A collection of published papers

written between 2003 and 2014



© 2018: M.D.Stafleu

Weeshuislaan 31

3701 JV Zeist, Netherlands







1. On aesthetically qualified characters and their mutual interlacements (2003)

(Philosophia Reformata 68 (2003) 137-147).

2. On the character of social communities, the state and the public domain (2004)

(Philosophia Reformata 69 (2004) 125-139).

3. The relation frame of keeping company (2005)

(Philosophia Reformata 70 (2005) 151-164).

4. Philosophical ethics and the so-called ethical aspect (2007)

(Philosophia Reformata 72 (2007) 21-33).

5. Nuances in the philosophy of the cosmonomic Idea (2014)

(Koers, 79 (2014), nr.3).



See also on this website:


Theories at work, On the structure and functioning of theories in science, in particular during the Copernican revolution (1987).

Theory and experiment, Philosophy of science in a historical context (2016)

The open future, Contours of a Christian philosophy of dynamic development (2017).

A strong state and a strong civil society (2018).

Encyclopedia of relations and characters, II. Normative principles (2018).


1.  On aesthetically qualified
characters and their mutual
interlacements (2003)


1.1. An aesthetically qualified act does not necessarily have an aesthetically qualified object

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

1.3. Some aesthetically qualified activities are performed in subject-subject relations

1.4. Characters of aesthetically qualified associations


Discussions about the aesthetic relation frame (or modal aspect) are often focused on subject-object relations, on objects of arts, their production and their perception.[1] A Christian philosophical anthropology emphasizes human subject-subject relations and human acts, including more than the production of artefacts. According to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, any kind of human act has an aesthetic aspect. Yet, I shall restrict myself to types of characters (or structures of individuality) that are aesthetically qualified.


1.1. An aesthetically qualified act does not necessarily have

an aesthetically qualified object


The aesthetic relation frame is not restricted to the arts, if only because objects that are not aesthetically qualified still have an aesthetic aspect. For instance, we enjoy the beauty of nature, and with respect to technically qualified artefacts, the aesthetic design is often important. Moreover, the aesthetic relation frame also qualifies sports (section 3). Philosophical discussions are often restricted to high art. But aesthetic relations include the spontaneous aesthetic pleasure in the daily experience of all people. The practicing of art and sport by amateurs is no less important than that of top players. Enjoyment is an existential condition for human beings. Man is no less homo ludens than homo faber or homo sapiens.[2]

In all aesthetic relations, people show themselves to each other, directly or through one or more objects. People display themselves in a natural way by their facial expression, gestures and posture, expressing joy or sorrow, their love or hate, their approval or disapproval.[3] They play with each other and imaginatively decorate their life.[4] They enjoy each other’s company, a book, a meal, or a film.

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

Aesthetically qualified acts can be distinguished according to their foundation in the preceding relation frames. Like Calvin Seerveld, I believe that the aesthetic relation frame succeeds the technical one (which in turn succeeds the psychic frame), and precedes the semiotic and logical relation frames.[5] The Greek word technè and the Latin ars do not only mean technical ability, but art as well. Art is always interlaced with labour, and labour is a prerequisite of art and play. Both art and sport are only enjoyable if they are produced on a technically acceptable level. On the other hand, semiotic interpretation and theoretical insight are not necessary conditions for the enjoyment of art, sport or play, though interpretation and insight are certainly helpful for understanding both art and sport. Based on the preceding relation frames, the following aesthetically qualified activities can be distinguished:

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

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

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

d.  People find pleasure in achieving things, in accomplishing something that requires an extraordinary effort or skill, like mountaineering. To test one’s ability, to find the limits of one’s possibilities, to beat a record, to train and exercise, may be considered physically founded aesthetic activities.[6]

e.  People have pleasure in plants and flowers, and gardening can easily be recognized as a biotically founded aesthetic activity. Playful competition is an aesthetic projection on biotic competition (1.3).

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

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

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


1.2. The arts are characterized by having

an aesthetically qualified object


In this section I shall argue that the arts are aesthetically characterized acts having aesthetically qualified objects.[7] Moreover, I want to show that both the artful act and any object of art has two interlaced characters, of which the first one characterizes it as an object of art, whereas the second one distinguishes one kind of art from another one.[8] This applies to products (thing-like or material objects of art like paintings), to productions (event-like objects like a musical performance),[9] and to precepts (written objects, like a stage-play, a musical score, a libretto or a choreography).[10] Each object of art occurs in two different kinds of subject-object relations, in which either the artist (painter, musician, composer), or the spectator is the subject. These two relations constitute a subject-subject relation when artists present their object to an audience.

One can enjoy a landscape or a painting of a landscape. In both cases an aesthetic subject-object relation is involved. Yet, we speak of art only in the latter case, when the object of the relation is aesthetically qualified. Because the aesthetical relation frame is universal, each thing or event may be an object for aesthetic contemplation. It is only an object of art if it has been purposefully produced and accepted as such.[11]

Objects of arts are subjected to aesthetic norms, applied both by the artist and the spectators.[12] Like all norms, aesthetic norms are variable, historically and culturally determined. Yet, certain principles are invariant, allowing us to appreciate objects of art originating from widely varying cultures and histories. First of all, an object of art should be enjoyable.[13] It should also be exciting, requiring the spectator’s imagination. Otherwise it is boring kitsch. Other norms can be found in projections of the aesthetic relation frame on preceding frames.[14] Simplicity may be considered a quantitatively founded norm, style, harmony and composition spatially founded, elegance and rhythm kinetically founded. An object of art may give a dynamic, a lively or imaginative impression, and testify of technical ability.

All art appears to be primarily aesthetically qualified and secondarily technically founded. The secondary qualification refers to the activity of the artist, being characterized by aesthetic mastery, the ability to express aesthetic experience.[15] The mastery characterizing both a good artist and good art is technical as well as aesthetic. A strictly technical control is necessary but not sufficient, for the character of an aesthetic act or object can only be founded in an aesthetic projection on an earlier relation frame, in this case, a projection on the technical relation frame. Art cannot be merely aesthetic, because there are other aesthetic activities that are not art (1.1, 1.3). If the artist’s aesthetic mastery is lacking, a purely technical command may still lead to appreciable results. A technically able painter may restore a damaged painting. Books, photo’s and films can be copied, paintings reproduced, and music recorded, requiring technical control but no aesthetic mastery. The primary characteristic of an object of art means that it expresses the imagination of the artist. Each artist develops his own style (or his own variant of a common style), recognizable in all his works. It shows his artistic control on a specific domain. Artistic styles are both historically and culturally determined, and contemporary artists inevitably display related styles.

The relation between the artist and his object does not exhaust the character of an object of art. Each art demands an audience.[16] The activity of a spectator is not founded in the technical relation frame, for to enjoy a painting does not require the ability to paint. Rather, the spectator’s activity is psychically based, like the names spectator and audience suggest.[17] Spectators must have an inquisitive eye for painting, an experienced ear for music, and generally, a good aesthetic taste.

The spectator’s activity in particular concerns the tertiary characteristic of objects of art, by which I understand a character’s disposition to become interlaced with other characters. Quite apart from the intentions of the artist, an object of art can be applied in various circumstances, according to the spectator’s responsibility and freedom. The spectator can give an object of art her own interpretation. A piece of music can be performed to celebrate a marriage. A painting can be used to illustrate the preaching of the gospel or as a financial investment. The possession of a famous painting may enhance somebody’s social status.[18] The distinction between the primary aesthetic qualification of an object of art, and its tertiary disposition to become interlaced with activities having a different character, sheds a new light on the age-old discussion about l’art pour l’art, applied art, etc.[19] The disposition to interlace objects of art into other activities is subject to norms that are not necessarily aesthetic.[20]

So far the general character of all kinds of art, which as the leading character distinguishes art from non-art. A second character that allows of a distinction between various types of art always accompanies it. It follows from the fact that each object of art is an artefact, something purposefully made by somebody. A natural thing or event cannot be an object of art. The accompanying character is, therefore, determined by the applied technique: painting, sculpting, dancing, or making music. It leads to a great variety of arts, which can be grouped according to the relation frames preceding the technical one into types of art (compare section 1.1). Collecting and exhibiting of objects of art is a quantitatively founded type of art (even if it is not commonly recognized as such). The plastic arts constitute a spatially founded type of art, with painting, sculpting and ceramic as variability types. Music and ballet are variability types of the kinetically founded type of art, and theatre appears to be psychically founded (see section 1.1). Between the variability types many transitions can be discerned, and arts of different types can be interlaced. For instance, the character of an opera (besides its leading character as a piece of art) is that of a theatrical play, interlaced with the characters of a musical performance, of ballet, of the plastic arts applied in the scenery, and of the costumes. The opera is performed according to a libretto, a musical score and a choreography, which are semiotically qualified. It is performed by an opera society, interlaced with an orchestra and a ballet society, and with the technical operation behind the scene, including that of the opera house. Like any other art, opera needs an audience.

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

The recognition of the two interlaced characters of an object of art allows us to understand the phenomenon that something that was not intended to be an object of art is later recognized as such. For instance, a medieval artisan assigned to make an altarpiece for a church was probably not aware of making an object of art. But when looking at it in a museum, we need not take into account its original destiny as part of the preaching of the gospel, in order to appreciate it as a beautiful piece of art. In my analysis, this means that its aesthetic character is not entirely objective, but part of a subject-object relation. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder. [21]


1.3. Some aesthetically qualified activities are performed

in subject-subject relations


Sports and the distinction between amateurs and professionals are relatively recent phenomena, mostly developed during the twentieth century. This may be the reason why they have drawn little attention from philosophers. It might seem peculiar to state that the same relation frame as the arts qualifies games, even if we use the same verb in music or football being played.[22] However, both in the arts and in sport, playful imagination is characteristic. Both are perpetrated by amateurs as a creative and stylized form of human experience of joy and pleasure. In a developed society, both are professionally done as well, requiring more expert spectators. Both exist because of the human earthly imagination. Neither is an imperfect representation of some ideal of beauty or harmony.[23]

Yet, a competitive game is not an art, because it lacks an aesthetically qualified object.[24] Whatever objects are used (balls, hockey sticks, chess-pieces) are merely instrumental. A competitive game is an almost pure subject-subject relation. Its character is primarily aesthetically qualified and secondarily founded in a playful and imaginative projection on the biotic relation frame.[25]

Usually, competitive sports are constituted by strict rules. The rules of play form a cluster of norms; one ought to stick to the rules. Who transgresses a rule plays false or is a spoilsport.[26] In the order of the relation frames, the following rules can be recognized.

  1. a.  The rules determine the number of players, e.g. two in chess, four in bridge, eleven in soccer.
  2. b.  Each game has a playroom, e.g., the chessboard or the football field, with a characteristic spatial layout. A football field is divided in different areas in which different rules apply, like the offside rule. The rules are only valid within the playroom.
  3. c.   The rules determine which motions of players, pieces or the ball are allowed, as well as the duration of the play. Rules are only valid during the game.
  4. d.  There should be a balance of strength between the teams. A match between two players or teams that differ too much in this respect is not sporting and even boring, it lacks suspense. The distinction between youth, men and women sports is based on this rule, as is the distinction between the various divisions or classes in football and other sports. In chess and tennis, players have a rating.
  5. e.  The rules determine which player or team wins or loses a match. In a tournament, the rules determine who survives, and who drops out.
  6. f.    The rules state which acts are allowed, how players have to behave, and what is considered misconduct. The behaviour of the players is determined by the norm that players are bound by the rules and that the competition is restricted to the play and must not be continued after the play is finished. Players ought to play the ball, not the opponent. The rules may determine how the players show themselves, by their clothing and back numbers, and which different parts they are allowed to play.
  7. g.  The rules determine which techniques are allowed and which are forbidden. For instance, in football the rules determine in which circumstances a player is allowed to touch the ball with his hands.

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

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

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


1.4. Characters of aesthetically qualified associations


This section deals briefly with the character of aesthetically qualified voluntary associations. They may be concerned with art as well as with sport. We should distinguish between the mutually intertwined characters of e.g. a football team and a football club.[28] A football club is not a subject in a football match. Its character is socially qualified,[29] not aesthetically, though it has an aesthetic destiny. It is an organization engaged to promote (not to play) soccer. It also promotes social contacts between players, sponsors and fans. It organizes football teams. A club may very well be engaged in various sports, and even in other aesthetically qualified activities, for it is not subject to the rules discussed in section 1.3.

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

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

Most of this applies equally to associations devoted to the promotion of an art. In the case of performative arts like music, a similar interlacement of the socially qualified organizing music company with an aesthetically qualified performing orchestra may occur. However, as a performing association, an orchestra is not biotically founded (for art is not competitive[30]), but technically founded, because it is engaged with the cooperated production of a piece of music. Its object does not differ from what we have discussed in section 1.2. As an association an orchestra has a conductor, division of tasks and discipline. The orchestra has an identity independent of the identity of its members. 




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


[1] Rookmaaker 1962 connects art with entertainment. Zuidervaart 1995, 46 criticizes ‘… the tendency to make the concept “work of art” central to an account of the entire realm of art …[serving] to shift the emphasis in art making and art enjoyment from process to product, from occasion to commodity, and from use to status.’

[2] Huizinga 1938, XI.

[3] Huizinga 1938, 8, observes that human beings can laugh, contrary to animals: ‘The Aristotelian animal ridens characterizes mankind in contrast to animals almost more purely than homo sapiens.’ [translation by MDS].

[4] Huizinga 1938, 13.

[5] Seerveld 2001. According to Dooyeweerd 1953-58, I, 3, the aesthetic modal aspect succeeds the economic and precedes the jural aspect. I derive the word ‘semiotic’ from ‘semiotics’, the science of signs (Greek: σήμα = sign).

[6] Rawls 1971, 374: ‘… other things equal, human beings enjoy the exercise of their realized capacities (their innate or trained abilities), and this enjoyment increases the more the capacity is realized, or the greater its complexity. The intuitive idea here is that human beings take more pleasure in doing something as they become more proficient at it, and of two activities they do equally well, they prefer the one calling on a larger repertoire of more intricate and subtle discriminations.’

[7] I shall not attempt to present an essentialist definition of art, see Graham 1997, 177-179. W.B. Gallie (cited by Graham) argues that all definitional theories are ‘… vitiated through and through by the ‘essentialist fallacy’: they presume that whenever we are in a position to define a substance or activity, we must know its essence or ultimate nature …’

[8] Stafleu 2002, 108. My distinction of two interlaced characters is an elaboration of Dooyeweerd’s distinction of radical types, genotypes and variability types, Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,III, 83, 89-96, 109-128

[9] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 110: ‘… works of these types are always in need of a subjective actualization lacking the objective constancy essential to works of plastic arts…. They give rise to a separate kind of art, viz. that of performance, in which aesthetic objectification and actualization, though bound to the spirit and style of the work, remain in direct contact with the re-creating individual conception of the performing artist.’

[10] Seerveld 1964, 90 calls literature ‘secondary art’: ‘Literature is not performed and is not something for exhibition as are all the other arts.’ Originally, written texts were intended to be recited, to be heard. Hence, like musical scores, stage-plays, film scripts, and the choreography for a ballet, poems and novels may be considered semiotically qualified and aesthetically founded precepts for aesthetically qualified performances.

[11] Seerveld 2000, 8: ‘Art is an object or event conceived and structured by human design to be perceived by our senses, and characterized by an imaginative and allusive finish that affords the piece its own independent identity.’

[12] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 152: ‘Every subjective valuation receives its determinateness by being subjected to a norm, which determines the subjectivity and defines its meaning! There exists no aesthetic subjectivity apart from a universally valid aesthetic norm to which it is subjected.’ See Graham, 1997, 157-162.

[13] Graham, 1997, 4-5. Even if an object of art is terrifying, one may still admire the artist’s aesthetic mastery.

[14] Seerveld 2001.

[15] Dooyeweerd, 1953-1958, III, 109-128 analyses Praxiteles’ sculpture ‘Hermes and Dionysus’, concluding (ibid. 120): ‘… the real typical foundation function of … [a] work of art is found solely in the historical law sphere, modally qualified by free formative control.’ Ibid. 122: ‘… all works of fine art exhibit the same secondary radical type with a typical aesthetic qualification and a typical historical foundation.’ Dooyeweerd adds that this structure is enkaptically interlaced with the natural structure of the applied material. For a criticism of Dooyeweerd’s analysis, see Zuidervaart 1995.

[16] H.-G. Gadamer, cited by Graham 1997, 16: ‘A work of art … demands to be constructed by the viewer to whom it is presented. It is … not something we can simply use for a particular purpose, not a material thing from which we might fabricate some other thing. On the contrary, it is something that only manifests and displays itself when it is constituted by the viewer … The artist’s creativity needs its audience, and for the audience, creative art provides ‘the experiences that best fulfil the ideal of “free” and “disinterested” delight ... An artist who cannot capture the attention of an audience is a failure, whatever merits may be thought to lie in the work, but a great work of art stimulates and directs the perceptions of the audience, and is not only passively subject to appreciation.’

[17] This does not imply that for a spectator, an object of art is psychically founded. Listening to music recognized as the free creation and reproduction by imaginative artists differs profoundly from listening to the song of a bird.

[18] Seerveld 2000, 11: ‘Art can have numerous functions in society and can be used for a variety of purposes: diversion, therapy, social status, propaganda, collateral or fetish. But Christians would be wrong to equate its validity with its usefulness, no matter whether that ‘usefulness’ was in giving a lot of people pleasure or morality or something spiritually valuable. Art is not a means to an end, it is not a function of something else. Art stands or falls on its own artistic contribution in God’s world. To think of art, or practice it, as a tool for some other purpose is to sell it out to a technocratic bend of mind, damning it to a permanent identity crisis and reducing it to a kind of colonial status at the beck and call of touring VIPs for approved cultural missions.’

[19] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,III, 139 rejects l’art pour l’art as an absolutization of the aesthetic aspect, but he accepts ‘… its intention to defend the right of free artistic expression against those who intend to make art always serve a specific utilitarian or moral purpose.’ Rookmaaker 1970, 229: ‘Art needs no justification. The mistake of many art theorists (and not only of Christian ones) is to try to give art a meaning or a sense by showing that it ‘does something’. So art must open people’s eyes, or serve as a decoration, or prophecy, or praise, or have a social function, or express a particular philosophy. Art needs no such excuse. It has its own meaning that does not need to be explained…’ Ibid. 243: ‘The artist, with his special gifts, has a specific task, a very special and wonderful calling. It is not to play the prophet, nor to be a preacher, nor to evangelize. It is to make life better, more worthwhile, to create the sound, the shape, the tale, the decoration, the environment that is meaningful and lovely and a joy to mankind.’ Seerveld 2000, 59: ‘The relationship we are aiming to develop with artists is not merely as customers in the art market buying an impersonal product, nor as imperial patrons dominating the subservient artist, nor as outsiders set against a freelance genius with a good press agent. The relationship we non-artists seek is one with an artist who provides binoculars for helping us to look at the world and imaginatively to understand it more.’

[20] Seerveld 2000, 124: ‘The peculiarity of incapsulated art is that the artist is called not only to meet the aesthetic law of allusivity, but also to satisfy, within the artwork, the norm for the other kind of activity which the artist has agreed to serve. The portrait painting must have, in its composition and pigmented colour, the quality of metaphor to conjure up the person’s hidden strengths, yet it must also present recognizable features of the sitter, and show attachment or respect or at least, disclose some of the sitter’s character.’

[21] Graham 1997, 13: ‘To call something beautiful is not just to describe it but to react to it… On the other hand, … In declaring an object to be beautiful, we also mean to say that there is something about it which will make other people like it as well.’

[22] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 589 assumes that sport is qualified by the modal aspect of social intercourse. Of course, many people are members of a sport club because of its social aspect (see section 1.4), but this also applies to the membership of a theatre club. However, one may enjoy a football match as much as a film or a concert without being in the company of others, for instance via radio or television. The experience of joy is not basically different whether one attends to a football match or a concert. Gadamer considers art as a play, see Graham 1997, 15-19: play is ‘… the anthropological basis of our experience of art, …’ See also Huizinga 1938, 10, 16.

[23] Seerveld 2000, 160: ‘My attempt to reform the Western philosophical tradition on BEAUTY as the norm for good living and sound art is to posit that the nuclear moment of what has come to be called ‘aesthetic’ is lucidity; a playfulness which assumes vital, sensitive formative ability is at the core of imaginativity. The norm for the imaginative side of experiential life is, ‘Be allusive!’ ‘Fool around’ in the connotations of your speech, in the conjectural dimension of your thinking, within the diplomatic element of your just-doing, a trifle flirtational in keeping troth with your neighbour. When imaginative functioning is at its zenith, a quality of celebrative festivity fills the event.’

[24] Graham 1997, 21: ‘Art can have content, whereas sport cannot… a play or a book or a painting can be about something, but it would be senseless to speak of a game of tennis or football being about anything. Moreover, it is in the meaning or content of a work of art, what it communicates, that the value is often supposed to lie, a meaning that may be examined again and again.’ Ibid. 42: ‘… art like sport consists in structured activity, whereas unlike sport art can also have content, be about something.’

[25] I shall bypass the non-competitive sports (like physical training), which I consider to be founded in the physical relation frame. Some would say that modern sports are like ritualized warfare. I admit that rituals are aesthetically qualified and that warfare itself may be founded in the biotic relation frame (referring to the so-called ‘struggle for life’, expressing a negative view of biotic competition). Nevertheless, I don’t believe that sport is ritualized warfare (hooligans notwithstanding), for it would imply that the sports are in principle as reprehensable as warfare is.

[26] Huizinga 1938, 17-18 observes that a spoilsport may be a revolutionary, creating a new play.

[27] MacIntyre 1967, 85-87.

[28] I leave aside that a football club can be organized by e.g. a commercial company instead of by an association.

[29] In this paper, by ‘social’ I refer to the relation frame of social intercourse.

[30] This does not mean that the arts are alien to competition: there are prizes, salons, juries, etc. Competition occurs everywhere, but only the sports are characterized by competition.

  2. On the character of social communities, the state and the public domain (2004)


2.1. Associations have a dual character

2.2. The principle of sphere sovereignty is the primary characteristic of an association

2.3. The analysis of associations requires the recognition of the political relation frame

2.4. The political relation frame is irreduciblet to the economical one

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

2.6. Courts of justice should be independent of the state

2.7. The state has an exceptional dual character

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


The view that organized social communities or associations differ from unorganized communities by having a kind of government or management exerting authority over the community appears almost obvious. Nevertheless it contradicts Herman Dooyeweerd’s view, distinguishing organized communities from natural communities because of their being founded in the technical relation frame (or modal aspect) respectively the biotic one. This paper discusses the dual character (or structure of individuality) of associations, requiring the introduction of a new relation frame. Determined by authority and discipline, the political relation frame succeeds the frames of social intercourse and economic relations, and precedes the frames of justice and loving care. It qualifies the generic character of any association, founded in that of social intercourse. Besides, each association has a specific character, distinguishing various types of associations. These insights shed new light upon the dual character of a state as the guardian of the public domain. Constituting various networks of human relations, the public domain does not have the character of a community.


2.1. Associations have a dual character


An unorganized community is primarily characterized by the relation frame of social intercourse or companionship (commonly called the ‘social modal aspect’) and secondarily by another relation frame. For example, the community of all German speaking people is founded in the semiotic relation frame, the community of all Christian believers in that of faith. People belonging to them have a communal bond because of their language, respectively their religious belief. Both communities lack an authoritative government and discipline, although both language and belief are subject to norms.

In contrast, an organized community, to be called an association, has a dual character. This consists of a leading or generic character, distinguishing associations from unorganized communities, and an accompanying or specific character, making difference between various types of associations.[1] In this paper, I shall mostly pay attention to the specific character of the state, but first I shall discuss the generic character of any association. This, I believe, is qualified by the political relation frame and founded in the relation frame of social intercourse. The distinction between an organized association and an unorganized community cannot be made clear without the recognition of the political relation frame of decision making, authority and discipline. It appears to be more important than the distinction between natural communities, free associations and institutes or that between ‘associatory and authoritarian forms of association’.[2]

Any association unites its members under some kind of authoritative rule[3]: the government of a state; the bishop, synod or board of a church; the management of a business; the executive of a party; the headmaster of a school; the superintendent of a hospital; the director of a factory; the committee of a club; or the parents in a nuclear family. Internally, the government rules the association. Its members respond to the government by discipline, actively participating in the community. The intersubjective relation of authority and discipline qualifies the generic character of an association, which is founded in the relation frame of social intercourse, as I shall argue presently. Externally, the association is represented by the management (or somebody authorized by the latter), acting on behalf of the association. Contrary to an unorganized community, an association is able to act as an individual subject in all relation frames.[4] In its relations to individuals outside the association or to other associations, the board of an association can neither exert authority nor require discipline. Hence, the relation between an association and its clients, if it has any, differs from its relation with its members. The association’s external subject-subject relations are not necessarily political. They may be economical, for instance, or juridical.

The members of an association are not only united because of their being subject to authoritative rule, but also by solidarity: they form a community. The discipline required by the management implies cooperation and shared interests besides participation in ruling the association. Hence, the generic character of any association is founded in the relation frame of social intercourse. Nevertheless, the identity of an association is independent of the identity of its members, as long as it has members. It depends on the effective rule of its government. Hence, unlike a nuclear family, neither a marriage (having a unique character) nor an extended family (being a biotically founded unorganized community) constitutes an association. An association may passively cease to exist for lack of members, but usually its existence only ends if its management actively dissolves it. The specific character of an association determines its membership forming a community. Nationality, the membership of a state, differs from that of a club, a local church or a business.


2.2. The principle of sphere sovereignty is the primary characteristic of an association


In the words of Abraham Kuyper (1880), any association is sovereign in its own sphere. In a civilized and free society, this sovereignty is never absolute; being restricted both by the individual freedom of its members and the internal sovereignty of other associations. The authority of its management should not be extended beyond its competence, and only its members are required to observe discipline. The fact that this Protestant view is effectively dominant in present-day Western society is remarkable, for it contradicts both the humanist ideal of autonomous individual subjects and the Roman-Catholic view on church and state, even with the mitigating principle of subsidiarity.[5] Sovereignty presupposes some kind of authoritative rule. Therefore, the principle of sphere sovereignty only applies to associations, not to unorganized social communities.

Abraham Kuyper’s political view of sphere sovereignty differs from Herman Dooyeweerd’s, who interprets it as the ontological principle of creational diversity. For example, Dooyeweerd applies the term sphere sovereignty to the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects, ignoring the fact that no modal aspect is ruled by a sovereign.[6] He puts sphere sovereignty at the law side of reality, applying it both to modal aspects and to types. However, a sovereign is a subject, even if they positivize norms into laws or rules, and the political principle of sphere sovereignty applies to associations being subjects as well. For instance, according to Dooyeweerd the university (as a type) would have sphere sovereignty with respect to the state, whereas I maintain that the principle of sphere sovereignty implies that any university (as an individual association) should have sphere sovereignty with respect to any state. Contrary to Dooyeweerd’s, my view has the consequence that two universities have sphere sovereignty with respect to each other. However, I fully agree that the university as a type is irreducible to the type of the state.

The relation between authority and discipline is not a subject-object relation but a normative subject-subject relation. Authoritative rule becomes authoritarian or autocratic if the authorities treat their subjects like objects, if discipline becomes subordination, in the extreme if discipline reduces to slavery. Being a member implies to play an active part in the association. In any association, the membership should participate in the decisions of the authority, which ought to consult its members about its decisions. Participation in whatever form is not a peculiar Western cultural phenomenon. Rather, it is a universal political normative principle to which any association should confirm according to its specific character.[7] State democracy differs from the voice of the people in the church or labour co-partnership. Like any normative principle, it can be positivized into norms and rules in many different ways.

It should be observed that we are describing various types of social communities and their characters. According to the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea, these types belong to the law side of creation. Types are given and can be discovered as laws for the creation. A type is determined by a set of invariable natural laws and normative principles like those of justice or love of one’s neighbour. On the other hand, with the exception of natural characters, a character is a set of natural laws and normative principles as well as variable positivized norms. Hence, the character of a particular social community is in part the product of human activity, starting from the technical relation frame of human labour. In my view, the historical development of natural characters is guided by the technical frame, and the historical development of human activity starts from this relation frame, which therefore has a pivotal function in history. For this reason, Dooyeweerd calls the technical relation frame the ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ modal aspect of ‘control, command, mastery or power’. By assuming that all associations (except for the natural ones) are founded in this modal aspect, Dooyeweerd reduces authority to power, control or command over people, in the state to be conducted by justice, in the church by faith, in a business by economical principles.[8] In both respects, I offer a different opinion.

First, the fact that associations are actualized and differentiated in the course of history should have no consequences at all for the characterization of various types of social communities. It is not an argument against the assumption that the generic character of any association is founded in the relation frame of social intercourse, and we are free to investigate the foundation frame of its specific character without presupposing that it is invariably the technical one.

Secondly, in my view authority cannot be reduced to power, control or command over people. If some authority has to resort to the exertion of power, it is a testimonium paupertatis, a testimonial of incompetence, only excusable if the relation of authority and discipline is severely disturbed. The political principle of sphere sovereignty is not expressed in the secondary foundation, but in the primary qualification of the generic character of associations.


2.3. The analysis of associations requires

the recognition of the political relation frame


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

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

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

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


2.4. The political relation frame is irreducible

to the economical one


I propose to insert the political relation frame between the economic and juridical ones.[9] I do not believe that the former is characterized by either scarcity or rational choice.[10] In all normative activities, human beings are free and responsible actors, implying choice. In my view, economic activity concerns the profitable exchange of goods and services, depending on both scarcity and affluence: a buyer needs something that a seller has in abundance. Economy is based on differentiation of abilities and division of labour of all kinds. An economic subject-subject relation is objectified by a contract, which does not require authority or discipline, even if it has juridical consequences (2.6).

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

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

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


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


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

From the eighteenth till the first half of the twentieth century, legal positivists identified justice with state law.[11] Legalism assumes that almost all rules of justice are state laws, that the state laws are complete in principle, and that the judge has no other task than to apply the state laws.[12] This implies the separation of the political formulation from the juridical application of justice. With respect to the former, the courts are subject to the legislative organs of the state, with respect to the latter they are independent organs of the state, whereas the executive organs of the state are subject to the justice applied by the courts. This system of checks and balances, essentially Charles-Louis Montesquieu’s trias politica (1748), assumes that the three powers (executive, legislative and judicature) are organs of the state. It has the intention to warrant the freedom of the citizens. Arisen in the framework of humanist philosophy, it does not even consider the possibility that justice and authority cum discipline are mutually irreducible normative principles. Dooyeweerd (who developed his views before the Second World War) was aware of the difference between politics and justice and of the pitfalls of legal positivism. Nevertheless, he assumed that the juridical aspect qualifies the character of the state, and he did not recognize the existence of a political aspect irreducible to the juridical one.[13] However, in the second half of the twentieth century, legal positivism came under fire, first because people became aware that courts of justice are at liberty to interpret the state laws. Jurisprudence is as much a source of justice as state laws. Legalism assumes that only the state legislative is allowed to interpret its own laws.

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

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

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

From the assumption that the state laws determine what is justice, legal positivists concluded that any state is a constitutional state.[14] Twentieth-century history has made us painfully aware that legalism does not exclude the existence and functioning of dictatorial states, whose conduct may be lawful but is unjust. Nowadays most people consider a constitutional state to recognize fundamental human rights; to have independent courts of justice and to submit itself to its own laws; to have constitutional rules according to which valid laws are made; and sometimes to be a democracy.[15] This is a mixture of juridical and political principles, intended to restrict the power of the state, referring to the foundation of the specific character of a state (2.7). In my view, the definition of a constitutional state that only refers to the foundation of the state’s character may be necessary but is not sufficient.

I suggest that the idea of a constitutional state (rechtsstaat) discloses the original character of the state. It points to an important historical stage in the development of the state. It does not mean that the state laws are always just (according to legal positivism) or should be just (according to people who reject legalism), but it requires that the state government is itself subject to justice. In matters of justice, the state is not a sovereign. The sovereignty of the state refers to its members (the citizens), its internal organization, and to the public domain. Sovereignty is not a juridical but a political principle, a matter of authority and discipline, even if these have juridical implications (2.6). The Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty does not rest on a right, but on the character of each association having its own management, exerting authority, requiring discipline from its members, and representing the association. The state’s sovereignty is no exception to this political normative principle. Human rights do not constitute the basis of the state, even though they limit the rights of the state and other associations (2.6).

A constitutional state is always a state; it cannot exist without authority and discipline, without dominion of its territory. But a state (even a democratic state) can exist without being a constitutional state, as long as it exerts authority in the public domain.[16] This is not only the case when (for instance) a state conquers another one, ruling the conquered land and its inhabitants. The international recognition of the government of a state does not depend on its being rightful (de jure), but on its factual political power (de facto). A state ceases to exist (for instance after a revolution or an invasion) if its government can no longer maintain public order, even if that government is just. We should firmly distinguish between a state that submits itself to justice and a state that does not. Only the former should be considered a constitutional state (rechtsstaat).

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


2.6. Courts of justice should be independent of the state


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

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

Juridical subjects have both rights and duties, being man-made objects qualified by the relation frame of justice. However, both rights and duties only function in subject-object relations,[17] and in particular in subject-subject relations. An isolated person like Robinson Crusoe has little use of his rights. The right of one subject often implies duties for another one. The rights of one subject, whether a person or an association (e.g., the state), are limited by those of other subjects. Hence, rights and duties are often in conflict, that’s why we need judges, even if there is no question of criminal conduct. No right should ever be absolutized.

If objective rights and duties are originally juridical, we call them fundamental.[18] The fundamental rights should not be derived from, but recognized in the state’s constitution. This view is expressed by the United Nations Organization requiring its member states to recognize the ‘universal declaration of human rights’. Only by court order can somebody be deprived of his fundamental rights, for instance his liberty to act in the public domain.

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

Courts of justice are concerned with juridical aspects of any kind of human activity. Their independence from state government means that courts of justice are not necessarily organs of the state. In private law, the state is usually not even a party. On the public domain, the state sometimes acts as an organ of justice, in particular with respect to criminal acts. The office of public justice, being an organ of the state and a specific juridical subject, brings criminals to court and executes the judgments of courts. However, even on the public domain, the state does not only act in a juridical sense (2.7).

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

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


2.7. The state has an exceptional dual character


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

The specific character of the state is politically qualified as well, in a unique way. Whereas the state governs its citizens and properties according to its generic character, on its territory it governs the public domain according to its specific character. The state is the guardian of the res publica. In public, people do not act as citizens of the state. For instance, the state regulates traffic on public roads and in public transport, and all travellers should obey these rules, whether they are citizens or visiting tourists. In the past, women and slaves were not recognized as citizens, but they freely used the public domain. Besides individual persons, associations act in public, not as citizens of the state, but as clients of the public networks, for which they have often to pay. The public domain does not form a community, but an intersubjective network, or rather a set of networks.[19] Even society is neither an organized nor an unorganized community, but the public intersubjective network of social intercourse, open to anyone. The idea that society is, was or should be a community comprising the whole of humanity is a romantic fiction. The unity of mankind is neither to be found on the public domain, nor in any association, but only in the religious community of the body of Christ.[20]

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

The technical infrastructure forms the basis of all other networks constituting the public domain, consisting of relations between subjects, both individuals and associations. Each relation frame succeeding the technical one determines its own characteristic network of public subject-subject relations, in which both individuals and associations partake. Architecture is the public art par excellence and public buildings serve the arts, sports and cults. Public opinion is its semiotic expression, public science its logical one. Churches and political parties make propaganda in public. Public relations define society as a network of public social intercourse. Markets and financial networks have an economic public character, where the government imposes taxes. The states themselves, their provinces and cities as well as their governments form a public political network. The courts form a network of public justice sustained by the state, and the public health and welfare networks are increasingly important in all Western countries.[21]

In a free society, the state warrants the liberty of people to make use of the public domain and it stimulates the development of public networks. It maintains the objective structure and the functioning of the public network. Besides, the state maintains the public order and defends the public domain by means of its intervention powers (2.8).

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

The state should not be identified with the public domain. With respect to its generic character, it acts on the public domain as a subject like any other association. With respect to its specific character, it should be emphasized that the state oversees the public domain, but does not necessarily own it. Technical public networks (traffic, telephone, internet) may be owned by various kinds of competing associations. Markets and the channels of public opinion had better not be owned by the state. People ought to be free to use the public domain, and the public rules of the state should have no more ambition than to warrant this freedom and to facilitate public networks. The Protestant principle of sphere sovereignty implies that besides individual persons, associations should be free to operate on the public domain. The Roman-Catholic principle of subsidiarity (section 2) can be interpreted such that on the public domain the state should refrain from activities that had better be done by other associations.


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


Historically, the defence of the public domain was probably an important incentive to develop tribal coalitions into warrior states. The assumption that the state is characterized by its ‘sword power’ has led many Christian theologians and philosophers to believe that the state exists ‘because of sin’.[22] Dooyeweerd too, supposing that the character of all non-natural organized communities are founded in the ‘historical’ aspect characterized by human command, based the character of the state in coercive power.[23] I believe that the armed power is merely a historical consequence of the specific character of the state as guardian of the public domain.[24] It does not characterize the state, but rather the intervention powers as organs of the state, which indeed are necessary ‘because of sin’. Like all types of characters, that of the state is given in the creation, and is not caused or changed by the fall into sin. Because the public domain is expressed in all relation frames, in a developed historical situation the state as its guardian has a protective function in any frame. The specific political character of the state means that it orders the public domain, by formulating and maintaining its positive laws. The state maintains peace on the public domain. Even imperialism is always defended by the intention to bring peace, from pax Romana to pax Americana. Nowadays, the maintenance of peace is considered the shared responsibility of all states.

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

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

[1] Stafleu 2003, introduces the concept of the dual character of an object of art, but does not use the terms generic and specific. Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III, 393 observes correctly that Aristotle’s distinction of genus proximum and differentia specifica does not apply to the modal aspects, and he criticizes an attempt to apply it to the state. However, I do not introduce the duality of a generic and a specific characteron logical but on empirical grounds.

[2] Dooyeweerd 1953-58,III, 187-191.

[3] Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III, 180-181: ‘Durable organization necessarily implies the societal relation of authority and subordination in its different modal aspects… it is only found in organized communities … and in addition in some natural communities … the relation of authority and subordination is only to be understood from the structural types of the different communities in which it is inherent.’ Observe that I replace authoritarian ‘subordination’ by participatory ‘discipline’ (section 2.2).

[4] Dooyeweerd 1953-58, III, 198: ‘The only radical difference between a human community and a “thing” is to be found in the fact that the former has subject-functions in all the modal aspects of human experience and human social existence. This means that a communal whole can never be a societal object.’ See also ibid. III, 472. I concur with Dooyeweerd that an association is a subject in all relation frames, even in the so-called natural ones. Philosophers who doubt this seem to overlook that an association is a human community being represented by somebody who acts on behalf of the association, which is supposed to act as a unity. The members of an association may be associations themselves, for instance, football clubs are members of a football association. On the other hand, an unorganized community cannot act as a subject.

[5] The principle of subsidiarity, developed by Thomas Aquinas and in 1931 confirmed in the encyclical Quadragesimo Anno by pope Pius XI, says that each societal activity should be subsidiary, it has to support the members of all corporations. It assumes that secular society consists of a hierarchy of higher and lower communities or organs, which are all enclosed by the state. Whether this principle also applies to the church (in the Roman-Catholic view identical with the community of Christian believers) is a matter of dispute. A higher organ should refrain from everything that can be done by a lower organ. If taken apart from the Roman-Catholic view on society, the principle of subsidiarity is applicable whenever an association as a whole has more or less autonomous parts, but it is not applicable to mutually independent associations and is therefore no substitute for the principle of sphere sovereignty. Christian-democrats consider both principles not to contradict, but to complement each other.

[6] Dooyeweerd 1953-58, I, 101-102. See Wolters 1985, 7: ‘Whereas for Kuyper sphere sovereignty had been primarily a sociological principle which provided a guideline in practical politics, Dooyeweerd expanded it into a general principle of ontological irreducibility, applicable also to such categories as life and matter, faith and emotion.’ See also Marshall, 126.

[7] Chaplin 1995 argues that democratic participation is a structural norm for the state.

[8] On the historical modal aspect, see Dooyeweerd 1953-1958II, 68-71; on the foundation of associations, see ibid. III, 178-179: an organized community ‘… is typically founded in a historical power-formation …’.

[9] The observant reader will be aware that I am diverting from the order of the modal aspects given by Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 3. On the position of the aesthetic relation frame, see Stafleu 2003and references therein. After the psychic relation frame, I recognize the technical, aesthetic, semiotic, logic and pistic relation frames as being cultural, followed by the frames of social intercourse, economics, politics, justice and loving care as aspects of civilization. I intend to argue this order in a separate publication.

[10] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 66: ‘…the sparing or frugal mode of administering scarce goods, implying an alternative choice of their destination with regard to the satisfaction of different human needs.’ See Kee 1996; García de la Sienra 1998; 2001. These authors conceive of economy in the sense of efficiency, which I don’t believe is characteristic of economic activity.

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

[12] Franken et al. 2003, 115-116. In the twentieth century, influential legal positivists were e.g. H.L.A. Hart in England and H. Kelsen in Austria. Until the beginning of the twentieth century, Dutch courts were strictly bound to state laws, see ibid. 115, citing the ‘Wet Algemene Bepalingen’ (1829): ‘Gewoonte geeft geen recht, dan alleen wanneer de wet daarop verwijst … De rechter moet volgens de wet rechtspreken; hij mag in geen geval de innerlijke waarde of billijkheid der wet beoordelen.’

[13] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,III, 437: ‘The leading function in the structure of the State has proved to be a public legal relationship uniting government, people and territory into a politico-juridical whole.’ On Dooyeweerd’s views of the state, see Dooyeweerd op.cit. III, 379-508; Chaplin 1995; Zwart 1996; and references given in these two papers.

[14] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 425-467 criticizes the German idea of a Rechtsstaat (constitutional state) in the sense of ‘law-State’. It should be observed that the German or Dutch concept of Rechtsstaat is not quite the same as the Anglo-Saxon concept of constitutional state. The United Kingdom is considered a constitutional state, even if it has no written constitution.

[15] Franken et al. 2003, 366-367 gives four formal characteristics of the ‘democratische rechtsstaat’. Ibid. 379 makes distinction between rechtsstaat and democracy.

[16] Hence, I disagree with Dooyeweerd1953-1958, III, 434: ‘A real State cannot find its qualifying function in any other than the juridical aspect, and without this leading function it would degenerate into an organized military gang of robbers, because of its very foundation in armed force.’

[17] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, II, 391-413. See Marshall 1967.

[18] According to Roman-Catholic and humanist ‘natural law’ scholars, fundamental rights can be derived from human nature. Others assume that the fundamental rights are products of cultural development, see Franken et al. 2003, hoofdstuk 2. The philosophy of the cosmonomic idea considers fundamental rights to be temporary positivations of invariable normative principles of justice.

[19] Castells 2000. Associations acting on the public domain are nodes in a network of their own, connecting the association with other associations and with persons, e.g., the clients of the association, according to its specific character. These external relations should be distinguished from the internal political relation of authority and discipline between the members of the association according to its generic character. Members of an association acting as if they were its clients undermine the internal discipline and mutual solidarity.

[20] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 214-216.

[21] Hence, I reject the view expressed by Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 438 ‘… the principle of public interest must itself have a typical juridical qualification which delimits its supra-arbitrary structural meaning.’

[22] This view, due to Augustine and criticized by Thomas Aquinas, was accepted by Kuyper 1898, 64-66, 74-75 and by Dooyeweerd 1953-1958,III, 423-424, 506, in contrast to Chaplin 1995, 25-29 and  Clouser 1991, 268-269.

[23] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, III, 414: ‘There has never existed any State whose internal structure in the last instance was not based on organized armed power, at least claiming the ability to break any armed resistance on the part of private persons or oganizations within its territory.’ Ibid. III, 420-421: ‘… the universal validity of the normative structural principle of the State, which implies the territorial monopolistic organization of military power as its typical foundational function.’

[24] Chaplin 1995, 27: ‘… in a post-fall situation, coercion is a normative necessity for the state to realise its creational purpose.’

 3. The relation frame of keeping company (2005)


3.1. The ambiguity of the word ‘social’

3.2. The meaning of the relation frame of keeping company

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

3.4. The meaning of the economic relation frame

3.5. Organization

3.6. Normative and anti-normative acts

3.7. The foundation of associations

3.8. The serial order of the relation frames


The most striking of Andrew Basden’s ‘brief comments’ on my paper ‘On the character of social communities, the state and the public domain’(2004)[1] is his statement that my proposal to introduce a political relation frame preceding the juridical one[2] ‘leaves the social aspect effectively empty of meaning’ (AB 72). Therefore, I shall make an attempt to clarify my view on this relation frame, which is the focus of his comments (AB 71). My analysis both of relation frames or modal aspects and of characters or structures of individuality differs in many ways from Dooyeweerd’s, but I believe that my view on the ‘aspect of social intercourse’ remains quite close to his, as far as one is able to say that, for ‘the philosophical analysis of the social aspect both by Vollenhoven and Dooyeweerd is extremely concise’.[3] In the course of this paper, I shall try to answer Andrew Basden’s other comments as well.


3.1. The ambiguity of the word ‘social’


In writing, Herman Dooyeweerd avoided using the term ‘social aspect’. In Dutch it is called ‘omgangszijde’,[4] which in the New critique is translated into ‘the aspect of social intercourse’,[5] but could better be translated by ‘the aspect of keeping company’ or ‘companionship’, or more freely, ‘meeting people’. However, in the New critique’s index of subjects and authors by H. de Jongste it is already called the ‘social aspect’,[6] probably because the English language has no satisfactory equivalent for ‘omgang’, and this name has become customary.

So, what’s in a name? I am fully aware of the unavoidable ambiguity of words. For instance, I know very well that in English ‘a company’ is an economically qualified enterprise, not to be confused with ‘keeping company’. Hence, one should feel free to stick to the label ‘social aspect’, if one is aware of the many different and sometimes conflicting meanings of the word social. For example, in the political and societal use of language, the word social often refers to collective care, easily leading to the misunderstanding that collective care is qualified by the aspect of social intercourse instead of by the relation frame of loving care.[7]

The word social (from Latin, socius = companion or ally) usually corresponds to society at large, not to one of its aspects.[8] Social activity concerns what people do in communities or associations, which is most of the time not qualified by the relation frame of companionship. Hence, Dooyeweerd used the word social mostly not in connection to the aspect of keeping company, but ‘in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike’.[9] As I shall argue below (3.3), Andrew Basden seems to have overlooked Dooyeweerd’s caution not to confuse the word social in the sense of the aspect of social intercourse or in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike.

Some people seem to believe that anything being done by two or more people together is ‘social’. In several papers and books since 1970,[10] I have argued that for the analysis of both modal aspects and structures of individuality, subject-subject relations are far more relevant than subject-object relations, being as important as law-subject relations. I believe that the modal aspects are mostly concerned with these three types of relations within the aspects, to which one should add the mutual relations between the aspects, the anti- and retrocipations. That is why I recently proposed to call the modal aspects ‘relation frames’. Now it will be clear that the subject-subject relations in the natural relation frames, such as the quantitative difference or ratio of two numbers, the kinetic relation of relative motion, or biotic genetic relations, cannot be called social. I believe that in the normative relation frames, i.e., those succeeding the natural ones, subject-subject relations play a similar constitutive part. I shall give some examples later on. But if the ‘social aspect’ is to be distinguished from the other eight or nine normative ones, one had better not consider the subject-subject relations in the latter aspects to be ‘social’. On the other hand, in line with Dooyeweerd’s preference for using the word social ‘in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike’, one may consider which types of subject-subject relations should be called social. My suggestion would be to speak of social subject-subject relations if and only if they occur within unorganized communities, within associations or within public networks, including society. I admit that this choice is arbitrary, but making it one had better avoid the expression ‘social aspect’, not because it would be wrong, but because it lacks precision.


3.2. The meaning of the relation frame of keeping company


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

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

Next, subject-subject relations occur in all kinds of unorganized communities. I am surprised that my example of the community of all German speakers (MDS 125) does not convince my opponent (AB 72), and I cannot but reject his suggestion that this community may be seen as a set of entities possessing the same property. If this were the case, a language community would be on a par with the set of all people having blue eyes. A lingual community is characterized by the intersubjective relation of speaking the same language, and no such relation is obviously present in the case of people having blue eyes. I tentatively suggested that as a community it is characterized by the way its members have social intercourse with each other, which in this case is lingual, whence it is founded in the semiotic aspect. But one could also argue that it is primarily semiotically characterized. This apparent ambiguity arises from the fact that such a community has no character (as I understand it) of its own. Rather, it is objectively determined by the genuine character of the German language, which however is neither a community nor an association, but a semiotically qualified artefact.

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

Intersubjective relations are more formal in associations, i.e., organized communities having members and some kind of government. In this context, the way one keeps each other’s company is determined by relations characterized by the association concerned, in particular those determined by authority and discipline. Each association has its own social manners and someone becoming a member should make himself familiar with these manners. Becoming an employee in an enterprise, a member of a chess club, or visiting a café one will soon become acquainted with the ruling conventions, customs and habits. It takes more time and effort to integrate into a new country after migration or into a local church after one’s move to a new city. The social norm for any association is coherence, solidarity or ‘social belonging’.[11]

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

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

In the twentieth century, the character of unorganized or organized groups forming a network was studied by the systems theory of T. Parsons, N. Luhmann and others. The systems theory exerts a large influence on the science of organizations, in which Luhmann was inspired by electric and electronic networks, Parsons by living organisms and both by cybernetics, the science of control. According to Parsons, an interactive system consists of a number of interacting units; a set of rules determining its extension; an ordered interactive process, and an environment with which interaction takes place continuously and systematically. Interaction means that each participant is both actively and passively involved in the process. According to Parsons, this may lead to a stable and orderly result if the participants keep to a common normative base. Luhmann denies that norms form a necessary element of a social system.[12] (More about organizations in section 3.5).

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

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

Whether or not one accepts my interpretation of the relation frame of keeping company, I believe that Andrew Basden’s allegation that my philosophy ‘leaves the social aspect effectively empty of meaning’ (AB 72) cannot be justified. There is no need to be ‘concerned about the impact this (i.e., my proposal for a political aspect) would have on the social aspect’ (AB 74).


3.3. The relation frame of keeping company

does not imply authority


In my paper I proposed to divide the juridical aspect into two, separating the political from the juridical one (AB 71). Therefore, I was quite surprised by Andrew Basden’s statement (AB 70, 72) that I would have suggested ‘… that the social aspect as currently constituted under Dooyeweerd, covers two distinct things: companionship (and) authority and discipline, …’ I am afraid that this entirely wrong statement rests on the confusion mentioned above (3.1) arising from not heeding Dooyeweerd’s distinction of the word social in the sense of the aspect of social intercourse and in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike.[14] As I read him, Dooyeweerd interprets authority as being social only in the second sense, as power within an association based in the historical aspect (AB 74), juridically qualified in the state, pistically qualified in the church, or economically qualified for a company. By distinguishing the generic from the specific character, I argued that according to an association’s generic character, authority in any association is politically qualified. Hence I do not argue (and I do not believe that Dooyeweerd would consider my proposal to mean) ‘… that authority should be taken out of the social aspect …’ (AB 73). Andrew Basden’s description of the social aspect as including authority and discipline besides companionship appears to be his own interpretation, and the tension he says to have long felt ‘between the two parts of Dooyeweerd’s version of the social aspect that Stafleu refers to – companionship and authority - …’ [quid non] may be his own invention. Of course, he is entitled to entertain this interpretation, but then he should take care of the ensuing tension himself.

My view, expressed in section 3.2 above, that the relation frame of keeping company is ruled by respect as a normative principle should not be interpreted as being related to any kind of authority, except within associations. I admit that in authoritative cultures people make that connection. According to Aristotle, honour is the goal of public life, the main part of the happiness or well-being (eudaimonia in Greek) of a free man, i.e., someone being free to dispose of his household, his wife, his children, his slaves and his other possessions.[15] Honour is the confirmation that one has done well to other people. To be censured for his acts is considered to be dishonourable and shameful. In some cultures honour is still the highest good. Someone losing honour has to take revenge (like in a duel), or commit suicide (like harakiri). Up till the eighteenth century, nobility considered it its chivalrous task to defend the honour of itself or of king and country, eventually with the loss of one’s life or that of others. Only the nobility and the clergy were worthy of esteem, ordinary people merely received contempt. In a modern society honour is only given to people having done something extraordinary. Remains of the former honour can be seen in forms of address like colonel, father (for a priest) or professor, majesty, excellency or your honour. In particular in a hierarchical organization like the army these titles play an important part. Honour is a public form of one-sided respect. In the past, honour corresponded to the position someone had in his household or family or society. Nowadays honour is individual and marginal. This also applies to its complement: insult and defamation of one’s honour.[16] In the past, insults often led to violent conflicts: rows, feuds, duels, vengeance or wars. In a civilized society one tries to settle insults amicably or in court. Not one-sided honour, but mutual respect, esteem and appreciation form the foundation of a modern, free and civilized society. A free society can only exist if besides individual persons, various associations respect each other concerning their own responsibility.[17] A social group has its own group culture distinguishing it from other groups. Usually, a cultural elite sets its fashion. Sometimes, a group within a group has a subculture. If it dissociates from the larger culture, it is called a counter culture. A society displaying various cultures on the public domain is called multicultural. Such a society can only succeed if based on mutual respect for each other’s cultural differences.


3.4. The meaning of the economic relation frame


I find that stressing the relevance of subject-subject relations often leads to a richer (or at least a different) understanding of the relation frames than by seeking a ‘nuclear meaning’ besides retrocipatory and anticipatory, elementary and complex abstract concepts as used in the various sciences. I illustrated this for the political frame in MDS 129-130 and for the relation frame of keeping company in section 3.2 above. Likewise, I arrived at a view of the economic aspect differing from Dooyeweerd’s neo-classical one.[18] In order to answer Andrew Basden’s comment on this matter (AB 71, see MDS 130-131), I shall briefly explain this.

The word economic has at least two different meanings. The first meaning is to treat available means efficiently or suitably. In this way Dooyeweerd conceived of the economic modal aspect.[19] His argumentation is not derived from an analysis of the economic relation frame itself, to which he paid very little attention, but from supposed analogies like the economy of thought, the sparing or frugal use of arguments.[20] However, abundance is just as characteristic for economy as shortage: the larger prosperity, the more commerce. The supposition seems to be that there is no commerce in abundant matters, like air. However, there is also no trade in things that are (almost) completely scarce, like unicorns or moon stones. In my view, surplus or scarcity of any object makes only economical sense in subject-object and subject-subject relations. For a buyer, scarcity is most important, for he has a shortage. For a seller, surplus dominates, for he has something left. In a good exchange, both make a profit (which is more than quid pro quo). Of course, they make choices, but that is not typically economical, but is part of human freedom and responsibility.

People do not differ from animals because they act efficiently with scarce means, but by their many-sidedness, their versatility. Each animal species is characterized by its often unsurpassed special skills, during the evolution developed between the species. No man can spin like a spider, reaching a maximum effect with minimum effort. In contrast, homo sapiens as a species is not specialised. The development of the cerebrum and the manual skills make human versatility possible. People are able to do anything, making specialisation within mankind necessary. This leads to the view that the exchange of services is a better characteristic of the economic relation frame than frugality.

In the second and nowadays more common sense of the word economy, economists recognize it to be a universal aspect of human acts, characterized by the profitable exchange of goods and services.[21] In this frame, people make their labour and its products available to each other. This exchange of services seldom occurs directly, usually money is involved, in which case a service earns a promise of a transferable service in return. By dividing tasks and exchanging services it is possible to reach prosperity if people cooperate in peace.[22] In this sense, economical activity expresses the mutual dependence of people and is an existential condition for all human beings. It is a form of civilisation if all parties concerned gain a profit.

Trade is any transaction in which possession is transferred from a seller to a buyer, even if a merchant acts as an intermediary. It is an economically qualified subject-subject relation, an asymmetric exchange relation between a buyer and a seller, in which both individuals and associations may be involved.

The more complicated chain from producer to consumer appears to be founded in labour, hence in the technical relation frame. Till the nineteenth century, the household (oikonomia in Greek) as a working unit functioned as the economical model, both for an enterprise and for the state. In an undifferentiated labour unit, the workers possess the means of production: tools, raw materials, intermediate and final products. In a modern enterprise, labourers are employees and the enterprise possesses the means of production. An enterprise is an association, directed by an entrepreneur instead of a head of family. The economically qualified character of a company may be interlaced with that of a labour community like a factory. A large company is built up from units recognizable as technically qualified work or production groups, interlaced with economically qualified commercial groups (purchase, sales, marketing) and logically qualified research and development groups. Such groups may have both internal and external suppliers and clients. In a modern company each department has its own management and responsibility within the organization, its own budget and a more or less well-described task.[23] Besides there are supporting services (personnel, staff, tax department, administration, controllers, cleaning, canteen, protection, reception), which are not typical for an economically qualified company, for these are found in any large organization (see section 3.5).

The age-old view that a household, city or country should be economically independent of others is called autarky or self-sufficiency.[24] Striving after autarky (mercantilism) played a part in the trade policy of many countries. International trade has long been dominated by the view that a country can only become richer at the cost of other countries. A better view is that commerce needs a market, the economic expression of the public domain. Often entrepreneurs give the impression that their only aim is to make money for the shareholders, themselves and sometimes their employees. A more normative view is that a responsible company should be concerned with the profits of all its ‘stakeholders’, including clients, suppliers, the environment and society at large, giving expression to the fundamental economic subject-subject relation of mutual service.[25] For to serve each other (not to be frugal) is the religious meaning of the economic relation frame, like Jesus Christ served humanity, and his disciples serve him.

Like Dooyeweerd, though for different reasons, I assume that the economic relation frame succeeds that of keeping company, for people ought to show respect for each other before they can exchange mutual services. Obviously, the economic subject-subject relation requires negotiating. In a politically qualified decision process, one has to negotiate too, taking into account a balance of costs and effects as well as the mutual interests of all parties concerned (MDS 130). Therefore, I suggested that the political relation frame presupposes those of economy and keeping company (but see section 8). This may lead to a deeper understanding of the organization within an association.


3.5. Organization


The assumption that the generic character of any association is qualified by the political relation frame and founded in that of keeping company may imply the economic frame lying between them to have a typical function for that character as well. Each association has a specific internal differentiation, a division of tasks and competences, which I call the association’s internal organization (MDS 130-131). Because I consider division of tasks to be economically characterized (3.4), I believe that this politically qualified internal organization is founded in the economic relation frame, rather than in the technical one. Its character is strongly interlaced with that of the association itself. The larger the association, the more important its internal organization. Within the organization often a social hierarchy exists, influencing keeping company. Even the simplest association has an internal division of tasks and regulations of competence. Often these lead to the formation of departments within the association. If the organization follows strict lines from top to bottom one speaks of a central hierarchy, in which higher instances delegate competence to lower instances. If the responsibility of each department is emphasized, such that its management has a mandate, we speak of a decentralized or flat organization. In the case of delegation, a higher instance may recall any decision of a lower instance, in the case of a mandate this is not possible, only the mandate as a whole can be revoked. The departments have a restricted freedom and responsibility, having to account to the management of the association.

In large associations, in particular the state, the organization or administration has a relative independence with respect to the government, in the nineteenth century recognized as the fourth power.[26] An excess of internal regulations leads to bureaucracy. The internal organization is especially important for the association’s members, not for its clients or suppliers, for which the association has a spokesman. This may be the manager or a specially appointed functionary or public relations department charged with internal and external communication. For an enterprise this includes advertisement. The organization of an association maintains economically typed relations with clients and suppliers, but these relations are not authoritative.

The economically founded organization should not be identified with the association itself that I believe to be founded in the relation frame of companionship. The leadership of the association may be called its board, that of the organization the management, although these terms are often interchanged. In many organizations people function who are not members themselves, but employees. The association’s board now acts as an employer, but it may delegate this task to the management. Employees are not necessarily members of the association, though they are members of the economically founded organization that is interlaced with the association.

This remark should make clear why I do not identify the organization within an association with power or command (AB 74). I did not state, and I do not believe that my notion of authority implies hierarchy, and I don’t believe that hierarchy is normative for organized communities (AB 72) or that my view cannot account for network structures (AB 73). I am aware of the fact that some associations appear to have a network structure, though different from that of the public domain. But I disagree with Basden that this would imply the existence of associations that do not necessarily involve authority, for the simple reason that I define an association to have some kind of government. I do not deny the existence of communities (like a lingual one) or networks (like society) lacking government. (For both, see section 3.2, above.)


3.6. Normative and anti-normative acts


I do not assume that ‘… war and conquering is a normative (rather than anti-normative) activity …’ (AB 71). However, the normative relation frames do not only characterize normative activity, but anti-normative acts as well. For instance, lying is a human act qualified by the logical frame, stealing by the economic frame, for they are contrary to the appropriate norms, without which one could not even say that they are wrong. Defining philosophical ethics as ‘part of philosophical anthropology investigating the normativity of human acts’ in any normative relation frame, in any community or on the public domain, I assume that to lie or to speak the truth, to steal or to be honest, to make war or to keep peace, to treat employees, clients, patients and civilians as persons instead of objects, are all ethical matters, not necessarily qualified by the relation frame of loving care (which in my view is confusingly called ‘ethical’). On the one side, being concerned with what ought to be done, normative relation frames are ethical from beginning to end, as they are religious, historical and cultural. On the other hand, like philosophy, anthropology and history, ethics cannot be qualified by a single relation frame. Hence, I am afraid I cannot agree with Basden’s  statement that ‘the social-aspect authority is … pre-ethical’ (AB 73), for all normative kinds of human acts can be right or wrong, and therefore cannot be pre-ethical.


3.7. The foundation of associations


During my investigation of characters, I discovered the duality of widely differing characters like those of physical particles, works of art, and associations. This empirical insight is not based on some a priori hypothesis, but I believe and argue that it helps to understand these characters. The generic character of any association I believe to be qualified by the political frame, and to be founded in the frame of keeping company. The specific character of an association may be characterized by any normative relation frame, and is founded in its projection on a preceding frame. This view allows of a much larger variety than Dooyeweerd’s and Basden’s, who hold that all associations except the natural ones are founded in the technical or formative aspect (AB 73), or the cultural or historical aspect (Dooyeweerd). Hence, in Dooyeweerd’s analysis, the only distinguishing feature is the qualifying aspect: juridical for a state, pistic for a church, economic in a company, etc. I find this unsatisfactory in several ways.

Besides the arguments given in MDS 128-129, and the argument given above based on my analysis of the internal organization of an association, there is another reason why I do not agree with Dooyeweerd’s and Basden’s assumption about its foundation. It results from a slightly different view on the technical relation frame. I prefer to call it the technical frame, qualifying skilful labour, referring to the Greek technè, meaning art, craft, ability or command. I put forward that one should not confuse the command based on technical skills (which, indeed belongs to the technical frame) either with psychic control (as occurring in any nerve system) or with the command based on political power or authority. On the one side, one does not need to be skilful in a technical sense to exert authority, which requires more wisdom than skills. On the other hand, to have acquired some technical skill does not entitle anybody with some kind of authority in an association.

Andrew Basden quotes my statement: ‘Dooyeweerd reduces authority to power, control or command over people …  in my view authority cannot be reduced to power, control or command over people. If some authority has to resort to the exertion of power, it is a … testimonial of incompetence, only excusable if the relation of authority and discipline is severely disturbed’ (AB 73, MDS 129). Next he observes that he largely agrees with my concern, but he does not believe that my proposal solves the problem, which he assumes to arise from the fact that ‘the social-aspect authority is pre-juridical and pre-ethical’. Hence, my solution cannot solve the problem because the political is also pre-juridical and pre-ethical, according to Basden. However, I am afraid that he does not understand my problem correctly. Basden appears not to deny that Dooyeweerd reduces authority to power, control or command over people, but he misinterprets Dooyeweerd by assuming that this authority is qualified by the social aspect. In fact, Dooyeweerd refers here to the technical modal aspect, assumed to be foundational for all organized communities (with the exception of naturally founded associations like the family). I argued my disagreement by pointing out that authority interpreted in this way cannot be distinguished from coercion. This has nothing to do with authority being pre-juridical or pre-ethical. Therefore, I believe Basden’s criticism is not to the point. In fact, I agree with his conclusion: ‘Therefore, associations in which unjust [my emphasis] coercion occurs are rightly condemned, but they are condemned under the juridical rather than the social aspect’ (AB 74), though I would write ‘technical’ rather than ‘social’. My argument in this context that there are states (in the course of history probably the vast majority of states) that do not consider themselves subject to justice does not imply that these states are justified in taking this view. It only implies that the character of a state cannot be qualified by the juridical relation frame, for otherwise one should have to admit that such states are not states at all.[27] In contrast, it seems obvious that a state cannot exist without a government, qualified, as I argued, by the political relation frame.


3.8. The serial order of the relation frames


I fully agree with Basden’s statement (AB 74) that for a complete discussion of the political aspect, the dual character of associations, the character of the state and the structure of the public domain one needs to consider all relation frames, requiring ‘… an extensive and sensitive survey of human living throughout diverse cultures and historical periods’ (AB 71). Hence, I am not ‘… expecting too much of a single aspect’ (AB 74).

Andrew Basden points out that the aspects form a sequence defined by dependency (AB 72), and he also asks me to explain why the frame of companionship is irreducible to other relation frames. Now because of the assumption that the aspects are mutually irreducible, I find the term ‘dependency’ unfortunate, unless it means that they presuppose each other, being related by retro- and anticipations, i.e. they can be projected on each other. I agree that the relation frames should be mutually irreducible, but in my experience it is quite difficult to convince somebody of the mutual irreducibility of any two frames unless he or she is already convinced. Therefore, I prefer to show the fruitfulness of distinguishing these frames, in particular for the analysis of characters.

In the present context, I shall not give a full account of my views on the serial order of the relation frames. For the first six ‘natural’ frames, this order is almost obvious and not controversial, but on the order of the other frames opinions widely differ. Natural things and events (like atoms or chemical reactions) occur as subjects in some frames (in the example given up till the physical frame) and as objects in all succeeding frames. This allows us of finding the order of the natural relation frames quite easily. However, if one agrees with Dooyeweerd that both human beings and associations are subjects in all post-psychichal relation frames simultaneously, this method is not applicable to these frames.

I have the strong impression that looking at the relation frames alone cannot solve the problem of their order. For instance, I suggest that the relation frames of keeping company and of mutual service presuppose mutual trust between people,[28] implying that they are preceded by the relation frame of faith. But I am fully aware that this argument alone cannot be sufficient to argue my view on the position of the latter frame between the others, being strongly different from Dooyeweerd’s.

Rather, one should study the characters of things, events, acts, artefacts and associations, being qualified by some relation frame and founded in an earlier one. Only in this elaborate way one may arrive at a satisfactory view of both the mutual irreducibility and the serial order of the relation frames. I have undertaken such an investigation for the natural frames, and I am preparing a treatise on Protestant philosophical anthropology, in which I intend to discuss all normative relation frames and several character types characterized by these frames. This treatise will be concerned with the ordinary life of common people, since the Reformation ‘the very centre of the good life’,[29] taking into account Dooyeweerd’s views that ‘… emerged over many years of sensitive reflection on everyday life and on what others had written over 2,500 years …’ (AB 75), as well as developments and insights achieved since the publication of his works, about half a century ago.

[1] Andrew Basden [AB], ‘Brief comments on Stafleu’s proposal for a new political aspect’, Philosophia Reformata 70 (2005) 70-75. I like to thank Andrew Basden for his valuable comments, allowing me to clarify some of my views.

[2] Stafleu (2004) 125-139.

[3] van Woudenberg 1992, 100 (my translation). Compare Kuiper 2004, 25.

[4] Dooyeweerd WdW, 3.

[5] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 3.

[6] NC IV, 209.

[7] Arendt 1963, chapter 2, rightly observes that the nineteenth century ‘social problem’ had better be called the ‘problem of poverty’.

[8] Delanty 1996.

[9] NC II, 70, 140-141, italics added.

[10] Stafleu 1970; 1980. On the normative aspects: Stafleu 1991.

[11] Kuiper 2004, 26 states that ‘intercourse’ is an unsatisfactory description of the meaning-nucleus of the ‘social aspect’, and he describes it as ‘social belonging’. This could be considered a synonym of ‘keeping company’, though I would rather apply it to being a member of an association. Kuiper ibid. 25 considers individuation and socialization to be primary social norms (in the sense of the social aspect), customs and conventions being secondary. I would rather interpret individuation and socialization to be social processes ‘in the general sense embracing all modal aspects of human society alike’, and customs and conventions to be artefacts qualified by the relation frame of keeping company, see below.

[12] Lechner 1996, 112-132.

[13] In Stafleu 2003 I make clear why I agree with Calvin Seerveld’s proposal to position the aesthetic frame after the technical one and before the semiotic and logical ones. Hence, I do not ‘dispense with the aesthetic aspect’ (AB 70).

[14] Maybe Andrew Basden would refer to NC III, 180-181, cited in MDS 126, footnote 3, where Dooyeweerd speaks of the societal relation of authority and subordination. But I believe that societal does not refer to the aspect of social intercourse, but to society ‘in all its modal aspects’, which are Dooyeweerd’s very words in this context. 

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

[16] MacIntyre 1981, 116.

[17] Arendt 1958, chapter IV.5.

[18] The view of characterizing the economical frame by frugality and maximizing of utility originates from the so-called neo-classical economic theory (in vogue circa 1850-1930), see García de la Sienra 1998. According to Achterhuis 1988, 12-13, 34, 47-59, scarcity is a modern concept, since Hobbes a starting point of social (not merely economical) considerations. Ibid. part III, chapter 1: according to Romantics scarcity follows from ‘mimetic desire’ or envy, the desire to possess something because other people have it (mimesis is imitation, see section 2.1). This view follows from the humanist idea of the fundamental equality of all people, ibid. part III, chapter 3.

[19] NC II, 66 (not in WdW).

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

[21]Haan 1972-1974, 22, 26-27.

[22] Smith 1776, 11-20.

[23] Verkerk, 2003.

[24] Aristotle and his medieval adherents, who considered autarky to be the ideal situation of a household, a city-state or a monastery, did not object to the exchange of accidental surpluses, as long as for their livelihood the parties were not dependent on goods only obtainable through exchange. When exchange is necessary, traders will enter who according to Aristotle, Thomas Aquinas, Martin Luther and even still Emil Brunner only strive after boundless profit. See Aristotle, Politeia and Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologica, both cited in Medema, Samuels (eds.) 2003, 11, 23; Hoogerwerf 1999, 63, 79, 151.

[25] Verkerk 2004.

[26] Rutgers 2004, 66.

[27] Hence, I do not agree with Dooyeweerd NC III, 434 assuming that without the juridical aspect qualifying it, the state ‘would degenerate into an organized military gang of robbers, because of its very foundation in armed force’. But I would agree, if ‘juridical’ is replaced by ‘political’.

[28] See Fukuyama 1995.

[29] Taylor 1989, 13.

 4. Philosophical ethics and the so-called ethical aspect (2007)


4.1. Awareness of values rests on intuition, not on logical argumentation

4.2. Being concerned with the normativity of human acts, philosophical ethics is part of philosophical anthropology

4.3. Protestant ethics presupposes values to be conditions for human life

4.4. Loving care is directed to vulnerable people

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


At the law side of the creation, the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea distinguishes between natural laws, values and norms. Natural laws are coercive both for human beings and for any other subject or object. Like natural laws, values or normative principles belong to the creation, being universal and invariable. Both people and associations are subject to values, which they can obey or disobey. Values characterize the relation frames (modal aspects) following the natural ones. Norms are man-made realizations of values, historically and culturally different. Philosophical ethics investigates the normativity of human acts. This paper argues that ethics cannot be related to a single relation frame and that the designation ‘ethical’ or ‘moral’ modal aspect is a misnomer.


4.1. Awareness of values rests on intuition,

not on logical argumentation


Because Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven assumed distinction to be characteristic for the logical aspect, they believed that it directly follows the psychic aspect, the sixth and final natural one in the serial order of the modal aspects.[1] According to Danie Strauss, the logical aspect should precede all normative aspects, because normativity presupposes the possibility of distinguishing good and evil.[2] As a bizarre consequence, one should assume that either the logical aspect is not normative, or that this aspect precedes itself. However, distinguishing and making connections rest on the recognition of similarities and differences, belonging to the kind of thought that human beings have in common with animals, or at least the higher animals, and are primarily characterized by the psychic relation frame.[3] Moreover, the knowledge of values is not based on logical analysis and argumentation, but on psychically based intuition (‘naïve experience’, according to Dooyeweerd), as I shall argue now.

Biological ethology studies the psychically qualified behaviour of animals, which is not subject to values or norms, but to natural laws, in particular to the character of the species to which the animal belongs.[4] Psychic and biotic needs determine animal behaviour as well as related kinds of human behaviour. In contrast, human acts are characterized by the relation frames succeeding the psychic one. People have the will to labour or to destroy; to enjoy or to disturb a party; to understand or to cheat; to speak the truth or to lie; to be faithful or unreliable; to keep each other’s company in a respectful or in an offending way; to conduct a business honestly or to swindle; to exert good management or to be a dictator; to do justice or injustice; to care for or to neglect each other’s vulnerability. The various virtues and vices express the will to do good or evil in widely differing circumstances. The will to act rightly or wrongly opens the human psyche towards the relation frames following the psychic one. The desire to act freely and responsibly according to values and norms raises a man or woman above an animal, a human society above a herd.

Human feelings have a primary or a secondary character. Feelings that people have in common with animals, like fear, pain, cold, hunger or complacency, have a primary psychical character, being qualified by the psychic relation frame. Besides, people have a secondary feeling for values like proficiency, beauty, clarity, truth, reliability, respect, service, discipline, justice and loving care. These values primarily characterize the ten normative relation frames starting from the technical one. Founded in the psychical relation frame, the feeling of justice, e.g., is a projection (retrocipation) of the juridical frame on the psychic one. It has primarily a juridical, secondarily a psychic character. The awareness of values points to a human propensity that is not yet articulated, a hereditary intuition, shared by all people, laid down in the human genetic and psychic constitution. When education articulates this intuition, one starts speaking of a virtue or a vice. In education, the inborn feeling of justice is developed into the virtue of righteousness. Because both righteous and unjust people have a feeling of justice, they are responsible for their deeds. The same applies to all virtues.[5]

Animals have a sense of regularity,[6] but only people are able to achieve knowledge about natural laws as well as about values and norms. This knowledge rests first of all on intuition, next on image formation, interpretation and argumentation, finally on conviction. During this process, people develop experienced values into norms within the context of their history, culture and civilization. The science investigating values and norms from a general point of view is usually called ethics.


4.2. Being concerned with the normativity of human acts,

philosophical ethics is part of philosophical anthropology


‘Ethics’ is derived from the Greek ethos and ‘moral’ from the Latin mos (plural mores). Both mean habit, custom, usage, and manners. Each human being has the disposition (aptitude, tendency, propensity, inclination or insight) to act in a right or wrong way. This constitutes ethics’ field of investigation. For individuals or groups this disposition comes to the fore in their individual or shared virtues and vices, and in their ethos, by which I understand the subjective judgement of values, the attitude of people toward human acting in any relation frame, the way they judge good and evil. It is the subjective mentality or worldview of a human being or a group, in contrast to values and norms, which are valid for people.[7] Before discussing Protestant ethics, I shall briefly recall some leading views on ethics in the history of Western philosophy, in order to show that they are not directed to a single relation frame, but to the normativity of human conduct at large.[8]

1. Virtue ethics emphasizes the subject of activity, a man or woman with his or her good or bad properties and customs. The inner self expresses itself in practical life. In concrete situations, the practical wisdom of the golden mean between opposing extremes looks for the most suited act.[9] The virtues can be rationally derived from the nature of man. Virtue ethics directs itself to the motivation of the actor, the individual man, wishing to realize himself by his virtues. In his Nicomachean Ethics,Aristotle defines human happiness or well-being (eudaimonia) as the goal, purpose or aim (telos) of human existence. In the form-matter scheme this telos is the highest form that a good man may reach.[10] Therefore, his ethics is also called teleological (goal-directed). Aristotelian ethics is a preparation for a philosophy of social and political life, because a gentleman can only achieve well-being in the polis (the city-state), the human society, warranting the development of the virtues. The Roman Empire replaced polis by cosmopolis, during the Middle Ages interpreted as the church and the state, reflecting the dualism of mind and body. Since then clerics and others associate virtues with the human spirit, and vices with the human body, in particular sex. Celibacy, aversion of corporal labour, ascetism and avoidance of the world are consequences. There is an enormous variety of virtues,[11] sometimes to be related to a relation frame, sometimes to a type of activity or association.[12]

2. Deontological ethics emphasizes the norm for human conduct, what one ought to do (Greek: deontos), the self-imposed duty and moral law, since the twentieth century in particular human rights. Immanuel Kant considered man to be autonomous (law onto himself), but he restricted the individual self-sufficiency by the categorical imperative (unconditional duty), based on pure reason. This universal law is summarized in the golden rule: act always such as you would like everybody to act.[13] In Jesus’ words: ‘Always treat others as you would like them to treat you.’[14] But whereas Jesus thereby refers to the law and the prophets, Kant states that the autonomous individual determines ethics on rational grounds, according to ‘… the idea of the will of every reasonable being as a general law-giving will’.[15] This generalized autonomous individual is an abstraction in which concrete individual people seem to get lost.[16] In its elaboration Kantians have stressed what one ought not to do: ‘don’t ever to another what you don’t want to be done to yourself.’[17] The ethics of duties is reduced to precluding acts that restrict the freedom of other people, without paying attention to the consequences. For instance, according to Kant it is not allowed to lie, even if one could save a friend’s life. Kant’s absolutization of the prohibition of lying is a consequence of his rationalism: lying is a transgression of the logical principium contradictionis. Whereas for Aristotle justice is the summary of virtue, since Kant a division of ethics and justice appears.[18] Ethics becomes internalized, it concerns the individual attitude of people towards their rights and duties, whereas justice becomes external, a system of laws given by the state, which one has to obey, even if it would contradict one’s ethics. In the present-day debate about norms and values one often makes distinction between internally experienced values and externally applied norms.

3. The ethics of purpose or result, like utilitarianism or consequentialism, stresses the object of human activity, the goal or result to be achieved. Extremely formulated: the end justifies the means. An example is the raison d’état, good is what the state serves, such that treaties are only binding as far as they serve the national cause. The word goal has not the same meaning as telos in Aristotle’s form-matter scheme. Rather, it is related to the goal-directed behaviour of animals. The purpose and the consequences of each act apart determine its quality, the balance of the advantages and disadvantages. Like the Kantians, the utilitarians look for a universal value, which they find in the greatest happiness of the greatest number, in the optimalisation of the individual happiness. Utilitarians attach much value to making contracts, in which the partners balance their interests. A variant of utilitarianism is contractualism, presuming the theory of the social contract,[19] but Kantians do the same.

4. The ethics of responsibility (e.g.,Hans Jonas[20] and Emmanuel Levinas) started from alarm about autonomous developments in technology. It emphasizes subject-object relations, the responsibility of people for their conduct with respect to mankind as a whole or its future. It pays attention both to the persuasion of people and the effects of their acts, whether intended or not. Henk Jochemsen and Gerrit Glas call their inceptive Christian ethics an ethics of responsibility.[21] They present it as a synthesis of the first three ethics, from which they borrow the main elements (actor, norm, goal or effect)[22], and identify responsibility with the care for fellow people, mankind as a whole, nature and environment. However, ethics concerns all kinds of human activity, which is more than care alone, as we shall see presently. Responsibility, too, is not restricted to the aspect of loving care. It may be doubted whether a synthesis of various brands of non-Christian ethics could give rise to a genuine Christian ethics, which should start from the creation as given by the Creator. It cannot derive its values from the nature of man (as in Aristotle), from a rational categorical imperative (as in Kant), or from the optimalization of the interests of all people (as in utilitarianism). Its values are given as normative principles in the creation.

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


4.3. Protestant ethics presupposes values

to be conditions for human life


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

Protestant philosophy also assumes the mutual irreducibility of the relation frames with their normative principles and the activities that they characterize. These are not derivable from human being as such, as if there are first human beings with their activity and next the morals.[23] On the contrary, each fundamental value is a condition for human existence in its rich variety. Human freedom, too, cannot be the starting point of ethical conduct, for without normative principles freedom and responsibility would be illusory. Culture and civilization are based on normative principles or values, which people are able to positivize into norms, in freedom and responsibility.[24] Cultural values are skills, beauty, clarity, truth and certainty. Civilized values are respect, servitude, discipline, justice and love. As observed, each of them determines a normative relation frame (modal aspect). Ethics ought to pay attention to values and norms; to subjects and objects; to their mutual relations in all relation frames and social communities; and to the religious relation of mankind to the origin of everything, the Arche. To reflect on norms and values is not a scientific monopoly. The view that people have on norms and values, on good and evil conduct, their ethos, is tied up with their religion.[25] This does not mean that one’s ethos depends on the belief in a personal god, for who does not believe in a transcendental god still has an ethical view. It has been attempted to reduce the ethos, the motivation of human activity, to the evolution of the human species, to egoism, to a social contract, to human reason, justice or love, but in vain.[26] Christians ought to follow Jesus in any respect, to act like him, who as the son of men is God’s image.

Philosophical ethics is not a specific science, but is part of anthropology, or of practical philosophy if preferred, i.e., the philosophical reflection on human activity.[27] According to Dooyeweerd, human beings have an act-structure,[28] meaning that philosophical anthropology should direct itself to human activity.In this sense, both philosophical ethics and praxeology can be considered part of anthropology.[29] Ethics concentrates itself on normativity, on the problem of good and evil. All norms are rules for human conduct, to which people can confirm or not. Ethics is also concerned with casuistry, the balancing of norms and normative principles in practical situations, in which various norms could lead to contrary views. Because norms and values operate in all relation frames and in all kinds of communities, specific ethics are developed, like the ethics of an enterprise, of contracts, professional ethics, medical ethics, the ethics for care or for the environment. Sometimes these are formalized into a code of conduct. Nevertheless, ethics should never be contrasted to other kinds of human activity, in dualisms like neutral facts versus subjective values, or neutral science versus practice determined by one’s worldview, as is usual in Kantian and positivist philosophy. Human activity is never neutral with respect to values and norms. Protestant philosophy rejects the existence of a neutral field of human activities, to which one can apply a Christian ethics as an afterthought.[30]


4.4. Loving care is directed to vulnerable people


The former section intends to make clear that a Protestant ethics in the broad sense according to the common definition is feasible. Because Herman Dooyeweerd, André Troost and others assume that ethics should be more specifically directed to the ‘ethical’ modal aspect, I shall briefly give an impression of the relation frame of loving care, as I prefer to call it.

Each human being is vulnerable; hence each man and woman ought to take care of their fellows. People have always tried to diminish their vulnerability, to make themselves invulnerable, independent, autonomous, and self-sufficient. Reality shows that each person depends on other people, on his environment and on God. Compassion, misericordia and love for one’s neighbour characterize the relation frame of loving care as part of our civilization. The reverse of care is that people take advantage of each other’s vulnerability, by insulting, robbing, domineering, doing injustice, maltreating, or murdering. The denial of mutual dependence leads to the fall into sin, the declaration of the autonomy of man.

The care for vulnerable people belongs to the nucleus of the Gospel. The miracles wrought by Jesus and his disciples according to the New Testament do not testify to God’s omnipotence (rejected by Christ during the temptation by the devil[31]), but to his care for vulnerable people. Jesus presents himself not as a magician, but as a healer, a saviour. He made himself vulnerable when coming into the world: ‘Anything you did for one of my brothers here, however humble, you did for me.’[32] The first Christians expected an early end of times. They were not concerned with the politics of the government. But they developed a new life style and new forms of living together, characterized by love for one’s neighbour, charity and care for vulnerable people.[33] Besides justice (everybody according to their rights), Christians accept the principle of need (everybody according to their needs) as a fundamental value.[34] For instance, an employer has to take care of the working conditions of his employees, according to their needs, the safety requirements of a secretary being different from those of an assembly line worker.

Besides corporal or mental health, vulnerability concerns labour, pleasure, use of language, up to and including justice. The relation frame of loving care can be projected on all preceding frames. Besides the weak in society (young, sick, disabled, elder or jobless people), it also concerns relations like interest, hospitality, compassion, sympathy and antipathy, aversion and indifference. People alleviate each other’s troubles by sharing them. In their love and care people confirm each other in their being human, which they deny in hate or neglect.

The value determining the relation frame of care is the love for one’s neighbour. This expression shows that love is a function of one’s position with respect to fellow people. It starts at a short distance, in marriage, the nuclear and the extended family, one’s colleagues and fellow members of the local church, etc. Lack of love leads to loneliness. Without love nobody has a place on earth. Love is an existential condition for anybody. Everyone has an interest in love. The motivation to care for other people can be induced both by the expectation of being rewarded in the future and by thankfulness for experienced care in the past.[35] Children care for their parents, because their parents took care of them. People are grateful for their well-being and they want other people to share; or for their health and they help the sick; or for their freedom and they visit prisoners. They thank God because He loves them and they love other people like they love themselves.

Sometimes one distinguishes three kinds of love. Eros is desire, love for what one does not have. Philia is rejoice, delight, concerning matters one has, friendship. Agape or caritas is love that retreats, that makes room for others, sacrifice.[36] Agape is always a subject-subject relation, whereas philia is often a subject-object relation, like in philosophy, love for wisdom. Agape is the word used in the New Testament for the love of and for God and the neighbour. Agape is no more disinterested than eros and philia, for who gives room has room and will receive room. Christ requires us to love our neighbour as ourselves, not more or less than ourselves. It is in our interest, it is an existential condition to love our neighbours, for we are as vulnerable as they are and we are mutually dependent. Care is universal; the gospels even require us to love our enemies.[37] Care starts with self-care. The relation between a care-provider and a care-receiver (e.g., between a doctor and a patient) is a subject-subject relation, in which both have their own responsibility and freedom.

Because it stresses the autonomy of man, humanism has difficulty with people asking for help.[38] The humanist ideal is that each human being cares for himself, is able to manage for his own, and is independent of others. In his book Madness and civilization, A history of insanity in the age of reason (1961), Michel Foucault states that the Enlightenment project of free and equal citizens could only proceed by keeping sick, mad, old, handicapped and criminal people out of society. They were out placed in institutions and made invisible.[39] According to Foucault, the emancipation of free citizens is accompanied by the seclusion of dependent people. Until the second half of the nineteenth century, the care for the weak was mainly a Christian (as well as a Jewish and Islamic) initiative. ‘The poor will always be with you in the land, and for that reason I command you to be open-handed with your countrymen, both poor and distressed, in your own land.’[40] Yet, also Christians participated in the isolation of helpless people, manoeuvring them into a dependent position, wherein those who rendered help assumed a paternalistic and authoritarian attitude.[41] It is a rather recent view that everybody deserves a respected position in society and that care is a mutual relationship, in which both parties bear freedom and responsibility.[42] Since the nineteenth century, in particular Karl Marx and his disciples were aware of the ‘social problem’, better called the problem of poverty.[43]

Characters qualified by the relation frame of loving care include those of psychically based marriage; biotically founded family (both nuclear and extended); technically based practices like that of a physician; socially based institutions like hospitals; economically founded insurances; and the juridically based principle of liability. In a developed society, people are increasingly more dependent on each other, hence more vulnerable. Contrary to expectations, the need for care increases in a modern prosperous country. Besides people, objects are vulnerable, as well as states, companies and other associations, and public networks. These all require care. Human care is extended to the whole creation, which is given not only to be opened up and exploited, but also to be preserved, for its own sake and for the future of mankind.


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


Perhaps, Arthur Schopenhauer was the first to qualify ethics by love.[44] He acknowledged three basic motives for human conduct: egoism or love for oneself; malice, the impulse to do wrong to somebody else; and compassion or the impulse to keep an eye on the well-being of someone. Since the end of the seventeenth century, ethics is often related to sexual behaviour.[45] This suggests that ethics, the science of good and evil human acts, be directed to a single relation frame, which is evidently not the case with human activity in general. Dooyeweerd calls the relation frame of loving care the ‘moral or ethical’ aspect, with the love for one’s neighbour as its meaning nucleus.[46] Rejecting the Kantian dualism of external justice and internal moral,[47] he nevertheless distinguishes the juridical from the ethical modal aspect. One could simply accept this by concluding that ‘ethics’, like many other words, has various meanings.[48] However, who takes Dooyeweerd seriously may discover that there is more at stake.[49] There seem to be five not entirely independent arguments to couple ethics to loving care.

1. The first argument criticizes the common definition of ethics (‘part of philosophical anthropology investigating the normativity of human acts’) as being too broad and unspecific. Each science ought to be characterized by one of the relation frames, like physics and chemistry by the physical aspect, history by the historical or cultural aspect,[50] and ethics by the ethical aspect. From this point of view, Dooyeweerd observes: ‘So it appears that Aristotelian ethics lacks the modal unity of meaning in its enumeration of the different “virtues”’.[51] In this respect, I concur with Aristotle. Philosophical ethics is no more a special science than anthropology or philosophy itself. As observed above, this view does not exclude a specific ‘ethics of care’ (e.g., medical ethics, ethics in marriage or nuclear family), but its existence does not warrant to call the relation frame of loving care exclusively ethical. André Troost, who has written most extensively about Reformational ethics, distinguishes praxeology, ‘the philosophical basic science for all sciences directed to the normative aspects … a succession and elaboration of philosophical anthropology’ from ethics as a specific science directed to the ‘moral aspect of love’.[52] This view seems to overlook that there are other specific forms of ethics, like business ethics or professional ethics, which are not necessarily guided by love for one’s neighbour.

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

3. Another argument concerns the coupling of care to suffering, and of suffering to the fall into sin, considering the distinction of good and evil to be the nucleus of ethics. Indeed, care concerns vulnerable people. However, each human being is vulnerable, even if they do not suffer. That is not an effect of sin, but part of the creation. Even the creation of man and woman points out their mutual dependence. The world has been created vulnerable. Otherwise, love would have no creational meaning. The relation frame of loving care characterizes both marriage and the family, and this is by no means connected to suffering. The care for one’s household is not necessitated by sin. Each human being is vulnerable and in need of care, each human being has shortages and depends on other human beings. This does not only apply to poor, sick, disabled or jobless people. Recognition of the human shortage implies the rejection of the human autonomy. It is tempting but wrong to interpret illness and death, natural disasters and accidents, as effects of the fall into sin or as acts of the devil.[54] The prototype of a vulnerable man is Job, losing his children, his wealth and his health. His theological friends did their utmost to put Job responsible for his suffering, but he rejected this emphatically. In the end, God took Job’s side, not by confirming or denying his guilt or by providing an explanation of evil, but first by denying the complacency of the creation (Job 38-41), next by recognizing Job’s vulnerability, and restoring his family life, his health and wealth. In all acts for which people are directly or indirectly responsible, one finds good and evil, not merely in suffering. If vulnerability and care would be effects of sin, they could never relate to an aspect of the creation, or to a normative principle characterizing a relation frame.

4. The fourth argument states that ethics does not cover all kinds of normativity. It suggests that not all norms are ethical norms.[55] If somebody makes a logical or lingual mistake, one would not speak of unethical conduct. However, it would certainly be unethical if somebody would not correct their mistakes if these are pointed out to them, or if one would make such mistakes deliberately. In my view, making an error of thought deliberately (or, if not deliberately, refusing to correct it) is as much unethical as is hating somebody. Of course, it makes a lot of difference if somebody willingly or unwillingly makes a logical or lingual mistake or even causes someone’s death. Nevertheless, in both cases one is held responsible for one’s deeds, because one ought to respond to norms. Apparently, this argument states that human conduct is only unethical if it is deliberate, which should equally apply to all normative relation frames. Hence, this cannot sustain the introduction of an ‘ethical’ aspect, which anyhow is characterized by loving care, not by deliberate action. 

5. The final and strongest argument reduces all virtues to love. According to Dooyeweerd, ‘there can be no single really moral “virtue” which in the last analysis is not a manifestation of this modal nucleus of the ethical law-sphere.’[56] This either means that (e.g.) justice is not a virtue, or that justice is reducible to love. (The same applies to all values or normative principles determining the relation frames succeeding the psychical one). I reject both alternatives. Whereas Aristotle assumed friendship between male citizens of the polis to be the summit of all virtues, Christians ascribe this position to love. This accords with my view that the relation frame of loving care is the final relation frame, superseding all others, including that of faith. Hence, the love for God and one’s neighbours opens up and deepens all human acts qualified by the earlier relation frames. Contrary to Dooyeweerd, I believe that virtues are related to all kinds of values and norms, not specifically to loving care. The fifth argument would be valid if it is assumed that human conduct is only unethical if it harms vulnerable people, for it would imply that ‘ethical’ means caring for vulnerable people and for vulnerable objects. However, it would contradict the tradition of ‘ethics’ as being directed to normativity, in which unethical conduct means acting against normative principles and accepted norms. The problem of good and evil cannot be reduced to a single relation frame.

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

[1] The arguments given in Dooyeweerd 1953-58, II, 230 (1935-36,II, 170) and in Vollenhoven 1948, 15 have no relevance to ethics or normativity and will not be discussed here. For a different opinion on the order of the modal aspects, see Seerveld 1964, 83; Seerveld 1985, 79; Hart 1984, 194.

[2] Strauss 2000.

[3] Stafleu 2002, section 7.3.

[4] Stafleu 2002, chapter 7; Graham 2004, 58-61.

[5] Aristotle, Ethica Nicomachea, I: 9, II: 1.

[6] Stafleu 2002, 242-243.

[7] See Aristotle op.cit. II: 1; MacIntyre 1981, 38; Troost 1986; Troost 2004, 47-49, 228; Verbrugge 2001, 154.

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

[9] Aristotle, Ethica II: 6.

[10] Aristotle op.cit. I: 7; MacIntyre 1967, chapter 7; Verbrugge 2001, 154.

[11] Troost 1986; Noddings 1995, 13-14, 150 points to the nineteenth century Character Development League, advocating an education model with 31 hierarchically ordered virtues: ‘Obedience came first, and the list of thirty-one traits, according to Character Lessons, “leads to right living, and establishes character.”’

[12] Besides the naturalistic virtue ethics, egoism, hedonism and existentialism stress the subjectivity of acting, paying most attention to the actor, see Graham 2004, chapters 2, 3 and 5.

[13] Kant 1785, 48, 74, 95-96, 108 presents various readings, the most general being (p. 95): ‘act only on the maxim through which you can at the same time will that it be a universal law’. Maxim means the subjective principle to act, to be distinguished from the objective principle, i.e. the practical law (p. 73).

[14] Matthew 7: 12 (The New English Bible, 1970); Luke 6: 31.

[15] Kant 1785, 87.

[16] Noddings 1995, 161.

[17] Tobit 4: 15. Kant 1785, 86 considers this negative expression of the categorical imperative to be trivial.

[18] Aristotle, Ethica, V:1; Dooyeweerd NC, II, 140-142.

[19] Graham 2004, chapter 8.

[20] Achterhuis (ed.) 1992, 139-176; Verkerk 2004, 46-47.

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

[22] Jochemsen and Glas 1997, 179.

[23] van Woudenberg 1992, 106-107.

[24] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 237-238.

[25] Graham 2004, chapter 9.

[26] Midgley 1991; Kymlicka 1991. Besides, Jochemsen, Glas 1997, 129-133 mention emotivism, reducing morality to subjective feelings and assessments: something is good if it appeals to somebody or if it provides somebody with a pleasurable feeling (see MacIntyre 1981, chapters 2 and 3); proceduralism, reducing the ethical debate to a discussion about procedures; and moral pluralism, due to the fact that modern society is not dominated by a single world view. Because of pluralism, people fall back to individual emotivism, which one tries to canalize by procedures.

[27] Aristotle,  Ethica, III: 2; VI; Troost 1986; A. Troost 1990, ‘Praxeologie als wijsgerig thema’, Phil. Ref. 55: 48-73; A. Troost 1993, ‘Toward a Reformational philosophical theory of action’, Phil. Ref. 58: 221-236.

[28] Dooyeweerd NC, III, 87-89, for instance: ‘The act of praying is typically qualified as an act of faith.’

[29] Troost 1990, 1993.

[30] Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-108.

[31] Matthew 4: 1-11, Luke 4: 1-13.

[32] Matthew 25: 40.

[33] Hoogerwerf 1999, 16.

[34] Hoogerwerf 1999, 32-36, 97.

[35] Cusveller 2004, 138..

[36] Comte-Sponville 1995, chapter XVIII.

[37] Matthew 5: 43-44, Luke 6: 27, 35.

[38] See Cusveller 1999; Cusveller 2004, chapter 4 about the influence of humanistic, catholic and protestant world views on care.

[39] de Swaan 1988, 47.

[40] Deuteronomy 15: 11; Matthew 26: 11; Mark 14: 7; John 12: 8.

[41] De Swaan 1988, chapter 2; Israel 1995, 389-396.

[42] Taylor 1989, Sources of the self, 12-13.

[43] Arendt 1963, 79. The word ‘social’ nowadays often refers to collective care, neither to be confused with the ‘social’ aspect of intercourse, nor with ‘social’ associations.

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

[45] MacIntyre1981, 38-39, 233.

[46] Dooyeweerd NC, I, 3; II, 140-163; Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-109; Jochemsen and Glas 1997, 157-162.

[47] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 140-163.

[48] Klapwijk 1994, 159 prefers ‘ethical’ in a comprehensive meaning, more or less identifiable with ‘normative’, above ‘ethical’ in a specific meaning, on a level with other terms having a normative significance such as ‘aesthetic’, ‘juridical’, ‘religious’.

[49] Troost 1990 makes distinction between philosophical ethics or praxeology on the one hand, and on the other hand ethics as a special science, the study of the ethical modal aspect and structures qualified by this aspect. He assumes that Dooyeweerd’s view on ethics is influenced by the rejection of the distinction between theoretical and practical philosophy, see Dooyeweerd NC, I, 528-541. In this context, Dooyeweerd discusses philosophical ethics, without any relation to the ‘ethical’ modal aspect. In contrast, Dooyeweerd NC, II, 140-163 discusses the ‘ethical’ modal aspect without mentioning practical philosophy. He distinguishes modal ethics from religion, not from theoretical philosophy.

[50] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 192-217.

[51] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 146.

[52] Troost 1990, 57: ‘…praxeologie als wijsgerige grondwetenschap voor alle op de normatieve aspecten gerichte vakwetenschappen … een voortzetting en uitbouw van de wijsgerige antropologie.’ Ibid. 71: ‘vakwetenschappelijke ethiek …betrokken op al die samenlevingsverhoudingen die qua type gekwalificeerd zijn door het morele aspect der naastenliefde.’

[53] Jochemsen and Glas 1997, 174.

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

[55] Van Woudenberg 1992, 106-107.

[56] Dooyeweerd NC,  II, 152. Dooyeweerd cites Calvin: ‘the whole chorus of virtues is summarized in love. For it is the rule of the whole of life and of all actions; everything that is not reduced to it, is wrong, how great the splendour may be it has in another respect.’ Apparently, Dooyeweerd NC, II, 152-153 considers values (like justice) to be virtues only as far as they anticipate the ‘ethical’ modal aspect.


5. Nuances in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea


5.1. Introduction

5.2. Modal analysis

5.3. Knowledge of laws requires the application of artefacts

5.4. Analogies

5.5. Characters

5.6. Types of artefacts

5.7. Philosophy of technology

5.8. Cosmic time

5.9. Philosophy of history

5.10. Conclusion


5.1. Introduction


In this paper I want to draw attention to artefacts, a specific kind of objects, which should play a much larger part in the philosophy of the cosmonomic idea (PCI for short) than is realized up till now. Sections 5.2-5.4 deal with modal analysis, knowledge of laws, and analogies. Sections 5.5-5.7 concern characters, types of artefacts, and the philosophy of technology. Sections 5.8-5.9 discuss cosmic time and the philosophy of history. This choice is inspired by Danie Strauss’ Philosophy, discipline of the disciplines (Strauss 2009, to be abbreviated as PDD), a major contribution to the development of PCI in the twenty-first century, on which I shall make some marginal comments.

Like Herman Dooyeweerd and Danie Strauss, I distinguish general or modal laws from specific or typical laws.[1] With respect to a given law, something is called a subject if it directly or actively satisfies that law. It is an object if it indirectly or passively satisfies that law. The ontological status of an object depends on a subject in a subject-object relation. Therefore it is acceptable to speak of the ‘subject side’ of the creation in contrast to its ‘law side’, but ‘subject and object side’ may be better. I would not recommend ‘factual side’,[2] because I take facts to be part of human knowledge. Within a certain discourse, something is considered a ‘fact’ (as opposed to a ‘hypothesis’) if everybody concerned agrees with it. A fact may be a statement about a law or about its correlates.


5.2. Modal analysis


A basic axiom of PCI is that both modal laws and typical laws are grouped into mutually irreducible sets. A set of typical laws forms a character, to be discussed below (sections 5.5-5.7). A set of general or modal laws forms a law sphere, a modal aspect of reality and of human experience, for which Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is best known. Danie Strauss’ PDD is mostly concerned with the critical conceptual analysis of the modal aspects (concepts like ‘subject side’, ‘lawfulness’, ‘law conformity’, ‘concept-transcending ideas’, the ‘core-meaning’ of the modal aspects and their ‘analogies’, ‘continuity’, ‘molecular biology’, etc.). Unfortunately, his analysis does not criticise the term ‘sphere sovereignty’. Like Dooyeweerd, Danie calls the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects ‘sphere sovereignty’, as if there were a sovereign residing in each aspect.[3]

The term ‘sphere sovereignty’ was coined by Abraham Kuyper in the nineteenth century (and by others before him[4]), defending the mutual independence of organized associations like church, state and university by referring to their mutually irreducible typical character.[5] Kuyper’s political view of sphere sovereignty differs from Dooyeweerd’s, who interprets it as the ontological principle of creational diversity. For example, Dooyeweerd applies the term sphere sovereignty to the mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects,[6] ignoring the fact that no modal aspect is ruled by a sovereign. He puts sphere sovereignty at the law side of reality, applying it both to modal aspects and to types. However, a sovereign is a political subject (whether a person or a government), even if it translates normative principles into laws or rules. If we define an association as an organized human community having a leader or a governing board,[7] the political principle of sphere sovereignty applies to all associations and expresses their being subjects besides individual people in all normative relation frames. For instance, according to Dooyeweerd the university (as a type) would have sphere sovereignty with respect to the state, whereas I believe that types do not have sovereigns or sovereignty. The principle of sphere sovereignty implies that any university (as an individual association) should have sphere sovereignty with respect to any state. Contrary to Dooyeweerd’s, my view has the consequence that two universities have sphere sovereignty with respect to each other. However, I fully agree that the university as a type is irreducible to the type of the state.

Dooyeweerd and Strauss distinguish fifteen modal aspects. To these I added the political relation frame preceding the juridical one.[8] Danie summarily rejects this proposal,[9] but several arguments in its favour can easily be found in his discussion of the structure of the state[10] and the above discussion of sphere sovereignty.

About the linear order of the six natural aspects, most PCI investigators agree. Danie Strauss accepts Dooyeweerd’s order of the normative aspects, but otherwise opinions differ widely, including mine.[11] Danie[12] observes that I misquoted him,[13] for which I apologize, though I did not quote, but paraphrase him. His rebuttal seems to imply, however, that his original argument says nothing about the position of the logical aspect immediately after the natural ones, as I understood it was intended to do.

Contrary to Dooyeweerd and Strauss, I always stressed[14] that the modal laws concern relations, both subject-subject relations, and subject-object relations. Dooyeweerd’s New Critique only discusses the latter, but elsewhere he also considers the former. I prefer to call the modal aspects ‘relation frames’.[15]

The mutual irreducibility of the modal aspects is difficult to be argued by the designation of their ‘core meaning’ like ‘energy effect’ or ‘life’.[16] It can better be made clear by paying attention to the modal subject-subject relations. If one recognizes that all physical subject-subject relations are an expression of interaction, it is almost obvious that physics cannot be reduced to mathematical relations, because mathematical things like triangles do not interact. However, physical interactions can be projected on kinetic, spatial and quantitative relations, allowing of measuring these. Interaction now generally takes the form of current, force, and energy.[17] Therefore, it is confusing to consider ‘energy effect’ or ‘energy operation’ to be the core meaning of the physical aspect, as Danie Strauss maintains in suit of Dooyeweerd,[18] and mistakenly ascribes to me.[19] He refers to the original meaning of the Greek energeia, ignoring the changed meaning of energy in the physical sciences, in technology, and in fact in our whole culture since the second half of the nineteenth century. So it appears that antique Greek disciplines Danie’s philosophy.

In the biotic aspect one easily recognizes the genetic relation as the modal subject-subject relation, between individual living beings; between the cells of a growing plant or animal; and between different species. Descent and heredity do not occur in physical relations, providing an argument for the thesis that the biotic and the physical aspects are mutually irreducible. But the genetic relation can be projected on physical and chemical relations between molecules like DNA and RNA. In Darwin’s theory of evolution, the assumption that every living being descends from another one is fundamental. For this simple reason, the biotic theory of evolution is not applicable to physical and chemical development, wherein heredity makes no sense, and it cannot explain the emergence of the first living beings on earth.


5.3. Knowledge of laws requires the application of artefacts


Because human experience fully depends on relations, the relation frames constitute aspects of human experience. This includes our experience of laws, both modal and typical. Dooyeweerd assumes that the knowledge of modal laws requires a transcendental approach, including the so-called Gegenstand relation, in which the logical aspect is intentionally opposed to all modal aspects. Strauss rejects this relation, and I agree with him. In contrast, Dooyeweerd assumes that natural or naïve experience lies at the basis of our awareness of typical structures. I believe that any kind of law can only be found in an empirical way.[20] We have no direct knowledge of laws. But because individuals and their mutual relations can be experienced both naturally and in scientific investigation, their lawfulness or law-conformity warrants the possibility to find laws.[21] Generally speaking, characters are found by induction and modal laws for relations by abstraction.[22] In both cases, science works with hypothetical statements about laws, trying to corroborate these statements by confronting them with states of affairs considered as facts and by relating them. This means that our knowledge of laws is always tentative and liable to correction.

Law statements made in theories are human artefacts and must therefore be distinguished from the laws themselves. Nominalists do not recognize laws apart from these statements (they only recognize individuals[23]), whereas realists assume that law statements refer to real laws.[24] PCI’s realist religious view implies the reality of invariant laws. These are not rational or intelligent, but they are intelligible, i.e. knowable and understandable. They cannot (in a physicalist sense) be conceived as the cause of regularities, nor (in a psychologistic sense) as expressing God’s will. Nominalist philosophies like logical positivism dominated the philosophy of science during two-thirds of the twentieth century. Physicists even avoided calling their discoveries ‘laws’, taking refuge to a number of terms like principle or postulate. (I never recommended this use, as Danie says.[25] I wonder where Danie found ‘compassion’ in my enumeration of these terms.) Biologists often believed that laws can only be physical. However, during the third part of the twentieth century, philosophers of science tend to become more realistic.

I have a much more simple view of theoretical work than Dooyeweerd and Strauss.[26] Both humans and some or all animals (in a limited sense[27]) experience their world as being lawful, but only people use theories to explore these. Therefore I would start from the assumption that theories are logically qualified artefacts, human products. Theoretical thought is nothing but thought aided with theories, which in turn depend on artefacts like statements and concepts. Therefore, whereas natural or naïve thought is directly related to individuals and their relations, theoretical thought is indirect, mediated by artefacts, like seeing with a microscope is aided by an artefact.

An obvious objection to this view could be that theories are products of theoretical thought, and for this reason cannot be its starting point. I reject the ‘transcendental idea’ (due to Immanuel Kant and pursued by Dooyeweerd) that it would be possible to reduce theoretical thought to something that is not theoretical, an a priori Archimedian point of view transcending human thought. Human beings happen to use theories, and philosophers are able to investigate its structure, but only by applying theories. If this is a circle, than the point is to get into it.

Accepting the realist view that natural laws were functioning before human beings entered the world, conditioning their existence including their ability to think naturally, means to accept that these laws transcend human experience in an ontological sense. However, this does not mean that there is a transcendental way to achieve knowledge of the laws (natural or normative), which can only be discovered in an empirical way, and tentatively formulated with the help of theories and other artefacts. In my view this applies both to modal and to typical laws, both to natural laws and to normative principles, even if the methods to arrive at reliable results differ considerably.

Dooyeweerd identifies theoretical thought with science and philosophy. However, science does not only use theories, statements and concepts, but many other kinds of artefacts as well. For instance, modern natural science makes use of a large variety of technical apparatus. Natural science and the humanities apply statistics. Each of them has its own method of applying artefacts. On the other hand, people who cannot be called scientists also use theories, although the development of theories may be called scientific. In this, I define science and the humanities as activities (theoretical or otherwise) directed to achieve knowledge about laws.


5.4. Analogies


The modal aspects or relation frames are supposed to be mutually irreducible. Nevertheless they are intimately related by referring to each other. In the order of the modal aspects, forward references are called ‘anticipations’ (or ‘antecipations’, as Danie prefers), backwards these are called retrocipations. In his conceptual analysis, Strauss applies his distinction of ‘concepts’ relating to a modal aspect and the preceding ones, and ‘transcending concepts’ or ‘ideas’, including the succeeding aspects.[28] Contrary to Dooyeweerd and Strauss, I avoid the term ‘analogies’ for these references, for the following reasons.

First, analogies are not peculiar to the modal aspects. Also characters are often analogous. The theories of sound and of light are very much analogous having the same character types, yet sound and light are different phenomena, having differing characters.

Second, Strauss defines analogical concepts correctly as having similarities and differences. Clearly, ‘analogy’ is a logical relation, like its name suggests, and it serves Strauss’s conceptual analysis of the modal aspects very well. However, the relations between the modal aspects are first of all ontological, not logical.

Third, the connections between the modal aspects are much more than analogies. For example, they allow of projecting physical relations on quantitative, spatial and kinetic ones, such that these become measurable. This accounts for the mathematization of the physical sciences in a way that cannot be comprehended as a mere analogy.[29] My view of the modal aspects as relation frames implies that subject-subject relations and subject-object relations in one relation frame can be projected on those in another frame, in such detail, that the laws from one frame can be applied in another one in a very fruitful way, as shown by the history of science. Besides relations, physical structures like crystals can be projected on mathematical ones, like groups. Therefore, I suggest to replace the term ‘retrocipation’ by ‘projection’, to maintain ‘anticipation’, and to avoid ‘analogy’, except in conceptual analysis.


5.5. Characters


Besides the modal aspects, Dooyeweerd introduced typical structures of individuality. It is not always clear whether he speaks of the law side (structure for individuals) or the individual side (structure of individuals).[30] Dooyeweerd also does not sufficiently stress that individuals always satisfy a set of specific laws. He did not recognize that typically different individuals may share some specific laws, while differing with respect to other specific laws. For instance, electrons share several typical laws with neutrino’s (both are involved in beta-radioactivity), but also have some different laws (electrons are electrically charged, and therefore subject to Coulomb’s law, which neutrino’s are typically not). Therefore, these individuals belong to different though related kinds.[31]

In order to avoid these misunderstandings, I proposed the term character for the law side of typicality.[32] A character is a set of typical laws characterizing a specific kind. It determines both a subjective class of individuals and an objective ensemble of possible variations within a kind.

At the subject and object side of characters one finds individual things, events, plants, animals, humans, acts, artefacts and associations. The modal subject-subject relations and subject-object relations concern all these typical individuals. They also include the relations of men and associations with their God. Christians believe that these relations are mediated by Jesus Christ, who became a man observing God’s laws, in order to restore these relations. Therefore, in order to know God and to love Him, one does not need to transcend temporal reality or the order of the modal aspects. In fact, one’s relation to God is fully temporal and expressed in all relation frames.

Apart from the correlation of the law side and the subject and object side, also the modal aspects and the characters are correlated. In this respect, the relation frames have priority above the characters. Like Dooyeweerd and Strauss, I assume that each character is primarily typically qualified by one of the relation frames. Like Dooyeweerd and Strauss, I assume that each character is secondarily founded in a preceding frame (with the obvious exception of characters qualified by the first one). It turns out to be difficult to define the exact meaning of ‘foundation’. Moreover, in the investigation of some character, it is not always easy to find its founding relation frame.

Finally I assume that each character has the tertiary disposition to be interlaced with other characters. Dooyeweerd calls this phenomenon enkapsis,[33] i.e., encapsulation. Contrary to Danie,[34] I assume that this is the case both at the law side and the subject and object side. I consider the former a condition for the latter. A proton and an electron can only become interlaced into a neutral hydrogen atom because their characters determine that both have exactly the same but opposite electric charge. Interlacement should play an important part in the discussion of the emergence of new individuals belonging to new kinds with sometimes entirely new properties.[35] For example, molecules are primarily physically qualified, secondarily founded in the spatial aspect, having the disposition to become typically interlaced in the character of living cells.

Along these lines a theory of types is developed, both for natural and for normative characters.[36] By way of example, in sections 5.6 and 5.7 I shall review the character types of technical things, events and processes.


5.6. Types of artefacts


Like Dooyeweerd and Strauss, I distinguish natural relation frames from normative ones, and natural kinds from normative kinds. At the law side, natural frames are sets of natural laws; normative frames are sets of values and norms. Values or normative principles are universal and invariant. Norms are historical and cultural products made by humans or human associations. In the normative frames, only individual persons and organized associations (which I distinguish from unorganized communities with a network structure) can be subjects, everything else being object in the normative aspects.

Artefacts have a character of their own, a set consisting of natural laws, normative principles and norms.[37] A norm is a human-made culturally and historically determined artefact, characterized by the normative principle from which it is derived. Norms are very flexible, and so are all artefacts. Also associations and communities differ widely because of their history and culture.[38] It appears possible, however, to find character types of artefacts and associations consisting of natural laws and normative principles only. For instance, one may recognize the universal character type of the state or the church, although the application of culturally determined norms leads to a large variety of different characters of states and churches. These can be compared with the help of the supposedly invariant normative character types.

I define artefacts as objects having a character qualified by one of the normative relation frames. Technically qualified artefacts like tools have a single character, founded in one of the natural relation frames (section 5.10). Other artefacts (like paintings) have a dual character.[39] Its generic character is qualified by a relation frame like the aesthetic one in the case of a painting, and founded in the technical one. It characterizes a painting as a piece of art. Its specific character makes distinction between different types of art. This leads to a typology of artefacts, like there is a typology of associations and of communities.[40]


5.7. Philosophy of technology


One consequence of my alternative view of history (5.9) is to replace the ‘historical aspect’ by the ‘technical’ one, as is done by several adherents of PCI. Like Dooyeweerd, Strauss objects to the designation ‘techno-formative, ‘for then its meaning is restricted to subject-object relations only’,[41]). However, the Greek techne means skill, and people learn new skills from each other, implying a subject-subject relation.[42] For the development of a philosophy of technology within the framework of PCI, an analysis of technical artefacts is crucial, though by no means sufficient. Philosophy of technology requires an investigation into technically characterized processes[43]; into associations like a household, a farm, a factory or a school[44]; and into the technical infrastructure of any society.[45] Last but not least, it requires a thorough knowledge of the history of technology and of its relevance for society at large.

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

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

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

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

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

e. Agriculture is a biotically founded technology. Agriculture as development of living nature has experienced several reforms, recognizable as such only after the fact.[46] The first land reform is the transition from nomadic cattle breeding to agriculture. The prosperity of the later European Middle Ages is reducible to a second land reform.[47] About 1100 agricultural production increased strongly, partly because of an improved climate, but in particular because of improved methods. One of these is the invention of the deep plough on wheels, allowing tilling the land much more effectively than before. Another one is crop rotation. By alternatively cultivating a field and letting it lie fallow the next year, one prevents plant disease and exhaustion of the soil. A better method turned out to be a cycle of three years: to grow one harvest in the first year, a different one in the second year and to let the field lie fallow during the third year. This increased the production by one half. A third improvement was the introduction of shoes and a breast harness for horses. The older method of a harness around the neck is suited for oxen, but not for horses. Horses are not much stronger than oxen, but they are faster and able to work two hours a day more. Especially the latter aspect meant that the transition from oxen to horse traction did not occur everywhere without protests, for the labourers had to work longer. In Southern Europe oxen remained more common. Horses need different fodder (oats), which the farmers first had to learn to grow, but which introduction fitted into the three-year cycle. Increasingly, farmers started to grow materials like flax for the rising industry besides food for their own and for the growing population of the cities. Another agricultural reform occurred in the nineteenth and twentieth century, influenced by industrialization, mechanisation of agriculture and the introduction of artificial fertilizers. By scientific research and by schooling, agriculture and cattle rising received a better theoretical basis. The ‘green revolution’ (about 1960-1980) meant the introduction of a new agricultural technology in the third world, such that there is sufficient food for the whole world population. Where there is still shortage of food, it is said to be caused by faulty distribution, disasters, wars, corruption, exploitation, managerial impotence and plain poverty.[48] In the final decennia of the twentieth century, information technology was introduced into modern agriculture. Fertilizing, irrigating, draining of land, feeding of cattle, milking of cows and processing of agrarian products are automated to a large extent. Although all agricultural technology is biotically founded, the word biotechnology received the more restricted meaning of genetic manipulation. Improving plant and animal species is as old as mankind, but the genetic influencing of breeding is specifically a twentieth century technology. Since the second agrarian revolution the number of agrarian labourers decreased, but only since the second half of the twentieth century less than half of the working population is employed in agriculture.

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

In a tradition related to PCI, a Christian philosophy of technology has been developed by Henk van Riessen, Egbert Schuurman and others.[49] Though they occasionally refer to PCI, they do not make use of its fundamental distinctions as described above. A philosophy of technology within the framework of PCI, including analysing technical artefacts according to the sketch given in the present section, does not yet exist.


5.8. Cosmic time


From the start, it has been my aim to develop Dooyeweerd’s challenging idea of cosmic time. Only recently I discovered that my conception of time differs considerably from Dooyeweerd’s ([50]) and by implication from Danie’s.[51] Two trends are discernible in Dooyeweerd’s view of time. According to the first trend, time expresses itself in the transcendental order of the modal aspects, anticipating religion via the aspect of faith. In the second trend Dooyeweerd conceives of each modal aspect as an aspect of time. I interpret this for each relation frame on the law side as the directive order of time, on the subject and object side as relations between subjects and objects as discussed above. This relational nature of time is absent in Dooyeweerd’s work, whereas I reject the transcendental character of time, supposed to transcend reality. Only the eternal God transcends temporal reality, albeit that in the person of Jesus Christ, God is immanently present in the creation and its history.

Artefacts are highly relevant for the philosophy of history,[52] if in each relation frame we distinguish between artefacts being characterized by that frame and other objects which are not. Besides people and associations which always act as subjects, all things, events, situations and processes can be object in each normative relation frame. For instance, each thing and each event can be a sign as an object in the semiotic relation frame, if a person or an association recognizes it as such. Only if it is specifically made by men, we speak of a symbol as a semiotic artefact.[53] Also words, sentences and texts in any language are semiotic artefacts. Because theoretical artefacts like theories are always expressed in language without being reducible to these, I believe that the logical relation frame presupposes the semiotic one, the ‘sign aspect’.[54] Artefacts are not merely relevant for the relation frame by which they are characterized. They play an objective and instrumental part in all normative relation frames. Without signs, symbols and language, the historical investigation of technology, science, social relations, commerce, government and justice would be impossible.

Conceived as man-made objects or events caused by people, artefacts have an objective meaning for the history of mankind, functioning as instruments in the transfer of experience.[55] Artefacts are subjected to the normative order of time in the relation frames by which they are characterized, like pieces of art showing aesthetic renewal. Because the technical relation frame characterizes all artefacts either primarily or secondarily, artefacts should at least satisfy objectively the historical norm of technical progress.[56] Therefore artefacts have a history of their own, constituting an important instrument for historiography as the interpretation of signs from the past. Indeed, each artefact is an objective sign of the history of the activity of humans as subjective makers and users. Artefacts are objective witnesses of the past.


5.9. Philosophy of history


Dooyeweerd[57] considers history to consist of the ‘opening up’ of the modal aspects, to begin with the ‘historical’ or ‘cultural’ modal aspect (which I call the ‘technical relation frame’). This process is guided by the aspect of faith as opened up by religion. In Dooyeweerd’s conception of history, the serial order of the modal aspects or law spheres with their anticipations and retrocipations plays an important part. In this context, Dooyeweerd pays no attention to his thesis that each law sphere is itself an aspect of time. Because that is precisely what I want to do, my treatment of the philosophy of history differs significantly from Dooyeweerd’s.[58] Like natural evolution, history is much more concentrated in the realization of typical structures than in the opening up of modal aspects. Yet, both evolution and history are directed by the temporal order expressed at the law side of the relation frames. At the subject and object side, the engine of biotic evolution is heredity. The engines of history appear to consist of asymmetric subject-subject relations expressing the transfer of experience in each normative relation frame. The above mentioned artefacts act as instruments and objective witnesses of history. Besides individual persons, associations are actors in the historical theatre, the public domain, consisting of subjective and objective networks of relations. All this is missing in Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of history.

My view of directive time as order for relations leads to a theory of history entirely different from Dooyeweerd’s. In PDD Danie does not discuss the philosophy of history extensively, which makes me believe that he shares Dooyeweerd’s views.


5.10. Conclusion


Danie Strauss’ PDD is a fascinating and challenging critical update of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy. However, an analysis of theoretical thought in the framework of PCI requires the insight that concepts, propositions and theories are logically characterized artefacts. Also the development of a philosophy of history and a philosophy of technology needs the application of artefacts.  This insight seems to be absent in the works of Herman Dooyeweerd and of Danie Strauss. In their analysis of theoretical thought, both are too much focussed on the modal aspects, neglecting the typical structures of reality. This focus led Dooyeweerd to his view of time and history, and both Herman Dooyeweerd and Danie Strauss to almost ignoring technology.

[1] PDD 25-26, 79-82.

[2] PDD 76-77, 436

[3] PDD 456.

[4] PDD 22, 24.

[5] Stafleu 2004.

[6] Dooyeweerd 1953-1958, I, 101-102.

[7] Stafleu 2004; 2011, section 4.0.

[8] Stafleu 2004; 2011, section 1.8.

[9] PDD 506, where he refers to Basden 2005, but not to my reply, Stafleu 2005.

[10] PDD 534-559.

[11] Stafleu 2004; 2011, chapter 1.

[12] PDD 258-259.

[13] in Stafleu 2007, not mentioned in PDD.

[14] not only recently, PDD 459, see Stafleu 1970.

[15] Stafleu 2002, chapter 1; 2011, chapter 1; PDD 456-457.

[16] PDD 89-92.

[17] Stafleu 2002, chapter 5; PDD 466.

[18] PDD 89-90, 457.

[19] PDD 398.

[20] PDD 432.

[21] PDD 436.

[22] PDD 81, 422.

[23] PDD 446.

[24] PDD 432-436; Stafleu 1999.

[25] PDD 435.

[26] Stafleu 1987.

[27] see Stafleu 2002, section 7.5.

[28] PDD 430.

[29] Wigner 1960.

[30] see PDD 26, 399, 450-451, 458.

[31] Stafleu 2002, section 5.2.

[32] Stafleu 2002, chapter 1; 2011, section 0.1; PDD, 459-463.

[33] PDD 356, 466.

[34] PDD 467-468.

[35] Stafleu 2012.

[36] Stafleu 2002; 2011.

[37] Stafleu 2011, chapter 3.

[38] Stafleu 2011, chapters 4 and 5.

[39] Stafleu 2003.

[40] Stafleu 2011, chapters 4 and 5.

[41] PDD 95.

[42] Stafleu 2011, section 2.1.

[43] Verkerk et al. 2007.

[44] Verkerk 2004; Stafleu 2011, section 4.1.

[45] Stafleu 2011, section 5.1.

[46] Jonas 1979, 192.

[47] Duby 1961-1962, 13. Meanwhile in China agriculture developed in a no less revolutionary way, see Landes 1998, 41-46.

[48] Achterhuis 1988, 311-328.

[49] Verkerk et al. 2007.

[50] Stafleu 2008.

[51] PDD 206-211.

[52] Stafleu 2011, chapter 3.

[53] Stafleu 2011, section 3.3.

[54] PDD 95-96.

[55] Stafleu 2011, chapter 2.

[56] Stafleu 2011, section 1.1.

[57] Dooyeweerd NC, II, 181-365.

[58] Stafleu 2008, 2011.

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