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The Aspects - Brief Explanation

The aspect pages, one per Dooyeweerdian aspect, seek to explore the meaning and nature of each aspect and how each affects us in our daily living and thinking. This page explains the structure of each aspect page, the reasons for each entry and what I am trying to achieve in each entry. This page could also be taken as a brief discussion of what it is to be an aspect.

In each aspect page I have tried to get close to what I believe was the heart of Dooyeweerd's concept, but in doing so, have added some exploratory interpretations of my own and contributions from others. At present, my own interpretations are especially in the areas of Common Misconceptions and Common Reductions. (Adding my own interpretations is in line with Dooyeweerd's idea that logical thought is not absolute but must always be mixed with interpretation in real life. But you should always treat my interpretations with caution.) Please send comments and queries.

On each page you will find: "(Page only 10% constructed.)" - This shows how far we have got in making up each page. - however, most of those were put up in 1990s, and should have gone by now.

Defining the Aspect

First, we need to define the aspect - as far as possible, since the aspects are themselves ultimately beyond definition. Dooyeweerd expressly suggested that we can 'grasp' the meaning of each aspect better by intuitition than by intellect or definition. Therefore do not expect a perfectly precise definition of any aspect. The best approach to an aspect is to intuitively grasp the meaning of its 'kernel'.


Here we provide a few word-concepts that hopefully allow us such an intuitive grasp, usually as a bullet list. Dooyeweerd was clear that the kernel of an aspect can be intuitively grasped, yet it is forever beyond the scope of theoretical thought to grasp. Therefore, look at these words and 'sense' the meaning rather than trying to think about it. The list starts with how Dooyeweerd expressed the kernel, and then has a more intuitive understanding from Basden.

Of course, words can never fully express meaning, so we adopt the common device of also showing what the kernel is not, using a second list of:

rather than:

which mention some things that might commonly be thought to be the kernel. In this I list some common misconceptions about what the aspect might be about (e.g. the economic aspect is not about finance, nor about production and consumption, but about something much more fundamental.) I often deal with these misconceptions in greater detail below.

But even if words could express our meaning fully, we can still never come to a full and exact definition of the kernel because kernels of aspects are beyond our ability to grasp fully. Yet - as said above - the meaning of the kernel may be grasped intuitively.

Some central themes

To the kernel a number of major themes are attached.

Each aspect has a set of laws that are irreducible to those of other aspects; in particular, they do not 'emerge' from lower aspects in some reductionist manner, but have to be recognised and known for what they are and as on their own terms. Now, Dooyeweerd's idea of law differed slightly from our idea. To us, law is something that constrains our freedom; to Dooyeweerd, law is something that enables. It comes from the Biblical idea of God upholding the universe by means of his Law, and suggests that law is our only basis for real, meaningful functioning.

The laws of an aspect provide enabling and structuring, and thus point to the major themes that we deal with in each aspect.

Common Misconceptions

In this sub-section I discuss some common misconceptions that I have encountered, such as that economics is primarily to do with finance. This might help in our understanding of the aspects.

The Aspect Itself

In this section we discuss various things that relate to the aspect itself, and to our better and deeper understanding of it.

Inside the Aspect

Each aspect is rich and complex, not simple, with an internal anatomy of portions, components, elements, levels, relationships, etc. that are distinct and cannot be reduced to each other. In this part we look inside the aspect, to find out what these are. The richness sometimes arises from things within it that dependency on several earlier aspects or anticipation of later ones, or other analogical relationships. An example is the lingual aspect; the laws of linguistics include those of lexics, syntax, semantics and pragmatics, among others, which seem to correspond to, or echo, the analytical, formative, lingual and social aspects respecively.

So in this section of the page we expound some of this internal anatomy of the aspect, as far as we can. We seek to identify the distinct parts of the anatomy and show how they relate to each other and how they might be echoes of other aspects necessary to the service of the one being considered. There seems to be at least four types of relationship among them: aggregation, dependency, anticipations of other aspects, and things that derive from the basic kernel meaning to fill it out.

Shalom - Contribution of the Aspect

Each aspect brings a blessing to temporal reality, which cannot be obtained from other aspects, even in combination.

It seems to be Dooyeweerd's idea that functioning well in all the aspects brings about what might be called 'joy', a fullness of life, a well-being, a fulfilment, a peace, a health and prospetity in their widest and richest sense - what the Hebrew word 'shalom' encapsulates. This 'shalom' is exciting and diverse, yet at the same time reliable and coherent, and each aspect makes its own distinctive contribution thereto.

This section, in each aspect, outlines what the aspect might contribute to this overall shalom: in what way does this aspect contribute to the 'joy' of entities that function as subject in it? The things in this section can be seen as the positive repercussions of functioning in the aspect.

Beware, however, of thinking of these things primarily as goals, because that will impoverish our thinking. The things listed here can indeed be treated as goals when functioning formatively, but the emphasis in our thinking should be on functioning rather than goals, on dynamics rather than statics, on law-response rather than repercussions.


If I understand Dooyeweerd aright, then the shalom suffers and is harmed. Often when we elevate an aspect we ignore others. Whichever aspect we ignore, we will find ourselves transgressing its laws at some stage, and thus come under the first source above.

This section is usually a simple list, or sometimes two lists,

(The explicit separation into two lists began with the juridical aspect on 8 November 2021.)

Often the harm mentioned in the long term, rather than the short term, notably in the later aspects. For instance, if we kill then it can be immediate, if we tell a lie the effect can be immediate, or it can be hours or days, but if we have a flawed pistic commitment, then the full effects might be a century in emerging clearly - as it was in the case of Marxism.

This section also draws attention to some common misuses and elevations of the aspect.


A key claim by Dooyeweerd was that no aspect is absolute, in the sense that no aspect can ever be a solid, certain foundation on which other aspects may rest. Every aspect is, as it were, 'floating', dependent on some other factors that transcend them, external to themselves, to 'ground' them. Dooyeweerd investigated the inter-dependency among aspects.

All aspects are non-absolute: written into the laws of every aspect is its own inner limitation. No aspect has meaningful in itself, even though it has its own distinct and unique kernel meaning. Nothing in created reality can stand the weight of being the sole origin of meaning for all else.

When we absolutize something it eventually collapses. Absolutization of an aspect eventually undermines it and the good it brings to reality turns sour and poisons reality.

If no aspect is absolute, the most incisive and knowledgeable minds that reflect on the aspect will eventually discover this need for a transcending factors, probably as a kind of gap or inherent inconsistency. e.g. Russell found such in logic, Wittgenstein in language, etc. Rifkin's Eclipse of Capitalism is another indication.

This section in each aspect page discusses the non-absoluteness of the aspect, reciting some of the struggles of such thinkers.

Special Science

Each aspect provides us with a different way of knowing, a distinct epistemology, a different set of research methods that are appropriate to it. See table of sciences.

Roy Clouser (1992) (The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories) develops Dooyeweerd's idea that a science is the isolation of an aspect in order to study its laws. If this is so then each aspect has its own special science (e.g. mathematics for the quantitative, physics for the physical, social science for the social, etc.) that centres on the aspect. Science is essentially an analytical activity. Some of this is discussed in more depth in the page on Three Types of Thinking, and. with particular reference to Thomas Kuhn's thinking, in that on science.

I like this because it allows each science to develop its own 'scientific methods' and its own epistemology. So that social science, for instance, can be freed from the claims that all 'real' science should aspire to what is commonly known as 'the scientific method' of hypothesis and laboratory test.

Now, of course, the actual process of doing science is not purely analytical, but involves historical, economic, religious, etc. functioning too. So what we see as the various sciences today is a result of historical as well as logical development and many do not completely centre on a single aspect; e.g. both physics and chemistry are of the physical aspect.

Note also that having a special science is secondary to the aspects than having a kernel meaning. While we can identify special sciences for most aspects, some aspects might not have a science. It is difficult to identify the science for the ethical aspect of self-giving love, for instance - or it might be that we have not yet 'opened' it up.

See also, below, Contributions from the Field, which contains contributions that major workers in the field of the aspect, and in particular its scientists, have discovered about the aspect over a period of decades.


Each aspect often has a human institution associated with it. For instance, government is (should be) linked to the juridical aspect. While de Raadt sees the institution link as very important, I do not; at the moment I tend to think of it as almost an historical accident how our institutions have come about, but hope to be corrected on this.

Contributions from the Field

This sub-section contains notes about contributions made by workers in the field or science of the aspect. In many cases it is they who will best understand the nature and structure and makeup of the aspect, so what they say over a period of decades should lead to some understanding of the aspect itself and its laws. This section is likely to be highly incomplete, especially in the later aspects.

The Aspect Among Others

In this major section, we consider the aspect among all or some others, and especially its relationship to other aspects and also to the whole aspectual system.

On the Need for This Aspect

In this section (begun on 4 March 2003 with the ethical aspect, we discuss why this aspect is needed as a separate aspect. Why cannot it be merged with others?


While the laws of each aspect are irreducible to those of others, there is still various types of relationship among the aspects. If there wasn't there would not be the unity and coherence we experience in our everyday living. Dooyeweerd spoke of sphere sovereignty to emphasize the irreducibility of the aspects and of sphere universality to emphasize their coherence. But, what is the nature of this coherence?

He suggested there were at least two types of relationship among the aspects. One is that the aspects form a sequence, and the laws of the later ones require or depend on those of the earlier ones. This section makes some suggestions for why the current aspect requires those of the earlier ones for its proper and richest functioning.

This sub-section is important for providing reasons for why Dooyeweerd proposed the sequence that he did: if the dependencies are found to be different then the sequence will be different, and maybe some aspects should be split and other merged. But, so far, Dooyeweerd's proposed aspects have withstood the test of time.

Inter-aspect dependency is reminiscent of Maslow's famous dependency pyramid, but does not possess the element of reductionism that that does. While (popular (mis)understanding of) Maslow claims that a person cannot appreciate beauty while hungry, Dooyeweerd expressly claims that we can because the aspects are irreducible to each other and we function in all of them together.


The second type of relationship among the aspects is that of analogy. In each aspects there is an echo of all the others. For instance, while causality is a major theme of the physical aspect, there is something rather like causality in other aspects. This section suggests some of the analogies that might exist.

There seem to be two types of analogy: those we make for ourselves and those that are stronger links, like ligaments. Identifying these latter helps us see how things of one aspect can help things of another, e.g. how juridical institutions and laws can support the family.


Dooyeweerd suggested that one way to separate out the aspects was to look for antinomies (fundamental contradictions and paradoxes) that occur when two aspects are wrongly conflated. For instance, he explains the Xeno's famous paradox of the hare and tortoise as a conflation of the spatial and kinematic aspects.

I have very few entries here. But I wonder if a study of Zen Koans might help provide some? Email me with suggestions.

Common Reductions

It is common for one aspect to be elevated above others and thereby have the others 'reduced' to it in some way. But we want to understand, not just condemn or ignore. There are several types of reduction, most of which usually result in some harm or other.

This section discusses various ways in which other aspects are reduced to the given one. Often a word ending in 'ism' is evidence for a reduction - we often use the word 'reductionism' to indicate a reduction taken too far. Many are now aware of the dangers of such reductions and especially reductionisms.


In this section I provide various other notes, usually referenced from earlier in the page, especially ...

Comments Received

I have started receiving comments. Where these can be incorporated into the sections above, they will be, but this section is for those comments received that either have not yet been so incorporated or cannot easily be.
This section gives various administrative documentation: copyright notice, contact and email address and date the page was last updated. Here are the details for this explanation page ...

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.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 1998 or earlier. Last modified 8 May 1998. 4 June 1998 altered the section on Harm and added 'eliminative'. 13 August 1998 rearranged the page into major sections:

and, gradually, each separate aspect page will be rearranged accordingly. 30 August 1998 added non-absoluteness. 27 June 1999 some improvement to the section on kernels. 24 November 1999 link to science. 7 February 2001 copyright and mailto. 5 March 2001 Shalom and Harm sections moved earlier to give the contribution of the aspect, and the former given a much better explanation. 27 April 2001 links to thinking.html. 17 July 2001 link to knowledge.html. 20 December 2002 added 'Inside the Aspect' section, a slight enrichment of shalom. 12 January 2003 link to anticipation.html, summary#analogy. 3 March 2003 links to knowing.html, science.html table, .nav. 4 March 2003 Need section added. 21 February 2008 'grasp' label. 13 September 2010 comments part of notes. 22 September 2010 Dooyeweerd's and Basden's kernels. 18 May 2013 reductions moved to reduction.html. 11 March 2015 expanded non.abs. 8 November 2021 2 lists in harm.