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The Social Aspect

Defining the Aspect x

Kernel: x

rather than:

Some central themes x

See below for a detailed taxonomy of institutions compiled by Dooyeweerd. See also the contribution by Erving Goffman.

Common Misconceptions x

The Aspect Itself

Stafleu [2005] gives a good discussion of the social aspect, raising a number of interesting issues - though he departs somewhat from Dooyeweerd's views. Chaplin [1995] tries to refine Dooyeweerd's notion of structural societal principles.

Non-Absoluteness x

Special Science x

Social science - seen as the science of social interaction: how we (should best) go about interacting with each other.

Dooyeweerd's view of the 'mission' of social science, and hence the topics it has a duty to research, is as follows (from Witte, 1986):

  1. to identify the independent structures or institutions which comprise society,
  2. to describe the nature, the inner norms and constituent parts, which rederns each of these social institutions distinctive,
  3. to define the purpose, function, or reason for which each of these structures exists,
  4. to analyze the proper relationship among them.

It is important, Dooyeweerd maintained, that social science must study not only social functioning in the researcher's own period but also those of other period and cultures.

Social Science as we know it

This is rather different from what is usually called 'social science', which covers almost anything in which human beings are treated as whole entities in context of others - including ethics, anthropology, populations, etc. Under a Dooyeweerdian view, this should not be done, because it tends to reduce all the post-social aspects to the social.

However, we can account for the tendency of social science to lay claim to all the post-social aspects because since all those aspects involve social functioning, all functioning in them could, approximately, be seen as a 'type' of social functioning. However, strictly, under a Dooyeweerdian framework social science should not do so because the later aspects are irreducible to the social and thus the 'types' of social functioning can be accounted for only by them and not by the social aspect itself.

Institutions x

Institutions are themselves social phenomena. So an institution for the sake of socializing is interesting. Many clubs and societies might fulfil this role for the social aspect, especially the old 'gentlemen's clubs' so famous in London. But most institutions have other concerns, and are therefore qualified by another aspect, not the social.

Institutions might be groups, such as the Chess Federation, but they might also be sets of agreements on how we live, such as the rules of chess [from Searle 1998]. Searle calls them 'status functions', which are agreements (or "impositions") among a social group that we should live a certain way, that "X counts for Y", such as boundary lines over which children should not cross.

There are many and varied types of institutions in this second category of being qualified by another aspect. Dooyeweerd made a study of them, and gave a classification of human relationships

Shalom x

Harm x

Things that are seen as problematic by reference to the social sphere of meaning:

Contributions from the Field x

John Searle

In Social Ontology and Philosophy of Society John Searle [1998] attempts to understand the social aspect of reality. He does well, raising questions, drawing from pre-theoretical experience, and explaining many things well. And also acknowledging some presuppositions. However, his answers to the questions are a bit weak, because of his deeper presuppositions, esp. of primacy of existence over meaningfulness.

I intend to write here to explain this, but cannot provide the time just now; maybe someone else will do this. [==== 30 April 2015]

In order to advocate a distinct philosophy of society, He posed a number of questions, suggested three conceptual tools with which to address them, and suggested answers. His questions were:

Tool 1: Different classes of entities have different functions; function is a meaningfulness to the observer, and it inherently implies normativity, or at least that one thing should happen rather than another. This occurs in biology (norm of life), and onwards.

Tool 2: Collective intentionality: we cannot reduce 'we intend' to 'I intend' plus beliefs about you; there is something irreducibly social about 'we-ness'. How do we analyse collective intentionality?

Tool 3: Constitutive rules, which bring things into being, such that 'X counts as Y', X being e.g. physical and Y as the social reality.

Searle made the strong claim that agreements or impositions that 'X counts as Y' is the foundation of all institutional reality (e.g. a piece of paper issued by the bank counts as money). This leads to a sixth question,

He attempts to give a two-part answer, calling upon (a) the idea of infinite regress upwards (thus going against his earlier concern to avoid it), and (b) the idea that social structures interlock. However, while this might describe a possible mechanism for how these are powerful, it does not give a proper answer. However, an allusion to where a better answer may be found is that he recognises the fragility of such collective agreements and talks about 'acceptance', by which he means a kind of commitment.

==== more to be written.

I will show that his arguments are flawed (appleaing to Heidermann 1999), and that really he is calling for meaning which is diverse. And that is well addressed by Dooyeweerd and his aspects.

Erving Goffman

Dooyeweerd's categorisation of things social divides into two parts: social institutions and social interactions. He developed a comprehensive account and classification of social institutions, but left the interaction side empty. Maybe the work of people like Erving Goffman can help fill the gap. For example, Manning discusses what he calls Goffman's SIAC schema, in which four types of assumption mark our social interaction:

However, to me, Goffman's ideas feel thin and conventional (e.g. the compulsory reference to aggression with its simplistic-evolutionist overtones) rather than rich and radical.

The Notion of Social Capital

Social capital is much discussed, but Nahaplet and Choshal [1998] argue it has three dimensions: structural, relational and cognitive. Structural capital is the ties among actors (who knows whom) and reflects the resources that might be available. Relational capital is built up by the interaction among people over a time. Cognitive capital refers to shared languages, representations, interpretations, etc.

The first two echo the idea that the social aspect is concerned with social institutions and relationships respectively. The third reflects the social aspect's intimate foundational dependence on the lingual aspect. In this way, the discourse around the notion of social capital might help open up Dooyeweerd's social aspect.

The Aspect Among Others

Law-dependencies x

Post-Social Aspects

All aspects later than the social (the economic, aesthetic, juridical, ethical and pistic) involve the social. This might mean three things: This, however, is a hypothesis that requires discussion and refinement.

If this is so, then it means that repercussions in post-social aspects are likely to be not mainly on the perpertrator, but mainly spread throughout the social group. We can see this in vandalism (which is currently on the up in the UK). Vandalism occurs for various reasons, but one is lack of vision among young people, who hang about, get bored, and start 'enjoying' minor acts of deconstruction, and then major acts of destruction. Lack of vision is a pistic functioning. It can be one person, such as a parent or church or youth worker who can give them vision, and then those who would suffer from the vandalism would not longer do so.

This means that the sciences of post-social aspects should seek to find, not direct person to person impacts but social spreading impacts. Also, it implies that the indiviudalistic notion of legal culpability is misconceived (even though it is assumed without question).

Analogies x

Antinomies x

Common Reductions x

Comments Received

Notes x

Differentiation in Human Societies

This has been moved to social.theory.html.

Giddens' Structuration Theory

Giddens' structuration theory [1993] seems a useful exploration of the nature of the social aspect that echoes something of Dooyeweerd's general ideas, though not necessarily Dooyeweerd's specific theory of social institutions.

The notion of 'duality of structure' found in structuration theory - that human action is enabled and constrained by structure, but structure is also the result of human action - echoes the Dooyeweerdian theme that human beings are central actors in the cosmos and yet are only so within a framework of aspectual law. On the face of it, the difference is that the contraints Giddens talks about come from the entity side rather than law side, from actual structures rather than from laws. However, the form of the constraining that structures impose is law-like, and is meaningful from the standpoint of the social aspect.

This is discussed in more detail in a comparison of Dooyeweerd and Giddens.


Chaplin, J. (1995) Dooyeweerd's notion of societal structural principles. Phil. Ref. 60(1), 16-36.

Giddens, A. New Rules Of Sociological Method: A Positive Critique Of Interpretative Sociologies, 2nd ed., Stanford, California: Stanford University Press, 1993.

Nahaplet J, Ghoshal S (1998). Social capital, intellectual capital and the organizational advantage. Acad. Management Rev. 23(2):242-66.

Searle,.J. 1998. Social Ontology and Philosophy of Society. Analyse & Kritik, 20, 143-158.

Witte, J, (ed.) (1986), A Christian Theory of Social Institutions, The Herman Dooyeweerd Foundation, La Jolla, California, USA.

Manning P (1992) Erving Goffman and Modern Sociology Polity Press.

Stafleu MD (2005) The relation frame of keeping company; a reply to Andrew Basden. Phil. Ref. 70 (2):151-164.

This is part of The Dooyeweerd Pages, which explain, explore and discuss Dooyeweerd's interesting philosophy. Questions or comments would be welcome.

Copyright (c) 2004 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.

Number of visitors to these pages: Counter. Written on the Amiga with Protext.

Created: 1997. Last updated: 16 March 1997, 13 August 1998: reformatted and rearranged page and added much from Witte about Dooyeweerd's studies of the social aspect. 30 August 1998. 1 December 1998 added theme. 7 February 2001 copyright, email. 18 October 2001 some stuff moved to social.theory.html. 1 December 2001 Habermas support for social after lingual. 8 January 2002 added Goffman. 14 March 2002 better kernel. 10 July 2002 added and changed some bits in science, shalom and harm. 10 June 2003 better lists of shalom and harm; .nav, .end. 9 December 2003 added Giddens. 25 June 2004 psot-social repercussions. 23 August 2004 Apel, and reformatted Dependency. 16 February 2005 efficiency in communication. 21 May 2005 agreement. 24 August 2005 new .end. 11 December 2005 new themes. 5 January 2006 added some of Stafleu's ideas from [2005]. 19 June 2006 ubuntu. 13 August 2007 standardization. 5 January 2008 disrespect. 29 July 2008 standards. 13 November 2008 social capital. 3 June 2009 adapting. 6 September 2010 'done thing', redid headings. 22 September 2010 Dooyeweerd's and Basden's kernel. 4 February 2011 Chaplin ref. 2 April 2011 assoc r.t. relating. 5 January 2013 harm improved. 30 April 2015 Searle Philosophy of Society.