Born 1937, Marinus Dirk (Dick) Stafleu studied physics at the University of
Leiden before becoming a research fellow at the Catholic (now Radboud)
University in Nijmegen. He earned his PhD in experimental physics in 1967. He
is the author of numerous books dealing with his philosophy of dynamic
development which is based on a lifelong study of Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk
Vollenhoven. He retired in 1998 and has since then been a full-time
Nearly twenty-five years Dick Stafleu was a member of
the board of editors of Philosophia
Reformata, eight years as its chairman, successor of Herman Dooyeweerd and of
Johan van der Hoeven.
- It seems unusual for a
physicist to become a philosopher. What was it that precipitated the change?
As a member of the student corporation Societas
Studiosorum Reformatorum Lugdunensis I became interested in the Philosophy
of the Cosmonomic Idea as initiated by Dirk Vollenhoven and Herman Dooyeweerd.
However, until my early retirement I considered myself a physicist, first a
research scientist, next a teacher of physics at the Teacher Training Institute
in Utrecht. For my philosophical and historical studies the University Library
at Utrecht turned out to be a splendid source.
- Who or what are your
influences? How did you come across the
reformational philosophy of Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven? What was it that
attracted you to it?
In Leiden I attended the weekly philosophical courses in Calvinian
philosophy of Johan Mekkes. Otherwise I was mostly influenced by intensively
studying Herman Dooyeweerd’s A New Critique of
Theoretical Thought. I was attracted by Mekkes’s radical Christian approach to
philosophy, as well as by Dooyeweerd’s systematic analysis.
I was also influenced by critical realists like Mario
Bunge and Karl Popper, resisting twentieth-century positivism and relativism. I
believe that the world as we experience it is created by God, fallen into sin,
and resurrected by Jesus Christ in communion with the Holy Spirit. This world
is subjected to natural laws and normative principles, which are not freely invented
by human people, but can be discovered and applied. Therefore I consider myself
- You describe your work as a 'philosophy
of dynamic development'. Can you briefly summarise what that means?
More than the Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea, which often makes a static
impression, I stress the dynamic development of the world we live in. In 1959 Herman
Dooyeweerd wrote an extensive and careful review of Jan Lever’s Creatie en evolutie (1956), in which he
took distance from the idea of biological evolution without rejecting it. Nevertheless,
it was devastating in two ways. First it alienated many christian scientists
from his philosophy, in particular at the Free University in Amsterdam. Second,
it led several (especially North-American) reformed philosophers into believing
that his philosophy endorses creationism, although Dooyeweerd emphatically
denied this. Since 1986 I started a program of making clear that natural
evolution is consistent with the basic principles of the Philosophy of the
Cosmonomic Idea, if that philosophy was supplemented with the idea of dynamic
development. For this term I was inspired by Johan Mekkes, who always stressed
the dynamis of the creation.
From the outset I used the history of science as a source for understanding
its philosophy. In 2008 I published a paper in which I criticized Dooyeweerd’s
view of history. His point of departure was the assumption that history is
characterized by the ‘historical modal aspect’ succeeding the logical one as
the first normative modal aspect. I argued that history is the normative kind
of dynamic development, after evolution as the natural one. However, nowhere
does Dooyeweerd suggest the existence of a modal aspect characterizing natural
evolution. Therefore I think his theory of history is not consistent with his
view on evolution.
- In what ways have you developed
The christian philosophy of dynamic development is not
a conservation program, directed at conserving the inheritance of Dooyeweerd or
Vollenhoven. There is nothing wrong with conservation programs, but I prefer
working in a progressive research program as I conducted in the past half
century. As a philosophical project it is
intended as a twenty-first-century update of Herman Dooyeweerd’s and Dirk
Vollenhoven’s Philosophy of the Cosmonomic Idea (PCI for short). The main
differences can be summarized as follows.
The idea of law
With the idea of law I remain quite close to PCI.
The most important addition is the insight that the laws for the creation allow
of a margin of indeterminacy, contingency or chance,
individuality and uniqueness. The coexistence of lawfulness and randomness
undermines any kind of determinism.
PCI discussed subject-object relations extensively,
but paid little attention to subject-subject relations, which I find to be much
more important. This leads to a new perspective on the modal aspects. Whereas
PCI introduced the law spheres to be modal aspects of being, I interpret the relation frames first of all as laws for
intersubjective as well as subject-object relations.
Because nothing can exist isolated from everything else, it then follows that
the relation frames constitute conditions for the existence of anything. The
relation frames are aspects of human experience as well, because experience is
always expressed in relations. They are also aspects of Dooyeweerd’s (not
Vollenhoven’s) cosmic time which I consider relational. In each relation frame
the relations are subject to a temporal order as the most general law for that
In Dooyeweerd’s view the serial order of the modal
aspects is the primordial expression of time, in which each aspect transcends
the preceding ones. The final aspect (faith) is transcended by religion. In
this order Dooyeweerd considers history to be a process in which the modal
aspects are opened up. I present a broader view of human history, taking into
account the transfer of experience in asymmetrical subject-subject relations;
the design, production and use of artefacts; as well as the development of
associations and of social networks in the public domain.
The emphasis on relations has a large impact on my
views. It extends PCI’s scarce remarks on the natural relation frames and characters
into a wide-ranging philosophy of development as investigated in the
mathematical, physical, and biological sciences. Networks of subject-subject
relations and subject-object relations play a decisive part in my analysis of
the function of the state on the public domain.
Characters and character types
The theory of
characters (clusters of laws for natural or normative types) is a consequent
elaboration of PCI’s theory of structures of individuality. It tries to make
sense of the diversity of the world and of society. Besides the primary
qualification and secondary foundation of each character as suggested by
Dooyeweerd, I add the tertiary disposition or propensity of each character to
become interlaced with other characters. This is inspired by Dooyeweerd’s view
on enkapsis, but it is much more straightforward and general. Characters constitute
the law side of typical individuality. There is an enormous variety of
characters, but a much more restricted set of character types. Normative character types are not determined by variable
norms, but only by invariant normative principles, besides natural laws. A
character defines an invariant class of
individual subjects besides an objective
ensemble of all possible states
allowed by the character, describing the possible variations within a class.
aspect is not the first to qualify characteristic things as Vollenhoven and
Dooyeweerd assumed. Important quantitative, spatial, and kinematic characters
exist as well.
theory allows of a classification of character types, its main relevance is
dynamic. It shows that the actual existence of individuals determined by a
character is subject to developmental change. Therefore, I consider the
analysis of characters and character types to be much more important than it
occurs in PCI.
respect to the individual character of a person, I do not basically differ from
PCI, though I do not share Dooyeweerd’s view on the human heart transcending
time. I developed PCI’s unfinished anthropology, emphasizing the dynamical
development both of nature and of humanity since it emerged from the animal
* Evolution and the emergence of humanity from the
Contrary to PCI,
I present a comprehensive view on the evolution of the astrophysical universe,
of the chemical elements and their compounds, and of the evolution of the
organic and animal world. Thereby I take distance from the world views of
evolutionism and of creationism. It turns out that evolution has a random
component on the subject side (e.g., the push of natural selection and of sex),
but is guided by natural characters on the law side (e.g., the pull of genetic
never came to terms with theories of natural evolution, I showed both evolution
and human history to depend on processes in which the development of characters
(natural, artificial or social) is crucial. Rejecting creationism based on a
literal interpretation of the Bible, I distinguish scientific theories of
natural evolution from popular evolutionism, the prevailing naturalist world
view. I argued that evolution theories can provide a necessary explanation for the emergence of mankind from the animal
world, but not a sufficient one,
because this requires the introduction of principles which are not natural but
normative. This provides a new perspective on Christian anthropology.
Values and norms for human acts and relations
consequently than PCI, I distinguish normative
principles, supposedly given in the creational order, from norms made by humanity and therefore
culturally and historically different. Although human-made, norms belong to the
law side of human culture. It means that humanity is not only active at the
subject side but also at the law side of reality.
consider ethics to be the study of
normative activity, stressing the freedom and responsibility of any human
being. I therefore reject PCI’s supposition of a moral or ethical aspect, which
had better be called the relation frame of loving care. I recognized the
political relation frame to be different from the justitial. Whereas there is
no difference of opinion on the order of the natural relation frames, following
the lead of some Canadian Dooyeweerdians I proposed a quite different order of
the normative relation frames than PCI does:
PCI the conceptual analysis of the modal aspects, their meaning nuclei and
analogies (anticipations and retrocipations) appears to be most important,
whereas I stress their relevance for the architecture of natural and normative
* Artefacts and the alleged
autonomy of theoretical thought
and Vollenhoven paid little attention to the characters of human-made
artefacts, which for the understanding of anthropology and history are no less
important than human acts and associations. I define artefacts as specific
objects, primarily characterized by one of the normative relation frames.
Technical artefacts have a singular character, qualified by the technical
relation frame and founded in one of the natural frames. Other artefacts have a
dual character, a concept absent in PCI. The generic character is qualified by
one of the post-technical normative relation frames and is founded in the
technical one. The specific character is qualified by the same frame as the
generic character, and is founded in a preceding frame.
sustain human experience and its transfer. I consider theoretical or conceptual
thought to be different from natural thought because of the use of artefacts
like concepts, statements or propositions, and theories. This leads to a view
on epistemology somewhat different from Dooyeweerd’s. In my analysis, stressing
other forms of experience sustained by artefacts and being more interested in
ontology than in epistemology, theoretical thought is far less dominant than in
precisely than PCI does, I distinguish between organized associations and
unorganized relation networks, communities connecting individuals and
associations. Associations are specific human-made subjects having leadership
with authority and membership with discipline. They have a dual character.
Generically all associations are politically qualified and socially founded.
Specifically each type of association is primarily qualified by one of the
normative relation frames, secondarily founded in a preceding frame, and is tertiarily
characterized by its disposition to become interlaced with other types of
associations. Since the twentieth century, the relevance of associations is
apply Abraham Kuyper’s idea of sphere sovereignty only to associations and not
to communities, showing its increasing relevance for understanding civil society.
PCI interprets sphere sovereignty incorrectly as the irreducibility of types of
associations, extending it as a metaphor to the irreducibility of the modal
aspects. I used the idea of sphere sovereignty to develop a fundamental
critique of various views on societal relations.
* The public domain
Dooyeweerd based his extensive discussion of the body politic on the
nineteenth-century idea of a territorial nation state, I started from a quite
different perspective, introducing the concept of the public domain as an open
set of communities, i.e., networks of subject-subject relations including both
individuals and associations. Each network is characterized by one of the
relation frames and is accompanied by an objective network, like a lingual
community requires a common language. In the course of history, these communities
have grown from local to national networks, but since the second half of the
twentieth century, they more and more exceed national boundaries, becoming
public domain is based on the technical community of subjective human labour
and an objective technical infrastructure. The state’s generic character does not differ much from that of other
associations, but according to its specific
character it has a unique function. Within its territory it is the guardian of
the public domain, and its specific character is therefore founded in the
technical frame. It is politically qualified to make rules for the functioning
of public networks, in order to keep peace, to warrant the freedom and further
the responsibility of all its participants, whether citizens or foreigners.
Because the public domain more and more exceeds the national boundaries, the
individual states have to share their sovereignty with each other and with
supranational organizations. I downgraded the function of armed power, as
organized in various kinds of intervention forces. Contrary to many Christian
philosophers, I do not consider the state to exist because of sin.