Tuesday, February 19, 2008

Selfhood and the act of thought

“Our selfhood … is never to be eliminated from the act of thought” (NC I 23)

This statement shows how theoretical thought is not self-sufficient for it relies on the non-theoretical and more-than-logical human selfhood. Human thought is an actual activity and so theory is a human artefact. Recognising this puts limits on theoretical thought and in particular its ability to comprehend the human subject, even the thinking human subject cannot be grasped in a theoretical concept. Dooyeweerd explains this saying “the “gegenstand-relation” can only be an intentional relation within the real act of theoretical thought between its logical and its non-logical aspects. The real act itself can never be made the “Gegenstand” of its logical function, since the latter can be actual only within a real act of our consciousness, and does not have any actuality in a theoretical abstraction” (NC I 50)

This takes us back to the negative result of Dooyeweerd’s transcendental critique. To arrive at an understanding of the religious root of thought requires an act of self-reflection that is not theoretical.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

The necessity of Transcendence

Dooyeweerd uses the image of a lookout-tower to explain why “if I am not to lose myself in the modal speciality of meaning during the course of philosophical thought, I must be able to find a standpoint which transcends the special modal aspects. Only by transcending the speciality of meaning, can I attain to the actual view of totality by which the former is to be distinguished as such” (NC I 8)

This necessity of transcendence is a crucial element of his critique of “immanence philosophy”, yet it still feels to me too closely tied with an epistemological standpoint. That’s a problem because it is the immanence standpoint that is supposed to be caught up in the problematic of knowing subject over-against known object. The point of the Zuidema quote turns on this issue, we are not a philosophical or theoretical subject, but ultimately a religious subject. Apparently Dooyeweerd’s student Johan Mekkes questioned the character of this transcendence in his later thought suggesting that the Archimedean point sought by Dooyeweerd was an illegitimate, neo-Kantian turn which effaced the temporal actuality of thought.

Perhaps we have to accept that the negative character of Dooyeweerd’s critique remains persuasive while his positive account concerning the transcendence of the religious concentration point requires, at the least, further reflection. On this negative result of his critique Dooyeweerd wrote: “the demonstrative force of our critique has been negative in character, so far as it, taken strictly, can only demonstrate, that the starting-point of theoretical thought cannot be found in that thought itself, but must be supra-theoretical in character” (NC I 56-57)

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Future posts

I've been getting back into Dooyeweerd's A New Critique of Theoretical Thought and so I plan to post a few quotes and thoughts as I read through. While Dooyeweerd's philosophy is systematic, I think his style invites reflection on themes that recur throughout his work.

Monday, February 04, 2008

Philosophy as point of departure

It's a bit late, I know, to mention that The Reformational Publishing Project has made available S.U Zuidema's important essay concerning Kuyper's view on common grace, follow this link: Common Grace and Christian Action in Abraham Kuyper However it does give me an excuse to quote an extract from another article by Zuidema which also appeared in the volume Communication and Confrontation. This brief piece is entitled "philosophy as point of departure", it is still relevant in its self-critical comment concerning reformational philosophy (here referred to as the Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee).

It is out of the question that any creature behaves at root philosophi­cally in his totality or in his concentrating selfhood. This is certainly beyond dispute with respect to the plant and animal kingdoms. How­ever, man also is not a "philosophical being," and also the man of philos­ophy, qua man, is more than philosopher, and qua philosopher, does not find his point of departure in his philosophical activity, let alone in its results. Neither the point of departure nor the driving force of man are philosophical in nature–nor are they theological or sociological.

This is not to deny that in Western culture there have not lacked at­tempts and do not lack attempts to elevate philosophy, theology or soci­ology to a point of departure. Even certain special sciences aspire to this all-controlling position. Wherever this occurs, an overestimation of sci­ence has taken place, which as an overestimation is of a profoundly reli­gious nature, and man has doomed himself to slavery. He has thus be­trayed and sold out his freedom, and with his freedom his responsibility, his task, and his calling. He has subjected himself to the sway of his phi­losophy, his theology or his special science and, as a result, can no longer find himself or his God.

Wherever the autonomy of thought–which is allegedly grounded in itself and grounds man in his thinking–is made an article of faith, phi­losophy claims to be the only Absolute, the only Unconditional, the only Non-contingency and Inviolate, and attempts to efface as much as possi­ble the supra-philosophical character of the belief in the autonomy of thought. Wherever this type of philosophy comes to historical power, "Philosophy" in fact becomes the point of departure, also for the prac­tice of life, which is then daily subjected to this indignity. Wholly con­trary to its deepest intention, the Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee can also be misconstrued as the point of departure for the practice of life. This is a very antinomical misconception but one for which we must constantly be on our guard because it is characteristic of a temptation which has un­dermined and threatened Christendom for centuries. Is this not one of the many ways whereby man, or in this case the Christian, seeks his se­curity and point of departure in "the works of his hands"–as has been the case for centuries in Christian theology, and no less in the depending on a "strong" personal faith, an experience of faith, and works of faith.

Communication and Confrontation pages 124-125