Tag Archives: Herman Dooyeweerd

On philosophy as a photograph of nature

havana cigarOne of the things I appreciate about reformational philosophy is the rightful place it gives to our ordinary, naïve experience. Naïve experience does not mean in a pejorative sense,  the gullibility of our experience of the everyday, but rather, it refers to the way in which human beings experience things in their seamless totality: Herman Dooyeweerd’s favorite box of Havana cigars, in ordinary experience, is a box of Havana cigars, in the concreteness of reality. But the moment we confront it with theoretical thought, we start abstracting from it certain of its various sides: the aesthetics, the legal, the economic, the social, the historical, and so on. Naïve experience is not dismissed, but properly accounted for, as part of the the task of theorizing about reality.

Thus, in his first major work, Encyclopedia of the Science of Law, he criticizes what Richard Rorty would call the view of philosophy as” the mirror of nature,” for reducing created reality to a matter of sensory perception:

 For my untheorized conception of reality, this little table is no longer this little table as soon as theory attempts to reduce what is given to a system to a system of abstract psycho-chemical formulas. The full reality of the thing as we experience it in everyday reality also has its objective-sensory form, its objective coherence of logical attributes by which it is differentiated from other things, its objective meaning in language, its function in social intercourse and interaction, its economic value (I can immediately observe whether it is an expensive or a cheap article), its objective beauty or ugliness, its function as a legal object (it belongs either to me or to someone else), etc.

Insofar as a thing also functions in the normative aspects of reality, naïve experience subjects it without objection to norms, not as a responsible subject, but as an object, as a thing. The table, for example, is well or poorly formed, pretty or ugly, nice or not nice, expensive or cheap, etc.

The peculiarity of naïve experience reveals itself in the fact that our thought does not set its logical-analytical aspect over against the distinguished nonlogical aspects of reality; it does not make an aspect into a problem – into a Gegenstand, as the Germans call it – of knowledge, but reveals itself in the fact that our thought instead remains naively incorporated into full temporal reality, that is to say, it experiences the psychical, logical, and the remaining normative functions of things as indissoluble constituents of an in reality.

Wherever, in some fashion or other, we abstract in our thinking a Gegenstand out of concrete reality, we are not dealing with the naïve but with the theoretical attitude of thought. This is the source of the error in the view which seeks a kind of theory of knowledge in naïve experience, such as, for example, the “copy theory.” Epistemology understands this to be the view that a (physical) thing-reality, enclosed within itself, is reproduced in our consciousness like a photographic image, As if all of temporary reality could be reduced to sensory impressions!

It is scientific thought that initially separates temporal reality into its various aspects and sets the nonlogical aspect as a Gegenstand, as a problem, over against the logical function of concept-forming. To this end it must abstract these aspects out of their given indissoluble coherence by way of theoretico-logical analysis. It should certainly be clear that theoretical thought is indeed thought that subtracts something from full reality. The special sciences have broken up reality into compartments; but all of the special sciences together, in their mutual complementing of one another, cannot bring us to a knowledge of reality in its unbroken unity. Piecing together the slices cut from an apple does not give us back the original piece of fruit (HD, ESL, The Collected Works, 27-28, Series A, Volume 8/1 ed. Alan M. Cameron, 2012) [emphasis supplied].

Other reformational philosophers after Dooyeweerd have of course, taken issue with his  discussion of the place of the logical aspect in the Gegenstand relation, but that is for another post. For now, it suffices to note the important implications of Dooyeweerd’s approach to the interdisciplinary approaches to the study of reality: it is not only necessary but inherent to the multi-aspectual nature of reality itself.


for the source of the image, click here.


Filed under Dooyeweerd, reformational philosophy