Towards a Christian Philosophy

Though somewhat late we congratulate the editors of Christelijk Perspectief with their initiative and especially with their first volume. With joy I take note of the fact that this series in the Netherlands will be published under a title which is almost identical to the one of the series of lectures published by the Association for Reformed Scientific Studies “Christian Perspectives.”

This first volume contains three studies of Dr. Herman Dooyeweerd. The first deals with philosophy itself. In his own typical manner Dr. Dooyeweerd begins by stating that it is rather dangerous to speak of a Calvinistic philosophy, but he explains that Kuyper started using this term in order to explain that the reformational movement could not limit itself to the reformation of church and theology. Calvinism therefore is not just the indication of a certain historical reality. a “calvinistic revival”. but indicates an all-comprehensive world-and lifeview, a philosophy of the same general dimension as Roman Catholicism and Humanism. In Calvinistic philosophy we see man under the spiritual power (dynamis) of the divine Word. which requires unconditional self-surrender of man. Man’s philosophy depends on man’s obedience or disobedience to this requirement. In this connection Dooyeweerd develops the thesis that man’s autonomy is man’s sin; not. as many teach, man’s prerogative. In the same way he explains that the central meaning of the Scriptures in revealing our creation, fall and redemption through Jesus Christ does not depend on any human theological interpretation. The central truth of the Scriptures is not at man’s arbitrary disposal. but disposes of man.

After Dooyeweerd has thus shown the underlying presuppositions of all philosophical thought, he is ready to start his “transcendental criticism of theoretical thought.” This introduction to a Christian critique of existing theoretical philosophical thought is indeed impressive. Such a philosophy must have a deep and lasting influence especially among Christians. This calvinistic philosophy in its prolegomena, its introductory analysis, is as deeply human as Augustine, as deeply obedient to divine authority as Calvin and as deeply rooted in the many-centuries-old traditions of culture and philosophical thought as the thoughts of both Augustine and Calvin. As such it has exercised already a tremendous influence and, with or without modifications of the details. it will continue to do so.

Dealing with the theme of criticism Dooyeweerd makes a very fine distinction between a theological-transcendental and a philosophical-transcendental criticism, which I think is of great importance (pages 15 and 16). It is rather easy to see that Dooyeweerd in speaking about a transcendental criticism has in mind something radically different from the transcendental theory of theoretical knowledge of Immanuel Kant. It is regrettable that Nicholas Wolterstorff wrote about Dooyeweerd’s Kantianism before he was able to read this volume. I believe that if he had read pages 16 and 17 he would not have written as he did. He would have seen that Dooyeweerd concludes that the dogmatic presuppositions of Kant’s epistemology are great obstacles to a truly critical way of thinking and prevented Kant from the acknowledgement of the decisive influence of the faith-commitment of the heart. According to Dooyeweerd Kant failed to see that especially in such theories of theoretical thought one discovers the differences in philosophical point of view. Deeper criticism of Kant’s position is hardly possible.

Those who study this first lecture of Dooyeweerd., which is meant to be an introduction to the Philosophy of the Lawidea, will readily discover that this is no easy reading material. However, anyone who struggles through it and comes to grips with its main ideas will feel that his efforts are richly rewarded. Just as radically submissive to the truth of the Word of God as the beginning was, so also is the end. On the last pages Dooyeweerd invites all philosophers and all kinds of philosophers to a discussion of the basic aspects or the modal structure of reality, the unity of the human experience as reflected by the heart and the Origin of all being. He sums up his own position by stating:

“Meaning is the existence of a1l created being and stems from a religious root and from a Divine Origin.” (p. 66)

In the second part of this volume Dooyeweerd deals with Some basic problems of a philosophical sociology. It contains the material of ten lectures which he gave for the students at the Technical Academy in Delft in the years 1946 and 1947. We are happy that this study has been reprinted, since it was not available for several years. It is still very interesting, though Dooyeweerd changed his opinion on some details as appears from the pages of A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. In this second part Dooyeweerd deals with many important social problems and many different sociologies. It is, of course, understandable that each Sociology gets a touch of Dooyeweerd’s Christian critique and usually his method deals immanently with the systems he analyzes. From his own point of view he has to answer the difficult question whether sociology is a philosophy or an aspect science. As I have written before, I do not quite agree with his views on this matter, but to explain this would go beyond the scope of a review and become too theoretical.

For this reason we will now comment on the third part which deals with Dooyeweerd’s study on Individu, gemeenschap en elgendom. Dooyeweerd tries to find an answer to the problem: How much right do I as an individual have to what I call my possession or property? On page 211 he asks: Why did the idea that civil property is the exclusive and absolute right of the individual necessarily clash with a Christian view of society? Dooyeweerd answers: It did just this because of the fact that the individual denies the root-communion of the whole human race, as one finds this incorporated in the doctrine of original sin and in a pregnant way also in that of the “body of Christ.”

The acknowledgement of the sphere-sovereignty of the state is to be maintained, but this does not mean simply: Let the state keep out of economy or business! Whoever makes such one-sided claims will never come to see the truth. It is very instructive to read that according to Dooyeweerd the state must always remain a jural or constitutional state in order to function in accordance with its inherent structure. This is the only biblical safeguard against the danger that the State will become a despot over all spheres of life or a welfare-state taking away all responsibility from the individual citizens.

From this it will be clear how important this first volume of “Christeliik Perspectief is in many ways. It also calls for many more-detailed. simplified applications in order that many more people may receive the benefit of the teaching of this great philosopher.

Dr. Remkes Kooistra, pastor of the First Christian Reformed Church, Toronto, Ontario, reviews in depth the three studies by Dr. Herman Dooyeweerd which appeared in CHRISTELIJK PERSPECTIEF (vol. 1, edited by Dr. J. Stellingwerff). This publication come from the press of Buijten en Schipperheijn, Amsterdam, 1962.