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Critiques of Dooyeweerdian Thought

Because Dooyeweerdian thought is so little known, there have been few real, good critiques of it. Any developing system of thinking requires critique. If you can help provide some, please email me. Here we include:

Most 'critiques' so far have come from the reformational or protestant-Christian stable, because Dooyeweerd was attempting to propose a Christian(-friendly) philospophy, and many thinking Christians do not like new ideas, so they misunderstood him and rejected his ideas. Another set of critiques have come from Roman Catholic thinkers, and a third set from Humanist thinkers. I am indebted to Yong-Joon Choi for researching responses to Dooyeweerd's ideas and collecting them together in his thesis.

Dooyeweerd's Modesty

Dooyeweerd himself was relatively modest about his philosophy. He acknowledged that much of it stood in need of critique and refinement, and I think he was rather disappointed that it received so little good quality critique. The reason for his modesty is to be found partly in his Christian faith, that sees humility as a virtue, but is also to be found in his philosophy itself. Philosophy is not some avenue to absolute truth, because it is functioning in aspects, all of which are non-absolute. In particular, its central analytical aspect is non-absolute. Therefore every philosophy, including his own, must be questioned. This page is an attempt to assemble a number of critiques.

Types of Critique

I try to differentiate different types of 'critique', indicating them by a short abbreviation now explained: The types of critique can overlap. Note, however, I do not mean to suggest that the first two are valueless; they point to issues that need tackling, though they do not invalidate Dooyeweerd's ideas as such.

I also add comments of my own in some places.

Tiers of Critique

If Dooyeweerd's ideas can be criticised then we should be able to modify them. But not all of his ideas are equally modifiable. Not all that Dooyeweerd said it to be taken with the same degree of agreement; there may be several tiers of critiique, each with a different degree to which modification of his ideas would be appropriate:

We who criticise need to clearly differentiate the tiers.

But we must do so without pulling them apart from each other, because some of Dooyeweerd's Tier 3 ideas were interwoven with Tier 2, and even Tier 1. For example, his theory of progress, though it can be seen as the opening up of one of his aspects, it can also be seen as part and parcel of his theory of Time and of the Human Heart, such that these would probably have to be rethought if we rejected his theory of progress. As with any genuine attempts at an holistic view, all is interconnected.

The Critiques

Positive Critiques

At present, I merely point to a couple of 'why I like Dooyeweerd' pages:

Some Confusions in Dooyeweerd

Choi's Critique of Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Criticism

Choi, seeking to apply Dooyeweerd's transcendental critique to cultures, found the following weaknesses:

However, Choi also gives a number of strong points, and concludes that "It should be clear that Dooyeweerd's transcendental criticism can function as a cultural critique. It gives marvellous insight into understanding the root and dilemma of Western culture throughout its history ... but also offers insight into the possibility of reforming or transforming it from a Christian perspective."

Ronald Nash

In Nash's Dooyeweerd and the Amsterdam Philosophy (Zondervan, 1962) we find the following wise suggestion:

"Inasmuch as it is the purpose of tis book to prepare the way for more profitable discussions of this new philosophy in the future, it would seem some suggestions are in order.

We have yet to hear the last of either for or against the Philosophy of the Idea of Law. I trust that this brief study may help point out the future discussions of it should take."

Van Der Hoeven's Critique

Critique by Klapwijk

(From Choi:138)

Olthius' Critique of Dooyeweerd's notion of Temporal/Supra-temporal

Olthius, ends his excellent exposition of "Dooyeweerd on religion and faith", with a discussion of a number of criticisms of it, most stemming from Dooyeweerd's view of time and supra-temporality. Dooyeweerd posits a supra-temporal realm within creation that is beyond time and which the human heart inhabits; this is explained in the page on spirituality. The criticism Olthius makes is fundamental [GC, tier 1], and results in a number of problems:

McIntire's Critique of Dooyeweerd's View of History

McIntire (1985), in "Dooyeweerd's philosohpy of history", made a number of useful observations from the point of view of an historian that help us see some weaknesses in Dooyeweerd's ideas, some of which can be overcome by refinement. Here I merely list them for now, with little comment.

van Til

The Christian thinker, Cornelius van Til, criticised Dooyeweerd for being not antithetical enough with regard to non-Christian thought. Dooyeweerd proposed three parts to a transcendental critique:

Dooyeweerd held that antithesis between Christian and non-Christian thought comes about at the third stage. Van Til held that it occurs at all stages. An account of this debate can be found in Choi's thesis.

Van Til holds the view that there is a complete hiatus between Christian and non-Christian thinking, and that even the analytical processes of abstraction are distorted in non-Christian thought. If we take theorizing to be multi-aspectual then it is of course affected by our pistic commitment, and Van Til might be right. But if we consider only the analytical aspect of our theorizing, then it is not so dominated by pistic commitment and Dooyeweerd might be right. However, this critique of Dooyeweerd's position seems to be relevant only to Christian thinkers who want to find a complete hiatus between their way of thinking and what they lump together into non-Christian ways of thinking.

Bruce Wearne, in an email on ThinkNet, April 20 2005, discussed Van Til's reservations about Dooyeweerd's 'second way to a transcendental critique', which cannot be ignored as part of the historical legacy of reception of Dooyeweerd's thought. Was it not Van Til with others who encouraged the translation of the WdW? And so when NCTT appears with its 'second way' Van Til found himself caught in cognitive dissonance.

Vander Stelt's discussion in Philosophy and Scripture (1978 p.269) indicates that Van Til's reservations about Dooyeweerd were somehow included in his second thoughts about G C Berkouwer and Abraham Kuyper as well. Nevertheless, the 'second way' seems to have been other than what Van Til had understood as Calvinistic philosophy when he had read the WdW back in the 1930s and it seems he was unaware of this when he wrote his WTJ review of NC in 1955. It was later therefore that a concern developed about Dooyeweerd's theoretical analysis going 'off the rails'. Dooyeweerd in NCTT suggests that the transcendental critique needed refinement lest his philosophy promote a dogmatic anti-dogmatism.

By drawing attention to what Dooyeweerd wrote in 1949, BW considers that Dooyeweerd already answered Van Til's criticisms before they even appeared.


One major criticism is by Frame and Coppes. Their critique seems more a tirade of dislike [D] from a couple of Christians about something they do not properly understand, in which they try to find as many negative things as they can to say about Dooyeweerd's ideas, but all that is available via that link so far is my own rather angry critique of their misunderstandings of Dooyeweerd. However in it you might find some useful pointers to possible criticisms of substance of Dooyeweerd.

Frances Bell's Critique: Dooyeweerd Too Broad

My colleage Frances Bell, at the University of Salford Business School, made a critique that is relevant to applying Dooyeweerd, especially his aspects: Dooyeweerd's aspects are too broad. Her point was that in undertaking realistic research projects, e.g. at PhD or masters level, students who use Dooyeweerd tend to go broad and shallow rather than investigating in depth. So - especially relevant for PhDs, in which researchers are learning to become independent researchers - they do not have a chance to learn and practise the skills needed for in-depth research.

In my view, this is a valid criticism. However, it might be better seen as a characteristic rather than a weakness as such, because there is some research, especially interdisciplinary research and research in philosophy, which requires breadth more than depth. Research of an interpretivist nature especially depends on an openness to a wide variety of meaningfulness, which Dooyeweerd's aspects can provide if used judiciously. See Interpretivist Research - The Contribution of Dooyeweerd.

Note: Frances' critique is not about whether the aspects of Dooyeweerd are acceptable or not as such, but that using them leads to broad, shallow research.

Unfortunately, Frances has not yet published this critique and, as far as I know, nobody else has done so. However Frances has a small blog comment, where she opens explains her concern in more detail.

FUTURE RESEARCH for somebody: Publish a critique of the breadth of Dooyeweerd.

Other Critiques

An Example of a Critique Net or Tangle

Most critiques of Dooyeweerd focus on specific issues. But since Dooyeweerd's thought is so interconnected, it would not be surprising to find a negative critique that takes the form of a tangled web rather than focusing on a specific issue. In such a critique - what we might call a critique network or tangle - the critique is not directed strongly at specific parts but rather at a certain web of interconnections between what Dooyeweerd says.

I can think of the following as an example of a critique net or tangle, in which the problem lies not in specific claims but in what they tend to say or connote when brought together in a certain way. It is to do with Dooyeweerd's view of the difference between humanity and animals, and how this impacts on how he has understood the kernel meanings of some aspects:


It may be that the main areas where a real critique can be made - critiques that are useful in refining and developing Dooyeweerdian thinking - are around issues that had not arisen while Dooyeweerd was still alive, including the overwhelming nature of information and communication technology and the Internet, and the advent of global environmental problems, global climate change, global pollution and the destruction of cultures. Dooyeweerd was very positive towards the idea of 'development', but he lived in an era in which the problems associated with it had not become as visible as they are today.

As to being old-fashioned in adopting a systematic approach, what I can say is this.

Dooyeweerd opened a path through virgin territory for us to tread, so we might enter, explore and enjoy new and fascinating terrain. From the path he laid we can gain new views of the fauna, flora, geology and landscape around us, views that nobody else can obtain from any other path. He paid careful attention to the foundations and quality of the path he laid, so that it will not move or sink into the mire, or wear out. So we can walk along with confidence and enjoy the vistas it affords us. He expected us not only to tread his path, but also to extend it, and thereby enable more and more people to enter, explore and enjoy the new terrain.


Strauss, D.F.M. (2009). Philosophy: Discipline of the Disciplines. Paideia Press, Grand Rapids, MI, USA.

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: 9 April 2000. Last updated: 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 19 February 2002 added Choi, van der Hoeven, rewrote some. 20 February 2002 Types of critique; added klapwijk. 6 March 2002 democracy etc. 1 April 2002 van Til. 17 September 2002 some comments from Bill Gordon; the Path; expanded Types of Critique, with why each might be useful; new section Tiers of Critique; std ending. 18 September 2002 Olthius critique. 1 November 2002 Critique by McIntire. 20 November 2002 frame.coppes file moved to ext/. 16 January 2003 McIntire spelling corrected; Added para about interwovenness of Tiers. 1 March 2003 Choi relocated in papers/, not ext/, .nav. 3 March 2003 changed link to knowing.html. 6 March 2003 Modesty section added. 22 September 2003 added positive critique, with two links, and made local hyperlinks to types of critique. 20 May 2004 Tangle critique. 28 June 2005 VT 'afraid'. 1 July 2005 BCW's correction of this. 21 November 2005 unets. 14 March 2006 Nash's suggestion. 7 August 2012 Bell's critique. 14 August 2012 FBell's blog. 3 October 2013 confusions Strauss, refs, .nav, .end. 4 October 2013 confusion about individuality structures and aspectual roles, links to research.html.