About Herman Dooyeweerd

Herman Dooyeweerd
  • Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977) was a graduate of the Free University of Amsterdam and from 1927 to 1965 he taught in its faculty of law.
  • He was a member of the Royal Academy of Science, the Association for the Philosophy of Law, and a founding member of the Association for Calvinist Philosophy and its journal, Philosophia Reformata, which he served for over forty years as editor-in-chief.
  • Dooyeweerd wholeheartedly subscribed to the emphasis on the lordship of Jesus Christ over all areas of life, in line with the teaching of Abraham Kuyper.

Dooyeweerd's Contributions to scholarship

  • He elaborated his ideas in De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (Amsterdam: 1935/36), now translated with amendments and published in the four-volume A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Amsterdam & Philadelphia: 1957/58, 1969; Lewiston: 1997). This masterpiece of systematic philosophical reflection ranks him as a leading philosopher of the 20th century.
  • He applied a historical orientation and systematic insights to his own area of specialization - jurisprudence or the science of law: its history, concepts, and differentiation into public, private and civil law.
  • His philosophy offers tools of analysis to open up many other fields of the special sciences in fresh ways, avoiding the reductions and antinomies of non-biblical approaches.

Flashpoints in Dooyeweerd's philosophy

  • Reality cannot ultimately be explained immanently - from within empirical reality. Scientists and scholars need to view the things of the created world transcendentally - in light of the revelation about the Creator who gave them being and determined their purpose, sense and meaning.
  • Christian scientific work must break with the age-old synthesis of pagan antiquity and biblical revelation.
  • The antithesis between good and evil is not due to a division among structures of creation but to a contrast between spiritual directions in which life is lived and the things of creation are shaped and used.
  • Theoretical thought is necessarily directed by a prior ultimate commitment and relies on a comprehensive worldview that reflects the diversity, unity and origin of all reality.
  • Scholars, to be effective, need to address the history and philosophical underpinnings of their disciplines.
  • The calling of Christian scholarship is to work at an inner reformation of all branches of learning.
  • The humble role of philosophy is to reflect on questions about the diversity, unity and origin of reality, the answers to which are ultimately not found in human thought but in divine revelation.
  • The history of western philosophy has long suffered from polar tensions in underlying motive forces.
  • Civilization displays an opening process that allows for harmonious development and is ignored at the price of cultural disharmony.

A Brief Biography of Dooyeweerd

Herman Dooyeweerd was born in Amsterdam in 1894, the child of Calvinist parents. In 1912 he matriculated as a law student in the Free University of Amsterdam, a Christian institution estab­lished in 1880. Five years later he took the doctorate in law after defending a dissertation dealing with the Cabinet in Dutch constitutional law. From 1918 to 1921 he worked in the Dutch Depart­ment of Labor as a legislative draftsman. From late 1921 to mid-1926 he served as assistant director of the newly organized Dr. Abraham Kuyper Foundation, a research and policy organ of the Anti-Revolutionary Party of the Netherlands (see "The Legacy of Kuyper," below). Here he was responsible not only for addressing the immediate issues of policy that faced the Anti-Revolu­tion­ary Party, but also for elaborating the Calvinist principles of law, politics, and society upon which the Party had been established some 50 years before. It was in discharging this latter re­spon­sibility—a responsibility upon which he had himself insisted—that Dooyeweerd embarked upon a systematic and critical study of (1) traditional Calvinist legal, political, and social theor­ies; (2) the structures and organization of a number of historical societies; and (3) a wide range of present and past theories of law, politics, and society. His work in these four years culminated in five major articles, including a fifteen-part tract published in translation under the title The Struggle for a Christian Politics (Lewiston, NY: Mellen, 2009).

In 1926 Dooyeweerd returned to his alma mater as a professor of legal philosophy, Dutch legal history, and encyclopedia of law. He retained this position until his retirement in 1965. For the first five or six years of his professorship, he shifted the focus of his research and public­a­tions from the broader issues of Calvinist political and social theory to intricate questions of legal doctrine and legal philosophy. In a series of brilliant articles, he analyzed, historically and phil­osophically, the intricate questions of juridical causality, fault, responsibility, rights, and sources of law. All along, however, he insisted upon viewing these legal questions, as well as questions of politics and society, in the context of a broader theory of the nature and destiny of man (anthropology), of being and order (ontology), and of knowledge and its sources (epistemology).         

In the 1930s Dooyeweerd began to elaborate systematically and in detail these latter three philosophical theories and to show their importance for defining and resolving issues of law, political science, sociology, and many other sciences. He first articulated his views in The Crisis of Humanist Political Theory as Seen from a Calvinist Cosmology and Epistemology (1931; Eng. trans., Grand Rapids: Paideia, 2010). This work was quickly eclipsed by his path-breaking three-volume work De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (Amsterdam, 1935–36), a work that appeared in a revised and enlarged edition in four volumes entitled A New Critique of Theoretical Thought (Philadelphia: Presb. and Reformed, 1953–58). While his articles of a decade before had made only rudimentary advances in traditional Calvinist teachings, the ideas and analysis set forth in these latter volumes were profound and original contributions, rooted in Calvinist thought. They remained at the center of Dooyeweerd's philosophical system for the rest of his life.

His work over the next forty years was, in many respects, an amplification and applica­tion of the seminal ideas developed in this formative period. He worked out his anthropology and his critique of traditional theories in a series of articles and reviews and then in a three-volume work Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy. He amplified his ontology and epistemology in several subsequent articles and in A New Critique of Theoretical Thought. At the same time, he resumed his detailed treatment of questions of law, politics, and society with which he had started his career. He systematized many of his concepts of law and politics and sharpened his earlier analysis of the history of legal and political theory, in his work Encyclo­pae­die der rechts­wetenschap [Encyclopedia of Legal Science]. He also elaborated his social theory in a number of articles and reviews in the 1940s and 1950s, the most important of which is his Ten Lectures on Sociology, published in English as A Christian Theory of Social Institutions.

Since 1994 the Dooyeweerd Centre for Christian Philosophy at Redeemer University Col­lege in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, is devoted to the publication and dissemination of refor­ma­tional thought, beginning with the series The Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd.

Dooyeweerd remained a profound and prolific scholar until his death in 1977. Over the course of his life, he published more than 200 books and articles, presided over numerous legal and philosophical societies and symposia, edited a variety of academic and popular publications, and lectured widely in Europe and North America. Though the novelty of his ideas, and the acuity of his critiques of others, often made Dooyeweerd's work an object of controversy, he garnered respect and praise from adherents and antagonists alike. He was a premier Christian polymath who commands the attention of scholars in every discipline who seek to integrate faith and learning.

-Adapted from John Witte, Jr., Introduction to Herman Dooyeweerd, A Christian
    Theory of Social Institutions, trans. by Magnus Verbrugge (La Jolla, CA, 1986).


The legacy of Kuyper
The Dr. Abraham Kuyper Foundation was established on the death of A. Kuyper (1837–1920), a brilliant Calvinist theologian, pastor, journalist, and politician. As theologian and pastor, Kuyper had articulated a rich systematic Calvinist theology, revitalized a grass-roots Calvinism in The Netherlands, and led the 1886 secession from the national Dutch Reformed Church (Hervormde Kerk) to form, in 1892, the Reformed Churches in The Netherlands (de Gereformeerde Kerken in Nederland). As a politician and journalist, he had reorganized the Anti-Revolutionary political party and brought it to power, serving as Prime Minister of The Netherlands from 1901 to 1905. Throughout his career, Kuyper remained committed to applying Reformed beliefs to all areas of life. In that spirit, he co-founded the Free University of Amsterdam in 1880, requiring in the University Constitution that all fields of scholarship be imbued with Calvinist principles. In that spirit, he had also delivered his Lectures on Calvinism at Princeton University in 1898, articu­lating basic Calvinist principles of religion, politics, law, science, and art. In the same spirit, Kuyper's followers (Colijn and Idenburg) had, on his death, developed the Dr. Abraham Kuyper Foundation, in order to provide a forum for articulating Calvinist principles of law, politics, society, and economics and applying them to resolve specific issues of policy.

A bibliography of Kuyper's writings and of studies on Kuyper is available at www.kuyperresearch.org. See also James D. Bratt, ed., Abraham Kuyper: A Centennial Reader (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998); McKendree R. Langley, The Practice of Political Spirituality: Episodes from the Public Career of Abraham Kuyper, 1879–1918 (Jordan Station, ON: Paideia, 1984); James W. Skillen and Stanely W. Carlson-Thies, "Religion and Political Development in Nineteenth-Century Holland," Publius: The Journal of Federalism 12.3 (1982): 43–64; Steven E. Meyer, Calvinism and the Rise of the Protestant Political Movement in the Netherlands (Ph.D. diss.; Georgetown Uni­versity, 1976); Justus M. van der Kroef, "Abraham Kuyper and the Rise of Neo-Calvinism in the Netherlands," Church History 17 (1948): 316–64; P. A. Kasteel, Abraham Kuyper (diss. Univ. of Louvain; Amsterdam, 1938); P. A. Diepenhorst, Dr. A. Kuyper (Amsterdam, 1938); Bernard Zylstra, Introduction to L. Kalsbeek, Contours of a Christian Philosophy, pp. 14–33, 296–302. See also Dooyeweerd's brief auto­bio­graphical comments in "Introduction by the Editor in Chief," Philosophia Reformata [festschrift for Vollenhoven] 38 (1973): 5–16; as well as his Foreword to A New Critique of Theoretical Thought, 1:v–ix.

Assessment by other scholars

  • Dr. P. B. Cliteur, president of the Humanist League of The Netherlands and professor of philosophy at the Technical University of Delft: "Herman Dooyeweerd is undoubtedly the most formidable Dutch philosopher of the 20th century. . . . As a humanist I have always looked at my own tradition in search for similar examples. They simply don't exist. Of course, humanists too wrote important books, but in the case of Herman Dooyeweerd we are justified in speaking of a philosopher of international repute.” (Oct. 8, 1994)
  • Prof. G. E. Langemeijer, a jurist from the University of Leiden, attorney-general of the Dutch Appeal Court and chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, on the occasion of Dooye­weerd’s 70th birthday: [Whilst I hold to a totally different worldview, I say that Dooyeweerd can be called] "the most original philosopher that Holland has ever produced, Spinoza not excepted.” (Oct. 6, 1964)
  • Giorgio Delvecchio, Italy’s major neo-Kantian philosopher, regarded Dooyeweerd as "the most profound, innovative, and penetrating philosopher since Kant."