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This paper was presented at ECRM'2002: European Conference on Research Methodology in Business and Management Studies, Reading, UK, 29 April 2002. It was written as I was beginning to get to grips with Critical Social Theory, especially that of Habermas. Dr. Heinz Klein, one of the foremost critical thinkers in information systems, in a visit to the University of Salford in 2002, had given a number of criteria for what it means to be 'critical' and the author suggested that Dooyeweerd fulfilled every criterion. The author would like to give credit to Heinz for accepting this suggestion at face value and encouraging him to develop the ideas. This paper resulted. Later, a more developed version was published as:
Basden A (2002) "The Critical Theory of Herman Dooyeweerd ?", Journal of Information Technology, 17:257-69.

The Critical Theory of Herman Dooyeweerd?

Andrew Basden
Information Systems Institute, University of Salford,


Jürgen Habermas is a wide-ranging thinker whose ideas have formed the philosophic foundation of Critical Systems Thinking (CST). But can CST incorporate ideas from other thinkers without abandoning its Habermasian roots? The danger of adding ideas piecemeal to address specific difficulties in CST is that the whole will eventually collapse because of inconsistencies. This paper examines the philosophic framework proposed by the Dutch philosopher Herman Dooyeweerd against six criteria of Criticality - not to 'score' Dooyeweerd but rather to understand the process of examining the ideas of other thinkers. Keywords: Philosophical foundations, Habermas, Dooyeweerd, Critical Systems, Criteria.

1. Introduction

Critical Systems Thinking (CST) is rooted in the Critical Theory of Jürgen Habermas (Lyytinen and Klein, 1985). If CST is to extend meaningfully beyond its roots in Habermas it must be able to take in the ideas of other thinkers, and incorporate them into its overall framework in a coherent manner. While it may be possible to add individual ideas from other thinkers to address specific difficulties as they arise in CST, there is a danger that merely adding a bit here, a bit there, will result in problems later on due to inherent inconsistencies between Habermas' Critical Theory and the alternative framework.

What is needed is to delineate and understand the points of contact and of disagreement between the new framework and Critical Theory. Then it can be more clearly seen how ideas from it might be used to develop, enhance and refine CST.

1.1 Purpose of Evaluating Thinkers against Criteria of Criticality

Is Marx, for example, Critical? We mention one answer to this question below. But what is the purpose of the question itself? In our discussion here the purpose is not to score thinkers on a scale of Criticality, but rather to understand to what extent the ideas of another thinker make harmonious contact with Critical approaches and in what ways they do not.

Points of contact with the ideas of the external thinker can be used to strengthen ideas in CST by supporting them from a new perspective or context and then, by virtue of that new perspective, throw up issues that Critical Theorists have yet to tackle. Knowing the points of disagreement can also be useful. When disagreement is fundamental, we can then simply avoid trying to bring those points into CST, because to do so would merely confuse or undermine it. But where the points of disagreement are not so fundamental, they can be used to stimulate self-reflection in CST (and even Critical Theory itself) - which it purports to strongly advocate - and thus modify its own ideas and issues in a fruitful manner.

We will undertake this exercise here, identifying points of contact or disagreement with another thinker so as to gain insight not only into how those particular ideas might enrich CST and in turn be enriched. We will use six criteria for Critical Research suggested by Alvesson and Willmott (1992) and Klein (2002). The ideas we examine are those of the late Herman Dooyeweerd (1895-1977), a Dutch thinker whose range and knowledge was on a par with Habermas. But, since his approach is not widely known, we must ensure a proper understanding of it before applying the criteria. In the text, capitalized 'Critical' refers to approaches that are rooted in Habermas' Critical Theory while lower-case 'critical' refers to other uses of the word.

2. Six Criteria for Critical Approaches

Six criteria for Critical Research have been suggested by Klein (2002). The first three are drawn from Alvesson and Willmott (1992), and the last three he added himself. According to these, Critical Research must:

  • 1. "be concerned with conditions of human existence which facilitate the realization of human needs and potentials"

  • 2. "involve a process of critical self reflection and associated self-transformation"

  • 3. "be sensitive to a broader set of institutional issues relating particularly to social justice, due process and human freedom".

  • 4. "incorporate explicit principles of evidence giving (or an explicit truth theory) for the evaluation of claims made throughout the research process"

  • 5. "incorporate principles of fallibility and self-correction (growth of knowledge through criticism, principle of Fallibilism)"

  • 6. "suggest how the critique of social conditions or practices could be met."

These criteria can be disputed. For example, Alvesson and Willmott emphasise emancipation, which "necessarily involves an active process (or struggle) for individual and collective self-determination" yet this is missing from Klein's list. However, it is not our purpose, here, to decide what 'the' criteria should be, but rather to explore the process of analysis of a system of thought. Therefore we take them as given, leaving debate about them to others.

One effect of criterion 1 is to rule out a positivism that might employ critical thinking but has no room for human issues. Criterion 2 moves us beyond instrumental orientation towards some purpose to recognise the need for emancipatory self-reflection. One effect of criterion 3 is to rule out individualistic forms of interpretivism. Criterion 4 enables us to expose what it is that lends credibility to the claims and the assumptions on which that credibility is based. Klein (2002) explains it by pointing out its relation to the Kantian heritage of examining the limits of human reasoning as such. Criterion 5 moves Critical approaches away from hoping to arrive at infallible knowledge, even over the long term; central to this is Habermas' (1972) idea that 'interests' lie behind all our knowledge. Criterion 6 was added "as safeguard against unrealistic and destructive negativism" to ensure that the Critical approach will result in interventions and improvements in the world.

Klein (2002) argued that a number of thinkers sometimes connected with the Critical movement do not fulfil all these criteria. Marx, for example, scores highly on criteria 1, 3 and 6, but falls down on 2 and 5, in that his thinking offered no in-built mechanism for criticising and correcting itself, nor even for reflecting upon itself in any useful way.

We will discuss the meaning and thrust of the criteria later, as they are opened up by the process of applying them to Dooyeweerd's philosophical ideas.

3. Dooyeweerd's Philosophy

The Dutch philosopher, Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977), explored the transcendental conditions for theoretical thought, and its relationship to what Habermas calls the lifeworld. In this, he was perhaps following in the Kantian tradition, but he was concerned that theoretical thinking was not sufficiently critical, and especially not sufficiently self-critical. In his major work, A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (1955), he first made a painstaking analysis of Western thinking from before Socrates through to the middle of the twentieth century, discussing Kant in particular detail. He argued that though Western theoretical thought possesses enormous power, it contains fundamental antinomies that result in theory being divorced from practice, unity from diversity, human from non-human, etc. and stands in need of reconstruction on new foundations.

However, having argued for demolition, so to speak, Dooyeweerd took up the challenge of constructing; the critic was willing to put up something to be criticized. He developed a wide-ranging philosophical framework that offers a theory of meaning and modal aspects, of entities and relations, of thought and presuppositions, of time, of the self, and of our relationship to the Divine. On the basis of these he also developed social theory, historical theory, an approach to theory, practice, knowledge and science, and much more. Giorgio Delvecchio, the noted Italian philosopher, called him "the most profound, innovative and penetrating philosopher since Kant." His critique has been applied not only to Western thought, but also to Eastern thought (Choi, 2000).

Here we briefly explain what is relevant to assessing his thought against the six criteria above. Much is omitted and the interested reader is directed to Clouser (1991) for a useful introduction.

3.1 The 'Religious' Root of Theoretical Thought

While Critical approaches might hope for an "autonomous critic, who, by (partially) escaping the ideologies and false consciousnesses of a particular society, illuminates these features" (Alvesson and Willmott, 1992) and Habermas proposed "ideal dialogue" as a means of achieving this, Dooyeweerd held that we cannot escape them, even by dialogue. Theoretical thinking and dialogue are never, even partially, neutral, but are directed by extra-scientific (Wilson, 1997) attitudes and presuppositions held by human thinkers in a social context (and more than social: see the aspects below). While Habermas discussed presuppositions, Dooyeweerd gave them specific shape, as commitments that are religious in nature (where 'religious' is in terms of what we take to be self-dependent (Clouser, 1991)) and not subject to even the most enlightened theoretical discourse. What we take to be self-dependent is often that which we leave unquestioned and reduce all else to. To the Pythagoreans this was Number, to the rationalists, Reason; as we suggest later, even Habermas was not free of this.

Dooyeweerd analysed our deepest presuppositions in terms of 'ground motives', of which he identified four that have influenced us over the last 2,500 years. The early Greeks, including Plato and Aristotle, assumed the Form-Matter motive, from Hebrew culture came the motive of Creation-Fall-Redemption, the mediaeval Roman Catholic thinkers like Aquinas combined the two to obtain the Nature-Grace motive, and the thinkers of the Renaissance and Enlightenment replaced it with Nature-Freedom, seeking to remove religion from theoretical thought. These four are, of course, not unique to Dooyeweerd; the contribution his critique made was, perhaps, to link them and show how the three dualistic ones (Form-Matter, Nature-Grace and Nature-Freedom) create the antinomies in theoretical thinking.

3.2 Diversity and Coherence

To construct his new proposal for a framework, Dooyeweerd started from the Creation-Fall-Redemption motive - not just as a 'religious' statement but as a philosophical foundation that could explain diversity without recourse to dualism and unity without recourse to monism. Being more integrative than the dualistic ground motives (Choi, 2000) it is better able to bring together theory and practice, determinative and normative, human and non-human. As a result, Dooyeweerd's proposal has an ability to handle interdisciplinarity and the complexity of real life application of I.S. in a powerful and natural way (Basden, 2001). It is partly because the Hebrew-inspired motive focuses on Meaning as the fundamental property of all that is, while the Greek motive of Matter-Form, together with the two that emanate from it, focus on Existence. Dooyeweerd argues that, given Meaning as primary, both diversity and coherence follow as natural consequences. He accounted for these by his theory of modal aspects.

3.3 Aspects

Dooyeweerd's theory of modal aspects is that all Meaning, Being, Doing and Knowing in this temporal realm is enabled by a suite of modal aspects. It is not dissimilar to Foucault's notion of regimes of truth, but worked out in a different way. Each aspect has a kernel meaning that is part of the spectrum of Meaning. He sought, over a lifetime of critical reflection in the everyday lifeworld, to identify the aspects and their kernels, and his final list has stood the test of time:

  • Numeric aspect: amount
  • Spatial aspect: continuous extension
  • Kinematic aspect: flowing movement
  • Physical aspect: energy, matter
  • Biotic aspect: life functions
  • Sensitive aspect: feeling and response
  • Analytical aspect: distinction
  • Creative aspect: formative power
  • Lingual aspect: symbolic communication
  • Social aspect: social interaction
  • Economic aspect: frugal use of resources
  • Aesthetic aspect: harmony
  • Juridical aspect: what is due (rights, responsibility)
  • Ethical aspect: self-giving love
  • Pistic aspect: faith, vision, commitment

What makes Dooyeweerd's proposal a foundation for diversity is that the aspects are irreducible, so that none can be derived from the others; he called this 'sphere sovereignty'. But sphere sovereignty on its own can lead us to fragmentation. Dooyeweerd also stressed 'sphere universality': that the aspects are closely intertwined with one another, leading to a coherence and harmony among them. Each aspect contains 'echoes' of all the others, and each is involved in a mutual inter-dependency with others.

(Note that Dooyeweerd saw his suite, not as some positivist truth but as a good proposal, for reasons that we mention below.)

3.4 Human Functioning

Human life is seen as a complex, integrated functioning that can only be adequately explained by reference to all the aspects. For example, as I write this I am functioning lingually (symbolic communication), biotically (e.g. breathing), economically (length limit on this paper), juridically (to provide what is due to the readers, pistically (in seeing myself as a responsible human being rather than a robot), etc. Earlier aspects support the lingual functioning, later ones give it shape. Our functioning in each aspect affects all the others, and this accounts for the richness of human lifeworld experience. Much of the functioning is tacit (Polanyi, 1967) rather than explicit, and our experience in the everyday lifeworld is one of coherence, not fragmentation. The behaviour and existence of non-human entities (animals, plants, material and non-material things) is likewise enabled by the aspects, though in a different and more limited way. We do not discuss these here, except to note that the aspects from analytic to pistic could be called the human aspects.

While most human activity involves all aspects, in many kinds certain aspects have special importance. The ways in which they can be important need not concern us here (Dooyeweerd (1955) mentioned qualifying and founding aspects and Stafleu (2000) added a third) but it is interesting to compare Dooyeweerd's aspects with Habermas' types of action (Habermas, 1986). In instrumental and strategic action, the formative aspect plays a leading role, with the human aspects also being important in the latter. In normatively regulated action, the juridical aspect plays a major role, along with those aspects to which the relevant norms apply. In communicative action, the lingual plays the leading role, and in discursive action that seeks to expose presuppositions, the pistic aspect is important. However, we must never lose sight of the multi-aspect nature of human activity. For example, to Dooyeweerd, discourse (which is central to Habermas' proposal) cannot be fully effective unless it involves, not just language, but also the aesthetic aspect for harmony, juridical for fairness, ethical for generosity, pistic for trust and commitments, etc. If Dooyeweerd is right, then this has practical implications in providing guidelines for the conduct of high quality discourse.

3.5 Law: Determinism and Normativity

Each aspect has its own set of laws, to which entities respond. Those of the earlier aspects are mainly determinative while those of the later aspects, especially human aspects, are mainly normative, affording us freedom, both within their laws and even to transgress their laws. (Thus, Dooyeweerd integrates determinism and freedom in a single framework.) Normative laws are often seen as constraints, but to Dooyeweerd laws serve to enable meaningful functioning. Whatever our response to the laws of an aspect, they still pertain, so it is not without repercussions. Human activity is 'healthy' to the extent that we align ourselves with the laws of all the aspects ('simultaneous realization of norms'), and is harmful to the extent that we transgress, or ignore, them.

This notion of norms given by the aspects provides a foundation for considerations of Good versus Evil, what we 'should' aim at or avoid (e.g. as found in criterion 3). In this, Dooyeweerd is merely making explicit in his framework what Critical Theory curiously tries to hide (Wilson, 1997). His notion is no dogmatic functionalism, nor was he in the camp of philosophical realism. Though the aspectual norms are given, it is important not to confuse them with human rules or social norms, which are human constructions. Aspectual norms are never to be held as dogmas, because the non-absoluteness of the aspects that we discuss next means they can never be fully known by theory nor completely represented in language.

3.6 Non-absoluteness of the Aspects

Dooyeweerd held that no aspect is absolute. All are relative, reaching beyond themselves to all the others (e.g. as expressed by the intertwinement mentioned above), and also to their Source. This has several implications. One is that none can be made the foundation on which all the others rest (inter-aspect dependency not withstanding). The error of reductionism is to attempt just this. So one Dooyeweerdian critique of positivism is that it ignores most of the human aspects and their laws. One critique of interpretivism is that it ignores social and other aspects that Critical Theory takes to be important.

Another implication is that in no aspect can our functioning be complete. Two aspects are of particular interest for us. Non-absoluteness of the lingual aspect means that language can never fully express intended meaning, and has several implications. Written laws can never fully express aspectual norms. Discourse must involve all aspects to be maximally effective. More seriously, it casts doubt on Habermas' hope that emancipatory self-reflection might be achieved, even through ideal dialogue.

Similarly, non-absoluteness of the analytic aspect means that the theories and distinctions we generate can never grasp the whole truth, even in an ideal case. Like Habermas, Dooyeweerd believed theoretical thought has an 'horizon' that has implications for critical self-reflection (criteria 2, 5, below). "All philosophical activities issue from the ego which transcends the limits of theoretical thought" (Choi, 2000). Applying this self-critically, Dooyeweerd recognised that his suite of aspects, having been identified by a process of analytical functioning, must be open to debate.

Non-absoluteness of the aspects is a blessing, not a curse. It forces us to look beyond an aspect to all the others, and their Source, and this lends a harmony, a holism, to our deliberations that is necessary in, for example, information systems design.

3.7 Knowledge and Science, Theory and Practice

Dooyeweerd's theory of knowledge is extensive and not always easy to grasp. He focused, not on knowledge itself, but on human knowing (Hart, 1984). There is no one aspect whose kernel meaning is knowing, but rather each aspect provides a distinct way of knowing (e.g. social knowing differs from analytical knowing). Epistemology is not one, but pluriform.

However, Dooyeweerd recognised the special place that theoretical knowing, and its companion, science, have held in Western thinking. He discussed four main issues: the root of theoretical knowing within the analytic aspect of distinction, the human process of doing science as involving every aspect, how science is to be defined, by neither method nor outcome but by the (analytic) isolation of a given aspect (Gegenstand relation) (Clouser, 1991) and, therefore, that each aspect gives us a distinct area of science with its own methods and aims. These relate to criterion 4.

3.8 Lifeworld

While theoretical thinking is, at root, analytical knowing, everyday thinking involves knowing in all the aspects. It is, therefore, more holistic and integrative. Everyday life is thus distinguished fundamentally from the specialisms and disciplines that have arisen from the aspectual isolation that is science. In this way Dooyeweerd might contribute to restoring the dignity to 'naive' thought and everyday living.

This has strong links with Habermas' lifeworld, though he is perhaps more timid than Dooyeweerd was. While Habermas (1988) tends to separate lifeworld from the objective, subjective and social worlds, to Dooyeweerd lifeworld is a mode in which all 'worlds' (aspects) are integrated by multi-aspectually functioning human beings.

4. Assessment Against Criteria

4.1 A Critical approach should be concerned with conditions of human existence that facilitate the realization of human needs and potential.

To apply this criterion to a framework of thought, we examine what it means to be human. In Dooyeweerd, human existence is treated in two ways: the self, which is beyond theoretical grasp, and human life, which is multi-aspectual functioning. This criterion seems to be concerned with the latter. The aspects define "the conditions of human existence", each covering distinct human needs and potential: from the physical and biotic aspects through the to the juridical (we suffer under injustice), ethical (we need to love and be loved), and pistic (meaning in life). Dooyeweerd's aspectual suite thus provides a framework for discourse about diverse human needs and potential that helps us resist ignoring aspects or, in the extreme case, reducing human existence, needs or potential to a single aspect.

However, we also experience our lives as integrated, coherent wholes, not just a bundle of aspects. This is accounted for partly by the intertwinement of aspects mentioned earlier, but also by Dooyeweerd's notion of the self, which is the ultimate integration point in the concrete lifeworld.

4.2 A Critical approach should support a process of critical self-reflection and associated self-transformation.

This criterion is best approached by a sequence of questions. First, what, in the framework of thought, is reflection; how does it relate to reasoning? To Dooyeweerd, the human process of reflecting is multi-aspectual functioning, in which the primary aspect is the analytic (whose kernel is distinction, objectivization). Being a normative aspect, we have freedom as to what distinctions we make and there is an inherent element of interpretation.

Second, how is self-reflection possible? This relates to how the framework treats the subject-object relationship. To Dooyeweerd, anything can be the object of analytic functioning, including the self. Self-reflection is possible because the human self is not a distant observing subject to which all else is object, as positivism assumes, but it itself part of the observed reality.

Third, why is self-reflection important? Reductionist frameworks like positivism have no answer to this within themselves. But to Dooyeweerd, critical self-reflection was very important, not as a dogma, but founded in two things. As aspectual functioning, reflection is fundamentally non-absolute and thus can never bring us to completely sure knowledge, so all knowledge must be subjected to critical scrutiny. Second, all theoretical thought rests on extra-theoretical presuppositions, pistic (religious) in nature. "To arrive at self-reflection ... the limits of theoretical thought should be transcended" (Choi, 2000).

Dooyeweerd went further. Not only did he argue for the need for this type of critical self-reflection, he operationalized it into a method by which frameworks of thinking with incommensurable foundations (Burrell and Morgan, 1979) can engage with each other and even enrich each other. What he called immanent critique seeks to 'get inside' a framework of thought, properly understand it in its own terms - so as not to unjustly misunderstand it - and then lead it to uncover, recognise and admit its own presuppositions. (Habermas (1986) uses something similar in his discussion of Parsons, but stays at the level of rational argument.) Once these had been recognised, commensurability of a kind is possible. The efficacy of this method rests on the irreducibility of the aspects. The pistic aspect, governing presuppositional commitments that generate incommensurability, while it affects the analytic aspect of theoretical thinking and the lingual aspect of dialogue, does not completely dominate them. Dooyeweerd applied this method to many of the leading thinkers, notably Kant, and also to his own thought. It gives us hope that Dooyeweerd is commensurable with Habermas. Dooyeweerd's approach has been further developed by van der Hoeven (1991) and Klapwijk (1991), among others.

Self-transformation could mean transformation of one's own thinking or of one's own person. So, fourth and fifth, how does the framework account for each type? Dooyeweerd distinguished them clearly. Transformation of thinking is the recognising and changing of one's own presuppositions, and Klapwijk (1991) develops this to discuss the "on-going critical transformation of philosophy".

But Dooyeweerd saw transformation of the person as a very different notion, holistic, involving the human heart and all aspects, and not restricted to changing thinking or presuppositions (though of course this will have an effect). SO transformation of person is not a philosophical issue, but has a strong religious element: his own view was that it occurs by means of repentance, salvation and being lived in by the Spirit of God as spoken about in the Christian religion. While critical self-reflection can be seen as of the analytic aspect, repentance in its fullest form is of the pistic aspect.

4.3 A Critical approach should be sensitive to a broader set of institutional issues relating particularly to social justice, due process and human freedom.

"Sensitive to" implies making fine, useful distinctions among these issues, and between them and other issues, and linking them to the lifeworld. What, therefore, is the framework's basis for doing these?

Dooyeweerd's aspects, of course, are the basis for making the distinctions, and some correspond almost exactly to the issues mentioned: the social, the juridical (for both justice and what is due), and the formative (for process). Further, since the aspects provide both enabling and norms for everyday living, they satisfy the second part.

However, Dooyeweerd himself did not much discuss human freedom except as a metaphysical notion important to Kant, and as a pole of the current ground motive. But freedom, here, speaks about the experience of freedom in human life which, from a Dooyeweerdian standpoint, is treated as multi-aspectual. Considering each aspect would lead us to recognise a variety of distinct freedoms: freedom to achieve is formative, freedom from unwarranted constraints is juridical, freedom in the sense of the dignity of self is pistic, and so on.

Dooyeweerd's aspects might also be used in reverse, to help us critique the criterion itself and perhaps expand it. Why are social justice, due process and human freedom included while, for example, economy, aesthetics, generosity and loyalty are excluded?

4.4 A Critical approach should incorporate explicit principles of evidence giving (or an explicit truth theory) for the evaluation of claims made throughout the research process.

Dooyeweerd's contention that science must be seen, not as some means of generating absolute truths but as a human process, is important in his theory of knowledge, truth, theory and evidence. Though qualified by the analytic aspect, the scientific process involves all aspects including the social, the aesthetic, and the pistic (vision, paradigms). So the credibility of scientific claims, and their evaluation, is affected by all aspects. For example, though excellent analytical science, a claim that contravenes the (pistic) fashionable views of the time is unlikely to be accepted. This view foreshadowed the debate among historians of science like Popper (1968), Polanyi (1958), Kuhn (1970), Lakatos (1970).

Dooyeweerd himself did not develop detailed principles of evidence. However, building on Dooyeweerd's ideas, Stafleu (1987) has done so, discussing explanation, prediction, systematization of knowledge, heuristics, clarity, science within society, parsimony, harmony, criticism, commitment, belief, hypostatization and world views.

4.5 A Critical approach should incorporate principles of fallibility and self-correction (growth of knowledge through criticism, principle of Fallibilism).

We have discussed Dooyeweerd's contention that all knowing is fallible under criterion 2. However, this criterion also speaks of 'growth of knowledge through criticism'. Dooyeweerd's framework meets this at two levels. First, criticism is only one element in knowledge growth, since elements from other aspects also play their part - e.g. language, economics, aesthetics and even religious belief. Second, it offers us a longer term perspective that forces us to clarify what we mean by 'growth of knowledge'. Dooyeweerd was interested in what distinguishes progress from mere change, and developed a theory based on the directional nature of Time and the 'opening up' of aspects in which the scientific processes play an important part.

4.6 A Critical approach should suggest how the critique of social conditions or practices could be met (as safeguard against unrealistic and destructive negativism).

To suggest how critique may be met implies the framework should provide norms that can guide action. Dooyeweerd's aspects do so. However, this is not enough, since if the normative thrust the framework gives is unrelated to its ability to offer critique, then either the norms become little more than unrealistic wishes or, worse, any action the framework engenders will work against its own criteria. In the case of Dooyeweerd's aspects, the normative thrust comes from the same source as the ability to offer critique (viz. the norms of the aspects), and hence we may expect the norms to provide useful and reliable suggestions for remedying any problems thrown up by the critique.

5. Reflection Upon Outcome and Process

We have applied six given criteria to the philosophical framework proposed by Herman Dooyeweerd. We can see that, in most respects, it obtains a high Criticality score. Much more important than the score, we can see that Dooyeweerd's framework goes further than the criteria require, and may suggest how the criteria may be refined. We have also seen, though indirectly, how Dooyeweerd's framework might enrich CST as a whole. That is the outcome of our study.

But, to Habermas, process is at least as important as outcome. As we reflect upon the process we have undergone, we can perhaps see how it can be useful to apply the criteria (either these or any other set) to other frameworks of thought in a similar way. We have seen that the criteria have given us a rich basis for our discussion and reflection, both upon the target framework of thought and also on the criteria themselves and, by implication, upon our view of Critical Theory.

To apply the first criterion, we found it necessary to address the question of what is human life, not in detail but in terms of recognising both its diversity and its coherence. To apply the second criterion we found it useful to consider self-reflection and self-transformation separately, echoing the distinction between analytical thought and everyday life. Under self-reflection, we found ourselves discussing three things: it's possibility, its nature and its importance. Under self-transformation, we found it useful to distinguish between transformation of one's thinking and one's person. To apply the third criterion, we sought to clarify its main thrust, which we believed to reside, not in 'institutional' but in 'broader', and thus saw it as emphasizing diversity of issues. To apply the fourth criterion, we first stood back from detailed theory of evidence and truth to look at the context in which they are important, namely scientific process. This allowed us to see that scientific truth is affected by many aspects. In applying the fifth criterion we noted that we had already been forced to consider fallibility when applying criterion 2, suggesting there may be some overlap between them. We found ourselves discussing growth of human knowledge as a long term project, and the notion of progress in scientific endeavour. Need a Critical approach necessarily hold a particular view on this? To apply criterion 6, we took the bracketed explanation to be indicative of its main intention: to ensure that a Critical approach results in changes in the world that meet the critique it offers. It would seem that the framework being considered must at least provide norms, but also that these norms should inherently relate to the framework's ability to provide critique. Otherwise, either the norms or the critique become unrealistic, or they will work against each other.

In this way, we can see that the undertaking of such an analysis can feed back to clarify the criteria themselves, and suggest ways in which they might be refined.

However, there is one major area that has not been touched by the criteria. While both thinkers, Habermas and Dooyeweerd, acknowledge the pertinence of presuppositions that underlie thinking, the presuppositions they hold are very different. This becomes evident when we examine what each thinker believes to be the foundation of their thought. For Habermas, emancipation is a goal that mainly goes unquestioned, and dialogue is the means for accomplishing this. These might be seen as Habermasian 'aspects' that are adopted extra-theoretically. For Dooyeweerd likewise, aspects define the goal and the means, and are adopted extra-theoretically. But there are two differences. The lesser (though still important) difference lies in the diversity of Dooyeweerd's aspects compared with Habermas' two. The deeper difference lies in what is presupposed to be self-dependent, and thereby hypostatized and accepted uncritically. Wilson (1997) demonstrates that the Habermasian 'aspects' are in danger of this. In Dooyeweerd, only the transcendent Source is self-dependent, so no aspect may be hypostatized, but all are open to question (including those of emancipation and dialogue).

The result of such a deep difference would seem to be an icommensurability that can never be overcome. As one reviewer of this paper remarked, "does acceptance [of Dooyeweerd] depend on having a theistic belief?" For complete acceptance of Dooyeweerd's whole framework, the answer might be "Yes", but for usefulness in, for example, enriching CST, the answer is "No, some commensurability is achieved via Dooyeweerd's immanent critique" (discussed above). As long as the pistic (religious) nature of presuppositions is laid bare, different frameworks of thinking can certainly engage meaningfully with each other within the analytic and lingual (and perhaps other) aspects, in spite of incommensurability in the pistic aspect.

So we might suggest one more criterion, not for scoring Criticality, but rather for ensuring the effectiveness of engagement between different frameworks of thought when we try to enrich CST:

"7. The presuppositional differences between Critical Theory and the other framework must be laid bare, and the framework must contain explicit ways of handling apparent incommensurability."


I wish to thank Heinz Klein for permission to discuss the criteria that he has not fully published yet.


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Created: 2002
Copyright (c) Andrew Basden. 2007

Last updated: 12 December 2007