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.

Thursday, 1 March 2018

Interview with Danie Strauss

D. F. M. (Danie) Strauss is one of the world's foremost Dooyeweerd scholars. He is the editor of Dooyeweerd's Collected Works and was the first director of the Dooyeweerd Centre in Canada. His Introduction to Dooyeweerd's Philosophy - does exactly that!

His seminal work is Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines published by Paideia Press (2009).

The majority of his academic papers are available on and on his own website
This is the interview I conducted with him.

Danie, could we begin by you telling us something about yourself?

Brief family history
Tharina and I got married on December 6, 1969 at Ventersburg in the Free State. During our first extended stay in the Netherlands Louise was born (Jan 6, 1971). Hélène arrived on October 24, 1974 (the year after our second year-long stay in the Netherlands – completing and publishing my PhD on the distinction between Concept and Idea). Herman joined the family on November 10, 1982. Tharina, Hélène, and Herman obtained Canadian citizenship and I am a Permanent Resident of Canada. Louise got married on May 28, 1994, just before the rest of us moved for some time to Canada where I established the Dooyeweerd Translation Project.

Tharina taught Didactics and Philosophy of Education in the Faculty of Education for a number of years and after our return from Canada she taught academic literacy (academic reading and writing skills) for 15 years. Before that, she taught English and German at “Oranje Meisieskool” in Bloemfontein. She has published a novel in 2010: “Inkayamba, monster snake in the sky, African Legend” (also available on Kindle) and recently has completed another novel to be published soon.

When we left for Canada in 1994 my advice to Louise and her husband Steph was to become entrepreneurs. They initiated a number of businesses until Mercedes Benz offered Steph a position in their Executive. After having had three Spar Supermarkets Steph has now entered into a new business supplying 45,000 kg chicken per week (contracts with large Supermarkets: Pick n Pay and Checkers).
Eventually, after she received the award for the best M.A. Thesis in the Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Free State (in 2000), Hélène returned to Canada where she first completed the theoretical part and then her PhD dissertation in 2005. (She received the Governor General's Golden Award for the best PhD at the University of Western Ontario and at the same time was appointed in the Department of English at McMaster University in Hamilton.) On a visit to South Africa prof Jonathan Jansen (then Rector at the UFS) invited her for an interview after which she was appointed as full professor at the UFS – and soon thereafter as head of the Department of English.
Herman plays the cello (was elected for the National Youth Orchestra and also won a competition as the best fiddler), has a master's degree in Computer Science (he works as a freelance Web-Developer) and he is one of the singers of Arco Musica)

Brief academic history
I was appointed as senior lecturer in Philosophy at the then UOFS in 1971. Then I was promoted to associate professor in January1976 and in October 1977 I became professor and head of the Department of Philosophy at the UOFS. In 1994 I went to Canada as the first Director of the Dooyeweerd Centre, where I initiated the publication of the collected works of Herman Dooyeweerd in English. I returned to South Africa in 1997 and from 1 April 1998 to 31 December 2001 I was Dean of the new Faculty of Humanities at the University of the Free State. Apart from 15 independent publications, 42 international conference papers and 20 contributions to collected works, I have published 295 articles in national and international journals. In 2005 my work on the philosophical foundations of the modern natural sciences was published by Peter Lang Publishers – Paradigmen in Mathematik, Physik und Biologie und ihre philosophischeWurzeln (216 pp.) (Frankfurt am Main). In 2006 Peter Lang published my work Reintegrating Social Theory – Reflecting upon human society and the discipline of sociology (310 pp.) (Oxford / New York). In 2009 my work, Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines was published by Paideia Press, Grand Rapids, USA (715 pp.). In 2011 this book received the award for outstanding work in the fields of systematic philosophy or the history of philosophy advancing the cause of the “Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea”. Since 2013 I am is a Research Fellow at the School of Philosophy, North West University, Potchefstroom campus. See and the Introduction to Dooyeweerd's Philosophy.

Who or what were your earliest influences?
During my schooldays I was always fascinated by technical inventions and playing with numbers and patterns. I was also intrigued by the experience I had with my father for he appeared to know a good answer to almost any question I could ask him. What I did not realize was that he went to Germany (in 1937) to study economics at Heidelberg but soon found out that there was a Nazi finger in the pie of his scholarship – which he then immediately gave up, relocated to the Netherlands (using money he inherited after his mother and father passed away respectively in 1927 en 1933) to continue his studies in economics with P.A. Diepenhorst (interestingly, Diepenhorst completed his PdD in 1904 on Calvin and the Economy). This enabled him to take the Encyclopaedia of the Science of Law (with Dooyeweerd) as one minor subject alongside economics as major. This enabled him (during the thirties of the previous century) to embark first upon studying Dooyeweerd’s three Volume work, De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (WdW) – later translated and expanded as A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (NC).

During my second last school year, I asked my father two questions, one on the slogan of the French revolution and another one on Achilles and the tortoise. He responded by explaining that Zeno attempted to reduce motion that static spatial positions and then added a remark about the theory of the various aspects of reality. He continued by saying something about the slogan freedom, equality and fraternity. He explained that the slogan was informed by Locke's classical liberal idea of the state (freedom), Rousseau's radical revolutionary democracy, surrendering freedom to the Hobbesian Leviathan, the “general will” (equality) and early socialistic ideas (fraternity).

My next question was why we do not find these background perspectives in the textbooks prescribed to us? My father responded by saying: “because they are not trained in philosophy” (he was professor of political philosophy). The next question is the one I should not have asked: What is philosophy?!
He gave me the fourth edition of Spier's “Inleiding tot de Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee” (1950) and I immediately started to delve into the WdW and NC – and this brought me, among others, in contact with WdW-II pages 75-76 and NC-II pages 103-106. I was inspired to understand this philosophy and spent most of my leisure time to accomplish this goal. I came across so many unique and illuminating insights that I soon realized that it might be useful for me to note the pages on which I found these significant insights, for otherwise, I could be wasting time trying to get back to sections where Dooyeweerd explained important distinctions. Later on, finding myself involved in discussions of Dooyeweerd's philosophy it was helpful to know where key insights are found.

Why do you think Dooyeweerd’s philosophy is so little known?
There may be a number of reasons. First of all one may mention the resistance of those scholastic theologians who still adhered to the (Aristotelian) view that theology is the queen of the sciences without realizing that like every other special science also theology is dependent upon philosophical presuppositions. Secondly, while the Protestant churches struggled with doctrinal issues (such as predestination) Descartes converted to the intellectual world of Western Europe to modern Humanism. Although Roman Catholicism continued to be a formidable spiritual and intellectual power even after the Reformation, modern Humanism, driven by the ideal of rational scientific control and that of an autonomously free person, actually dominated the philosophical world during the past five centuries. Introducing a radical Christian philosophy within such an intellectual atmosphere is therefore not an easy undertaking. Thirdly, Dooyeweerd should rather have published more in German and English for then a wider world would have had the opportunity to take note of his original and radically new philosophy. Just compare the status within the English-speaking world of the Austrian contemporary legal scholar, Hans Kelsen. Fourthly, Dooyeweerd should have published his entire Encyclopedia of the Science of Law already in the 1940s. Not only would this have given him a chance to present his new philosophy by using his own Introduction to it, for it would have shown the academic world at once how effective his new philosophical insights and distinctions are for the various academic disciplines (special sciences) – in particular, his own field of specialization, the science of law. It should have been translated into English before or concurrent with his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. Fifthly, instead of publishing at least six versions of the transcendental critique during the latter part of his intellectually productive life, he should have focused on completing and publishing his Encyclopedia and the third Volume of Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy. Lastly, practically all the Introductions to Dooyeweerd's philosophy commenced with a fairly distanced explanation of the main contours of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, focused on the theory of modal aspects and individuality-structures. Such an alternative should imitate the path pursued by Dooyeweerd in his own intellectual development, namely first to test the fruitfulness of his new insights and distinctions within his own field of specialization (the science of law) and then to broaden the perspective towards the general philosophical implications of his new insights and systematic distinctions. Approaching his philosophy from this angle will enable one to highlight from the outset why this philosophy is so fruitful for relating an understanding of reality to an analysis of what takes place within the various academic disciplines, including the natural sciences. Such an Intro would have made this philosophy more accessible to a wider range of students, not merely philosophy students.

What are the strengths and weaknesses of his approach?
Dooyeweerd's philosophy has two major strengths:
1)         The systematic import of its philosophical distinctions; and
2)         The intellectual power of applying (his discovery) of the inter-modal ontic principle of the excluded antinomy, lying at the foundation of the intra-modal logical principle of non-contradiction.
Its weakness is given in developing a distinct systematic terminology, but once it is mastered it turns out to be one of the strong points.

You are General editor of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd:
what does that entail?
First of all it entails endless patience, dedication and perseverance, such as being willing to translate one page a day for more than 10 years. Translating Dooyeweerd's Dutch texts into English is also not the easiest task. Fortunately, on a part time basis (and everyone involved in this project since 1986 contributed on a part time basis) it was possible to utilize the expertise of competent copy editors. None of them lasted for more than two years, except for Harry Van Dyke who supported me in an unequalled way during the last seven years.

I have taken responsibility for the format and lay-out also after we have switched from Mellen Press to Paideia Press as publisher of the project – including generating Subject Indexes and Name Indexes (Harry VanDyke more recently helped with three Volumes – Reformation and Scholasticism, Volume II, The Crisis in Humanist Political Theory and Time Law and History).

In some cases, additional time was needed owing to well-meant but non-productive initiatives. Allow me to mention two examples, Reformation and Scholasticism (RS), Volume I and The Roots of Western Culture.

RS-I was translated by Ray Togtmann but somehow Bob Knudsen mediated sending this text to me when I received most of the manuscripts in process from Magnus Verbrugge. When I checked with Ray it turned out that Knudsen has change Ray's translation substantially in a way that was not approved by Ray and unacceptable to him – so I had to start all over again. The extensive Greek quotes were finally taken care of by Al Wolters, who did an excellent job in this regard. As General Editor I had to add all the text connections (and corrections to the Greek quotations) to the master copy (by using Corel Ventura as Desk Top Publishing program). More than 5 000 hours of my time went into this single Volume.

A similar delay was caused when Herman Dooyeweerd Junior, a substantial and much-appreciated donor to the project, offered to help with the copy editing of Roots of Western Culture. The original translation was not quite accurate and left out some connecting paragraphs between subsequent articles originally published in Nieuw Nederland. He worked on the best part of the first 100 pages of Roots, sent it to me by mail and then, after I have inserted (and sometimes corrected) his editing suggestions, I sent the whole package back to him. I was waiting for his continued copy editing but a number of months later at a meeting of the Advisory Council of the Dooyeweerd Centre he reported that he did not receive the manuscript of Roots back from me. Back home in South Africa I checked my files and retrieved the Post Office slip providing the date on which I did send it to him. Once more, a few months later, Herman reported that he mislaid the manuscript but did find it again. A couple of months later he informed me that other obligations made it impossible for him to continue with the last two-thirds of Roots. After having thus lost more than a year on this manuscript I completed it in a month and with the help of Michelle Botting, at the time helping at the Dooyeweerd Centre, published this Volume straightaway.

The entire project obtained a new face when Kerry Hollingworth from Paideia Press established a connection with Lightning Source as Printer, located in Tennessee, near Nashville. Volumes printed through this link are much more affordable (on average around about US$10.00). Once the entire set of (plus-minus 25 Volumes of the) Collected Works would be in print (currently 16 are in print) a full set could be purchased for about US$200.00-US$250.00.

A soon to be published volume is Dooyeweerd’s 1926 inaugural lecture, could you tell us something about that and why it is so important?

The level of erudition displayed in this Inaugural Address is exceptional and deserves wider recognition and appreciation. I published an article on this issue: The place and historical significance of Dooyeweerd’s Inaugural Address of 1926. Journal for Christian Scholarship, 2012: 48(1):205-221).

Your website has over 130 articles and you have had over 300 articles and books published. How do you manage to be so prolific? What is the ‘secret’?

Exploring multiple academic fields while focusing mainly on the philosophical foundations of the various academic disciplines, became a way of life to me. Perhaps I should add that by and large I have played squash every day for the past 45 years (except for Sundays).

What advice would you have for budding Christians scholars?

I would advise them to approach academic issues with a threefold agenda:
1)         First of all, investigate the history of the problem.
2)         Then contemplate the systematic import of the issue and consider which systematic philosophical distinctions may helpful in elucidating the history and significance of the issue.
3)         Finally, assess the special scientific implications of the issue.
In all of this, it will be helpful to gain a solid grip on perennial philosophical problems, such as: the one and the many; unity and multiplicity; the whole-parts relation; universality and what is individual, constancy and change and so on. In addition, a proper understanding of ism-ic orientations is also needed (what is at stake in atomism, individualism, holism, universalism, rationalism, irrationalism, realism, nominalism and so on.

What do you do for fun? 
I enjoy actuality programs (such as CNN and the History channel) and I watch some sports programmes. I have mentioned that I like it to play squash

If you were on a desert island what two luxuries would you take with you?

First of all the luxury of my computer – with 568 downloaded PDFs including works from (or about) the history of philosophy and the various academic disciplines (natural sciences and humanities). And secondly, my reading glasses enabling me to read them!