rhododendron, starting to flower

Starting to flower

The importance of philosophy

Some might wonder why I’m banging on about philosophy and in particular the philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd. The main reason is not that Dooyeweerd was a Christian in the Dutch Reformed tradition and that he believed in the Lordship of Christ over all areas of his life. There are, thankfully, many people who are believers in that mould. The main reason is that he was a great philosopher whose thinking throws a very large spanner in the works of secular humanism. The anti-Christian thinking of today stems originally from philosophy and percolated eventually via the media into ordinary life. Dooyeweerd understood this better than most, but he also brilliantly put another – Christian – philosophy in place of atheistic and secularist philosophies. That is why he is important. He was decades ahead of his time.


Opinions on the importance of Dooyeweerd

Dooyeweerd wrote originally in Dutch. With his work becoming more available in English translations, his reputation is growing internationally. Here is what some scholars have said about his work:

G.E. Langemeijer
In 1964, on the occasion of Dooyeweerd’s 70th birthday, , G.E. Langemeijer, who was Chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences and Professor at the University of Leiden said Dooyeweerd was ‘… the most original philosopher Holland ever produced, even Spinoza not excepted.’

Giorgio Delvecchio
Giorgio Delvecchio, a leading Neo-Kantian Italian philosopher, has said that he is ‘The most profound, innovative and penetrating philosopher since Kant.’

Harry van der Laan
Professor van der Laan says: ‘Most impressive about Dooyeweerd are his universal interest, his multidisciplinary competence and his respect for empirical data. I know no philosopher who laboured so hard to understand the essence of all disciplines in the whole spectrum of scholarly endeavours nor one who contributed so fundamentally to their foundations, from theology, history, law and the social sciences to biology, physics and mathematics.’ (Harry van der Laan, University Leiden, Astronomer)

Dr. P. B. Cliteur
Dr. Cliteur was president of the Humanist League of The Netherlands at the time he wrote the following, and professor of philosophy at the Technical University of Delft: “Herman Dooyeweerd is undoubtedly the most formidable Dutch philosopher of the 20th century. . . . As a humanist I have always looked at my own tradition in search for similar examples. They simply don’t exist. Of course, humanists too wrote important books, but in the case of Herman Dooyeweerd we are justified in speaking of a philosopher of international repute.” (Oct. 8, 1994)


Skimming the surface

So far I’ve only skimmed the surface of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy (as far as I understand it). Before I venture to explore his philosophy further in future blogs, it’s important for me to explain what Francis Schaeffer (who I mentioned in the last blog) is saying. Dooyeweerd and Schaeffer complement each other, one the great Christian philosopher, the other the articulate and lucid cultural historian who explains where things have gone wrong with Western culture. So let me go back to Schaeffer and a key chapter in his book How Should we Live?


Chapter 8 is headed ‘The Breakdown in Philosophy and Science’ and he starts off by referring to Plato: ‘Plato understood that regardless of what kind of particulars one talks about, if there are no absolutes – no universal – then particulars have no meaning.’ Jean-Paul Sartre, the French existential philosopher, ‘emphasized this problem in our own generation … a finite point is absurd if it has no infinite reference point.’ So without absolutes you end up with no ‘final or ultimate standard’. As regards morals, it’s everyone for himself and the deil take the hindmaist. There are merely ‘conflicting opinions.’ There is no meaning to existence. We make our own meaning. And worse still, without absolutes what we can know about the world is called into question: Says Schaeffer, ‘How can we be sure that what we think we know of the world outside ourselves really corresponds to what is there?’


The cosmos as a closed system

Scientists in the 17th century still believed in God, and ‘the Scientific Revolution rested on a Christian base.’ Says Schaefffer: ‘The shift from modern science to what I call modern modern science was a shift from the concept of the uniformity of natural causes in an open system to the concept of the uniformity of causes in a closed system. In the latter view nothing is outside a total cosmic machine; everything which exists is a part of it.’ God was no longer needed and neither was man as man; what Dooyeweerd was later to call man in his transcendent selfhood. There was just man as ‘some form of determined or behaviouristic machine.’
(to be continued in blog 39)