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Dooyeweerd and Parsons

Some Initial Dot Points to Consider When
Comparing the Philosophical Sociology
of Herman Dooyeweerd with
the General Theory of Society in
Talcott Parsons' structural functionalism

Bruce C Wearne, BA MSocSc PhD

Here are a few initial comparisons between the thinkers Talcott Parsons and Herman Dooyeweerd.

Problem Historical Method:

Talcott Parsons own intellectual development was greatly enhanced by his imbibing a form of the "problem historical method" in his earliest writings from his doctoral dissertation "Kapitalismus bei Sombart und Max Weber" at Heidelberg in the 1920s until the publication of The Structure of Social Action in 1937.

Dooyeweerd's close associate Dirk H Th Vollenhoven worked with the same theoretical problems associated with this approach to the historiography of philosophy and scientific ideas in developing what he called the "consistent problem historical method".

Systematic social theory:

Parsons' concept of a system was basic to his entire enterprise. In his view a system is a set of independent inter-dependent variables. Parsons' theory is at its crucial point based in an application of this system concept to theory itself - philosophy and theory are also interdependent and independent. It is at that point where Parsons dogmatic accommodation to the dogma of the autonomy of theoretical thought can be identified. However, in 20th century American social science the concept of autonomy is very often couched in ambiguous terms by which a recognition of distinctive individuality is identified with the notion of something being a law unto itself.

Dooyeweerd's concept of society was focused upon what he called the internal societal structural principles and to identify these required careful empirical investigation of the way in which institutions, organisations and inter-individual relationships were structured in the place God had given them in the creation order according to their own distinctive integrity (sphere sovereignty). Philosophical sociology for Dooyeweerd has its own place in the encyclopędia of the sciences but it also has a crucial part to play in the overall transcendental critique of theoretical thought.

Sociology in its cultural context:

Parsons view of sociology as an independent interdependent variable in the total system of knowledge links his own thought to that of Mannheim and other thinkers in the sociology of knowledge.

Dooyeweerd, on the other hand distinguishes philosophical sociology and scientific sociology; the former is, as I have indicated above part of the full disclosure of the argument in the transcendental critique of theoretical thought. It has been suggested that Dooyeweerd's exposition of philosophical sociology is similar to Mannheim's "sociology of knowledge" - see H E S Woldring Karl Mannheim - the development of his thought Van Gorcum 1986 especially pp. 378-389 where Woldring offers some critical observations from a comparison of Mannheim and Dooyeweerd.

The Reformation/Renovation/Rediscovery of the Empirical Approach of Scientific Sociology

Both Parsons and Dooyeweerd seek to develop a theoretical overview of scientific activity by which scientific sociology is renovated from the ground up, by basic principles. Parsons' attempt must be judged as based in the uncritical dogma of the autonomy of theoretical thought and hence to be ensnared in the same humanistic religious polarities (ie nature and freedom in their peculiar North American 20th century variants - particularly in operationalism eg PW Bridgman). Dooyeweerd's reformation of scientific sociology begins with a radical critique of the scientific attitude itself, based upon an approach to science which sees scientific activity as another human activity that has been freed by the coming and completed work of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, enabling it to be developed in the service of God and neighbour.


Both thinkers drive serious readers to consider their respective views of time and the temporal order. Parsons' view of time is very much indebted to Whitehead. Dooyeweerd's view of time is neo-Calvinistic and in some special ways he makes a break with previous protestant scholastic views of time assuming time's creatureliness.

Further Work

I intend to develop these dots points as I have opportunity to do so - other points will be university, science, the human person.

My work on Talcott Parsons can be found in the following publications:

I am interested to advising and supervising students with a genuine theoretical interest in exploring Talcott Parsons and the history of 20th century American sociology, and particularly in relation to the much neglected task of developing Christian sociological reflection. Those interested may contact me at:

Bruce C Wearne BA MSocSc PhD 29 Lawrence Rd., Point Lonsdale Vic 3225 AUSTRALIA 61-3-5258-3913,

Author: Bruce C. Wearne.

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) Bruce C Wearne 2002.

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Created: 12 November 2002 Last updated: 17 November 2002 corrections. 16 June 2010 .nav, .end, rid unet.