Dooyeweerd: Twilight of Western Thought

I think I wrote the essence of this review in 2006. I post it here because this book is a good summary of D’s thought.  I don’t agree with Dooyeweerd’s overall project.  I think his criticisms of Aristotle and Thomas Aquinas are interesting, but I think he takes the rest of it in a dangerous area (e.g., he denies the soul because he thinks it is “Greek,” which is silly).

Dooyeweerd’s thesis is that all attempts of doing philosophy apart from religious presuppositions are futile. Dooyeweerd exposes the would-be autonomy of modern man and traces the problem back to the Greeks. He examines aspects of the history of philosophy through the grid of Creation-Fall-ReCreation in Jesus Christ. In this I will attempt to highlight the most helpful aspects of Dooyeweerd’s thoughts and end with a few criticisms and points of clarification.


Man’s roots are essentially religious. There is not an area of life divorced from religious presuppositions. All worldviews[i] have a starting point. The consistent Christian starting point will be the living God who reveals himself; the alternative to this is man as the starting point and this position is autonomy. Dooyeweerd shows that man’s attempts at knowledge and doing philosophy from an autonomous base self-destruct. For man, having established his starting point with himself, can never rise above himself to offer a critique of his system. In short, he is absolutized the relative. He is guilty of “immanentist” philosophy.

Dooyeweerd writes, “For this view [autonomy] implies that the ultimate starting point of philosophy should be found in this thought [theoretical?] itself. But due to the lack of a univocal sense, the pretended autonomy cannot guarantee a common basis to the different philosophical trends” (3). In other words, if man posits his own rationality as the starting point for knowledge, then he is left with the unbearable strain that he himself can account for all knowledge. In short, given his premises, to know anything he must know everything.
Dooyeweerd takes sharp issue with the Thomistic “grace-nature” view of creation. But to understand this, one must first understand his Creation-Fall-Redemption
Motif. This is the biblical story, according to Dooyeweerd. “As Creator God reveals himself as the absolute origin of all that is outside himself” (188); “The entire fall into sin can be summed up as a false illusion, which arose in the human heart, namely, that the human I has the same absolute existence as God himself” (190); “The redemption by Jesus Christ means the radical rebirth of our heart and must reveal itself in the whole of our temporal life” (191). The conclusion that Dooyeweerd draws from this motif, which takes us back to the issue of “grace restoring nature” is that our whole worldview must be Reformed along Christo-centric lines, abolishing all sinful and artificial dualisms.

Concluding Thoughts
I am not entirely convinced of Dooyeweerd’s modal scheme. Perhaps this is a fault on my part  or Dooyeweerd’s own writing style. Whatever the case may be, I am not ready to commend it to others. I also question whether is separation of theology from philosophy is valid. Dooyeweerd is arguing that philosophy establish the foundation of science (so far, so good) and theology as well (chs. 5-7). Philosophy should, he argues, establish a coherent structure for the temporal sciences, including theology. Not wanting his view of philosophy to fall prey to the damaging critiques he has given to autonomous thinking so far, he argues that philosophy should be controlled by the Word but not derived from the Bible. But as Greg Bahnsen points out:

“The verbal teaching of God’s revealed word is subordinated to some controlling authority outside of itself—and that actually runs contrary to the Bible’s own verbal teaching (Col. 1:18; 2 Cor. 10:5). The philosopher is placed in the privileged position of laying down for the exegete how the Bible may and may not be used, how its teachings must be broadly conceived, and what the Bible can and cannot say. Reason becomes a vestibule for faith (believing truths of theology). Philosophy is thereby rendered rationally autonomous, even if the philosopher’s “heart is gripped” by the power of God’s word.[iii]”
Even acknowledging this criticism, however, one can still appreciate Dooyeweerd’s valuable contributions. Dooyeweerd’s attack on autonomy is crucial and at points insightful.

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