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Normativity

Normativity (that there is right and wrong, good and bad, function and dysfunction) is a central concept in the Dooyeweerdian framework. This is because normativity is something we cannot escape if we take everyday life seriously, as Dooyeweerd did. It is also a natural outcome of there being a law side to temporal reality. It is one area in which Dooyeweerdian thought offers considerable clarity when compared with other approaches.

If you wish, skip directly to table of normativity of each aspect.

In his work based on Dooyeweerdian thought, Capitalism and Progress, Bob Goudzwaard explains:

"The purpose of norms is to bring us to life in its fullness by pointing us to paths which safely lead us there. Norms are not straitjackets which squeeze the life out of us. I stated as my conviction that the created world is attuned to those norms; it is designed for our willingness to respond to God and each other. If man and society ignore genuine norms, such as justice and restitution of rights, respect for life, love of neighbour, and stewardship, they are bound to experience the destructive effects of such neglect. This is not, therefore, a mysterious fate which strikes us; rather, it is a judgment which men and society bring upon themselves." [p.243][

Note that what might be called a Dooyeweerdian Theory of Ethics is not discussed here but is found in the overview of ethics and part of it in more detail in the Shalom Principle by which the diverse norms of all the distinct aspects are integrated.

I have started this web page to receive explanations and discussions on the topic of normativity. Until the page is built, see the summary.

What is Normativity?

Briefly, normativity is tied up with law, and usually refers to those laws which can be broken or responded to in a non-determinative way. Every aspect is a law-sphere. At least all the aspects from analytical onwards have normative laws. There is discussion about the others, and also about whether all the laws of the later aspects are normative or not.

Note, however, that, to Dooyeweerd, the aspects are part of God's Law for the cosmos, a Law that is not so much authoritarian Demand or Command ("Do this or else; I am authority over you"), so much as gracious Promise ("If your do this, then that will tend to occur in response; I promise it; I am Jahweh"). And Promises of many kinds, each aspect giving a distinct kind. Incidentally, this is very different from the "Do this or else; Punishment awaits those who disobey", which is the assumption about Law in both the mediaeval Roman Catholic view, as well as the traditional liberal individualistic Humanist view. Based on Aristotle's notion of God-as-authority.

An important claim of the Dooyeweerdian framework is that the norms still pertain, even if we go against them. So they have repercussions of different kinds. This implies that if we function well in every aspect, things will go very well, in both short and long term, to both the individual and the community and society, but that if we go against the laws of any aspect, our 'shalom' will be jeopoardised. Hence this is called the Shalom Principle.

It sound functionalistic and indeed it does account for the insight to be found in functionalist approaches, but it is more than that. It is also vested in obedience to the norms (law-promise) of aspects which have their origin in God. Sometimes the functionalist repercussions do not occur, in the non-determinative aspects. But it is not a mediaevel kind of authoritarian demand, as mentioned above.

Finally, what it is NOT. Normativity is not purely ethical in nature. The kernel of ethical aspect is self-giving. Normativity is of many kinds.

Is and Ought

Kant, and others, separated 'is' from 'ought', that is separated the nature of things from ethics and normativity, and had other repercussions discussed in the page of the ethical aspect. 'Is' cannot imply 'Ought', most of us tend to assume. But Dooyeweerd brought 'Is' and 'Ought' together. He did so in proposing that Meaning, not Existence, is the foundational property of all that is, and that this meaning is manifested in modal laws, some of which are normative and others of which are determinative. What 'is' is dependent on these modal laws, perhaps even for its very existence. And the modal laws are the source of 'ought'. In this way, 'is' and 'ought' are brought together into harmony.

Dooyeweerd's view anticipated the latest thinking. Thomas Kuhn, in his Postscript to the 1996 edition of his famous book, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, points out that:

"A number of contemporary philosophers have discovered important contexts in which the normative and the descriptive are inextricably mixed. 'Is' and 'Ought' are by no means always so separate as they have seemed."

He shows that in the very nature of science itself we find that 'is' and 'ought' go together.

To a large extent, normativity is taken as a given in Dooyeweerd, rather than having to be justified. This is partly because it is something that is an inherent part of everyday life (Dooyeweerd gave priority to the everyday or pre-theoretical attitude of thought over the theoretical) - and philosophers like Weber and Habermas for whom the 'lifeworld' is important agree. But Dooyeweerd does provide some justification for adherence to the notion in addition to this, in that it is a logical outcome of his basic presupposition of the Creation-Fall-Redemption ground-motive and his consequent notion that temporal reality has two 'sides', one being the law side.

Habermas' Idea of Normativity

Habermas suggests there are two types of normativity:

While this might be a useful first insight, it is both limited and misleading as an approach to normativity. It ignores long-term effects and indirect effects. We are finding this out today in the environmental fields: we drive our cars and enjoy life, yet the planet suffers global warming, those without a car suffer when public transport is cut, and wildlife suffers as Sites of Special Scientific Interest (in the UK at least) are destroyed to build roads.

Dooyeweerd's approach to normativity, related to the plurality of aspects, and maintaining that the norms always pertain even if we don't realise it, is better able to handle this.

How People Respond to Inherent Normativity of the Aspects

Just a wee note here for now:

Dooyeweerd seems to maintain that people naturally respond to the normativity of the aspects (all other things being equal). That is, the norms are not something alien and external to the human heart but natural and sympathetic with it. Some evidence for this can be found when some people would rather be found guilty than declared not responsible.

This leads to the idea that norms are not something external to a situation that I must 'apply' to the situation I face; rather, every situation has a normative element which is in and of the situation itself. No situation is neutral. The normativity of each concrete situation 'appeals' to us, almost as a living thing. This is very different from the normal approach to norms, when they are seen as something we apply from outside the situation, alien to the situation, forcing norms upon it, and treating the situation as passive material. The Dooyeweerdian approach has more 'life' in it.

This can save us from legalism, which is the unfeeling application of laws, and gives good grounds for mercy. We must 'listen' to the situation (a Japanese concept) rather than 'see' it (Western concept). We hear the norms the situation presents to us, and can respond with a mercy that is appropriate to the situation and is integrated with true justice. Mercy is no longer an antidote to justice, but part and parcel with it.

I think the following observation by Bob Goudzwaard (Capitalism and Progress page 243, sent to me by David Ferguson) is useful in understanding normativity:

"Earlier we spoke of norms as rules which do not originate in man. The purpose of norms is to bring us to life in its fullness by pointing us to paths which safely lead us there. Norms are not straitjackets which squeeze the life out of us. I stated as my conviction that the created world is attuned to those norms; it is designed for our willingness to respond to God and each other. If man and society ignore genuine norms, such as justice and restitution of rights, respect for life, love of neighbour, and stewardship, they are bound to experience the destructive effects of such neglect. This is not, therefore, a mysterious fate which strikes us; rather, it is a judgment which men and society bring upon themselves. This concrete, created world was designed by God for our exercise of justice, stewardship, and love of neighbour. That is why a negation of that stewardship leads to dreadful pollution in that same world, why a negation of the law of justice leads to violence and terrorism, and why collective egoism leads to economic disruption such as unemployment and inflation. Genuine norms do not hang in the air. They are not speculations of noble minds. They give evidence of their validity, of being concretely in force. To ignore given norms out of an a priori illusion of autonomy only seems to afford freedom, but in the long run it removes genuine freedom. Martin Buber was right when he translated the Old Testament word for law (torah) as Weisung, that is, 'instruction,' 'guidance.' Genuine laws or norms are pointers that guide us along safe and passable roads. Apart from norms our paths run amok."

Normative Aspects

Dooyeweerd distinguished normative from determinative aspects. Whether the division is sharp or gradual is a matter of debate (for example, de Raadt held the division to be gradual). But Dooyeweerd made the following interesting statement:

"in the normative aspects of human experience no single fact can be established without making use of a norm." [CPMH:56].

In all aspects, the act of discerning and establishing a fact involves normative functioning on behalf of the discerner (e.g. using analytical functioning). But it seems that in normative aspects normativity occurs not only in the process of discerning and establishing the fact, but also within the fabric of the fact itself. For example, compare the two statements:

Aspectual Normativities

However, I believe that all aspects can bring 'good', and for most it is meaningful to speak of 'evil' or at least 'harm'. The following table summarises what I believe the normativity of each aspect is, in terms of example concepts linked to good and bad functioning, and good and bad (beneficial and detrimental) repercussions. Thrown in (for free) is an indication to the typical timescale for the manifestation of the full repercussions of each aspect. The normativity comes from my own reflective interpretation of what Dooyeweerd was saying and aiming at, while the timescales are my own, and can be ignored.

Normativity of each aspect, with typical timescales
Aspect Good functioning Evil functioning Time Beneficial repercussion Detrimental repercussion
Quantitative As-given-amount
-
0 Reliability
-
Spatial Simultaneous continuity
-
0 Space
-
Kinematic Movement
-
0 Change (non-stasis)
-
Physical Force, causality
-
Picoseconds Persistence
-
Biotic / Organic Feeding, respiration, reproduction, etc. Starvation, suffocation, etc. Microseconds Vitality, survival Disease, extinction
Psychic / Sensitive Interaction Insensitivity Milliseconds Sensory and emotional vitality Sensory, emotional deprivation
Analytical Distinctness Conflation Seconds Clarity Confusion
Formative Industry, planning Laziness, chaos Seconds Accomplishment, construction Missed opportunities, destruction
Lingual Expressing signification Deceiving Minutes Information Misinformation
Social 'We' rather than 'I, you' Hatred, disdain Hours Friendship,
amplified activity
Enmity, undermining each other
Economic Frugality Squandering Days Prosperity Waste, poverty
Aesthetic Holism, harmonizing, allusion Reductionism Weeks Integrality,
enjoyment, interest
Fragmentation,
boredom
Juridical Giving due, responsibility Justice Months Irresponsibility Injustice
Ethical Self-giving love, vulnerability, trust Pervading attitude of goodwill, generosity Years Selfishness, self-protection Competitive, harsh
Pistic / Faith Belief, commitment, courage Strong motivation for healthy vision throughout society Decades
centuries
Disloyalty, cowardice, idolatry Loss of meaning, morale


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.

Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 28 June 1999. Last updated: 15 October 1999 'is' and 'ought'. 10 March 2003 .nav; added Normative Aspects section and Dooyeweerd quote. 14 April 2003 added quote from Goudzwaard. 14 August 2004 more on what is normativity, link to shalom, contact. 11 May 2005 link to ethics.html. 28 January 2009 Capitalism+ Progress, and rewrote Intro. 31 October 2016 table of aspectual normativity; new .end, .nav.