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Understanding Everyday Experience and Lifeworld

Dooyeweerd - perhaps the best philosopher of everyday life we have so far?

Dooyeweerd argued that neither science nor philosophy have been fully appropriate to understanding everyday life and experience. Science is fundamentally inappropriate because it inherently focuses on a single aspect; philosophy could be appropriate but in fact has seldom been so, because of deep presuppositions that have driven it forward throughout its history since the ancient Greeks. He thus sought to discern what philosophy would, could or should be like if it were to be appropriate to helping us analyse everyday experience.

To do this, he first made a longitudinal transcendental critique of the theoretical attitude of thought, which he argued is the antithesis of a pre-theoretical or everyday attitude, demonstrating that the presuppositions that either enable or hinder philosophy in viewing everyday experience are religious in nature. Dooyeweerd himself explicitly chose a religious starting point that is different from those that have informed Western philosophy, namely those of ancient Greece, the mediaeval scholastics, and the humanist modern era; his starting point was the Biblical notion of creation, fall and redemption. As Basden (2008) explains, this starting point freed him to take seriously the diversity and coherence we experience in the everyday attitude, and that meaning is more fundamental than being.


Dooyeweerd's Approach to Everyday Experience

Why should we think that Dooyeweerd's thought might help us in considering everyday experience, sometimes called the lifeworld? Though he did not use the term 'lifeworld', but terms like 'everyday', 'na´ve' and 'pre-theoretical' instead (and especially 'na´ve', to which he assigned no negative connotations),

We should clarify: he talked about everyday experience and the everyday (na´ve, pre-theoretical) attitude of thinking - that is, being and doing on the one hand and thinking on the other. We sometimes conflate them here; what is said about everyday experience will usually apply to everyday attitude of thought, and what is said about everyday attitude of thought will usually apply to everyday experience.

Respect for the Everyday

Many modern thinkers have had respect for everyday experience and the everyday attitude of thought. But Dooyeweerd was different. Whereas most of those presupposed the theoretical attitude of thinking as a means to understand everyday life, Dooyeweerd worked in the reverse direction: he presupposed everyday life as a means to understand the theoretical attitude. For example, while Schutz, presupposed a 'disinterested observer' (see Habermas' [1986:123]: being 'disinterested' and also being an 'observer' both presuppose a theoretical attitude), the first words of volume 1 of his A New Critique of Theoretical Thought: "If I consider reality as it is given in the na´ve pre-theoretical experience, ..." His whole approach is based on respect for the everyday attitude and lifeworld.

Throughout his work, he kept on returning to everyday experience, with its diversity and its coherence, as an integral part of his argument. For example, in [NC,III:28] Dooyeweerd argued:

"To all of these speculative misunderstandings [made by philosophers,] na´ve experience implicitly takes exception by persisting in its pre-theoretical conception of things, events and social relationships [and therefore the speculations must be questioned]."

To him, the lifeworld was not so much an empirical source of individual 'facts', but rather something he could share with readers of a variety of cultural backgrounds that exhibits distinct, broad areas of meaning.

But Dooyeweerd was no mystic or romantic who treated everyday experience as completely beyond theoretical analysis (except, see below). Instead, having started from the lifeworld in order to identify the conditions necessary to the theoretical attitude, he then could use that knowledge to give an account of the lifeworld iself - including its tendency to (as Habermas put it) "dissolve ... as we take it up piece by piece".

Characteristics of Everyday Life and Attitude

More about Dooyeweerd's notion of everyday lifeworld may be found in our detailed comparison between Habermas and Dooyeweerd on this issue.

A Framework for Understanding Everyday Life

In everyday functioning, we function in all the aspects, usually without much awareness of them. See Multi-aspectual Functioning. In everyday knowing and everyday thinking we employ all ways of knowing, without abstraction. See these links for more details. Everyday experience is intimately connected with intuition.

This means that, though we cannot theorize scientifically about everyday life, we can understand if philosophically as an integration of the aspects of our experience. In the everyday, all aspects play their proper place to a greater or lesser extent. This is why, for example, it has an important social aspect and a religious (pistic) aspect, as well as a sensory aspect. But it also means that everyday living is not devoid of analytical activity (which is akin to theoretical thinking), though this takes the form of an analytical subject-object relationship rather than a theoretical Gegenstand-relation.

This provides a useful foundation for analysing the richness of everyday life, everyday engaged attitudes and tacit knowledge; see Multi-aspectual Knowledge Elicitation method.

More to be written.

Comparison with Other Thought

Comparison with Extant Treatments of Lifeworld

Extant Lifeworld Dooyeweerd
Lifeworld ('natural') attitude (S+L) Pre-theoretical attitude, engaging with world of which we are part and accepting all aspects
'Living through' lifeworld (Merleau-Ponty) Our normal functioning in all aspects
Lifeworld experience Functioning in all aspects constitutes concrete experience
Lifeworld as stock of experiences Multi-aspectual ways of knowing all aspects of life
Lifeworld as collective mental life (Husserl), mediated via others (Straus) To human beings, 'Multi-aspectual' inescapably involves social and analytical aspects
Lifeworld as foundation of science (Husserl), which cannot function without the words and concepts scientists use having their meaning based in everyday life.
The doing of science is multi-aspectual functioning, in which the analytic aspect is elevated.
More generally (Schutz, Berger & Luckmann) as the 'paramount reality' in relation to which all other 'realities' ("finite provinces of meaning") stand such as theorizing, playing, religious ecstasy, watching theatre, which are "a turning away of attention from the reality of everyday life" [B&L p.39]. All human functioning is multi-aspectual, but sometimes we elevate one aspect of this functioning to such a degree that we focus our attention and awareness within that aspect.
Lifeworld as totality All the aspects cohere and resist being pulled apart.
Lifeworld as necessary foundation for intersubjectivity (phenomenology) No: Intersubjectivity enabled by us all being and occurring within the same law-meaning framework, whose meaning we grasp with intuition
Lifeworld constituted by social consensus, via critique of validity claims (Habermas) No: Both lifeworld, social consensus and critique are founded in aspects and affect each other
Lifeworld as necessary foundation for critique (Habermas) No: Critique presupposes meaning; each aspect a distinct type of rationality
'Thinking about' lifeworld Thinking is functioning in analytic aspect to make differentiations about lifeworld, but in relationship with all other aspects
Lifeworld 'dissolving as we take it up piece by piece' (Habermas) Beginning to sever inter-aspect relationships as we focus and isolate the 'pieces' so they lose their meaning and multi-aspectual nature.
Lifeworld as horizon Two sides give two horizons: Law-side gives meaning-horizon, entity-side gives plastic horizon.
Lifeworld as given Law side: Aspects pertain
Entity side: The actual world of which we are part
Lifeworld as limits Law side: Aspectual normativity that pertains,
Entity side: Concrete limitations imposed by entity side
Lifeworld meaning Law side: Aspects are spheres of meaning
Entity side: concrete meanings attributed by us, enabled by that framework of law-side meaning.
Lifeworld normativity Law side: Aspects are spheres of law that pertain universally and enable
Entity side: Concrete norms selected by us, formed, written, agreed, codified
Diversity of lifeworld (Berger & Luckmann; see below * ) Diversity of law-side lifeworld that is the irreducibly distinct aspects, especially of cosmic time.
Pre-modern life Elevating the Grace pole of the Nature-Grace ground-motive, with absolutization of pistic aspect
Modern life without meaning Elevating either pole of the Nature-Freedom ground-motive, with absolutization of analytical and formative aspects
Meaningful modernity Opening up of aspects by humanity employing e.g. science, technology.
Loss of meaning in modernity Closing down of aspects around the formative aspect
System (Habermas) Closing down an aspect around the formative aspect: tending to absolutize one aspect of life (esp. economic, political) along with the formative aspect, and thereby sever inter-aspect relations
Agency of lifeworld (Rogers) The rest of world functions in same aspects as we do.

* The diversity of the lifeworld seems to have been very seldom discussed, and hardly even acknowledged, so that until recently I thought that it was unique to Dooyeweerd. But Berger and Luckmann [p.40ff] do acknowledge and discuss it, though indirectly via their discussion of what they call 'cosmic time'. They emphasise that "the temporal structure of everyday life is exceedingly complex", speak of "levels of temporality", and give examples of what seem very like Dooyeweerdian aspects of time.


Berger P, Luckmann T (1966) The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Penguin, 1991.
This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Written on the Amiga with Protext. Questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2005 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Created: 22 April 2005. Last updated: 25 April 2005 phenomenonology. 10 May 2005 link to abstraction. 2 March 2006 comparison with extant lifeworld. 21 February 2008 link to knowing#intuition r.t. thinking. 30 July 2008 B+L diversity, Hsl science, B&L provinces of meaning. 2 February 2010 new title and intro. 12 October 2010 contents.