What is 'transcendental critique'? It is a term employed by, for example, Kantian philosophers, to mean a discovery of the conditions that are necessary for the thing under scrutiny to operate or to be - in this case, what is necessary for theoretical thought to operate? While many thinkers presuppose theoretical thought and do not ask this question, Dooyeweerd did not presuppose it and did ask the question.
With Polanyi, Kuhn and others, Dooyeweerd believed that our personal viewpoint affects the process of our theoretical thinking, but he made a positive proposal that the nature of this viewpoint has a religious root, and is not merely logical or social in origin. Human beings, he believed, are inescapably religious beings (indeed, the whole of reality, even the mud in which trees grow, has a religious root). Our religious side is not, as positivists believed, something to suppress, but something to welcome and take account of. It is this that forms the basis of his transcendental critique.
The First Way of Critique is made on the basis of what philosophy is. On this basis, Dooyeweerd argued as follows:
Since (or if we assume) science depends on philosophy, then it follows that scientific theoretical thinking also has a religious root.
(Note: The human self and self-reflective critique also have a place in Dooyeweerd's argument, but they seem to have no clear part to play in this First Way, and perhaps this moved Dooyeweerd to find a 'second way of critique'. Choi includes them in his explanation of Way 1.)
One can find elements of this way of critique in other thinkers. For example Bourdieu [Outline of a Theory of Practice, 1977], coming from anthropology, which will be faced with varied spheres of meaning, refers [p.2] to "limits inherent in his [the anthropologist's] point of view".
How is philosophic thinking possible as theoretic thinking?[para 1] Our Cosmonomic Philosophy opens its transcendental critique with this question. But it directs itself to every possible philosophy - it is not restricted to a reformed philosophy. Thus this question first of all confronts current philosophy with a fundamental problem, since this philosophy starts from the assumption that theoretical thought is autonomous vis a vis faith. This is a "transcendental" problem since it concerns the boundaries of philosophy. It touches the pre-existing structure of theoretical philosophic thinking which first makes this thought possible.
[para 2] Now this pre-existing structure itself cannot again be of a philosophic character. It is an idionomic framework upon which all philosophic thought-activity rests. Philosophic thought must move within this framework if it is to maintain its philosophic character. As we have remarked earlier, such a framework is aprioristic. It is given beforehand and has general validity ie it rules philosophic thinking, regardless of the subjective starting point of the thinker.
[para 3] Still, we can only examine this universally valid structural law of philosophic thought in the theoretical-philosophical attitude of thought. We may start out believing in its existence. But that does not yet disclose its real character to our scientific insight. And that is exactly what we need.
[para 4] We must discuss the question whether scientific thought can indeed function without being bound to such a belief. But such a discussion is only possible if we give a scientific account of the nature of philosophic thought. Thus, if philosophy wants to go to work critically it must start with directing its enquiry towards its own presuppositions.
[para 5] In this enquiry we may not parade the dogma of the autonomy of theoretical reason as if it were a self-evident consequence of the structure of philosophic thought. For that would amount to a dogmatic elimination of the basic critical problem we formulated at the onset of this section.
[para 6] Nor may we demand of the believers of this dogma to begin with abandoning it. For that too would amount to eliminating the transcendental problem of philosophy with a magic formula. That would simply replace the dogma of the autonomy of theoretical reason with the dogma that reason is determined by supra-theoretical presuppositions of faith. And, in that case, our critical insight into the nature and structure of philosophic thought would not be enriched in the slightest. We would merely end up with a confrontation of dogmatic points of view.
[para 7] No, when we begin our critical enquiry, we may demand of no thinker that he abandon any dogmatic conviction. We may only postulate one strict condition for a truly critical attitude of thought. The enquirer must be prepared to put aside the dogmatic presupposition postulating the autonomy of philosophy to be of a purely theoretical, scientific character. For only this prejudice stands in the way of a critical investigation of the basic problem we have formulated. It merely passes a dogma, a religious conviction that cannot be reasoned, for a scientific, theoretical judgement.
[para 8] The Cosmonomic Philosophy does not claim that we could begin a transcendental critique of philosophic thought independent of a dogmatic religious conviction. For if it did, we ourselves would have to start with accepting the autonomy of theoretic reason as a purely theoretic prejudice. It would then pass that for a criterium as to whether further enquiry is scientific or not. To the contrary. it openly admits that our philosophy starts its transcendental theoretical critique from the Christian religious standpoint. But it does remain critical in this. For it sharply distinguishes its religious conviction from any essentially scientific judgement from the start.
[para 9] In other words, it does not camouflage its starting point. It rather begins with a sharp, critical distinction between theoretic judgement and supra-theoretic prejudice. Thus no-one can become the victim of an artfully camouflaged trap in following our enquiry into the transcendental problems that underlie philosophy. One can be confident that no religious judgement will be paraded here as an essentially scientific  thesis. This transcendental critique serves just this very purpose - it forces the thinker to account to himself of the true nature of the prejudice he starts with.
That is, it seemed that the argument in the First Way depends to some extent on accepting certain presuppositions or dogma, whereas in the Second Way Dooyeweerd was seeking a way of understanding philosophy that could apply to philosophers of any kind, whatever their religious starting points.
The Second Way of Critique is made on the basis of the very nature of theoretical thought itself. It employs neo-Kantian ways of thinking and, to some extent, the neo-Kantian view of what theoretical thinking is. (Though he disagreed with the neo-Kantians on content and presuppositions, Dooyeweerd believed that they did at least ask the right questions.) Another explanation of this 'second way' is given by Clouser, which some find easier to understand.
Dooyeweerd argued [NC, I,p.34ff.] that to justify taking a theoretical attitude a philosophy must face three basic (transcendental) problems, for each of which he posed a question and provided an answer, which makes the next problem necessary. This revealed that theoretical thought is inescapably religious at its root, rather than neutral - and that what religious presupposition we make determines the way we treat theoretical thinking and work it out. By 'religious' he did not mean relating to any particular religion or creed, explaining [I,p.57]:
"To the question, what is understood here by religion? I reply: the innate impulse of human selfhood to direct itself toward the true or toward a pretended absolute Origin of all temporal diversity of meaning, which it finds focused concentrically in itself."
Here is his three transcendental basic problems in tabular form.
|1. Concerning theoretical versus pre-theoretical attitude of thought [NC,I,p.38-44]||Theoretical attitude involves Gegenstand, an antithetic attitude in which we stand over against the world we are studying and 'abstract' from it that which is meaningful to us [NC,I,p.39]. The pre-theoretical attitude knows of no Gegenstand [NC.II,p.431]; we are engaged within the world and all ways of being meaningful.||"What do we abstract in the antithetic attitude of theoretic thought from the structures of empirical reality as these structures are given to na´ve experience? And how is this abstraction possible?" [[NC,I,p.41]"||
We abstract an aspect of the world, one way in which what we study might be meaningful to us. One aspect of our functioning as human beings provides us with data which we set against the analytical aspect of our functioning. [NC,I,p.54] |
Note that Dooyeweerd criticised Kant and others for restricting the generation of data to our sensitive functioning, and opened up the possibility that functioning in any aspect could do so.
Whichever aspect generates the data (sensitive or other) the aspects have been split asunder. This raises the next transcendental problem:
|2. Concerning the human thinker who reunites aspects [NC,I,p.45-52]||The aspects have been set apart, especially the analytical aspect and another aspect (its Gegenstand). We must be sure that this is valid and possible, so must understand the relationship between them. If aspects X and Y have a Gegenstand relationship then there is no over-arching framework that can bring them together when the relationship is activiated. And it is not valid for this to be done by either X or Y. For example, why do we assume that what our sensory or emotional functioning generates can be validly manipulated by analytical activity? This is a problem that Kant recognised, and he called the theoretical synthesis.||
"From what standpoint can we reunite synthetically the logical and the non-logical aspects of experience which were set apart in opposition to each other in the theoretical attitude?" [NC,I,p.45] |
Note that 'logical' means 'analytical' and 'non-logical' refers to the Gegenstand aspect.
It is only the human being who thinks who can determine how the two aspects are brought together. |
This means that all good philosophies must include an account of the human being who thinks - and this account must be consistent with all the rest of the philosophy. Specifically, it is not enough for a philosophy to have an account only of theoretical thought in the abstract and an ontology of the world. Older philosophies failed in this regard; more recent philosophies such as by Foucault and Habermas (as well as Dooyeweerd) include an explicit account of the human thinker.
|3. Concering the Origin of Meaning [NC,I,p.52ff.]||Above the portals of philosophy is written "Philosopher, know thyself". Such self-knowledge must include an account of both the human self as that which can integrate different aspects, and human functioning in the world. It is not enough to provide a psychological or sociological account of the activity of human thinking, for example. Habermas' account of the human is limited in this regard: to social theory. There is a need for critical self-reflection.||"How is this critical self-reflection, this concentric direction of theoretical thought to the I-ness, possible, and what is its true character?" [NC,I,p.52]||
Two parts to answer:
1. Critical self-reflection requires concentration upon what we conceive of as the Origin of Meaning, because "self-knowledge in the last analysis appears to be dependent on knowledge of God" or of something that we treat as God [NC,I,p.55]. This is religious rather than theoretical knowledge.
2. This religious self-knowledge is not just individual but super-individual, pervading a community. Community belief is guided by a ground-motive.
So theoretical thought cannot escape having a religious root because it presupposes an Origin of Meaning, in order to reunite aspects that were set apart in the antithetical Gegenstand relationship. Thus theoretical thought has been guided at a deep level by four ground-motives of Western thought; these have determined what we count as basic reality, what we deem to be 'proper' ways of thinking, and the process of that thinking.
My own interpretation of the third transcendental question in my own field, the sociological field of information systems, is that the third technological question is best thought of as the community's activity in discussing, critiquing and refining the findings offered by the operation of questions 1 and 2. Think about on what basis this is done. Typically, the researcher will publish their findings in a journal and invite critique and further refinement, published as subsequent papers. Much critique is related to transcendental question 1, such as "In their survey, the author has asked only a limited range of questions, and in a restricted context; here is a larger study in a different culture, and it broadens out their theory." Some critique is related to transcendental question 2, such as "The author does not analyse correctly; here is a better analysis."
However, some critique, deeper critique, involves reference to origins of meaning. Here is a fictitious but plausible sequence of a debate about a particular finding. Notice how such debates often gravitate down to an origin of meaning, which is accepted by all sides in the community, at which point they often pause of stop. The first critic of the original paper might question the very approach taken by the researchers:
"The authors take a positivist approach, which ignores meaning, values and norms; they ought to take an interpretivist approach, which is sensitive to these."
The original authors or those who support them might reply, defending their original research by reference to something normative or meaningful to research itself:
"But an interpretivist approach cannot give rigorous results; only a positivist approach can do that."
To which the critic might respond by questioning the meaningfulness of their norm:
"But rigour without relevance is meaningless. Only an interpretivist approach can give full relevance, because of the diversity of factors that are meaningful."
Then another discussant might enter the debate with a deeper philosophical opinion, which tries to embrace both sides of the debate:
"It is well-known that there is an incommensurability between rigour and relevance; you cannot have them both."
Such an opinion often halts the dialectical debate, because it has come near the 'origin of meaning'. Today, usually this origin of meaning is the Nature-Freedom Ground-motive.
The only way to make further progress is to adopt a different ground-motive, which opens up to the community different kinds of presuppositions. For example, a Reformational Scholar might use Dooyeweerd to contribute the following (note, it's longer because it needs to introduce things that are new to the community of thought):
"The incommensurability between rigour and relevance is only apparent, not real. It is based on a common but fruitless presupposition of the opposition between nature and freedom found in the Nature-freedom ground-motive. If we instead take Creation-Fall-redemption ground-motive, as Dooyeweerd  does, then we are able to recognise distinct aspects which are spheres of meaning and law, and thus better able to cope with diversity of meaning. This enables us to welcome all kinds of meaning (relevance) and yet to separate them out and treat each kind in a rigorous way, according to the kind of rigour suited to it."
(Note: the quoted pieces above are not the actual text of the debate, but a very brief summary of entire papers published.)
This, I believe, is something Dooyeweerd was meaning when he formulated his third transcendental question, at least in the context of doing science rather than philosophy. Such debate rests on presuppositions and commitments of a religious nature.
Basden  has tried to employ this view of Dooyeweerd's transcendental questions in an attempt to find a basis for integrating positivist, interpretivist and socio-critical approaches.
both independently point to the religious root of theoretical thought, and that theoretical thinking is fundamentally non-neutral. This means that even if we find Way 1, based on a notion of philosophy, does not suit us, then we might find Way 2 better, based on a notion of what theoretical thinking itself is. And vice versa.
But, as we might expect, both Ways exhibit problems. One problem with the First Way of Critique is that it depends on Dooyeweerd's view that philosophy is concerned with totality of Meaning. It is widely agreed that philosophy is concerned with totality, but not totality of Meaning. Most presuppose Existence rather than Meaning. Dooyeweerd's First Way was published first in the 1930s, and in response to acknowledging this supposed weakness, and various other criticisms, Dooyeweerd developed Way 2. Various criticisms made of Way 1 are outlined by Choi.
There have also been criticisms of this Second Way of Critique, again as outlined by Choi. Whether we agree with them or not, it is useful at least to notice that Way 2 presupposes two things. One is the notion of aspects that are 'non-logical', but this is not an unreasonable assumption. The other is the neo-Kantian assumption that logical thinking operates by way of a Gegenstand, i.e. it creates an antithesis that must be synthesized. Way 2 is also more difficult to understand than Way 1.
One problem that arises from Way 2 is that it seems to preclude any theory about theory itself, since logical thinking involves an opposition between the logical and non-logical. At first sight, at least, it is self-obviously not the case that we cannot have theory of theory; surely we can and do! Dooyeweerd explicitly says that the logical cannot be Gegenstand for itself (e.g. NC II:463). But, in other places, he does talk about theory of theory and assume that such is possible (e.g. NC I:40). This seems an unresolved problem. But the problem seems to stem from the neo-Kantian assumption rather than how Dooyeweerd uses it. So, if we can replace the neo-Kantian assumption, perhaps Dooyeweerd's Way 2 still stands.
Another attempt has been made by Strauss . He proposed that theoretical thinking is little different from the logical subject-object relationship that we find in everyday living, that is analytical functioning. But it is not clear that this is adequate since it confuses theoretical thinking with analytical distinction-making.
Geertsema  has suggested, after discussing both Ways of Critique, that a modified version of Way 1 is preferable. He modifies Way 1 to give the central place to the human thinker rather than to philosophy itself.
Geertsema H (2000) "Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique: Transforming it Hermeneutically", pp. 83-108 in Strauss DFM, Botting M (eds.), Contemporary Reflections on the Philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, The Edwin Mellen Press, New York.
Strauss DFM (1983) "An analysis of the structure of analysis (The Gegenstand-relation in discussion)" Philosophia Reformata 49:35-56.
 Here 'scientific' seems to mean 'theoretical' in general rather than being of any particular scientific area, which is what we meant at the end of Way 1.
Copyright (c) 2003 Andrew Basden. But you may use this material subject to conditions.
Number of visitors to these pages: . Written on the Amiga with Protext.
Created: 16 May 2003. Last updated: 10 June 2003 corrections from comments by Henk Geertsema. 2 August 2004 link to Glenn F's translation. 28 June 2005 new section 'need.another' and quot'n from RSP; contents. 2 July 2009 Bourdieu. 10 July 2010 Revamped tc2, shifting older one to alternatives. 7 August 2012 name-labels on the 3 transcendental questions. 24 March 2015 added section about TC in social sciences and science in general, explaining TQ3 as the debate.