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Bernstein's 'Beyond Objectivism and Relativism':
Critique, Affirmation and Enrichment by Dooyeweerd

Here is an initial notes on Bernstein's arguments in his book Beyond Objectivism and Relativism, and how they relate with Dooyeweerd's thought. It will be seen that Dooyeweerd first affirms Bernstein's approach, and also his contentions, but critiques them and places them on a firmer foundation, so that the weak conclusions that Bernstein draws can be strengthened. For now I present only some major points, and miss much. I present them as a table.

Bernstein's points and arguments compared with Dooyeweerd.
Bernstein Dooyeweerd affirms Dooyeweerd critiques Dooyeweerd enriches
Philosophy is not foundational. [p.6] No: philosophy is part of human living, and must never be elevated above pre-theoretical attitude but seen in relation to it.
Objectivism defined as:
"that philosophy has now finally discovered ... the right way of going about solving philosophic problems" [p.5]
"aspiration to discover the real, permanent foundation of philosophy and knowledge - a foundation that will ... satisfy the craving for ultimate constraints" [p.11]
(Bernstein dislikes such objectivism.)
Dooyeweerd also recognises that line of thinking, and calls it 'immanence philosophy', which he spends most of New Critique arguing against. While Dooyeweerd does indeed seek transcendental (universal and necessary) conditions for what makes theoretical attitude of thought possible, he argues that this does not allow such an aspiration.
Objectivism type 1: Cartesian and pre-Kantian rationalism and empiricism: there is a reality 'out there' that is independent of us. Dooyeweerd also argues against Descartes and Kantianism. But 'reality out there that is independent of us' is too simple. There are two sides to reality. The subject side (temporal, concrete actuality) is never independent of us, though it has the dignity of being also not fully dependent on us but having its response to law side. The error of objectivism type 1 is to assume the subject side is independent of us and we of it as Cartesian 'detached observers'. The law side is the diverse spheres of meaning and law by which temporal reality is meaningful and good; this law side is 'independent' of us in the sense that it is the framework that makes all our being and doing and thinking possible. It is not seen by immanence philosophy and not explored philosophically. So reactions against objectivism type 1 should not react against the law side. By separating law and subject sides, Dooyeweerd untangles these errors and reactions.
Objectivism type 2: Kant. Sought transcendental conditions for theoretical thinking: space, time, reason, etc. Agrees with Bernstein: Kant was not critical enough [Dooyeweerd, 1999:6]. Kant's problem was that he still presupposed the possibility of taking a philosophical attitude. Kant's thought is the sharpest exposition of the nature-freedom ground-motive, a dualistic view of the world emerged historically because of an immanence standpoint.
Objectivism type 3: Husserl's transcendental phenomenology: trying to find a way of getting 'unbiased' truth even though all we have is phenomena. Note that Husserl was 'subjectivist' as well as objectivist in this sense. Agrees with Bernstein: Husserl was not critical enough [Dooyeweerd, 1999:6]. Husserl's problem was that he still presupposed the autonomy of the human rational ego.
Relativism defined as belief that:
"there is a nonreducible plurality of such schemes, paradigms and practices;
there is no substantive overarching framework
in which radically different and alternative schemes
are commensurable -
no universal standards
that somehow stand outside of and above these competing alternatives."
[p.11-12]
Dooyeweerd agrees with "nonreducible plurality", "radically different", and that we cannot find a scheme "above" them on which to make them "commensurable".
The key word is commensurable: The difference between objectivism and relativism lies not in the plurality but in the impossibility of finding them commensurable with each other. If we take 'commensurable' to refer to integration on the basis of some kind of rationality, then Dooyeweerd would most strongly agree with this.
But ...
... But Dooyeweerd does not reject "substantive ... framework" nor "universal standards".
  • "nonreducible plurality" = aspects (law-side spheres of meaning and law)
  • "radically different" = the aspects are irreducible in their meaning and law to each other
  • "substantive ... framework" = aspects as spheres of meaning - but no such framework can be found on the subject side nor built by theoretical thought, because theoretical thought cannot grasp the meaning of the aspects.
  • "schemes, paradigms and practices" = of subject-side actuality, in that they are analytically, formatively, lingually and socially formulated by multi-aspectual human functioning, and hence are never absolute.
  • Impossibility of "commensurable" = Impossibility of finding a rationality by which we can argue that one aspect necessarily agrees with others. It is fundamental to Dooyeweerd that since aspects are irreducible in their meaning, there is no rational link between them. Their commensurability must be a matter of faith, not of reason-necessity.
Relativism type 1: Heidegger, in rejecting (Cartesian) subject-object relationship, (us-versus-world) Agreed: we are part of the world and engage with it, only in theoretical thinking do we stand over against the world. But pre-theoretical experience undermines Heidegger's dissolving of the difference between subject and object, in that we experience ourselves as different from the rest. Dooyeweerd differentiates between the human self which is trans-aspectual, supra-temporal, and human being, which is multi-aspectual functioning in the world. The latter is a non-Cartesian subject-object relationship that is characterized by close engagement of the type which Heidegger brought to our attention, but which does not hide the difference between subject and object. It also is diverse in a way that Heidegger's view is not. See page on Heidegger.
Relativism type 2: Derrida (Dooyeweerd did not refer to Derrida)
Relativism type 3: Rorty (Dooyeweerd did not refer to Rorty, but Hart [1984] does in relation to Dooyeweerd.)
On the Opposition between Objectivism & Relativism, and the desire to go beyond them in Bernstein.
Freedom. "the principle of freedom is impugnable and irrevocable" [Gadamer cited on p.197]. Freedom is opposed by Gadamer against "unfreedom". (But Bernstein critiques this ...) Dooyeweerd would see this Gadamerian opposition as expressing the nature-freedom ground-motive. He also find its epitome in Kant, and he finds it in many other thinkers, as the ground-motive under which most thinking today is still carried out. But Dooyeweerd, like Bernstein, sees something deeper ...
Deeper than freedom v. unfreedom opposition. Bernstein sees the absolutization of freedom as an Enlightenment idea that needs to be questioned, especially by Rorty [p.197]. Dooyeweerd believed that the nature-freedom opposition was but one manifestation of immanence philosophy, which holds that what is self-dependent may be found within created reality (i.e. immanently), so it is the task of philosophy to seek it out. It has taken many forms, often contradicting each other. The Pythagoreans absolutized number, rationalists absolutize reason, materialists absolutize physical material, social constructivism absolutizes intersubjectivity, and so on.
Dooyeweerd, in his aspects, provides a way of understanding the diverse forms of immanence philosophy.
Beyond Objectivism & Relativism: He suggests that we need to let 'the things themselves' 'speak to us', recruits prejudgements to this task, and ends [p.231] with the call to "dedicate ourselves to the practical task of furthering the type of solidarity, participation and mutual recognition that is founded in dialogical communities." Though Dooyeweerd did not refer to Bernstein, we may use Dooyeweerd's thought to respond. Dooyeweerd would affirm that we should let the world 'speak to us'. Dooyeweerd expresses this as taking a pre-theoretical attitude, as opposed to a theoretical attitude. Dooyeweerd argued that taking a theoretical attitude always, necessarily involves narrowing down what we 'hear' from the world. See Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique. What Bernstein calls 'prejudgements' are always present in all our intentionality.

'dedicate ourselves': theoretical thought is a social, not just individual, activity.

Unfortunately, Bernstein's call is purely speculative and is not worked out. But we can see the following questions for Bernstein, which can be answered by Dooyeweerd (they arise from Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique):

  • 'the things themselves' - on what basis do we recognise 'the things themselves'? Especially so that they may ...
  • 'speak to us' - how can they 'speak to us', what is this 'speaking'?
  • 'dedicate ourselves' - what is meant by 'dedication' and how do we do this well? And how do we know when we or someone else is or is not doing it well, so as to critique their work properly and take it forward?
  • 'solidarity, participation and mutual recognition' - what is meant by these, ditto?
  • 'dialogical communities' - what is important here?
Dooyeweerd's answers:

  • 'the things themselves' - thingness is constituted in functioning or being in all the aspects. Since we and they function in these aspects, we can recognise them as they present themselves to us.
  • 'speak to us' - Two ways. (a) subject-object engagement (b) abstraction in which we stand over against the things and seek to understand them theoretically; this is probably what Bernstein had in mind because it is necessary for philosophy.
  • 'dedicate ourselves' - this is not just social but pistic functioning, and the pistic (faith) aspect has norms that guide it.
  • 'solidarity, participation and mutual recognition' - this is especially social functioning, and there are deep norms to govern when we do this well rather than badly.
  • 'dialogical communities' - this refers to the lingual and social aspects, both of which are necessary for human everyday functioning.

In his Transcendental critique of theoretical thought, Dooyeweerd took these factors seriously and argued that all theoretical thought presupposes an origin of meaning, which is a ground-motive which is religious in nature; the main one in force today is the Nature-Freedom ground-motive.

I would submit that only on this basis may Bernstein's vision be fulfilled.


This page is part of a collection of pages that links to various thinkers, within The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Email questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2010 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

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Created: 1 July 2010 Last updated: 3 February 2012 changed title, other rewords; filled out final row.