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Dooyeweerd's A Christian Theory of Social Institutions - A Study Guide

A Christian Theory of Social Institutions

Welcome to a study guide for Herman Dooyeweerd’s A Christian Theory of Social Institutions.  It is at the moment a working document. If any one has any comments, criticism or suggestions please make them in the comments.

Book details

A Christian Theory of Social Institutions by Herman Dooyeweerd
Translated by Magnus Verbrugge
Edited with an introduction by John Witte.
La Jolla, California: Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, 1986.
120 pp.; 21 cm.
Includes index.
ISBN 0888150555

Table of Contents

Preface/ 7
Introduction / 11
Biography of Dooyeweerd / 11
The Development of Dooyeweerd’s Social Theory / 15
Summary of the Text / 27
Text / 31
Lectures I and II:
  The struggle to Define the Province of Social Science and Social Philosophy / 31
 Lectures III and IV
  The Religious Foundations of Historical Social Philosophies / 45
Lecture V
   Prerequisites to a Christian Social Philosophy / 59
Lecture VI
  A Modal Analysis of Social Institutions and Their Interrelationship / 64
Lecture VII
  A Classification of Social Institutions / 70
Lecture VIII
  An Analysis of undifferentiated Social Organizations / 79 
Lecture IX
  An Analysis of natural Communities and of State and Church / 86 
Lecture X
  An Analysis of Non-Institutional Social Organizations / 95  
Glossary / 108
Index / 116 

Lectures I and II: The struggle to define the province of social science and social philosophy

In these first two lectures Dooyeweerd defends social theory against two main views. Sociology was first introduced by St Simon and Augustus Comte. Its field of inquiry was human society. Society is comprised of:

  • personal relationships between humans
  • human relationships with the inorganic world
  • human relationships with plants and animals
  • human relationships with cultural things
Society exhibits a diversity of modal aspects. Elsewhere Dooyeweed has expounded these modal aspects as the numerical, spatial, kinematic, physical, biotic, psychical, analytic, lingual, social, economic, aesthetic, jural, ethical and confessional.

Each of these aspects has an associated special science. The question where does that leave sociology? Is is another special science (view B) or is it a unique science of totality (view A)?

Each of these possibilities lead to problems.

If sociology is seen as investigating society in its totality then a social philosophy is required. However, a social philosophy cannot then describe the structures and relationships from a special science point of view. The attempts to form an autonomous science leads to the absolutisation of one aspect. In order to gain a total overview always results in absolutising certain aspects. For Oppenheimer it is the organic or biotic that is absolutised.

Another problem that arises from this approach is the relation between norms and facts. For the Positivists facts were value and norm free. However, these facts cannot be understood apart from norms or criteria of propriety. If normative criteria is eliminated then there will be no real human social facts. Although view B, sociology as a special science, avoids the problems of sociology as a total view it still has problems. It has not succeeded in identifying an specific aspect for sociological inquiry.

Review questions
1.What are the two main views of sociology that Dooyeweerd examines.
2.Why does Dooyeweerd feel these views are unacceptable?
3.What aspects are absolutised by Sorokin?
4.What does Dooyeweerd mean by ‘Even the actual activity of a gang of thieves cannot be recognized as such without the application of the norms of an ordered society’(p 37)?

Study questions
1.What is sociology and what should be its field of inquiry? How have different sociologists answered this question?

Lectures III and IV The religious foundations of historical social philosophies

Sociological thinking is influenced by its social milieu and by religious ground-motives. Ground-motives are communal influences that shape our lives and thoughts. The sociology of knowledge - built on the foundations laid by Willem Dilthey - investigates the social and historical mileu.

There are four religious ground-motives (RGM) that Dooyeweerd examines: form-matter; creation-fall-redemption; nature-grace; and freedom-nature.

The form-matter motive originated with the Greeks. It arose as a result of the conflict between the older nature religions and the younger national culture religions. The Greek polis was totalitarian in nature – the polis was regarded as the perfect society - and so all sociological questions were treated within the theory of the polis.

With the establishment of Christianity as the state religion in 381, the rule of the emperor was regarded as divine. With the Middle Ages emerged the nature-grace RGM. It was an attempt to synthesise the Christian creation-fall-redemption RGM with the Greek. It resulted in all spheres of culture being subordinated to the church leadership. Greek natural law was replaced by divine law. Society had two heads the emperor and the pope, but because the spiritual was regarded as being superior to the secular, ‘the pope bestows the emperor his crown’.

The Renaissance saw the rise of the nature-freedom RGM. Human personality was seen as an absolute end in itself. Nature was to be controlled and dominated by science. This science ideal mean that there was no room for human freedom; nature and freedom are then in conflict.

The idea of natural law developed together with attempts to see the state in terms of social contract. Natural communities and the church were seen as ‘free associations, organised for a certain purpose’. Society was viewed entirely from the juridicial aspect.
Locke’s theory emphasised the freedom motive. Society became seen in terms of the economic aspect.

With Romanticism and German idealism society was viewed as an historically evolving whole. The historical school absolutised the cultural historical aspect of society.
The positivist Auguste Comte attempted to explain society by the ‘scientific method’.
Max Weber developed the notion of ideal types, abstract generalising schemes, to describe individual social actions.

There was a trend to distinguish between natural scientific and cultural scientific methods. This arose from an irrationalistic historicistic view of society. The humanistic RGM cuts science loose from its biblical moorings.

Review questions
1.How is the social contract model of the state a product of the nature-freedom ground-motive?
2.How did Comte attempt to make sociology an independent science?
3.What is Max Weber’s ‘general cultural scientific method’?
4.What antithesis did Heinrich Rickert introduce?

Study questions
1.How has the absolutisation of the historical mode distorted ‘sociology’?

Lecture V Prerequisites to a Christian Social philosophy

Summary The Christian religious ground motive reveals two distinct fields: 1. Sociology – the theoretical analysis of particular types or typical structural principles. 2. The investigation of the different forms in which these structural types manifest themselves. To gain insight into typical structural principles we need to understand the different modal aspects.  Elsewhere Dooyeweerd identifies fifteen different modal aspects.
These different modal aspects each have a core moment or kernel.

The modal core moment has an original meaning and guarantees the irreducibility of this aspect.

These structural moments have analogies in other moments.  These can be retrospective or anticipatory.

Absolutising one moment distorts the whole of reality.  These absolutisations are religiously rooted.

Review questions
1.What is meant by ‘particular structural types’?
2.What is the task of (a) philosophical sociology and (b) empirical sociology.  How do they differ?
3.What is meant by temporal society?

Study questions
1.How have different modal aspects been absolutised by different sociological schools?

Lecture VI A Modal Analysis of Social Institutions and their Relationships

Summary Idionomies are found where ever there are individuals, things, events or relationships in human society.  They reveal themselves in the arrangement of modal aspects.  One modal aspect qualifies the idionomy.  This qualifying aspect determines the internal destiny of the individual whole. For example, plants are qualified by the biotic, the sate by the juridical.

The internal leading function gives direction and leadership – it guides the earlier functions.

A retrocipatory type in the qualifying aspect is the love between parent and child.  This is a moral love relationship within the family. It originates not in the moral aspect but looks back to the biotic aspect – that of blood relationship. It is a relationship founded on that aspect.

All social structures have typical founding function as well as a leading function.   This diagram from  E L Hebden Taylor illustrates this:

The founding function determines the core type of individuality of the social relationship.  The leading and founding functions are known as radical functions.
Encapsis is an intertwinement of two different structures.  An ecaptic relationship exists between the family and the state. The family is distinct from the sate, it can’t be part of it, as parents may belong to different nationalities. Inside the State the family has an encaptic structure. There are different types of encapsis:

  • unifying types
  • unilaterally founded encapsis
  • correlative encapsis
In unilaterally founded encapsis, one thing can’t exist without the other.  For example, marriage and the family, a political party and the State. In correlative encapsis, one thing presupposes the other. Without an understanding of encapsis it can lead to a universalistic view of society – a whole of which all others are a part. It can also lead to an individualistic view – society is an aggregation of parts.

Review questions 
1.What are the qualifying or leading functions of a plant, stone, animal, human, State, school and church? 
2.How does encapsis prevent a universalistic and an individualistic view of society? 
3.Why did Litt fail to reconcile a universalistic and an individualistic view of society?

Study questions
1.In what sense is Litt a universalist?

Lecture VII A Classification of Social Institutions

Magnus Verbrugge, the translator of the book, in a footnote has Dooyeweerd’s classification of human relationships as the following:

   A. Institutional Communities
          1. Natural Institutions
                1. Marriage and family
          2. Undifferentiated organized institutions
                i. The family as organizing principle; the patriarchal [and matriarchal?] family, primitive domestic communities, sibs, clans, etc.
                ii. The political organizing principle; the mediaeval marks, guilds, towns, ethnic and feudal bonds, etc.
          3. Differentiated organized institutions
                i. Church institutions
                ii. State institutions
    B. Non-institutional communities
          1. Voluntary organizations
          2. Unilaterally founded organizations


Review questions
1. Distinguish between, with examples:
      social and natural
      social and communal organisations
      institutional and non-institutional institutions
      natural and non-natural organisations
      differentiated and non-differentiated organisations
2. Can a family be differentiated?
3. Complete the ticks to indicate the type of each social institution.  The State has been completed to indicate it is communal, non-natural and differentiated.

Suggested answers (turn your screen upside down to see them!)

Study questions
1. How does Dooyeweerd’s classification help to understand church-State relations?
2. Are differentiated societies superior to undifferentiated societies? 

Lecture VIII An Analysis of Undifferentiated Social Organisations

In undifferentiated social organisations there is a difference between the fraternity principle and the political principle.

It is easy to confuse undifferentiated organisations and natural communities. Undifferentiated social organisatiosn are very diverse.

The nature-grace religious ground motive led to a highly undifferentiated natural infrastructure and a differentiated superstructure – the catholic church. In the infrastructure were two organisations: guilds and feudal bonds.

The guilds were characterised by the fraternity principle and the feudal by the mund principle. There are a number of different types of guilds:

  • true guilds
  • civic guilds
  • merchant guilds
  • trade guilds

Review questions
1.Why is the ’sib’ not a primitive form of the natural community of marriage and the family?
2.Why do undifferentiated social organisations pose a problem for philosophical sociology?

Study questions
1.Compare and contrast the modern city with the medieval city.

Lecture IX An Analysis of Natural Communities and of State and Church

SummaryAll natural communities have the biotic aspect as the founding function and the ethical as the leading function.

Marriage is an example of a natural community.  It is not a product of social development and thus its founding function is not the historical aspect – despite Lewis H Morgan’s attempts.  

The State is founded on the cultural-historical modality.  Its leading function is the juridicial. There are many types of intertwinement between the Sate and society.  For example, a political party is not part of the State but it has an ecaptic function in the State.

Another social institutional organisation is the church – a confessional faith community.
Review questions
1.What distinguishes a natural community from a non-natural community? 
2.Why is defining the church as ‘an association with a religious purpose’ contradicting its inner purpose?
3.What are the radical functions (ie founding and leading) functions of the church?
4.In what ways is the church a moral, juridicial, economic, social, linguistic, psychic and a logical community?

Study questions
1.How does understanding the State and the church as differentiated institutional organisations help from a sociological perspective.

Lecture X: An Analysis of Non-institutional Social Organisations

Non-institutional social organisations have a wide variety of forms.

They may be democratic organisations of free association; others are more authoritarian where the highest authority rests not with the members but by an external institution. The external institution may have an encaptic intertwinement with the organisation.

Review questions
1. Compare and contrast Dooyeweerd’s and Maurice Hauriou’s views.
2. Why is it important to distinguish between the purpose and the internal leading function of organisations?

Study questions
Compare and contrast a criminal organisation, a resistance movement and a political party.

Review from 1998 by Bruce Wearne

Australian and New Zealand Journal of Sociology 1988 pp. 170-171

Herman Dooyeweerd A Christian Theory of Social Institutions trans Magnus Verbrugge, The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, Paideia Press, Jordon Station, Ontario, Canada, 1986

This small booklet of 120 pages is the first volume in the projected Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd. Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) was a Dutch professor of legal philosophy, Dutch legal history and encyclopaedia of law at the Free University of Amsterdam. This work is the translation of a series of lectures introducing the theory of sociology which he gave toward the latter part of his career, in 1947, at the University of Delft. In a helpful introduction John Witte, of the Emory Law School (USA), gives an outline of Dooyeweerd’s career with its extensive investigations of the philosophical foundations of the entire encyclopaedia of the sciences. Much can be said about Dooyeweerd’s attempts to track down the "transcendental conditions which alone make theoretical thought possible" but in this review I will limit myself to briefly outlining Dooyeweerd’s problematic as that is revealed in his Tien Voordrachten over Sociologie 1946-47 (Ten Lectures on Sociology).
In our world of experience we come across a diversity of modal aspects. Human society, in its totality, can be analyzed in terms of each of these aspects. These various modes define, at least in principle, the provinces of the various special sciences. Thus mathematics studies the numerical and spatial aspects, biology the biotic, linguitics the lingual, and so on. In previous work, since the 1930s, Dooyeweerd had attempted to develop his general theory of the ‘modal law spheres’ as a means of accounting for, among other things, the epistemological ‘division of labour’ among the sciences. Dooyeweerd sets up the problem for a special science of sociology in these terms:
But if every possible modal aspect of human society already belongs to the field of enquiry of a particular special science, how can there be any room left for sociology as an independent science? Have not the sciences of social geography, social psychology and history, philology and linguistics, social economy and jurisprudence, social ethics, anthropology of religion, and others not already subsumed the entire field of enquiry into social human relations? (p.32).
Dooyeweerd has set out the philosophical problematic of sociology in its inter-disciplinary context in precise terms. Can sociology claim a specialist place for itself without, in fact, denying the philosophical character of its approach? Dooyeweerd puts the question in these terms:

Can the still immature science of sociology, therefore, be anything more than a sporadic, dilettantish summary of what all the special social sciences (each in its own territory) have taught us through their sophisticated investigation of human society? (ibid)
Dooyeweerd’s answer is that there is a place for sociology as an investigation of the ‘typical structural principles’ (p.59) which are an integral part of those relationships which compose human society (marriage/family; state/nation; church; organizations; voluntary relationships; free societal intercourse). Sociology is the study of the variable forms which these structures take. But, says Dooyeweerd, sociology as a discipline can only come into its own if the time-honoured dogma of ‘the autonomy of theoretical thought’ is itself subjected to a critical enquiry; only in this way can the inner coherence of the various modal aspects, and the relations between the sciences which are concerned specially with each of these, come into a clearer view. And then also we will be in a position to understand what the sociological study of social relationships, as an inherently multi-modal exercise, means scientifically.
This is not a long book. it summarises many themes of Dooyeweerd’s ‘Christian Sociology’ which he had been articulating for 20 years at the time these lectures were developed. The argument comes from a different time, from a country heavily influenced in its scholarship by Teutonic traditions. Yet as an introduction to Dooyeweerd’s thought in relation to social sciences this work is worthwhile. With all translated works there will be problems. And with all attempts to render German/Dutch in English there are compounded problems especially after Kant. A useful glossary of Dooyeweerd’s special terms is included showing that the publisher is attuned to the reader’s needs.
Bruce C. Wearne
Department of Applied Sociology
Chisholm Institute of Technology.

Comment by Bruce:
I did not know at the time that this review was published in the ANZJS. This was a time of intense politicking at Chisholm, and I did not discover my published review until some years later.If I was writing this now I would not say that this work came from the "latter part of Dooyeweerd’s career." In 1947 he still had 20 more years at the Free University, so I am not exactly sure what I was trying to say by this; perhaps I was trying to draw attention to his work in jurisprudence and philosophy.The issue raised in the review is still relevant. It would seem to me that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy while indicating that a special modal science concerned with the study of society from the societal aspect is a possibility, it is also the case that he did not exactly explain how this societal modal science differed from empirical sociology on the one hand and social philsophy on the other. In this book the concern is with explaining how empirical sociology and philosophy of society presuppose each other. I am of the view that this "societal" science has yet to come into its own clearly and distinctly as a separate scientific discipline. There are now indications that there is a new appreciation for the kind of reality that Dooyeweerd refers to by the "societal aspect".BCW 25 August 2006

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