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Possible Classes of Things: Type Laws

If, as in Dooyeweerd's theory of entities, things exist, or come into existence, by virtue of aspectual functioning, we are faced with the question: What types of things are possible? Dooyeweerd answered this question by proposing there are laws (on the law-side) that regulate what types of things are possible. He called them internal structural principles or sometimes individuality structures. Clouser [1991] calls them type laws, a name we prefer. Clouser recently (email, 29 September 2013) gave the following examples and explanation:

"We have an intuitive inkling of this when we see that there can be no such thing as a flying tree or a talking rock. The concepts of those things are not self-contradictory, so logic alone can't tell us why there can be no such things. If they were logically self-contradictory they would be IMPOSSIBLE. But that's not what's wrong with them. What's wrong is that there is no type law to make them possible. So rather than being impossible they are simply not possible ('impossible' means a law has been violated; 'not possible' means there is no law to allow the combination of properties it would take to form such a thing)."

However, see Note by Henk Geertsema on why Dooyeweerd used the term 'individuality structure' - because he wanted to emphasise the individuality rather than the type.

Type Laws

Whereas aspectual laws operate solely within their aspect and govern what is possible or meaningful in the law-side, type laws are inter-aspect laws and govern what is possible or meaningful on the entity-side, that is what types of things can (meaningfully, successfully) exist. For example, there seems to be a type law for each type of plant and animal, for such things as sculptures like Praxiteles' sculpture of Hermes and Dionysis that Dooyeweerd discussed, and for the various types of social institution. (Dooyeweerd used the latter idea in his theory of social institutions.)

Type laws involve several aspects, and seem to be simply a statement of which aspects are important to a thing and in what way. For example, we might envisage types laws as follows:

The notion seems to be tied up with the notion of qualifying aspect etc.

Though internal structural principles "are founded in the cosmic temporal order, [and] as such they are not changeable in time" [NC II:557], they are not like Plato's prototypes of which all existent things are copies, nor like Aristotle's idea that matter is given 'form', nor like Husserl's eidetic essences. Rather, type laws are laws to which response is made to circumscribe which entities might come into existence, and they lead to an "inexhaustible wealth of individuality [that] does not show a rigid, atomistic character, but presents itself in a continuous dynamic-structural coherence." [NC II:558]. Though, strictly, they are inconsistent with nominalism (which claims there are no types), in practice the two views are consistent because Dooyeweerd's notion of types implies such a rich variability in concrete things.

Diversity of Types of Entity

This would seems to limit the types of things that might come into being. But that would misunderstand Dooyeweerd's notion, because:

"these structural principles are strongly plastic in character because of their more concrete nature. This lends an extremely rich and varied aspect to this dimension of the experiential horizon [viz. the entity-side]. The modal dimension [i.e. law-side] encompassed by the cosmic temporal horizon is the same for all things. But the plastic horizon of structural individuality is varied according to types which are different for each of the various groups of things, and in which things in turn appear, change their forms, or are changed in form, and vanish." [NC II:557]

What types of things might exist "can in no way be construed a priori by human thought." Structural principles should never be used to restrict possibilities. They are difficult to discover because of their immense variety of application and because we can never know them a-priori. Certainly, we should always be wary of saying, for example, "Metal cannot fly" since humanity might one day discover aircraft or an extremely dense gas.

Uses of the Notion of Type Laws and Qualifying Aspect

See 'The Notion of Qualifying Aspect - and the 2008 Credit Crunch'.

Problems with Notion of Type Laws

Personally, I have serious reservations about Dooyeweerd's notion of internal structural principles as something pre-given in the law-side, even though he does allow enormous flexibility. There has been some debate over whether structural principles do in fact exist [Hart, 2000:].

To make such a proposal robs the notion of type laws of all its meaning and usefulness except as a dogma. And, since we cannot use type laws to predict a priori what types are possible, there seems little point in using it.

Much debate within the Dooyeweerdian community seems to centre on entity types and type laws. Why? It seems to me that most participants have an essentialist orientation, that gives primacy to Being and thus to the question of how one type of Being differs from another fundamentally. While a very summary notion of type laws can be useful in classification, it can be a hindrance when we go into detail. In my view, the whole notion of type laws is not philosophically necessary, since most of what it is called upon to do can be done by other ways. For example ...

So How Can We Classify THings?

Another way Dooyeweerd might be able to help is direct our search for types and universals towards aspectual laws that govern the law-side rather than structural principles that govern the entity-side, and we shall find these far more useful. For one thing, structural principles pre-suppose aspectual laws [NC II:557] - as we have seen in our discussion of the inner structure of Praxiteles' sculpture and other examples above. For another, in contrast to the plasticity of the type laws, the relative stability of the law-side can make classification easier. The aspects are few compared with the "inexhaustible" wealth of entity types encountered in the entity-side. This suggests that, our construction of classifications should be informed by the aspects rather than, or in addition to, entity types.

This approach might not enable us to come up with a universally valid definition of any given entity type, that has a claim upon all people, whatever their purpose or culture. But it does at least provide a basis for very useful classifications to be made within a given human culture or purpose, such as a library in a British town or university.

Note on Use of Term 'Individuality Structure'

Henk Geertsema recently (25 April 2005) sent the following comment on why Dooyeweerd used the term 'individuality structure'. I found it so helpful that I requested permission to publish it in full (emphasis added).

David,

Maybe this might be a little help. I have often wondered why Dooyeweerd spoke of individuality structures, while he is not having the concrete individual thing in mind but the structure of a (kind of) thing. I may have found an answer to his question though. The individuality structure does account for a thing to be an individual of a certain kind, not just a member of this kind.

In this context Dooyeweerd distinguishes between different modal types of individuality. They are either original, retrocipatory or anticipatory (NCII 323ff). It is the original type of individuality that accounts for a thing to be individually different from other things of the same kind. In relation to the Hermes of Praxiteles he argues that 'the type of individuality of the leading aesthetic function is not original', therefore there must be an other type of individuality which is original (NCII 118ff). He finds that in the historical function. My guess is that Dooyeweerd needs a founding function whenever the original type of individuality of some (kind of )thing cannot be found in the qualifying or leading function. For a sculpture this is the historical function not the aesthetic. The same holds true for all organized over against natural communities. It is historical formation because of which they are individual things: as individual things they are freely organized. So the boundaries of an individual state are marked by the scope of the power of the sword as historically established. This defines the legal boundaries of the state and not the other way around, whatever way this power has been established, which should of course have been by legal means. And also, the use of the sword should be within the boundaries of what is legal. That is why the juridical aspect is the qualifying one. Yet this aspect according to Dooyeweerd cannot as such account for this state to be individually different form another state.

Something similar holds for an individual family. Only in that case the original type of individuality is not historical but biotic. The boundaries of an individual family are marked by the biotic blood relationship. Here the original type of individuality of the family is found, not in the ethical relationship. This is a retrocipatory modal type of individuality. Which means that also in this aspect the individuality of a family is typically expressed, but again not in its original type. It is by the biotic blood relationship that according to Dooyeweerd an individual family is establisheeven where the nature of the family as such is etically qualified.

Henk Geertsema


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: 10 March 2004. Last updated: 17 March 2004 classifying ISD projects. 25 April 2005 HG on Indiv Strs. 20 September 2008 link to qacc and some rewrite. 4 October 2013 Clouser para intro. 3 September 2015 corrected '../'; rid counter; new .nav; added 'Type laws' to title; restored outdent.