An accidental blog

"If God is sovereign, then his lordship must extend over all of life, and it cannot be restricted to the walls of the church or within the Christian orbit." Abraham Kuyper Common Grace 1.1.

Saturday, 25 January 2020

Interview with Andrew Basden

It has been two years since I last interviewed you - what has been happening in the intervening months? 

Several things.  My main academic occupation has been getting several PhD students finished, and writing my new book, which has recently been published, Foundations and Practice of Research: Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy.  Most of my students were using Dooyeweerd and I have used their work as examples in the book (Chapter 11).  I have also been writing papers on Dooyeweerd's understanding of meaning, on integrative views of systems thinking, artificial intelligence and research fields, and helping with papers on environmental sustainability, all using Dooyeweerd.

The application papers expand themes that were only cursorily presented in that book and in my previous one (Foundations of Information Systems: Research and Practice).  I have just heard that I will be retired in May and there's another twenty themes to expand likewise!  So, would anyone else like to take on this exploration and expansion, such as in-depth comparison of Dooyeweerd's aspects with various other suites (e.g. Maslow's needs), or using Dooyeweerd's aspects to evaluate the quality of computer games;  see for a hundred ideas and my new book for more!  I would be delighted if so.

In the rest of my life, I have been walking the hills, especially with the Manchester Pedestrian Club - a 'gentlemen's walking club' founded in 1903, in which "gentlemen" can now be either men or women!, and developing their website (  From time to time I have found myself mentoring people in the Christian life. One important thing on my heart is to develop a compelling theology of environmental responsibility - see the article published in the Evangelical Alliance blog:

I've been working with the UK Christian Academic Network, meeting various Reformational philosophers, and fulfilling the role of husband and grandfather.  And helping to re-open railway services:  the Halton Curve!

Andrew with some of his students

You have been an academic at The University of Salford for almost thirty years - what have been the highlights of your academic career so far?

Actually, 33 years, now!  Somewhat sadly, retiring in May 2020.  The highlights are diverse.

A major one is that I have been able to make sense of the dozen years I spent outside academic life before joining the university, in the medical profession, chemical industry and surveying profession.  First, I developed some ideas in the fields of human computer interaction, knowledge acquisition, expert systems, geographic information systems and business informatics, without knowing about Dooyeweerd.  It was when I discovered Dooyeweerd's philosophy in the mid-1990s that I was able to make fuller and deeper sense of them.  This is partly because, as I say in my book, Dooyeweerd is probably the best philosopher of everyday life yet to emerge.

The second highlight is, therefore, the discovery and exploration of Dooyeweerd.  It is such a rich philosophy, not as something apart from or superior to others, but as one that can affirm insights from others, offer fundamental critique which exposes without undermining, and then offer healing and enrichment to other thought.  (This is explained in a paper in Philosophia Reformata (2008, 73(2), 132-53,  "Engaging with and enriching humanist thought: the case of information systems").  Dooyeweerd, I find, is truly attractive to most people.  My most successful course, Key Issues in Information Systems Development, used Dooyeweerd's aspects as a basis for recognising, clarifying and guiding key issues and ensuring none were overlooked.  The students, from all over the world, loved it, and many have returned to their professional lives using Dooyeweerd in their thinking.

A third highlight is that my environmental concern, which was stimulated by commitment to Christ, was enriched by Dooyeweerd's idea of aspects.  If we see true sustainability as humanity, society and the world functioning well in every aspect, from the biotic and physical, through the technical, social and economic, to the moral and faith aspects, then we have a marvellous way to analyse and assess sustainability.  It was my joy to lead Peter Brandon and Patrizia Lombardi into this perspective and see them run with it in the early 2000s.  It has also been developed by several thinkers as a new paradigm in sustainability and environmental responsibility.  See Chapter 11 of my new book.

What have been the discouragements and how have you dealt with them?

A couple, both about the Reformational philosophy community.  I have been discouraged how little the Reformational community engages with mainstream thought as its various thinkers struggle to understand reality in all its diverse aspects.  Paradoxically, Reformational thought seems to be trapped in the Nature-Grace Ground-motive, the sacred-secular divide.

One example of this lack of interest is that, when Sytse Strijbos and Donald de Raadt set up the Centre for Philosophy, Technology and Social Systems, which ran working conferences for 20 years in which Dooyeweerdian philosophy and systems thinking were discussed together, only a few Reformational thinkers took part.  CPTS did, however, attracted interest from major figures from mainstream thought, which was perhaps much more important.

Another example is that I tried to get a Dooyeweerd Research Fund going, which would offer pieces of financial support to those who wished to use Dooyeweerd in their research in various fields, but very few in the Reformational community seemed seriously interested.  There are people all over the world who want to use Dooyeweerd, yet most Reformational thinkers seem not interested in helping them.

Maybe I did not approach things in the best way (Aspergic!).  I dealt with both discouragements by seeing us all as part of God's plan and getting on with what I felt He had called me to do.

Your book on research has been recently published. Could you say something about the nature of the book, who is the intended audience and why should they read it?

Let's take it in reverse.  The book's subtitle is Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy because it seeks to impart to researchers in all fields the excitement of using Dooyeweerd in research.  Its longest chapter (11) is a compendium of all the research using Dooyeweerd that I could find.  To my surprise, I found Dooyeweerd has been employed in most stages of research projects, from literature analysis, paradigm critique, setting conceptual frameworks, to data collection and analysis.  That practical element is largely in Part III of the book, which also contains a detailed, referencable discussions of all of Dooyeweerd's aspects.

As its main title, Foundations and Practice of Research, implies, its intended audience is those who either want good guidance in practice or want to understand research from its roots and maybe rethink it where it has become stuck. This will include researchers, research managers and strategists. A secondary readership is Reformational (and wider Christian) thinkers, whom I would like to inspire as to the wonderful potential of the philosophy they have been discussing.  As such, Parts I and II of the book discuss the nature of research from a Dooyeweerdian perspective alongside other perspectives.  It discusses both the everyday activity and context of research, and its more formal core of theoretical thought.  There is a discussion of truth that tries to cut through the sterile impasse between objectivism, subjectivism and social contructionism.

A summary and clickable index to the book may be found at

One interesting nugget is that Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique of theoretical thought, which is usually considered abstruse and difficult to understand, actually becomes very understandable and useful when applied to scientific research.  It opens up the nature of research in many fields in a way that other approaches do not.

How does this book differ from your previous work?

In three ways - in its coverage and aim, its treatment of day and its treatment of other philosophy.

(a)  Coverage.  The previous book (Foundations of Information Systems: Research and Practice, 2018, Routledge) was about the one field, information systems.  This book (Foundations and Practice of Research: Adventures with Dooyeweerd's Philosophy, Routledge) is relevant to all fields of research, from mathematics, the natural sciences, cognitive sciences, design sciences, social sciences, societal sciences and the humanities.  See Chapters 8 and 11.

(b)  Dooyeweerd.  As with my previous books, this one should be self-sufficient in its presentation of Dooyeweerd, but Dooyeweerd is presented in a different way.  What is one chapter on Dooyeweerd in the previous book is distributed across eight chapters in this book.  It sets Dooyeweerd's thinking in the context of other thinking - Chapters 2-4 on his starting-points of everyday pre-theoretical experience, of diversity and coherence and of meaning, Chapters 6 and 7 on his transcendental critique, Chapter 5 on presuppositions including ground-motives and Dooyeweerd's attempt at a 'Christian' philosophy, Chapter 9, which discusses the aspects in detail, and Chapter 12 on criticisms of Dooyeweerd.

(c)  Philosophy.  Whereas in my previous books, I discussed other philosophies first, to show how Dooyeweerd's fitted in, in this book, I postpone discussion of them to Chapter 5 after discussing his starting-points.  That would be more appropriate for researchers in the various fields, especially those who are not aware how philosophy undergirds their thought.  With this, researchers can understand how presuppositions guide them, not as some mysterious amorphous subterranean force, but as three distinct kinds of belief-activities in society (worldviews, ground-motives and standpoints).

You dedicate the book to Richard Russell as someone who started you on the adventure and Mike Winfield who turned the adventure towards empirical research. Are there others who have helped in your development and understanding of Dooyeweerd? 

Yes, many.  Perhaps some key ones include several connected with the CPTS, including Sytse Strijbos, Jan van der Stoep, Sander Griffioen and the late Arie Dirkzwaager in the Netherlands, Donald de Raadt, Anita Mirijamdotter, Birgitta Bergvall-KÂreborn, Darek Eriksson/Haftor and Roelien Goede in Sweden and South Africa.  Several Dooyeweerdian thinkers, including Roy Clouser, Danie Strauss, Henk Geertsema, Hendrik Hart, Bruce Wearne, Yong Joon Choi and Chris Gousmett.  Several from Thinking Faith Network (WYSOCS) especially Ruth and David Hanson.  And all my PhD students (they are mentioned in my book).

But perhaps most especially the late Heinz Klein, a 'father' of the information systems field, who is perhaps one of the best critical thinkers I have come across.  Though not a Christian, and having expertise in Habermas and the Linguistic Turn, he valued Dooyeweerd's ideas and encouraged me greatly.  Finally, the University of Salford, the then Vice Chancellor of which told me the university wanted me to "explore this Dutch philosophy in the context of information systems" - so I did!

Dooyeweerd has obviously been influential on you. To what extent have you developed his ideas? Would Dooyeweerd recognise how you have utilised his ideas? Are there any parts of Dooyeweerd's philosophy you would take issue with?

Three questions there, but inter-related.  Let me first say that I see Dooyeweerd as a human being who was called to begin working something out, who did not finish that working-out, but did a lot.

That 'something' was a mix of radical ideas: everyday experience, diversity, coherence and meaningfulness taken seriously as starting-points for philosophy rather than being ignored or taken them for granted, the fully-human nature of theoretical thinking and especially its religious presuppositions, a need to deeply reform philosophy, to do so immanently, that dialogue should be possible between supposedly incommensurable ground-motives, especially between Greek, Scholastic, Humanistic and Biblical ones, the problems imposed by the immanence standpoint, the nature of time and self, a new understanding of subject-object, and several other things, with Dooyeweerd's suite of aspects pre-eminent.  This combination of ideas is of immense value but it is not finished.

Now, let me answer your three questions together by way of a metaphor.  I believe that Dooyeweerd found and unlocked a door that enables philosophers and other thinkers to address those things together.  Beyond that door, he cleared paths through the thickets.  I have followed those paths, though occasionally pushing through where his paths were still overgrown, and perhaps occasionally finding a short-cut where Dooyeweerd made a circuit.

One of the thickets I pushed through was his transcendental critique of theoretical thought, reinterpreting it in the light of my experience of research in various fields.  One of the shortcuts might be my understanding of Dooyeweerd's understanding of meaning, which I recently published (Philosophia Reformata, 2019; also Chapter 4 in my new book).  I might also have begun extending Dooyeweerd's path on enkapsis, seeing that there might be other types Dooyeweerd did not discuss.  I have begun to extend Dooyeweerd's path of engaging with other philosophers, by discussing engagement as such (Basden 2008 above) and starting to engage with philosophers that Dooyeweerd did not, such as Habermas, Foucault and even American Pragmatism.

I might also have neatened the paths of Dooyeweerd's aspects, by trying to gain a more systematic understanding of each based on pre-theoretical intuition (which may be found in which is also Chapter 9 of my new book).  I have found one or two of his paths a little narrow, such as his notion of progress, and in need of widening.  I have perhaps paved some parts of his paths to make them easier to travel, especially for those less mobile in philosophy.

One of Dooyeweerd's paths, which I have seldom found helpful, is the one that takes us to structures of individuality (Clouser's "type laws") and its qualifying, founding, leading, internal-leading, etc. aspects.  Another is the kind of antithesis there is between "Christian" and "Non-Christian" thought, which many misunderstand, and which, though important to emphasise at that time, is less so now.  A path I have yet to explore is his idea of supratemporality and the human heart.  Though I agree with both ideas theoretically, I have yet to find them useful.  I wonder whether Dooyeweerd was somewhat trapped in the Greek-Scholastic-Humanist wish to find humans 'superior' to the rest of creation, in a way I do not find Biblical (though perhaps less so than most).

With some surprise, however, I have found that most of Dooyeweerd's paths led me where I wanted to go, and needed little improvement.

In chapter 4 you develop Dooyeweerd's idea of meaning - could you briefly why this has been so important to your work?

There are practical, research, philosophical and theological reasons, which intertwine.

Practically and philosophically, life is full of meaningfulness.  Meaningfulness is deeper than meanings that humans attribute (to things), interpret (sense-making in situations) or convey (by words), and even than the meaning of life.  It refers to all things being meaningful whether or not linked with humans.  This gives me joy in life, and a direction in research to recognise its diversity and expect its coherence.  Meaningfulness provides the only sound philosophical basis that I know of for environmental and climate responsibility that looks beyond human needs or valuation - as e.g. Gunton et al. (2017) argue in proposing "ecosystem valuing".

An emphasis on meaningfulness helps me in analysis: an emphasis on "Why?" rather than an emphasis on "What?"  Dooyeweerd's aspects are spheres (or "modalities") of meaningfulness, not just law.  Looking for meaningfulness via aspects opens up fresh ideas; often a paradigm shift occurs when some courageous thinker recognises an aspect of the meaningfulness of reality that previous thinkers had ignored or taken for granted.

Philosophically, it is this meaningfulness that enables all those above types of meanings listed earlier to occur, but philosophers have not realised this until recently.  Dooyeweerd was ahead of them.  Most of Dooyeweerd's 3000 mentions of "meaning", "meaningful", etc. in his New Critique were about meaningfulness, not the other kinds of meanings I listed above, and he explored the nature and implications of meaningfulness.  So, another reason why I found meaning(fulness) important is because Dooyeweerd did.

After centuries of ignoring meaning, philosophers began to recognise the importance of meaning but, given their "immanence standpoint", they have taken signification (language etc.) as their starting-point and groped their way to the position that "all is text" (Derrida) or "all is sign" (Peirce) - all is meaningfulness.  They have arrived, after circuitous journeys, where Dooyeweerd begins.  So have many in the fields I work in; for example there is a growing movement in the information systems field to recognise the meaningfulness of information technology that is there regardless of whether users recognise it or not.  Meaningfulness is something that can bring objective and subjective and intersubjective together.

Only very few philosophers understand this meaningfulness, one being Michael Polanyi, who wrote that we "dwell" in meaning.  I find it useful to think of the whole of reality 'swimming' in an 'ocean of meaningfulness' - something inescapable, something that enables and sustains all creation to be and occur, and something in which we are 'at home'.  Theologically, I, as did Dooyeweerd, see meaningfulness as deriving from an Origin of Meaning, i.e. the Creator, God.  (When Scripture mentions the Word of God, that which upholds all [Hebrews 1:3], think of meaningfulness!)

I find that a philosophy in which meaningfulness is explicitly recognised offers much more beauty, wonder and thrill, as well as usefulness, than do conventional philosophies, whether realist or anti-realist, and yet it remains superbly rational.

Sadly, Dooyeweerd never clarified what he meant, which led to misunderstandings (e.g. those who think he derived his ideas from Linguistic Turn philosophy and Phenomenology) and missed opportunities to engage with others and contribute value to mainstream thought.  In the absence of any other Reformational thinker doing so, I decided I had to try to write an account of how Dooyeweerd used the notion of meaningfulness.  It is set out in Chapter 4 of my book, and more fully in two 2019 articles in Philosophia Reformata.

You speak of an 'adventure' — can you explain how Dooyeweerd transformed your thinking, your career and your life?

Dooyeweerd, especially his aspects, became a 'way of thinking' that affects all I am and do.  Others have found similarly, even those with little interest in Reformational philosophy.

It makes me open-minded and open-hearted because I can recognise that the 'other person' is finding a different aspect important, to the ones I do; and so I can and must respect their views.  Conversely, it gives me confidence to respect my own ideas, seeing where they fit alongside those of others, so difference in viewpoint is no longer a conflict (win/lose) but a collaboration in bring good (of a variety of kinds) into the world.  It suggests where they and I can make valuable contributions in our fields.

Dooyeweerd has encouraged my (academic) thinking to be much more interdisciplinary and open to new ideas.  I can see where the wide range of ideas extant in a field fit.  Paradigms may be understood as linked to ways in which reality is meaningful (Section §8-2 in my book).  I have been able to explore rather than shut down new ideas, but critically, because Dooyeweerd gives the basis for genuinely critical affirmation and enrichment.

Dooyeweerd has been central to my career; as I mentioned, the University expressly wanted me to explore his ideas.  So my career over the past twenty years has been geared to Dooyeweerd.  Dooyeweerd gave me a 'mission' in my academic life - or perhaps I should say, Dooyeweerd clarified the mission that Christ gives me.  A mission to bring Good and Joy into the world, including the academic world, to engage rather than cut myself off defensively.  Since 2007 I have made Dooyeweerd and his aspects the core of all I have taught, not because I want to promote his ideas but because they are the ones that I find work better than any others.  I do not teach (or research) Dooyeweerd's philosophy so much as application of Dooyeweerd's philosophy.  It is interesting that some people have come to accept Christ as Saviour and Lord because I taught the application of Dooyeweerd.

You seem to regard yourself more as an applier than a person who expands the bounds of philosophy. Can you explain how the book provides practical guidance as to the benefits of Reformational philosophy for research and lifestyle?

Part III of the book is the 'practical' part, with three chapters.  Chapter 9 is a systematic presentation of Dooyeweerd's fifteen aspects, designed to be referenced but also to help readers grow an intuitive grasp of the kernel meanings of each, with which they can approach life and work as I found it such a joy to do.  (This part is also a Dooyeweerd Page, "".)  It also offers a justification for using Dooyeweerd's aspects in preference to any other suite, such as Maslow's hierarchy of needs.

Chapter 10 discusses the aspects of the fully human activity that is doing research, especially the less-obvious ones.  This is to help researchers examine, and be critically aware of, their own research activity.  It also explains my LACE approach to engaging with other thought:  Listen, Affirm, Critique, Enrich.

Chapter 11 is the longest chapter.  It collects together actual examples of use of Dooyeweerd in research, giving exemplars that others could adopt and adapt.  I was surprised to find that Dooyeweerd's philosophy has been used in almost every stage of research.  I don't know that other philosophers have been (Kant, Husserl, Heidegger, etc.).

The rest of the book sets the context for these.  If "There is nothing so practical as a good theory" then Dooyeweerd provides that "good theory" and chapters 2 to 8 offer an understanding of that.  This helps researchers and all engaged in real life to understand why Dooyeweerd is so useful (as demonstrated in chapters 9-11).  In Chapter 12 I review criticisms of Dooyeweerd so that people may use his ideas with their eyes open.

The book highlights fifty of the many opportunities that call for Dooyeweerd to be used in research; see the Index entry "Research opportunities" (

Your listen, affirm, critique and enrich strategy - at least the listen and affirm parts - could be seen as relying on common grace. Would you agree? What role do you see, if any, for common grace?

Yes and no.  You might be right, but I don't like the idea of common grace as such, because I believe that God's love and grace that pervades Creation is the same as that which procures salvation.  To me, there is no difference, though I am still working it out.

"Listen" comes from the command to love our neighbour as ourselves.  "Affirm" comes from the idea that humanity is made to image God, so whatever humans do is some fulfilment of the Creational mandate, even though distorted by sin and evil.  "Critique" recognises this evil, especially acting through widespread presuppositions, but also recognises, within what Dooyeweerd called the "opening process", which is part of humanity's Creational mandate to open up the potential of Creation.  So no ideas are yet completed.  "Enrich" comes from our mandate, as people of God, to be "salt and light", to "do good to all ..." (Galatians 6:10).

What things do you have on your bucket list?

A lot of repairs, redecorations and tidyings-up that have been put off while writing my books and papers!  My theology website needs tidying up and revamping; it develops a theology in which environmental and climate responsibility is central not peripheral.  So do The Dooyeweerd Pages ( and the site on Climate Change and Global Environment (, which involves Bob Goudzwaard and Sir John Houghton.  When I retire, I expect to devote a considerable amount of my effort to environmental matters, but still hope to engage in Dooyeweerdian ideas.

What book(s) are you reading at the moment?

Hmm.  A random selection, very slowly.  The Bible, of course, referring sometimes to Greek and Hebrew versions.  And Dooyeweerd's New Critique, of course.  Besides that:

(a)  Tom Holland's Dominion - a wonderful outsider's view of the blessing and curse that Christianity has brought into the world;
(b)  Cromwell to Cromwell, a fascinating book I picked up in Oxfam about the English Reformation;
(c)  Excerpts from C.S. Lewis;
(d)  The Noble Liar, a blast against the BBC;
(e)  A children's story thriller Black Snow Falling.

If you were stuck on a desert island and were only allowed two luxury items, what would you take?

I enjoy so many things that I might not need a luxury.  So what would I choose?  Scottish morning rolls freshly baked?  Mashed potato?  My wife Ruth's falafels?  The Pennine Moors?  The Scottish Southern Uplands?  The Torridon hills?  Glen Lyon?  A pair of binoculars and a bird book?  The complete works of J.R.R. Tolkien?  My old (1990s!) Amiga computer (on which I am writing this, and on which I composed all my books, papers and websites) - along with enough spares to keep it going, and a solar panel to power it?  I don't know.