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The Act Structure of the Human Body

In trying to understand the bodily existence of the human person Dooyeweerd developed the notion of the act structure. If he had lived to complete his anthropology, this concept would probably have been part of that. It hardly appears in his magnum opus, only on a few pages [NC,II:112-6, III,88,115] (see below), but was promised in Volume III of his Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy (see [NC,II:114, footnote]). It appears most crisply in Proposition XIV of Dooyeweerd's propositions for a philosophical anthropology.

The act-structure is the triad of inner human mental acts: knowing, imagining and willing. As such, this is very similar to ===='s triple of cognition, affect and conation [thanks to Michael Morbey]. To Dooyeweerd, the common thread through the three is intentionality, and he never deals with knowing or imagination apart from intentionality.

The Proposition XIV has been translated from the Dutch by Bruce C Wearne as follows [to whom many thanks] - I have emphasised certain key phrases:

"By the 'acts' the Philosophy of the Law Idea understands all activities (verrichtingen) which come forth out of the soul (or spirit) but which function within the enkaptically structured whole of the human body. By these activities, under the leadership of normative points of view, man directs (richten op) himself intentionally (bedoelend) to states of affairs in reality or his world of imagination. By relating these (now) intentional states of affairs to his 'I'ness he makes them internally his own. The act-life of man manifests itself in three fundamental ways, n.l. knowing, imagining, and willing. They must not be isolated however as three separate faculties, because they are completely intertwined. In the intentional character of the 'acts' lies their 'innerness' (innerlijkheid). It is the performance (activity) which actualizes (realizes) the intention of the act. By this performance the knowing act, imagining act, and the act of volition are intertwined in the motivated process of decision making, which decision is then translated into deed." [emphasis mine]

So the notion of act-structure seems to be an attempt to account for the multi-aspectual activities that are 'inside' the human mind and which we experiences as acts that actualize intention, such as knowing, imagining and willing. Certainly, whereas believing is an act qualified by the pistic aspect, and loving by the ethical, knowing does not seem to be qualified by any aspect, but extends across all aspects.

The reference to enkapstically structured whole might be an attempt to forge an unbreakable link between these and the human body, so as to prevent any notion of a divide between body and soul as had grown out of the Greek Form-Matter motive. This may be found in Dooyeweerd's 'Doctrine of Man', where he says that there are four individuality structures enkaptically interwoven in the human body, as follows:

This feels odd to me: we step nicely along the aspects and then suddenly come up with a different notion. It seems that this jump is necessary in order to maintain the dogma that while animals are qualified by the sensitive aspect, human beings are not qualified by any aspect.

Index of Dooyeweerd's Entries about Act-Structure

The following have been typed out from [NC, IV:2].

"acts are not aspects; Franz Brentano and Edmund Husserl conceive of an 'Erlebnis' as an intentional act of human consciousness; many psychologists consider feeling to be the undifferentiated origin of the other classes of 'Erlebnisse'; but an Erlebnis is not a 'sensation'; then feeling can be no act, but is the general term for the affective aspect of human experience" II:112

"every real act functions in the intgral modal horizon of human experience embracing all the modal aspects" II:112

"an inner act of experience as a concrete Erlebnis cannot be restricted to its feeling aspect" II:113

"animal psychology; the volitional, the intellectual, the fantasy directions of human act-life" II:114, 115

"Affects" II:116

"in man [act-structure] qualifies his temporal existence" III:88

"phantasy" III:15.


I am not convinced by the idea of act-structure.


Thanks are due to various members of Thinknet, who responded to my questions as to why there are three in the act-structure and what is its philosophical necessity, including Bruce C Wearne, Gerrit Glas and Michael Morbey.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments are very welcome.

Compiled by Andrew Basden. You may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 16 March 2009. Last updated: