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, 16 July 2011

J Oliver Buswell on Dooyeweer's Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought 1949.

Here, taken from The Continuing Story - a blog of the director of the PCA Historical Center, is an early review of one of the first translation in to English of Dooyeweerd's work. Buswell's review was originally published in The Bible Today 42 (7) (1949).

Transcendental Problems of Philosophic Thought : An Inquiry into the Transcendental Conditions of Philosophy, by Dr. H. Dooyeweerd, Professor of Philosophy, The Free University of Amsterdam. Eerdmans, 1948, 80 pages, $1.50.

The philosophy of Professor Dooyeweerd is called, “Philosophy of the Idea of Law.” The author explains that the words “idea of Law” are not an adequate translation of the Dutch word Wetsidee. The phrase is used, however, for lack of a better English term. The author has been noted for his writings in the field of jurisprudence. The list of his chief works, (page 79f), includes such titles as “The Cabinet in Dutch Constitutional Law” 1917, “The Struggle for Christian Politics” 1924, “The Structure of Juridical Principles and the Method of Jurisprudence” 1930, etc. This sounds interesting. I read the book very carefully, looking for the notion of the “idea of law,” hoping to find something corresponding to the thought which the words naturally convey to the reader. I thought I was to be entirely disappointed until I came to the next to the last page of the text. There I learned that “every concept of the different aspects” is founded upon three types of ideas, those which have to do with (1) “mutual relations,” (2) “radical unity,” and (3) “Origin.” Then the author gives this explanatory statement . . . these three ideas are bound together as a coherent complex and this complex we call “the idea of law” of a philosophical system. (Page 76)

Well, if that is what Professor Dooyeweerd calls “the idea of law,” then that is what he calls it.

The author has much to say against “the autonomy of human reason.” He regards those who believe in such autonomy as not among his “congenial spirits” (page viii). He says that “… the autonomy of scientific thought is self-refuted.” (Page 49) Nowhere does the reader find a clear definition of the word “autonomy” as Professor Dooyeweerd uses it. If “the autonomy of human thought” means that human thought is independent of God, human minds not created by God, and human thinking capable of proving God in error, then of course the autonomy of human thought must be rejected by all who believe in God.

However, such a definition of the term “autonomy” would be unjustifiable. The Kantian use of the notion of autonomy certainly does not exclude external standards of truth and right, or the grace of God. See, for example, Book IV, Apotome II, Section IV, of Kant’s Religion Within the Boundary of Pure Reason. The title of the section referred to is “That conscience is at all times her own guide,” and the title of the Scholion which follows it is “Of means of Grace.”

If Professor Dooyeweerd has in mind some group of writers or teachers who have used the words “autonomy of reason” in the sense which I have described above, or in some sense inconsistent with the Calvinistic doctrine of the Sovereignty of God our Creator, then he should certainly give references for the guidance of his readers. The ordinary student who looks things up in encyclopedias, dictionaries, and works of writers with whom he is familiar, finds the phrase “autonomy of reason” to mean simply that God has created human reason with real but limited powers, just as He has given dogs and cats the power to walk alone.

The notion that human reason is not autonomous, in the sense that God has created it so, is, in this little book from Amsterdam, quite suggestive of a basically pantheistic attitude. In fact the denial of the autonomy of reason seems to imply that God has not created anything which is not actually a part, or an aspect, or an emanation of His own substance. The impression of pantheism is increased by such statements as the following

What is structure? It is an architectonic plan according to which a diversity of “moments” is united in totality. . . . Thi6 structure has a modal character, because the different aspects are not reality itself, but are only modalities of being. There does not exist a purely “physical” or “biotical” or “psychical” or “historical” or “economic” or “juridical” reality. There exist only physical, biotical, psychical, historical, etc. aspects of reality. (Page 41)

But if there does not exist a purely physical reality as such, how can the doctrine of creation be anything but a myth?

This little book contains a vast amount of generalization, as of course might be expected in a brief condensation of a “new philosophy which has been developing during the last twenty years.” (Page 15) A considerable number of the historical generalizations seem to me unjustifiable. Many are clearly erroneous, and some are fanciful. Some of the flourishes
seem very frothy. For example, in the last chapter which is entitled, “The Religious Motives of Western Thought and the Idea of Law,” we read

The fourth fundamental motive is that of “Nature and Liberty,” introduced by modern Humanism . . . The dialectical character of this humanist motive is clear. “Liberty” and “nature” are opposite motives, which in their religious roots cannot be reconciled. (Page 73)

Very exciting, but I cannot quite figure out whether this was written for the drums or for the flutes. Certainly it was never intended to be intelligible to an ordinary sensible born-again child of God who believes that the doctrine of creation is really true. My Bible does not harmonize with the notion that liberty and nature are irreconcilable. It teaches quite the opposite.

I say, Professor Dooyeweerd, if you can hear my voice from across the Atlantic, some of us Calvinists over here really mean business when we say that God created the world, and that He created man in His own image. We do not object to orchestration in its proper place, but when we make statements, our subjects and predicates are distinguishable. God is One, and the world which He has created is other than He. The tiny creatures which He has made to inhabit the world are endowed by Him with certain autonomous functions, sustained always by His power, and enabled by His common grace, or by His special grace, as
the case may be.

Even the brutes He has endowed with a certain kind of intelligence suitable for their natural state. Man, created in His image, is endowed with reason, through which in part God has chosen to work, in His sovereign grace, to accomplish the salvation of a people for the glory of His name.

With the background of Hodge and Warfield on this side of the Atlantic, we have learned much from Abraham Kuyper and Bavinck, the great Calvinists of your noble tradition. We prefer their straight-forward appeal to objective facts in the created world, and we regret that some of you younger scholars who have inherited great things from them, have failed
to build upon the four-square foundations of their rugged, consecrated scholarship.

J. Oliver Buswell


Baus said...

Buswell wrote: "But if there does not exist a purely physical reality as such, how can the doctrine of creation be anything but a myth?

Oh, dear. This is the caliber of critic HD faced in NorthAmerica, so you can see the obstacle at work.

To put it briefly, Buswell (like so many others in the leadership of so-called "Reformed" -really, fundamentalist- churches at the time) wasn't so bright.

Bruce C Wearne said...

Thanks for this.
Having just this day re-read Dooyeweerd's little 80 page (+ ix) "classic" I do indeed find this interesting. Clearly J.O.B has missed Dooyeweerd's intention in writing this little book. The Preface where Dooyeweerd spells out his intention is completely ignored.
It contains a transcendental critique of philosophic thought, in terms of what the “Philosophy of the Law-Idea” has discovered to be the intrinsic and necessary connection between religion and science. Its own positive contribution to philosophy is only mentioned in passing. I hope soon to find the opportunity of publishing a larger work ...
This point of connection could only be discovered by means of a serious and exact inquiry into the structure of theoretic thought itself. And this is a matter of critical science, not a matter of dogmatic confession.

That this critical investigation is necessarily dependent upon a super-theoretic starting point does not derogate from its inner scientific nature. This latter would only be true if the thinker should eliminate a really scientific problem by a dogmatic authoritative (vii) dictum, dictated by his religious prejudice. For instance, if he should proclaim that theoretic synthesis can start only from the logical function of thought, because logical understanding is “autonomous.” Equally dogmatic would be an authoritative dictum from the side of the “Philosophy of the Law-Idea,” that the synthesis cannot start from the theoretic thought itself because this “autonomy” would contradict the Revelation concerning the religious root of human existence.

It is to the adequate exposé and criticism of that dogmatic attitude which stands in the way of philosophical communication between schools that Dooyeweerd presents his little treatise of his transcendental critique. J.O.B clearly is not impressed by such a venture and would instead prefer to rely on those grandees by whom he has been schooled to confront philosophy with his dogmatic confession.

But there is a prior question. Before we proceed to assess this review in terms of the actual argument which is so poorly constructed in grammatical terms we need to know who "repeatedly requested" HD to write this outline of his discovery of "the intrinsic and necssary connection between religion and science", why did Eerdmans fail so monumentally to ensure that it was adequately proof-read and grammatically corrected before it could be published? Why was it not republished in a corrected edition and why did they not publish with it an exegetical commentary to assist the readers work their way through a very complex and difficult argument? We need to know the background to this little publication - is it not the first and last Eerdmans publication of Dooyeweerd's works?

Notwithstanding the shortcomings of the publication one has to ask why this reviewer felt so provoked into making such a snide and cocky commentary.

And was there any published response from Dooyeweerd's reformed and presbyterian erstwhile "aanhangers"?

Maybe this is yet another important artifact which helps us understand just how difficult the task has been to introduce Dooyeweerd's philosophy in the North American academic market-place, helping us to see the ambiguous reception of this philosophy not only in North America and from there in the wider English-speaking world, but also among those who call themselves "reformed" and "Calvinist", "neo-Calvinist" and "Kuyperian". Maybe the articles of Sewell and Skillen previously mentioned provide a much needed framework to make further progress in understanding this "reception".


Anonymous said...

Oh dear indeed! I can't add to the erudite comments Bruce has written, but even with my level of understanding of Dooyeweerd I could see that J.O.B. didn't understand the basic principles of Dooyeweerd's philosophy.

My one regret is only having read HD and never having been taught HD. I love this sense of "(1) “mutual relations,” (2) “radical unity,” and (3) “Origin.” of the aspects. As a writer and storyteller it seems so evocative, so creative. Someone point me in the right direction, please!

Thanks for posting this Steve!

BGR said...

Not invented here seems to be what JOB wanted to say. I don't know if we can blame it on Machen, Hodge, or the Influence of the Scottish Realism on Founders, but the tendency to misunderstanding HD and the school seems a part of the American DNA since Coleridge introduced German Transcendentalism.

Wayne Sparkman said...

Apparently Evan Runner gets pride of place for the earliest review, some five months prior to JOB. None others located in that era for that work by HD. From there, early reviews were of A New Critique.

Runner, H. Evan, "Transcendental problems of philosophic thought," Westminster Theological Journal, 11.1 (November 1948): 63-67.

Hartshorne, "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, v 1: The Necessary Presuppositions of Philosophy," Journal of Religion, 34.1 (January 1954): 297-298.

Stuermann, W.E., "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought," Interpretation, 8.3 (July 1954): 353-354.

Nikander, V.K., "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, v 1: Necessary Presuppositions of Philosophy"
Lutheran Quarterly, 7.4 (November 1955): 372-374.

Van Til, Cornelius, "A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, v 1: Necessary Presuppositions of Philosophy" Westminster Theological Journal, 17.2 (May 1955): 180-183.