Friday, April 17, 2009

A controversy in Reformational philosophy

Last year, the following article appeared by Lambert Zuidervaart, "After Dooyeweerd: Truth in Reformational Philosophy" (Institute for Christian Studies, Toronto, 2008). In it, Zuidervaart makes some interesting claims about the nature of truth and interpretations of the late, great Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd, that have been controverted.

J. Glenn Friesen, "Standing in the Truth: A Response to Lambert Zuidervaart" (2008) argues:
Zuidervaart says that he wants to transform the idea of truth by “critically retrieving” Dooyeweerd’s conception of truth. He explicitly abandons Dooyeweerd’s ideas of transcendent truth, the supratemporal selfhood, and numerous other ideas. He claims (p. 12) to be a “loyal critic” of Dooyeweerd, and says he wants to preserve the holism and normativity of Dooyeweerd’s conception, and that he is introducing the idea of “authentication” to appropriate insights from Dooyeweerd’s emphasis on “standing in the truth.”

Although Zuidervaart’s article is an interesting example of what reformational philosophy might be like if it continues to reject Dooyeweerd’s philosophy, Zuidervaart’s suggestions cannot be said to be in any way a continuation of or an appropriation of Dooyeweerd’s ideas. In fact, Zuidervaart sets out exactly the kind of philosophy that Dooyeweerd opposed: a temporalized view of our experience and existence, or what Dooyeweerd calls “immanence philosophy.”

This article will examine how Zuidervaart’s article (1) is itself based on immanence philosophy, which Dooyeweerd opposed; (2) is itself based on the self-sufficiency of thought; (3) misinterprets Dooyeweerd’s view of “standing in the truth”; (4) makes simplistic and misleading comparisons of Dooyeweerd to other philosophers such as Husserl and Heidegger, and fails to address recent research regarding the history of Dooyeweerd’s ideas; (5) makes other fundamental errors of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy.
Issues of accuracy are highly important in the tradition of Reformational philosophy, as Friesen suggests, and it is impossible to build upon a philosophical legacy until it has been properly understood. Otherwise, the reformational movement would be merely building on the errors of the past, instead of building upon what Dooyeweerd actually said.

Friesen says elsewhere that in the past year alone, his articles were viewed more than 50,000 times by people from 161 countries, and that a previous article, in which he criticized Zuidervaart’s interpretation of Dooyeweerd’s philosophy of aesthetics, has been viewed more than 3,550 times, and continues to be viewed about 20 times per day.

Zuidervaart, like some other reformational philosophers, holds the view that Dooyeweerd’s philosophy changed radically over time, and that Dooyeweerd's so-called "transcendental critique" was a new development. Friesen, however, referring to an interview by Dooyeweerd in 1974, argues that there was never a fundamental change or revision in his philosophy. Dooyeweerd suggests in his 1974 interview that his later transcendental critique was nothing more than a "sharpeing" of his earlier critique, which was always transcendental:
"From the very beginning, I subjected these views to a radical critique, which I called ‘the radical transcendental critique.’ And now they [Dooyeweerd’s critics] suppose that there has been a fundamental revision in the Philosophy of the Law-Idea, which they date from the first publication of the English edition, in which I sharpened the way—or the method—of the transcendental critique. I did this by not proceeding from particular views of philosophy, namely that it must be a total view of reality (a view which I did not give up). But in order to have a discussion with an opponent, to maintain contact with him, to engage in a broader and sharper way of analysis, I therefore subjected the theoretical attitude of thought and experience, in itself [zonder meer], to a transcendental critical investigation." [Friesen's translation, "Interview of Herman Dooyeweerd by Magnus Verbrugge, September 23, 1974"]
In his De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (The Philosophy of the Law Idea), says Friesen, Dooyeweerd began with particular views of totality. His sharpening of the transcendental critique proceeded from general ideas of totality (Totality is the second transcendental idea. The three ideas are Origin, totality and coherence. Origin is eternal, totality is supratemporal, and coherence is temporal). Friesen's claim, then, is that those, like Zuidervaart, who do not accept any idea of supratemporal totality, cannot be said to accurately understand Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique. While they are free to believe whatever they wish, and while they are free to reject Dooyeweerd's idea of totality, along with the transcendental critique that depends on it, this does not grant license to misinterpret what he has said, or try to divide Dooyeweerd's own thought into distinct developmental phases which he himself rejected.

By contrast, Friesen endeavors to interpret Dooyeweerd's thought in a unified way, which, he believes, preserves the integrity of his views. That is what motivated him to write his “95 Theses on Herman Dooyeweerd,” to which a forthcoming issue of the Reformed philosophical journal, Philosophia Reformata, might be devoted.