earth layers and fossils teaches us a lot about the evolution of our planet, the biosphere and its inhabitants. The evolution of the sun is reflected in the state of the stars being younger or older than the sun. The history of mankind is subject to archaeological and historical research. To a large extent, the availability of written and unwritten documents determines our historical horizon. Besides to their past, people are foremost directed to their future.


It appears that both evolution and history are mostly concerned with the gradual factual realisation of character types. In this process both retrocipations (the foundation of a character) and anticipations (a character’s dispositions) are developed. In the case of evolution, where a character is a set of general and specific natural laws, this is a natural and slow process, in which chance plays an important part. In the case of history, this means the realisation of character types into characters. In particular the development of the characters of artefacts and of associations determines human history to a large extent. Humans take an active part in this realisation, for normative characters consist of normative principles (besides sometimes natural laws) and of human-made norms. This explains why history is a much faster process than evolution, and is even accelerating.

Protestant philosophy should maintain that biotic evolution is first of all subjected to general biotic and psychic laws, irreducible to physical, chemical and mathematical laws. Next it should assume that natural kinds like species are determined by biotic and psychic characters, sets of specific laws being gradually realized by the process of natural selection.[23] Consequently, contrary to creationism, this philosophy is not in need of rejecting the process of evolution.[24] It firmly rejects evolutionism, the reductionist interpretation of evolution that only recognizes physical and chemical laws, believing that the existence and evolution of plants and animals can be explained on the basis of these laws and natural selection only. Protestant philosophy believes that the theory of evolution cannot explain the ultimate origin of natural laws. It accepts that mankind has evolved from the animal realm and considers biotic evolution to be a necessary, but not a sufficient condition for the explanation of the emergence of mankind, which requires normative principles besides natural laws. Ultimately, the question of the origin of mankind is a religious one. Protestant philosophy confesses that God calls the people to leave the animal world in order to become his image, responding to his laws according to his covenant. In this treatise I shall repeatedly discuss the differences between animals and human beings, emphasizing that the normative relation frames express existential conditions for humanity, laid down in the creation. It presents an alternative to both creationism and evolutionism. It may be observed that the idea of ‘intelligent design’ also presents an alternative.[25] However, ‘intelligent design’ is more a Platonic than a Christian idea,[26] and cannot play a part in a scientific theory.[27] In contrast, natural laws and natural characters (specific sets of natural laws), being key concepts in this book, have a natural place in the science of nature.

[1] Landes 1983, 360.

[2] Dooyeweerd 1931, 93-111.

[3] Dooyeweerd WdW I, 37; III, v. The fourth volume of WdW was intended to deal with the special theory of the modal aspects, with cosmic time, and with anthropology. Later on, Dooyeweerd wanted to discuss anthropology in his Reformatie en scholastiek (Dooyeweerd 1949), but that book too was never finished beyond the first volume.

[4] Dooyeweerd 1936, 1939, 1940; NC I, 22-34, 99-107. Initially Dooyeweerd considered the investigation of the all-sided meaning of time to be one of five fundamental, but mutually inseparable connected themes (WdW, 504-505), but in 1953 he wrote: ‘The problem of time cannot be a particular theme, since it has a universal transcenden­tal character, and as such embraces every particular philosophical question. It is the transcen­dental back­ground of all our further inqui­ries.’(NC I, 542)

[5] Dooyeweerd WdW, II, 493; NC, I, 101-102; II, 561.

[6] Dooyeweerd NC I, 28: ‘…time in its cosmic sense has a cosmonomic and a factual side. Its cosmonomic side is the temporal order of succession or simultaneity. The factual side is the factual duration, which differs with various individualities. But the duration remains constantly subjected to the order.’

[7] Dooyeweerd NC I, 29: ‘The entire empirical reality in its overrich diversity of structures is enclosed and determined by universal cosmic time. In each of its modal aspects, the latter expresses itself in a specific modality of meaning with respect to temporal order as well as duration.’

[8] Dooyeweerd NC I, 28: ‘Thus, for example, in the aspect of organic life, the temporal order of birth, maturing, adulthood, aging and dying holds good for the more highly developed organisms. The duration of human life may differ considerably in different individuals. But it always remains subject to this biotic order of time.’ NC I, 30: ‘The logical order of simultaneity and of prius and posterius is as much a modal aspect of the integral order of time as the physical.’

[9] Dooyeweerd NC I, 28.

[10] I criticized this view in Stafleu 2008.

[11] Stafleu 1970, 1986.

[12] I was inspired to this view by Dooyeweerd NC II, 79, 85.

[13] Stafleu 1980; 1989; 1998; 2002a.

[14] Max Scheler 1928: Die Stellung des Menschen im Kosmos. Dooyeweerd WdW I, 5-33; II, 22-34; NC, I, 3-21; II, 25-36; III, 781: ‘... the most important problem of philosophical reflection: What is man’s position in the temporal cosmos in relation to his divine Origin? ... a philosophic anthropology presupposes an enquiry into the different dimensions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality structures.’

[15] Dooyeweerd WdW I, 5-33; II, 22-34; NC I, 3-21; II, 25-36; III, 781; Dengerink 1986, 10-127.

[16] Dooyeweerd NC I, 521: ‘God is the origin and original unity of all modal aspects of human experience which are to be distinguished only in the temporal order, but coincide in their religious root and a fortiori in their Divine Origin.’

[17] Clouser 1991a, chapter 10.

[18] Dooyeweerd 1931, 129; WdW I, 57-79; NC I, 93-113.

[19] Romans 8, 19; Colossians 1, 15-20.

[20] Berkhof 1958, 178.

[21] Dooyeweerd WdW II, 493; NC I, 101-102; II, 561: ‘… all human experience remains bound to a perspective horizon in which the transcendent light of eternity must force its way through time. In this horizon we become aware of the transcendent fulness of the meaning of this life only in the light of the Divine revelation refracted through the prism of time. For this reason, Christ, as the fulness of God’s Revelation, came into the flesh; and for this reason also the Divine Word-revelation came to us in the temporal garb of human language.’

[22] Dooyeweerd NC II, 552; NC III, 781: ‘... a philosophic anthropology presupposes an enquiry into the different dimensions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality structures.’

[23] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 127: The Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea ‘… pointed out that these structure principles were only successively realized in the factual process of becoming, and that this process of becoming proceeds in the continuity of cosmic time, warranting an intermodal coherence between its modal aspects.’ [translation by MDS.]

[24] One should carefully distinguish between evolution, being a natural process; astrophysical or biotic theories of evolution, being scientific explanations of long-term natural processes; and evolutionism, being a naturalistic ideology, trying to reduce anything to biological and ultimately to physical and chemical processes. In my view, Protestant philosophy should accept evolution as a fact and reject evolutionism as a false creed (‘Evolution as a religion’, see Midgley 1985), whereas it should be willing to critically investigate any truly scientific theory of evolution.

[25] See e.g., Dekker, Meester, van Woudenberg (eds.) 2005, 2006.

[26] De Pater 2005.

[27] Lever 2006, 146-149; Nienhuis 2006.







1. Some problems of time -

some facts of life (1986)


Philos­op­hia Reformata 51, 67-82








1.1. Dooyeweerd’s program

1.2. Time order in the modal aspects

1.3. Time relates all subjects to each other under a universal law of            order

1.4. Past, present, future: individual time

1.5. The core of individuality

1.6. Structures of life

1.7. Enkapsis

1.8. Evolution and the universal validity of laws

1.9. Aggregates of life

1.10. Eternal life - the ultimate problem of time




1.1. Dooyeweerd’s program


In 1953, Herman Dooyeweerd wrote: ‘The idea of cosmic time constitutes the basis of the philosophical theory of reality in this book. By virtue of its integral cha­racter it may be called new.’[1] Indeed, Dooyeweerd’s view of time radically de­viates from anything comparable, and must still be considered a program.[2] Dooyeweerd was never able to develop it to its full extent.

If we want to study his theory of time seriously, we have to take into ac­count its implied consequences besides the condensed statements in Dooye­weerd’s published works. If one takes Dooyeweerd’s exposition on face value, one runs the risk of making grave mistakes.

I have the impression that even Atie Brüggemann has fallen into this trap. In her excellent review of Dooyeweerd’s theory of time,[3] she says that his views’ ... lead one to distinguish two meanings in the concept of time: time manifests itself in epistemology and the theory of reality as enclosure, as a fra­mework of constant presence; time manifests itself especially in the view of history and the disclosure process as disclosure, as the unfolding of its three perspectives: past, present and future.’[4]

I have some reserve concerning the tenability of the partition of ‘enclosure’ and ‘disclosure’ in Dooyeweerd’s thought. Brüggemann refers to Dooye­weerd’s statement: ‘According to this conception, time in its cosmic sense has a cosmonomic and a factual side. Its cosmonomic side is the temporal order of succession or simultaneity. The factual side is the factual duration, which differs with various individualities.’[5] Brüggemann states that time as ‘enclosu­re’ refers to the order of simultaneity, and time as ‘disclosure’ to the order of succession.[6]

However, in the context of Dooyeweerd’s quoted words (i.e., the Prolego­mena), he is laying the foundations of his philosophy. He only sketches the broad outlines of his theory of time, which is elaborated in the second volume of his work.[7] Here, he takes ‘succession’ to be the numerical order of time, and ‘simultaneity’ the spatial one.[8]Hence, when speaking of the ‘temporal or­der of succession or simultaneity’, he should not be interpreted to characterize time exclusively, as if time were either successive, or simultaneous, or both, but nothing else. In view of his later statements, these words should be inter­preted like: temporal order of succession or simultaneity, ‘for instance’, or: ‘and so on’,

Apparently, Dooyeweerd mentions these two aspects of time because they are the most obvious ones, because in the context of the Prolegomena he does not want to discuss the more controversial ones. But then these are merely two out of fifteen mutually irreducible modal aspects of cosmic time.

Because of the universality of the modal aspects of experience and of time, it is highly improbable that Dooyeweerd would consider the disclosure process to refer merely to the order of earlier and later, and knowledge to ‘a kind of extension, something like a space, in which the knowledgeable is present to whom strives after knowledge.’[9] Both the opening process and human know­ledge display all modal aspects.

Meanwhile, Dooyeweerd himself must be held responsible for the mistaken view that the law side of time is succession and simultaneity. Even by de choi­ce of ‘duration’ as characteristic for its subject side he strengthens this misun­derstanding, for duration is a kinematic concept. By emphasizing the trio: succession, simultaneity, and duration, Dooyeweerd unwittingly gives the im­pression that time is a mathematical affair. This impression is reinforced in his more detailed discussion of modal time in the second volume of New Critique, which only includes the numerical, spatial, and kinematic aspects.

Moreover, in a few examples of later modal aspects of time, he confuses them with their retrocipatory moments. Thus, he characterizes biotic time by ‘…  the temporal order of birth, maturing, adulthood, aging and dying ...’,[10] which refers to the kinematic time order, as we shall see. With respect to logi­cal time, Dooyeweerd speaks of ‘ ... the analytical order of prius and posteri­us ...’  which refers to the numerical order of time.[11]

Hence it is understandable that ‘… some adherents of my philosophy are unable to follow me in this integral conception of cosmic time ...’[12]





1.2. Time order in the modal aspects


If we wish to work in Dooyeweerd’s program, in which way should we pro­ceed? According to Dooyeweerd, the modal aspects and the typical structures have both a temporal character, each with a law side and a subject side. This cosmonomic idea has a transcendental-empirical nature - its structure is not invented by mankind, but given to be discovered. Our knowledge of law and subject in their temporal way of being has an empirical character.

Dooyeweerd’s program is a philosophical one. It can only be carried out in a scientific way. Hence, the study of the various modal aspects of time ought to be conducted in a co-operative effort of philosophers, scientists, philosop­hers of science, and historians of science. Falling short of this may be one rea­son why Dooyeweerd’s program is still in its initial stage.

Dooyeweerd himself addressed the first three modal aspects in a ‘provisional!’ way.[13] He characterized the numerical order as the order of before and after. The spatial order is the order of simultaneity, and the kinematic order is the order of continuous flow. Later on, I pointed out that irreversibility is the physical order of time,[14] and in the present paper I shall argue that the biotic temporal order is the order of genetic descendence.

These views are put forward using scientific arguments - whether these are valid or conclusive or convincing, or not. The arguments pro or contra a cer­tain view on a certain modal aspect are not taken from intuition, daily expe­rience, or common sense, but from current scientific research. Hence, any view developed in this respect is open to criticism, which is continually invited.

A certain tension in Dooyeweerd’s theory of cosmic time cannot be avoi­ded. On the one hand, the modal aspects are aspects of time, temporal orders of reality. On the other hand, the modal aspects themselves are subject to the selfsame order. The modal aspects are not merely subject to the numerical or­der of before and after. Indeed, the modal aspects show a linear order, begin­ning with the numerical aspect, and ending with the aspect of belief. But the modal aspects also respond to the spatial order of simultaneity, each having a universal character. This means that every individual thing always functions in all modal aspects simultaneously. Therefore, Brüggemann’s statement that simultaneity is irrelevant to the order of the modal aspects is mistaken.[15]

Each modal aspect refers back to the preceding ones, and anticipates the succeeding aspects. This conforms to the kinematic order of continuous flow, the restless progress from one moment to the next, as well as to the dynamic character of the created order. The physical modal order of irreversibility shows itself in the fact that each modal aspect is founded on the preceding aspects. The natural evolution of the cosmos, in which the modal anticipati­ons and retrocipations are gradually opened up, is characterized by the biotic genetic order.

Although mutually irreducible, the modal aspects are related to each other in various ways. Hence they are temporal, not in the sense of ‘transient’, but of being dependent on each other. In Dooyeweerd’s theory of time, temporali­ty means that nothing has autonomous existence.





1.3. Time relates all subjects to each other

under a universal law of order


Dooyeweerd emphasizes that the whole creation is temporal. Sometimes he seems to suggest that the cosmic order expresses itself in the modal aspects, in particular as succession and simultaneity, whereas the subject side of time is individual duration. From other contexts it is clear, however, that he consi­ders time to have a law side and a subject side both in the modal aspects and in the typical structures of individuality.

Therefore, in order to make sense of ‘modal time’ one has to introduce the abstract concept of a ‘modal subject’. In this concept one abstracts from the idionomy[16] of things and events, from their individuality, in order to concen­trate on the universal character of the modal aspects. In his main work, Dooy­eweerd pays little attention to this concept, but he agreed to consider the mo­dal subject-subject relation to be the subjective correlative of modal order as a law.[17] The modal order of time serves to relate subjects among each other. Irrespective of their typical structure, two things or events are temporally rela­ted to each other in a numerical, spatial, kinematic, physical and biotic sense.

The modal order of before and after refers to the numerical relation bet­ween two numbers - their difference or ratio. The spatial order of simulta­neity refers to the relative position of two spatial subjects. The kinematic or­der of continuous flow has its counterpart in the relative motion of two kine­matic subjects. The physical temporal order of irreversibility refers to the inte­raction between two physical systems.

I stress the universality of these modal relationships. Each subject A is rela­ted to any subject B by numerical, spatial, kinematic, or physical relations, whether subjectively or objectively. It determines their existence. If two physi­cally qualified things were unable to interact with each other, they would be­long to different realms. It has no meaning at all to contemplate the existence of physically qualified things, which cannot interact with the known physical world. Such things would not be considered to exist in a physical sense.

What about the biotic aspect? For all living systems, the order of descent is the most obvious characteristic.[18] It is completely absent in the closed physi­cal-chemical world, and it is irreducible to the physical temporal order of irre­versibility, which it nevertheless presupposes. The order of descent is correla­ted to the subjective genetic relation between any two living systems. Most bi­ologists now accept the law that all living systems are genetically related to each other.[19] Like any modal law, it is universally valid, but difficult to prove. Paleontological evidence alone is not sufficient to demonstrate that all living systems have a single ancestor.[20] It must be sustained by other empirical evi­dence. The fact that this law still meets a number of unsolved problems does not prove it false - rather, it shows that the genetic law acts as a primary principle of research.

It is, for instance, a leading principle in taxonomy:

‘... natural taxa must be monophyletic, ... , that is, they must consist of descendents from a com­mon ancestor. The theoretical basis of all biological classification is a power­ful constraint and completely refutes the claim that theories of classification are equally applicable to inanimate objects and organisms.’[21]


The modal aspects constitute a universal reference system. This allows us to identify a thing or an event, to establish its existence, by determining its temporal relations to other things and events. It presupposes the modal order of time, and its correlative, modal subjective time.

In this sense, the modal genetic law allows us to order all living beings into one taxonomic system. It should be observed, however, that the genetic relati­on itself is a relation between biotic subjects, not between ordering types. It makes sense to discuss the question whether a plant belonging to one phylum is genetically related to a plant belonging to a different phylum. But it is a mistake of categories to question whether one species or phylum is genetically related to another one. In particular, to accept the modal biotic law that all plants are genetically related does not imply that one phylum has ‘descended’ from another one. The phyla as ordering principles might very well be con­stant and invariable (1.8).

Modal time constituting a universal reference system lacks one important moment of time: the present. The order of past and future is displayed in the modal orders of before and after, simultaneity, continuous flow, irreversibili­ty, and genetic descendence. But the present is absent. By abstracting from the idionomy of things and events, we have lost the present. Let us hasten to re­gain it.





1.4. Past, present, future: individual time


In discussions of problems of time it is not uncommon to distinguish between the human, subjective experience of time, and its objective measurement. The former would belong to the domain of psychology, the latter to physics. The first concerns the freedom of people, the second is determined by natural laws. It is not difficult to recognize in this partition some variety of the worn-out motive of nature and freedom.[22]

In order to see its irrelevance, let us look at the problem of the distinction of past, present, and future. In the mechanist, determinist views prevalent in natural philosophy till the start of our century, it was assumed that there is neither ‘now’ nor ‘here’. Physical laws and physical processes were assumed to be symmetrical with respect to a conceivable reversal of time. No instant of time could be accepted as singularly different from other instants. The pre­sent was relegated to the subjective, conscious experience of man.

This view was undermined by physicists, in 1905 and in 1925. In 1905, Albert Einstein showed the relativity of the concept of simultaneity.[23] Two events being simultaneous according to one system of clocks are definitely non-si­multaneous with respect to another system of clocks, if the two systems are moving with respect to each other.

Apparently, this would reinforce the view that the present is not a physical concept, but a psychological one. However, on second thoughts it turns out that in Einstein’s theory the present is a concept that is not universal, but dependent on some spatial-temporal position. At each spatially and temporal­ly localized event it is unequivocally clear what is present, past and future. But this cannot be transferred to other events without ambiguity.

About 1925 it became clear that the concept of probability is an inalienable part of physical theories. If an electron is moving towards a screen, it cannot be predicted with full certainty, where it will actualize its position. Probability implies an irreversible distinction between past, present and future. Probabili­ty concerns possible events in the future. The actualization of a possibility re­cords a ‘now’. It does so with respect to the individual electron, and the parti­cular event of its being absorbed by an atom at the screen. An individual thing actualizes itself in a ‘here’ and ‘now’, a present, and this is an event. Hence, the present is not absent in natural states of affairs, and it is highly individual. Even though time can still be measured, and has lost nothing of its objectivity, the subjectivity of time is not an exclusively human affair. It occurs whenever one meets individuality.





1.5. The core of individuality


Being temporal means being related to other things. But any individual thing is not merely temporal, it is also created. Being temporal means that anything is horizontally related to everything else.[24] Being created means that anything is vertically related to its Creator. Hence, everything that is temporal is also created, and vice versa. But this does not imply an identification of ‘being temporal’ and ‘being created’.

Each type of individuality has a core that cannot be penetrated. Consider, for example, an atomic nucleus, subject to radioactive decay. Since nearly a century we know that atoms are not necessarily stable. The atoms of some iso­topes decay, in a very regular way. In a precisely determinable span of time, half of the initial number of atoms of a certain kind will change into another kind. For uranium (U238) this is 4.5 billion years, for radium (Ra226) it is 1622 years, for polonium (Po212) it is less than a millionth of a second. The average decay time expresses a typical law, it belongs to the idionomic structu­re of the isotope concerned.

But nobody knows at what time a given, individual atom will decay. A gi­ven radium atom may change in the next minute, or remain unchanged for millions of years. This core of individuality is beyond our reach. It is largely independent of the atom’s relations to other things or events.

Ultimately, each individual thing and event has a secret. It means that it is created, is cared for, and decays, in a way that is only partly open to our un­derstanding. Being created means that any individual points to the Creator, and in this sense transcends cosmic time.[25] This, clearly, is a religious state­ment, not a scientific one. Its truth is hidden for the scientific mind, but open to the faithful.

In no other way is anything able to transcend cosmic time - not even man, as we shall argue later on. Every attempt to transcend time except by pointing to the Creator is an attempt to hypostatize something, to make something in­dependent of everything else.

An individual could be characterized by having a relation to itself - its identity. In a spatial sense this means that its parts are coherent. Each moving thing remains itself in the progression from one moment to another. A physi­cally qualified individual can only exist in consequence of internal inter­actions. And a living plant maintains its genetic identity during all its life pro­cesses.

Hence, the existence of an individual depends on three types of relations: the temporal relations to everything else, the creational relation to the Crea­tor, and the identity preserving relation to itself. The identity of an individual thing or event is the intersection of its temporality and its being created.





1.6. Structures of life


Besides a subject side, individuality has a law side. The temporal functioning of an individual plant is not only determined by its subjective relations to other plants or its environment, but also by its structure.

We might coin the term ‘organism’ to express the structure of a living system.[26] An organized whole is not yet a living system, although it anticipates it. A machine, like a car, is also an organized whole, made according to some design, but it does not live. The most obvious reason to say so is that a machi­ne is not able to reproduce itself. It is not genetically related to plants - not even to other machines.

A structure of individuality is a typical subject-object relation. For plants, this is expressed by the organism. Physically qualified things cannot be said to form an organism, but in a plant, physical things, processes and functions are organized, opened up by the biotic aspect. In the organism molecules be­come adapted to each other.

This structure has a temporal character. The organism emerges at the ger­mination of the plant, increases in size and complexity, and decays when the plant dies. The plant remains identical to itself, but the organism changes.

According to Dooyeweerd, an idionomic structure like a living system has a foundational aspect besides a qualifying one. We may therefore expect to find four different types of biotically qualified structures, based, respectively, in the numerical, spatial, kinematic and physical aspects. These types can be actualized either apart or together in a kind of structural interlacement or ‘enkapsis’.

The smallest unit of life is generally considered to be a cell. Each organism is either a cell, or a composition of cells. The genetic order expresses itself in the process of cell division, subject to the numerical order of before and after. Cell fission must be distinguished from sexual propagation, in particular be­cause in cell division the genetic content of the cell (objectively given by the structure of the DNA-molecule) remains constant. The only occurring change seems to be some kind of counting procedure. For monocellular systems (pro­tista) this procedure makes the cell after a certain number of divisions unable to divide itself again, without first having a sexual rejuvenation. For multicel­lular organisms (metaphytes) this counting mechanism is responsible for the aging of the system. The cell division process is very important for the per­sistence of the system.

As soon as several cells are integrated into a symbiotic whole, we recognize a spatially founded living system, in which individual cells are enkaptically bound together. This may occur in the undifferentiated multicellular thallop­hytes like some kinds of algae, or in the form of tissues (sterns, roots, leaves, etc.) in a differentiated plant. In undifferentiated plants, metabolism takes place in each cell independently of other cells, and the growth of the organism is nothing but the multiplication of cells. These spatially founded structures are subject to the spatial order of simultaneous coherence.

I consider growth to be the main kinematic analogy of the biotic aspect. Its individualization is apparent in plants with a certain amount of cell diffe­rentiation, in which various tissues with different functions can be recognized. The kinematic retrocipation of the genetic order is the natural development from germination to death. We cannot deny that unicellular and undifferenti­ated multicellular plants grow. But the typical sequence of germination, matu­ration, adulthood, aging, and natural death, only applies to differentiated plants. Therefore it cannot be considered the original universal biotic tempo­ral order. Cell differentiation has a physiological besides a morphological aspect. Metabolism, for instance, is an organized process in a differentiated plant, in which many cells are involved in various, mutually dependent ways. Differentiation enhances the stability of a plant.

The main physical retrocipation of the biotic genetic order seems to be the irreversible order of ascendents to descendents. It is correlated to the sexual propagation, the universal biotic ‘interaction’ between two living systems. All living systems reproduce sexually (even if some of them also reproduce in other ways), but only in the higher developed plants, sexuality is individuali­zed into typical sexual organs, like flowers, pistils, and stamens. Some plants exist in separate male and female specimens. In these plants the whole genetic cycle is determined by the sexual relation.

Sexual relationship is the most important objective expression of the univer­sal genetic relation. It is well known that a certain individual will only have a sexual relation with individuals of its own kind. The concept of a species, the unit of biological taxonomy, is determined by this fact. It makes the con­cept of a species a typical biological concept, clearly different from a merely logical class concept.


These four biotically qualified structures are, in fact, not founded in the pre­ceding modal aspects themselves, but in their biotic analogies (retrocipations). These analogies are, respectively: the unity and multiplicity of life; symbiosis; growth; and sexual interaction.[27]

The result of this section is highly schematic and tentative. Although it shows similarities with the various taxonomies used in botany, there are still several problems left. One of these concerns the distinction of ‘prokaryotes’ (bacteria and blue-green algae), and ‘eukaryotes’ (most other cells).

Eukaryotes are more complicated than prokaryotes, and contain a nucleus (determining the heredity of the cell), mitochondria and other more or less in­dependent cell bodies, each surrounded by a membrane. The mitochondria have a genetic content (a DNA-structure) governed by the nucleus. Some bio­logists are inclined to consider the prokaryotes to constitute a separate king­dom, besides those of plants and animals. The oldest fossils known are proka­ryotes.

It is not impossible to consider the mitochondria to be prokaryotes, enkap­tically interlaced in the structure of an eukaryotic cello This would mean that the prokaryotes, the mitochondria, and perhaps the nucleus, are numerically founded structures, whereas the eukaryotic cells are spatially founded structu­res, besides the undifferentiated multicellular plants, and the tissues in diffe­rentiated plants. Much of this is still subject of biological research.





1.7. Enkapsis


If it is true that ‘time relates all subjects to each other under a universal law of order’, then all relations between idionomic structures should also be re­cognized as being ‘temporal’. Among these relations, ‘enkapsis’ plays an im­portant part in Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. With respect to plants, three kinds of enkapsis can be distinguished.[28]First, we recognize the interlacement of various biotically qualified but dif­ferently founded structures in a single plant. We referred to this kind of en­kapsis in section 1.6. In particular in the highest developed plants (phanerogams or flowering plants) one finds this enkapsis of the typical biotic structures of cells, tissues, leaves and roots, flowers and seeds. Together they form the or­ganism, the objective biotic structure of the plant.Second, we point to the interlacement of the biotic organism with structures that are not biotically qualified. These first of all concern the physically qualified structures of the molecules composing the plant. Next, we find in a plant typical kinematically qualified structures, the typical motions of the plant as a whole, or those of its parts. Each plant and each of its cells, tissues, and organs, also have typical spatial forms. These structures are by no means purely physical, respectively kinematical or spatial. They are opened up by the biotic organism, in whose structure they are interlaced. Still, they are not part of the organism, as can be seen from the fact that they remain intact even after the death of the plant. Thus, everybody recognizes the typical structure of a piece of wood to be of an organic origin, even if the plant from which it origi­nated has been dead for ages. This piece of wood is not alive, but its physical and spatial structures could never be explained on the basis of physical and pre-physical laws alone. It is a product of a living system. It has been produ­ced by the living plant, whose organism orders physically qualified molecules in a typical biotic way.Third, each plant is interlaced with its environment, in a structural way. This interlacement, called ‘correlative enkapsis’, will be discussed in section 1.9.

Hence, the structure of a living plant is highly complicated. It encloses all three kinds of temporal relations mentioned in this section into a single, typi­cal whole that we recognize as a ‘plant’.

Its unity as a whole is given by its genetic content, its heredity, and is, therefore, of a typical biotic character. Dooyeweerd underestimated the relevance of the genetic relation for the biotic aspect. Therefore, he experienced great difficulties in finding the enkaptic unity of a plant, which he calls the ‘body of the plant’, or its ‘form-totality’.[29] But whenever he speaks of the ‘body’ of the plant, he means nothing else but the plant itself, whereas the ‘form-to­tality’ can only refer to the spatial foundation of enkapsis. The latter is obvi­ous because in every kind of enkapsis, one finds several structures acting si­multaneously, and simultaneity is the spatial order of time. But the structural unity of a plant as a structural whole must necessarily have a biotic character, and can easily be found in the genetic relation, as it is individualized in every plant.

The genetic identity of a plant is objectively expressed in the genes, and their material basis, the DNA-molecule. All cells and a fortiori all tissues and organs of a plant have the same DNA-structure, and every two plants have different DNA-molecules. Hence, the genetic identity of the plant warrants the unity of the plant as far as the first kind of enkapsis is concerned. The DNA-molecules also determine the biochemical processes occurring in every cell, and the structure of any other molecule as far as this differs from a purely physical-chemical structure, that is, as far as it is opened up by the organism. Therefore, the genetic identity of the plant determines the physical, kinematic and spatial structures typical for each plant and it warrants the unity of the plant with respect to the second kind of enkapsis.

As we shall see later on, the genetic identity of the plant is also extremely important with respect to the third kind of enkapsis.

Hence, the genetic identity of the plant may be considered the plant’s orga­nizing principle. It determines the unity of the plant as far as it is temporal - it disappears as soon as the plant dies and disintegrates.

Many plants, in particular monocellular plants, are able to reproduce in a non-sexual way. The daughter plant has the same genetic identity as the pa­rent, and from a biological point of view, the two plants can be considered two spatially separated parts of the same plant. There is nothing wrong with this view. Alaska is a genuine part of the United States of America, even if it is spatially disconnected from the mainland. The temporal unity of an individual is determined by the leading structure, and in the case of a plant, this is the genetic identity. Only after sexual reproduction, the daughter plant is a really new plant, genetically different from its parents and any other plant.




1.8. Evolution

and the universal validity of laws


This excursion into biology will allow us to address a few other problems of time, in particular its relation to change. The most pressing problem concerns the theory of evolution. Unfortunately, this theory is often married to materi­alism, to such an extent that many Christians consider the theory of evolution to be at variance with a Christian worldview. It would be advisable to divorce the idea of evolution from materialism.[30]

Even if called ‘scientific’, materialism is not a scientific theory, but a worldview. Supposing matter to have autonomous existence, it postulates the aboli­tion of the distinction of law and subject. It suggests that everything did emer­ge from material causes only.

In the past, the natural sciences were not deeply concerned with the questi­on of the origin of the physical and biotic worlds. But biology in the nineteenth, and astrophysics in the twentieth century became more and more involved in pro­blems concerning the emergence of galaxies and stars, the coming into being of atoms and molecules, of planets and the atmosphere, of the first living beings and their present diversity.

These theories, as far as they turn out to be fruitful, start from physical and biotic laws. Discovered by studying present-day states of affairs, these laws are supposed to be valid always and everywhere, to have universal validity, independent of the various stages in the evolutionary process. This is called the ‘principle of uniformity’. It is not always realized that it implies the refuta­tion of materialism. Clearly, our present world has not only a material cause - it is also subject to laws, irreducible to matter of whatever kind.

The astrophysical and biological theories of evolution are attempts to ans­wer the problem of the emergence of individual things and events, but are de­pendent on laws. Hence, these theories cannot solve the problem of the origin of these laws. This problem is hardly ever discussed, probably because it does not have a scientific solution. For a Christian the answer should be clear. It is God who gives and maintains the laws, including the laws discovered in evolutionary research.

This does not imply an adherence to the view that all laws are necessarily unchangeable. Aristotle distinguished the eternal and universal ‘forms’ or ‘ideas’, or ‘essences’ from individual ‘substances’. Whereas the ‘forms’ are by their nature unchangeable, the nature of individuals is to change, to actualize their potentialities. Biology has had great difficulties to liberate itself from this ‘essentialistic’ view.[31]

One of the most curious traits of Dooyeweerd’s theory of time is the dissoci­ation of ‘time’ from ‘change’. In his philosophy, ‘temporal’ is not identical to ‘transient’. In particular with respect to the numerical and the spatial mo­dal aspects, both time order and intersubjective relation are unrelated to chan­ge - unless these aspects have opened up their anticipations toward the kine­matic and later aspects.[32] In all other modal spheres, it appears that change is an analogical concept, referring back to the kinematic one.

This implies that we should not too easily accept the Aristotelian principle that laws are unchangeable, and subjects are ‘subject to change’.

It is argued that laws must be unchangeable, for they constitute our frame of experience. This argument is logically untenable if applied to laws in gene­ral. It is sufficient if some laws are unchangeable - say, the modal laws, and the most general typical laws. As observed, the principle of uniformity lies at the basis of any theory of evolution, for otherwise one could say nothing at all about states of affairs which are beyond our immediate experience.

But this argument fails as soon as we would apply it to other kinds of laws. Everybody knows that the man-made ‘positive laws’, valid in our society, are changeable. There is little reason to assume that (besides the most general mo­dal and typical laws) any low-level physical or biotic law should be unchangeable.

Idionomic laws are, in fact, adaptable. The structure of many things de­pends on their environment. Thus, the density of a metal, which is a typical property, depends on the temperature: metals tend to expand on heating. The crystalline structure of most solids depends on temperature and external pres­sure. To counter, that this kind of variability belongs to the invariable structu­re of the solid, is clearly a petitio principii.

In this light it cannot be rejected a priori that biotic species are subject to change. Nor is this a speculative idea. Species are seen to change, and in the laboratory, completely new species have been produced. On the other hand, it seems probable that the higher categories like phyla are unchangeable, mu­tually irreducible principles of ordering.[33]

If considered apart from its materialistic overtones, evolution is a temporal process. If time is characterized to be the ‘horizontal’ relation between sub­jects, and being created the ‘vertical’ relation between any subject and its Creator (1.5), ‘evolution’ and ‘creation’ cannot be considered mutually exclusive alternatives.

No plant is subject to genetic change. There is hardly anything as stable as the genetic structure of a living system. From its germination till its death, a plant remains the same in a genetic sense. Of course, each plant is subject to non-genetic change - its development, which we recognized as a retrocipa­tion to the kinematic aspect. Hence, we still have to face the problem of gene­tic change.




1.9. Aggregates of life


In order to understand the biological theory of evolution, I propose to consi­der the laws concerning four other typical biological systems.[34] These do not re­fer to biotic subjects, but to enkaptic aggregates of life: genes, biotopes or ecosystems, niches, and populations. These are typical biotic units with a cer­tain kind of individuality. Nevertheless they differ from the structures discus­sed in section 1.6. Their typical structure is not subjectively, but objectively foun­ded in a retrocipation of biotic time. They cannot exist apart from subjective plants.

(a) Genes may be considered objectively numerically founded biotic structu­res, to be distinguished from living cells. The genes are the units of heredity, the objective bearers of the genetic information. Together they constitute the ‘genotype’, which in turn determines the ‘phenotype’, i.e., the structure and individuality of a plant.[35]

A gene should not be identified with a DNA-molecule, its material substratum.[36] Genes are not ‘particles’ in a physical-chemical sense, but rather pat­terns of information or design. If we would compare the molecular structure of DNA with the ‘hardware’ of a computer, the genes are the ‘software’.

Gregor Mendel’s laws (1865) concerning heredity depend on the principle that genes exist in pairs, each one derived from one parent. In sexual propagation, the pairs are separated, to be recombined in a new cell.

Genes cannot be considered subjectively living individuals like plants, or­gans, tissues, or cells. They can only function within the structure of a living cell. Nevertheless they have their own individuality, which is passed from one cell to the next in cell division, and which is rearranged in sexual propagation.

For this reason it is possible to speak of a ‘gene-pool’, shared by a populati­on of plants. It is subject to the law of abundance. Each population of plants produces far more offspring than can ever come to maturation. This principle is a necessary condition for evolutionary change. The so-called ‘struggle for life’ is another expression of this abundance. It is a process occurring within a population (not between populations), and has the effect that ‘the fittest sur­vives’. This is the core of Charles Darwin’s theory of natural selection (1959).

Whereas the genes objectively determine the genotype of the plants, the ‘target of evolution’ is their subjective phenotype. The question which genoty­pe is the ‘fittest’ is decided by de phenotype, the way a certain individual plant is adapted to its environment.

(b) A biotype or ecosystem is a spatially more or less bounded set of plants and animals living together, and therefore being mutually dependent. It is characterized by a biotic state of equilibrium. Like a physical equilibrium it has a dynamical character. If equilibrium is disturbed, processes occur which tend to restore the balance, eventually at a different level than before. It is subject to change, in particular if the climate changes, or if a new species inva­des the biotope, or by human intrusion.

Although a biotope is a typical biological phenomenon, it differs from a plant. It is not subjectively determined by biotic laws, but objectively. We cannot say that a biotope lives, that it propagates itself, that it shows metabo­lism. It is an objectively biotically qualified structure. It is qualified by symbi­osis, the spatial analogy of biotic time. Its structure is dependent on subjecti­vely qualified structures like plants and animals. Without plants there is no biotope. Most biotopes are opened up because animals take part in them, or because they are organized by human interference. Biotopes like deserts, woods, meadows, or gardens are easily recognizable.

Sometimes two different kinds of plants are completely dependent on each other, even if they are genetically different. This is symbiosis in a restricted sense. If it is one-sided, it is also called parasitism.

(c) A niche or adaptive zone may be considered a kinematically founded biotic structure. It is not first of all spatially determined, but physiologically, it is a certain way of life. It is a highly differentiated objective structure. As such it differs from the subjective structure of a differentiated plant.

Each ecosystem contains a number of niches, which can be occupied by po­pulations. In fact, each niche is made possible by the presence of several populations in the same area. Living systems create their own ecosystem. Still, each niche can only be occupied by a single population. This law of exclusion has its physical counterpart in Wolfgang Pauli’s principle, saying that any well-specified state can be occupied by at most one electron (or proton, neu­tron, etc.). Typical laws like these are of tremendous importance for the un­derstanding of the diversity of idionomic structures.

If an ecosystem is invaded by a population that would fit an already occu­pied niche, the result is a fight, which has to end in the defeat of one of the two populations. If a niche is empty, it will sooner or later be invaded by some population. The more two populations are similar, the more they repel each other.

(d) Finally, the population as the basic unit of genetic change is a physically based objective biotic structure. It is qualified by sexual reproduction, the physical retrocipation of biotic time.

A population is a reproductive community, a group of plants or animals that interbreed and multiply. It has various objective properties: dispersion, density, adaptive potential, birth rate, and death rate. Although the members of a population belong to the same species, they are genetically differentiated. A population is the bearer of the gene pool. Because of external circumstances the gene pool can change extremely fast. It may be a matter of a few generati­ons to change the distribution of a gene-pair AB from 90% A, 10% B, into 10% A, 90% B. This means that a population is able to adapt itself to chan­ging circumstances, and thereby to increase its chance of survival. ‘Adaptation’ and ‘survival’ as concepts in the theory of evolution do not refer to individual plants, but to populations.

A freely breeding population is subject to Godfrey Hardy and Wilhelm Weinberg’s law (1908), stating that the frequency of any gene in the gene-pool of the population (and therefore the frequency of any phenotype) remains constant, generation after generation, unless this equilibrium is upset, e.g., by selective factors, or by hy­bridization with another population. With a major environmental change, the hereditary variation within a species may give rise to evolution.

Hybridization between related species or different populations of a single species may give rise to new species or races if the hybrids are fertile, if there are environmental niches to which some of the hybrids are better adapted than either of the parent populations, and if the new combination of genes becomes isolated and sufficiently stabilized, so that the new population can survive.

This survey should be sufficient to show that the theory of evolution de­pends on a number of unchangeable typical laws concerning heredity, abundance, equilibrium, and exclusion, besides the typical idionomic structures, which are changeable. This does not seem to give rise to contradictions.

Our short review should also make clear that the biotic aspect is irreducible to the physical one. As far as evolutionism is identified with reductionism, sta­ting the continuity of the physical and organic worlds, it is refuted by the re­cent development of biological thought.[37]




1.10. Eternal life -

the ultimate problem of time


Space does not permit us to investigate a few other problems of life, such as the emergence of the first living beings on earth,[38] the distinction of plants and animals, the genesis of mankind, and the possible influence of evil and man’s fall into sin upon the evolution of structures of individuality. But I like to end this chapter with a few comments on the so-called ‘perspective structure’ of time.

In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, ‘temporal’ is not contrasted with ‘unchangeable’, but with ‘eternal’. This fits our view of ‘temporal’, to be first of all ‘rela­tional’. To say that everything created is temporal, means to emphasize that nothing should be absolutized, for everything depends on everything else. On the other hand, to say that everything temporal is created, means to point to the Creator, who does not depend on relations, but ‘is, who He is’.

The contrast of ‘temporal’ and ‘eternal’ is related to that of ‘diversity’ and ‘unity’. In its temporality created reality displays an enormous diversity. We have discussed part of this in the preceding sections. The creation does not show an intrinsic unity, except in so far as it is created. The unity of the creati­on is its religious root, its dependence on the Creator. A Christian recognizes this unity in Christ,

‘... the image of the invisible God ... In him everything in heaven and on earth was created … the whole universe has been created through him and for him ... all things are held together in him ... ‘.[39]


Dooyeweerd considered it necessary to introduce the idea of a ‘supratempo­ral heart’, the concentration point of the selfhood, directed to its origin. Otherwise, man would be lost in time. Man would be unable to have knowled­ge of time, of himself, and of God, if he could not transcend the temporal horizon of his experience.[40]

I agree that man has the intention to transcend time in order to gain know­ledge of the origin of the cosmos and of himself. But I don’t consider it possible to actually transcend time. In a biblical sense, eternal life is the true know­ledge of God, and is, therefore, pointing out of time. But to gain this know­ledge, we need not transcend time - for Christ descended into the creation, in order to make the Father known to us. Becoming man, he put himself un­der the law, and became temporal in de full sense of this word. For the know­ledge of God, man is dependent on His revelation, the Word becoming flesh.[41]

Attempts to actually transcend time in order to reach the eternal God must be qualified as mystical. It seems that mystical experiences are usually highly personal. But the true knowledge of God cannot be achieved in a supratempo­ral, purely individual act. It is achieved in a community, the community of believers, the visible or invisible church. The Christian love of God does not transcend time, just because it can only function in the relation to our fellow men, the love of our neighbours. And this relation is no less temporal than the mathematical, physical and biotic relations discussed in this paper.

In 1953, Dooyeweerd wrote: ‘The idea of cosmic time constitutes the basis of the philosophical theory of reality in this book. By virtue of its integral cha­racter, it may be called new.’[42] He was right. Moreover, his theory turns out to be extreme­ly fruitful.

[1] Dooyeweerd NC  I,  28.

[2] Popma 1965, 54-55, 65.

[3] Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82,131.

[4] Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82,63.

[5] Dooyeweerd NC  I, 28; cf. Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82,137.

[6] As far as the opening process is concerned, Dooyeweerd refers to the temporal order of succes­sion, op. cit. (a), vol. I, 29. Here, he relates the opening process to the anticipatory structures of the modal aspects. In chapter 11 I argued that the disclosure process, at least in science, si­multaneously occurs into four directions: anticipatory, retrocipatory, analytically, and synthetically.

[7] In the Dutch edition, Dooyeweerd intended to discuss the problem of time in the fourth volu­me, which was never published. Dooyeweerd WdW I, 37; II, 60, 64; III, v. His theory of time was first published in Dooyeweerd 1940.

[8] Dooyeweerd NC II, 79, 85; 1940, 166-168.

[9] Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82, 137 (my translation).

[10] Dooyeweerd NC I, 28.

[11] Dooyeweerd NC I, 30-31; 1940, 167-174.

[12] Dooyeweerd NC I, 31.

[13] Dooyeweerd used expressions like ‘preliminary analysis’, ‘brief analysis’, NC II, 79, 83, 93.

[14] Stafleu 1970; 1980.

[15] Brüggemann-Kruyff 1981-82, 41.

[16] I borrow the term ‘idionomic’ from Verbrugge 1984, 134, 153. ‘Idi­onomy’ is a synonym of ‘individuality structure’, used by Dooyeweerd. It should be contrasted to ‘autonomy’

[17] Private communication, concerning Stafleu 1970. Cf. Dooyeweerd NC I, 108-109; II, 370, 415.

[18] Mayr 1982, 629: ‘ ... the existence of a genetic program ... constitutes the most fundamental difference between living organisms and the world of inanimate objects, and there is no biological phenomenon in which the genetic program is not involved’.

[19] I accept this law to be the probably most fundamental law of the biotic modal aspect, making the latter irreducible to the physical aspect. In this respect my views differ from Dooyeweerd’s, see e.g. Dooyeweerd 1959.

[20] Ruse 1973, 118-121.

[21] Mayr 1982, 239.

[22] Mekkes 1965.

[23] This ‘relativization’ is due to the opening up of the spatial modal aspect by the kinematic one, see Stafleu 1980, chapter 4.

[24] Dooyeweerd NC II, 552, speaks of the ‘temporal horizon’ of human experience.

[25] In this respect, every individual thing and event is a miracle, cf. Diemer 1943.

[26] Cf. Dooyeweerd NC III, 716- 717.

[27] In chapter 3 I shall develop a more sophisticated view on this matter.

[28] See Dooyeweerd NC III, 627-652, 714-780; Strauss 1979, 135-165.

[29] Dooyeweerd NC III,765, 768-778.

[30] Cf. Mayr 1982,535: ‘Ernst Haeckel, Germany’s most enthusiastic evolutionist. . did a very effective job of popularizing Darwinism, but used it at the same time as a weapon against all forms of supernaturalism, particularly Christianity, thereby provoking counterattacks in which evolutionism was equated with materialism and immorality’. The merger of evolution theo­ry with materialism and reductionism, also called evolutionism, is rejected by all adherents of the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, in particular by Lever 1956; recently by E. Schuurman, S.P. Geertsema, and W.J.Ouweneel, in Beweging 47 (1983) 17-36; Verbrugge 1984.; and by Hart 1984,135-140. This does not mean that these au­thors necessarily adhere to ‘creationism’ in whatever form.

[31] See, e.g., Lever 1956, Chapter 4.

[32] Dooyeweerd NC I, 31-32.

[33] Dooyeweerd 1959b includes ‘species’ but not ‘varieties’ among these invariable ordering principles.

[34] See chapter 3 for a more developed view.

[35] The ‘genotype’ is the genetic endowment of an individual plant. The ‘phenotype’ is the orga­nism into which this genotype has been transformed during development. Cf. Mayr 1982,781.

[36] Ruse 1973, 21, 30, 201-207; Mayr 1982, 62: ‘The claim that genetics has been reduced to chemistry after the discovery of DNA, RNA, and certain enzymes cannot be justified ... The essential concepts of genetics, like gene, genotype, ... , are not chemical concepts at all ...’

[37] Cf. Mayr 1982, chapter 2.

[38] see Verbrugge 1984.

[39] Col. 1, 15-17

[40] Dooyeweerd 1940, 179, 181, 208-209; NC I, 24, 31, 32;  II, 473, 480; III, 781-784; cf. Popma 1965, 246-260.

[41] See John 17, 3: ‘This is eternal life: to know thee who alone art truly God, and Jesus Christ whom thou hast sent’. Cf. Mekkes 1971, 121, 227, 233; Dooyeweerd NC II, 561, 564.

[42] See footnote 1.






2. Criteria for a law sphere

(with special emphasis on

the ‘psychic’ modal aspect, 1988)


Philosophia Reformata 53, 171-186








2.1. A modal aspect determining a ‘kingdom’

2.2. A modal aspect founding a structural type

2.3. Interlude: Subjects and objects

2.4. A law sphere as an aspect of explanation

2.5. Alaw sphere in relation to other law spheres

2.6. A law sphere as an aspect of time




Ever since Herman Dooyeweerd during a walk in the dunes of Holland conceived of the idea of mutually irreducible ‘law spheres’, people have objected to his designation of these ‘modal aspects’. Recently, Jan Denge­rink proposed to consider ‘time’ as a modal aspect preceding all others,[1] and Willem Ouweneel put forward arguments to replace the so-called psychic modal aspect by a ‘perceptive’ and a ‘sensi­tive’ one.[2]

In this paper I intend to investigate these claims from a methodolo­gical point of view, summing up various methods for distinguishing a modal aspect. This means I shall only engage in a discussion of Dengerink's view of time and Ouweneel's psycholo­gy as far as these are relevant to the investigation of the philosophi­cal criteria for the distinction of the various modal aspects. By way of example my investigation will be focussed on the psychic modal aspect, the law sphere that according to Dooyeweerd appears between the biotic and the logical aspects.

My approach will be heuristic and practical. Because the modal aspects are found by abstraction I shall start with a discussion of struc­tures qualified by the supposed aspect, and proceed with a discussion of the psychic aspect itself. This means that the order of the various criteria to be discussed is not necessarily the most satisfactory from a systematic point of view.

I shall not explicitly discuss the so-called ‘meaning-nucleus’ of the modal aspect concerned. Dooyeweerd calls it ‘feeling’, but Ouweneel's extensive discussion shows how confusing such an epithet can be. My own perceptive feeling is that nobody has ever succeeded in finding an adequate name for any modal aspect. Hence I prefer a conventional but rather empty label like ‘physical’, ‘biotic’, or ‘logical’, without further questioning its possible meaning.

I realize that what I am about to write is not generally accepted. Therefore I have adopted a more personal style than is usual in a philosop­hical article. I want to add that I shall discuss only a small part of Dengerink's and Ouweneel's works, and this paper should not be considered a book review.





2.1. A modal aspect determining a ‘kingdom’


In Dooyeweerd's theory of structural types, the structures having a common qualifying modal aspect form a ‘kingdom’ of structures. He recogni­zes three natural kingdoms or ‘radical types’, ‘... viz.

1) that of the inorganic kinds of matter, things and events, all of which have a typical qualification in the energy-aspect; 2) that of plants and their bio-milieu, which kingdom has a typical biotic qualification; 3) that of animals, inclusive of their typical symbiotic relationships, their form-products and animal milieu, a kingdom which is typically qualified in the psychical aspect.’[3]


This distinction is based on tradition as well as on common sense or natural experience.[4] Both can be and have been challenged. One modern taxonomy of organic structures distin­guishes five kingdoms: Monera (proka­ryotes); Protoctista (mostly unicellular plants and animals); Fungi; Animalia; and Plantae.[5] I shall not be concerned with biotically qualified structures,[6] and only observe that merely one kingdom of animals is mentioned in this taxonomy. However, it may be worthwhile to discuss the distinction of animals and ‘plants’ (in the wider sense of all biotically qualified subjects).

A biologist questioned about the difference between plants and animals may answer that plants are autotrophic, animals heterotrophic. Plants derive their food and energy directly from their physical environ­ment, whereas animals depend at least partly on plants for their food.[7] This distinction is not universally applicable. There are (parasitic) plants that depend on other plants or their debris, and some higher plants depend on bacteria for the assimilation of nitrogen. Apart from that it seems an unsatisfactory criterion, for it does not regard the qualifying   functions  of  plants  and  animals,   respectively. The criterion seems to be inspired by a philosophy that reduces everything biological to physical and chemical processes. In that view metabolism is unduly stressed.[8]

It is also precarious to rely too heavily on our natural experience of plants and animals. Jan Lever observes that in our habitat the differences between plants and animals are obvious enough, such that nobody can avoid to see them. But, he con­tinues, in a maritime environment the difference is not that large, and he suggests that if human beings were living in the sea, they would perhaps never have made a fundamental distinction between plants and animals.[9] Lever says there is only one kingdom of organisms, albeit with two specialization trends: on the one hand the vegetative trend in the direction of food in a general sense, on the other hand the anima­listic trend towards manipulation in the environment, hence to behaviour.

From a Dooyeweerdian point of view it must be granted that animals have a vegetative substructure, which is enkaptically interlaced with and disclosed by the leading animal structure. It can also be granted that in some plants anticipations can be found towards the behavioural structure of animals. One may think of flowering and fruit bearing plants, which have an obvious symbiosis with insects distributing pollen, or with birds and mammals eating fruits and scattering the indigestible seeds. (In the evolutionary order, ‘plantae’ come after ‘animalia’). Therefore, Lever's arguments do not necessarily lead to the conclusion that separate kingdoms of plants and animals do not exist, even if it is not always easy to determine for a certain species to which kingdom it belongs.

The methodologically sound way of distinguishing two kingdoms is to investigate their respective qualifying functions. Let us first have a look at the biotic aspect. The genetic relation between organic systems is the most typical feature for all living beings, both with respect to their individuality and their structure.[10] As an explanatory model for the functioning of plants and animals we might think of a computer with a built-in program. For plants this program is fixed in the DNA of the cell nucleus (and partly in other cell bodies). It is rigid and unchangeable, it is a so-called ‘closed’ program. Only by sexual reproduction (and eventual­ly mutations etc.) the program changes, but then a new individual comes into existence.

In animals the program is partly fixed in a similar genetic code, partly in the nervous system. The first is just as closed as is the case in a plant. The program located in the nervous system, however, appears to be partly open and adjustable. An animal is able to learn, and by learning it changes its program, such that it can react upon its environment in a new way. This learning ability is small for primitive animals, but it increases with increasing differentiation.

The acquired experience of an animal is probably not hereditary, at least not directly. Sometimes an animal can communicate its experience to others, and an animal can establish a lead in natural selection because of its experience. In this indirect way acquired experience can influence the evolution of the species.

For the lower (more primitive) animals, learning is based on trial and error. An animal has a certain freedom of choice. At first decisions will be made at random, but the animal remembers its choices, and evaluates their results. This influences its choice on a later occasion, whose circumstances are not neces­sarily the same as on the preceding occasion but must have some similarities. If the result of the new choice receives the same response, the change of program will be reinforced. Besides trial and error, one finds other kinds of association in animals, such as habituati­on, classical and operant conditioning, Gestalt perception, environment recognition, and AH-Erlebnis. [11]

For higher animals learning occurs far less through trial and error. They have an ‘expectation pattern’, allowing them to calculate the conse­quences of a certain choice. Several methods of learning can be observed: exploration, initiation, games, imprinting (the first impression of an animal after its birth, in particular the identification of its parents), etc.

Learning ability itself is inborn, is genetically deter­mined, and therefore differs structurally for different species, and individually for different individuals. It even changes during the life time of a single animal. Usually a young has more learning capability than an older one. The content of what an animal learns belongs to its individual experience. It gives an animal  qualitatively  more   individuality  than  a  plant  has.

The identity of an animal is not exclusively determined by its genetic identity, but is further determined by its individual experience, by what it has learned. By changing its experience an animal changes, it develops its identity.

If a plant reproduces in a non-sexual way, the daughter plant is genetically identical to the parent plant. If two animals have the same genetic identity, they will still develop a different psychic identity (a different ‘character’) because of their different experience.

It will be clear that the criterion based on an investiga­tion of ‘kingdoms’ cannot be applied to all modal aspects. In particular it cannot be applied to the first modal aspect, whether one considers this to be the numerical one, or, with Dengerink, the temporal one. The first law sphere does not qualify a kingdom or radical type. [12]

Hence we should not absolutize this criterion. Ouweneel says he only accepts those modal aspects that determine a kingdom. [13] In his Psycholo­gie he ignores the modal aspects preceding the physical one,[14] and he attributes human beings a ‘spiritive aspect’. Those law spheres which according to Dooyeweerd come after the psychic one Ouweneel calls ‘sub-aspects’ of the spiritive aspect, characteristic of mankind.[15]

Even apart from the question, that we shall presently discuss, of how many kingdoms there are, I don't consider it recommendable to reduce the idea of mutually irreducible modal aspects to their qualifying function of a kingdom.

Ouweneel states there are two psychic aspects, which he calls the ‘perceptive’ and the ‘sensitive’, respectively. Hence, he distinguishes two kingdoms of animals, the ‘higher’, i.e., the mammals, and the ‘lower’.[16] The lower animals have a perceptive structure as a leading structural principle. This includes reflexes, instincts, and tendencies or needs. Mammals have a sensitive structure, including affections, impulses (by sensitive unrest accompanied desires, lusts, inclinations, impulses, and passions) and emotions (positive and negative, and often violent).

I shall raise several objections to Ouweneel's proposal, but in the present section I restrict myself to its consequence - the recognition of two separate kingdoms of animals. For a ‘hard fact’, Ouweneel points to the so-called limbic system in the mammalian brain. It controls their feelings, affections, impulses, and emotions. He also points to the distinction of a sympathetic and a parasympathetic system in the nervous system.

However, both are also present in birds (at least the so-called hypothalamus, an organ that plays a significant part in this).[17] Hence we should at least ask whether birds belong to the kingdom of higher animals or to that of the lower animals? Do not birds show emotional behaviour no less than mammals? Ouweneel says very little about birds.[18]

Also octopuses have a lobe in their brain with functions comparable to that of the limbic system in mammals.[19] It is no accident to mention mammals, birds and octopuses in one context. All three form end stations in an evolutionary line, and have a highly developed and complex nervous system. One cannot maintain that mammals are ‘higher’ than birds or octopuses, as far as taxonomic or evolutionary arguments are concerned. It is for instance striking that the animals in all three categories have senses (in particular eyes) which are completely comparable as to complexi­ty and appropriateness.

If Ouweneel wants to restrict the ‘higher’ animals to the mammals, his argument with respect to the limbic system etc. fails. It would be difficult to maintain that birds lack emotions and affections, which mammals like elephants and mice would share. So let us assume that Ouweneel includes birds, and perhaps also octopuses, among the kingdom characterized by the ‘sensitive’ aspect. It is, however, clear that birds, mammals and octopuses have so little in common with each other that this kingdom would immediately fall apart into three sub-kingdoms. The birds and the mammals have more in common with the reptiles than with each other. I think that most biologists would consider it a dubious proposal to have reptiles in a kingdom separate from that of mammals and birds, which in turn includes the octopuses. Still, it is a possibility to be considered, for the distinction of psychic types should be based on psychic argu­ments, not on morphological or physiological ones.

However this may be, from a methodological point of view it is unsatisfactory that Ouweneel does not include birds and octopuses in his discussion, if not in his sensitive kingdom.




2.2. A modal aspect founding

a structural type


In Dooyeweerd's theory of structural types, a modal aspect cannot only serve to qualify a certain type, it is also able to found one (except, of course, for the final modal aspect). Besides the primary distinction of ‘radical types’ or ‘kingdoms’, we meet here a secondary distinction of types having the same qualifying function but different foundation functi­ons. In principle, in each kingdom one can expect as many secondary types as there are law spheres preceding the modal aspect qualifying that kingdom. Hence, in the kingdom of physical things and events, one may expect three secondary types, founded in the numerical, spatial and kinematic aspects, respectively.[20] And in the kingdom of living beings (except animals) four secondary types may be expected.

One reason why I am not happy with Dengerink's proposal to consider a ‘temporal’ modal aspect preceding the numerical one is that it would upset my analysis of structural types. This is a very personal remark, and as such of little value. But I regret that Dengerink does not pay much attention to the consequences of his proposal for Dooyeweerd's theory of types. If one takes the existence of structural types founded in a modal aspect as a criterion for the existence of that aspect, then - at least for the time being - it does not provide us with an argument to consider ‘time’ to be an irreducible law sphere.

But again, one should not absolutize any criterion for the distincti­on of modal aspects, and perhaps the ‘temporal’ forms an exception. One should not observe that all individual things and events are ‘temporal’, and are as such founded in the temporal aspect, for this is not a structu­ral feature. It only points to the universality of being temporal, and the univer­sality of time is not disputed.

With respect to the animal kingdom, I think it needs a very thorough investigation to arrive at even a tentative designation of the five secondary structural types to be expected. Before entering into this problem (in section 2.4) I want to observe that the distinctions made by Ouweneel between mammals and the ‘lower’ animals appear to be secondary rather than primary, meaning that mammals (and perhaps birds and octopuses) belong to a different secondary type than other animals. For instance, Ouweneel does not say that mammals have a limbic system exclusively. Rather, they have a ‘developed’ limbic system, contrary to reptiles, for instance, whose limbic system is ‘rudimentary’.[21]

Hence, by rejecting Ouweneel's proposal to distinguish more than one kingdom of animals, I am not stating that his arguments concern­ing the differences between mammals and other animals are irrelevant to an investi­gation of structural types. It is regrettable, however, that Ouweneel only takes into account the primary distinction of radical types, and omits from his discussion the secondary distinction as defined above.





2.3. Interlude: Subjects and objects


According to the standard representation of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, animals cannot function subjectively in the modal aspects following the psychic one.[22] This is in line with the traditional view that man is different from animals in particular because of his rationali­ty. Therefore, it distracts from another view proposed by this philosophy, namely that a human person is first of all a religious being.

I should like to endorse Dengerink's suggestion that animals can be subject in the aspects following the psychic one, albeit, of course, different from human beings.[23] It can hardly be denied that animals have limited capabilities of logical distinction. Some animals produce structu­red things like nests or holes. These should be distinguished from organic products like wood or manure, which are by-products, however important. Initially these are enkaptically interlaced in the structure of a plant or an animal, and only achieve a relatively independent existence after having broken this connection.

In this respect, wood and manure differ strikingly from an individual object like a bird's nest. It has an evident struc­ture, which is biotically and psychically determined. It is produced with a clear purpose. Its structure is recognizable as belonging to a certain species - the nest of a blackbird differs from the nest of a heron. But the nest itself does not live, and shows no behaviour, it is not a subject in the biotic and psychic aspects, but an object. It is a subject in the physical aspect, but that does not determine its typical structure. It is an individual structured object with respect to the animals which make it or use it. We find this figure not only with birds and mammals, but also with insects (bees, ants), with spiders and with fish.

This formative activity has invariantly an instinctive character. The animals concerned can only act in one way, which is usually genetically determined, it is species-specific. Often it is coercive.

In a similar way it can be observed that some animals have a primiti­ve supply of lingual signs. The bees' dance is an example. Birds are able to warn each other against danger. In groups of apes a recognizable lingual communication system has been established. Many animals show social behaviour: bees, ants, birds during migration, mammals living in herds, etc. Sometimes a division of labour and leadership is unmistakably present. Also economic, aesthetic, and even primitive ethic behaviour is recogniza­ble.

In all these examples it is striking that the behaviour concerned is retrocipatory. All post-psychic functions of an animal serve its biotic and psychic needs, in particular the acquisi­tion of food, reproduction, and survival of the species. Therefore, animals remain qualified by the psychic aspect. (As a consequence, the modal aspect qualifying a kingdom is not necessarily the highest subject-function of the individuals belonging to that kingdom).

In this respect mankind differs from the animal kingdom. Man is subject in all modal aspects, and, during his evolution, has been able to develop all of them into the anticipatory direction, guided by his faith, and by his calling as a responsible person.

The behaviour of a person is not merely directed to food, reproduc­tion, and survival. It is no longer genetically restric­ted, but culturally determi­ned. The laws, to which animals are subjected by necessi­ty, receive a normative character for mankind. Normativity is correlated to responsibili­ty. I would not apply normati­vity to the post-psychic law spheres, but to human responsibili­ty, i.e., the manner by which human beings respond to laws. For humanity, laws have a normative character. This could just as well pertain to pre-logical laws.

Now returning to the psychic modal aspect, I think it is sound philosophy to state that (apart from human beings) only animals can be subject in this aspect. I was struck by Ouweneel's treatment of instincts, emotions, etc. as being ‘subject’ in the ‘percep­tive’ and ‘sensitive’ aspects. [24] I consider this a mistake of categories. There is no doubt that these states or drives are psychically qualified. Nevertheless they have an objective function in this (or, for Ouweneel: these) modal as­pect(s). Feelings do not feel, percep­tions do not perceive. It is like the magnitude of a spatial subject, the volume of a cube for instance. ‘Volume’ is an objective spatial magnitude, but unlike a cube it is not a subject in the spatial aspect. [25]

The objective ‘states’ of psychic subjects have an objec­tive, psychically qualified structure. In the preceding section I said that we should expect five secondary structural types in the animal kingdom. This refers to differently struc­tured psychic subjects. In a similar way, it may be expected that five differently founded objective structures can be distinguished. It is deplorable that Ouweneel did not use this lead for his analysis of reflexes, instincts and tendencies, which he calls ‘percepti­ve’; and affections, impulses and emotions, which he calls ‘sensitive’. It is regrettable, because he overlooks one of the most promising possiblities in Dooyeweerd's theory of structures.




2.4. A law sphere as an aspect of explanation


In the preceding sections we were mainly concerned with the modal aspects as aspects of being. Now we shall consider them as aspects of explanation, in particular regarding animal behaviour and its organic basis, the nervous system.

The study of typical structures qualified by the psychic modal aspect is extremely difficult, because these structures are always interlaced with sub-structures which are qualified by the biotic, physical, and probably the kinematic and the spatial aspects. These sub-structures are opened up by the leading psychic structure. The investigation of this intricate ‘enkapsis’ provides another means to distinguish the various modal aspects -although it will usually be the other way around: the distinction of the modal aspects allows us to investigate the structure of reality. Anyhow, for the psychic aspect, this means a study of the nervous system (as well as the study of the endocrine glands, which I shall ignore, for convenien­ce).

The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea sometimes considers ‘sensorial experience’ to be characteristic for the modal aspect qualifying the animal kingdom. Now the senses are merely highly specialized external organs of the nervous system and only appear in higher developed animals. The existence of a nervous system would be more characteristic.

The nervous system as such has first of all an organic charac­ter, its structure and functioning are genetically determined. The nervous system has a biotically qualified structure, albeit opened up by the psychic aspect. It is comparable to DNA-molecules, enzymes, the spatial structure of a cell, etc., which are physically qualified, but opened up by the biotic aspect. The nervous system is the organic basis for the psychic functioning of an animal, its behaviour. When discussing the structure of a plant, we can use the term ‘organism’ to summarize its physical sub-structure as opened up by the biotic function of the plant. Similarly, we can use the term ‘body’ to summarize the biotic (and physical, kinematic and spatial) sub-structure of an animal, opened up by its psychic structu­re, which shows itself in the animal's behaviour. Compared with the organism of a plant, the body of an animal is morphologically and physiolo­gically more differentiated, specialized, and integrated.

Moving from primitive to higher developed animals, we do not only see an increasing complexity, integration and differentia­tion, but also an increasing ‘internalization’. This begins with the appearing of a stomach in very primitive multicellular animals, making necessary the formation of a mouth and eventually an anus or a vent.[26] The vertebrates have an internal skeleton, internal organs like blood vessels, kidneys, liver, lungs, etc. As far as a plant has differentiated organs (leaves, flowers, roots, the bark), these are typically peripheral, directed outwards. In animals these organs are gradually more directed inwards. This development is compensated by the formation of new organs directed outwards: propelling organs like feet or fins, clutching organs like a mouth or hands, food-intake organs like mouth and nose, and in particular sense organs.

The taxonomy of the animal kingdom is largely based on similarities and differences with respect to morphology and physiology, and is therefore not basically different from the taxonomy of plants. But there are examples of species which can only be distinguished because of their difference in behaviour. In the formation of a new species a change in behaviour (in particular with respect to breeding) precedes a change of morphology or physiology.[27] This means that behaviour plays a leading part in the formation of a new species. Because of the multiformity of species-specific behaviour there are far more species of animals than species of plants.

The function of the nervous system in an animal body is not first of all to observe, to perceive. Perception is rather means than aim of the animal's psychic functioning. The nervous system has a cybernetic function, it controls the animal body, and is in need of observation, registration and processing of external and internal data.

Also in plants one meets regulating processes. The DNA-based cell nucleus controls the biochemical processes in the cell. Hormones stimulate or check the growth. The manner by which a plant reacts to the change of day and night or the seasons is determined by internal factors, even if influenced by external physical circumstances like temperature, sunshine, and humidity. Really regulating organs (like nerve cells) are lacking in plants, however. They occur only in the animal kingdom as the organic basis of a new ordering principle, psychic control.

By the presence of a nervous system the animal body disposes of an organization of mutually tuned co-operating organs and processes. After the conception, in an animal embryo first the nervous system is developed. In turn, this controls the develop­ment of the other organs. The highly specialized and differen­tiated functioning of the animal organs is only possible because of the integrating function of the nervous system.

Accepting, for the sake of argument, Ouweneel's distinction of two psychic aspects, I would still hesitate to consider ‘perception’ to be characteristic of the first of them. In my view, perception is merely a phase in the kind of control that distinguishes animals from plants. Perception is a necessary condition for animal behaviour rather than its characteristic. An animal that would only be able to perceive would not survive - it also has to act on its perceptions. A similar remark could be made with respect to ‘sensitive’ as characteristic for Ouweneel's second psychic aspect.

The nervous system reacts on stimuli, which come partly from the animal's own body, partly from outside. It amplifies and processes the stimuli, and controls the body, e.g., the motion of the muscles. The processing of the stimuli occurs according to a certain program, which is partly closed, partly open (see section 2.1). An important difference is that for animals the program is no longer localized in the cell nucleus, as it is in plants. During and after the development of the embryo its function is taken over by the nervous system, except with respect to the typical biotic and biochemical functioning of the cells themsel­ves. As a consequence animals are able to react faster and more flexibly than plants can do.

If we consider the nervous system as most characteristic for the animal body, we can gain some insight in the secondary structural types defined in section 2.2 - but I like to emphasize the tentative and perhaps premature character of the following suggestions.

The numerical unit of the nervous system is the nerve cell, which is fed by stimuli. These are amplified, communicated, and transformed into an instruction, for instance for a muscle or a gland. A unicellular animal does not ‘have’ a nervous system, but I suggest it ‘is’ a nerve cell. A nerve cell occurring in the body of a higher developed animal can be considered to be a psychic subject with its own idionomic structure, qualified by the psychic aspect. Its structure is enkaptically interlaced in the structure of the nervous system and of the animal as a whole.

The nerve cells are spatially integrated (enkaptically bound) into the nervous system, that (with some exceptions) shows a typical left-right symmetry, having consequences for the spatial structure of the animal body. In the nervous system simultaneously received stimuli are co-ordinated, and various instructions given at different positions in the body are integra­ted.

The next (and I suggest: kinematic) level of integration is the memory. It needs a certain amount of differentiation of nerve cells and groups of them, and probably the integration of nerve cells into a central nervous system: the brain. The short-term memory allows the animal to perceive and process stimuli which arrive successively rather than simulta­ne­ously, hence to perceive changes in its environ­ment.

Usually one distinguishes this short-term memory from the long-term memory, which needs even more specialized parts of the nervous system, in particular sense organs. These can dis­criminate between stimuli of diffe­rent kinds, and integrate them into a ‘picture’ (not only visual, but also tactile, auditive, olfactory, etc.). This allows the animal to form an image of its environment relative to the state of its own body, and to store it for some time, such that it can be compared with a new image formed at a later time. Succeeding images can be used (in a feed-back process) to invoke corrections during a course of action. This suggests a physically founded structure, because these images ‘interact’ with each other or with inborn programs. (This ‘interaction’ is not physical, of course, but psychic). Hence, on this level one can expect emotions, like conflicting desires. Perhaps the distinction of a separate autonomic nervous system (only in vertebrates) is relevant at this level.

As the highest, i.e., biotic level of integration the phantasy or imagination would count, meaning the generation of information, allowing higher animals to anticipate on expected situations, and to solve problems. On this level feelings like pleasure and fear can be expected, and the limbic system (see section 1) may play an important part.

Whatever these suggestions are worth, they serve to illustrate the potential power of Dooyeweerd's theory of types for an analysis of both typical subjects (like nerve cells and the animals themselves) and typical objects (like instincts and feelings of various kinds).





2.5. A law sphere in relation

to other law spheres


From the assumption that the law spheres are both mutually irreducible and universal, one derives two other methods of distinguishing modal aspects: the method of antinomy, and the method of analogy. Both are highly valued in the philoso­phy of the cosmonomic idea.[28] However, as a heuris­tic tool both are weak if considered apart from other methods.

The method of antinomies states that if one fails to make a distinc­tion between two mutually irreducible aspects, one runs into antinomies. I have the impression that antinomies are only recognized ‘after the fact’, that is, after one has become convinced that two aspects are mutually irreducible. Therefore it is not surprising that Ouweneel finds antinomies after his discovery that the ‘perceptive’ and the ‘sensitive’ are different modal aspects.[29] But if one is not convinced by his arguments, one sees his ‘antinomies’ in a different light. I make two remarks.

First, referring to what I said in section 2.2 about the secondary distinction of types, an anomaly can also arise if one does not realize that two types (though having the same qualific­ation function) have different foundation functions.

Second, Ouweneel states that something cannot be both subject and non-subject in the same law sphere.[30] This is a common misunderstanding. In the physical aspect, for instance, unlike nucleons (protons, neutrons, etc.), electrons are not subject to the laws for strong nuclear interacti­on, whereas they are subject to the laws for weak nuclear interaction, electromag­netic interaction, and gravity. In the spatial aspect, a twodi­mensional subject like a triangle can only be an object with respect to a threedimensional subject like a pyramid. In many cases, the relation between an animal and its prey must be considered a subject-object relati­on, even if the prey is a living animal (see section 2.6). Hence, if Ouweneel (inaccurately) says that perceptions are not subject to the laws for impulsivi­ty, affectivity and emotivity, this does not necessarily lead to the conclusion that an anomaly is at stake. It is a bit inaccura­te to say that something is a subject or object with respect to a lawsphere (as I did myself in section 2.3), and occasionally it leads to mistakes. We call something a ‘subject’ with respect to a certain law (rather than a law sphere) if it is directly subjected to this law; and we call it an ‘object’ if it is only intermediate­ly, via a certain ‘subject’ subjected to this law.

The other method, the study of retrocipations and anticipa­tions, is more fruitful, at least if one takes distance from a merely verbal appro­ach, that is very tempting in the Dutch and German langua­ges, but hardly translatable into English. Ouweneel's discussion of the anticipations and retrocipations of the ‘perceptive’ and the ‘sensitive’ aspects abounds with metaphorical terms like ‘gevoelsleven’ (sense life) and ‘levens­gevoel’ (sense or feeling of life). [31]

The Dutch are fond of these contractions, whose philosophi­cal relevance is minimal. It is true that these verbal excercises constituted a necessary stage in the early development of the philosophy of the cosmono­mic idea. However, quod licet Iovi non licet bovi: after fifty years we should proceed beyond the first steps towards a fully scientific research into the structure of the modal aspects. Analogies can best be studied in the context of the criteria discussed in sections 2.1 and 2.2, and in the context of the theory of time.




2.6. A law sphere as an aspect of time


As observed, Dengerink recently proposed to consider ‘time’ to be the first modal aspect. His main argument seems to be that time is universal (which would be endorsed by Dooyeweerd) but is not characteristic of the whole creation in the way Dooyeweerd takes it. It is difficult to argue with Dengerink. Where Dooyeweerd states that a modal aspect is (inter alia) an aspect of time, Dengerink merely recognizes an analogy of time, and where Dooyeweerd states that every structure and individual is temporary, Dengerink agrees, pointing to the universality of each modal aspect. They also agree that time has a subject side and a law side. The difference will only become clear after Dengerink has elaborated his view into a more comprehensive theory of time. Dengerink's critique of Dooyeweerd's concep­tion of time is probably right in several respects[32] but does not compel to such a radical revision. I prefer to work in Dooyeweerd's program, which I find more promising (even if more complicated) and more challen­ging than Dengerink's proposal.

Each modal aspect, then, is an expression of time, having a law side, i.e., the order of time, and a subject side, which comes to the fore both in subject-subject relations and in subject-object relations. Time is relative, and the modal aspects together form inter alia a universal and abstract frame of reference for all kinds of relations, assuring that nothing exists in isolation. For the psychic modal aspect I suggest that the order of time is teleological; that the subject-subject relation is most adequate­ly expressed by ‘communication’, and the subject-object relation by ‘recognition’. Both communication and recognition are nothing if not purposive.

Under the influence of a mechanist world view, together with the deserved­ly bad reputation of eighteenth and nineteenth century natural theology, and reinforced by reductionalist philosophies, teleological arguments have been banned from the philosophy of nature for a long time. Nevertheless, zoologists have always been aware that the behaviour of animals cannot be understood if it is not considered to have some purpose, even if it is instinctive or coercive. Botanists do not need such argu­ments, for plants do not show purposive behaviour. (One could make an exception with respect to flowering and seed bearing plants, whose structu­re is opened up by the interaction with animals, see section 2.1. This functioning anticipates the purposive behaviour of animals). The age-old discussion whether the creation is purposive is put into a new perspective by pointing out that the psychic aspect is a universal aspect of the creation, and that teleology is the psychic aspect of ‘cosmic time’ in Dooyeweerd's sense. This means that the physical universe and the biotic cosmos are purposive as well, even if this can only be recog­nized if we study them in their relation to animal and human behaviour.[33]

If anything, teleology is an order of time. As such it presupposes the numerical order of before and after, the spatial order of simultaneity, the kinematic order of continuous succession, the physical order of irreversibility, and the biotic order of genetic descendence.

As a law, the teleological order is correlated to the psychic subject-subject relation determining the temporal relations  of  a  certain  individual  with  other   individuals.

This relation could be called ‘perceptive’, but this is usually understood to be one-sided. ‘Communication’ of information and feelings between animals, and between various parts of the body of a single animal, comes closer. In turn, communication depends on ‘recognition’, which also plays a part in the psychic subject-object relation. This pertains both to the inborn, genetically determined ‘instinctive’ functioning of an animal, and to what it has learned.

A nerve cell recognizes a stimulus, transmits it in a recognizable way, and transforms it in a recognizable stimulus for a gland or a muscle. Even the most primitive animal is able to orientate itself in its environment. By co-ordinating various stimuli a pattern can be recognized, and by co-ordinating various instructions a differentiated unity of behaviour arises, which again has a certain pattern. An animal is able to recognize changes in its environment, sometimes directly, sometimes by comparing the observed pattern with what is registered in its memory. The animal is able to recognize its food, sometimes a prey, or reversely, an enemy.

In particular, animals are able to recognize individuals of the same species - as partners, as offspring, as parents, or as belonging to the same or a different herd, flock or nest. Recognition can be the basis of territorial behaviour and for the order in groups of animals: the pecking order of chickens, the hierarchy in herds of elephants or troups of apes.

Recognition consists of remembrance, observation and foresight, which refers to the numerical time order. In the recognition of a pattern simultaneously registered signals are related, and it is also a continuous process. The processing of a signal or a pattern, or a succession of images is irreversible, and there is a genetic relation between the stimulus and its response. Recognition lies at the foundation of feelings of various kinds, such as fear or pleasure.

For animals, communication outside the body is an in­dividualized form of recognition, often restricted to members of a species or a population. In many cases, relations between animals of different species are of a subject-object character, for instance, if an animal serves as food for another one. Communication occurs between the members of a group or herd, between a male and a female, between parents and their offspring. Many patterns of communication are inborn, but sometimes they are achieved by learning, in particular during the first phase of life of a young animal. Characteristic for communication is that an animal produces signals with the purpose of being recognized (and sometimes with the purpose of preven­ting recognition).

A typical example of communication is the courting behaviour of a male that recognizes the presence of a female, and acts accordingly. Also in the migration behaviour of birds and other animals, of which the details are largely unknown, communication and recognition probably plays a significant part.

These few remarks should be sufficient to show that the study of a law sphere as a mode of cosmic time is a fruitful method for the designation of the various modal aspects. However, time is more than modal time. The temporality of the creation also means that it is dynamic, it evolves continuously.

A study of the physical, biotic and psychic aspects of reality is wanting if it ignores the evolution of the cosmos. It is true that Dooye­weerd seems to restrict the so-called opening process to the cultural sphere of mankind. But he was certainly not afraid of evolutionary theo­ries, even if he was critical with respect to some of them, and in particu­lar with the philosophical hypostatization embodied in ‘evolutionism’.

It is hardly avoidable to arrive at a rather static view of reality if one rejects all kinds of evolution, and even if one restricts evolution to development within the limits of a certain species. The assumption that species are unchangeable is called ‘essentialism’ and is reminiscent of Platonic idealism.[34] The theory of types initiated by Dooyeweerd should be developed into a theory that would account for the evolution (or perhaps the gradual actualization) of types. We shall have to go a long way before we reach this goal. It is simply impossible to ignore both evolutionary theories and evolution itself. If the theory of the modal aspects and structural types would fail to account for evolution (astrophysical as well as biological), it would fail entirely. But this is by no means the case. In particular, this theory has a great potential in giving an account of the order of evolution, if not of its actual course. And reversely, the empirically established order of evolution may help us in the investigation of structural types.






With respect to the modal aspects discussed in this paper, my conclusion is that neither Dengerink nor Ouweneel has provided sufficient arguments for his proposal, respectively, to consider ‘time’ as a modal aspect, or to consider two separate psychic aspects, the ‘perceptive’ and the ‘sensitive’. My chief aim, however, was to discuss criteria for suchlike decisions. In particular, I did not enter into a discussion of Ouweneel's psychological arguments, which should be left to psychologists. As a philosopher I am interested in methodology, and from this viewpoint I arrive at the above mentioned conclusion.

There is no royal road to science. There is no infallible unique way to decide which modal aspects should be recognized, and therefore one cannot afford to neglect one. I have discussed various methods to investi­gate a modal aspect, and I identified three fruitful ways: the study of the ‘primary’ distinction of kingdoms or radical types; the study of the ‘secondary’ distinc­tion of types having the same qualifying aspect but different founding aspects; and the study of the temporal order and the corresponding intersubjective relations. Implicit in all three methods is the study of retrocipations and sometimes anticipations of one modal aspect to another.

In my view, a far less fruitful method is a mainly verbal discus­sion of the ‘meaning nucleus’ of a modal aspect, based on a search in the literature or based on intuition or natural experience. A scientific investigation of the modal aspects and the typical structures of reality should critically transcend both tradition and natural experience. I do not say that tradition and intuition do not play a part, in particular at an early stage of investigation. Such was the case when Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven started to work on the idea of mutually irreduci­ble law spheres. There is no deprecia­tion in the observation that the fathers of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea made mistakes. On the contrary, not only animals and human beings, but also philosophers should be ready to learn from their mistakes, in order to survive.

The modal and typical structures of reality are not immediately available, neither for human thought or intuition (a fallacy of rationa­lism) nor for human perception (a fallacy of empirism). These structures are hidden, and can only partly, tentatively and successively be laid bare by a careful, respect­ful and laborious exploration of God's creation.

[1]. Dengerink, 1986, 240-245. Already in 1953, Dooyeweerd observed that ‘... some adherents of my philosophy are unable to follow me in this integral conception of cosmic time’, Dooyeweerd,, NC, I, 31.

[2]. Ouweneel 1984, 24-25,  39, 43, and beyond; 1986, hoofdstuk 2. Ouweneel is by no means the first to challenge the ‘psychic’ aspect, see Ouweneel 1986, 75-91.

[3]. Dooyeweerd, op.cit. III, 83.

[4]. M.D.Stafleu (a), ‘Spatial Things and Kinematic Events’, Philosophia Reformata 50 (1985) 9-20.

[5]. Margulis, Schwartz 1982. Although these authors distinguish only one kingdom of  animals, it should be observed that they define animals as being multicel­lular. Hence the monocellular protozoa find a place in their kingdom of Protoctista.

[6]. The present paper is more or less a sequel to Stafleu 1986, discussing biotically qualified structures.

[7]. e.g., Smelik1969.

[8]. Ouweneel 1984, 44 characterizes the biotic aspect by metabolism. I consider this a mistake. ‘Food’ with respect to living beings can only have an objective meaning, and therefore metabolism cannot serve to characterize the aspect of organic life.

[9]. Lever 1973, hoofdstuk 2.

[10]. In this context, 'structure' points to the law side, 'individuality' to the subject side of reality.

[11]. Wallace 1979, 151-174. Eibl-Eibesfeldt1970, 251-302. Lorenz 1973, hoofdstukken 4-7.

[12]. cf. Stafleu op.cit. (a): a radical type has both a qualifying and a founding aspect.

[13]. Ouweneel 1984, 43: ‘Wij geven er de voorkeur aan - ... - slechts die aspecten teaanvaarden die elk een bepaald rijk van stoffelijke (sic) entiteiten kwalificeren’ (italics by WJO).

[14]. Ouweneel 1984 mentions them, but they do not play a part in Ouwe­neel's analysis. In Ouweneel 1986 these aspects are discussed with respect to Dooyeweerd's views.

[15]. Ouweneel is not quite consistent in his terminology. In Ouweneel 1984 he speaks of one ‘spiritual’ (‘geestelijk’) aspect, with the logical, historical, etc. as ‘sub-aspects’. In Ouweneel 1986 he summarizes the post-psychical aspects under the name ‘spiritive aspects’ (plural).

[16]. see footnote 2.

[17]. Wallace 1979, 85

[18]. Ouweneel 1986, 100 is the only place I could find, and it says about nothing.

[19]. Wallace 1979, 142-143.

[20]. Stafleu 1980, Chapter 10.

[21]. Ouweneel 1986, 100. Similarly, when Ouweneel discusses the distinction between human beings and mammals, he points to the ‘neo-cortex’ which is ‘developed’ in humans, and underdevelo­ped but not absent in mammals. Again, this can hardly serve to make a distinction between two ‘radical’ types, which needs more ‘radical’ differences.

[22]. Dooyeweerd NC  I, 39; II, 81, 114; III, 58, 85.

[23]. Dengerink 1986, 222-223, 249. See also Lever 1973, 187-193; Smelik 1969; Ouweneel 1986, 216-217.

[24]. e.g., Ouweneel op.cit. (b) 112, 115.

[25]. I shall briefly return to the distinction of subjects and objects in section 5, below.

[26]. Margulis, Schwartz 1982, 161. After conception, every animal starts its development by forming a ‘blastula’, a hollow ball of cells.

[27]. Wallace 1979, 23; Thines 1966, 254-264.

[28]. Dooyeweerd NC, II, 3-54.

[29]. Ouweneel 1986, 113-118.

[30]. ibid., 115; see also Dooyeweerd NC, II, 370.

[31]. Ouweneel 1986, 118-126. Also Dengerink does not always escape verbalism in this respect. It should be observed, however, that these metaphors can be very helpful in a didactic context, and also that Ouweneel has several really interesting examples of analogies.

[32]. Ouweneel 1986, Chapter 5 discusses Dooyeweerd's theory of time, but he does not apply it in his analysis of the psychic modal aspect(s) in Chapter 2.

[33]. Even in modern physical cosmologies, the ‘teleological dimension’ is recognized, see e.g. Barrow, Tipler 1986.

[34]. Mayr 1982, 38, 87, 304-305: ‘Without questioning the importance of Plato for the history of philosophy, I must say that for biology he was a disaster.’ (p. 87).







3. Being  human in the cosmos (1991)


Philosophia Reformata 56, 101-131







3.0. Introduction

3.1. Cosmic time

3.2. The position of human persons in the natural king­doms

3.3. Humanity in the history of the cosmos

General Conclusion





3.0. Introduction


The recent discussion within the circle of Calvinian philosophy on anthropology has left me with a feeling of dissatisfaction. The profoundness and the quality of the publications are beyond doubt, but I cannot suppress the impression that little progress is achieved. This is sad, because Herman Dooyeweerd himself considered his anthropology to be unfinished, like a beginning that ought to be elaborated with the help of the special scien­ces. It may be wondered what could be wrong with the appro­ach of anthropology up till now. I mention a few possibili­ties.


1. Most striking in the discussion during the past years is the absence of the theory of evolution. For the par­ticipants in the international conference on anthropol­ogy at Zeist in 1986 it seems as if Charles Darwin never existed, and as if no progress has been made in biological and astrophysical insights concerning the deve­lopment of the cosmos.

The participants in the discussion seem to take no interest in the natural scientific contribution to anthropo­logy. For my part, I am convinced that anthropology is in need of all sciences, and is doomed to sterility if an important segment is neglected. In particular the develop­ment of anthropology within the context of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea badly needs the study of the evolution of mankind in the universe, and the position of humanity with respect to the kingdoms of plants and animals.

Marcel Verburg recalls that Dooyeweerd did not finish his anthropological work[1] because he did not see a solution to the problem of evolution.[2] Evidently, Dooyeweerd attributed the study of evolution a key position. With a few exceptions his followers did not make conspicious attempts to fill in this hiatus.[3]

Contrary to his intention, Dooyeweerd's careful and deliberate reaction to Jan Lever's epoch-making work[4] appears to have blockaded rather than advanced the development of anthro­pol­ogy. Probably it prevented many natural scientists from contributing positively to the systematic analysis of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea.


2. It is generally recognized that Dooyeweerd's theory of enkaptic structural interlacements should be one of the starting points of anthropology.[5] But then it is surprising that so little attention is paid to a necessary elaboration of this theory. No author discussing Dooyeweerd's so-called ‘anthropo­log­ical theses’[6] fails to mention his recognition of three basic substructures in the structure of the human body, to wit the physical-chemical, the biotic, and the psychic ones. Should one not consider a spatial and/or a kinematic substructure?[7] Is it not the case that besides a primary qualification of substructures (charac­terized by the ‘leading’ or ‘qualifying’ modal sphere) a secondary charac­teristic also exists (determined by the ‘found­ing’ aspect)? As a consequence, the number of substructures to be found in the human body would amount to 1 (spatial) + 2 (kinemat­ic, i.e., spatially and numeri­cally founded, respectively) + 3 (physical) + 4 (biotic) + 5 (psychic) = 15.[8] This makes things rather complicated, but to ignore this state of affairs implies neglecting a fruitful application of the systematic part of the philoso­phy of the cosmonomic idea to anthropology.

Moreover, these structures of the human body have mostly a retrocipatory character, albeit that anticipations are already operative. Still, should one not explore the possibili­ty that the human spirit is determined by anticipa­ting structures?


3. In my opinion too little attention is paid to the relations of every human being with his or her fellow crea­tures, in particular his or her fellow women or men (which are, of course, not entirely neglected) and the worlds of plants and animals; in short, to the position of any human being in the cosmos. In this respect Dooyeweerd's view of so-called cosmic time is extremely important.[9] Unfor­tunate­ly, once more it has to be concluded that the participants in the debate on anthropology are too much concerned with the clarification of Dooyeweerd's views (sometimes arriving at unsufficient­ly founded proposals for radical changes concerning the meaning of time), and too little with the strongly needed development of Dooyeweerd's revolutionary conception of cosmic time. In particular the idea that all relations have an intrinsic temporal character hardly plays a part in the discussion.[10]


4. Neglecting the problem of evolution implies that hardly any attention is paid to the question in which respects a human being differs from an animal. Usually the problem is dismissed by stating (without much argument) that animals (contrary to human persons) are only objects, not subjects, with respect to post-psychical laws, without wondering whether this might be a rationalistic point of view.[11] It could detract from another thesis defended by the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, i.e., the statement that a human being is primarily a religious being, called to bear respon­sibility, to promote what is good and to combat what is wrong. This means that religion not only implies a relation between any person and his creator, but also a mission of mankind. It also means that the distinc­tion between ‘natural laws’ and ‘norms’ should be recon­sidered.[12]


The theme of the present chapter is the position of any human being in the cosmos. In section 3.1 I shall discuss a person as a subject in the various modal aspects. In section 3.2 the relation of mankind to the so-called natural kingdoms will be investigated. In section 3.3 we shall pay attention to the position of humanity in the history of the cosmos. The problems of the structure of the human body, the relation of body and spirit, and the human ‘self’, will only summarily be touched.

My intention is not to discuss extensively the contri­butions mentioned earlier to the debate on anthropol­ogy, but to look for alternative, i.e., complementary roads.





3.1. Cosmic time


The first part of this paper is devoted to the so-called subject-subject relations in the modal aspects of reality. It forms a major, though by no means the only, part of ‘cosmic time’, which encompasses everything created into a coherent whole. The coherence of reality is expressed by the fact that nothing can exist without having relations to other things. Hence, cosmic time is the set of all relations between all creatures.

Herman Dooyeweerd's challenging and thought-provoking theory of time is strongly programmatic. It demands an elaboration involving the special sciences and their philosophies. It is still underdeveloped, but it is promising, and in my view indispensable for the development of anthropology. One of the ambitions of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea is to design an anthropo­logy that shows humanity in its modal diversity. This implies finding the position of a person in cosmic time, i.e., the cosmic connection of any human being with his fellow men and women (in the past, the present and the future) and with all other creatures. A reliable anthro­pol­ogy cannot arise as long as the framework of cosmic time is not available as a well developed system.

The theory states that the mutually irreducible modal aspects are not only ontic aspects of reality - besides epistemic aspects of our experience and principles of explanation - but also have a temporal structure.


Time as a system of reference

Each aspect determines temporal relations, subject to a modal order of time. Together, the modal aspects constitute a system of reference, enabling us to identify things and events, to determine their quantity, spatial position, relative motion, interaction, etc., and to relate them to other things and events. For the first six modal aspects this system of reference can be summarized as follows.

First we have a numerical framework that allows us to compare different things and events in a quantitative sense. Next we have a spatial framework, enabling us to determine the relative position of anything, and to orientate oursel­ves in our surroundings. Third, we experience a mode of mobility in which the moving thing remains identical with itself. Fourth, we recognize the relation of interaction, without which physical things and events would not exist. Fifth we encounter the relation of descendence, allowing us to relate living beings with each other. Sixth, there is a sense of teleology and communication (dependent on recogni­tion) as a psychic relation.

The designation of the modal intersubjective relations cannot be done loosely. It ought to be based on a careful analysis of the modal aspect concerned including its retro­cipations and anticipations, and of the idionomic structures which are qualified or founded by the aspect concerned. Until now this has only been done for the first six modal aspects indicated above.[13] From an anthropologi­cal perspec­tive, I shall put forward some suggestions with respect to the remaining aspects, and reconnoitre some problems invol­ved.

Research into the subject-subject relations in the post-psychic aspects is not merely essential to anthropol­ogy, but unavoidably also part of it. The study of the numerical up to the psychic aspect can be restricted to non-human subjects: numbers, spatial figures, moving subjects, physical systems, living and learning beings. For methodolo­gical reasons it is even advisable to restrict the inves­tigation of the modal aspects concerned initially to non-human beings.

For the post-psychic aspects this is virtually impossi­ble. After all, even if animals are not excluded, human persons are the main subjects in these aspects. This gives rise to a number of complica­tions, some of them related to the order of the modal aspects.[14] We shall discuss these problems when we meet them.


The opposing attitude of a human being

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

With respect to the logical aspect, Dooyeweerd has stressed that a human being makes use of two different attitudes. The first is natural (or ‘naive’) experience, which by the way is not purely logical. The second is the so-called Gegenstand-relation, which, according to Dooye­weerd, is a characteristic of theoretical thought. In this relationship a thinking subject opposes the logical aspect against all other aspects, which are analytically detached from the continuous coherence (as established by cosmic time) between the modal aspects and the idionomic struc­tures.[15] This detachment includes methodological isolation and idealization.

Such an opposing and therefore critical attitude does not occur in theoretical thought only. It occurs wherever a human being leaves natural experience, by putting an instru­ment between himself and his 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 becomes smaller. The observed object is more or less abstracted from the coherence in which it functions.

This attitude of opposition has consequences for the study of cosmic time. In the first six modal aspects (i.e., the numerical, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic and psychical ones) subjective time can be characterized by a direct relation between ‘modal subjects’. The concept of a ‘modal subject’ is an abstraction from concrete reality. Its meaning is to abstract from the individuality and idionomy of the concrete things, in order to arrive at their modal determination.

Each modal subject-subject relation is itself subject to a modal order of time. In this way we introduce abstract notions like numbers and their relations, such as their difference or ratio, subject to the order of earlier and later; spatial figures related by their relative position and orientation, subject to the order of simultaneity; moving subjects and their relative motion, subject to the order of the flow of time; physical systems with their mutual interactions subject to the order of irreversibility; living beings and their genetic relations subject to the genetic law stating that any living being is a descendent of another living being; and learning beings, with their ability to communicate, subject to the teleological law of goal directedness.

Each of these subject-subject relations has a direct character. For instance, an animal immediately recognizes another animal, as a mate, a young or parent, as a prey, an enemy, or neutral. This direct character does not exclude the mediation of other subjects of the same kind. For instance, one physical system can interact with another via a third, and we can determine the relative position of two spatial things using a coordinate system. Besides we have the habit of objectifying subject-subject relations, e.g., using a map in order to determine the distance between two cities. This is especially, but not exclusively done in science. We objectify spatial relative positions by distan­ces and angles, kinematic relations by velocities, interac­tions by energy, force, current, and so on.

Nevertheless the fundamental modal subject-subject relations maintain their direct character. This is also the case in the later modal aspects, as far as it concerns the ‘natural’ functioning of humans and animals. Dooyeweerd has shown that natural (or ‘naive’) experience has a direct character, and should not be confused with theoretical experience, which has an opposing and distantiating charac­ter. Elsewhere I have developed this view in my own way,[16] first by making distinction between scientific work and theoretical thought.[17] Second, by observing that theoreti­cal thought discloses natural thought, because it anticipa­tes the formative, lingual and other modal aspects following the logical one. Third, by analysing the idionomic structure of theoretical thought.[18] Fourth, by observing that theore­tical thought has an instrumental character which is lacking in natural thought.

Now this instrumental character introduces a complica­tion into the theory of time, which is absent in the direct subject-subject relations mentioned above. To be sure, instruments are primarily used in subject-object relations, which lose their simplicity by becoming subject-instrument-object relations. In theoretical thought a person uses theories and similar structural units as instruments to investigate the cosmos. However, the logical subject-subject relation has an instrumental character as well. In any discussion transcending natural interhuman relations, artifi­cial concepts, propositions and theories are needed. This is by no means restricted to science.

The opposing, distantiating attitude is absent in the natural experience of humans as well as in the functioning of animals. It makes an important difference between humans and animals, not only occurring in the logical aspect. A person takes distance from the cosmos, of which he or she is a wholesale part.[19] A person is even taking critical distan­ce from his or her fellow men and women, and this influences the interhuman relation­ship in all its aspects.



The fact that human beings design and make instruments is only possible because they disclose all modal aspects in the so-called anticipatory direction. Also this is relevant for the study of the modal aspects from an anthropological perspective.

With respect to the pre-logical aspects much can be achieved by restricting oneself to the study of the aspect concerned with its retrocipations (i.e., referring to earlier modal aspects), and to the study of the idionomic structures which are qualified by that aspect. For instance, it is very fruitful to study the physical aspect including the preceding ‘mathematical’ aspects as well as the physi­cally qualified idionomic structures, but ignoring the following aspects. At first in biology it becomes necessary to include the anticipations in the physical aspect.

In the post-psychic aspects such a methodological restriction is virtually impossible. One could propose to study animals in this respect, but that would probably not yield very much of interest. Dooyeweerd seems to have assumed that so-called ‘primitive people’ are functioning in a not-yet disclosed community, but that is subject to doubt.[20] In general, a human being operates anticipating in every modal aspect, i.e., always referring to later as well as to earlier modal aspects. Hence it is nearly impossible to investigate the post-psychic aspects one after the other, in a way that has proven successful in the natural sciences.

In the process of disclosure the historic, formative or cultural aspect plays a major part. Mankind not only deforms the non-living universe, but also living nature. This again draws the attention to the subject-object relation, but also the cultural subject-subject relation has the character of formation. We find this relation in education, schooling, and each form of tuition, sometimes directly (appren­tices­hip), sometimes more distantly. The nuclear word is ‘tradi­tion’, meaning the transfer of cultural achievements from one generation to the other. Tradition and tuition are not purely cultural in a modal sense, just because they have an anticipatory character. All modal aspects are involved in tradition.


From inward to outward

Human beings and animals have an inner experience, which is organically localized in the nerve system. Animals express this experience nearly exclusively in their behavi­our (chapter 4). Sometimes animals have other ways to give expression to their emotions, in particular fear. Warnings, and the marking of a territory, can be considered as examples of elementary, undisclosed and instinctive uses of language.

In contrast, people have the habit of communicating their inner experience to other people, to express themsel­ves. Thereby they reveal their feelings, emotions, opinions, thoughts, insights, judgements, problems, plans, orders, reports, prohibitions, and beliefs. That is the meaning of language, in all its appearances: signals, natural language (like English or Dutch), written language, group language, traffic signs, and all other kinds of symbols. All these are subject to the norm of clarity.

The lingual subject-subject relation, in which language plays an instrumental mediating part, is not first of all determined by the need of communication (which has a psychic character), but by the need of name giving and interpreta­tion. With the help of language a human being allots himself and others a position in the cosmos, besides all things and events.

The lingual aspect of human experience should be distinguished from the natural languages - or rather ‘so-called’ natural languages, for even the language of speech is already an artefact, having a long history and being strongly differen­tiated. The same applies to written langua­ge. For any purpose, language is an indispensable instru­ment for interhuman communication, and it is inter­woven with other instruments, like logical concepts and propositions.

Every person belongs to a lingual community, sometimes to more than one. Such a lingual community does not consti­tute a community with an internal organisation, with an official structure. It cannot act as a modal subject. The romantic ideology according to which a modern state should be founded in a lingual community has given rise to many serious conflicts. In a state community a single language is sometimes privileged, and other languages are discriminated. Besides the general language of speech with its dia­lects one finds group languages with their typical jargon. The position of a person in the cosmos is strongly determi­ned by his mastery and use of various languages.


Social communities as modal subjects

No less important for a person's place in the cosmos are her or his social relations.

The study of social communities is part of the study of the idionomic structures and their relations. But the fact that social communities can be subjects in the modal aspects is a reason to consider them in the framework of the modal aspects as well.

Usually one distinguishes between natural communities (like marriage, nuclear family, family in a wider sense, tribe, which are also recognizable with animals), and organized communities, like business firms, schools, hospi­tals, states, and churches.[21] The former are biotically founded, and differ from animal communities because their functions are disclosed and normative in all aspects. Sometimes they suffer of a loss of functionality, because certain tasks are taken over by other communities. The latter seem to be founded in the cultural-formative aspect. The social subject-subject relation concerns the various ways people interact with each other. It is subject to the norm of mutual respect, which is specified by the relative position they have in society, in particular in many different com­munities. Two persons can meet each other: the first is a member, the other an elder in church; the first is director, the second employee in the same company; the first is chairman of a club, the second its secretary. In each of these three relations the two have to respect each other in a different way. Without respect or recogni­tion no social relationship can endure. Together these relationships determine a social order. Mutual respect is the foundation of a free society.[22] In particular a free society can only exist if the various communities respect each other's responsibility, in a normative way.

How is it possible that an association functions like a modal subject ? In part because a community exists indepen­dent of the identity of its members. A club remains in existence long after its first members have withdrawn or died. On the other hand no association can exist without members. It can only act as a subject if it is represented by some authorized person. This authorization again rests on recognition. Nobody is able to act with authority within an association if they do not have the respect of its members. Without mutual respect the community collap­ses. For the external functioning, too, it is necessary that somebody be identified and recognized as a representa­tive of the community concerned. Below I shall find occasion to say more about the figure of a representative.

The functioning of social communities as modal subjects is opened up by the economic aspect (a business company), the aesthetic aspect (an orchestra), the juridical aspect (the state), the aspect of care (hospitals), and the aspect of faith (the church).


The many-sided possibilities of a person

Besides other things human beings differ from animals because of their many-sidedness. Every kind of animal displays a certain speciality, which is developed in the course of evolution, and often a certain animal species excels mankind with respect to its speciality. (Never try to outrun a tiger.) A human being's body is not specialized. Even the development of the neocortex is a function of his many-sided­ness. Any person has many possibilities, and this makes specialization within human societies necessary. It would be very inefficient to do everything on one's own. It is much more economical to divide our work and to cooperate in peace in order to exploit all human possibilities. In a well-developed society people have various occupations, and one's occupation is an important deter­minant for one's place in the com­munity.

Therefore the many-sidedness of people should be discussed in the framework of the economic modal aspect. The economic subject-object relation concerns the efficient use of all available means. The subject-subject relation con­cerns the delivery of services wherein each person makes other persons profit from their special gifts. Hence the norm of the economic aspect is to be of service to one's fellow beings.

The mutual rendering of service soon leads to the need of some kind of settlement or accounting, hence to barter or a monetary system, a market of supply and demand. In a general sense, the ‘market’ may be considered to indicate the economic order. For this view it is relatively ir­rele­vant whether the market is ‘free’ or ‘planned’. Besides a market of various goods, there is a market of employment, a money market, stock exchange, and even a marriage market.

The many-sidedness of human beings allows them to play various parts, for instance as a producer, a consumer, a merchant, a negotiator, an informer, and so on. We observe a certain kind of asymmetry in economic relations: producer versus consumer, for instance. This is not restricted to the economic functioning of humans. Hence we meet another complication in the study of the modal aspects: it is virtually impossible to abstract the functioning of a person such that a pure ‘modal subject’ remains.


Homo ludens

Another difference between humans and animals is the need of people to decorate their existence, to enjoy them­selves, to create and experience beauty and pleasure.[23] In the relation between the sexes one finds with animals something of beauty and play too, but then it is merely retrocipatory and instinctive.

For an investigation of the arts the phenomenon of ‘subject-instrument-subject relation’ mentioned above could be of help. We can easily be focussed on a painter as a subject and his paintings as objects of art, and forget about the art lovers. In my view art can only be understood

as functioning in a subject-subject relation, even if it is asymmetrical, such as the relation between the painter and the onlooker. It means that the painting is not an object but an instrument, the object being whatever the painter wants to paint, irrespective if this is something visible (like a landscape), a fantasy, some emotion, or what not. The painting is an instrument in the aesthetic relation between the painter and the spectator, and next between various spectators. The interhuman relation between the artist and the spectators is perhaps more obvious in thea­ter, ballet and musical performances.

In order to determine the character of the aesthetic subject-subject relation it may be advised to pay attention to joy and sorrow, to festivities and mourning, to plays and rites, expressing direct relations. The arts and organized sports are more distantiating. Discipline and competition are relevant points. It is only possible to communicate in festivals, plays, mournings, rites, and sports if one adheres to the rules. People compete, and thereby determine each other's relative positions.

Often the rules of play are no less artificial than products of art. Perhaps rules of play are not norms, but it is a norm to obey the rules. The aesthetic subject-object relation comes to the fore in ornaments, beautiful clothing, delicious food, and objects of art.



Discussing the social aspect I said something about the figure of an ‘authorized person’ serving on behalf of a community as a subject in the modal aspects. This figure also has an important juridical function.

This is especially the case if a community is a legal person. A ‘legal person’ is an abstract modal subject in the juridical sphere. ‘All natural persons are legal persons’ is an ideologically coloured statement. Under Roman law slaves were in general not considered legal subjects, but legal objects, and the legal status of women was disputed. In a Christian society slavery is not accep­ted, and minors are legal persons, even though they should be represented occasionally by their parents or guardians. The constitu­tional rule ‘all people are equal before the law’ is relatively modern, and still not universally accep­ted.

Besides natural persons a modern society recognizes associations as legal persons. The institutional system of justice is the state, having the task to maintain the legal order. It has the authority to recognize non-state com­munities as legal persons. Within such a community it should be clear which natural persons as ‘officers’ have the right to represent the community in legal affairs. Yet if a social community has no legal status it is not unlawful. The inner structure of a social community is independent of its being a legal person.

An ‘office’ can be defined as a set of tasks and powers, and an ‘officer’ as somebody who is charged with an office, for which they can be held responsible. The juridical aspect of an ‘office’ should be distin­guished from the authority that the same ‘officer’ exercises within the community, which is based on social respect, as we argued above. A club which is no legal person still knows such authority. In particular the authority in natural com­muni­ties like a nuclear family is exerted independent of the consent of the state. Conversely, within a community an officer can lose their authority and still be respon­sible in a juridical sense.

Hence, the status of an ‘office’ is not necessarily juridically qualified, but is usually (but not always) qualified by the same aspect as the community in which the office acts. For instance, the office of an entrepreneur is economically qualified. On the other hand, the office of an employer is also economically qualified, but it is often exerted by officers of a com­munity which is itself not economically qualified, such as a hospital. In this case the director of the hospital has the office to look after the economic aspects of the hospital. Not surprisingly, in large communities the various offices are often separated from each other.

Hence the juridical subject-subject relation is not restricted to natural persons. It is a relation, which can be positivized in various ways. The positivation of norms becoming rules may be more characteristic for the juridical modal aspect than the principles of attribution or retribu­tion which are usually taken to be the nucleus of this aspect. The juridical relations as laid down in positive law determine the legal position of all people in the cosmos, determining their rights and duties, and their liabiliti­es.


The care for one's fellow humans

The last but one aspect, usually denoted the ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ one, has the love for one's neighbour as its principle. Perhaps the word ‘care’ could be used to charac­te­rize this aspect.[24] It concerns the love for one's neigh­bour (a subject-subject relation), but also the commitment of a person to her environment and the products of her labour (subject-object relations), and the care with which she handles them.

This function is not only apparent in the care for the weak in the society (children, sick or elderly people, the unemployed, refugees), but also in human relations such as concern, compassion or pity, sympathy or antipathy, aversion and indifference. The term ‘love for one's neighbour’ shows that each person's responsibility for their fellow human is a function of the position that this person has with respect to other people. It starts within the natural communities: marriage, the family. Without the experience of such love people become lonely - without love a person finds no place on earth.


Transcendence: a person as a believer

The anticipating character of all human acts (which we already mentioned in the framework of the formative aspect) also has a transcending aspect. In every anticipation (i.e., the reference of some aspect to a later one) human beings transcend a modal aspect. Therefore it is relevant to observe that animal functions in the post-psychic aspects are merely retrocipatory (i.e., only referring back to the earlier aspects, in particular the psychic and biotic ones). A person is able to transcend aspects and structures of temporal reality, without ever being able to leave behind his or her interhuman relations.

The pistic subject-subject relation concerns shared convictions, certainties, points of departure, world views and ideologies. These can be religious, but also philosophi­cal, scientific, or political. An ideology is not merely personal. Each society has an ideology, a common creed, even if it is cynical.[25] The ideology determines the norms to which the society has to answer.

The ideology transcends all modal diversity, because its roots are in the heart of the people.[26] It is a leading factor in the opening up of all modal aspects, and is highly determining for the position of a person (as well as for each community) in the cosmos, in particular for the positi­on that he assigns himself. It is not without reason that people call themselves Christians or Muslims, social­ists or capitalists, positivists or realists. It marks in various contexts the choice of one's position. If somebody changes their ideology, this is rightly called a ‘conversion’.

The pistic subject-subject relation is determined by mutual trust. We believe each other on our word.[27] We make promises, and other people trust them. The anticipatory character comes to the fore in the hope for a better future. Someone's credibility is also determined by the office that they exercise.

The pistic subject-object relation is denoted by terms like the belief in the correctness of a message, the fair­ness of a report, the reliability of an apparatus, the safety of a means of transport, and so on. One person guarantees another that a purchase is reliable.

The possibility to transcend the modal aspects (and the idionomic structures as well) also implies a certain amount of relativization. The anticipations show that no aspect must be absolutized. This even applies to ideologies, for which every person is himself responsible, whereas he has to respect the ideological self-determination of any other person. In particular every community (including the state) has to respect the personal beliefs of any person, as well as the ideologies of any other community. Without such respect, freedom is lost.

Hence the possibility to transcend modality and struc­turality is very important for the human ‘selfness’, his or her unique personality. It means that each person is relig­ious, for ultimately, transcending means to be reaching out beyond the limits of the cosmos.



In section 3.1 I discussed the position of a person in the cosmos with respect to the modal aspects, stres­sing the importance of the ‘subject-subject relation’ as a temporal relationship. It would be wide of the mark to give the impression that interhuman relations were never discussed in the framework of the philosophy of the cosmono­mic idea or in Christian anthropol­ogy. But as far as I know the subject-subject relation has never been used as a methodological instrument for the study of anthropology. If I have convinced the reader of the potential fruitfulness of such an approach, I have reached my goal.




3.2. The position of human persons

in the natural king­doms


In the second part of this paper we shall pay attention to the position of a person in the so-called ‘kingdoms’. Usually one recognizes three kingdoms: that of minerals, that of the plants, and that of the animals. Elsewhere I have argued that the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea allows of more kingdoms, i.e., that of spatial forms and that of structured motions.[28] Besides there are kingdoms which are qualified by the aspects beyond the psychical one. In general, we shall consider a kingdom the set of all individual ‘things and events’ with typical structures qualified by a single modal aspect. They have the same ‘radical type’. This term refers to the law side of the qualifying aspect, whereas the term ‘kingdom’ refers to the subject-side (i.e., everything that answers the radical type).

Every kingdom is characterized by the subject-subject and subject-object relations determined by the modal aspect concerned.[29] For instance, for the kingdom of physical things and events interaction is characteristic, insofar as something assumed not to interact with other physical things does not belong to the physical kingdom, and therefore cannot have physical existence.

In this paper I shall mostly restrict myself to a discussion of a person's position in the traditional ‘natu­ral’ kingdoms of minerals, plants, and animals.


The astrophysical kingdom

For the determination of the position of a human being in the cosmos within the kingdoms of individual things and events an obvious place to start is with the position of mankind in the astrophysical universe. This concerns the kingdom of physically qualified things, which interact with each other directly or via a third subject.

Since Nicholas Copernicus observed that the distance of the earth to the sun is vanishingly small compared to the distance to the nearest stars, the universe became (accord­ing to our insights) larger and larger, and the earth comparably smaller and smaller. Hence the habitat of humani­ty seems to be minutely small. This gives rise to the anthropological question of why the universe should be as large as it is: billions of light ­years. The answer given by some astrophysi­cists is surpris­ing: it is so large in order to make space for humanity.[30]

That answer rests on at least two assumptions. The first concerns the astrophysical relation between the dimension of space and its age. This relation is laid down by the theory of cosmological evolution which states that the universe has expanded steadily for about fifteen billion years. A universe of the magnitude of our galaxy could contain enough matter for a hundred billion stars as large as the sun, but it would have existed for only one year, and merely contain hydrogen and helium. The formation of the other elements needed for the material existence of human beings took about ten billion years.

The second assumption concerns the time needed for the evolution of mankind, starting from the beginning of the astrophysical evolution. A calculation of this period is unavoidably speculative. In fact it rests on the simple fact that we exist. Considering the fact that humanity exists ‘now’ (i.e., for the relatively short time of at most three million years), its evolution evidently needed more than ten billion years, including four billion years since the earth was formed. The existence of mankind is the best (and perhaps only) proof of the possible existence of human beings.[31]

Hence the fact that the earth is a small and physically insig­nificant planet in a huge universe does not mean that humanity is insignificant. John Barrow and Frank Tipler's book intends to demonstrate that the lawfulness and the evolution of the cosmos can only be understood by its destination, the evolution of mankind. In this context one speaks of the anthropic principle. The observed structure of the universe is determined by the fact that we observe that structure. Because we are an essential part of the cosmos one could say that the cosmos observes itself.[32] We cannot observe the universe as an object, from outside. By considering the universe as a whole we cannot escape including ourselves in our observations.

This is the ultimate consequence of a development started by Nicholas Copernicus, when he explained the observed retrograde motion of the planets as an apparent motion, caused by the real motion of the earth from which we perform our observations.[33]


The kingdom of living beings

For mankind the earth is not in the first place a physically qualified celestial body among many others, but a grown-over and inhabited world. The age of the earth can be estimated in various ways to be of the order of four billion years. During this time the biosphere evolved: the relative­ly thin skin around the surface of the earth, in which all living beings and fossils can be found. Even the composition of the atmosphere, consisting of about 20% oxygen is proba­bly of organic origin. The biosphere makes human life possible, and according to current theories of evolution mankind has evolved from that sphere. The habitat of human beings is, therefore, the earth, which fact does not prevent us from exploring the surroundings of the earth.

Recently mankind has become conscious of the unicity of the biosphere, for the place of humanity in it, and for the responsibility that we have for the maintenance of our environment.


The closed functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects

Before discussing the place of human beings in the animal kingdom I want to pay attention to the subjective functioning of animals.

It is a standard view in the philosophy of the cosmono­mic idea that animals do not function as subjects in the post-psychic aspects.[34] This accords with the tradi­tional view that a human being distinguishes himself from an animal in particular because of his rationality, his ability to think. It therefore detracts from another view of this philosophy, namely that a person is primarily religious.

In the present section we shall consider the question whether it is true that animals, or at least the so-called higher animals, cannot be subjects (rather than objects) in the post-psychic aspects.­[35]

To begin with, it will be difficult to maintain that animals have no distinguishing abilities. It is sometimes stated that human logical thinking is necessarily based on the use of concepts, and that animal distinguishing lacks this ability. I think that the latter part of this statement is correct, but I also believe that conceptual thinking is opened-up thinking, theoretical thought. Natural thought is not necessarily linked up with conceptual thought. Animal thought is natural, not opened-up, i.e., not anticipating later modal aspects. Conceptual thought implies the formati­on of concepts, hence anticipates the formative aspect.[36] It also anticipates the lingual aspect, because concepts are worded. Hence, if animals do not use conceptual thought, this does not mean that they are not functioning subjective­ly in the logical modal aspect.

Some animals display a primitive use of language. The significance of the dance of bees is well known. Birds are able to warn each other against danger. In groups of apes a recognizable system of communication is established.

Many animals display social behaviour: bees, ants, birds during their seasonal migration, mammals living in herds, families of apes, etc. A certain amount of division of labour is sometimes unmistakable. Animals can behave economically and harmoniously. During the process of bree­ding a primitive ethical behaviour is recognizable.

The formative activity of animals often results in the production of individual objects like a bird's nest, the hole of a rabbit, and so on. With respect to plants one can speak of certain ‘products’, for instance wood, which after the demise of the plant still shows a typical cellular structure. The above mentioned biosphere is a product of agelong organic and animal activity. Yet these are merely by-products, however important. Initially they are enkapti­cally bound in the structure of plants or animals, and they only achieve a relatively independent existence after being separated from their origin.

In this respect wood, manure, etc. differ obviously from individual objects like a bird's nest. A nest has an evident structure which is biotically and psychically determined. Its structure is recognizable as belonging to a certain species. The nest of a sparrow differs from that of a blackbird. But the nest itself does not live and does not display any behaviour. It is not a subject in the biotic and psychic aspects, but an object. It is a subject in the aspects preceding the biotic one, but its structure is not determined by these aspects. It is an individual structured object with respect to those animals which made it or use it. We find this not only with birds and mammals, but also with insects (bees, ants), spiders (webs), and with fish.

This formative behaviour virtually always has an instinctive character. The animals concerned can only behave in a singular way, which is heritably determined, and is often coercive.

In general it should be stressed that the subjective functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects is invariantly primitive and instinctive. It is retrocipatory, never anticipatory. It is retrocipatory, because all post-psychic behaviour of animals serves their biotic and psychic functioning, in particular feeding, reproduction and survi­val of the species.[37] Human activity, on the con­trary, is opened-up, anticipating, transcend­ing, and therefore religi­ous.

As a methodological rule, the question whether animals display subjective behaviour in the post-psychic aspects should not be answered in an a priori way, but a posteriori, by empirical research. The present section should be read taking this into account.


The structure of the human body

It is not my intention to discuss the structure of the human body extensively. I restrict myself to a few remarks in order to discuss the position of mankind in the animal kingdom.

In biological taxonomy a human being is a mammal, belonging to the order of the primates. The theory of enkapsis, the interlacement of structures, accounts for this state of affairs. The structure of a human body is inter­laced with an animal substructure, and its nature determines a person's position in the animal kingdom. Likewise, because of its organic substructure, an animal belongs to the organic kingdom, even though it simultaneously transcends this kingdom. The structure of an animal is not biotically but psychically qualified. Hence the fact that we assign mankind a place in the animal kingdom does not imply that its structure is psychically qualified, and it does not exclude the fact that the structure of the human body essentially differs from the animal body.

The structure of the animal body, in which biotic, physical, kinematic and spatial substructures are enkapti­cally bound, is designed for the animal's behaviour. It is remarkable that in several respects the animal substructure of a human being is much more developed than the structure of any animal.[38] Human thought is localized in the cerebral cortex, in particular the neocortex, which is absent in most animals. In mammals it is present only to a small extent. The cultural aspect of human activity is most pregnantly expressed in the hand, an organ that is far more developed than whatever comparable animal organ. The nerve cells related to the hands take a relatively large volume in the human brain. The lingual aspect finds its counterpart in the speech centre, again a substantial part of the brain. Also the larynx, the tongue and the muscles of the jaws are such as to make speech possible. Similarly, the structure of the human face is made to show joy, sorrow or anger.

The social development of a human child is furthered by the relatively short period of pregnancy, and by the relati­vely long period of growing up. More than any comparable animal the human child is unfinished at its birth, meaning that its individual possibilities to develop its faculties are much larger than those of any animal.

All these differences in the body structure of humans and animals point to the open character of the ‘act struc­ture’ of a human person.[39] It shows how much the human body is directed to spiritual life. The open character can only be under­stood from the view that a person knows what it is to be called to bear responsibili­ty, because they know the difference between good and evil, as we shall see present­ly.[40] 


Body and spirit

The distinction between human persons and animals is often expressed by the supposed lack of a ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ in the latter. In the present context I can only give a very short comment on the relation between body and spirit.

Dooyeweerd has stressed that the human body has a very complex structure (3.0). The elabora­tion of his views is much wanted. It is tempting to relate the distinction of body and spirit to the complementary directions of retrocipation and anticipation.

We observed already that animal functioning in the post-psychic aspects (if present) is always retrocipatory, instinctive, directed to biotic and psychic needs. It should not be surprising to find that the functioning of a person, as far as it is retrocipatory, does not differ very much from that of the higher animals. But the human functioning (the ‘act-structure’ according to Dooyeweerd) is mostly anticipat­ory, directed towards the opening up of all modal aspects, and even transcending them. This should be the leading motif of any Christian anthropology.

This should not be misunderstood as the resurrection of the age old dualism of body and mind, supposed to be two different substances, whether or not interacting with each other. Nor do we intend to identify the distinction of body and mind with the distinction of natural modal aspects (up to and including the psychic one) and the normative aspects (starting from the logical one), which would again imply an untenable dualism. Rather, our proposal means the application to anthropology of a duality which is already present in Dooyeweerd's theory i.e., the duality of anticipatory and retrocipatory directi­ons. It appears at the individual-structural side of reality. It replaces the structure of having a leading or qualify­ing aspect besides a foundational modal aspect, that is characte­ristic of virtually all other ‘radical types’. The structure of a human person lacks both a foundational and a qualifying modal aspect. It is charac­terized by the simultaneous occurrence of retrocipato­ry (‘bodily’) and anticipatory (‘spiritual’) functioning of a human person as a whole. This applies to all modal aspects of human functioning. Hence, the death of a person does not mean the separation of body and spirit: what remains is neither body nor spirit. And the resurrection concerns the human body as well as its spirit. From this point of view it would be rather silly to narrow the human mind down to his intellec­tuality.

The main incentive for human anticipatory activity is the experience of good and evil, to which we now turn.


The experience of good and evil

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

When paleontologists want to establish whether certain fossils are derived from ape-like or human-like beings they have to take recourse to non-biological characteristics, like the use of fire, clothing, tools and ornaments, the burial of the dead. The age-old tradition of seeking the difference between animals and human beings in human ratio­nality seems to lie behind us. At present one looks for this distinc­tion in culture, in language, in social organization and the like. In terms of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea this would mean that a human being is a subject in the post-psychic laws.

But we have already seen that being a subject in these aspects as such is not sufficient for the distinction between humans and animals. The difference is that animals at most function subjectively in a purely retrocipatory way, whereas human acts are anticipatory. During its history humanity has disclosed the various modal aspects. Human activity is not merely directed to the fulfilment of biotic and psychic needs, but is directed to answering a calling. Instead of speaking of the ‘act-structure’ (or the human mind) one could speak of the ‘answering structure’ of humanity.

In the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea the post-psychic aspects are usually called ‘normative’. According to this view norms have the character of laws which can be trespassed by the subjects concerned. Norms state how humans ought to behave, not how they actual­ly behave.

In my opinion the so-called natural laws also have a normative character as soon as they apply to human beings. There is some kind of gradual increase of ‘normativity’ from the earlier modal aspects to the later ones. Laws in later modal aspects have a more obvious normative character than the ‘natural’ laws. Still, a natural law like being fruitful becomes normative as soon as human subjects are involved.

The distinction between ‘natural’ and ‘normative’ is not a feature of the laws as such. A law becomes a norm, as soon as a human person makes the distinction between good and evil. Laws can only be norms for creatures having a conscience for norms.

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


The calling of mankind

All persons experience the calling to combat evil. This not only applies to evil observed in the plant and animal worlds, but also evil in themselves and in their fellow people. The calling to combat evil implies a sense of respon­sibility for plants and animals and for humanity.[41]

In my view this is the most relevant distinction between humans and animals. An animal takes the world as it is, as given. A human person attempts to better the world. The awareness of good and evil constitutes the basis of culture.

The sense of calling, which is the heart of human existence, cannot be traced back in any scientific way. From a philosophical point of view one can only establish that it exists. The question of the origin of this calling cannot be answered scientifically or philosophically, because it is a religious question. Hence the development of humanity from the animal kingdom cannot be scientifically explained or even dated. Rhetorical questions like: ‘Can you imagine that a gorilla mother gives birth to a human child?’ are there­fore quite irrelevant.

The cultural development of humanity arises from human creativity, the human ability to design and make new things in order to better the world. In a closed form, the cultural modal aspect concerns mastery, the use of things, plants and animals for one's own needs. In this respect ‘culture’ can also be found with animals: beavers building dams, ants exploiting aphides, birds using stones as tools, or building nests. The creativity of human beings discloses these possibilities and brings new ones to the fore.

Through cultural development humanity started to transcend the animal kingdom. For this end also language, the arts, society, the economic, juridical, ethical and faith aspects became disclosed. Each of these is a means to order, to promote the good, and to fight evil. A person no longer experiences the world merely as being psychical, but also as being logical, historical, and so on. More and more, the belief in one's calling has played a leading part in this evolution.

Let us now consider the distinction between evil and sin.



In the first few chapters of Genesis the story of good and evil is told in biblical language. One is often inclined to read the first and second chapters apart from the third, the creation apart from the fall into sin. Probably this devaluates the story of the creation as well as the story of the fall into sin. It is certainly better to read them as a whole.

For instance, the text telling that God created man and woman ‘after his image’ is more often than not cited out of its context. The context itself explains the meaning of this text: being the image of God means to rule the animal kingdom.[42] Genesis tells us that God makes humanity respon­sible for the creation, as a steward, as God's representati­ve on earth.[43] This interpretation avoids the idea of ma­king an image of God after man.

The story of the serpent tempting Eve and Adam suggests that before the fall into sin, evil was already present in the animal kingdom. This would mean that evil can be consi­dered apart from humanity. However, the categories good and evil only make sense from a human point of view, even though mankind perhaps recognized it at first in the animal world. Genesis 1 stresses repeatedly that God made the world ‘good’. Evil entered the world only with humanity, not in the sense that evil only then came into existence, but because humans are called to consider it as such. Only when human beings started to commit evil themselves did it become sin.

Increasing insight in the distinction between good and evil enables human beings to understand much better how to commit evil themselves. The belief in a calling degenerates into belief in one's own possibilities, love for one's neighbour into love for oneself, justice into arbitrariness, division of labour into slavery. Humanity wants to be allowed to use evil in order to further what is good in one's own eyes, the goal sanctifying the means. This is the fall into sin, from which humanity can only be saved by the complete sacrifice and self-denial of Christ.

The most pregnant expression of evil is death, destruc­tion. In a strictly biological sense death is not wrong, if it concerns the natural end of a plant or animal as a living individual. Human beings fight death, seeking eternal life. Genesis contains the promise of eternal life, meaning the knowledge of God. Eternal life is like a window, from which a human person can look outside the plant and animal king­doms. This window is opened by God himself, who allowed his son to become a man in order to tell us who is the father of humanity and the creator of the cosmos. Christ is the real image of God, by conquering death in his resurrec­tion. The victory over death does not mean that people will not die any longer, but that they have the prospect of resurrection, of eternal life.

Eternal life means the knowledge of God, which is much more than logically qualified insight. Eternal life means meeting the Lord, which is made possible because God himself became human. By meeting Jesus Christ in our heart and in our fellow men we also meet ourselves. True knowledge of oneself is absolutely connected to the knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ.

Hence we find that also our self-knowledge is dependent on subject-subject relations, the relations between human persons, of whom Christ is the first. Through him we have our relation to God.



If we accept that science is fully human activity, and also that humanity belongs in every respect to the created world, we can easily conclude that science has its limits, to wit the limits of the cosmos. Because they belong to the cosmos no person is able to transcend the cosmic boundaries.

Yet not everybody will accept this con­clusion. It is a temptat­ion, for instance, and frequent occurrence to suppose that logic and mathematics do not belong to the cosmos. They are supposed to contain eternal truths, because they are tautological, and empirically empty. It is said, for instan­ce, that God could have created the world in many different ways as long as the result is not self-contradic­tory - God considered subject to logical laws. René Descartes said it a bit more subtly. He said that God could perhaps have created a world in which two plus two does not make four, but then he, Descartes, would not have been able to understand that world. Put otherwise: mathe­matics and logic constitute unalienable aspects of our cosmos, and we cannot do without them.

According to John Calvin, God is neither subject to laws, nor does he act arbitrarily. With this remark Calvin distan­tiated himself on the one hand from scholastic rationalism, stating that God is subject to rationality, on the other hand from contemporary voluntarism, in which God's sover­eignty was absolutized to complete arbitrariness.

Apparently Calvin meant to say that God created the world in an orderly way, lawful, and moreover that he maintains the laws. This means that the world is rational indeed, and is thus fit to be investigated. But Calvin also implied that the idea of God being almighty, and therefore being able to do anything, is speculative. It means that not only space and time are created together with the whole concrete reality (such as astrophysics implies nowadays with respect to physical space and time), but also mathema­tics and rationality.

Accepting this radical view we should be careful not to apply mathematics and logic to situations outside the cosmos, to God himself, or to whatever preceded the begin­ning of the cosmos. Not only our physical insights, but also our mathematics and logic are altogether insufficient to understand that beginning, and whatever preceded it. In the third part of this paper we shall find occasion to say more about the boundaries of the cosmos.

Dooyeweerd states there does not exist a single ‘king­dom’ or ‘radical type’ of human beings, qualified by a single modal aspect. Humanity is characterized by the fact that it transcends all modal boundaries. Instead we recogni­ze a large number of kingdoms, in which people act in various ways, and which are therefore characterized by human activity - for instance, the kingdom of logically qualified structures of theoretical thought, the kingdom of human-made artefacts, the kingdom of all languages (qualified by, but to be distinguished from the lingual aspect), the kingdom of all social communities, the kingdom of all states and their legal parts, and so forth.

We have discussed some aspects of the position of human beings in the cosmos. We emphasized that human beings are part and parcel of the cosmos, in particular of the so-called natural kingdoms, but distinguish themselves from animals by transcending the natural kingdoms as well. This does not mean that humanity is able to transcend the bounda­ries of the cosmos. In order to have true knowledge of God it is sufficient to address oneself to Christ, who came into the world to become a subject to creational law, a true brother of any human person.




3.3. Humanity in the history of the cosmos


In section 3.3 we shall turn our attention to the history of the cosmos. This history may be divided in a first, very large part (the natural evolution before the rise of humanity), and a second part (the history of man­kind), which is relatively short, such that apparently the natural evolution has halted. The development of humanity during its existence took place at an accelerating pace. We shall mostly pay attention to the first part, and the transition to the second one.


Time as horizon

‘Time’ as intended both in colloquial language and in the sciences is merely a part of a set of relations between all things and events, their structures and their modal relations. The totality of relations and the order to which they are subjected we call ‘cosmic time’. It is an idea, an extension of the common concept of ‘time’ in a narrower sense. Presently we shall discuss the boundaries of the cosmos, arguing that these are determined by cosmic time.

Whenever our sight is not hampered by houses, trees or mountains the horizon marks the end of our sight. We know that the horizon is partly determined by our stand. By climbing a hill we change our horizon. We discover that the horizon is the end of our sight, but not the end of the world. Analogously, we speak of the horizon of our ex­perien­ce, which is just as plastic, because it is in­dividually and culturally determined.

The horizon of cosmic time is less individual, yet it is plastic. The whole creation is restricted in time, conceived as the network of all possible relations between all possible creatures. Because reality evolves, the horizon of time expands.

The dimensions of the horizon of time include past, present and future. The past leaves its traces, and the investigation of these traces provides us with insight into the evolution of the cosmos. Paleontological studies of various strata and fossils taught us a lot about the evolu­tion of our planet and the developing kingdoms of plants and animals. The evolution of the sun is mirrored in the state of the stars which are either younger or older. The history of humanity is recovered by archeological and historical research. The availability of written records is most important for our historical horizon.

In astrophysics, the idea of a horizon has recently become relevant. After the so-called big bang, i.e., the beginning of the development of the physical universe, the universe expands like a balloon. As a result all galaxies move away from each other. Astronomers are able to determine both the distances and the speeds of the galaxies. It turns out that the most remote systems move fastest.

Now the light reaching us from these galaxies needs time to reach us. Hence the picture we gain of them relates to states of affairs of a long time ago. The most distant systems are at the spatial horizon of the physical universe, and what we see of them shows events dating from shortly after the big bang. This marks the horizon of cosmic time in its spatial, kinematic and physical aspects.

It has become clear that the proper beginning of the astrophysical evolution remains behind this horizon forever. With the help of their theories based on observations, astrophysicists explore the possibility of coming very close to the big bang. But they realize that they can never reach that beginning. The theory aims to describe the evolution after the big bang, not the big bang itself.

It should be observed that the big bang had better not be identified with the creation in the beginning of the cosmos in a biblical sense, which is not primarily the creation of matter out of nothing, but the ordering of the cosmos, making possible the coming into being of all created things, plants, animals, and ultimately people.

According to astrophysics, the evolution since the big bang occurs according to laws that we (at least partly) know from our present-day experience. The extrapolation towards the past is based on the supposition that these laws have a constant validity.


The first living beings

In its biotic aspect too the cosmos is bounded by time. Elsewhere I have argued that the biotic subject-subject relation is characterized by descendence, the genetic relation.[44] The genetic law states that every living being descends from one or more other living beings. Consequently, the question of how the first living being came into exis­tence cannot be answered by biology alone. There is clearly no biotic relation between the first living being and whatever preceded it. It may very well be that the beginning of the biotic cosmos remains forever behind the biotic horizon, charac­terized by the very beginning of life in its concrete manifestations.

Speaking about the ‘biotic cosmos’ does not mean that it has a separate existence from the physical cosmos. It can hardly be doubted that the world of living beings arose from the physical world, even if we do not know how, and even if this would forever remain beyond the scope of our knowled­ge. Dooyeweerd[45] reasons that biotic being cannot arise from biotic non-being, which sounds Parmenidian. On the contrary, I contend that the rise of the biotic cosmos is consistent with the view that the creation is primarily ordering, not creation out of nothing. The coming into existence of the first living beings means the manifestation of biotic laws at a time when the circumstances allowed it.

In his extensive review of Jan Lever's Creatie en evolutie, Herman Dooyeweerd proposed to practise an attitude of ‘learned ignorance’ with respect to the problem of the coming into existence of living beings.[46] It is improbable that Dooye­weerd did not realize that this term was used by the fif­teenth-century philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cuse (and even earlier by Augustine). In 1440, Nicholas wrote De docta ignorantia, On learned ignorance. He argued that it is the aim of all science to determine the measure of all things, the mathematical relation to other things. However, there is no measure of the infinite, and God being infinite is unknowable.

I don't think it was Dooyeweerd's intention to accept this view, if only because in the present context he was not concerned with the knowledge of God, but with our insight in the coming into existence of plants, animals, and humans. He had too much respect for the sciences, realizing that all human knowledge is fallible. The philosophy of the cos­monomic idea assumes that reality is fundamentally knowable. Its lawfulness investigated by science is based in the creation, which is subject to laws given by God and maintai­ned by him according to his covenant. The pos­sibility to gain reliable knowledge of the world rests on this ground.

We can safely agree with Nicholas of Cuse that there is no autonomous road to the knowledge of God. Even for the knowledge of the cosmos humanity depends on investigation. Every scientist is bound to the states of affairs which he finds in reality.

Dooyeweerd had no intention to use the docta ignorantia thesis to discredit the results of science. The positivist view that science merely puts hypotheses, and that any set of hypotheses can always be replaced by an equivalent one is sometimes employed by Christians who feel threatened by scientific results. Within the framework of our philosophy this loophole is useless, however.

To acquiesce in the docta ignorantia thesis is an argument of embarrassment. The above formulated assumption that the beginning of the astrophysical and biotic evolution is hidden behind the horizon of cosmic time has a higher philosophical, i.e., explicative quality.

Dooyeweerd refused to accept that the rise of the various kingdoms can only be explained on a theological basis, i.e., by special creation. Dooyeweerd maintained that there does not exist any creation within the horizon of cosmic time. From the beginning the cosmos contained the possibility for the development of plants, animals and humans, even if its realization (the process of becoming, according to Dooyeweerd) is a matter of time.


A philosophical account of evolution

It might very well be possible to account for the coming into existence of the first plants and animals in a philosophical way. Evidently, this is widely different from a scientific explanation. Even if the problem of the rise of the first living beings can never be solved in a scientific way, a philosophical system like Dooyeweerd's cannot avoid the question of how to give a philosophical account of the successive realization of the various kingdoms. No serious philosophy would consider a supernatural deed of God, an act of creation in the course of time, as a scientific explana­tion.

The temporal relations of reality include the modal retrocipations and anticipations. An important part of the development of the creation concerns the gradual opening up of the anticipations. The study of the modal aspects, and of the kingdoms qualified by them, allows us to identify and study these anticipations.

It is a typical Dooyeweerdian thesis that the develop­ment of the anticipations in a certain modal aspect can only occur ‘under the guidance’ of a later aspect.[47] This is a dark and even mythical statement. A guiding role can only be attributed to individuals or groups of individuals, not to aspects. But Dooyeweerd's intention is sufficiently clear from the context.

Thus he states that the ‘bio-molecules’ having a physical-chemical structure anticipating the biotic functio­ning of a cell can only exist within the structure of a living cell. This is an old and often repeated thesis. Unfortunately, it is not altogether clear what kind of molecules is meant. Every time one is identified scientists succeed in producing it sooner or later outside a living cell.

Hence it may be wondered if the thesis is right. In fact it has no empirical or theoretical ground, and it seems to be as speculative as its reversal. At least we should investigate the possibility that under specified circumstan­ces the anticipations of certain structures would develop such that the emergence of new structures would be pos­sible. We should include the possibility that these ‘cir­cumstances’ are such that they are not experimentally reproducible, for instance, because they would need a very long time.

This is not altogether speculative. For physically qualified structures an analogical possibility is not only theoretically but even experimentally established. The structure of electrons and similar particles differs very much from that of photons, yet electrons emerge from photons spontaneously.


The irreducibility of the modal aspects

The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea is able to account for this phenomenon by pointing to the distinction between law and subject. Even if in certain circumstances electrons are absent, the structural law for electrons is valid. When the circumstances are favourable, electrons can emerge under conditions determined by this structural law.

The thesis that there is no law without subjects should not be interpreted to mean that the subjects should always actually exist. Every law has potential subjects besides actual ones. The law is not only valid at present, but also in the future. Thus we can maintain that the laws for life, learning, distinguishing, namegiving, etc., existed long before living beings existed, and the same applies to learning, distinguishing, or name-giving beings. The gradual development of the cosmos would have been impossible if otherwise.

According to this principle research into the rise of the first living beings is conducted. With the help of geological and paleontological facts one tries to establish the circumstances under which the first living beings manifested themselves. It cannot be denied that much specu­lation surrounds this kind of research, but that does not condemn it.

In describing the development of the universe over billions of years, astrophysics too assumes the validity of laws which have been found from contemporary experience. The lawfulness we discover in nature and in our laborator­ies we apply to happenings which we did not observe.

The distinction between law and subject allows us to meet a possible objection against our views as developed so far. It is the objection that evolution erases the idea of the mutual irreducibility of the various modal aspects. If the coming into existence of the first living beings would be a natural process, would that not imply that the biotic aspect is reducible to the physical one, after all?

I don't think so. As soon as the processes started that ultimately resulted in the coming into existence of living beings, the biotic laws became operative, as a new order, i.e., as an order irreducible to the physical one. The order in any living cell has a biotic character. In fact, from a physical point of view, cells are merely accidental aggrega­tes of molecules, with no physical ordering above the molecular level. Even the structure of wood (i.e., ‘dead’ matter) can only be understood with the help of biotic laws.

Hence the assumption that the evolution of living beings from non-living material is a natural process, according to natural laws, does not imply that we should reject the mutual irreducibility of the biotic and the physical modal aspects. That would only be the case if we assumed that the emergence of living beings can be explained with the help of physical-chemical laws only.

Mutatis mutandis similar remarks can be made with respect to the emergence of the animal world.


Evolution within the biotic kingdom

If the hypothesis that descendence is the fundamental biotic subject-subject relation is right, the universality of the biotic aspect implies that the family relation includes all living beings, past, present and future. If there would be no genetic relation between the individual members of various genera or orders, then these would form as many different biotic kingdoms. This is the philosophical foundation of the theory of evolution, which the biotic theory of evolution attempts to account for.

The fact that so far empirically founded theories explaining the evolution of various genera, orders and families have not been successful does not detract from the fact that the kingdom of all living beings is a biotically qualified kingdom, for which a philosophical system like the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea should account. We do not know how one genus has evolved from another one. We do not even know what conditions determine the stability of biotic structures. But we cannot doubt that if an explanation is found, it will be a natural one, in conformity with laws laid down by the creator of the world.[48]


Evolution in the animal kingdom

For the determination of the position of humanity in the cosmos it is crucial to rethink the evolution within the animal kingdom. Most important seems to be the development of the vertebrates, which since the Cambrium display a succession of jawless animals, fish, amphibians, reptiles, birds and mammals. Further research along our suggestion made above with respect to the subjective functioning of animals in the post-psychical aspects could lead to surpri­sing results for anthropology.

In the animal kingdom, too, evolution means a gradual, sometimes stepwise development of possibilities which have been laid down in the creation from the beginning. It would be highly interesting to find out if the (retrocipatory) functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects was subject to evolution. Unfortunately, behaviour cannot be fossilized.


The position of humanity in cultural history

The recognition of good and evil, the challenge of responsibility, marks the beginning of culture. This implies that the coming into existence of mankind cannot be traced in any scientific way, neither biologically nor culturally.

The opening up of the psychic and post-psychic as­pects, as well as the development of the kingdoms of humani­ty, is of eminent importance for the understanding of history. For instance, the tremendous growth of the indivi­dual memory of men and in particular the collective memory of mankind by the development of written language, the invention of printing, libraries and other bearers of information marks the pace of history. Education in the family and in schools is to a large extent directed to the appropriation of the entry to the collective memory of mankind.

In the cultural development the normative character of the law side of reality comes to the fore. That is one reason why one hesitates sometimes to call the natural evolution ‘history’. It is certainly meaningful to maintain a distinction between natural evolution and cultural histo­ry.

In particular one should distinguish the cultural development of humanity from the biotic and psychic evoluti­on within the kingdoms of plants and animals. The equivoca­tion of the two processes means to fall into the trap of evoluti­onism. Incidentally, it would be just as wrong to confuse the astrophysical evolution with the biotic one. The first is determined by physical laws, the latter by biotic ones.


The human I

The search for the position of a human being in the cosmos should be part of a discussion of the destiny of mankind, the meaning of reality, the unity of the creation and in particular of all human beings, their personality and character, their self-knowledge, and their relation to their true or assumed Origin. I have hardly touched on these questions, mainly because these are less often neglected than those related to the evolution of humanity. But of course they are not less important, and implied in our discussion.

It would be utterly wrong to relate the religious character of humanity exclusively to questions of destiny, unity and origin. I have tried to make clear that also the position of a human being in the cosmos is religiously determined. This follows from the transcendental character of the functioning of a person in the modal aspects, from the relevance of the recognition of good and evil with respect to the position of mankind in the natural and cultural kingdoms, and from the normative positioning of a human being in cultural history.

In this context it would be necessary to pay much more attention to the structure of the human body, the spirit, and the self. This would include a much-needed reflection on the distinction of man and woman, and on the distinction between the various phases of human life.

The individuality of every person, the ‘self’ or ‘I’, is the nodal focus of all relations between human beings and their fellow men and women, their environment, and their creator and redeemer.[49] To ignore these relations would, if possible, inevitably lead to getting lost in time.




General Conclusion


In pursuance of the discussion on anthropology in the context of Calvinian philosophy I have posed some questions regarding the position of human persons in the cosmos. It will be clear that I have been proposing more problems than providing solutions. My aim was to investigate why (in my view) the anthropology debate of the past years has borne so little fruit.

This paper explores some new roads for the development of a Christian anthropology, in particular, but not exclusi­vely, from a natural scientific point of view. Starting from Dooyeweerd's theory of cosmic time, Section 3.1 points out the relevance of the modal subject-subject relations for an understanding of the position of human beings in the cosmos. An analysis of the subject-subject relations in each modal aspect, and their analogies with respect to the other aspects, is a necessary prerequisite for the es­tablishment of a temporal reference system which enables us to determine the position of individual persons in the cosmos. For each modal aspect the relevant subject-subject relation is briefly and provisionally indicated.

Some problems with respect to such an analysis are mentioned, including difficulties concerning the order of the post-psychic modal aspects, a person's opposition­al attitude to the creation and his or her fellows, the instru­men­tal character of opened up subject-subject relations, the functioning of associations as modal subjects, the openness of mankind and the need for speciali­zation, the transformation of laws into positive norms, and the trans­cen­dental character of humanity.

In section 3.2 we discussed the position of a person within the ‘kingdoms’: the astrophysical cosmos, the biosp­here of the earth, the kingdom of animals, and briefly, the cultural kingdoms. In particular attention was paid to the distinc­tion between humans and animals. Although taking part in the kingdom of animals, a person transcends it because of his or her calling as a responsible being, to promote the good and to combat the evil. Whereas animals are functioning in the post-psychic modal aspects in a closed (retrocipato­ry, instinc­tive) way, mankind has disclosed all modal aspects in a normative sense.

In section 3.3 we discussed the position of humanity in history. Using the idea of the horizon of time an attempt is made to understand why some problems concerning the origin of the astrophysical cosmos, of the first living beings, and of the first human beings, will probably for always remain out of reach of the sciences. Finally, we indicated how the natural and cultural evolution of the cosmos can possibly be accounted for within the framework of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea.

And this is of the uppermost importance. This philoso­phy should never acquiesce in the image of a static system of modal aspects and idionomic structures, which will be its fate if it fails to account for the dynamics of the creati­on. If we want to avoid this trap we shall have to consider ‘creation’ and ‘development’ (both natural evolution and cultural history) not as contrary but as complementary ideas in our philosophy.

[1] Dooyeweerd 1949. On Dooyeweerd’s anthropology, see Ouweneel 1986.  From Ouweneel’s ‘Nabeschouw­ing’  (Conclusion) I cite (p. 418): ‘Als we de balans opmaken van ruim vijftig jaar christelijk-wijsgerige transcendentaal-antropologie, dan is het resultaat eigenlijk teleurstellend.’ (‘If we make the balance of more than fifty years of christian-philosoph­ical trancendental anthropology, the result is rather disappoin­ting’.)

[2] Verburg 1989, 350-360.

[3] Of course, a lot has been written on the subject of evolution, usually in a negative sense. See Kalsbeek 1968; ­Hughes 1961; Hart 1984; Verbrug­ge 1984; Keizer 1986, chapter 13.

[4] Lever 1956; Dooyeweerd 1959b.

[5] ‘So it appears that the theory of the enkaptic structu­ral whole forms the necessary connective link between the theory of the individuality-structures and their temporal inter­weavings, and what is called a philosophical anthropolo­gy’: Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III, 781.

[6] Dooyeweerd 1942. Most (but not all) theses can also be found in Ouweneel 1986.

[7] Stafleu 1985.

[8] Stafleu 1989, and with respect to psychical­ly qualified structures, Stafleu 1988. Accepting Ouweneel’s suggestion to divide the psychic aspect into a perceptive one and a sensitive one would make the num­ber of substructures 21. 15 or 21 substructures may seem abundant, but it presents an interesting possibility to map the extremely complicated structure of the human body.

[9] Cf. Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III, 781: ‘... the most important problem of philosophical reflection: What is man’s position in the temporal cosmos in relation to his divine Origin ? ... a philosophic anthropology presupposes an enquiry into the different dimensions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality structures.’

[10] According to Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV, the ‘act-life’ (‘act-leven’) of a human being is expressed in three fundamental directions: knowledge, imagina­tion, and volition  (‘... de drie grondrich­tingen van kennen, zich verbeelden en willen ...’). It is not difficult to recognize temporal relations in this triad: knowledge can only be based on past experience; insight in the present state of affairs does not only presuppose knowledge, but also imagination; and volition is evidently directed to the future.  All the same, it is not clear why knowledge, imagination and volition should be restricted to human acts, because animal behaviour contains the same elements.

[11] See, however, Dengerink 1986, 249.

[12] See Dengerink 1986, 222-223.

[13] Stafleu 1970; 1980; 1985; 1986;1988, 1989.

[14] The present chapter holds to the order of the modal aspects as proposed by Dooye­weerd. For an alternative order, see e.g. Hart 1984, 152, 190-198. The determination of the order of the post-psychic aspects is hampered by the fact that humans are simultaneously subject to all these aspects, which are moreo­ver functioning in so-called opened-up form. The study of the retrocipations is not much of a help either, because in the later aspects retrocipations become more and more complicated.

[15] Dooyeweerd 1953-58, II, 466 and beyond. For a discussion of Dooyeweerd’s views, see Strauss 1973, 1984; Dooye­weerd 1975-76; Denger­ink 1977.

[16] Cf. Stafleu 1981-82; 1987.

[17] Scientific work, qualified by the historic-formative aspect includes theoretical thought, qualified by the logical aspect, but it is more. Science also means experi­ment, obser­vation, calculation, excavation, dissec­tion, and many other forms of investigation that cannot be called ‘theoretical thought’. Science has a specific goal, i.e., the investiga­tion of the laws of the cosmos, whereas theoretical thought lacks an intrinsic goal, and is therefore applicable for various purposes. Theories are widely used, also outside science. The identification of ‘science’ with ‘theoretical thought’ has caused a lot of unnecessary confusion.

[18] Theoretical thought makes use of a number of logically qualified structures, which are absent in natural thought. These are concepts (numerically founded), state­ments or propo­sitions (spatially founded), theories (founded in the logical motion from axioms to proven theorems), etc. Of course, neit­her natural nor theoretical thought can be taken apart from the thinking subject, who as a human being always belongs to full reality. In a more or less complete analysis of theoreti­cal thought one has to consider all modal aspects and idiono­mic structures. See Stafleu 1987.

[19] The opposing attitude can easily lead to a dualism, as for instance in the humanistic motive of ‘nature and freedom’. In my opinion this is not restricted to the logical Gegen­standsrelation.

 [20] Griffioen 1986.

[21] A more relevant distinction would be between an organized association, based on authority and discipline, and an unorganized community, see Stafleu 2004. 

[22] Dengerink 1986, 237-239, relates freedom with the spatial aspect. In my view this can only be correct if freedom is considered a spatial retrocipation in the social aspect.

[23] Stafleu 2003.

[24] Dengerink 1986, 227, speaks about this aspect in terms of  ‘dienstbaar­heid of ter beschikking zijn’ (to be of service). Hart 1984, 191 uses the terms ‘... troth, loyalty and faithfulness ... Keeping troth is standing in permanent relations of trust, keeping one’s promise. Keeping troth is the subjective ethical response to the call for truth’. I think these categories belong to the aspect of faith or certi­tude. See also Stafleu 2007.

[25] T.S.Kuhn’s ‘paradigms’ and I.Lakatos’s ‘research pro­grammes’ both have a recognized ideological flavour. According to Kuhn and Lakatos these determine the ‘social matrix’ of a group of scientists.

[26] Cf. Kim 1983.

[27] Cf. Dengerink 1986, 223-227. Meanwhile, Dengerink 1989 adds the characterization of ‘eternity’ to the pistic aspect. This is a consequence of Dengerink’s view of time as being the first modal aspect, preceding the numerical one. I have given my comments on this proposal in Stafleu 1988.

[28] Cf. Stafleu 1985 and 1989. In part 2 of the present chapter I shall bypass the kingdoms qualified by the spatial and kinematic aspects.

[29] Roughly speaking, ‘things’ (including plants and ani­mals) are characterized by subject-object relations, whereas an ‘event’ is determined by a subject-subject relation. Cf. Stafleu 1985, 1989.

[30] Barrow, Tipler 1986, 3. For a discussion of astrophysical cosmology from a Christian viewpoint, see van Till 1986.

[31] This is called the ‘Weak Anthropic Principle’. It is nearly trivial, but it excludes models in which life, in particular human life, is impossible. This applies for instan­ce to a model which excludes the formation of carbon. The present theories of evolution cannot explain the rise of mankind, but can explain why it took so long.

[32] Cf. Barrow, Tipler 1986, 4. The so-called ‘Strong Anthropic Principle’ reads: ‘The Universe must have those proper­ties which allow life to develop within it at some stage in its history’, ibid. 21. It can be specified as ‘There exists one possible Universe ‘designed’ with the goal of generating and sustaining ‘observers’’, ibid. 22. Barrow and Tipler call this interpretation ‘religious’.

[33] Cf. Stafleu 1987, 44-45.

[34] Dooyeweerd 1953-58, I, 39; II, 81, 114; III, 58, 85.

[35] Cf. Lever 1973, 187-193. My views in this case are not identical with Denge­rink’s, 1986, 214, who effectively rejects the distinc­tion between subjects and objects with respect to all concrete things etc., stating that anything concrete is subject in all modal spheres. See also Hart 1984, 176-182 for a discussion of animals functioning in the formative aspect.

[36] Cf. Stafleu 1981-82.

[37] In fact, I am proposing here a definition of ‘instinc­tive behaviour’. Not all animal behaviour is instinctive: animals are able to learn, and can change their patterns of behaviour accordingly. See Stafleu 1988.

[38] Cf. Lever 1956, Chapter 5; ­Goudge 1961, 160-183.

[39] ‘The erect gait, the spiritual expression of the human face, the human hand formed to labour after a free project, testify to the fact that the human body is the free plastic instrument of the I-ness, as the spiritual centre of human existence.’ Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III. 3, 88. See also Dooye­weerd 1959b, 153.

[40] Only after the fall did Adam and Eve become conscious of the fact that they were naked, i.e., different from ani­mals. Clothing as a cultural phenomenon is typically human.

[41] Cf. Troost 1969, 21.

[42] Genesis 1,26: ‘Let us make man in our image and like­ness to rule the fish in the sea, the birds of heaven, the cattle, all wild animals on earth, and all reptiles that crawl upon the earth’. (This and the following quotations are taken from the New English Bible).

[43] Compare Genesis 1,26-28; 5,1; 9,6 with Genesis 5,3: ‘Adam ... begot a son in his likeness and image, and named him Seth’. This can hardly mean anything else but Seth’s destina­tion to become the successor or deputy of Adam as the religi­ous head of mankind. The genealogy of Jesus, God’s son, in Luke 3,23-38, ends with: ‘... son of Seth, son of Adam, son of God’. Also this can only have a religious meaning. Clearly, being the image of God is closely connected to being the son of God. The unity of mankind, personalized first by Adam, later by Jesus Christ, is not primarily given by its having a common ancestor, but because all people are children of God.

[44] Stafleu 1989, chapter 8; 1986.

[45] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 126ff.

[46] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 156-157.

[47] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 128-129: ‘... zgn. bio-chemi­sche en bio-physische processen, waarin de organische levens­functie zelve de leidende en richtende rol vervult.’ (... the so-called biochemical and biophysical processes, in which the organic function of life itself has a guiding and directional part.) Dooyeweerd stresses that an explanation for the rise of living beings through physical and chemical processes only would contradict his philosophy, in par­ticular the view that the biotic aspect is irreducible to the physical one.

[48] For more details, see Stafleu 1959, Sec. 8.4 and 1986, Sec. 9.

[49] Cf. Stafleu op.cit. 1989, 37. The human self is also called the ‘soul’ or the ‘heart’, and must be distinguished from the ‘spirit’ or the ‘mind’ as discussed in Sec. 2.5.






4. The cosmochronological idea

in natural science (1995)


Paper delivered at a conference at Hoeven, The Netherlands, 1995, published in  S. Griffioen, B.M. Balk (eds.), Christian philosophy at the close of the twentieth century, Kampen, 93-111.









4.1. Coherence: time makes reference

4.2. Interdependence: the metric of time

4.3. Diversity: temporal being

4.4. Dynamics: temporal becoming

4.5. Complementarity: the temporal position of mankind in and beyond the animal kingdom

4.6. Conclusion



In 1948, George Orwell coined the phrase ‘Big brother is watching you’[1], and in 1970, Ira Levin predicted in the near future everybody to wear a bracelet which on a scanner would identify the bearer’s ‘nameber’[2]. It does not require much fantasy to recognize our wrist-watch and bar-code. Ten years after 1984, we realize it is not big brother watching us, but us watching our watch. Tempus vitam regit[3]: ‘Time rules life’ could have been Dooyeweerd’s motto, too.

Never to become finished, the fourth volume of his great work, De wijsbegeerte der wetsidee, was to deal with the philosophy of time.[4] Instead Dooyeweerd published his views in a number of papers, later to be incor­porated into the first volume of A new critique of theoretical thought.[5] In 1935,[6] Dooyeweerd included the study of time into his five ‘fundamen­tal, but mutually insepara­bly cohering themata (themes)’, but in 1953 he wrote:

‘The problem of time cannot be a particular theme, since it has a universal transcenden­tal character, and as such embraces every particular philosophical question. It is the transcen­dental back­ground of all our further inqui­ries.’[7]

Dooyeweerd’s concepti­on of ‘cosmic time’, as he called it, turned out to be both original and controver­sial. As a tribute to his centennial, this paper reviews cosmochrono­logy to be an integrating idea in a Christian philosophy of modern natural science.

Dooyeweerd’s systematic philosophy is dominated by the idea of time. Like meaning makes religious sense of our life, cosmic time makes philos­ophical sense of the cosmos. Everything that is created is also temporal and vice versa, yet being created is entirely different from being temporal. Both terms are referential.

On the one hand, being created refers to the origin of the cosmos. It says that everything has a meaning which it does not derive from itself but from its maker.

‘Meaning is the [mode of] being of all that has been created and the nature even of our selfhood. It has a religious root and a divine origin.’[8]

The Christian idea of creation implies that nothing has autonomy, that all exist in Christ, in whom everything in heaven and on earth has been created, in whom the cosmos finds its religious unity. Moreover, for human people being created implies to bear responsibility. Dooyeweerd calls this dimension of human existence ‘supratemporal’.[9]

On the other hand, being temporal means that anything is related to eve­rything else, in past, present and future.

‘The intent of philosophy is to give us a theoreti­cal insight into the coheren­ce of our temporal world as an inter-modal coherence of meaning ... It is a temporal coherence .­.. Man is bound to time together with all creatures that are fitted with him in the same temporal order.’[10]

The cosmochronological idea expresses the diversity, the coherence and the dynamics of the cosmos. It is a philos­op­hical idea, by no means to be confused with our daily experience of time, which we shall call `common time’, the time of our natural ex­perience, the time of common sense.[11] Cosmic time is a philosophi­cal generalization of common time.

Ours is the century of science and technology. Western society has been changing at an unprece­dented rate. The status of science and technology evolved accordingly from a position at the fringe of civilization to its most dominant factor. Simultaneously, natural science became more and more aware of the temporal and transient charac­ter of the cosmos, of the biosphere and of the society we live in.

The first thing to observe is that science has become aware of the importance of many kinds of relations. Relations form the frame­work of cos­mochrono­logy.





4.1. Coherence: time makes reference


The use of calendars, diaries and clocks, agendas and time-tables, in short, public time, serves to organize our mutual relations. In a more general sense, cosmochro­nol­ogy means mapping the cosmos. The first thing one needs in a map is a grid, a system of reference, by which everything can be located and identified. Nothing exists in itself, and the existence of whatever can only be established by its relations to other things or events. Reversely, the reference systems have no meaning apart from the things they do relate, even cosmic time does not exist apart from concrete reality.

Such a grid is provided by each of the modal aspects. The order expressed by the first modal aspect applies to the numerical relations between any pair of things or events. The spatial order refers to relative spatial positions, the kinematic order to relative motions, etc.[12] Because each modal aspect is univer­sal, each provides us with a cosmic map. We don’t have a single map of the cosmos, but as many as there are modal aspects. And although these maps are all universal, we cannot do without any of them. Each modal aspect corresponds to a specific intersubjective relationship.[13]

The numerical aspect orders everything in a sequence, not only by numbers, but also by magnitudes like length, speed or energy. Common time contains this linear order, the order of earlier to later, the quantitative order of hours, days and years. But the numerical order does not imply an idea of the present, nor of simultaneity. It only displays an order of relative past and future, of earlier and later.

The spatial aspect provides us with the order of simul­taneity. At any time, as measured on the numerical scale, there are lots of spatially different things and events related to each other by their relative spatial positions. Together, the numerical and spatial aspects give a sense of diachro­nism and synchronism. Until the beginning of our century it was taken for granted that motion does not influence the numerical and spatial measures of time. But in 1905 Albert Einstein shocked the world by demonstrating the kinematic order to imply a relativiza­tion of the numerical and spatial orders. This relativiza­tion is unheard of in the common concepti­on of time and surprised physicists and philosophers alike. If two events are synchronous as determi­ned by one observer, they may be perceived diachronous by another one. The static order of relativity, the so-called `block universe’ or Minkow­ski’s space-time continuum, is often assumed to exhaust the idea of time.[14] However, the block universe does not provide a distinc­tion between past and future, and the present (the ‘now’) is absent.

Even common time contains more than diachronism and synchro­nism alone. These would not suffice to explain a common watch, for there is no transient flow of time in the combination of dia- and synchro­nism. In the block universe a temporal interval is nothing but the differen­ce between two tempo­ral moments, like a spatial interval is nothing but the dis­tance between two points in space. We need the kinema­tic aspect to give us a referen­ce system for any kind of motion. Motion is only conceivable if whatever is moving remains identi­cal to itself. This is the first instalment of present­ness. Relativity theory has shown that the present is not universal, its determination depends on the speed of the reference system. The present is invariably connected to some kind of in­dividuality, it is a particu­lar point of reference of something or somebody remaining itself. The present is determi­ned by the choice of one’s individu­al point of view, and is only the same for systems that do not move very fast with respect to each other. Hence the `now’ is based in the kinematic aspect, although it presup­poses the simultaneity of all events which also occur ‘now’. By the choice of an individual point of reference the past and the future are separated but still sym­metric, there is no distinction in prin­ciple.

The discrimination between past and future arises from the physical aspect, by order of the irreversibility of physical and chemical proces­ses. As a reference system the physical aspect implies everything in the cosmos to interact with anything else. If something would not be able to interact with other things (if it would be completely `inert’ or isolated from the rest of the world) it would not exist in a physical sense, it would have no physical meaning, it would not belong to the physical cosmos. Everything that exists in a physical or any other sense is embedded in cosmic time. Distinguishing past and future, the order of irrever­sibility allows of causal connections, a cause always preceding its effect. Irrever­sibility is highly relevant to the idea of individual­ity, things and events being subject to laws of probability. The actuali­zation of possibilities constituting the present is irre­ver­sible. Whereas the past is determined, leaves traces, and can be remembered, the future is open and can be influen­ced. Hence the asymmetry of past and future is based in the physical aspect.

There are as many temporal orders and relationships as there are modal aspects.[15] These include the biotic order of the generations, the order of descendence concerning the living beings, allo­wing of a taxonomy relating all species to each other. Biologists assume correctly that all living beings are geneti­cally related to each other. The psychic order concerns teleolo­gy, intentionality and purposive behaviour. These two orders cannot simply be reduced to the orders of dia- or synchronism, or to the kinematic and physical orders of time flow and irreversi­bility.

The temporal orders and the corresponding intersubjec­tive relations have given rise to much scientific thought and discus­sion during the present century. The revision of the ideas of time and space in the theory of relativity, the so-called measurement problem in quantum physics, and the discussion of the so-called arrow of time have greatly in­fluenced the development of physics and its philosop­hy.[16] The irrever­sibility of time is still hotly debated, because it does not fit into reductio­nist mechanist views, and this has its impact on the everlas­ting discussion of the interpre­tati­on of quantum mechanics.[17]





4.2. Interdependence: the metric of time


The modal aspects constituting the various maps are not indepen­dent of each other, on the contrary, they are strongly related. They display a numerical order, they are simultaneously operative, they refer dynamically to each other, one is irreversibly founded on the other, and they deepen each other’s meaning. For instance, the relativity of time and space mentio­ned above means the development of the numerical and spatial orders anticipating the kinematic one. The origin­ally static orders of dia- and synchron­ism become depen­dent on motion when an­ticipating the kinematic order of time. Also, the order of irrever­sibility which in physical systems would lead to a disconso­late uniformity is opened up in living systems that grow and flourish, apparently defeating physical laws.

With respect to the usual order of the modal aspects, retrocipati­ons and anticipa­tions concern references back­ward and forward.[18] They refer the various maps to each other and enrich their meaning. In fact, the maps would be quite useless if they were not related.

The natural sciences heavily depend on the possibility of making measurements. Retrocipations make numerical relati­onships to show themselves not only in mathematical states of affairs, but also in spatial, kinematic and physical magnitudes. The law for a magnitude, called its metric, allows of expres­sing spatial, kinematic, physical or technologi­cal relati­onships in numerical terms. By projecting the spatial, kinematic and physical maps on the numerical one, they become measurable. This is the basis of the mathema­ti­zation of modern science, the possibility to apply statis­tics and to design mathema­tical models of natural and technological systems, and to measure them. In turn, the avail­ability of measuring instru­ments is a fruit of the tech­nological opening up of physical systems, the explora­tion of the anticipations in the mathema­tical and physical aspects. Hence, the fact that physical relations can be measured depends in principle on numerical retrocipa­tions, in practice on technological anticipati­ons.

Now common time as measured by your watch turns out to be kinematic time, retrocipating to spatial and numerical time and anticipating later aspects. The standard of common time is determined by the kinematic law concerning motion uninfluenced by physical forces. This law for iner­tial motion covering equal distan­ces in equal time inter­vals delivers the norm for an accurate clock, whether mechanical or electronic. Common time as measured by a calendar is purely numerical, but the time measured by a clock, both in science and in common sense, is the metric of kinema­tic time, the objective measure of the flow of time. It is a small but important segment of cosmochrono­logy. Your personal watch shows you the present, here and now, in the flow of time. Because you want to partake in public time, you take care to have your watch synchronized with other clocks.

This is the moment to observe a remarkable shift in the natural sciences and technology. It is well known that during the 19th century mechanism was the leading world view of the natural sciences. Newton’s mechanics, now called classical, was considered the paradigm of all sciences. This world view broke down by the introduc­tion of relativity theory and quantum physics. An additional breakdown is generally overlook­ed, however. During the 20th century, mecha­nics as a standard of measurement was replaced by electro­nics, not only in physics but in chemistry, biology and technology as well. In the first half of this century all measure­ments were still ultimately reduced to the measure­ment of mechanical forces, the received standard of physi­cal interac­tion. After the rise of solid state technology and the development of transistors and chips, measuring now means the comparison with electric effects. For an example consider the measurement of ordinary time. You all remember that accurate clocks used to be mechanical ones. But now probably each of you carries an electronic watch, and you are aware that you hardly ever have to adjust it, contrary to your earlier mechanical devices. The paradigm of the natural sciences is no longer mechanics, but elec­tronics.

Mechanism is a kind of reductionism, the view that all states of affairs in one aspect can be reduced to an earlier aspect, in this case the aspect of motion determi­ned by mechanical forces acting between unchangeable elementary particles. Mechanism is no longer fashionable, but the idea that physics can be reduced to mathematics, and biology to physics and chemistry is still very much alive. The existence of retrocipations accounts for the success of reductionist schemes, but the neglect of anti­cipations bars the develop­ment of a fruitful philosophy of science. This is reinforced by the usual neglect of the duality of modal laws and typical structures, to which we now turn.





4.3. Diversity: temporal being


If we compare each modal aspect with a grid on a map, the structures could be compared with towns. The structures form nodal points in our cosmochronology. In fact, Dooye­weerd’s theory does not concern structures, but structural types (not towns but types of towns), and Dooyeweerd only discussed so-called thing-like structures.[19] It is tempting to demon­strate Dooyeweerd’s philosophy to be able to account for the intrica­te structures as discovered by the natural sciences in the past century. However, I shall restrict myself to making some brief remarks on the temporal character of individual things, plants and animals, in order to show the transition from the modal aspects to the nodal points of individu­ality.


Unity and diversity

Dooyeweerd stressed the unity and persistent identity of a thing to be an unalienable part of our natural expe­rience. However, many states of affairs discovered by scientific research are not open to natural experience. Moreover, natural experience cannot provide science with data, because by its nature it is not documented, not open to scienti­fic research. Yet there is a continuity between natural and scientific experience.

Both in daily life and in science, a thing is experienced as a unit with specific properties. Nearly a century ago an atom was established to consist of a nucleus and a number of electrons. Yet an atom is known as a unit with a specific mass and chemical properties. It is a unity, and there are a lot of them, there are many hydrogen atoms with the same characteristic properties. The unity of a thing is based in the aspect of quantity, but its meaning is not confined to quantity.

For instance, the structural likeness of all electrons gives rise to an important structural law for systems containing more than one electron. This is the so-called exclusion princi­ple discovered by Pauli in 1925, saying that two electrons can never occupy the same physical state. This structural law accounts for the enormous diversi­ty of nuclei, atoms, molecules and crystals. Without this law, and without the structural likeness of all electrons, life and this confe­rence would be impossible.


Coherence or wholeness

With the exception of elementary particles like electrons, a thing exhibits a spatial coherence of its parts. The spatial coherence of a physically qualified thing like an atom is of a physical nature, it is determined by an equilibrium of physical forces. Likewise, the unity and coherence of a plant is biotically determined. Yet coherence is a spatial category, subject to the order of simultaneity. It has only sense to speak of coherence if it concerns simul­taneously present parts.


Identity and persistence

The identity and persistence of a thing comes to the fore when it is subject to change. The original kind of change is local motion. It has only sense to speak of local motion if the moving subject remains itself, maintaining its identity, and this is also the case in other kinds of change, like the metamorphosis of a caterpillar. Only when ceasing to exist the thing loses its identity.

A criterion of identity is the law that a moving thing cannot be simultaneously at different positi­ons. According to the theory of relativity the speed of a material thing is always less than the speed of light. Faster moving things, called `tachyons’, could be at two different positions at the same time, such that their identity could not be established. In the event that according to one observer a tachyon is emitted, another observer would see it being absorbed. The order of emer­gence and perishment would be reversible. For these rea­sons it is doubtful whether we would be able to recognize a tachyon. We would have to invent a new definition of `existence’.


Stability and duration

The individual duration of a thing is the time between its coming into existence and its perishment. Dooyeweerd considered duration to be the subject side of cosmic time, but in my opinion this is too narrow, the subjectside of cosmic time also including the modal and structural inter­subjective relations.

During its existence a thing has a certain stability. An atom has  stable and metastable states. If it is in a metastable state, sooner or later it emits light or some other kind of radiation. A radioactive nucleus transforms itself into a different nucleus. Most elementary particles are unstable. The duration of a metastable state is deter­mined by the law of decay, saying that at every moment the probability for the system to be transformed during a specified time to come is 50%. The so-called half-life time is specific for the system or state concerned. I want to draw your attention to the fact that the validity of the law of decay is absolutely independent of the system’s past, and to the fact that the law applies to structural wholes, not to mixtures. The composition of a mixture betrays its past, but a physical­ly qualified structural whole has no past.

The existence of a thing can be terminated by some external cause, for instance a collision. The stability of a thing means that it is able to resist such external influences, to a certain extent. In physics this is ex­pressed by the system’s binding-energy, the minimum energy needed to break it up. A stable molecule remains intact as long as its binding energy is more than the mean energy of the collisions of the molecule with other ones. The mean collision energy is determi­ned by the temperature.

In a solid a criterion for stability is its melting point. The higher its melting point, the stabler the solid. Only chemically pure systems have a definite mel­ting point, solid mixtures have not. Stable things have a measure of periodicity. In atoms, molecules, nuclei and the solar system this is a numerical periodicity, the constant frequency of circular or elliptic motion. In a solid it is the spatial periodicity of the long-distance order of the crystalline structure.

For plants and animals stability has consequences for their mean future life time, which sometimes depend on their age, sometimes not. More than for physical systems, the actual life time of an individual plant or animal is determined by external influences.


Differentiation and integration

Since the 19th century it is known that a new plant or animal develops itself starting from a single fertilized cell, after the fusion of a female with a male cell. This process is strongly controlled by a DNA-molecule. In the fertilized egg cell the DNA-molecule is derived half from the female, half from the male parent. In processes con­trolled by DNA both lawlike and individual elements play a part. The lawlike part implies that fertilization usually only occurs if the parents belong to the same species and have similar DNA-molecules. The individual part means that a DNA-molecule also contains a lot of stochastic informa­tion, determining the individual appearance of the new plant or animal.

The DNA-molecule controls the functioning of each cell of the plant, and also its development, the growth of one single cell to the adult plant or animal during its exis­tence. During this process many new cells emerge which though having the same DNA-structure differ from one to the next. The identity of the cells is limited by but also distinguishable from the identity of the plant of which it is a part. Besides this differentiation we see a process of integra­tion, of cells forming a tissue, tissues forming organs like roots, leaves or flowers, together making the plant an organized whole.

This idionomic development of a plant, by differentia­tion and integration, is typical for biotically qualified structures. It is determi­ned by the internal structural law for the plant.



The internal differentiation and integration gets a new dimension in the form of the experience of every animal during its life, in particular during its youth. The individuality of an animal is to a large extent determined by its experience. This is structurally limited by its specific ability to learn and by its age.

Animal behaviour is partly inborn, partly determined by the animal’s ex­perience, and partly by its perception of the environment. Hence an animal has a sense of past, present and future and of their continui­ty. An animal has a memory, it has knowledge of its environ­ment and it has expectations, together leading to purposive actions. A higher animal feels emotions like fear, anger, uncertainty, when its memory of the past, perception of the present and expecta­ti­ons of the future do not match.


To conclude, although each of these six categories is based in one of the first six modal aspects, they are nevertheless not determi­ned by modal laws but by the idionomic structure of the individuals concer­ned. Together they are knotted into a single structural whole. They show how the modal aspects of tempora­lity are tied up into a typical structure. And I should add, they relate to human persons as well.





4.4. Dynamics: temporal becoming


During the twentieth century, the standard philosophy of science has become more realistic. At first it was domina­ted by the positivist view that science is only concerned with observations of pheno­mena, but the succes­ses of solid state theory, astro­phy­sics, nuclear physics, and their technological applica­tions have forced philosop­hers to acknowledge the existence of a structured reality behind the phenomena. This development confirms Dooye­weerd’s theory of structu­res.

His typology concerns structures of individual things. Therefore Dooyeweerd’s system gives the impression of being static, and his famous review of Lever’s Creation and evolution[20] reinforced that impressi­on. But the core of cosmochronology is the dynamic develop­ment of the cosmos, of the earth, and of mankind. In our century, astrophysical and biologi­cal theories of evolution have matured, beco­ming more and more consistent. In order to account for this, I propose to pay attention to the structures of aggregates, events and proces­ses. If structures of things can be compared with towns, events and processes look like traffic in and between towns.


Theories of everything

At the close of a century it seems tempting to assume that physical science is nearing completion. At the close of the 18th century Laplace thought that after Newton only a few minor problems remained to be solved, but in the 19th century chemistry came to fruition, electricity was deve­loped and thermal physics arrived at new in­sights. At the end of the 19th century people like Michelson and Kelvin were of the opinion that virtually all physical problems were solved, and Max Planck as a student was advised to study something more promising. Shortly after came relati­vity and quantum mechanics, followed by nuclear physics, solid state physics and astro­physics.

And now we are made to believe that physics is at the verge of discovering the philos­opher’s stone, the Theory of Everything.[21] It is supposed to explain the coherence of the so-called fundamen­tal forces of nature, to wit, electro­magnetism, the nuclear forces and gravity. The unified theory should include both quantum physics and general relativity. To call this a Theory of Everything is both preposterous and wrong.

It is preposterous like somebody’s claim to understand everything about chess or football because he knows the rules of the game. Knowledge of the coherence of the fundamental interactions would be very interesting and a great achievement, but it would not help us a bit to understand the structures studied in a field like solid state physics.

It is also utterly wrong as far as it stems from an old-fashioned reductionism, as if everything could be explained from the knowledge of physical laws, presumably modal laws.

This unified theory does not exist yet, quantum theory and general relativity being at cross-purposes. Among other things, it aims to explain the genesis of the physi­cal cosmos. As you know, astrophysics assumes that the universe has started its existence some fifteen billions years ago in a big bang. The now received theory does not claim to explain the very start of this process, it only describes its development after the start. It describes what Dooyeweerd has called the opening process of the creation, the coming into being of natural things accor­ding to laws, given by the Creator. This is a natural process, which does not mean that it could have occurred without the continuous support of the Lord. The theory does neither explain where the natural laws come from nor why they are universally valid.

The astrophysicists tell us that during the process not only things and events came into existence, but even physical space and time themselves. From our point of view, this means that space and time only make sense if providing a framework for the mutual relations between concrete things and events, and do not exist apart from the latter. Space, time and concrete matter were created toge­ther.

It should be clear that the big bang is not to be identified with the creation in a religious sense. At the start of this review I emphasized the distinc­tion between ‘creational’ and ‘temporal’. The temporal is subject to scientific research, the creational is not. Science is only concerned with what happened and happens in cosmic time. It is not concerned with the relation of the temporal universe to the Eternal.



There is another reason why a theory of everything cannot be expected to explain all that happens. I refer to the occurrence of probability as a main factor of the theory, which includes quantum physics. In order to calculate the effects of large numbers of systems like the molecules in a gas, nineteenth century physics made use of probabi­li­ty, but only for practical reasons. It was generally believed that the future motions and interacti­ons of the molecules were fully deter­mined by present positions, velocities and forces. But radioacti­vity first and atomic physics next have taught us that most processes are intrinsi­cally stochastic. This means, first that molecules and similar systems have an individu­ality of their own, secondly that their motions and inter­actions are not completely determined by natural laws. They do not occur independent of laws, but every law leaves room for individuality. It also means that a theory can never give a complete account of what happens, even at the physical level. From a philosophical point of view this is one of the most revolu­tionary changes in our world view.

Probability refers to processes and events, and the fact that each process has its own probability shows that it has a typical structure.



In quite a different way determinism got a blow from the so-called chaos theory. Natural laws were assumed to determi­ne the course of events in any closed system if its state was fully established at some initial time. Recently it has become clear that even a very slight difference in the initial state gives rise to very large differences after a relative­ly short time. It all depends on the precision with which the initial state can be determined. Now this is limited in two ways. First, quantum mechanics has shown that even for a closed system the initial state cannot be defined with infinite accuracy. Second, it has become clear that a closed system is an idealization that cannot be achieved. A well-known example concerns the terrestrial atmosphere, which cannot be treated as a closed system. Therefore our knowledge of its present state, however accurate, does not allow of predicting the weather for more than a couple of days.

More than in the nineteenth century, modern science is interested in events and processes. The natural laws have not lost their charac­ter of causal laws, but to apply them to open systems demands a new approach.


Events and processes

Whereas the structure of a thing, a plant or an animal concerns a more or less well defined individual, events concern relations between individuals. Above I mentioned the modal intersubjective relations, such as the relative position or motion of two things. Besides these general modal relations, many events have a specific character and therefore a structure of their own. Consider, for instan­ce, two kinds of collision between the molecules in a gas. Usually a collision only changes the particles’ position and state of motion, and such an encounter has a purely modal character. But sometimes the colliding molecules form a new molecule, and this is only possible if the colliding molecules match. A typical amount of energy is needed or is released. A chemical process (consisting of a large number of such collisions) conforms to a typical law, it has a typical structure which does not fit into Dooye­weerd’s typology.

Even the existence of the so-called elementary parti­cles appears to be a continuing process. Quantum electro­dynamics shows that no electron can ever be isolated from its surroundings. It continuously interacts with the electromagnetic field, and in the process positive and negative electrons besides photons are created and annihi­lated. This is in striking contrast with the age old idea that the fundamen­tal building stones of matter, whether atoms or elementary particles, are unchangeable and ever­lasting.


Aggregates of life

Typical processes occur on the basis of aggregates or mixtures, under strictly determined circumstances, such as temperature. Life on earth could never have arisen without a rich variety of chemical elements and their compositions.[22] In the universe hydrogen and helium are abundantly present, all other elements being rare compared to these two. At a very high tempera­tu­re such as occurs in a star, elements are formed from hydrogen and helium, at a lower temperature to be con­centrated into planets.

Typical processes do not occur in all kinds of mixtures, but only in aggregates with a certain kind of compo­sition, often within rather strict limits. The members of the aggregate must have a structural relatedness allowing of typical processes.

On our map of the cosmos we find various kingdoms. In the kingdoms of plants and animals aggregations constitute the basis of evolu­tionary processes. Elsewhere I have pointed out that four typical aggregates of life are operative in biotic evoluti­on: genes, biotopes or ecosys­tems, niches and populations.[23] They exhibit a certain kind of individuality different from that of a plant or a cell or a flower. Their typicality is not determined by their own struc­tures, but by structural relation­s between the members of the aggrega­te. Each of them is based in one of the modal aspects preceding the biotic one.

The theory of evolution turns out to depend on a number of unchan­geable laws concerning heredity, abundancy, equilibrium and exclusion in biotic aggregates. The kingdoms of plants and animals are in a permanent state of evolution. The present theory of evolution is only able to explain small nearly continuous transitions, in other respects it is far from complete. Nevertheless, apart from a number of gaps or missing links the general picture of the evolution from the big bang to the present state of the plant and animal kingdoms is quite satisfactory.[24]

Any philosophy of nature should be able to account for the natural processes occurring in various types of aggre­gates. Still absent in our philosophy, a typology of aggregations, processes and events would provide a valuable contribution to the continuing debates on evoluti­on.

But before that we should get rid of some dualisms.





4.5. Complementarity: the temporal position

of mankind in and beyond

the animal kingdom


The main purpose of any cosmochronology is to determine the position of mankind in the cosmos. I shall discuss a possible entrance to anthropology starting from natural philos­ophy.[25] It should go without saying that this is not the only possible entrance.


Functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects

In the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea it is common understanding that animals do not function as subjects in the post-psychic aspects.[26] The logical aspect being the first aspect after the psychic one, this view confirms the tradi­tional opinion that a human person distin­guishes himself from an animal in particular because of his rational­ity, his ability to think, his intelligence. It therefore detracts from another view of this philosophy, namely that a person is primarily religious.

Recently I have called in question whether it is true that animals, or at least the so-called higher animals, cannot be subjects (rather than objects) in the post-psychic aspects,­ putting forward the following hypothesis. In the post-psychic aspects, if animals act as subjects, they do so always retrocipatory, i.e., referring to their biotic and psychic needs.[27]

The subjec­tive function­ing of animals in the post-psychic aspects is invariantly primitive and instinctive, often coercive, though animals are able to learn from their mistakes. It is retrocipatory, never anticipatory. It is retrocipatory, because even post-psychic behaviour of animals serves their biotic and psychic functioning, in particular fee­ding, reproduc­tion and survival of the species. Human activity, on the con­trary, is opened-up, anticipating, transcend­ing the temporal order, and therefore religious. Human anticipato­ry acts are cultural, contrary to the natural, retrocipatory behaviour of animals.

This view induces a new understanding of the distinc­tion between ‘normative’ and ‘natural’. In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, the first six modal aspects are called natu­ral, the others normative. I don’t think this makes sense. I propose to call the activity of human beings ‘normati­ve’, because only men and women have to answer to laws, even natural laws, in a responsible way. For instance, it is a norm that an accurate clock conforms to the natural law of inertial motion. Animals are not responsible for their behavi­our, even if they are subject to the post-psychic modal aspects. Hence normativity is not coupled to aspects but to humanity.

This view makes transparent the fallacy of evolutio­nism, that attempts to explain everything, even human behaviour, in evolutionary terms. By ignoring the distinc­tion between animal retrocipatory natural behaviour and human anticipatory normative acts, reductionist evolutionism foregoes any insight into the uniqueness of humanity, in particular human responsibility.


The structure of the human body

In biological taxonomy a human being is considered a mammal, belonging to the order of the primates. Dooyeweerd’s theory of ‘enkapsis’, the interlace­ment of structures, accounts for this state of affairs. The structure of a human body is inter­laced with an animal substructure, and its nature determines a person’s position in the animal kingdom. Likewise, because of its organic substructure, an animal belongs to the organic kingdom, which it simultaneously transcends. The structure of an animal is not biotically but psychically qualified. Hence to assign mankind a place in the animal kingdom does not imply that its structu­re is psychically qualified.

The structure of the animal body, in which biotic, physical, kinema­tic and spatial substructures are interlaced, is designed for the animal’s behaviour, whereas the human body is designed for responsible activi­ty. In several respects the animal substructure of a human being is much more developed than the structu­re of any animal.[28] Human thought is localized in the cerebral cortex, in particu­lar the neo­cortex, which is absent in most animals. In mammals it is present only to a small extent. The cultural aspect of human activity is most pregnantly expressed in the hand, an organ that is far more developed than whatever compara­ble animal organ. The nerve cells related to the hands take a relatively large volume in the human brain. The lingual aspect finds its counter­part in the speech centre, again a substantial part of the brain. The larynx, the tongue and the muscles of the jaws are such as to make speech possible. The structure of the human face is made to show joy, sorrow or anger. In fact, a human being is far more emotional than any animal.

All these and many more differences in the body struc­ture of humans and the most related animals point to the open character of the ‘act struc­ture’ of a human person.

‘The erect gait, the spiritual expression of the human face, the human hand formed to labour after a free project, testify to the fact that the human body is the free plastic instrument of the I-ness, as the spiritual centre of human existence.’[29]

It shows how much the human body is directed to spiritual life. The open character can be under­stood from the view that a person knows what it is to be called to bear res­ponsibili­ty, because he or she knows the difference be­tween good and evil.

Scientific knowledge of the functioning of the human body has increased enormously during the twentieth centu­ry, yet much is still not understood. In particular the age-old distinction of body and mind is still haunting us. The main pitfall is to identify the `body’ with the mate­rial, i.e. the physical, organic and psychical substructure of human existence on which the `mind’ is superposed.


Duality versus dualism

The distinction between human persons and animals is often expressed by the supposed lack of a ‘mind’ or ‘spirit’ in animals. This leads to the suggestion to relate the dis­tinction of body and spirit to the complemen­tary directi­ons of retrocipation and anticipa­tion. Complemen­tarity is a concept introduced in quantumphysics by Niels Bohr in order to account for the dual aspects of wavelike and particlelike functioning of electrons and photons.[30]

Animal functioning in the post-psychic aspects (if present) is always retrocipatory, instinctive, directed to biotic and psychic needs. The functioning of a person, as far as it is retrocipatory, does not differ very much from that of the higher animals. But the human spiritual func­tioning (the `act-structure’ according to Dooye­weerd) is mostly anticipat­ory, directed towards the opening up of all modal aspects, and even transcending them.

This should not be misunderstood as the resurrection of the age old dualism of body and mind, supposed to be two different substances, whether or not interacting with each other.[31] I reject this dualism as much as I question the dualistic division between the ‘natural’ modal aspects and the ‘spiritual or ‘normati­ve’ aspects. A dualism means a division into parts, like the nineteenth century dualism of electro­magnetic and other waves versus material particles, or the division of a human being into a body and a soul as distinct substances, or the division of natural and normative aspects. A duali­ty means that something has two sides, like the wave-particle duality in quantum physics, or the law-subject duality, or the duali­ty of anticipato­ry and retrocipato­ry directi­ons in the order of the modal aspects.

The structure of a human person is characterized by the simul­taneous occurrence of retrocipato­ry or bodily and an­ticipatory or spiritual functioning of a human person as a whole. This applies to all modal aspects of human functio­ning. Hence, the death of a person does not mean the separation of body and spirit, and his resurrection con­cerns the human body as well as the spirit.

This concept of spirit or mind should not be confused with the idea of the human soul, his heart, the centre of his existence as a religious being. The main incentive for human anticipatory activity is the ex­perience of good and evil, to which we now turn.


The temporal experience of good and evil

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

When paleontologists want to establish whether certain fossils are derived from ape-like or human-like beings they have to take recourse to non-biological characteris­tics, like the use of fire, clothing, tools and ornaments, the burial of the dead, in short, anticipatory activity. During its history mankind has disclosed the various modal aspects. Unlike animal behaviour, human activity is not merely guided by the fulfillment of biotic and psychic needs, but is directed to answering a calling.

The awareness of good and evil marks the birth date of humanity. The fact that animals can learn shows them having a sense of lawful­ness. But only people consider laws as normative, as providing principles for normative activity. Human beings have discovered the exis­tence of good and evil, in the animal world, in their environ­ment, and last but not least in their own communi­ties. This discovery included the phenomenon of illness of plants and animals. Every biologist can explain that illness as such is a natural condition. Only from a human point of view does it make sense to say that a plant or an animal being ill is anti-normative. The so-called struggle for life, too, is experienced as anti-normative by people only.

All persons experience the calling to combat evil. This not only applies to evil observed in the plant and animal worlds, but also to evil in themselves and in their fellow people. The calling to combat evil implies a sense of respon­sibility for plants and animals and for humanity, for the `environment’ as it is now called. An animal takes the world as it is, as given, whereas a human person attempts to improve the world. The awareness of good and evil con­stitutes the start of cultural development, including science and technology.

The sense of calling and responsibility is at the heart of human existence, it is the driving force of any world view and cannot be traced back in a scientific way. From a philosophical point of view it can only be established to exist as a matter of fact. The question of the origin of this calling cannot be answered scientifically or philos­ophically, because it is a religious question. Hence the development of humanity from the animal kingdom cannot be scientifi­cally explained or even dated. Rhetorical questi­ons like: `Can you imagine that a gorilla mother gives birth to a human child?’ are therefore quite irrelevant. Animals have no self-consciousness, and nobody can tell how self-consciousness in human beings arises.

Increasing insight into the distinction between good and evil enables human beings to understand much better how to commit evil themselves. The belief in a calling degenerates into belief in one’s own pos­sibilities, love for one’s neighbour into love for oneself, justice into arbitrariness, division of labour into slavery, care into neglect. Humanity wants to be allowed to use evil in order to further what is good in one’s own eyes, the goal sanc­tifying the means. Natural science did not escape from this, as testifies the development and use of poison gas, atomic bombs and smart projectiles. This is the fall into sin, from which humanity can only be saved by the complete sacrifice and self-denial of Christ.

The most pregnant expression of evil is death, destruc­tion. In a strictly biological sense death is not wrong, if it concerns the natural end of a plant or animal as a living individual. Human beings fight death, seeking eternal life. In a Christian sense, eternal life does not mean the perpetuation of temporal life, but the true knowled­ge of God. It is like a window, from which a human person can look outside the plant and animal kingdoms, in the anticipatory direction. This window is opened by God himself, who allowed his son to become a man in order to teach us who is the father of humanity and the creator of the cosmos.

By meeting Jesus Christ in our heart and in our fellow men we also meet oursel­ves. True knowledge of oneself is absolutely dependent on the knowledge of God in the person of Jesus Christ, who is the only image of God. Hence our self-knowledge is dependent on temporal relations between human persons, of whom Christ is the first, the alpha and omega of cosmic time.

Our religious experien­ce starts from our heart, our self-conscious­ness, and pro­ceeds through our anticipa­ting activity, pervading all aspects of human experience. Both philosophers and scientists have become aware that the natural sciences themselves are dependent on the point of view taken by the human observer. This has been emphasized in relativity theory and quantum mechanics, and recently in the so-called anthropic principles, which explore the relevance of human existence for astronomy, physics and biology.[32]





4.6. Conclusion


I have presented a survey of cosmic time, ending up with anthropology. This is, I think, in line with the words of Dooyeweerd with which he concluded his New critique:

‘So it appears that the theory of the enkaptic struc­tural whole forms the necessary connective link between the theory of the individuality-structures and their temporal interweavings, and what is called a philosophical anthropology.

All our previous investigations have been nothing but a necessa­ry preparation for the latter. They all implicitly tended to the ultimate and doubtless most important problem of philosophical reflection: What is man’s position in the temporal cosmos in relation to his divine Origin ? ... The really philosophical problems concerning man’s position in the temporal cosmos cannot be rightly posited without a due in­sight into the transcendental conditions of philosop­hic thought. And in addition a philosophic anthropo­logy presupposes an inquiry into the different dimen­sions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality struc­tures.’[33]

I have taken the liberty of exploring one way to a philos­ophical anthropology, the way through the natural king­doms. I am not suggest­ing this to be the only possible way, I am not an evolutionist. But it is a necessary part of a Christian philosophy of nature and of mankind. The various modes of temporal experience and existence which I have mentioned are concentrated into the human selfness, in our consciousness of being a temporal creation, embed­ded in the whole cosmos, with knowledge of the eternal. The natural sciences are not able to explain the rise of humanity, but if the results of science could not be related to anthropology, our philosophy would be in vain.

By introducing a new term, cosmochronology, I wish to emphasize the importance of the idea of cosmic time both in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy and in science. Relations constitute the framework of cos­mochrono­logy, the structures form its nodal points. The core of cosmochronology is the dynamic develop­ment of the cosmos, and its main purpose is to determine the position of mankind in the cosmos.

Dooyeweerd’s vision of time, now over fifty years old, is able to account for many modern insights. It deserves to be stu­died, to be amplified, and to be developed in continuous confrontation with current views in philosophy and in science, not only at the close of the present century, but also in the century to come. In particular Dooyeweerd’s philosophy should be developed into a theory of change, in order to account for a world that is not static but dyna­mic.


[1] Orwell 1949, 5.

[2] Levin 1970, 17.

[3] Landes 1983, 360.

[4] WdW I, 37; III, v.

[5] Dooyeweerd 1936-39, 1940; NC I, 22-34; Popma 1965; Brüggemann- Kruyff 1981-82.

[6] WdW I, 505.

[7] NC I, 542.

[8] NC I, 4.

[9] NC I, 31, 101.

[10] NC I, 24.

[11] NC I, 33-34.

[12] NC II, 79-106.

[13] Stafleu 1970, 1980.

[14] Minkowski 1908.

[15] Staf­leu 1985, 1986, 1988, 1991.

[16] Stafleu 1970, 1980.

[17] Coveney, Highfield 1990.

[18] NC II, part I. By an unfortunate term, the anticipations and retrocipations are called ‘analogies’. This is unfortunate (if not wrong), because analogy’ is a logical rather than a cosmological category, like ‘metaphor’ is a lingual one. The modal aspects are analogous to each other because of having retro- and anticipations. However, calling these intermodal relati­ons ‘analogies’ both obscures their meaning and impedes the analysis of real analogies with their help (cf. Stafleu 1994b).

[19] For a review of this typology see Stafleu 1994a.

[20] Dooyeweerd 1959.

[21] Hawking 1988, Barrow 1990.

[22] For a recent review, see Mason 1992.

[23] Stafleu 1986, 1989.

[24] Van Till 1986, Lindberg, Numbers 1986, Bowler 1989.

[25] Stafleu 1991.

[26] NC I, 39; II, 81, 114; III, 58, 85.

[27] Stafleu 1989, 1991. Cf. Lever 1973, 187-193, Dengerink 1986, 214, Hart 1984, 176-182..

[28] Lever 1956, Chapter 5.

[29] NC III, 88. See also Dooyeweerd 1959.

[30] Bohr 1934, chapter 2.

[31] Popper, Eccles 1977.

[32] Barrow, Tipler 1986.

[33] NC III, 781.







5. Comments on anticipations (1997)


Philosophia Reformata 62, 129-144














Anticipating a future theory of change (see Encyclopedia of relations and characters, their evolution and history), this paper comments on the phenomenon of anticipations in Dooyeweerd's systema­tic philosophy. The idea that reality itself or human experien­ce of reality has some kind of a layered structure is put for­ward by several philosop­hers, but the insight that each aspect refers intimately to the others is uniquely Dooyeweer­dian. It concerns an essential property of the structure of the modal aspects, each of which displays a `meaning nu­cleus', expressi­ve of its original meaning, besides retrocipati­ons and anticipati­ons, referring to the other aspects. Dooyeweerd assigns the aspects a linear tempor­al order, hence the distincti­on between retro- and anticipati­ons. In fact, each aspect is considered to be an aspect of time as well as an aspect of being, a mode of human expe­rience, and a principle of scientific expla­nati­on.[1]

Both anticipations and retrocipations are crucial for the under­standing of another Dooyeweerdian key concept, the `opening up of reality' as a continuous natural and cultural process, or rather several such processes. By a `cultural' process is meant any process in which human activity plays a leading part, including technology. For the development of the theory of the various opening processes, a theory of change is in need.

Finally, retrocipations and anticipations are very impor­tant for Dooyeweerd's theory of structural types. Recently I reviewed the theory of `thing-like' structures.[2] Strauss complains that he does not understand why I identify the foundational functi­on of structu­ral types with retrocipations.[3] Now this is an important point. I did not invent it, I have no a priori or philosophical arguments for it, I did not find it in Dooye­weerd's New critique or any other authorized text, but I discovered it during my investi­gations. Claiming to be a realistic ontology, the Philos­ophy of the Cosmo­nomic Idea should be empirical, corrigible and innovative.




Anticipation means opening up and/or realization of possibili­ties in one modal aspect guided by laws in a later modal as­pect. This savours of the age-old distinction of `potenti­al' and `actual' being. For an example we shall discuss the fact that an irrational number such as Ö2 can be approximated by an infinite series of rational numbers.

Aristot­le's accep­tance of the potenti­al infinite and his rejecti­on of the actual infinite still echos in philosophy. Ac­cording to Strauss, the potential infinite refers to a nume­rical succes­si­on of an endless series. The actual infinite refers to a set in which the members are simultaneously or at once pre­sent.[4] The first example of a successively infinite set is con­sti­tuted by the natural numbers themselves. They can be ordered in any way, for instance, 1, 3, 5, 2, 4, 6, ..., but their natu­ral order is that of increasing magnitude. It is also the natural order for counting.

Let us apply Strauss's distinction to the rational and the real numbers. These are numbers deriving their meaning from being subject to numerical laws of addition, subtraction, multiplication, etc. The num­ber of rationals between 0 and 1 is infinite. Ac­cording to Strauss we find them by divisi­on, a `successi­ve' infinite pro­cess. In order to see this, put the rational numbers be­tween 0 and 1 into the series 1/2, 1/3, 2/3, 1/4, 2/4, 3/4, 1/5, 2/5, .... Clearly, this order is serial, and the rational num­bers are `denu­mera­ble', i.e., they can be counted with the natural num­bers ser­ving as indi­ces.

This order of the rational num­bers is not `natural', but the result of human intervention, it is artificial. The natural order of the rational numbers is the numerical order of increasing magnitude. Hence, the natural order of the above mentioned rational numbers is: 1/5 < 1/4 < 1/3 < 2/5 < 1/2=2/4 < 2/3 < 3/4. However, in this order, the set of all rational numbers between 0 and 1 does not constitute a denu­merable series, but a `dense' one, see below. Hence, according to Strauss, whe­ther the set of rational numbers between 0 and 1 is `suc­cessive infinite' de­pends on how it is ordered. In its natural order it is not `suc­cessively infinite', but it has the poten­tial to become so, because of the possibility to create the above mentio­ned artificial orde­ring.


Infinite sets


Be­tween every two rational numbers in the natu­ral order it is always possible to find a third one (e.g., half their sum). Therefore the set of rational num­bers is called `dense', there are no extensive holes, i.e., holes of a magnitude larger than zero containing no rational numbers. Besides, the set of rational numbers between 0 and 1 is infinite, and because in the natural order it is not `successively' infinite, it should be called `simultaneously infinite', accor­ding to Strauss. Hence, whether we consider the set of rational numbers between 0 and 1 to be successive­ly infinite or simultaneously infinite depends on their order. I have no objection, if I am allowed the comment that this `simulta­neity' is not first of all a property of the rational numbers, but of our treating them as a set. Indeed, speaking of a set, we assume that the elements of the set are simultane­ously present, and if their number is infinite, we have an infinite number of elements simulta­ne­ously in the set. This may be called the spatial aspect of a set.

The concept of a set as applied in mathematics is a fig­ment of the human mind. Perhaps nature abhors sets, but I do not, as long as the theory of sets is not used as a logical foun­dation of mathe­ma­tics. From the fact that the theory of sets struggles with peculiar paradoxes, it should not be conclu­ded that sets are to be avoided. The paradoxes are mostly due to self-references and are logical rather than mathemati­cal. For instance, the notori­ous `set of all sets that do not contain itself' (which should contain itself if it does not) has little to do with mathematics. And the stand­ard example of a para­dox due to circular refe­rence:

            `the next sentence is true'

            `the former sentence is false'

does not even refer to sets.

All this does not help us very much in understan­ding Strauss's distinction of `successive' and `simultaneous' infini­ty. Howe­ver, let us have a look at the real numbers.


Continuity (1)


Though being `dense', i.e. having no extensive holes, the set of rational numbers be­tween 0 and 1 is not `conti­nuous', becau­se there are non-extensi­ve holes be­tween the rational numbers, due to the existence of numbers which are not ratio's of natural numbers, like p/4 or 1/Ö2. Referring to spatial continuity, it is possible to define the whole set of real numbers between 0 and 1 wit­hout leaving holes, as follows.

Consider a segment of a straight line. The set of spatial points between the two end points (A and B, say) is infinite. It is not merely dense, it is also continuous, by stipulation. Every set which members have a one-to-one correspondence to the members of a conti­nuous set of spatial points is itself called `conti­nu­ous', by definiti­on.[5] Consider the set of all line seg­ments having one common end point A besides having their second end points somewhere be­tween A and B. Let us arbi­trarily assume that the length of AB = 1. Now we define the set of all real numbers between 0 and 1 as the lengths of all line segments between A and B.[6] This means that the set of real numbers between 0 and 1 is continuous, according to the definition. The set of real num­bers between 0 and 1 derives its continuity from the continuity of the line segment AB. Whereas in the spatial aspect conti­nuity is a primiti­ve concept, in the numeri­cal aspect it is derivative, anticipating the spatial aspect.

Now I put forward that the set of spatial points be­tween A and B, and consequently, the set of real numbers be­tween 0 and 1, each constitutes an `at once infinity' in Strauss's sense. The spatial points are by nature `simultaneously present' between A and B (not because they are members of a set). Moreover, the line segments between A and B do not arise from successive division of some line segment. By division one cannot arrive at the irratio­nal num­bers, as was already found by the Pythago­reans, to their dismay.[7] As a matter of fact, there is no finite or infinite numerical procedu­re for finding all the real numbers in suc­ces­sion.

For this rea­son, I do not believe that the real num­bers can be defined as limits of infinite series. Of course, it is not denied that many real num­bers (inclu­ding p) can be calculated (or rather ap­proxima­ted) as the limit of a pres­cribed series, but this cannot be done for all real numbers.

I conclude that `continuity' can be attributed to the set of real numbers, as it cannot to the set of rational numbers. The definition of continuity refers to the set of spatial points in a line segment, which is called `continuous' by stipulation. Hence, continuity as a property of real numbers refers to the spatial modal aspect.

Why do the irrational numbers anticipate the spatial and later aspects? It is not because of their belonging to any set, but because of their mea­ning. They are num­bers becau­se they are subject to nume­rical laws. But they determi­ne quantities which are not purely numerical. The meaning of numbers like p or Ö2 refers to spatial (or kinema­tic, physical, ...) relati­ons. It is a law that the ratio of the circumfe­rence and the diame­ter of all circles is p, and that the ratio of the diago­nal and the side of any square is Ö2. These lengths are not defined as limits, even if we calculate their approxi­mate values with the help of an infinite series or sum of rational numbers, like, for instan­ce, p/4 = 1-1/3+1/5-1/7+....

Actual measurements of spatial, kinematic or physical magni­tudes like length, speed or energy always yield rational num­bers, whereas theoretical considerations usually lead to the assumption that these magni­tudes have real values, i.e., they have a continuous range of possible values. Hence, the rational num­bers are as numeri­cal as the integers (being their ratio's), where­as real numbers (which include the rational numbers) serve as nume­rical anticipati­ons on the later modal as­pects.[8]


Sense or essence of meaning


Strauss would not agree with this reasoning, because in line with Dooye­weerd he considers `continuity' to characterize the irreducible meaning nucleus of the spatial as­pect. Some time ago, I suggested that in the process of opening up the antici­pations of some modal aspect, its meaning is not only deepe­ned but also relativized.[9] In this way I tried to save the appe­a­rances: the fact that real numbers constitute a continuous set, anticipating the spatial aspect. But now I must confess that I no longer believe that the meaning nuclei of the first two modal aspects are adequately expressed by `discrete number' and `continuous extension', respectively. It just does not make sense.

If a set is discrete (or `digital' as we would now perhaps say) it is counta­ble, and counta­bility is no doubt an important feature of certain sets. But there are sets which are not countable, such as the set of real numbers. Moreo­ver, neither the rational nor the irrational numbers can be used for coun­ting, but both are very useful in accounting for mag­nitudes and numerical relati­ons. I suggest the meaning of the first modal aspect be given by numerical laws and their subjects.[10]

Simi­lar­ly, it does not make sense to say that the meaning of the spatial aspect would be continuous extensi­on. In my view, the mea­ning of any modal aspect is given by the relati­on of its laws and its subjects, i.e., everything created has dependent mea­ning, as a result of being subjected to law by its Crea­tor.[11] The relation between modal laws and modal subjects is far too com­plex to be adequately given by a single word or expressi­on.

However, there seems to be more at stake. I have the impres­sion that for Strauss the `meaning nucleus' is something like the essen­ce or the substance of an aspect, in an Aristote­li­an sense. I believe this to be a far cry from Dooyeweerd's inten­ti­ons.

A space is not merely continuous and extended, it is also dimensional and it has directions. In any space one counts a number of `independent' dimensi­ons. The mathematical idea of `independence' is not easy to define, but it is intuitively comprehensible by realizing that in ordinary threedimensional space, any position is given by three independent measures, e.g., length, width and height. These measures have to be given simultaneously, and are therefore subject to the spatial order of cosmic time. In the usual cases, the spatial points are given by `vectors' (triples, in three-dimensional space) of real numbers, but it is very well possible to imagine a space determined by vectors of rational or inte­gral num­bers. Such a space is not continuous.[12]

The investigation of spatial dimensionality leads to the disco­very of new types of numbers. Complex numbers were first contemplated when people discussed the meaning of taking the square root of a negative number. Their meaning as two-dimen­sional numerical vectors was established when the laws to which the complex numbers are subject were opened up. It was also discovered that such numbers only exist as one-dimensional, two-dimensional and four-dimen­sio­nal vectors, the real and com­plex numbers besides the quater­nions. It can be proved from numerical laws that no other possibili­ties exist, and therefore their definition is not arbitrary. Hence, the meaning of any kind of number is determined by numerical laws only, as opened up by the later modal aspects.


Opening up and relativizing


The idea that by developing the anticipations of a modal aspect one also relativi­zes its meaning is illustrated by the theory of relativity. In 1905 A.Einstein discovered that the order of simultaneity is no longer absolutely valid if one considers spatially remote events from the viewpoint of diffe­rently moving frames of reference.[13] This leads to the conclu­sion that the spatial order of simultaneity is relativized if the spatial aspect is anticipating the kinematic one.

A triangle's sides function as boundaries in a two-dimen­sional space, they separate the inner space from the outer space. The inner space has a certain magnitude, the triangle's area, and according to medieval views, influenced by Aristot­le, the boundaries also determine the `space', i.e., the place of the triangle. This view gradually developed into the idea that the triangle is `somewhere in space'.

The Newtonian idea of `space' (not by accident, this is a noun) also seems to imply that space is a thing, a container, somet­hing we live in. But if we speak of the `spatial aspect' we can never mean a `something', a unique being, a concrete entity. A modal aspect is a mode of temporal being and of understanding, a principle of explanation. It is also one way of relating things or events to each other. One of the most important parts of a modal aspect is its characteristic `subject-subject-relation'. Hence, the concept of a co-ordinate system or refe­rence system comes closer to what we should under­stand by a `space' than the Newtonian concept of a container. The theory of relativity discusses the effects of mutually moving systems of reference. Therefore, we could say that it considers relati­vely moving spaces. In each space the usual order of simulta­neity is maintained. Only if we compare the orders of simultaneity with respect to spaces which move relatively to each other, we get different results.


Hearing and seeing


Sound is a linear process, music beats serial time. Sound is a combination of waves, and each wave is characterized by its frequency or pitch, its amplitu­de or volume, and its phase. We hear the same sound with both ears, and for every wave, we experience a slightly different amplitude and a different phase. By compa­ring them we are able to determine from which direction the sound is coming. From our experience we can estimate the distance of the source. Hence, hearing allows us to orient ourselves in our environment. Estimating his distance to a car, a cyclist uses his ears nearly as much as his eyes.

Seeing is two-dimensional in principle, and by some tricks we are even able to see three dimensions. Both in hearing and in seeing, not only space but also motion and physical processes are involved. Moving objects are better visible than stationary ones, and if an object does not move, we increase its visibility by moving our head or our eyes.

Seeing is natural to mankind, most mammals, birds, squids and insects. Like hearing, seeing is an interesting and compli­ca­ted process. It involves physics, physiology, psycho­logy and logic, and even more, hence it is characterized by anticipati­ons.

As a physical process, it was studied by Greek, Roman, Arab and Western scientists. Abu Ali al-Hasan ibn al-Hasan ibn al-Haytam (circa 965-1039), in the West better known as Alha­zen, laid the foundations on which Johannes Kepler in 1604 built the theory which is still accepted.[14] If we look at a tree, an image of the tree is formed at the retina, the backside of our eye. Alhazen showed that the image is not formed at the object and transported to the eye, but is formed inside the eye, after light from the object has travel­led to the pupil. More than 300 years after the eye-piece came into use for reading, Kepler proved that the human eye acts like a lens. (Technology often anticipates scientific discovery). Mam­mals, birds and squids make use of a lens, insects do not. The retina consists of cells sensitive to light. For mammals, these cells lay at the back of the retina, for squids at the front. Some animals are able to discern colours, others do not. The physio­logi­cal process starts at the retina, when sig­nals are transmit­ted to the brain. Kepler emphasized that he could explain the physical aspect of seeing, but not the physiological and psy­chic ones. In the brain the image invo­kes emoti­ons, leading to acti­ons. The actions may be pro­grammed by inheri­tance, or are based on earlier experien­ce, or are perfor­med after some thinking. For instance, when looking at an oncoming car we estimate its distance and speed, before crossing the road. Cats, dogs and birds do that, too. The image may be stored in the memory, short-term or long-term, and compared with earlier images. Hen­ce, as a temporal sequen­ce, the physical process anticipates the physio­logical one, which in turn anticipates the psychic as­pect, which anticipates the logical aspect of seeing. Sound and light may bear signals, which can be understood or interpre­ted.

The physical process involves the formation of an image by a lens. Although we call it a physical process, as a natural process it only occurs in animals. Hence, it is not purely physical, it can only be understood as anticipating the psychic functioning of seeing. Moreover, the physical process is guided by physiological processes. For instance, guided by the brain the focussing of the lens is adopted to the distance of the object which we want to observe.

Plants too are sensiti­ve to light. With a few exceptions, plants derive their energy from photo­synthe­sis. Still, nobody would say that a plant can see. In plants the biotic process is the end.

We only speak of seeing if a specialized living organ is invol­ved, which may be as complicated as the human eye, or as simple as a single light sensitive part of a monocel­lular orga­nism. Such an organ is easily recogni­zed having a biotic structure with a psychic function. But the functioning of these organs cannot be understood by an analysis of their `thing-like' structure, because they are not characterized by their physical or biotic structure, but by their functioning in the process of seeing.

We speak of seeing only if it leads to psychic actions. In seeing the physiological or biotic process following the physi­cal one is not purely biotic, but anticipates the psy­chic as­pect. If this only invokes emoti­ons, the process as a whole is quali­fied by the psychic aspect, but whatever we see may lead to logical processing and to experiences and acts which are qualified by one of the later modal aspects, such as the aesthe­tic one.

Sometimes the eyes deceive us in seeing things that do not exist apart from seeing it, such as the rainbow. The rainbow is an image on the retina formed by the lens (therefore it can also be photographed) - but it is not an image of somet­hing.


Continuity (2)


There is a remarkable continuity in the processes of seeing and hearing. Analysing how an artist conceives of a painting and puts it on linen, we discern easily the various modal aspects and their relations, retro- and anticipations. But it is a single process. This continuity is also found in the structure of things, but even more so in processes. We have to be aware that the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects and their inherent discontinuity is a necessary condition for understan­ding our world, but is not a basic property of the structures of individuality. In particular pro­ces­ses show a continuity which transcends the limits of the modal aspects.

For example, consider the growth of a human being starting from a fertili­zed egg via a new born baby to an adult person. The fertilized egg is only a biotic subject, although it has the potential to become a human being. Only gradual­ly it opens up its psychic, logical, formative, and other functions, and nobody can say at what moment the embryo becomes a feeling subject (having emotions), or a thinking subject, etc. The crossing of the boundaries between the various aspects is a continuous process.




According to Dooyeweerdian orthodoxy, a structural whole should have a primary qualifying function, a secondary foun­ding functi­on, and a tertiary destination function.[15] `Functi­on' refers to a modal aspect. Hence, the foundation function is expressed by some retrocipation of the qualifying aspect, and the destination function to some anticipation. A biochemi­cal process, for instance, would be physically qualified, kinemati­cally founded, and finds its ultimate meaning in the biotic aspect.

However, Dooyeweerd's typology concerns thing-like structu­res. Moreover, besides the qualification function he stressed in particular the foundation function, and the tertiary destination function was often identified with the primary qualification function. His typo­logy concerns first of all the structu­re of individual subjects, whereas in processes always several subjects are involved. The structure of a process is partly determined by the structures of the subjects involved, but cannot be derived from them. In particular a process leading to the formation of a new structural whole, such as occurs in a chemical reacti­on, has its own structure, which is not ade­quately described by Dooyeweerd's theory of structural types.

In a process subject-subject relations get a structure. If the product of a process is a structured thing, the process and all subjects involved in the process anticipa­tes that thing. For instance, in a chemical process in which molecules A and B are connected to form a new molecule C, both the molecu­les A and B as well as the process anticipate the structure of C.

In such processes besides the structures of A, B and C, also the energy and the entropy play important parts. Both energy and entropy (and related properties like free energy) are modal concepts, and the laws concerning them are modal laws. The second law of thermodynamics was developed about 1850 by R.Clausius and W.Thomson, the concept of entropy was introduced by Clausius about 15 years later. It was deve­loped along two lines, one mathematical, the other chemical. In a mathematical way, L.E.Boltzmann related entropy to probabi­lity in the context of statistical mechanics. For the theory of proces­ses the chemical concept of entropy is more relevant. It is also useful to describe equilibrium situations.

In biological processes information becomes relevant, another modal concept. In all biotic processes the transfer of informa­tion, and in psychic processes the handling or processing of information is highly significant.


Possibilities, probabilities


Anticipation means opening up and realization of possibilities in one modal aspect guided by laws in a later modal as­pect. In a mathematical way, possibilities can someti­mes be measured by probabili­ties.

Playing dice involves a physical and kinematic process, but assuming that the die is homogeneous, the calculation of the probable outcome of a throw is based on the geometry of the die. Even if the number of possibilities is infinite, probabili­ties can be calcula­ted by a suitable division of the domain of possible outcomes. In this way, J.C.Maxwell was able to calculate the distribution of molecular speeds in a gas at a given tempe­rature.[16] In order to arrive at his distribution law, he had to make some arbitra­ry assumptions about the way the molecules interact with each other. He was able to derive some unexpec­ted and later veri­fied results, but at the end of his paper he observed that his theory could not account for the observed specific heat of the then known gases.

Quantumphysics discovered that the motion of a particle like an electron or a photon has a wavelike character, which should be interpreted as provi­ding possi­ble paths and probable destinations of the moving parti­cle. This is an example of motion anticipating physi­cal inter­ac­tion. Since the introduction of quantum physics it is accep­ted that many processes are not determined by mechanical laws, but display a certain amount of intrinsic stochastic behavi­our.

A fundamental problem for any theory of change concerns the transition of a possibility to its realization. When throwing a die, at what moment becomes the probability to get a six a certainty? With respect to games of chance this problem is largely acade­mic, but in quantum physics it is a major and still unsol­ved problem.


Numerical structures


Because the standard Dooyeweerdian typology mostly con­cerns structures having a foundation function, we do not find numerically qualified structures in this way. In fact, Dooye­weerd suppo­sed that the physical aspect is the first to qualify a structure of individuality.[17] Elsewhere I argued that at least there are spatially and kinematically qualified structures.[18] Now I wish to empha­si­ze that numerical structures anticipa­ting the later aspects are not difficult to find. I shall mention only one exam­ple, the structures called `groups'.[19]

In an abstract sense, a group is a set of elements such that each pair of elements generates another one. If A and B are elements, then the combinati­on AB is also an ele­ment of the group. For instance, if A and B are num­bers, AB may stand for addition (A+B) or multiplication (A*B).

The group con­tains an identity element (I), such that for each other element A, AI = IA = A. For addition, the number 0 is the identity element, for A+0 = 0+A = A. For multi­pli­cation, the num­ber 1 is the identi­ty element, for A*1 = 1*A = A.

Each element A has an inver­se A', such that AA' = A'A = I. For addition, -A is the inverse of A, for multiplica­tion, it is 1/A.[20]

Consider one simple finite group, consisting of `operations' in a plane: the clockwise rotation through 90o, through 180o, and through 270o. The identity element is rotation through 0o, and the in­ver­se ele­m­ents are anti-clo­ck­wise rotati­ons through -90o, -180o and -270o. It is clear that the latter three are identi­cal to the former three in reversed order. Hence the group contains four ele­ments. The group describes the rotation sym­metry of a square.[21]

The described group is not a square itself. It is a mathematical structure anticipating a spatial `thing', but it is purely numeri­cal. One could object that the group is defined with the help of the expression `rotation' which is clearly spatial. Howe­ver, the definition of the group is not in need of this specification. It is sufficient to define the group as having four ele­ments, I, A, B, C, with AA = B = B', A' = AB = C, and BC = A. But its meaning is deepe­ned if we see that this group antici­pa­tes the symmetry of a square.

The theory of groups is quite complicated, and has been very fruitful in solving many problems in atomic, sub-atomic, mole­cular and solid state physics and chemistry. Hence a group has both a primary and a tertiary structure, but not a seconda­ry one: it lacks a foun­ding functi­on. Because of its anticipatory character, the theory of groups will play an important part in any theory of change.

Repeatedly, I have been asked why I do not consider pure numbers to have a mathematical structure, and why there is no `kingdom' of numbers.[22] In our philosophy, we distin­guish between `modal laws' and `structural laws'. Structural laws refer to a restric­ted class of typical subjects, having an inter­nal structure which distin­guishes them from other sub­jects. Squares are different from circles, but both are spatial sub­jects. Also modal laws refer to subjects, which I have bapti­zed `abstract modal subjects', which, by the way, are no less `real' than things or events. Modal subjects are discove­red as soon as people start to abstract the modal as­pects from reality. This is not necessa­rily a scientific procedu­re, for children are able to learn the num­bers and the laws of addition and multi­plication without becoming mathematici­ans. Yet, the numbers are a product of human cultural activity. The possibi­lity (or even necessity) to develop numbers is based on the laws laid down for the creation, therefore our number system is not fully arbitrary. (Clear­ly, the fact that we use a system based on factors of ten is culturally deter­mined.)

It may be a matter of taste (certainly not mine) to ascribe a structure to the prime numbers. They certainly have a proper­ty which distinguishes them from other numbers, but so have the even numbers, the odd numbers, the triples, etc. If having a single property would lead to the concept of a structure, then we should assume that all red things also have a common structure. The point is that the properties of these numbers can be derived from the modal laws only, we do not need additio­nal typical laws. The rational numbers and the real num­bers, too, are not defined by some typical law, but are discovered by analysis of the modal laws for the numerical and spatial aspects.

We may speak of a structure if it has more properties than are needed for its definition, and if there is a specific law for them that is diffe­rent from the general modal laws. Thus, after defining a square as a spatial two-dimensio­nal figure having four equal sides and equal angles, we discover that it has the rotation symme­try described by the above mentioned group (having the character of a typical law), we may speak of a typical structu­re. But even this criterion is probably not water­tight.


Against reductionism


Reductionism is a collective noun for a variety of philosophies that seek ultimate explanations in what we call the retrocipato­ry spheres of the modal aspects. (In general, the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects is denied.) Examples are mechanism (reduction to the kinematic aspect), naturalism (reduction to physics), evolutio­nism (reduction to the biotic aspect).  Reductionist theories are very popular. For instance, to reduce the moral aspect of human experience to biotic needs is nearly a commonplace.

Reduc­tionist philos­ophers lack the insight into the distinction be­tween ani­mals and human beings. The functioning of ani­mals in the post-psychic aspects is retrocipatory, determined by their biotic and psychic needs, but human activity is cha­racteristically antici­patory.[23] 

It has little sense to fight naturalism or evolutionism only on immanent or transcenden­tal grounds.[24] In order to deliver an effective criticism, one has to show the fruits of an alternative approach to evolution and anthropolo­gy. Hence, the study of antici­pations is crucial for the rebuttal of reducti­onist philos­ophies.

[1] The temporal order in a modal aspect is not the same as its meaning kernel. Therefore Dengerink makes a mistake by ascribing to me the view that the meaning kernel of the spatial aspect is not continuous extension, but simultaneity, see J.D.Dengerink (1996), book review of Griffioen, B.M.Balk (eds.) (1995) , in Philosophia Reformata 61, 196-205, p. 200. `Simultanei­ty' is an original spatial expression of temporal order. I discussed and rejected Denge­rink's view that both time and eternity should be considered separate modal aspects, see M.D.Stafleu (1988), `Criteria for a law sphere (with special emphasis on the `psychic' modal aspect'), Phil.Ref. 53, 171-186.

[2] Stafleu (1994a), 114-142.

[3] Strauss (1995), 134. This paper refers to Stafleu (1995) See also: Stafleu (1989).

[4] Strauss (1995), p.131-132.  Strauss (p.132) says that 25 years ago I rejected the actual infinite. If he is right (I can only find stating that an infinite denumerable series has no actual limit, which I believe to be correct), I recant. See also Strauss (1996).

[5] Stafleu (1980), 32-42.

[6] This is not an arbitrary definition, because the real numbers include the rational numbers. Hence, the number 1/2 corresponds to the spatial point halfway between A and B. The fact that the rational numbers form a dense set warrants that the correspondence between the lengths of the line segments between A and B and the real numbers between 0 and 1 is unique. Only the assumption that AB = 1 is arbitrary. In a practical sense, it defines the length of the standard metre.

[7] The assumption that all relations should be expressible as ratio's of integral numbers formed an essential part of the Pythagorean philosophy. However, they discovered and proved that the ratio of the lengths of a diagonal and a side of a square cannot be rational.

[8] Magnitudes are also called `variables', referring to their signi­ficance in a theory of change. For the analysis of change, differential and integral calculus is a very important instru­ment, anticipating the kinematic modal aspect.

[9] Stafleu (1972), 48. Also Stafleu (1980) 27, 42. According to Strauss (1995) 132, my `alternati­ve approach' is `"uprooting" continuity, cancelling the qualifying role of the meaning nucleus of the numerical aspect with regard to its disclosed structure'.

[10] Dooyeweerd (1953-1957), II, 31: "... `meaning' is nothing but the creaturely mode of being under the law, consisting exclusively in a religious relation of dependence on God ...".

[11] Stafleu (1980) 25; (1995) 93-94.

[12] Structures based on non-continuous spaces are known to lead to so-called `fractals'.

[13] These systems are not merely spatial, they also include clocks. If according to one system of reference an event is simultaneous with another one, in another system the two events may occur one after the other, excluding the possibility that one of them is the cause of the other.

[14] Lindberg (1976).

[15] Stafleu (1994).

[16] Maxwell (1860).

[17] Dooyeweerd (1953-57), II, 425, III, 79, 99.

[18] Stafleu (1985),.

[19] Stafleu (1980), 35ff.

[20] Also, for a group (AB)C = A(BC). The reader who is not familiar with groups is invited to check that the set of integral numbers is a group under addition, but not under multiplication, and that the set of positive rational numbers is a group under multiplicati­on, but not under additi­on. Remember that division by 0 is not allowed. Groups may be finite or infinite.

[21] A square is also symmetrical with respect to mirroring with respect to a diago­nal etc. We can extend the group of rotations to include mirrors, in order to account for the full symmetry of a square.

[22] J.Stellingwerff (1990), Book review of Stafleu (1989), Philosophia .Reformata 55, 94-95.

[23] For the relevance of anticipations for anthropology, in particular with respect to the distinction of animals and human beings, see Stafleu (1991); Stafleu (1995).

[24] For the distinction between immanent, transcendent, and transcendental critique and their effectiveness, see Stafleu (1987), 205-210.







6. The idionomy of natural kinds

and the biological concept of a

species (2000)


Philosophia Reformata 65, 154-169







6.1. What is a natural kind?

6.2. Types of idionomic law clusters and their interlacement

6.3. Reflections on the biological concept of a species




6.1. What is a natural kind?


It seems almost obvious that a species is a natural kind, but several philosophers have expressed a different opinion.[1] Before dealing with this problem, I shall review and partly revise the theory of natural kinds. According to the cosmonomic philosophy, things or events of the same kind are subject to a specific idionomic cluster of laws.[2] Herman Dooyeweerd’s expression ‘structure of individuality’ appears to be appropriate to describe individual subjects like atoms, molecules, plants and animals, each having a relative stability and lasting identity and a characteristic form.[3] But 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 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 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. Therefore I prefer to speak of individual things, events and processes to be subject to an idionomic cluster of laws valid for a class of individuals of a natural kind and specifying an ensemble of possible variations. Alternatively, I shall call an idionomic law cluster a structure, a character or a pattern, if the context precludes misunderstandings.[4]

In contrast to autonomy, the concept of idionomy expresses the interdependent character of natural kinds, it is a relational concept. An idionomic cluster of laws determines which properties a specific subject has and which propensities, how it relates to its environment, under which circumstances it exists, how it comes into being, changes and perishes.


A natural kind is determined by a specific cluster of laws

In general, the specification of a natural kind is in need of laws shared with others kinds. Electrons are characterized by having a specific rest mass, electric charge, magnetic moment and lepton number.[5] Positrons have the same rest mass and magnetic moment, but different charge and lepton number. Electrons and neutrino’s have the same lepton number but a different rest mass, charge and magnetic moment. Electrons, positrons and neutrino’s are fermions, but so are protons and neutrons. It appears that no property is unique for a single natural kind. It is never a single law, but always a specific cluster of laws that characterizes things or events of the same kind.

Dooyeweerd introduced other ‘spheres of laws’ governing the general frames that he called modal aspects of reality.[6] Each frame concerns general, non-specific relations between things or events, independent of their character.[7] Quantitative, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic and psychical relations constitute the six relation frames relevant for the study of natural kinds.

Both general relation frames and specific idionomic law clusters determine the subjects concerned, both are conditions for their existence. In no way are these law clusters to be considered as definitions in a logical sense. It is very well possible to define electrons by their mass and charge only. But this definition says very little about the laws concerning the electron’s spin, magnetic moment and lepton number. The definition does not tell that an electron is a fermion, that it has an antiparticle by which it can be annihilated, or that it belongs to the first of three generations of leptons and quarks. It does not follow from a definition that electrons have the tendency to become interlaced in atoms or metals and in events like oxidation or lightning. Although science needs definitions, theories stating laws are far more important. After electrons were identified as charged particles, the laws for electrons were gradually discovered in a century of painstaking experimental and theoretical research. We can never be sure that we know the laws for a thing or an event. Our knowledge of most natural kinds is very incomplete, even if we are able to define them fairly accurately.

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.


An idionomic law cluster determines a class of subjects

An idionomic cluster of natural laws determines a class of individual things or events being subjects with respect to these laws.[8] The class of all things or events subject to an idionomic law cluster is not a priori restricted to a limited number, a certain place, or a stretch of time. In this respect a class may be called tenseless. But the individual things and events belonging to this class are far from tenseless. Any actual collection of individuals (even if it contains only one specimen) is a temporal subset of the class, like a sample.[9]

As far as the realization of an idionomic law cluster depends on external circumstances, it is temporal, too. This is crucial for the understanding of astrophysical and biotic evolution. Idionomic laws determine the temporal nature of things or events and their characteristic relations. Similarly, the general relation frames determine their temporal non-characteristic relations, like relative magnitude, position or motion.

Sometimes, a number of similar things are connected into an aggregate, for instance a chemically homogeneous gas of molecules, or a population of interbreeding plants or animals of the same species. An aggregate is a temporal collection, a connected subset of the class defined above and itself subject to a cluster of specific aggregate laws (like the gas laws).


An idionomic law cluster determines an ensemble of objective possibilities

Each idionomic cluster of laws allows of a certain amount of variation, giving room to the individuality of the things or events concerned. To specify the set of possibilities governed by the law cluster, I borrow the word ensemble from statistical mechanics.[10] An ensemble’s members are not things or events, but their objective states. It includes all possible variations of the individuals subject to the same cluster of laws, whether the possibilities are realized or not. An ensemble reflects the similarity of the subjects of the same kind, the relevant properties they have in common, as well as their possible differences, the variations allowed by the appropriate idionomic laws.

The idea of an ensemble is useful whenever an objective representation is available. In physics, the possible states allowed by an idionomic law cluster are mapped on the vectors of a state space. In biology, the genotype of each organism is projected on the sequence of nucleotides constituting its DNA-molecules, the so-called genetic code (6.3).

Whereas variation is universal, the distinction between possible and actual states makes only sense if these law clusters are at least physically characterized in one way or another, as defined in section 6.2. A mathematical concept anticipating physical interaction, probability is the relative frequency distribution in an ensemble, subject to statistical laws. Empirical statistics is only applicable to a specific collection of individuals of the same kind, a sample representative for the ensemble and its idionomic cluster of laws.




6.2. Types of idionomic law clusters

and their interlacement


The various species of bacteria are studied by biology, but it is a philosophical matter to decide to which type they belong. Dooyeweerd designed a theory of structural types referring to the modal aspects or general relation frames.[11] Each type is determined by primary, secondary and tertiary characteristics. For the phenomenon that structures are interlaced with each other, Dooyeweerd coined the word enkapsis or encapsulation.


The primary characteristic is the qualifying relation frame

Primarily, each natural kind is specifically qualified by the laws for one of the six relation frames mentioned above. The universal relation of physical interaction, specified as electric, gravitational, etc., characterizes physical and chemical things, processes and events. General and specific genetic laws constitute primarily the idionomic law clusters valid for living beings and life processes.[12]

Each relation frame qualifies numerous idionomic clusters of laws. A traditional point of view acknowledges only three natural kingdoms, the physical-chemical or mineral kingdom, the plant kingdom and the animal kingdom,[13] but I believe the quantitative, spatial and kinematic relation frames qualify idionomic clusters of laws as well. A triangle, for instance, has a spatial structure, oscillations and waves have a kinematic character, and mathematical groups are quantitatively qualified.[14]


The secondary characteristic is fundamental

For most idionomic law clusters, a relation frame preceding the qualifying one constitutes the secondary characteristic, called its foundation.[15] In fact, an idionomic law cluster is not founded in a preceding frame itself, but in a projection of the qualifying relation frame on a preceding one.[16] For instance, electrons are secondarily quantitatively characterized, yet not by numbers, but by physical magnitudes like mass, charge and lepton number. These magnitudes determine to what amount an electron is able to interact with other physical subjects. Atoms, molecules and crystals have a characteristic spatial structure as a foundation. The secondary characteristic is as distinctive as the primary one.

For each primary type one expects as many secondary types as relation frames preceding the qualifying one. For biotically qualified wholes this means four secondary types, based in biotic projections on the quantitative, spatial, kinematic and physical frames, respectively.[17]

Prokaryotes (bacteria) and some organelles in eukaryotic cells[18] appear to be subject to idionomic 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 or diachronous 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 idionomic law clusters for eukaryotic cells, multicellular undifferentiated plants and tissues in differentiated plants are founded in symbiosis. A spatial projection of the biotic relation frame, symbiosis is subject to the spatial cosmic order of coexistence, simultaneity or synchronicity.

Being kinematic projections of biotic relations, development and growth are secondary characteristics of all differentiated plants. The differentiation of a cell is only partly genetically determined, the influence of neighbouring cells being equally important. Development and growth are subject to the kinematic order of uniform succession. Differentiated organs like leaves or flowers have their own characters.

The idionomic law clusters for sexually differentiated plants (in particular angiosperms or flowering plants) are founded in sexual reproduction, which I consider a physical expression of biotic relations, the genetic interaction between plants. Genetic change caused by sexual reproduction is subject to the physical order of temporal irreversibility.

Moreover, each organism is an individual unit, has a typical morphological shape, displays characteristic rhythms and is involved in typical processes like photosynthesis.


A disposition is a tertiary characteristic

The tertiary characteristic of an idionomic cluster of laws is a disposition, its natural tendency or affinity to become interlaced with another individual. An idionomic law cluster is always interlaced with other ones, either because the individuals concerned cannot exist without each other (an 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.

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

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

Physics and chemistry investigate the structure of atoms and molecules without taking into account their disposition to have a function with respect to organisms. But biochemistry cannot afford this freedom. Being concerned with many different polymers, it cannot overlook their characteristic functions in living cells. These molecules are physically qualified and spatially founded, witness the double helix structure as a fundamental characteristic of DNA. But much more interesting is the part the polymers play in biotic processes.

Whereas the primary and secondary characteristics refer 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 idionomic cluster of laws.


Enkapsis presupposes correlation, causes emergent properties and points out the meaning of idionomy

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

When an atom gets interlaced with a molecule its properties change without getting lost completely. Molecules in a living cell are involved in biotic processes like reproduction without changing their chemical character. But the interlacement of idionomous law clusters is more than a mere addition, for it leads to the emergence of wholly new properties. A molecule like water has properties not shared by the constituting hydrogen and oxygen atoms.

Biochemical processes produce molecules, designed to perform specific functions in biotic processes like reproduction.[19] The large polymers consisting of carbohydrates (polysaccharides), amino acids (proteins) or nucleic acids (DNA, RNA) emerge and function within living cells only.

Hence, taking into account its propensities, the idionomic laws for a physical subject like a molecule not only determine its structure and physical-chemical interactions, but its full meaning in the cosmos as well.[20] That is the reason for speaking of idionomy rather than autonomy of natural kinds. The theory of enkapsis steers a middle course between reductionism (stressing the secondary, foundational properties of things) and holism (emphasizing the tertiary functions of things in an encompassing whole).




6.3. Reflections on

the biological concept of a species


In his influential book On the origin of species (1859), Charles Darwin set out to prove that species are not tenseless classes, but evolve one from another, the motor of evolution being competition and natural selection. I want to discuss the question of whether a species corresponds to an idionomic cluster of laws as described above, without challenging either the basic facts of evolution or the currently received theory of evolution.

At present, the reality of species seems to be generally accepted. The nominalist view of species being convenient inventions of the human mind counts few adherents. Having an intuitive understanding of the concept of a species, practical biologists steer away from relying on definitions as a relic of essentialism. But taxonomists are in need of operational criteria in order to distinguish one species from another, and to group species into divisions like genera, families, orders, classes, phyla and kingdoms.[21] The basis of a theoretical explanation of this taxonomy is the genetic law, stating that all living beings are genetically related to each other. Yet, ‘there is probably no other concept in biology that has remained so consistently controversial as the species concept.’[22]


Primary criteria for distinguishing species are genealogical

The genetic law implies two genealogical (or phylogenetic) criteria. The first is seldom mentioned, but always presupposed. It is the assumption that each individual organism belongs to the same species during its whole life.[23] Hence a species is or defines a set of individual organisms. This means that a species cannot be characterized by morphological criteria only. In particular the shape of an individual multicellular plant, fungus or animal (in which all cells have the same genetic configuration) changes drastically during its development. Hence, the application of morphological similarities and differences has to take into account the relevant phase of life.

Secondly, as a rule each organism belongs to the same species as its direct ancestors and descendants. Therefore, the dimorphism of male and female specimens does not lead to the distinction of different species. The (very rare) exception to the second rule occurs when a new species arises from an existing one. Hence, according to a minimal theoretical definition, a species is a lineage beginning when it splits off from another species and ending at its extinction.[24]

These two genealogical criteria refer to the biotic relation frame of living beings (concerning their genetic relations) and may be called primary criteria.[25] However, even as a minimal definition it is defective, for it leaves unclear what the splitting of a species means.[26] Isolated from other criteria, the minimal definition would allow of only one species, the collection of all living beings (assuming that they have a common ancestry). Biology is in need of additional criteria, both secondary and tertiary ones.


Secondary and tertiary criteria for distinguishing species are differentiated

The most practical criteria for distinguishing species are secondary ones, usually called structural. They concern similarities and differences with respect to DNA-sequences determining the genotype, and to typical form (morphology) or processes (physiology, embryology, development and reproduction) constituting the phenotype of the members of a species.

Tertiary criteria refer to the disposition of organisms to find a suitable niche or adaptive zone. How organisms adapt to their environment leads to the formulation of ecological criteria for distinguishing species. Secondary and tertiary criteria are related to each other. How an organism is adapted to its niche depends on its morphological form.

The so-called biological criterion assumes that species are separated by a reproductive gap. ‘A species is a reproductive community of populations (reproductively isolated from others) that occupies a specific niche in nature.’[27] During a long time this was considered the conclusive definition of a species, but recently it has drawn a lot of critical fire.[28] Organisms only reproducing asexually would not belong to a species. In particular prokaryotes, the only living beings during three-quarters of the history of life on earth, reproduce asexually, having other means of exchanging genetic information than interbreeding. Moreover, populations of plants considered to belong to distinct species but nevertheless interbreeding are not exceptional.

The fact that all secondary and tertiary criteria have a limited applicability gives rise to pluralist views on the concept of a species.[29] Monist philosophers hold that there should be only one concept of a species.[30] The assumption of a species to correspond to an idionomic cluster of laws almost necessarily implies the existence of at least four different types of species, corresponding to the four secondary idionomic types identified in Sec. 2. In this light, it is not surprising to find various secondary criteria, each with a limited applicability.[31] For instance, the criteria for distinguishing species of bacteria differ from those for differentiated plants.[32]


A species can be considered a biotic subject

Some philosophers believe that a species should be considered an individual comparable to an organism.[33] A species is subject to biotic laws, it descends from another species, it changes during its existence and it may become extinct. Yet, I prefer to consider only organisms (besides processes) to be biotic individuals of a specific kind. Organisms belonging more or less simultaneously to the same species constitute one or more populations, being subsets of an ancestral lineage.[34] Both populations and lineages are temporal collections of individuals, not tenseless classes. They are aggregates, too, because there is a genetic connection between the members of each collection. Hence, if considered to be a lineage or a population (or a set of populations), an empirical species is a temporal collection, an aggregate subject to biotic laws.

I shall not contest this view that stresses the subject side of a species. But it does not answer the question of whether a species might have a law side as well.


Evolution does not exclude the existence of an ensemble of possibilities

A species having a law side implies the existence of an ensemble of possible variations within the boundaries set by a specific cluster of laws. Finding such an ensemble turns out to be easier than specifying the laws for a species. In order to make this clear, I suggest the following model.

Consider a space of all possible configurations of DNA, expressed by the genetic code.[35] This configuration space is mostly empty, i.e., the majority of all possible DNA-sequences is never realized, and a great deal is not realizable at all.[36] Almost all mutations of existing DNA being lethal, it is safe to assume that most genetic configurations of DNA are not viable.

Empirical evidence suggests that the DNA-configuration of an organism, grouped into genes and chromosomes, is partly species-specific, partly individual and unique.[37] This means that the configuration space can be ordered such that the configurations are clustered into ‘valleys’ of viable configurations, each valley corresponding to the ensemble of all possible variations corresponding to a single species. The valley is large if the species allows of much variation. The variable depth of the valley is a measure of fitness. The valleys are surrounded by barriers of restrictive constraints, which may be physical-chemical, biotic or related to animal behaviour.[38] Because of these constraints, the configurations surrounding those in the valley are not viable. 99% of all species known from fossils being extinct, it may be assumed that many valleys realizable in the past are not realizable at present, because a suitable niche is no longer available. This means that viability is not merely a trait of the genotype, but of the phenotype and the environment as well.

Some valleys will be unoccupied. One or more populations temporarily occupy other valleys. A subset of each occupied valley in configuration space constitutes the temporal gene pool of a population belonging to the species.[39] While the population changes, so does the gene pool, by the forces of competition and natural selection. Hence, a particular population wanders through the valley, adapting itself to ecological circumstances.

Occasionally, a population crosses a barrier of constraints between two neighbouring valleys. It means that a new species is realized, if the new homeland was not occupied before. This process, called cladogenesis (if the old homeland remains occupied, otherwise it is called anagenesis), has a quite low probability. ‘By far the commonest fate of every species is either to persist through time without evolving further or to become extinct.’[40]

Biologists distinguish sympatric from allopatric cladogenesis. (A third form, parapatric cladogenesis, is quite seldom). The division of a population over geographically isolated areas (like the Galapagos and Hawaii islands) causes allopatric cladogenesis. It usually starts with a relatively small population, the so-called founder population, for an aberrant population of a species is almost invariably peripherically isolated. Large, widespread populations are evolutionary inert.[41] In the sympatric case, the populations are not spatially isolated, but a new niche becomes available. The most common cause for plants is polyploidy, a duplication of the number of chromosomes. Generally, polyploidy does not lead to fertile descendants, but occasionally it produces a new species after a number of generations reproducing by self-pollination or asexual reproduction. More than half of all flowering plants is polyploid.

Crossing a barrier has an analogy in the well-known phenomenon of ‘tunneling’ in quantum physics. A radioactive nucleus is usually separated from a more stable nucleus by an energy barrier, much larger than the energy available to cross it. According to classical physics, the nucleus would never be able to pass this barrier, but quantum physics proves there is a finite (even if small) probability that the nucleus will cross the barrier, like a car passing a mountain through a tunnel. A similar event occurs in the formation of molecules in a chemical reaction. In this case, whether the energy barrier can be overcome depends on external circumstances like the temperature. The presence of a catalyst may lower the energy barrier. In biochemical processes enzymes have a similar function. Hence, the possibility that an individual physical thing changes its idionomy is a fact, both theoretically and experimentally firmly established.


The model implies the existence of a tenseless ensemble as well as a tenseless class corresponding to a species

With respect to the emergence of a new species, all kinds of circumstances can either increase or decrease the probability of overcoming one or more constraints. Clearly, the transition probability is largest if it concerns genetically similar species (neighbouring valleys in our model). The model finds some support in the theory of ‘punctuated equilibrium’, published by Niles Eldredge and Stephen Gould in 1972. Pointing to paleontological evidence, these authors observe that transitions between species appear to occur in a relatively short time compared to periods of rather stable equilibrium.[42] Hence, during a transition the organisms concerned cannot be said to belong to either one of the species between which they are migrating.

The model suggests that the standard theories of evolution, genetics, ecology and molecular biology do not preclude the possibility that a species corresponds with an idionomic cluster of laws determining a tenseless ensemble of possible genetic configurations constituting viable organisms. The ensemble is tenseless in the following sense. In the model, a species corresponds with a valley in configuration space, supposing that the genotype of any organism is objectively represented by the sequence of nucleotides in its DNA. Hence, whenever and wherever in the universe (in suitable circumstances) an organism would have a similar DNA-configuration, it would be a member of that species. This sounds - and is - speculative, because there is no evidence of organisms living outside the terrestrial biosphere. But it is necessary to make this observation, in order to show the plausibility of the following assumption: a species is a natural kind corresponding to a tenseless ensemble of objective possible configurations, as well as to a tenseless class of individuals, subject to an idionomic cluster of laws.


The explanation of the existence of species is in need of specific laws

Both lineages and populations are subject to the laws for biotic evolution (organisms do not evolve). Natural selection, genetic drift and ecological circumstances are sufficient to explain how lineages arise, change and expire, and geographic isolation explains the existence of distinct populations belonging to the same species. But all this does not explain why species of viable organisms exist.

Quantum physics explains how the transition from one physical or chemical system to another happens, but neither tunneling nor catalysis explains why a nucleus or molecule is stable or metastable in certain circumstances. Natural selection explains how a population changes within the boundaries of a valley corresponding to a species, and how a population sometimes crosses a barrier between species, but it does not explain why some genetic configurations lead to more or less stable organisms (if the circumstances allow of them). It explains why a population changes its gene pool such that its fitness increases, but not why the new gene pool is more viable in new circumstances. Natural selection explains how constraints can be overcome, it does not explain why there are constraints and which constraints are operational. It explains how species are realized (Darwin’s ‘origin’), not why they exist. To assume that the theory of evolution is able to explain almost everything biotic is the fallacy of evolutionism.

Some biologists and philosophers deny the existence of laws other than physical-chemical ones,[43] others accept the existence of general biotic laws.[44] However, it cannot be denied that any explanation must start from hypothetical or corroborated law statements. These should be both general and specific, enough to explain the viability of a particular population in particular circumstances. As shown in the model, such law statements may very well include the assumption that a lineage and its populations are spatiotemporal subsets of a tenseless class, without violating the received facts and theories of evolution and genetics. The members of this class are subject to an idionomic cluster of laws, whether physical-chemical, genetic or ecological, necessary to explain their fitness.

The model itself does not prove that a species corresponds to an idionomic cluster of laws. The proof of the pudding is in its eating. Pointing out such laws should substantiate the assumption that an empirical species is a temporal subset of a class, which members are subject to a specific cluster of laws.[45] Both genetics and developmental biology search for the lawful conditions concerning the specific constitution of genes and chromosomes determining the phenotype of a viable organism belonging to a species. This is a biological problem, exceeding the scope of this paper, which philosophical concern is merely to demonstrate that the received theories and facts do not exclude the said assumption.


The theory of idionomic laws is at variance with essentialism

According to many biologists and philosophers, the supposition that species are natural kinds means a return to essentialism, as developed by Carl Linnaeus, in particular.[46] Essentialism assumes the possibility to formulate necessary and sufficient conditions for a kind, which are independent of similar formulations for other kinds.[47] This is a far cry from the idea of an idionomic cluster of laws.[48] And with respect to the subject side of species, as far as essentialism (like creationism) excludes evolution, the above-discussed model is by no means essentialistic.

In an essentialist sense, a kind is autonomic rather than idionomic. Several biologists and philosophers seem to assume that the essentialist paradigm for natural kinds is still applicable to physical and chemical structures. But physical things only exist interacting with other things, and the actual realization of physically qualified things is only possible if the circumstances allow of it. For instance, in the interior of the sun, no molecule can exist. According to the astrophysical theory of the evolution of the universe physical things came into existence only gradually, not unlike organisms in the biotic evolution. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that elementary particles, atoms, molecules and crystals are subject to universal, tenseless laws.

Similarly, living organisms can only exist in genetic relations to other organisms if the circumstances allow of it. Any living being would perish in the absence of other living organisms, and no organism can survive in an environment that does not provide it with a suitable niche.


Conclusion: laws cannot be separated from their subjects

Whether or not a species is a natural kind corresponding to an idionomic cluster of laws is a question that should not be questioned on a priori, philosophical grounds. Rather, it is a biological problem, to be solved using a posteriori arguments, derived from empirical research. As a hypothesis it ought to be accepted only if it does justice to the facts as we know them, to the practice of working taxonomists, and to received biological theories.

If an empirically found species turns out to be idionomous in the sense described above, the concept of a species has both a law side and a subject side. At the law side, a species would correspond to a biotically qualified idionomic cluster of laws. This cluster would determine a class of individual organisms subject to the idionomic laws, as well as an objective ensemble of possible variations. At the subject side, an empirical species corresponds to a variable collection of individual organisms, limited in number, space and time.

The cosmonomic philosophy assumes that a law cannot be separated from its subjects. The laws characteristic for a species can only be found by studying their subjects, i.e., the organisms supposed to belong to the species concerned. Empirical biology discovers a species as an observable spatiotemporal collection of organisms distinguishable from other species. Biological research aims to discover the characteristic laws for a species in an empirical way sustained by the general theories of evolution, genetics, development, ecology and molecular biology. Knowledge of the relevant idionomic cluster of laws is a prerequisite for the explanation of the existence, viability and evolution of any particular species in its environment.

[1] I shall refer to a number of recent papers collected in Allen, Bekoff, Lauder (eds.) 1998; Hull, Ruse (eds.) 1998; Wilson (ed.) 1999.

[2] Verbrugge 1984, 42, 90, 134, introduced the term idionomy, analogous to but different from autonomy, after a suggestion made by P.A.Verburg (M.Verbrugge, private communication).

[3] Dooyeweerd NC, III, part I, Ch.II; part III, Ch.I, III.

[4] Misunderstandings can arise in biological morphology, where a feature or a complex of features with a specific biological role is called a character, in particular if it is shared by various species, see, e.g., Bock, von Wahlert 1965, 121. Animal psychology deals with patterns of behaviour, e.g., fixed-action patterns.

[5] Lawfully having a property is an example of a law. Each physical subject having mass (equivalent to energy) is a general law, each electron having a rest mass of 9.109 *10-31 kg is a specific law. However, every property is relational. An electron having mass is only meaningful if its mass is comparable to the mass or energy of other things, and each physical measurement needs an interaction.

[6] Dooyeweerd NC, II, part I.

[7] Stafleu, 1995.

[8] In cosmonomics, whether something is called a subject or an object does not depend on the epistemological context (as usual in philosophy) but on the nomological context, a subject being directly subjected to a law, an object only via a subject.

[9] I distinguish a tenseless class from a temporal collection. Both are sets. The temporal collection of all plants at present in my garden is a subset of the tenseless class of all plants.

[10] Tolman 1938, 43: An ensemble of systems is ‘… a collection of systems of the same structure as the one of actual interest but distributed over a range of different possible states.’ Josiah Gibbs introduced the concept of an ensemble about 1900.

[11] Dooyeweerd NC, III.

[12] Mayr 1982, 56: ‘Except for the twilight zone of the origin of life, the possession of a genetic program provides for an absolute difference between organisms and inanimate matter.’ Ibid., 629: ‘… the existence of a genetic program … constitutes the most fundamental difference between living organisms and the world of inanimate objects, and there is no biological phenomenon in which the genetic program is not involved …’

[13] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 79, 83. According to Dooyeweerd, all structures having the same qualifying aspect belong to the same radical type, and all things or events belonging to the same radical ­type form a kingdom. Modern biology distinguishes at least six kingdoms, bacteria, archaea (both prokaryotes, until recently considered one kingdom), protista (unicellular eukaryotes and algae), plantae, fungi, and animalia.

[14] Stafleu 1985. Stafleu 1989, 40-68.

[15] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 143, 266. Only quantitatively qualified kinds lack a secondary characteristic.

[16] In cosmonomics, a retrocipation refers a modal aspect to an earlier one, an anticipation to a later one. Both imply a projection and mapping of the relations determined by one relation frame on those of another frame.

[17] Stafleu 1989, Ch. VIII.

[18] In eukaryotic cells, the nucleus and organelles like mitochrondria and chloroplasts have about the size of prokaryotic cells (which do not contain such particles) and are enveloped by a similar membranes. Having their own DNA, mitochondria are genetically related to the purple group of bacteria, chloroplasts to the cyanobacteria.

[19] Dawkins 1983, 16: ‘If you find something, anywhere in the universe, whose structure is complex and gives the strong appearance of having been designed for a purpose, then that something either is alive, or was once alive, or is an artefact created by something alive.’ Kitcher 1993, 270 (492): ‘Entities have functions when they are designed to do something, and their function is what they are designed to do. Design can stem from the intentions of a cognitive agent or from the operation of selection …’

[20] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 107: ‘Nowhere else is the intrinsic untenability of the distinction between meaning and reality so conclusively in evidence as in things whose structure is objectively qualified.’

[21] de Queiroz 1999, 64: ‘… the species problem results from confusing the concept of a species itself with the operations and evidence that are used to put that concept in practice.’

[22] Mayr 1982, 251.

[23] An organism may change of population, e.g., by migration.

[24] de Queiroz 1999, 77: ‘… the general lineage concept is a quintessential biological species concept: inanimate objects don’t form lineages.’ Mishler, Brandon 1987, 310.

[25] This applies to biotically qualified organisms as well as to psychically qualified animals, because the concept of a species is biological.

[26] Ereshefsky 1992, 350.

[27] Mayr 1982, 273. According to Mayr, ‘There are three aspects of the biological species that required the adoption of new concepts. The first is to envision species not as types but as populations (or groups of populations), that is, to shift from essentialism to population thinking. The second is to define species not in terms of degree of difference but by distinctness, that is, by the reproductive gap. And third, to define species not by intrinsic properties but by their relation to other co-existing species, a relation expressed both behaviorally (noninterbreeding) and ecologically (not fatally competing).’ (ibid. 272). Hence, Mayr appears to prefer subject-subject relations above subject-object relations (e.g., morphological similarities and differences): ‘The word “species”… designates a relational concept.’ (ibid. 286).

[28] Rosenberg 1985, 191-197. Mishler, Brandon 1987; de Queiroz, Donoghue 1988; Ereshefsky 1992.

[29] Dupré, 1999. Ereshefsky 1992, 352 observes that the various criteria are not always consistent.

[30] Hull 1999, 38-39: the concept of a species should be universal, applicable, and theoretically significant.

[31] de Queiroz 1999, 60, 63: ‘In effect, the alternative species definitions are conjunctive definitions. All definitions have a common primary necessary property – being a segment of a population-level lineage – but each has a different secondary property – reproductive isolation, occupation of a distinct adaptive zone, monophyly, and so on.’

[32] Nanney 1999.

[33] Rosenberg 1985, 204-212. Hull 1999, 32: ‘when species are supposed to be the things that evolve, they fit more naturally in the category individual (or historical entity) than the category class (or kind).’ Hull, ibid. 32-33 assumes a dichotomy: ‘Classes are spatiotemporally unrestricted, whereas individuals are spatiotemporally localized and connected. Given this fairly traditional distinction, we argued that species are more like individuals than classes.’ Apparently, Hull neither distinguishes classes from collections, nor aggregates from individuals. For a critique, see Mishler, Brandon 1987; de Queiroz, Donoghue 1988; de Queiroz 1999, 67-68.

[34] A set of organisms with a common ancestry is called a taxon. This applies to species as well as to genera, phyla, etc. A taxon containing all and only the descendants of a common ancestor is called monophyletic.

[35] For each organism, the genetic code is expressed by a set of DNA-molecules (each chromosome is a DNA-molecule) each consisting of a very long characteristic sequence of only four nucleotides, called A (adenine), C (cytosine), G (guanine) and T (thymine). In RNA thymine is replaced by uracil. Each gene corresponds to a large sequence of nucleotides. The number of possible sequences far exceeds the number of genes and of individual organisms now and in the past. Individuals having the same genetic configuration are genetically identical and occupy the same position in configuration space (which, by the way, is discrete, not continuous). This space is comparable to the morphological space or morphospace discussed by, e.g., Amundson 1994.

[36] Lauder 1982, 508: ‘Why does the range of extant phenotypes, when mapped onto a theoretical “morphospace”, fill so little of it?’

[37] In the human genome, 0.1% is individually different, 99.9% is the same for all human beings. The human genome differs from that of chimpanzees by about 2%.

[38] Mayr 1982, 274: ‘Isolating mechanisms are biological properties which prevent the interbreeding of populations that are actually or potentially sympatric.’ Sober 1996, 76: ‘The word ‘constraint’ has been used in many different ways; biologists talk about mechanical constraints, developmental constraints, phylogenetic constraints, genetic constraints, etc., etc. Underlying this diversity, however, is the idea that constraints limit the ability of natural selection to produce certain outcomes.’ Dawkins 1983, 17: ‘Living things are not just statistically improbable in the trivial sense of hindsight: their statistical improbability is limited by the a priori constraints of design.’

[39] The gene pool consists of all genes present in the population. The frequency of the occurrence of each gene in the gene pool is determined by the frequency of the organisms in the population bearing that gene. Hence, whereas a population is a subjective aggregate of individual organisms, a gene pool is an objective aggregate of genetic patterns.

[40] Stebbins 1982, 23.

[41] Mayr 1982, 602.

[42] Stebbins 1982 16-21, estimates that such a transition takes 50,000 years or more, a stable period lasting several millions years.

[43] Dawkins 1986, 10-15.

[44] Hull 1974, Chapter 3. Griffiths 1999 denies that there are no laws pertaining to taxonomy.  Ereshefsky 1992, 360, observes ‘… there may be universal generalizations whose predicates are the names of types of basal taxonomic units … So though no laws exist about particular species taxa, there may very well be laws about types of species taxa.’ Ruse 1973, 30 stresses the existence of biotic laws like Mendel’s to be necessary for giving scientific explanations.

[45] Boyd 1999, 141 identifies ‘… a class of natural kinds, properties and relations whose definitions are provided not by any set of necessary and sufficient conditions, but instead by a “homeostatically” sustained clustering of those properties or relations. It is a feature of such homeostatic property cluster (HPC) kinds (…) that there is always some indeterminacy or “vagueness” in their extensions.’

[46] Toulmin, Goodfield 1965, Chapter 8. Mayr 1982, 175-177. Mayr 1982, 176 quotes from Linnaeus’ Philosophia Botanica (1751): ‘The ‘character’ is the definition of the genus, it is threefold: the factitious, the essential, and the natural. The generic character is the same as the definition of the genus … The essential definition attributes to the genus to which it applies a characteristic which is very particularly restricted to it, and which is special. The essential definition distinguishes, by means of a unique idea, each genus from its neighbours in the same natural order.’

[47] Rosenberg 1985, 188: ‘Essentialism with respect to species is the claim that for each species there is a nontrivial set of properties of individual organisms that is central to and distinctive of them or even individually necessary and jointly sufficient for membership in that species.’ Hull 1999, 33; Wilson 1999, 188

[48] Stafleu 1999.






7. Evolution, history, and

the individual character of a person



Philosophia Reformata 67, 3-18







7.1. Cosmic time is the horizon of our experience

7.2. The opening up of reality concerns the subject side of the cosmos

7.3. People belong to the animal kingdom

7.4. Humanity is called out of the animal world

7.5. Dooyeweerd’s wise ignorance does not make us any the wiser

7.6. Humanity is called to leave the animal world in order to develop nature

7.7. Nine relation frames beyond the six natural ones articulate human experience

7.8. The individual character of a person is different from other characters

7.9. People direct themselves to their origin




7.1. Cosmic time is the horizon

of our experience


For Christian anthropology, Herman Dooyeweerd’s vision of cosmic time is indispensable.[1] He considered each individual subject both created and temporal. Being created points to the subject’s vertical relation to the Creator of heavens and earth. Between the creation and the Creator, natural laws and normative principles constitute a boundary that no creature is able to cross: no creature is above the law. Being temporal implies the horizontal relations with other individuals, subject-subject relations as well as subject-object relations. The projections of one relation frame to the other ones and the mutual interlacements of characters[2] imply horizontal relations between laws. Hence, the complex of horizontal relations called cosmic time has a law side and a subject side.

If houses, trees or mountains do not restrict our view, the horizon determines the end of what we can see. We know that the horizon depends on our point of view. By climbing a hill or a tower, we widen our horizon, and by moving, we change our horizon. The horizon is the limit of our sight, but not the end of the world. Analogously, we speak of the horizon of our experience, which is plastic, temporal, in­dividual and culturally determined.

The horizon of cosmic time is less individual, but it does change. The full existence of the creation is restricted to time, considered as the meshwork of all possible relations between all possible creatures. Because reality develops itself, the horizon of time expands. Dooyeweerd calls this the opening-process. It concerns the cosmos as a whole, stars and planets, living beings, animals, evolution and history of mankind, as well as the individual development of a human child.

Among other things, the dimensions of this horizon concern the present, the past and the future. The past leaves traces, and the investigation of these traces provides us with insight into the evolution of the cosmos. The palaeontological research of the layers of earth and fossils has taught us a lot about the evolution of our planet and the biosphere surrounding it. The evolution of the sun reflects itself in the states of stars being younger or older than the sun. The history of mankind is subject of archaeological and historical research. Largely, the presence of written and unwritten documents determines our historical horizon.

The metaphor of the horizon of time is common in astrophysics. Since the ‘big bang’, the physical cosmos has been expanding like a balloon being inflated. Astronomers calculate both the distances and the speeds of the galaxies moving away from each other. It turns out that the most distant galaxies move fastest. Light arriving from those galaxies needs time to travel the gigantic distances. Therefore, the images achieved from distant galaxies concern states of affairs from a distant past. The most removed galaxies are situated at the spatio-temporal horizon of the physical cosmos. By observing these galaxies, astronomers study events that happened shortly after the big bang, the starting point of the astrophysical evolution. But the big bang itself cannot be observed. The astrophysical theory describes what happened after the start, but it does not describe the beginning itself. Astrophysicists are aware that their theories based on observations come very close to the start of the evolution, without ever being able to reach it. The factual beginning of the astrophysical evolution appears to remain forever behind the horizon of human experience.

The biotic evolution started later than the astrophysical one. Hence, the astrophysical horizon encloses the biotic one. For the time being, the beginning of the biotic evolution (the emergence of the first living beings), of the psychical evolution (the emergence of the first animals) and the emergence of mankind remain behind our horizon of experience. This does not mean that we cannot investigate them scientifically and should not discuss them in our philosophy. Even less should we try to find a supernatural explanation for these events.

The existence of these horizons may be understood from the point of view that reality consists mostly of relations. For example, each living being is related by kinship to all other ones. As far as we can see, there is no living individual that does not descend from another living individual. This thesis, omne vivum e vivo, expresses a universal biotic law. It is not an a priori thesis (until the middle of the nineteenth century, scientists considered spontaneous generation very well possible), but it is based on empirical biological research. This universal law prevents a biological explanation of the emergence of the first living beings. The actual beginning of life lies behind the biological horizon of experience. However, because this emergence remains within the astrophysical horizon, one cannot exclude a natural explanation, even if it is not available at present. From a Christian point of view, this means no less than the acknowledgement, that the possibility of the emergence of living beings is laid down in the creation.

Like Dooyeweerd, I do not accept the proposition that for the emergence of living beings only a theological explanation would be possible, based on the biblical tradition. Dooyeweerd rejected the idea of a special creation in time, and he did not recognize supernatural acts as a scientific principle of explanation. Since the beginning, created reality contained the possibility of the development of plants, animals and human beings, even if its realization was a matter of time.[3]

It is very well possible to account for the coming into being of the first plants and animals in a philosophical way. This is something entirely different from a scientific explanation. Even if the scientific problem of the emergence of the first living beings will never be solved, a philosophical theory like Dooyeweerd’s cannot avoid the question of how the various kingdoms did emerge successively.




7.2. The opening up of reality concerns

the subject side of the cosmos


The evolution since the big bang proceeds according to natural laws, of which we have scientific knowledge derived from present-day experience. Its extrapolation to the past is based on the presupposition that these laws are unchangeable, independent of time, place and motion. In a Christian culture, this rests on the trust that God maintains his once given laws. Since the beginning, in the presence and under the guidance of God, the cosmos develops according to his laws.

Being human consists of relations,[4] and each relation is intrinsically temporal. In order to stress the significance of relations, I propose to replace Dooyeweerd’s ‘modal aspects of cosmic time’ by ‘relation frames’ and his ‘structures of individuality’ by ‘characters’.[5] Each relation frame is a cluster of universal laws for intersubjective relations and for subject-object relations. Each natural thing or process has a character, defined as a cluster of natural laws determining a class of individuals, besides an ensemble of possibilities. Each character is primarily qualified by one of the relation frames. With a few exceptions, each character has a secondary type because of its foundation in a projection of the qualifying relation frame on a preceding frame. The tertiary characteristic is the disposition of each character to become interlaced with other characters (Dooyeweerd’s ‘enkapsis’). Together with the possibility to project every relation frame on the other ones (Dooyeweerd’s ‘anticipations and retrocipations’) and the disposition of the characters to be interlaced, the universal relations determine the coherence and the meaning of the cosmos.

The astrophysical and biotic evolution does not concern the law side of the relation frames and the natural characters, but their subject side. Dooyeweerd called this the subjective process of becoming.[6] It consists first of the gradual realization of characters, both subjectively (the coming into being of things, processes, plants and animals), and objectively (the opening up of their specific possibilities). In this process, the disposition of each character to interlace itself with other characters plays an important part.[7] Secondly, the process of becoming implies actualizing of subject-subject relations and subject-object relations in the universal relation frames.

According to Dooyeweerd, the retrocipations and anticipations (the projections of one relation frame on another one) belong to the temporal relations of reality. An important part of the process of becoming concerns the gradual development of the mutual projections of the relation frames. It is a typically Dooyeweerdian thesis that the opening up of the anticipations can only occur ‘under the guidance of’ a later aspect.[8] This is a rather obscure statement. Leadership can only be ascribed to individuals (or groups of individuals), not to modal aspects. It looks like an old and often repeated thesis, stating that biomolecules, having a physical and chemical character anticipating the biotic functioning of a cell, can only exist within a living cell. Unfortunately, it is hazardous to give an example, for some time after one has identified a presumably irreproducible biomolecule, biochemists usually succeed in producing it outside a living cell.

I believe Dooyeweerd’s thesis to be wrong. One cannot deny that in many cases anticipating moments of existing characters (their dispositions) are developed, such that new characters realize themselves. This occurs, for instance, when atoms form molecules. During the development of an animal from embryo to adult, hardly anything else happens.[9] The possibility, that the boundary between non-living and living nature is crossed in this way, cannot be excluded a priori.[10] Probably the circumstances in which living beings can emerge cannot be reproduced experimentally, for instance because such an experiment would require too much time.

This view is not reductionistic. Even if a boundary line is crossed, it is still a boundary. The continuity of the evolution (the subjective process of becoming) in cosmic time does not imply that biotic or psychic laws, characters, and types of subject-subject relations and subject-object relations are reducible to physical or chemical ones.




7.3. People belong to the animal kingdom


In his 32 ‘anthropological propositions’, Dooyeweerd distinguished three substructures in the human body structure. These are the physical and chemical material structure, the biotic or organic vegetative structure and the psychic animal structure.[11] Dooyeweerd did not recognize structures of individuality qualified by the modal aspects preceding the physical one, although he ascribed an integrating part to the ‘form-totality’ of the human body. However, I have shown that quantitative, spatial and kinetic characters exist as well.[12] A human being displays typical bodily magnitudes, shapes and motions. Yet, I should not speak of six substructures of the human body. The interlacement of characters is not typically human, and in the human body much more than six characters are interlaced.[13]

The human body consists of the same atoms and molecules as we find elsewhere. Biochemical processes proceed in humans as they do in other living beings. The human body plan and physiology have much in common with those of the apes. Since the eighteenth century, biology classifies humankind as a species among the primates, the mammals and the vertebrates. People are part of the animal kingdom, even if they transcend it as well.

An animal has a psychically qualified character expressed by its goal-directed behaviour.[14] But in human beings this character is opened up,anticipating the post-psychic relation frames. Human behaviour is opened into actions, being qualified by any one of the relation frames and therefore lacking a unique qualification.[15] For instance, there are logically qualified acts, economic transactions, and juridical offences. All these actions proceed in cosmic time.[16]

We can summarize this by stating that, contrary to animals, each human being has a spirit besides a body. Then we should not consider the spirit in a dualistic sense as an independent (even immortal) substance besides the body.[17] In my view, the words body and spirit refer to two dual directions in human existence. The word spirit expresses the anticipating direction, in each relation frame directed to succeeding frames. The human body refers to the projections of each relation frame to the preceding frames. Besides similarities, the human body shows many differences with the animal body. A person does not have a mortal body besides an immortal spirit, but each person is body, spirit and soul simultaneously.[18]




7.4. Humanity is called out

of the animal world


According to Marcel Verburg, Dooyeweerd never finished his anthropolo­gical work because he did not see a solution to the problem of evolution.[19] Hence, Dooyeweerd accorded the study of evolution an important position. The study of the evolution of humanity and of its relation to the anorganic cosmos, the vegetative and the animal world is highly relevant to philosophical anthropology.

Contrary to his intentions, Dooye­weerd’s extensive, cautious and well-considered review of Jan Lever’s pioneering work[20] has hampered rather than furthered the development of a Christian anthropology. Probably it has withheld several scientists from contributing to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea. Several decades later, much more empirical evidence for the astrophysical, biotic and human evolution is available. This gives rise to the following thesis.

On the one side, Christian philosophical anthropology ought to dissociate itself from naturalistic evolutionism that considers a human being merely as a natural product.[21] The criticism exerted by Dooyeweerd and several of his adherents on evolutionism is right, as far as evolutionism states that the evolution of humanity from the animal kingdom should be explainable entirely in a natural scientific way.

On the other hand, Christian anthropology does not need to object to the hypothesis that humanity emerged from the animal kingdom.[22] The evolution of mankind, like the evolution of plants and animals, occurs according to biotic and psychic natural laws. These laws are useful for a necessary, though by no means sufficient explanation for the coming into being of humanity. There is no reasonable doubt that the hominids, as far as their retrocipatory body structure is concerned, evolved from the animal world.[23] However, no more than any other science, biology is able to account for the vocation of people, making them spiritual (anticipating) human beings.

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

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





7.5. Dooyeweerd’s wise ignorance

does not make us any the wiser


In his discussion of Jan Lever’s Creatie en evolutie, Herman Dooyeweerd proposed to observe a ‘learned ignorance’ with respect to the problem of the emergence of humanity.[24] It is improbable that Dooyeweerd did not realize that this term is due to the fifteenth-century nominalist philosopher and theologian Nicholas of Cusa (and earlier to Augustine). In his book De docta ignorantia (1440), Nicholas argued that the task of science is to determine the measure of all things, the mathematical ratio to other things.[25] The infinite cannot be measured, however, and because God is infinite, He is not knowable by means of science.

I do not believe that Dooyeweerd intended to join this view. In the present context, he was not concerned with the knowledge of God, but with our insight into the emergence of humanity. Dooyeweerd had too much respect for natural science, however fallible it may be. Calvinists accept that reality is knowable in principle. About a hundred years after Nicholas of Cusa, John Calvin formulated the principle that the lawfulness investigated by science has its ground in the creation, being subject to laws maintained by the Creator according to His covenant with humanity.[26] This covenant warrants the possibility to achieve reliable knowledge of reality. Calvin underlined Nicholas of Cusa’s thesis that human beings cannot achieve autonomous knowledge about God, because true knowledge of God depends on divine revelation. Empirical scientific knowledge of created reality depends on research. Each scientist is bound to the states of affairs with which he is faced. But God is not subject to scientific research.

The docta ignorantia doctrine cannot be used to ignore the problem of the emergence of the first human beings. Christians who feel threatened by science, have a tendency to appeal to the positivist or nominalist view, that science is only able to pose hypotheses. For instance, the Roman-Catholic philosopher Pierre Duhem stated that in any theory a set of hypotheses could be replaced by another equivalent set.[27] However, within the framework of a Protestant critical-realistic philosophy a subterfuge of this kind is not acceptable.

It may very well be that we shall never find a satisfactory answer to the question of how mankind evolved from the animal kingdom. If the emergence of humanity consists foremost of the recognition of one’s vocation to further good and combat evil, one cannot even expect a scientific explanation. In that case, it is not a scientific problem, but a philosophical one.

Anyhow, to acquiesce in a docta ignorantia is embarrassing. We can make at least one step ahead by accepting the above formulated hypothesis, that the start of the biotic, psychic and human evolution may be (for the time being or forever) behind our horizon of experience, like the big bang is. By taking this step, one recognizes that the first living beings, the first animals, and the first human persons emerged within cosmic time, even if we have no explanation available. It has a larger philosophical quality, because it offers the beginning of an explanation. For the next steps, the theory of characters with their dispositions to become interlaced with each other may be of help.

The only commendable feature of the docta ignorantia plea is the rejection of speculations of the following kind. Many problems in the theory of evolution are weighed down by a shortage of empirical data necessary to arrive at a scientifically sound explanation. It turns out to be very attractive to supply this shortage with ‘just-so stories’ (unverifiable imaginative narrative explanations) about how ‘it could have happened’. These speculations ought to find no place in empirical science.




7.6. Humanity is called to leave

the animal world

in order to develop nature


I do not share the opinion of naturalists, that the evolution and the history of mankind form a continuous process. Although the historical horizon of human experience is included in the biotic and psychic ones, humanity has been called to leave the animal world. When the evolution of the hominids became the history of mankind cannot easily be established, nor whether the transition happened abruptly or gradually. Biological and palaeontological research teaches us how the body structure of hominids evolved in about three million years into that of human beings, but a sharp transition is not to be found. Archaeological research is not only directed to fossils of hominids and humans, but to the products of human labour as well. If we regard the use of fire and tools as decisive, the history of mankind started some two hundred thousand years ago. Cave paintings are no more than fifty thousand years old. Written texts date from several thousands years. The calling of the first human persons may have occurred relatively recently (as compared to the duration of the evolution of the hominids). Perhaps the use of fire and tools preceded it. The data are too scarce to draw a definite conclusion.

In itself, the use of natural resources is not a monopoly of human beings. Animals using fire are unknown, but the application of rocks and sticks as tools is not exceptional among birds and mammals. People do that with increasing quantity and quality. Whereas evolution in the animal world is biotically founded, depending on natural genetic selection, human progress is characterized by cultural tradition. It proceeds gradually and sometimes by jumps, but it is not hereditary.

The opening of nature concerns all six natural relation frames and the characters they qualify. People deepen their quantitative, spatial, kinetic, physical, biotic and psychic relations with other creatures and with each other. Contrary to animals, human beings are able to count more than the fingers of a hand. Their environment is not restricted to their Umwelt. Its kinetic sense of time led humanity to the measurement of time, at first by the diachronous and synchronous comparison with the motion of celestial bodies, later by the invention of periodically operating clocks. People experience cosmic time first  quantitatively, counting days, weeks, months and years. Besides to natural laws, the calendar is subject to norms. Not nature, but human beings harmonized the lunar calendar with the solar one. Clocks ought to represent the uniformity of kinetic time. The exploitation of energy and matter transformations, far beyond the use of fire and celts marks history. Initially, the mastery of nature meant hunting, domestication of animals and the collection of fruits. Only in agriculture and cattle-breeding, people started to develop living nature. They influenced the genetic renewal of plants and animals by cultivating and crossing, replacing natural by artificial selection.

Although history began with the technical development of natural characters, the popular view that nature is the teacher of technology (‘natura artis magistra’) is wrong.[28] Rather, our insight in technical instruments allows us to understand the functioning of natural things, plants and animals. For instance, about 1600 Johann Kepler found the optical explanation of the human eye when he studied the operation of a lens in a camera obscura.




7.7. Nine relation frames beyond

the six natural ones

articulate human experience


Contrary to Dooyeweerd, I believe that the technical relation frame (instead of the logical one) succeeds the psychic frame.[29] By means of technology, humanity opens the natural relations and characters. That is the beginning of history. In turn, the technical relation frame is the foundation of all other interhuman relation frames.

In the cultural opening process, humanity develops the normativity of the law side of reality. Therefore, natural evolution should be distinguished from normative history. All human relations are historical. In history people develop more dispositions of natural things and processes than nature itself does. This concerns first all subject-object relations in which a person acts as a subject. Next, it concerns all artefacts, the culture of mankind. Third, history is concerned with human subject-subject relations, constituting the human civilization.[30]

Plants and animals, just like some human ideologies, are subject to a cyclical order of time. Influenced by Christianity, the western view arose of history as a linear process, guided by the norm of the progress of humanity. Progress as the historical order of time is not a fact, but a norm by which all historical events can be judged. The historical order of time can be projected on the six natural relation frames. The succession of historical events is a projection on kinetic time, preceded by numerical diachronic and spatial synchronic relations. Human labour is the motor of history. Historical development as cultural renewal and ageing is a projection on the biotic relation frame. In a living society, tradition plays a renovating part, but against the historical norm, tradition may lead to petrifaction or decline as well. In addition, human culture is not only goal-directed in a psychical sense, but also goal-conscious.

The opening of the natural relation frames concerns all post-psychic relation frames, not only the technical one. Some of them correspond to a specific body function: manual skill to technology, the senses to the aesthetic frame, the larynx combined with hearing to human language, and the brain to thought and ideology. For the other relation frames such a connection is not directly given.

The production of artefacts is the first distinctive mark between humans and animals. Labour brings about human culture. Animals adapt themselves to their Umwelt, but people change their environment. Animals build nests and dams according to inborn patterns, but people make artefacts according to their own design. Technology characterizes the cultural subject-object relation. The tradition, i.e., the transfer of insight, knowledge and skills, is the cultural subject-subject relation.

People use their fantasy by playing with each other and adorning their bodies and homes. Animals too display mating rituals and learning by playing, but these are always related to biotic and psychic needs. People invent rules, organize plays and develop playing into sports and arts.

People give symbols significance beyond the psychic context of animal signals, by naming, showing, clarification and interpretation. One speaks of a language if the symbols refer to each other, something animal signals never do. A grammar rules the connections between the symbols themselves and semantics or a vocabulary determines what these artefacts mean. Language is ambiguous, allowing of synonyms, analogies and metaphors.

Conceptual thought, reasoning and arguing are developed from the animal ability of Gestalt-recognition and associating.

The human need of reliability and credibility reminds of the instinctive mutual trust of animals living in herds. Shared convictions, certainties and basic principles constitute a philosophical or scientific worldview or a political program. The members of an association are loyal to its ideology or mission statement. Determining their position in their world, people call themselves Christians or Moslems, socialists or Christian-democrats, positivists or realists.

Whereas each animal species is specialized in its own niche, people are many-sided, dividing their tasks. During their education children develop their talents for virtues or vices, their individual character or personality, and their skills. Division of labour leads to organization and professionalization. The norm for service is mutual respect, recognition of each other’s skills, trust in each other’s sense of responsibility, and respect for each other’s personal convictions.

The specialisation of people requires the exchange of products, services and skills. On the market, competing buyers and sellers determine the relative value (objectified with the help of money) of products, production processes and of services. Efficiency as an economical norm is a projection on the psychic order of goal-directed behaviour.

People are responsible for their behaviour. In order to deal with conflicts and to punish infringements of norms, the society acknowledges an order of justice exerting compulsion. In the development of norms, principles of justice are decisive.

The animal’s care for its brood evolved into the human care for the fellow men. The love of one’s neighbour as a universal norm for mutual charity is expressed in the care for weak persons like children, patients, invalids, unemployed and refugees. Human relations like interest, compassion, sympathy and antipathy, aversion and indifference belong to this relation frame, as well as a person’s involvement with the environment and the products of her labour.

Human feelings and senses have a primary or a secondary psychic character. Feelings that people share with animals, like fear, cold, hunger, and pleasure have a primary psychic character. Besides, people have a sense of technology, aesthetics, language, logic, and justice. The sense of justice is usually assumed to be psychically founded, being a projection of the judicial relation frame on the psychic one. Hence, it has a secondary psychic character. This kind of feeling points to a human propensity that is not yet articulated, an innate intuition, shared by all people. However, what is innate is laid down in a person’s genetic and psychic constitution. It is part of her natural experience. When education articulates intuition, we speak of a virtue or a vice. Both just and unjust people have a sense of justice, therefore both are held responsible for their deeds.

The same applies to skills. The ability to learn a language is innate, but to master a language is a human activity, taking place within a person’s historical and cultural context. It is an activity subject to norms, for one can both teach and learn a language well or badly.




7.8. The individual character of a person

is different

from other characters


The history of mankind is not primarily expressed in the universal relation frames themselves, but in the characters qualified by the relation frames. First, this concerns the characters of artefacts, the products of human labour, having an internal technical destiny or a destiny in one of the succeeding relation frames.[31] In artefacts, the natural characters are opened up. Second, this applies to the characters of all kinds of human acts, such as an economically qualified transaction. Third, this concerns the characters of human associations, like a hospital qualified by the relation frame of loving care. In each relation frame, it appears to be relevant to distinguish between the private and the public domain. Voluntary associations have their own sovereignty, irreducible to both the private and the public domain.

Each of these characters is a set of natural laws and of norms. Only the appearance of norms distinguishes them from natural characters. A natural character is a specific cluster of natural laws valid for a class of similar things, events or processes. The character of an artefact consists of norms besides natural laws, and the characters of acts and of associations consist mainly of norms.

However, unlike animals, human beings do not have a character in this sense.[32] The individual character of a person does not concern a set of laws and norms, but an attitude with respect to the law side of the cosmos. A human person is not characterized by a cluster of specific laws, which they (like an animal) would satisfy imperatively, but by an entirely different relation to the laws. People are conscious of regularities, they know laws, they formulate existing and make new laws, and they obey or transgress laws. Human persons are able to formulate laws as statements and to logically analyze them, to develop new characters and to apply them according to their own insights and needs.

As far as we ascribe an individual person a character or personality, this is the set of their virtues and vices. A person’s individual character is their attitude with respect to natural laws, norms and values, concerning the way a person deals with their fellow people and with nature.[33] There is an enormous diversity of virtues and vices. Some can be related to a relation frame, some to a type of action or association.

With this idea of the individual human character or personality, we approach but do not yet arrive at the nucleus of human being. This nucleus is a person’s religion.[34]





7.9. People direct themselves to their origin


Investigations starting from the periphery, from evolution and history proceeding via artefacts, activities and associations to the human individual character, may teach us a lot about people. Nevertheless, they do not touch the religious nucleus, the heart of being human. The consciousness of people, to be called to further the good and to combat evil, does not immediately lead to knowledge of God. To feel being called does not mean to know whom is calling. Knowledge of God does not spring from people, but arrives at people by revelation and prophecy. The religious choice made by a person directs her acts and influences her character. The individual character of a person concerns their attitude towards the law side of the cosmos, towards natural laws, norms and values, with all the implications this attitude may have for their relations with fellow human beings and other creatures. However, in religion a person directs themselves to the Origin and the Redeemer of the cosmos beyond its law side.[35]

Human self-knowledge is unbreakably connected to the knowledge of God.[36] We cannot arrive at the knowledge of God by our own effort. Nor is this necessary, for God came into the world in the person of Jesus Christ.[37] In meeting the Son of Man, a human person becomes God’s child, restoring being God’s image. The unity of mankind is not primarily given by common descent, but by the principle that each person is called to be a child of God, and therefore to take responsibility for herself and co-responsibility for others.[38] In his summary of the law, Jesus mentions the love of God and the love of one’s neighbour in the same breath. This means that the relation between God and an individual person does not stand apart from the relations this person exerts with their fellow people, with other creatures, and with human activities, artefacts and associations.

The principle of the mutual dependence of the knowledge of God and self-knowledge is decisive for a Christian philosophical anthropology. However, as a starting point for empirical philosophical research, an approach from periphery to the centre should be preferred. The above sketched approach is not averse to the results of science and the humanities, but makes use of them, gratefully and critically. Christian philosophical anthropology ought to account for the many-sided relations that each person experiences with their fellow persons in the cosmos, their evolution and history, without losing out of sight that the whole cosmos depends on its Creator and Redeemer.

Dooyeweerd warned against having too high expectations of a Christian philosophical anthropology.[39] He was focussed on the I-ness of a person and their relation to the Creator to such an extent, that he forgot more or less the periphery, i.e., being human in the cosmos. He underestimated the potential of his own philosophy. It is true that an empirical philosophy cannot say very much about a person themselves or about their relation to the Eternal. However, much more can be said about other relations, both with other people and with the rest of the cosmos.

The horizon of cosmic time encloses the total cosmos, including all people. We cannot place ourselves outside the cosmos, even in thought. There is no Archimedean point outside the cosmos available, from which we could have an overview of the whole world. We shall have to be content with a view from within the cosmos, or rather with several different points of view, complementing each other. Each relation frame is an aspect of human experience. In each of them, a person expresses something of their own, relative to other people. In addition, each relation frame qualifies the characters of a variety of artefacts, activities and associations. Their study constitutes a Christian philosophical anthropology.

[1] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 781: ‘... the most important problem of philosophical reflection: What is man’s position in the temporal cosmos in relation to his divine Origin? ... a philosophic anthropology presupposes an enquiry into the different dimensions of the temporal horizon with its modal and individuality structures.’ On Dooyeweerd’s anthropology, see Ouweneel 1986; Glas 1996.

[2] I shall explain the meaning of these terms below.

[3] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 123.

[4] Dooyeweerd 1960b, 181-182: ‘The mystery of the human I is, that it is, indeed, nothing in itself; that is to say, it is nothing as long as we try to conceive it apart from the three central relations which alone give it meaning. First, our human ego is related to our entire experience of the temporal world as the central reference point of the latter. Second, it finds itself, indeed, in an essential communal relation to the egos of its fellowmen. Third, it points beyond itself to its central relation to its divine Origin in Whose image man was created.’ See also Dooyeweerd1961.

[5] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 1.

[6] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 127: The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea ‘… pointed out that these structure principles were only successively realized in the factual process of becoming, and that this process of becoming proceeds in the continuity of cosmic time, warranting an intermodal coherence between its modal aspects.’ [In this and some other footnotes, quotes from Dooyeweerd’s Dutch texts are translated by MDS.]

[7] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 781: ‘So it appears that the theory of the enkaptic structural whole forms the necessary connective link between the theory of the individuality-structures and their temporal inter­weavings, and what is called a philosophical anthropology.’

[8]. Dooyeweerd 1959b, 128-129: ‘... so-called bio-chemical and bio-physical processes, in which the organic function of life itself plays the leading and directing role.’ Dooyeweerd stresses that an explanation of the emergence of living beings in a merely physical-chemical way is contrary to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea (in particular the irreducibility of the biotic aspect to the physical and chemical one), and lacks any scientific justification.

[9] Some philosophers take for granted ‘natural’ processes in the development of a human being from its conception, during and after pregnancy, while considering similar processes incomprehensible in evolution. A standard objection is that one cannot understand how by natural selection such a complicated organ like the human eye could evolve even in five hundred million years. However, who can explain the development of the human eyesight in nine months, starting from a single fertilized cell? In both cases, biologists have a broad understanding of the process, without being able to explain all details. (I am not suggesting here that the evolution and the development of the visual faculty are analogous processes.)

[10] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 129: ‘In this regard, every evolutionistic hypothesis, that attempts to explain this according to physical and chemical laws, surpasses the boundaries of natural science and moves into the area of a philosophical vision of totality with respect to the coming into being of our world, erasing the modal boundaries between the aspect of energy effect and that of organic life.’ Here Dooyeweerd assumes a viewpoint that is incomprehensible in his own philosophy. It is the view that science could be performed apart from any view of totality, whether or not philosophically justified. I believe that no fundamental scientific problem at all can be posed and solved apart from a scientific world-view. Evolutionism is such a world-view, and the question is whether the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea is able to put forward an alternative.

[11] Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition X: ‘The human body is built as an enkaptic whole of four structures of individuality, of which each lower one is morphologically bound in the higher ones. Hence, the natural body form or body plan is a nodal point of interlacements between the several structures.’ Proposition XIII: These lower structures function ‘… enkaptically in a fourth structure, the so-called act-structure of the human body, i.e., the typical structure of the human “acts”.’ Dooyeweerd, New critique, III, 87-89: ‘…the human body, as the individual whole of a man’s temporal existence, shows a very complicated interlacement of different typical structures which are combined in a form-totality, qualified by the so-called act-structure. This act-structure is successively founded in an animal, a vegetative and a material structure.’

[12] Stafleu 2002a, chapters 2-4.

[13] If we include the secondary foundations besides the primary qualifications, the number of substructures enkaptically bound in the human body structure increases to at least 16. [One quantitative + one spatial (quantitatively founded) + two kinetic (spatially or quantitatively founded) + three physical + four biotic + five psychic = 16 substructures]. However, in this way one does not count characters, but types of characters. The real number of characters interlaced in the human body is enormous. Dooyeweerd’s concept of an animal, a vegetative and a material substructure in the human body appears to be an attractive simplification that cannot survive scientific scrutiny.

[14] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 7. Sections 7.5 and 7.6 deal with the distinction of human beings and animals.

[15] Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV: ‘By “acts” the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea understands all activities starting from the human soul (or spirit), but functioning within the enkaptic structural whole of the human body. Guided by normative points of view, man is intentionally directed to states of affairs in reality or in his imagination. He makes these states of affairs to his own by relating them to his I-ness.’ [Italics omitted]. Dooyeweerd distinguishes an intentional internal act from an external action realizing an act. Apparently, acts constitute a kind of intermediary between the human I and the outer world, see Glas 1996, 100. However, I believe that an internal act and the ensuing external action form a continuous whole. They cannot be separated. There are many different kinds of acts, each having its own character. Hence, it may be misleading to speak of the act-structure.

[16] According to Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XIV, the human act-life expresses itself into three basic directions of knowing, imagining and willing. It is not difficult to recognize these as the past (knowledge is based on past experience), the present (insight into present states of affairs requires imagination besides knowledge), and the future (to which the human will is directed). Hence, Dooyeweerd’s trio is temporal. It is by no means evident that knowing, imagining and willing are restricted to human activity. Animal behaviour contains these elements as well. In Dooyeweerd 1961, 41 he specifies them as the theoretical logical function of thought, the moral function of the will and the aesthetic function of the imagination [italics by MDS], referring to three (out of nine) post-psychic modal aspects of human activity.

[17] A dualism means the division of something into two different compartments. A duality means that something has two sides.

[18] Dooyeweerd NC,  III, 89: ‘The human body is man himself in the structural whole of his temporal appearance. And the human soul, in its pregnant religious sense, is man himself in the radical unity of his spiritual existence, which transcends all temporal structures.’

[19] Verburg 1989, 350-360. Dooyeweerd intended to publish his anthropology in the third volume of his Reformatie en scholastiek in de wijsbe­geer­te,1949. He published parts of the second volume in Philosophia Reformata and in his New critique, but the third volume never appeared.

[20] Lever 1956. Dooyeweerd 1959b.

[21] By evolutionism, I understand a form of reductionistic naturalism, absolutizing evolution to be the only or the most important principle of explanation for the functioning of plants, animals and human beings. Being a popular world-view, evolutionism should not be identified with any scientific theory of evolution.

[22] Stafleu 2002a, chapters 6 and 7. This view does not contradict the intention of the story of the creation in the first chapters of Genesis. See Clouser 1991b, 6-7: ‘Thus the interpretation of the biblical remark that God created Adam “from the dust of the ground” would not be that it is intended as a description of God’s act, but as a comment on Adam’s nature. To be sure, it is by God’s creative activity that humans come into being. But on this interpretation the expression “from the dust of the ground” should not be understood as a description of one causal deed in space and time by which a biologically human being came into existence, but as conveying the fact that part of human nature is that humans are made of the same stuff that the rest of the world is made of. Thus, humans never are, and never can be, more than creatures of God. They are not little bits of divinity stuffed into earthly bodies, which are degraded as “the prison house of the soul.”’

[23] This is a hypothesis, for which no logically conclusive proof exists, and probably cannot exist. In scientific laboratories, evolution cannot be copied. Nevertheless, Dooyeweerd’s 1942 proposition XXX): ‘Neither palaeontology, nor … have provided any evidence for the bodily descendence of mankind from animal ancestors’ makes no sense. Scientific evidence differs from logical proof. Science does not require logical proof for a hypothesis. It requires scientific evidential material that does not contradict the hypothesis, but sustains it. During the past two centuries, such evidence has been found in abundance. Moreover, for the above-mentioned hypothesis no scientifically defensible or viable alternative appears to be available.

[24] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 156-157.

[25] In this respect, Nicholas of Cusa is an early representative of neo-Pythagoreanism that in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries inspired the mathematization of science. The Pythagoreans assumed that a rational explanation consists of the determination of quantitative ratios.

[26] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 93: ‘Calvin’s judgement: “Deus legibus solutus est, sed non exlex”, (“God is not subject to the laws, but not arbitrary”) touches the foundations of all speculative philosophy by laying bare the limits of human reason set for it by God in His temporal world order.’

[27] Duhem 1914.

[28] Schilling 1968, 10-13.

[29] See Hart 1984, 194-195. Seerveld 1985, 79.

[30] About the distinction of culture and civilization, see Elias 1939, chapter 1. Ibid 25: ‘Civilization’ points to a process or at least to the result of a process. It refers to something that is continually changing, that is ‘moving forward’. The German concept of ‘culture’ in its present sense has a different tenor: it concerns human products. According to Schilling 1968, 184, the concept of culture is derived from the cultivation or tillage of soil.

[31] Stafleu 2002a, section 8.2.

[32] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 87-89: humanity is not qualified by one of the modal aspects.  Arendt 1958, 20 states that it is highly improbable that human beings are able to establish their own nature. Ibid. 333: St. Augustine stresses the distinction between the species character of animal life and the individual character of human existence.

[33] Dooyeweerd 1942, proposition XXVI: ‘The character is the typical temporal expression of the individuality of the human spirit in the act-structure or boundary-structure of the human body. As a temporal type of individuality, the character is sharply distinguished from the “heart” as the spiritual centre of human existence.’ See Comte-Sponville 1995 11-14. According to Kant (cited by Comte-Sponville, ibid. 78), somebody’s character is determined by the features of the will to make use of the spiritual talents (like intelligence, sensitiveness, ability of judgement) and the qualities of the temperament (like courage, resoluteness, tenacity in the exertion of plans). Ethics, the philosophy of norms and values, concerns human action, whereas ethology studies the behaviour of animals. Praxeology or practical philosophy, the philosophical study of practical human activity, is part of ethics, see Troost1986; 1990; 1993.

[34] Dooyeweerd 1959b, 153: ‘This act-structure is indissolubly connected with the human I-ness as the religious centre, from which all temporal internal acts originate, including the activities expressing these human acts.’ See also Dooyeweerd 1942; NC, III, 87-89. However, not activity, but religion makes a human being human. It appears that Charles Taylor’s concept of the ‘self’ corresponds to what I call the individual character of a person. See Taylor 1989, 27: ‘To know who I am is a species of knowing where I stand. My identity is defined by the commitments and identifications which provide the frame or horizon within which I can try to determine from case to case what is good, or valuable, or what ought to be done, or what I endorse or oppose. In other words, it is the horizon within which I am capable of taking a stand.’ Ibid. 28: ‘What this brings to light is the essential link between identity and a kind of orientation. To know who you are is to be oriented in moral space, a space in which questions arise about what is good or bad, what is worth doing and what not, what has meaning and importance for you and what is trivial and secondary.’

[35] Initially, this led Dooyeweerd to the view that the human self is supra-temporal, see footnote 20 and NC, I, 31. His probably final view may be found in Dooyeweerd 1960a, 137: ‘... by the word supra-temporal I never intended a static state, but only a central direction of consciousness transcending cosmic time. Perhaps it had better be replaced by a different term.’

[36] Calvijn 1559, I, 1-4. Dooyeweerd NC, II, 562; 1962b, 184; 1961, 44.

[37] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 561: ‘… all human experience remains bound to a perspective horizon in which the transcendent light of eternity must force its way through time. In this horizon we become aware of the transcendent fullness of the meaning of this life only in the light of the Divine revelation refracted through the prism of time. For this reason, Christ, as the fullness of God’s Revelation, came into the flesh; and for this reason also the Divine Word-revelation came to us in the temporal garb of human language.’

[38] Clouser 1991b, 12: ‘… despite the long standing theological tradition to the contrary, there is no explicit biblical assertion that all humans descended from Adam. His being the first religious head of humanity (receiver of the covenant) is never equated with, or made to depend upon, his being the biological progenitor of all people.’

[39] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 783: ‘… we emphatically warn against any exaggerated expectation concerning a philosophic anthropology.’






8. Time and history in the

philosophy of the cosmonomic idea



Philosophia Reformata 73, 154-169







8.1. Introduction

8.2. The first (restricted) trend of time in Dooyeweerd’s conception of history

8.3. The historical temporal order and its subjective correlate in the normative relation frames

8.4. Survey of the historical meaning in the natural and normative relation frames

8.5. Histori(ci)sm

8.6. The temporal  order of the modal aspects and the supratemporal heart

8.7. Conclusion





8.1. Introduction


Philosophy of history concerns various views of history, both of res gestae (the things that happened) and of its oral or written description, historia rerum gestarum. I shall hardly discuss the latter, also known as theoretical history or metahistory,[1] investigating the presuppositions, structure and methods of the science of history, and its relations to other fields of science and the humanities. Concerning the former, in Herman Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of the cosmonomic idea the theories of both time and history play an important part. One might expect that these two be strongly connected. However, his theory of time appears to have two different trends, and Dooyeweerd applies only one of them in his extensive discussion of history, completely ignoring the other one.

In the first or restricted trend, time is primarily related to modal diversity. Like sunlight is refracted by a prism into a spectre of colours, time refracts the totality, unity and coherence of meaning of the creation into a diversity of meaning, expressed in mutually irreducible modal aspects.[2] Though mutually irreducible, the aspects are not independent, displaying a temporal order of before and after, such that later aspects are founded in former ones. Later aspects refer back to (‘retrocipate on’) earlier aspects in this order of time, whereas earlier aspects ‘anticipate’ the later ones. The meaning of each aspect is expressed in its meaning nucleus and in the meaning of its retrocipations and anticipations. Hence, the temporal structure of each separate modal aspect reflects the temporal order of all aspects together.

Clearly there are two terminal modal aspects, the first (quantitative) one lacking retrocipations. One might expect that the final one, the aspect of faith, lacks anticipations, but that is not entirely the case. According to Dooyeweerd, in the anticipatory direction each modal aspect ‘transcends’ the earlier ones. Ultimately, via the aspect of faith, the human self in its religion (its heart) transcends time, i.e., the modal diversity of meaning. In this way the aspect of faith is opened up by religion. Faith does not anticipate religion in the modal way of one aspect anticipating another one, but it forms a ‘window on eternity’.[3] This first trend in Dooyeweerd’s conception, emphasizing modal diversity, plays a decisive part in his theory of history, as well as in his treatment of epistemology.[4]

In the first trend,

‘time in its cosmic sense has a cosmonomic and a factual side. Its cosmonomic side is the temporal order of succession or simultaneity. The factual side is the factual duration, different for various individualities. But the duration remains constantly subjected to the temporal order. Thus, for example, in the aspect of organic life, the temporal order of birth, maturing, adulthood, aging and dying holds good for the more highly developed organisms. The duration of human life may differ considerably in different individuals. But it always remains subject to this biotic order of time.’[5]

‘The logical order of simultaneity and of prius and posterius is as much a modal aspect of the integral order of time as the physical.’[6]

Apparently, in this restricted sense Dooyeweerd supposed neither that succession is the quantitative or perhaps the kinetic temporal order, nor that simultaneity is the spatial one. Rather, these express the serial order or sequence of the retrocipations and anticipations being simultaneously present in any modal aspect. The discreteness of the serial order expresses the ‘sovereignty in their own sphere’ of the modal aspects, i.e., their mutual irreducibility. Simultaneity points to the modal universality of each aspect, i.e., the laws in all aspects are simultaneously and universally valid in the sense of applying to everything. In contrast, duration as the subject side of time is not expressed in the modal aspects but at the subject side of the structures of individuality, where factual duration is developed in subject-object relations.[7] For Dooyeweerd, besides modal meaning cosmic time refracts all temporal individuality from totality.

In the second, more expanded trend, however, Dooyeweerd states that time is expressed in each modal aspect in a different way, each law sphere being an aspect of time. Simultaneity is now called the spatial order of time, to be distinguished from the numerical order of earlier and later in a series and the kinematic order of succession of temporal moments.[8] Whether or not this may be in conflict with the first trend depends on how it is elaborated.

Since 1970, the present author developed the second trend, in particular with respect to what are called natural modal aspects, arguing that the temporal order is the law for modal relations between subjects and objects, and even more between subjects and subjects.[9] This view of time and its meaning differs from Dooyeweerd’s. It may be considered relational, and the modal aspects may be called ‘relation frames’, each containing a set of natural laws or normative principles determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations. This includes the meaning of existence, for “‘meaning’ is nothing but the creaturely mode of being under the law, consisting exclusively in a religious relation of dependence on God”.[10] The latter relation, mediated by Jesus Christ, is the foundation of Christian philosophical anthropology.

In the first trend in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of time, retrocipations and anticipations relate the modal aspects to each other in a rather abstract way, in particular by direct or indirect conceptual ‘analogies’. In the second trend, as I interpret it, retrocipations and anticipations are first of all concerned with the characters (structures of individuality) of concrete things, events, processes, acts, artefacts and associations. Character types are primarily qualified by one relation frame and secondarily founded in an earlier one. Third, these types determine the disposition of characters to become interlaced with each other, and to function in relation frames succeeding the qualifying one.[11]

Dooyeweerd’s treatment of history, strongly determined by the first trend in his theory of time, is almost completely restricted to the opening up of the modal aspects. However, the historical development of the characters of natural and cultural objects, of associations, and of the public domain may be more to the point, like natural evolution occurs more in the characters of stars, plants and animals than in the natural relation frames. The assumption that God created the species conceived as characters of bacteria, fungi, plants and animals, i.e. as sets of natural laws, is not contradicted by the evolution theory stating that these characters are gradually realized in subjective natural processes.[12] This also applies to the constant and universal character types of human acts, artefacts and associations, consisting of invariant values (normative principles) and sometimes natural laws. In contrast, humans are actively involved in the realization of the corresponding characters, not merely at the subject side, but at the law side as well, for normative characters consist largely of norms, developed from values in the historical context of human culture and civilization. This accounts for the enormous diversity of human-made characters, though the number of invariant character types appears to be rather limited.

Section 8.2 criticises Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of history. Section 8.3 is concerned with the temporal order in the normative relation frames, determining asymmetric subject-subject relations as the engines of historical development and artefacts as objective instruments of history. It also discusses the religious meaning of history. Section 8.4 applies this to the various relation frames successively. Section 8.5 is a remark on historism. Section 8.6 contains some conclusions with respect to the order of the relation frames and Dooyeweerd’s idea of the ‘supratemporal heart’. Section 8.7 points out that rejecting the second trend in Dooyeweerd’s integral conception of time may lead to a relapse into a naturalistic view of time. 




8.2. The first (restricted) trend of time

in Dooyeweerd’s conception of history


Dooyeweerd conceives of history as cultural development,[13] qualified by the ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ modal aspect, succeeding the psychic and logical aspects and having the meaning nucleus of power, command, control or mastery.[14] Although retrocipations are relevant,[15] Dooyeweerd emphasizes the disclosure of anticipations.[16] This means that the anticipatory or ‘transcendental’ direction in the cosmic order of the modal aspects is the dominant temporal factor in history. This view of history can be and has been criticized in several ways.

Several adherents to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea deny that history should be qualified by a single modal aspect.[17] Besides power, command, control or mastery, Dooyeweerd considers cultural development, or the controlling manner of moulding the social process,[18] to be the meaning nucleus of the historical modal aspect, but occasionally development appears to be a biotic analogy in the historical aspect, ‘ultimately founded in the pure intuition of movement’.[19] It cannot be doubted that the technical relation frame (as I prefer to call it), characterized by human skilled labour, has a pivotal function with respect to history. Several authors consider it the first frame succeeding the natural ones,[20] the development of natural characters by human labour being the first instance of historical processes. Dooyeweerd emphasized that the historical aspect should be distinguished from past events displaying all modal aspects. He states that an event can only be considered ‘historical’, if it contributes to cultural development in a positive or negative way, and he discusses various criteria according to which this may be decided.[21] I believe that historical development is a feature of all normative aspects, not only at the subject side (like evolution is in the natural relation frames), but at the law side as well. Whereas the natural laws are imperative and coercive, modal normative relations between people and their associations are subject to invariant normative principles or values, which in the course of history people actualise into variable norms. As observed above, the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea also distinguishes invariant normative character types from variable normative characters, developed by people in the course of history, and therefore extremely diverse. The cultural and civilizational development of associations like states, faith communities, enterprises, aesthetic companies and sports clubs constitutes an important part of history. One can only pay attention to their typical differences if one has at least the intuitive insight that churches differ from states and enterprises primarily by their qualifying relation frame. Moreover, one should investigate how various character types having the same qualifying frame may differ secondarily because of their founding frames. For understanding their historical development it is also crucial to gain an insight into the various ways each association is disposed to become entangled with other ones, as is amply illustrated in the history of the relation of church and state. Conversely, one can only get insight into the invariant values and character types by studying how they are actualized into variable historical norms and characters. Philosophy of history and the science of history are mutually dependent.

Dooyeweerd’s view of the opening up of the modal anticipations seems to contain an ambiguity, surfacing when he discusses closed cultures. On the one hand he considers their existence to be a purely historical phenomenon, a primitive historical state of development. On the other hand, he considers the closed state of a culture to be a result of sin.[22] The opening process is guided by true religion, and when this is absent, the anticipations remain closed. However, Dooyeweerd cannot and does not want to deny that the historical disclosure of the modal aspects also occurs under the guidance of apostate religion, in particular the Greek and humanist ones[23]. He could have added various non-Western religions. It may even be doubted whether entirely closed human communities exist or have ever existed.

Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on the opening up of modal anticipations downgrades the historical relevance of the development of retrocipations and of characters. This may not have been his intention, but it is an unfortunate consequence.  As a case study has shown, for the development of a field of science retrocipations and the investigation of characters is just as important as the disclosure of anticipations.[24] Attempts to open up a field of science restricted to anticipations turn out to be quite fruitless.

Dooyeweerd’s view of history strongly depends on the first trend in his theory of time: the idea that time expresses primarily the modal diversity of reality, the order of the modal aspects and the transcendental character of the anticipatory direction. It completely ignores the second trend in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, according to which each relation frame has it own order of time, the law for subjective and objective relations. Dooyeweerd pays much attention to subject-object relations,[25] but hardly to subject-subject relations, which may be even more important for the analysis of time. Moreover, in his treatment of history, relations in the public domain and the characters of acts, artefacts and associations play a minor part, although these are extensively discussed in a different context.[26]




8.3. The historical temporal order

and its subjective correlate

in the normative relation frames


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

Next, each normative temporal order appears to determine its own kind of artefacts, man-made objects, things or events acting as instruments of history. Artefacts should be distinguished from other objects. At the subject-side of each relation frame, anything is either a subject or an object. The difference is relational and contextual. With respect to a certain law (or a set of laws), something is a subject if it is directly or actively subjected to that law, whereas it is an object if it is indirectly (via a subject) or passively subjected to that law. In the normative relation frames an object may be anything that is not a human being or an association of human beings. For instance, an animal may be an object for someone’s aesthetic experience, or it may be a juridical object in a lawsuit. However, according to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, an animal is never qualified as an aesthetic or juridical object. It can only be qualified as a psychic subject. As such it is a subject in the relation frames preceding the psychic one and an object in the relation frames succeeding it. In contrast, a piece of art like a painting is an artefact, an aesthetically qualified object produced by an artist and viewed by a spectator.

Artefacts functioning in the transfer of experience are further distinguished from other kinds of objects because of their character. A character is a set of natural laws, normative principles (values) and human-made norms determining the structure of the artefact. Technical instruments have a single character, primarily qualified by the technical relation frame and secondarily founded in the natural ones. Other human-made artefacts (as well as associations) turn out to have a dual character, a generic and a specific one.[27] The generic character is primarily qualified by one of the normative relation frames succeeding the technical one. It is secondarily founded in the technical relation frame, expressing that any artefact is a product of human activity. Hence the generic character distinguishes artefacts having different qualifications from each other. The specific character of an artefact is primarily qualified by the same relation frame as is the generic character, but secondarily it is not necessarily founded in the technical relation frame. Hence, the specific character allows us to distinguish various types of artefacts having the same generic character. The artefacts functioning as instruments in the transfer of experience in a certain relation frame are primarily qualified by the same relation frame, whereas a different frame qualifies other objects.

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

The religious meaning of any normative relation frame implies the meaning of history in this frame. In its most pregnant sense, Christians recognize the incarnation of Jesus Christ as the religious meaning of history. However, related to its temporal order, each relation frame expresses an aspect of historical meaning. This historical meaning is not first of all objective or subjective, but normative. At the law side, it expresses the historical development of values into norms and of character types into characters. At the subject side it expresses how people actually perform their normative tasks according to their ethos, their attitude towards values and norms.[28] Hence, the meaning of history appears to be both a religious and an ethical affair.




8.4. Survey of the historical meaning

in the natural and normative relation frames


Let us briefly review the potential relevance of the second trend in the theory of time for the philosophy of history. It is obviously quite ambitious to look for the temporal order in no less than sixteen frames of reference (one more than Dooyeweerd’s modal aspects [29]). Therefore, the following list is by no means definitive. First, in the six natural relation frames (a-f), we shall find that the temporal order is not only significant for natural relations, but for history as well. Next, some provisional suggestions with respect to the ten normative relation frames (g-p) will be put forward. Arguments concerning the applied sequence of the relation frames are given elsewhere.[30]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

g. I consider progress to be the technical temporal order for history, the normative principle for technological development as well as the foundation of the development of culture and civilization in the other normative relation frames. In this sense, an event, process, artefact or association and even a personality may be called ‘historical’ (though not ‘historically qualified’) if contributing to or hampering progress. During the nineteenth century, progress was not viewed as a normative principle, but as an inevitable factual feature of Western history. However, this optimistic view was shattered during the First World War. As the engine of technical progress I consider the transfer of practical know-how and skills, from parents to children in households, from skilled to untrained labourers in workshops, and from teachers to pupils in schools. Technical artefacts like tools are instruments in the history of tilling the earth, the opening up of the natural characters and their succeeding technical development. The character of a technical instrument is its design, the set of natural laws and norms the apparatus should satisfy. Technical artefacts are primarily characterized by the technical relation frame and secondarily founded in one of the natural frames. Technical artefacts function in a subject-subject relation in the transfer of technical skills, or in a technical subject-object relation, in which the subject (an individual or an association) may be its designer, its producer or its user. Technical progress as expressed in the development of many kinds of technical artefacts is an important part of historical research. Besides, all natural subjects (things, plants, animals) may be objects for technical development. By their skilled labour with the help of technical instruments, people develop natural characters in the course of history. The technical meaning of history is given by the cultural mandate to till the earth. Martin Luther and John Calvin interpreted profession as a calling, making work the protestant form of prayer.[31] The Bible values the meaning of human labour by connecting it with God’s creation.[32]

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

i. Memory may refer to the historical order applicable to any kind of semiotic activity.[33] The common name for a semiotic object is a sign, but the semiotic frame does not necessarily qualify a sign. For instance, a fossil is a sign of a formerly living body, and is therefore qualified by the biotic modal aspect. In contrast, a human-made semiotic artefact is usually called a symbol. A rainbow is a sign that it is raining while the sun shines, whereas the bible makes it a symbol of God’s covenant with the world.[34] For the transfer of semiotic experience subject to the temporal order of memory, a language forms an important instrument. Without language, the individual memory of people would be as limited as animal memory. The use of language, both oral tradition and written texts, forms the basis of shared memory and remembered history. A language may be defined as a set of words subjected to a grammar and semantics, pronunciation and spelling, acting as the specific character for the language concerned. According to the grammar, words are transformed and connected into sentences, which in turn are combined into narratives or texts. Semantics determines the meaning of words in the context of a sentence and a text. The generic character of any lingual act and lingual form is primarily qualified by the semiotic aspect and is secondarily founded in the technical one, in lingual skills. The specific character of a word is secondarily founded in the quantitative aspect. Words are the elementary units of a language, alphanumerically ordered in a dictionary, in which words are not logically defined but described by other words. A sentence appears to be founded in the spatial relation frame, for in a sentence the words find their position determined by syntax. A narrative or a text is kinetically founded, for it consists of a flow of sentences according to a plot. Texts are interpreted by other texts. The semiotic meaning of history would be the interpretation of the past, for Christians guided by the text of God’s revelation.

j. 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. The artificial instruments of logic are numerically founded concepts, spatially founded propositions and kinetically founded theories.[35] These artefacts have an instrumental function in the transfer of logical experience in a discourse or a discussion, subjected to the rational temporal order. The logical meaning of history appears to be the understanding of the past, the hope for the future, and eternal life as knowledge of God.[36]

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

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

m. In the economic frame the normative order is best described as differentiation, without which economic acts like the exchange of goods or services would make no sense. 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.[37] Mutual service could be considered the economic meaning of history. The service of God expresses religion in the economic aspect of human existence. Dooyeweerd mentions both integration and differentiation as laws for cultural development, but he does not identify them with the relation frames of intercourse and economy.

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

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

p. Finally, the transfer of loving care is subjected to the order of transience, each human being and everything created or man-made being vulnerable.[38] In the transfer of love and friendship, circumstances to be taken care of may be recognized as artefacts primarily characterized by this modal aspect. I suggest redemption to be the caring meaning of history, whereas for Christians resurrection is the ultimate religious meaning of history.




8.5. Histori(ci)sm


Dooyeweerd considered it necessary to defend the existence of an irreducible historical modal aspect in order to criticise humanist historicism.[39] He believed that the rejection of the historical as a modal aspect leads to historicism, which he interpreted as the absolutization of the historical modal aspect, either of its law side or of its subject side. The first occurs in Hegel’s idealism, in Karl Marx’s historical materialism and in Auguste Comte’s positivism.[40] Like Dooyeweerd, Karl Popper (1957) calls this historicism. A recent example is Francis Fukuyama (1992).[41] Romanticism absolutized the subject side, individualizing history, implying relativism with respect to the law side of reality. It only recognized accidental, contingent, individual occurrences, an endless stream of unique events.[42] Historism (to be distinguished from historicism) ‘emphasizes diachronism, for historism resolves everything in a continuous stream of historical development. Everything must be seen as the result of its previous history.’[43] ‘It was believed that the understanding of x consisted in knowing the history of x.[44] Social-constructivism appears to be its post-modern form. A third kind of historism absolutizes the objectivity of historical events, ‘bloss zeigen wie es eigentlich gewesen’ (merely show how it actually happened), according to Leopold von Ranke.[45]

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

Hence, I do not consider historism to be the absolutization of a single modal aspect, not even the ‘historical’ one, for in the twentieth century, history no longer absolutized progress. Rather, historism absolutizes history by relativizing everything else,[46] in particular denying the law-side of the normative relation frames, thereby destroying the meaning of history. Moreover, it interprets time in a naturalistic way (section 8.7).




8.6. The temporal  order

of the modal aspects

and the supratemporal heart


In Dooyeweerd’s conception of history, the sequence of the modal aspects, expressing the modal diversity of the creation, is the primary temporal order. In the first trend of his theory of time, it is crucial that the aspect of faith is the final one in the anticipatory order from the quantitative to the pistic aspect. In this ‘transcendental’ order, starting with the historical aspect and guided by the aspect of faith, all normative aspects are disclosed in the course of history. This view gives rise to several problems, for instance with respect to the position of the logical aspect preceding the historical one,[47] and in particular with respect to the aspect of faith.[48] The first problem can easily be solved by positioning the logical relation frame after the semiotic one, for which there are other reasons as well. The second problem ‘is very important to the Christian conception of history’,[49] and Dooyeweerd discusses it quite extensively.[50] If the aspect of faith has no anticipations, it could not take part in the historical process of cultural development, if this means the disclosure of anticipations. Moreover, Dooyeweerd assumes that the aspect of faith has a leading function in this historical process. However, it could not fulfil this function, if it were closed itself. But how could the aspect of faith be opened up (either in obedience to the Divine order or in apostasy), if it cannot anticipate a later modal aspect? Dooyeweerd’s solution to this problem is to assume that in the ‘transcendental’ direction of the modal aspects, the aspect of faith is opened up by religion, ‘activated by the Spirit of Civitas Dei’,[51] in which any person transcends the modal diversity of the modal aspects. Of course, this should not be interpreted such that religion is a kind of modal aspect itself, succeeding that of faith. Dooyeweerd emphasizes that religion differs from faith because it is not a modal aspect, but the heart of human existence, in which each human being transcends the diversity of time in order to arrive at the coherence of meaning either in his relation with God in Jesus Christ, or in an apostate direction. Anyone ought to perform their religious concentration ‘with all her heart, with all her soul, with all her mind’.[52]

In order to make this clear, Dooyeweerd introduced the idea of a person’s ‘supratemporal heart’, the concentration point of his or her selfhood, religiously directed to the true or supposed origin. Man would be unable to have knowled­ge of himself and of God, if he could not transcend the temporal horizon of his experience.[53] Later on Dooyeweerd seems to have changed his mind, stating: ‘by the word supra-temporal I never intended a static state, but only a central direction of consciousness transcending cosmic time. Perhaps it had better be replaced by a different term.’[54] In the light of the recognition of two different trends in his theory of time, this term could perhaps be ‘transcending modal diversity’. The idea that a human being should be able to transcend time clearly stems from the first trend, interpreting time as modal diversity of meaning, such that the unity of the human self should transcend time. Any person is supposed to have the intention to transcend the temporal diversity in order to gain knowledge of the origin, unity and continuous coherence of the cosmos.

However, in line with the second trend in the theory of time, it should be considered impossible to transcend time, according to Johan Mekkes’ dictum: ‘De mens kan zijn dynamisch tijdelijk bestaan op geen wijze transcenderen.’[55] In this trend there is no need for a supratemporal heart (about which a lot more can be said than I do in this paper). The religious concentration towards Jesus Christ does not require any kind of transcendence of temporal relations. Rather, anybody is called to perform this concentration at any time, within all his temporal relations. In fact, it would only be confusing to call this ‘supratemporal’. 

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

In the second trend as elaborated in this paper, ‘transcending time’ could only mean ‘transcending the law side of reality’, being God’s prerogative.[56] No one else can transcend the law side of time, the temporal order. Nor can anybody transcend her subjective relations to other people, to her environment, or to God. One can only have intuitive or explicit knowledge of the law side of temporal reality without transcending it. In line with the first trend in his philosophy of time, Dooyeweerd believed that the modal aspect of faith is exclusively a ‘window on eternity’.[57] In the second trend this applies equally to all relation frames, for each frame includes one’s relation to God through Jesus Christ, whether recognized or rejected. In each frame people concentrate the religious meaning of their existence on their true or supposed origin.

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




8.7. Conclusion


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

He complains that ‘some adherents of my philosophy are unable to follow me in this integral conception of cosmic time’.[58] An explanation may be that these adherents[59] merely read the first trend in his philosophy of time. They seem to overlook the second trend, that (in my view) makes the conception of time the genuinely integrating factor in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea. In particular, many philosophers reject the idea of a supratemporal heart, even if it is interpreted as intentionally rather than actually transcending the diversity of meaning.

Objections to the first trend in Dooyeweerd’s idea of time easily lead to a relapse into a naturalistic conception of time, in particular kinetic or physical time conceived as change.[60] Eventually, kinetic time as measured on a clock is complemented with diachronism and synchronism, e.g. in the dualistic tension between ‘process and structure’ or ‘development and context’ in historism,[61] or in the duality of ‘direction and structure’ in Reformed thought.[62] Observation of the second trend in the idea of time evades the relapse into naturalism.

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

[1] White 1973.

[2] Dooyeweerd NC I, 101-102; II, 6, 561.

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

[4] NC II, 466-485.

[5] NC I, 28.

[6] NC I, 30.

[7] NC I, 28.

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

[9] Stafleu 1970, 1980, 2002a.

[10] NC II, 31.

[11] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 1.

[12] Stafleu 2002a, 2002b.

[13] NC II, 181-365.

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

[15] NC II, 229-259.

[16] NC II, 259-298.

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

[18] NC II, 195-196.

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

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

[21] Dooyeweerd 1959a, 60-76.

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

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

[24] Stafleu 1998; 1987, chapter 6.

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

[26] e.g., NC III.

[27] Stafleu 2003, 2004.

[28] Stafleu 2007.

[29] Stafleu 2004

[30] Stafleu 2002a, 2002b, 2003, 2004, 2006.

[31] Weber 1904-05, chapter III.

[32] Genesis 2.2-3; Exodus 20.8-11; Deuteronomy 5.12-15.

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

[34] Genesis 9.12-17.

[35] Stafleu 1987.

[36] John 17.3.

[37] Stafleu 2005.

[38] Stafleu 2007.

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

[40] Löwith 1949; White 1973; Ankersmit 1983; Lemon 2003, part I.

[41] Lemon 2003, part III.

[42] Ankersmit 1983, 171-182.

[43] Ankersmit 2005, 143.

[44] Danto 1985, 324.

[45] Danto 1985, 130-133, 139.

[46] Huizinga 1937, 136-138.

[47] NC II, 237-241.

[48] NC II, 189, 297-298

[49] NC II, 297.

[50] NC II, 297-330.

[51] NC II, 297.

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

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

[54] Dooyeweerd 1960a, 137, my translation.

[55] Mekkes 1971, 121; my translation: ‘In no way man is able to transcend his dynamic temporal existence.’

[56] NC I, 99.

[57] NC II, 302.

[58] NC I, 31.

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

[60] van Riessen 1970, 186.

[61] Ankersmit 2005, 142-144.

[62] Griffioen 2003, 170-172.







9. Emergence in and from the

natural world (2011)


‘Properties, propensities and challenges: Emergence in and from the natural world’, paper delivered at a conference in Amsterdam, 2011, published  in  G. Glas, J. de Ridder (eds.) 2018, The future of creation order, vol. 1, Philosophical, scientific, and religious perspectives on order and emergence, Cham, 119-134








9.1. Introduction

9.2. Emergence within the physical world

9.3. The emergence of the physical world

9.4. Emergence from the physical world

9.5. Biology and the emergence of mankind

9.6. The diversity of humankind

9.7. The experience of normative principles

9.8. From evolution to history

9.9. Artefacts

9.10. The network society

9.11. The meaning of emergence





9.1. Introduction


In his Purpose in the living world? Creation and emergent evolution, Jaap Klapwijk discusses the theory of emergent evolution.[1] He describes the creation as a system of layers with increasing complexity, ignoring the mathematical aspects as well as Dooyeweerd’s distinction of modal aspects and structures of individuality.[2] His book is intended to show that the biotic or living world of bacteria emerges from the physical world; the vegetative world of plants from the living one; the sensitive or animal world from the vegetative world; and finally humanity from the animal world. He concludes that no theory of emergence is available that could be considered explanatory. At most it is a philosophical framework theory.[3] In particular, Klapwijk is unable to present a mechanism for the emergence of, e.g., the first living cells. But then, nobody else knows of such a mechanism, including the staunchest defenders of naturalistic evolutionism. I intend to present a small but maybe significant contribution to understanding the phenomenon of emergence.

The common view is that at a higher level of complexity new properties emerge that do not occur at a lower level. The whole is more than the sum of its parts.[4] In suit of Dobzhansky and using a term also applied by Dooyeweerd,[5] Ledyard Stebbins speaks of transcendence:


‘In living systems, organization is more important than substance. Newly organized arrangements of pre-existing molecules, cells, or tissues can give rise to emergent or transcendent properties that often become the most important attributes of the system.’[6]


Besides the emergence of the first living beings (prokaryote bacteria) and of humanity, Stebbins mentions the following examples: the first occurrence of eukaryotes (cells with a nucleus and other cell bodies, probably of prokaryote origin); of multicellular animals and fungi; of invertebrates and vertebrates; of warm-blooded birds and mammals; of the higher plants and of flowering plants. According to Stebbins, reductionism and holism are contrary approximations in the study of living beings, with equal and complementary values.

I interpret the modal aspects or relation frames (including the mathematical ones) to be primarily aspects of time.[7] Each aspect expresses a directive order of time, determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations. Because everything is related to everything else, and human experience depends on relations, each relation frame is also an aspect of being and of human experience. In this interpretation, the relation frames are aspects of becoming and of change as well. According to Dooyeweerd, this comes about by the opening up of the anticipations in each modal aspect. For historical developments, this process is founded in the so-called historical modal aspect, and guided by the aspect of faith. In turn, the opening up of the aspect of faith (which has no anticipations) is guided by religion. Because several religious ground motives are operative, this historical process can occur both according and contrary to God’s laws.[8]

Dooyeweerd never came to terms with the theory of natural evolution.[9] One reason may be the tension between evolution and his philosophy of history. In Dooyeweerd’s philosophy there is no place for a modal aspect having the same function for evolution as the historical aspect has for history, and Dooyeweerd never suggests that natural evolution is guided by religion, faith, or any other aspect.

I don’t believe that it makes sense to call the technical or formative aspect historical, and I do not believe that the opening process occurs mainly in the modal aspects.[10] Evolution is only manifest in the coming into being of natural things and events at the subject and object side of reality. In contrast, historical development also occurs at the law side, in the human development of normative principles into variable norms. Besides, at the subject and object side one finds the historical development of acts, artefacts, and associations, in which people take an active part.[11]

For understanding this, the distinction of relation frames and characters is crucial (these are Dooyeweerd’s modal aspects and structures of individuality[12]). Both have a law side and a subject and object side.[13] At the law side of the relation frames we find universal laws for temporal intersubjective relations and for subject-object relations. For instance, we find that all physical things are subject to the temporal order of irreversibility, valid for any kind of interaction. We find that all living beings are genetically related, subject to the genetic law that any living being descends from another one. Characters are sets of universal laws and type laws, determining a subjective class of things or events, and an objective ensemble of possible states. The character of electrons differs from the character of hydrogen molecules, not because of universal physical laws, but because of different specific laws. At the subject side of natural characters, one finds individual things and events, plants and animals, at the object side specific properties. At the subject side of normative characters individual human beings and their associations function, at the object side individual acts and artefacts.

Coming into being refers to the realization of characters of things like molecules. Change refers to typical events like radioactive decay. In these processes, the temporal order and temporal relations of several modal aspects are involved, besides the typical properties of the structures concerned. Even if we assume that natural laws are invariant, the realization of the characters of things and events, with their properties and propensities, is a temporal process. Sometimes this is called emergence.

I propose to distinguish the emergence of physical things within the physical world from the emergence of the physical world itself (popularly called the big bang), and the emergence of living beings from the physical world. From an analysis of the first kind we may learn a few points that can help us to understand the other two. Next we shall see how humanity, emerging from the animal world, is challenged to activate its own history.




9.2. Emergence within the physical world


Let me start with a familiar example. Suppose you have a container with a gas mixture of two parts of hydrogen and one part of oxygen. The mixture has properties that do not differ much from a combination of the properties of its components. The properties of a mixture form a mixture of the properties. But if you apply a spark, the mixture will explode and you get water vapour. If you cool this, you will get liquid water and eventually ice, the crystal form of water.

In this example, we see both the emergence of new structures and of new properties. Water has completely different properties from hydrogen and oxygen, and the properties of vaporous, liquid, and solid water differ too. In the framework of the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, each characteristic whole has a threefold character.[14]

a. Each typical whole is primarily characterized by one of the relation frames. Reversely, all modal aspects (including the mathematical ones) qualify various characters. The structures of hydrogen, oxygen, and water have in common that they are primarilyphysically qualified. This means that they are mainly characterized by interaction, being the universal physical subject-subject relation. Something is physical if it interacts with something else.

b. The mentioned structures differ because of having secondary retrocipatory properties (i.e., referring the qualifying relation frame to earlier frames). For instance, mass is a quantitative objective magnitude of physical subjects, having different values for hydrogen, oxygen, and water molecules. Symmetry is an emergent spatial property. Whereas free atoms have the symmetry of a sphere, hydrogen and oxygen molecules have the symmetry of a dumb-bell. A water molecule has a triangular shape giving rise to an electric dipole, partly explaining the peculiar properties of water and ice. Solids are characterized by their long-distance crystal symmetry, completely absent in the composing atoms or molecules. The parts of each physical thing perform periodic motions, contributing to the thing’s stability. One may recognize these two features from Dooyeweerd’s theory of individuality structures, being qualified by one modal aspect and founded in a preceding one. I have shown that the secondary characteristic, based in a preceding relation frame, leads to secondary types of things and events. Physical things and processes occur in three secondary types, based in the quantitative, spatial, and kinetic frames. Similarly, there are four secondary types of biotic characters recognizable.[15] Therefore, I have no need for a vegetative layer besides the biotic one, as Klapwijk postulates, after omitting the mathematical relation frames.[16] In my analysis, bacteria do not constitute a primary type, but belong to a secondary type of living beings, which are primarily biotic.[17] Whereas Klapwijk does not recognize the relevance of retrocipations for typical structures, both Klapwijk and Dooyeweerd do not recognize a third, a tertiary characteristic of any typical whole. It is sometimes related to anticipations, looking forward in the order of the relation frames.

c. Hydrogen has the tertiary disposition or propensity of being combustible. Its structure anticipates that of water. In turn, water has many more or less unique propensities, like being a solvent of many chemical compounds. In particular water is a prerequisite of all kinds of life as we know it. Clearly, with the emergence of new structures, both new properties and new propensities emerge. With the formation of a new physical thing, possibilities are realized and new possibilities are disclosed. For understanding evolutionary processes, the tertiary dispositions are paramount. Because of their tertiary propensities, in the course of physical time a hierarchy of structures came into existence. A crystal consists of molecules (or ions), a molecule consists of atoms, and an atom has a nucleus and a number of electrons. A nucleus consists of protons and neutrons, which are combinations of quarks.

Reductionists (like many high-energy physicists, naturalist philosophers, and popular science writers) believe that understanding interaction at the deepest level in a so-called theory of everything will inevitably lead to the understanding of interaction at all higher levels of complexity, including biotic, animal, and human life. Anti-reductionists (like several solid-state physicists, biologists, and holist philosophers) point out that in general the emergence of new structures, new properties and new propensities cannot (or cannot easily) be explained from knowledge of lower levels. A reductionist theory may be able to explain properties, but is often unable to explain or predict propensities. Some people consider this merely a practical difference; others see it as a matter of principle.

Whereas the stable structure of systems like nuclei, atoms, and molecules is fairly well known, the processes leading to their formation are far less understood. For instance, the crystal structure of solid matter is widely investigated, but up till now there is no explanation available of why below a fixed temperature a fluid becomes a crystal, showing a typical long-distance ordering of the composing atoms, ions, or molecules which is absent in gases and fluids.

Whereas the structure of a stable physical system is largely determined by general and typical laws, transitions between unstable states as in radioactivity or the emission of light are to a large extent random processes, subject to stochastic laws, i.e., probability laws. This is even more the case with the emergence of new structures like the formation of molecules from other molecules. In general, processes have a larger content of accidentality than stable structures. In our example of the formation of water from hydrogen and oxygen, only water molecules can be formed (besides some related molecules like hydrogen peroxide), but it is largely accidental which pair of hydrogen molecules will bind with which oxygen molecule into two water molecules. Statistical laws for random or stochastic processes were first introduced in statistical mechanics for the explanation of irreversible processes and of the irregular motion named after Robert Brown, then discovered in radioactive decay at the turn of the twentieth century. Quantum physics has confirmed this for every physical or chemical process (like the formation of a water molecule from hydrogen and oxygen), later followed by chaos theory. In biology, genetic drift is a random process in the theory of evolution, and the process of fertilization in plants and animals is very much random. Nevertheless, many reductionist philosophers and scientists maintain their unshaken belief in nineteenth-century determinism. Sometimes it leads them to the empirically unsubstantiated hypothesis of universes parallel to the observable one. If something seems to be the random realization of a possibility (like in radioactivity), they suppose that the other possibilities occur in some other universe, such that determinism is saved.

For the understanding of evolution, the distinction of the law-side and the subject and object side of reality is very important.[18] Realist physicists readily assume that physical laws are invariant. Otherwise they could not apply the laws they have found from observations and experiments in the present to past and distant events in astrophysics. Even positivist physicists do that. They also assume that mathematical laws are invariantly valid. Biologists, however, appear to be less confident about the invariance of natural laws, apparently because they seem to believe that something can only be called a natural law if it has a mathematical form. Nevertheless, in the theory of evolution they apply whatever patterns they discover in the present to events in the past. Hence they implicitly acknowledge the persistence of natural laws, also in the field of biology.

One should always keep in mind the distinction between general modal laws and type laws, valid only for a restricted set of things or events. If we assume that natural evolution takes place at the subject and object side of typical laws, we can hypothetically accept that species as natural kinds are invariant characters, whereas their temporally and spatially limited realizations (which biologists call populations) are subject to evolution.[19] Evolutionary processes are always directed by the modal temporal orders in the natural relation frames. Temporal order as a set of general, universal laws, determines the relations between subjects, between objects, and between subjects and objects, and this is highly relevant for evolutionary processes.

The invariance of natural laws is in accord with the view of Christian philosophy that God created and sustains the world according to his laws. These are not rational, not intelligent, and structures are not designed according to some intellectual idea, like technical artefacts are designed by people taking into account natural laws and human-made norms. Yet both modal laws and type laws are intelligible, meaning that science can investigate these and come to understand them and that people can apply them when designing artificial things and processes. Recognizing that the technical relation frame like all normative frames is irreducible to the natural ones, Christian philosophy should reject Plato’s idea (developed in his dialogue Timaeus), of a semi-divine demiurge, an anthropomorphic craftsman making imperfect copies according to a perfect, intellectual design. Therefore, we should not contemplate the idea of intelligent design of natural structures.[20] It appears that the idea of intelligent design is irrefutable (a trait it would share with, e.g., solipsism, or with the above mentioned multi-universe hypothesis). This means that it is logically consistent, but empirically empty.




9.3. The emergence of the physical world


The combination of the general theory of relativity with insights gained of the various typical kinds of interactions led in the past century to the so-called standard model. This is a now generally accepted theory of the structure of sub-atomic particles and their interactions, and of the development of the physical universe after it emerged in what is popularly called the big bang. Referring to a distinction made above, it explains many properties of sub-atomic particles, but hardly the emergence of any propensity. The fact that one needs the general theory of relativity shows that the relation frames preceding the physical one were crucial in this event. It is remarkable that these relation frames immediately occur in their ‘opened up’ form, already anticipating the physical aspect.[21] Only in the context of the physical aspect and the preceding aspects anticipating it, physical things and events could emerge.  Whereas the theoretical opening up of the modal aspects (including both their anticipations and their retrocipations) is a historical process, in an ontological sense the modal aspects always include both their retro- and anticipations. (The only and very important exception concerns the positivization of normative principles into historically developed norms, see below.) Therefore, evolution cannot be simply interpreted as the opening up of earlier modal aspects.

Sometimes the process occurring after the big bang is called astrophysical evolution. During this time, the initially very high temperature (meaning a high concentration of energy) gradually decreased when physical space expanded, allowing of the formation of protons and neutrons from quarks; nuclei from nucleons; atoms from nuclei and electrons; molecules from atoms; stars, comets and planets from interstellar dust; and then more atoms from exploding stars. This evolution means an enormously increasing diversity. Astrophysicists believe that they are able to give a fairly accurate (though not complete) description of what happened after the big bang, stressing that the emergence of the universe itself lies beyond the horizon of present-day theory. The reason is not difficult to understand. The physical world is characterized by interaction between existing things according to physical laws, and before it emerged, there was simply nothing to interact with.

Let us now see whether we can learn something from our summary of physical states of affairs for our third problem, the emergence from the physical world.




9.4. Emergence from the physical world


Christian philosophy assumes that the aspect of life is irreducible to the physical aspect. This is a fruitful hypothesis, which should nevertheless not be taken as an unshakable dogma. But there are many reasons to stick to it, all of which I shall not mention. With my earlier comments in mind, I offer a few considerations.

In my view, each relation frame is characterized by one or more general laws determining subject-subject relations and subject-object relations. Quantitative relations are relations between numbers; spatial relations determine relative positions, and kinetic relations concern relative motions. Physical relations are always concerned with some kind of interaction: general relations like energy, force, and current; typical relations like gravity, electromagnetic, and weak or strong nuclear interaction in all their typical manifestations like, e.g., glue. I have argued that relations in the biotic world are always determined by genetic laws.[22] The emergence of living beings is accompanied by the emergence of genetic relations between living beings as a universal trait of the living world.

The universality of interaction is expressed by the statement that everything interacts with everything else. Similarly, biologists argue that a living being always descends from another living being. Both statements are not trivial. The understanding that everything interacts with everything else became common sense in physics only in the seventeenth century with Newton’s laws of motion and in particular the universality of gravity. The insight that a living being can only emerge from another living being (or a pair of them) dates from the nineteenth century, when the idea of spontaneous generation was abandoned. It played a part in Darwin’s theory of evolution, but that theory only became fruitful in the twentieth century after the incorporation of genetics, particularly molecular genetics. Other general principles operative in Darwin’s theory of evolution of living beings are competition, variation, selection, and genetic transmission. These point to universal biotic laws, which like the later discovered laws of genetics are not of a physical nature. These laws only operate within the realm of living beings, and can therefore not explain how living beings arise from the material world.[23] In fact, neither Charles Darwin nor any other competent biologist pretends to know how life originated.

Everybody agrees that the emergence of the first living beings is a highly improbable process. Even naturalists, believing that it is a completely natural process, admit that the successive emergence of living beings, animals, primates, and human beings has such a low probability that we might very well be unique in the universe. The search for an extraterrestrial intelligent civilization is not very promising. Yet improbability is not the same as impossibility. The fact that we exist is the best and perhaps the only evidence that such a process is possible, and that the animal world has the propensity to give rise to humanity. The fact that chance plays a part does not mean that the emergence of a new thing is purely a chance process. The evidence is abundant that all processes in the natural world occur according to laws that delimit the possibilities. No less than properties, propensities are bound by laws. Without laws we would not even be able to estimate the chance of a certain process.

Assuming that the genetic relation characterizes all living beings implies that we cannot understand the emergence of the first living beings by biotic laws, because these were not operative before this emergence. This is similar to the inadequacy of physical laws to explain the emergence of the physical world. On the other hand, if we assume that physical things are only related by physical interaction we cannot understand how living beings emerge from the physical world. In that case, like the emergence of the physical world, the emergence of the biotic world, the animal world, as well as the human world would forever remain behind the horizon of human experience and understanding. It would be tempting to assume that we have here what insurance brokers call an act of God, an unexplainable special act of creation. In contrast, one may also stress that God’s hand is operative in any process, and that the emergence of the living world is neither excluded nor special.  

However, this may be too fast. In this reasoning we overlook what Christian philosophy calls anticipation. Molecular biologists have been able to identify propensities in physical systems like DNA-molecules to play a part in genetic relations. What we know about that is a far cry from understanding the emergence of living beings, but we should not exclude its possibility. In this case, anticipation means a relationship between physical and biotic laws, structures and processes, which understanding is gradually growing. An example of a physical structure anticipating life could be a so-called self-replicating molecule like DNA or RNA, although it is really some other thing which undertakes a process to replicate the molecule.

It is quite clear that the biotic world presupposes the physical one. It can hardly be denied that the biotic world emerged from the physical one, the animal world from the living one, and humanity from the animal world. Reductionists believe that basically there is only one world, with various levels of complexity and diversity, but ultimately completely determined by physical laws only. Christian philosophy supposes that mathematical, physical, biotic, psychic, and normative relation frames are mutually irreducible. Irreducibility does not mean that the relation frames are independent of each other. In scientific investigation, the so-called retrocipatory connections between the relation frames usually receive more attention than the anticipatory ones. As observed above, the properties of structures are better understood than their propensities and the processes that realize them. For the understanding of the emergence of new structures and their properties and propensities we need to pay attention to both retrocipations and anticipations, not merely in the relation frames, but in particular in the typical characters of natural things and events.

It appears that all living beings have the same unique ancestor. That is not something that follows from any theory or philosophical point of view, but might point to the improbability of this emergence. It has also been observed that the emergence of living beings and other major transitions happened in a relatively short time (measured on a geological scale). The sudden emergence of all phyla of animals, some 530 million years ago, is even called the Cambrian explosion. In the above discussed example of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen gas, one may ask what causes an explosion. Is it the spark, or is it the composition of the gas mixture? We have a tendency to blame the spark. However, the spark appears to be only the accidental, though sufficient, cause, whereas the presence of a mixture of hydrogen and oxygen is the necessary cause. The spark is not necessarily electric. Any other accidental disturbance could act as a trigger. Similarly, one may assume that at a certain moment the circumstances necessary for the emergence of living beings or the emergence of the animal world were present. Maybe we shall never know what the trigger was, because it is accidental and could have been different with the same result.

The laws of biological evolution, about adaption, natural selection, and common descent have a general (i.e., modal) character. They show some resemblance to the physical laws of mechanics and thermodynamics, with the law of conservation of energy as a paradigm. In the nineteenth century, during Charles Darwin’s life time, positivist and materialist energeticists like Wilhelm Ostwald, Ernst Mach and (initially) Max Planck, believed that all of physics should be explained from these general laws, assumed to be deterministic. They scorned Ludwich Boltzmann for applying statistics to physical problems. They even rejected the reality of atoms and molecules. The development of physics during the twentieth century made clear that the general laws act as constraints, not showing what is possible but rather what is impossible. For instance, processes violating the law of energy conservation are prohibited. In the twentieth century it became clear that these general laws are not sufficient. Physicists discovered typical conservation laws (like the law of conservation of electric charge) besides symmetry laws, not determining but prohibiting certain processes. These laws give room for processes that might happen, without determining which processes that would be.

Similarly, Darwin’s theory may be able to explain which circumstances allow species to come into being or force them to be extinguished. But it does not explain why some species correspond with stable organisms in these circumstances and others do not. Since the twentieth-century synthesis of Darwin’s theory with genetics and molecular biology, biologists have similarly become aware that the general laws of evolution should be complemented with specific laws for the enormous variety of living beings.[24]




9.5. Biology and the emergence of mankind


One of the basic assumptions of the standard Darwinian theory of evolution is that every living being descends from another one. For this reason alone, this theory cannot explain the emergence of the first living beings from non-living matter. There are more unexplained transitions, like the emergence of the first eukaryotic cells, of sexual reproduction, and of the first animals. Finally, there is the emergence of mankind, for which I shall argue that the theory of evolution may be able to give an initial necessary explanation, but not a sufficient one.

In one way or another, history should be connected to evolution. Like most people, I assume that mankind has come out of the animal world. A Christian view would be that humanity has been called from the animal realm, in a challenge to shape its own world. This appears to supplement the biblical testimony, saying that Adam was made out of dust. Examination of fossils has sufficiently shown that human beings descend from hominids, sharing common forebears with other primates. Investigation of DNA and of behaviour has shown much resemblance with primates, including patterns of genetic deletions and insertions, etc. In short, I think there is convincing evidence that humans descend from animals in a biological sense. Nevertheless, this provides at most a necessary part of a scientific explanation, not a sufficient one. In particular it cannot explain how humanity became challenged to take an active part in its own history.




9.6. The diversity of humankind


From a biological point of view, human beings belong to a single species, homo sapiens, and a single subspecies, homo sapiens sapiens. If we make difference between natural evolution and human history, it may be assumed that the latter started with the appearance of homo sapiens, which would include homo neanderthalensis. The main difference between humans and animals appears to be normative behaviour, and the freedom and responsibility to actualize universal normative principles into culturally and historically different norms.[25] In contrast, natural things and events, plants and animals are subject to natural laws, which I assume to be invariant and universally valid.

All animals are specialized in one way or another. Each species occupies its own niche, in which it can survive. In contrast, mankind shows an enormous individual diversity and cannot be characterized in a single way. It is not really difficult to mention about ten different normative principles or conditions for being human.[26] People are called homo faber, or tool-making animals, developing quite different skills. Johan Huizinga introduced the term homo ludens, the playing man, having pleasure in beauty. Some philosophers prefer homo symbolicus, pointing to the unique ability of mankind to communicate with symbols, in particular language. Homo sapiens refers to the ability of mankind to reason, to make logical distinctions and connections. Another condition of being human is to trust each other, to have faith (which should be distinguished from religion) and to be faithful. People seek each other’s company. They are called homo economicus, or homo politicus. They strive after justice and ought to love their neighbours. Of course, people often act contrary to these conditions, which otherwise would not be called normative.

In order to account for this diversity of human activity, besides six natural aspects I conjecture ten mutually irreducible normative modal aspects or relation frames as conditions for being human. These are the technical, aesthetic, semiotic, and logical aspects, which I take together with that of trust as being cultural; and companionship, economics, politics, justice, and loving care as aspects of civilization. In each of these relation frames, one finds normative principles, including a temporal order giving normative direction to the history of mankind. For instance, the technical frame is directed by the normative principle of progress. The semiotic or communicative relation frame is directed by the normative principle of clarity. Culture means the development of technical skills, of aesthetic expression, of the exchange of information by communication, of reasoning, and of trust. Civilization means the development of companionship, of economic services, of authority and discipline, of justice, and of love. Each of these is an expression of human experience, and each directs a kind of transfer of experience, an engine of history as is unknown in the animal world.[27] By giving direction to historical events, the temporal order in each relation frame determines the normative meaning of history.

All these conditions for being human do not constitute properties of people, something people would have as a matter of course, but propensities, possibilities to realize, or rather challenges to develop the natural world into a cultural and civilized one.




9.7. The experience of normative principles


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

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




9.8. From evolution to history


This has led many scholars to assume that human history can be described as biological evolution, in particular applying Charles Darwin’s ideas of adaptation and natural selection. They overlook the fact that Darwin’s theory necessarily presupposes inheritance. Biological selection is a slow process. The evolution of hominids to mankind took at least seven million years, which is not even long on a geological scale. But human history is at most two hundred thousand years old. It happens much faster than biological evolution, and is even accelerating. Moreover, human experience cannot be inherited. In each relation frame, the transfer of experience is recognizable as an engine of history.[28]

Referring to the normative relation frames, concerning the cultural transfer of experience one might think of: instruction and learning as the engine of technical progress; players and spectators as actors in aesthetic renewal; transfer of information as a source for the collective memory of mankind; reasoning as the engine of logical extrapolation; and faith as the motive force of reform. For the propagation of civilization, the following engines may be considered: education in keeping company; commerce in economic rendering of services; leadership; justice; and finally friendship and marriage. In this multifaceted transfer of experience, people attribute subjective meaning to history.

The transfer of experience is as diverse as human experience itself. It is completely absent in the animal world. The transfer of experience as the engine of history in each normative relation frame replaces inheritance as the engine of evolution. This is the nucleus of truth in the hypothesis that memes are the units of cultural transmission, comparable to inheritable genes in biotic evolution.[29] Or, a bit more old-fashioned, it reminds of the distinction between nature and nurture.




9.9. Artefacts


The technical relation frame is the first cultural one. Culture means first of all cultivating, to bring nature into culture, the opening up of the natural relation frames, which therefore are no less aspects of human experience than the normative frames. People do that opening up by working. Labour is a cultural activity characterized by ability, skill, or command, in which people make use of instruments. Ability to perform labour is a universal value, a condition for progress as the historical temporal order for the technical relation frame. An event, process, artefact, or association, and even a personality may be called historical as far as they contribute positively or negatively to historical progress. The intuition of progress as a challenging value is not due to the Renaissance or the Enlightenment, but is a condition for being human. The later belief in progress identified it with the factualhistory of seventeenth to nineteenth century science and technology. The Eurocentric belief in progress considered the technical and scientific progress even as characteristic for the whole of history of mankind. This became a deep disappointment at the outbreak of the great European war in 1914, when science and technology turned out to be instruments of mass destruction. In 1931 Herbert Butterfield criticized the ‘Whig interpretation of history’ describing history as a continuous progress after the model of the British Empire.

Progress does not have the compulsory law conformity of a natural law, but is a normative challenging principle. As far as one can speak of progress in natural evolution, for instance pointing to an increasing complexity, this is not a value or norm, but the effect of a natural process, having no normative character as such. Herein plants and animals do not play an active part comparable to that of human beings in technical progress.

As a normative principle, progress acts as the temporal order for the technical relation frame, as directive meaning of skilful labour. The history of technology concerns the elaboration of objects and the invention of artefacts besides training and education as the engines of technical progress.

History concerns the world as people have made it. For this purpose, I distinguish two kinds of experience.[30] The natural or intuitive experience, which people to a certain extent share with animals, is directly founded in sensory observation. Besides, there is an indirect, detached form of experience, in which people make use of some kind of instrument. This may be a material expedient, like a microscope, with which people may reinforce their visual power. It may also be a logical device, like a theory used to think about a problem. I apply the word artefact as the generic name for any human-made object of human conduct primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames.[31] 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 characterized by that relation frame. A painting, for instance, is a material aesthetic artefact. It is an object characterized by the aesthetic relation frame, an instrument in one’s aesthetic experience. As such it is not an economic artefact, though it can clearly be an economic object. Only its proceeds at an auction forms an economic artefact, established by people, economically typified, not material. The price of a painting is primarily not characterized by aesthetic but by economic relations, and only secondarily by its aesthetic quality, rarity, and so on. Therefore, besides its being primarily aesthetic and secondarily technical, the painting also has an economic function, and the price of a painting has a history of its own.

Not only thing-like objects are artefacts. Events and processes playing an objective part in history can also be considered as artefacts if produced or interpreted. Therefore, artefacts show an enormous diversity, allowing mankind to leave the animal world and to explore nature. All artefacts (not only written sources) witness the objective meaning of history.




9.10. The network society


Humans live in societies. Evolutionists point to beehives and herds of cows as arguments to show that human behaviour can be reduced to biotic or sensitive needs. In order to study the social or communal meaning of history, philosophy of history cannot neglect social philosophy. In particular the distinction between organised and unorganised social connections is relevant for understanding their influence on historical developments.[32]

An unorganised group of people without leadership I call a community. Instances are a lingual community, a nation, or a people, a social class or caste, a culture or a civilization, but also a party during a reception or the public during a concert. These have a certain social coherence, forming a network, but not an organisation with a governing board.

Alongside individual people, organised associations or corporations are active actors in the normative relation frames, contrary to unorganised communities. A lingual community and the public opinion are no more active than Christianity or the market. Communities cannot work, talk, act, or show respect for each other. They do not bear responsibility and are not answerable. Sometimes a community is objectively determined by an artefact, like a lingual community by a language; sometimes by a common ideology, like communism; sometimes by a connection with an association, like a nation or people is connected to a state; sometimes it is related to an event, like a birthday party.

In contrast, organised associations, having some kind of government with authority and members with discipline, are able to act in all relation frames, not unlike persons. Moreover, they do so increasingly, partaking in objective networks like railroads and subjective networks like the markets. These networks constitute the public domain with the state having the function of guarding the freedom and responsibility of the users of the networks. Nothing of that kind can be found in the animal world. The so-called Umwelt of a population of animals is fully restricted by the animal’s experience. In the human world, this is replaced by the entirely open and multifaceted public domain.




9.11. The meaning of emergence


With Herman Dooyeweerd we may state that meaning is the mode of being of all that is created. It becomes manifest whenever something new comes into being. The tertiary characteristics of natural things and events point to the possibility of the emergence of new structures with emerging new properties and propensities. It provides the original characters with meaning,[33] their proper position in the creation. The phenomenon of disposition shows that material things like molecules have meaning for living organisms. It shows that organisms have meaning for animal life. The assumption that God’s people are called from the animal world gives meaning to the existence of animals. Both evolution and history display the meaningful development of the creation, the coming into being of ever more structures. Artefacts, in particular written texts, are the most important witnesses of history.[34] They provide history with an objective basis, complementing the normative meaning of history, provided by the directive time order in the relation frames,[35] and the subjective attribution of meaning by individuals, associations and unorganised communities in their history shaping transfer of experience.[36]

As a starting point this implies a realist religious view, confessing that God created the world according to laws which are invariant because he sustains them. We know God through Jesus Christ, who submitted himself to God’s laws. Partial knowledge of his laws can be achieved by studying the law-conformity of the creation. This also implies a dynamic view of the creation, as developing continuously, in the natural evolution and in particular in human history.  

The arguments in this paper show that the theory of evolution may be able to provide necessary conditions for the emergence of human affairs, but by no means sufficient conditions. As a religious statement, we may take the biblical message to reveal that humanity was led out of the animal world, called to be free and challenged to take responsibility for the development of God’s creation. This may truly be called the cultural mandate of humanity. The above mentioned relation frames include the relations of anyone with their true or imagined God. For Christians, these relations exist through Jesus Christ, who came into the world fulfilling God’s laws for the creation, leading his people out of the animal world.

[1] Klapwijk 2008; 2011; Wearne (ed.) 2011.

[2] Klapwijk 2008, 106-118.

[3] Klapwijk 2008, 162; 2011, 23.

[4] Popper 1972, 242-244, 289-295; 1974, 142; Popper, Eccles 1977, 14-31; Mayr 1982, 63-64.

[5] Geertsema 2011, 69.

[6] Stebbins 1982, 167.

[7] Stafleu 2002a; 2011.

[8] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 181-365.

[9] Dooyeweerd 1959; Verburg 1989, 350-360; Stafleu 2002b; Wearne 2011, 88-100.

[10] Stafleu 2008; 2011.

[11] Stafleu 2011.

[12] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 1.

[13] Stafleu 2014.

[14] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 1.

[15] Stafleu 2002a, chapters 5 and 6.

[16] Klapwijk 2008, 106-115.

[17] Stafleu 2002a, 186-191.

[18] Geertsema 2011, 59-64.

[19] Stafleu 2000; 2002a, chapter 6.

[20] Klapwijk 2008, 12-28, 128-136; 2011, 12-14.

[21] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 5.

[22] Stafleu 2002a, chapter 6.

[23] Klapwijk 2008, 40.

[24] Miller 1999; Cunningham 2010, chapter 4.

[25] Stafleu 2011, chapter 1.

[26] Stafleu 2011, chapter 1.

[27] Stafleu 2011, chapter 2.

[28] Stafleu 2011, chapter 2.

[29] Cunningham 2010, 206-212.

[30] Stafleu 2011, chapter 3.

[31] Stafleu 2014.

[32] Stafleu 2004; 2011, chapters 4 and 5.

[33] Klapwijk 2008 prefers ‘purpose’.

[34] Stafleu 2011, chapter 3.

[35] ibid., chapter 1.

[36] ibid., chapter 2.




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