Monday, November 12, 2018

(30) Example: the limits of neuroscience

Staying with the themes of the philosophy of mind we can extend these points in relation to neuroscience which as a fast-developing field of scientific inquiry has created significant excitement within philosophy.  It is no surprise that philosophers are interested in the relevance of the results of neuroscience for topics like the nature of consciousness, freedom and determinism, and ethics.  However we should be cautious about how these results are used.  The first point to make is that the relevance of empirical inquiry for philosophy requires care over the use and application of concepts.  For empirical enquiry to make a philosophical difference a prerequisite is conceptual clarity.  Experimental results that claim to have profound consequences for the way we think about consciousness or freedom, will prove nothing if they are based on a confused or dubious use of the relevant concepts.   So for example if you want to run a test to see if someone is lying, you need to know what it is to lie. This may seem obvious, but there are important related concepts such as deception, role playing and joking which need to be distinguished.

A condition for lying is that a speaker states something that they believe to be false, but this in itself is not enough since in the context of tell ing a joke or reporting someone else’s words, a false assertion is not a lie. When in the context of a scientific experiment someone is told to assert false statements it is far from clear whether they can be said to lie.  As such any link between the observed neural activity and lying is far from being established.  

Another, more complex, example is that of freedom. This concept must face apparently serious challenges coming from the empirical findings of various sciences.  In particular the experiments by Libet and Walter where brain activity was measured using an EEG machine found that conscious awareness of decision making is preceded by activity in the brain.  Also the social sciences often focus on social factors that determine human choices thus giving the impression that human freedom may turn out to be nothing more than a comforting illusion.  What is clear is that here we have another example of the modern problem of how to deal with the apparent tension between theoretical or scientific accounts of human actions and our concrete experience of the same. 

The main argument in defence of the reality of freedom is based on our self-experience as an individual who is a free agent and not just an element in a chain of cause and effect.  We find it necessary in our social life to assume that people can be held responsible for their actions, whether in the legal sphere or in the context of institutions such as family life, schools, businesses and so on.  In each it is necessary to understand human behaviour in terms that are not reducible to cause and effect. However there is an additional issue raised by the kind of experiments done by Libet and Walter which is the actual concept of freedom being assumed.  Here, as in many discussions about the freedom of the will, freedom is understood in terms of a decision made at a specific moment in time. The agent who makes the decision is then thought of as somehow being outside the situation controlling what is happening, and so making a free decision which then gets relayed to the body that obeys. While some decisions may be understood in these kinds of terms they are not typical. For example the decision to raise my hand just to demonstrate this kind of freedom can hardly be thought of as a typical expression of human freedom. In most cases my free acts are part of a practice, which itself has been taken up in the light of longer term goals and values, as such they are not isolated events. So freedom is implied in the overall practice and in the overall conduct of my life, and is not only to be located in specific, let alone isolated choices.

These problems are perhaps not insurmountable.  Once careful attention is made to the relevant concepts better experiments can be devised.  However here a second problem arises.  Many of the concepts under discussion involve normative characteristics which in part constitute their meaning. Human actions are normed and so gain their meaning through their response to these norms.  A thought can be lucid or equivocal, it could be consistent with or contradicted by other thoughts; brain processes like neurons firing, as viewed from the abstract perspective of neuroscience, cannot have these features.  Given that there is this disconnect between the abstract view of brain processes and the normative character of human actions we might conclude that neuro-scientific experiments have no relevance at all to these philosophical questions.  To help think about this we can consider an example of what Selim Berker describes as the best-case scenario: “We notice that a portion of the brain which lights up whenever we make a certain sort of obvious, egregious error in mathematical or logical reasoning also lights up whenever we have a certain moral intuition.”  Now what should we conclude from this?  Do we automatically question the moral intuition?  This must depend on the case itself, in the situation where we can see no connection between the moral intuition and the mistaken bit of mathematical reasoning the neurological result can only make us stop and think.  We look again at the moral reasoning and see if we can find anything untoward about it, or if we can see an analogy with the mathematical reasoning.  In and of itself the neuro-scientific experiment cannot be decisive. 

In the absence of any normative connection we are best advised to continue trusting the moral intuition and wait to see if later neuroscientific results are able to make finer distinctions that throw light on the connection between the faulty mathematical reasoning and the moral intuition.  To take this further we can give a more specific example, again borrowing from Selim Berker, “Suppose the same part of the brain that lights up whenever we affirm the consequent also lights up whenever we have an intuition that infanticide is impermissible; would you be willing to start killing babies on those grounds?” The point of the rhetorical question is that our moral intuitions can have a strength and decisiveness that should rightly resist the alleged conclusion of complex empirical investigations.

Now we can develop a second scenario where we do come to see that the moral intuition in question rests on the same sort of confusion present in the mistaken bit of mathematical/logical reasoning, then of course we would have good reason to look more critically on the moral intuition, but in that case the neuroscience isn’t playing a direct justificatory role. Further our moral judgement that infanticide is wrong may well rest on more than just the given moral intuition now cast under suspicion.  What is the role of the experiment?   We can notice that “we might not have thought to link the moral intuition to that sort of mathematical/logical blunder if we hadn’t known the neuroscientific results; but again, once we do link them, it seems that we do so from the comfort of an armchair, not from the confines of an experimental laboratory. It is as if, while trying to prove whether or not some mathematical claim is true, your mathematician friend had said to you, “Why don’t you try using the Brouwer fixed point theorem?” If you end up proving the claim to be true using that theorem, your justification for the claim in no way depends on your friend’s testimony. (After all, she didn’t give away whether she thinks the claim is true or false.) Nonetheless, your friend’s testimony gave you a hint for where to look when trying to prove or disprove the mathematical claim”


Sunday, November 04, 2018

(29) Limits of theory

The structure of a thing is not universal in the same way as the modal aspects, they are typical.  While this helps give a theoretical account of concrete things it does not get us to the uniqueness of things, this is beyond the grasp of theory.  What we understand naively as a whole in our experience becomes in analysis something far more complex.  Rarely do we meet with entities that can be analysed as a simple whole, instead they are built up in a typical interlacing of simple structures of atoms, molecules and cells for example (ESL, I 209).  We have seen that this requires us to look at complex wholes where simple structures are encapsulated in larger structural totalities.  Now we wish to emphasis again the character and limits of theoretical thinking.  The attempt to give a theoretical account of entities confronts us with the apparently insoluable problem of how we can arrive at the whole entity through analysis given that analysis necessarily breaks up what in reality is an indivisible whole.  Indeed the unity of an entity is something that transcends the boundaries of the modal aspects which provide the necessary entry-points of theoretical analysis.  This means that theoretical access to the individual whole is impossible, instead an analysis of the typical-structure of a thing must presuppose its unity.  We have already seen that the typical-structure or idionomy of an entity is expressed within the modal aspects which are accessible to theoretical analysis and so a theoretical account of idionomies is possible.  However if we forget the limits of theory and seek to discover the true nature of things through theory alone we will end with deep theoretical problems.  This is well exemplified in the philosophy of Immanuel Kant.  Since he took theoretical analysis to be primary without any critical investigation into its character and limits he took the abstract view of perception (that is the psychical modal aspect understood by empiricism) as what we experience.  Once the aspects have been taken as the primary given in our experience, entities in their totality and unity fall away behind the abstracted aspects as mysterious “Ding ansich” (the “thing-in-itself”).  So an over-theorised view of our practical experience turns the concrete unity, identity and totality of things into a necessary but unprovable hypothesis.

The importance of this point, that you cannot reconstruct theoretically the unique character of concrete reality, can be shown in relation to the philosophy of mind.  This field is now dominated by anti-dualistic viewpoints and when speaking of a person the move is often made, without comment or reflection, from the personal ‘I’ to a mind.  This though crosses a boundary as you cannot identify the subjective ‘I’ with mental phenomenon (a functional approach).  Attempts to explain philosophically the nature of personal identity goes beyond the capability of theoretical thought.  When our everyday knowledge and experience of reality is replaced with concepts you lose the concrete.  This concreteness is a feature of reality and not merely a subjective colouring that we give to reality, and as such it cannot be replaced by scientific theories, which of necessity presuppose and abstract from this reality.

A second point of importance is that the analysis of reformational philosophy begins with the recognition of the diversity of things and so can account for the distinctive features of different entities in the world.  A functional approach easily misses the richness found in ordinary experience.  An example of this can be found in discussions in the philosophy of mind about artificial intelligence.  From a purely functional viewpoint it can be difficult to explain the difference between a human mind and a computer.  A reformational theory of entities shows up the vast difference between the two.  We begin to see clearly the role of human design and use of computers so that the objective-functioning of the computer can make sense only against the subjective functioning of human persons. This can explain the importance of language as an object function of the computer. 

Saturday, October 27, 2018

(28) Encapsis

An entity is a whole that consists of parts. A chair, for example, consists of legs, a seat, and a back. It is a human artefact and so is founded in the formative modal aspect, but as a piece of furniture that provides a resting place for people it is qualified or guided by the social aspect. However if we look again at the chair we can say that it is a physical object made up of wood or other material. This wood has its own typical structure. There is one chair, but it seems we must analysis it in terms of at least two different idionomies. These two idionomies are intertwined in a specific way which Dooyeweerd described using the term encapsis. Hopefully this word reminds you of the word encapsulate. It means that a certain thing may be encapsulated within some other entity. The wood is encapsulated within the idionomy of the chair. In other words there is an interwinement of the two idionomies.

There are a number of different ways in which idionomies can be intertwined. For example there is a symbiotic encapsis in the case of the yucca plant and the yucca moth. There is correlative encapsis between a living being and its habitat, or between a church and a state. Then there is a subject-object encapsis of the snail and its shell, the spider and its web, or the bird and its nest.

It is important to understand that encaptic relationships are whole-whole relationships and not part-whole. “We identify a whole by its typical structure or idionomy, where there are two idionomies the relationship will be an encaptic one and not a part-whole one. This is very important when later we investigate human society. Consider now a living cell which has very clear parts, such as the mitochondria, they are parts of the cell because they derive their (biotically qualified) idionomy from the cell as the whole. But the molecules within the cell are not parts of it, for they have an (energetically qualified) idionomy of their own. Their energetic idionomy is encapsulated within, or encaptically intertwined with, the biotic idionomy of the cell.” (Ouweneel 2014a 89) This example is a case of foundational encapsis which is possibly the most important type of encapsis when thinking in terms of our place in the cosmos, whereas correlative encapsis is more important in understanding the coordination of our tasks together in the cosmos. In the example of molecules within the cell the idionomy of the molecules within the cell forms the foundation for the idionomy of the cell as such. Without this idionomy – without molecules – there could be no cell. At the same time, the cell is much more than the sum total of its molecules. It has an idionomy of its own, that is qualified, or guided, by the biotic aspect.

If we now return to our first example of the chair we see another example of foundational encapsis. The idionomy of the wood is foundationally encapsulated within the idionomy of the chair, together they form an encaptic whole. Without the wood there is no chair, but the chair is much more than a configuration of wooden pieces. The demands of the chair with its social qualifying function guides the structure of the wooden pieces. The structure of the chair is superimposed on the structure of the wood, just as the structure of your house is superimposed on the structure of the bricks and mortar that is its basic material. Now contrast this with an ornamental plant, or a pet dog, their character goes beyond their natural idionomy but not because they are encapsulated within a new whole, rather they are encapsulated within a new context and so form a correlative encapsis with their new environment.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

(27) Non-human subjects

The example of the bird’s nest once again highlights the fact that it is not only humans that are subjects. Animals also function subjectively in many of the modal aspects. In philosophical anthropology the tendency has been to emphasis the differences between human persons and animals. The attempt is then made to identify some characteristic of being human that is distinctive. We are different from animals because of, so it has been claims, our rationality, our moral sense, our use of language.  These and other features are then used to identify the human mind or soul.  While this approach is rejected in reformational philosophy it has often made the point that only humans function subjectively in the post-psychic aspects. Here, however, we shall follow Stafleu who rejects this approach and points to evidence of animal functioning in higher modal aspects. He also argues that emphasising this point of supposed difference detracts from another view of this philosophy, namely that a person is primarily religious.

To begin with we should note that it is not only birds and mammals that form things, but also insects such as bees and ants, spiders, and fish. It will also be difficult to maintain that animals have no distinguishing abilities. It is sometimes stated that human logical thinking is necessarily based on the use of concepts, and that animal distinguishing lacks this ability. It is true that animals lack concepts, but it is more accurate to say that conceptual thinking is opened-up thinking, theoretical thought. Natural thought is not necessarily linked up with conceptual thought. Animal thought is natural, not opened-up, i.e., not anticipating later modal aspects. Conceptual thought implies the formati­on of concepts, hence it anticipates the formative aspect. It also anticipates the lingual aspect, because concepts are worded. Hence, if animals do not use conceptual thought, this does not mean that they are not functioning subjective­ly in the logical modal aspect. Further some animals display a primitive use of language. The significance of the dance of bees is well known. Birds are able to warn each other against danger. In groups of apes a recognizable system of communication is established, and some have been taught elementary sign-language. Many animals display social behaviour: bees, ants, birds during their seasonal migration, mammals living in herds, families of apes, and so. A certain amount of division of labour is sometimes unmistakable. Studies have identified primitive ethical behaviour among some animals.

Making these points might worry some, as it may appear to down play the difference between humans and animals. However this need not be the case at all. Firstly the key difference, which we shall come to later, is that humans are inescapably religious. We should also note that the subjective functioning of animals in the post-psychic aspects is invariantly primitive and instinctive.  Stafleu here makes use of the distinction between the retrocipatory direction and the anticipatory direction of the modal aspects (discussed in §19). Human activity, because of its religious character, is opened-up, anticipating, transcend­ing and so significantly more varied and sophisticated than animals. Crucially human activity involves responsibility and so freedom. When we compare human language to animal communication we perceive a huge difference, so to when we compare human and animal social structures. But also lower down the modal scale we have to acknowledge huge differences. To spill human blood is quite different to spilling animal blood, and human saliva is not the same as animal saliva. When the members of the Sanhedrin spat on our Lord at his trial (Matthew 26:67), all the hate-filled contempt of their evil hearts for His suffering person was in this spittle. To view the human person as basically an animal with respect to our body and human with respect to our soul is to contradict the reality of our practical experience. Animals are glorious and enigmatic creatures who can bring us to a greater understanding and appreciation of God (Job 39-41), however humans in every fibre of their being respond to God as religious creatures made in God’s image. 

Saturday, October 13, 2018

(26) Idionomy

The analysis of entities in terms of their typical structures is an important feature of reformational philosophy. In this connection Dooyeweerd spoke of “individuality structures.” Unfortunately others have not been happy with this terminology since we can never reach a things true individuality through a structural analysis. Roy Clouser has used the term “type-laws”. In the end the words used is not the most important thing, though different reasons can be given for certain choices, what is important is a correct understanding of the concept. Here we shall use the term idionomy which captures the meaning in one word combining idios meaning “proper to” and nomos meaning law. Ouweneel defines idionomy as the law that is proper to a certain kind or class of entity, the law that makes the entity the entity it is. 

This theory of idionomy is best explained through examples.  Let’s start with a natural thing, a tree.  A tree functions subjectively, that is actively, in the first five modal aspects:
Numerically: the number of leaves, branches etc.
Spatially: the shape of the leaves, the amount of space the roots need in order for the tree to grow.
Kinematically: the momentum and movement of its parts
Physically: the energy transfer going on in the tree.
Biotically: the growth of the tree to maturity, its method of spreading its seeds.

The last of these, the biotic, turns out to be the most characteristic.  A tree is a living thing which grows, nourishes itself and reproduces according to the laws of biotic development.  All the other active functions are subservient to this. The most characteristic modal aspect is called the “qualifying function” or the “guiding function” which helps remind us that we are not dealing with something static but with active functioning that guides and even actualises the internal character of the entity. While the tree is qualified by the biotic mode it is not cut off from the later modes and so can be opened up to being perceived, analysed, formed and reshaped in various ways, it can be named, it can inspire a piece of music, it can be bought and sold and so on. For these possibilities to be disclosed one requires animals which function actively in the later modal aspects.

As we investigate entities we notice that each entity has a modal aspect that is most characteristic and so functions as the “qualifying” or “guiding” function.  Recognising the qualifying function is important as it gives us insight into all the other modes of the thing and the way they form a unity.  All the other modal aspects are lead by the qualifying mode which means that the way they function is, in part, determined by the character of its qualifying function.  So the number of leaves and roots, the kinds of spatial arrangements between its parts, and molecules found in a tree are determined in a typical way by the qualifying function of the tree.  In spite of the unmistakable multiplicity of its modal aspects this thing is a concrete individual unity. As a concrete thing it is not just a collection or combination of its modal functions. Reformational philosophy rejects the metaphysical “bundle theory” of things. The unity of the entity in its totality comes first and is all the time presupposed in this analysis, it is not the end result of the analysis. However we should also note that the internal structure of a plant is very intricate and involves more than one idiomony. It can only function based upon its physical building blocks such as molecules which have an idionomy of a completely different nature. This state of affairs will be discussed later when we come to the phenomenon of encapsis (§28).

This kind of analysis has a critical quality that helps us to do justice to the structural unity and integrity of things.  We shall see this to a greater extend when looking at social institutions.  But just to note its importance now we can point to the way that capitalism, as an ideology, can lead us to view things primarily as economic objects and so fail to treat things with integrity.  The ecological value of trees can be ignored in an economic valuation (trees are not just ‘timber’), the living, feeling character of animals may be violated in modern farming methods, and so in this way such a structural analysis can help us identify what is wrong and what requires reform in our treatment of things.

As we have already mentioned the analysis of entities can become a lot more complex when we see how different wholes are intertwined in special ways (encapsis).  For now we add a brief second example.  If we take a bird’s nest we find that it functions actively in the first four aspects (numerical to physical), however a bird’s nest cannot be explained in purely physical terms.  To come to a more complete understanding we need to take in to account its object-function in the biotic life of the bird.  It is this that characterises a bird’s nest and so the qualifying function in this example is an object-function rather than a subject-function.  This conclusion should be tested against the empirical evidence which might suggest that the psychical function is of greater importance in determining the characteristic of a bird’s nest.  Or is perhaps the reproductive function of the nest more important?  Such questions remind us that the theory of entities cannot be applied ready-made but must deal with empirical reality.

Saturday, October 06, 2018

(25) Difference and connection between entities and aspects

Now we should say something about the difference and connection between entities and aspects. Entities presuppose the modal aspects, but nevertheless concern a different horizon of human experience.  Modal aspects are universal in that their reality cuts across everything, as such they are known explicitly only through abstraction.  Entities are closer to our concrete experience.  However a theory of entities will not be about individual things as such but about the kinds of things that exist.  We see here an even greater diversity of things than we found when looking at the modes.

It is important to keep this distinction between the “what” (existents) and the “how” (modal aspects) in mind.  Many problems in philosophy can be traced back to treating “hows” (limited ways things function) as if they were things. Consider how common it is to speak of physical reality as if some entity could be purely physical.  For example the Australian philosopher J.J.C. Smart, who was one of the first philosophers to propose that the mind just is the brain and nothing more, wrote this concerning the picture science gives us:

“It seems to me that science is increasingly giving us a viewpoint whereby organisms are able to be seen as physicochemical mechanisms: it seems that even the behaviour of man himself will one day be explicable in mechanistic terms. There does seem to be, so far as science is concerned, nothing in the world but increasingly complex arrangements of physical constituents. All except for one place: in consciousness.”

On this view consciousness, or what Smart refers to as “raw sensations,” are strange things that just don’t fit into the universe understood as a purely physical thing. On the basis of Occam’s razor we are best advised to hold out the expectation that it can only be a matter of time before consciousness will be given a fully mechanistic explanation based on our growing understanding of the brain.

Smart makes a number of problematic assumptions here, including that science deals only with “physicochemical mechanisms,” which cannot be sustained even should we narrow our view only to physics. However the main problem from our perspective is that the abstract viewpoint of the physical aspect is here identified with reality per se. This is a classic confusion between aspects and entities. 

So how should we understand the difference and connection between aspects and entities?

Modal theory closely relates to the special sciences which take a modal aspect as the point of view through which to study reality.  The theory of entities relates more to the ‘integral wholeness’ of things rather than the functions of those things.  This means that from a theoretical point of view the modal aspects have priority and provide the framework for developing a theory of entities; however from the perspective of our experience we start with the rich interwoveness of reality where we experience things in their unity, in their existence through time and as totalities which bring various elements together.  As such our everyday experience is closer to the theory of entities.  In naïve experience we only perceive the modal diversity implicitly whereas we know immediately the identity of the entities we experience.  In contrast theoretical analysis reveals the modal diversity while the unity and identity of things remain a mystery that can only be approximated.  Reality as it presents itself to us in our everyday experience functions in all of the modal aspects.  We never experience a purely physical or purely ‘mental’ reality.  The physical and psychical, for example, are only modal aspects of our experience and not separate entities.

Our experience of things, events and forms of social life in so-called naïve experience are not modal in character.  When I experience a passing car, or a dog at the park I experience them as an individual whole with their own unity despite the great diversity of modal aspects in which they function.  Each individual entity is not just a collection of modal aspects, rather the unity comes first and the modal aspects are functions of the individual whole.  Whereas the modal aspects are universal we need to speak of “typical structures” with respect to an analysis of entities (we will call these idionomies, see the next section).  Here too there is universality, this individual tree exhibits the universal typical-structure of trees.  

What is the link between the modal aspects and entities?  We can start to appreciate this when we remember that entities function in all of the modal aspects.  What we notice when looking first to the concretely functioning entities is that the way they function in a modal aspect takes on a specific character according to the kind of entity it is.  So for example the way a family functions economically will be different to the way a church or a business functions economically.  Again the command to love our neighbour applies to all our relationships but the way we should love our spouse is different (must be different!) from the way we love the person next door, which in turn is different from the way we love our colleagues and so on.  In this way the theory of modal aspects already gives us a clue to the different types of entities that there are.  For example an apple tree differs from a stone not because it functions in different modal aspects but because of the way it harnesses those aspects it is active in as a subject and thereby realises itself as a living thing in a typical way.

The idionomies (typical structures) of entities must also be understood in their temporality, this is due both to the temporal character of the modal aspects and because the typical structure of an individual guides its actual functioning in the modal aspects which are brought together into a dynamic unity.  Then there is also the temporal duration of an entity so, for example, the individual duration of a plant is determined by its most characteristic active function, the biotic, which guarantees the continued existence of the plant’s life.  In contrast the duration of the existence of a work of art is typically determined by the preservation of the aesthetically qualified form that the artist has given to the material.

Thursday, September 27, 2018

John Bolt on Reformational Philosophy

Kyle Dillion has written a summary and response to John Bolt's "Doubting Reformational anti-Thomism" a chapter in Aquinas Among the Protestants.

Bolt has also criticised Dooyeweerd in his review "An Adventure in Ecumenicity: A Review Essay of Berkouwer and Catholicism by Eduardo Echeverria". Below is the response I wrote to that piece. It was first published on the now defunct reformational scholarship blog.

John Bolt’s “An Adventure in Ecumenicity” is billed as a review of Berkouwer and Catholicism by Eduardo Echeverria, however, it is both more and less than that. It is less since we do not find out much about Echeverria’s book! Of the 14 pages of the review only three paragraphs actually reference the book and they are largely used to introduce his main target: Herman Dooyeweerd and reformational philosophy (who nevertheless are nowhere directly quoted). It is more since the main purpose of the review, so it appears, is to express the annoyance and dissatisfaction with what he, from his North American context, has experienced as reformational philosophy. And further the rejection of natural theology that first struck him as problematic in his Seminary days of studying Berkouwer (77).

His criticism of Dooyeweerd and reformational philosophy is that they subscribed to “progressive biblicism,” a term he borrows from Valentijn Hepp who had criticised Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven in these terms during the 1930s. For Bolt, this progressive biblicism in its “most gentle and kind” form “gives full respect to the confessions in general but bypasses them on a few key doctrines where it judges to have found a more biblical approach. It appeals to the Bible but does not take very seriously the full tradition of the church on these points, preferring to go its own way. Included among these doctrines are the body/soul duality and the continued existence of the soul after death.” (85). Despite being the most gentle and kind form it nevertheless evinces, according to Bolt, an “individualistic approach to Scripture” (86 quoting Hepp), that lacks “the most basic level of Christian humility” (87). It also falls into “a serious epistemological blunder” in trying to use the Bible to “produce a pure biblical philosophy” (88). This progressive Biblicism produced, in the circle of reformational philosophy, a “Biblicism of infinite regress”.  Bolt describes this over four points. First Kuyper and Bavinck are praised by Dooyeweerd for breaking with certain scholastic tendencies, but secondly this break is considered incomplete and so further criticism and philosophical revision is required. Thirdly Cornelius Van Til repeats the first two moves with respect to Dooyeweerd; praise for his move away from certain philosophical notions but criticism that he has not gone far enough. Finally Dooyeweerd “returns the favour, and the disciples of the two men continue the process ad infinitum, ad nauseum, all in the name of finding the true, biblical or reformational philosophy” (87).

While Bolt has other complaints against Dooyeweerd, such that his interpretation and criticism of Thomas Aquinas (and Catholic thought in general) has been thoroughly invalidated, and that his philosophy is a symptom of a misguided de-hellenizing project, I think the above fairly summarises his main concern in this review.

We shall work backwards through the objections and complaints against Dooyeweerd. So the first thing to say is that nowhere does Dooyeweerd, or any other reformational philosophy, ever claim that they are seeking to establish “the true, biblical or reformational philosophy”. In the preface to his magnum opus De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee translated and revised in the 1950s as A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (NC), Dooyeweerd is emphatic that the Christian Idea of science “is not a matter of a ‘system’ (subject to all the faults and errors of human thought) but rather it concerns the foundation and the root of scientific thought as such” (NC I. viii). Elsewhere he writes, “The first systematic statement of the Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee in my book of that title is truly not meant to be a conclusion. It is a modest first attempt at a systematic Calvinist philosophy” (quoted in Verburg 2015, 252). In 1973 he was asked what reformational philosophy would look like in fifty years time, Dooyeweerd replied “That I don’t know. It is possible that it will have disappeared. And I would not mind that, if it had indeed done its work” (Verburg, 483). The point here is that Dooyeweerd sought to discover the religious root of theoretical thinking to show that an intentionally and integrally Christian philosophy could be possible. He consistently distinguished between this religious root, which is pre-theoretical and is a driving force in our thinking, and the theoretical development of philosophical problems which is fallible and subject to the standards for coherent and meaningful philosophy.

When we understand this purpose we can see that what is essential is the foundation or root of philosophy, and it is here where “something permanent can be achieved” that is “with respect to the actualization of the idea concerning an inner reformation of philosophy” (NC I, ix). This task of “an inner reformation of philosophy” is ongoing and never finished. Does this imply an infinite regress? No, because it is no different from the ongoing task of systematic theology to be submitting itself to the final authority of scripture and to articulate the doctrines of the church afresh for each generation. We can also see that Dooyeweerd was not trying to derive a true philosophy from the Bible as Bolt seems to suggest. Indeed Dooyeweerd wrote, “The divine Word-revelation gives the Christian as little a detailed life- and worldview as a Christian philosophy, yet it gives to both simply their direction from the starting-point in their central basic motive. But this direction is really a radical and integral one, determining everything.” (NC I, 128). It is interesting that Bolt’s solution to the problem of a Christian approach in the sciences is that we should judge whether a particular approach is “consistent with or at odds with biblical teaching” (88). This appears to be a rather external view of the role of religion in science and is a significant step back from how he describes the Roman Catholic view as developed by the nouvelle theologie theologians “who insisted that human reason always operates within a teleology of belief and unbelief” (80).

Nevertheless Bolt seems to want to side-step the question as to whether a doctrine such as the substantiality and immortality of the soul is “consistent with or at odds with biblical teaching” since that could lead to bypassing the confessions on a few key doctrines. Instead Christian thinkers must align themselves “philosophically with the Augustinian/Thomistic tradition of Christian metaphysics” (89) or condemn themselves to the charge of “lacking the most basic level of Christian humility” (87).