Dooyeweerd and Thomism, some notes

This is from the first 28 pages of New Critique of Theoretical Thought vol 3.

Critique of Thomist metaphysics

Substance: possessing a permanence unaffected by change (Dooyeweerd 4).

  • Our experience of the identity of a thing is always temporal.

Dooyeweerd claims that the traditional view of a thing standing behind a thing contradicts the Christian conception “of human selfhood as a spiritual center,” whose nature is a self-surrender to God (6).

Traditional views of substance see it as a “kernel” under the accidents

To what, primary substance?  It cannot be a pre-theoretically conceived thing, for that is always bound “to the subject object relation” (10).

So what is ousia? Dooyeweerd: “It cannot be a mere relation between form and matter since in Aristotelian metaphysics and logic the concept of substance functions as the independent point of reference” (11).  The category of relation is thinner and accidental.

Nor can it be composite or synthetic, since there must be a unity prior to this.

The Greeks could never latch onto the Creational idea of substance as a structure of individuality (16). [JBA–what is an individuality structure and how is that different from a substance?]

If matter is the principium individuationis, then there can’t be a real idea “of the structure of individuality” (17; since this idea isn’t encased in matter).

Review of Reformation Scholasticism (Dooyeweerd)

Identifying this book is tricky.  I am reviewing Herman Dooyeweerd’s Reformation and Scholasticism volume 1.   Paideia Press, an otherwise outstanding publisher, has released what appears to be several volumes under similar titles.  This volume only covers up to Aristotle (but not Aristotle).  It is Works Series 5/1.

Herman Dooyeweerd identifies four religious ground-motives in Western thought. These aren’t just “worldviews.” They go much deeper than that and control the thought-formations in a pre-conscious way.

1. Form-Matter of Greeks
2. Creation-Fall-Recreation of Scripture
3. Nature-Grace of Western Medievalism
4. Nature-Freedom of Modernity

1, 3, and 4 are dialectical and are torn by an inner dualism (Dooyeweerd 3).

Greek Form-Matter

This ground-motive is torn between earlier nature-religions (pre-Homer) which posited a divine, eternally-flowing stream of life (5-6). It is a psychic fluid which technically isn’t material, yet it is bound to material life and is conceived materially.

The best way to review this book is to highlight a number of “pressure points” within the Greek ground-motive.

Pressure Point #1: What is the soul made of?

The Socratic “Idea” is the life-giving principle, so it is necessarily related to the sensible cosmos; yet it is exalted above the matter principle of flux (137). For Plato Like must be known by Like–so the thinking soul must share in the immobility of the eide, and even to the eidos of “life in itself.” Why is this a problem? This would make the soul the world of ideas.

But if the soul is furthered pursued on these lines, then it is “deprived of the anima rationalis of all vitality, rendering it completely inert” (154). But if the soul contains the principle of motion, is this not a move backwards towards the Elatic school and its ever-flowing physis?

The nous is only the origin of the pure form, not of the chaotic elements in matter, or the chaotic motions. Thus, if the soul is the source of all motion in the cosmos (or in the microcosmos), then its simplicity is under tension.

Plato alleviates this problem with a tripartite division of the soul.

Pressure Point #2: Forever Apart?

Dooyeweerd notes that the ontic realm of the Forms “can never be joined logically to matter…an eidos of hule is inherently contradictory” (192). He points out that if motion and rest can both be applied to Being, then there is nothing to distinguish it from temporal reality. We aren’t quite at Plato’s chorismos (sharp division) between the eternal and sensible worlds, but we are getting there.

Pressure Point #3: Is Weakness Evil?

In the Timeaus Plato notes that faulty conditions of the body give rise to bad decisions (Tim. 86D). In Christian terms, you sin because you are finite and created. Something just seems wrong about this. Given a Platonic anthropology, the rational part of the Soul is good but the rest of the body is subject to Ananke. Thus, man is both rational and irrational (Dooyeweerd 310).


There is no denying the book’s value in its giving a minute and precise analysis of pre-Aristotelian philosophy, yet that might also be its problem. Dooyeweerd’s “Ground-Motive” schema is accurate and with it we agree 100%. And I think Dooyeweerd is successful in identifying the problems in pre-Aristotelian philosophy. Nonetheless, one often loses the forest for the trees. It is easy to get lost in the analysis and it isn’t always clear when Dooyeweerd is bringing you back to the larger picture. Yet, this book is certainly valuable for its deconstruction of Greek thought and its indirect establishing the ground for the Creation-Fall-Redemption Ground motive.

Frame: Kant

Most important chapter in the book.  I will have to break this into several posts.

Noumena and Phenomena

“our most basic knowledge comes…by the mind’s impressing it on the world” (Frame 256). The mind structures the concepts of experience.

Kant’s Assembly Line

The assembly line is the mind.  It receives the raw stuff/noumenal.  The transcendental aesthetic adds the ingredients that make it suitable for sense perception.

The transcendental analytic allows us to understand.  Similar to Aristotle’s categories.

These categories  are like the divider in an ice cube tray.

The transcendental unity of apperception says all of the above is meaningless unless held together by a unified experience.  This is a presupposition of experience, not an item of it.

The transcendental dialectic

God is a regulative concept, not a constitutive one.  He is necessary for morality but not for belief.

Frame argument: liberal theology often moves more conservative in language but not content (264).

Problems with Kant (p. 266ff)

  1. To live “as if” God exists is incoherent.  Part of the “acting as if” includes belief, going to church, worship, etc, the very things Kant doesn’t include.  Epistemology is a part of ethics
  2. The human mind replaces Plato’s Forms.
  3. “Kant seeks to interpret an unknowable, unstructured world (the noumena) by applying a knowable structure of categories supplied by autonomous reason (phenomena)(p. 268).
  4. Kant’s knowledge isn’t even a knowledge of the real world.  It is a knowledge of its own structure, “a knowledge the categories imposes on the real world.”
  5. The medieval nature-grace becomes nature-freedom (Dooyeweerd).

A nonexistent interview I did a while back

This interview never happened.  It is between me and myself.  On a more serious note, I have noticed that my philosophical readings do not fit into any specific category.  That is good, I suppose, since “joining a school” is not the best start.

Question: You have read Van Til, doesn’t that make you a Van Tillian?

Answer:  Not really.  I don’t find all of his apologetics convincing, but I do appreciate his reading of Greek and medieval theology.  I think he has a lot of promise in that area.  More importantly, Van Til, better than anyone else at his time, showed the importance of God as a Covenantal, Personal God.

Q.  But didn’t you used to promote Thomas Reid’s Scottish philosophy?  All the Van Tillians I know reject it.

A. There are two different “Van Tillian” answers to that question, and his reconstructionist disciples only knew one of them.  In Survey of Christian Epistemology (p. 132-134) he notes that if the Scottish school takes man’s cognitive faculties as a proximate starting point and not an ultimate one, then there is no real problem.  Further, we see Thomas Reid and Alvin Plantinga saying exactly that.   Elsewhere, however, Van Til was not as careful in his reading of Reid, and the reconstructionists read him as condemning Common Sense Realism.

Q.  So, is there a contradiction between the two schools?

A.  If the above distinction is made, I am not convinced there is.

Q. You keep mentioning Alvin Plantinga.  Are you a Reformed Epistemology guy?

A. I’ve read quite a bit of Wolterstorff and Kelly James Clark.  I like what they have to say.  I am not an expert on Plantinga so I have to demur at that point.  I do think there is a dovetailing between Thomas Reid and Plantinga, and if that convergence holds there is an exciting opportunity to unite Reformed guys along different epistemological and even geographical lines.

Q. What do you mean?

A. The guys in Westminster (either school) claim Van Til.  There is a debate on how well they understand him, but that’s beside the point. I think I have demonstrated above that there is no real contradiction between the two at least on the starting point.  This means that guys who hold to some variant of Common Sense epistemology and/or Van Tillian presuppositionalism do not have to be at loggerheads.

Q.  There is still one other Dutch giant you haven’t mentioned.

A.  You mean Herman Dooyeweerd, right?

Q. Correct.

A.  If you trace the development of the Reformed Epistemology school, you can find something like Dooyeweerd at the very beginning.  When Wolterstorff and Plantinga edited Faith and Rationality, they were at that time strongly influenced by Dooyeweerd. I am not saying that’s where they are today.   However, I do believe that Dooyeweerd’s contention that all men have a pre-theoretical “faith commitment” from the heart is in line with what Kelly James Clark and Van Til say about pretended neutrality.