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What is cosmonomic philosophy?

cosmonomic philosophy

Cosmonomic philosophy is associated with Dutch thinker Herman Dooyeweerd. His approach considered meaning to be the fundamental nature of reality, rather than existing. Along those lines, Dooyeweerd defined the universe through two factors: entities and laws. Entities are “things.” All entities are subject to a series of “modalities” or “aspects” or “laws.” None of the modalities can fully explain any entity; each entity is expressed in multiple modalities; no aspect can be fully understood by a finite mind. In this way, Dooyeweerd unified everything to meaning rooted in creation by God. He proposed that everything exists as a combined expression of these “laws,” using the phrase de wijsbegeerte der wetsidee. This literally means “the philosophy of the law idea” and is typically referred to as “cosmonomic,” or “universe of law,” philosophy.

Broadly speaking, cosmonomic philosophy is compatible with a biblical worldview. In fact, Dooyeweerd’s thought process was heavily influenced by his Reformed Christian beliefs. The system harmonizes with the biblical concepts of natural and special revelation, creation, and God’s aseity and sovereignty. That said, any human philosophy is subject to variations, errors, and limitations. The extent to which one accepts or rejects cosmonomic thinking depends on philosophical beliefs. Systems such as these are not a measure of one’s discernment or spiritual maturity.

Dooyeweerd proposed a fundamental sense of religious pre-supposition in all human thought. He insisted that all thoughts emerge from some assumption about what is utterly fundamental: what is self-dependent or intrinsic to reality. This implies something even simpler and more foundational than a worldview; he called it a “ground motive.” This bias of perspective is unavoidable and can only be recognized, never eliminated.

In Dooyeweerd’s assessment, most cultures apply dualistic ground motives. In other words, they fundamentally separate reality into two entirely separate concepts, such as reality versus experience, freedom versus determinism, mind versus body, and so forth. The exception to this was the Judeo-Christian perspective of a Creator who interacts with creation yet exists “outside” of it. This holistic viewpoint implies that meaning, not existing, is the essential quality of all things. Accordingly, Dooyeweerd believed entities—things—could only be fully understood in terms of their operation within various aspects—laws—of creation. His approach indicated that no entity could be entirely defined by a single aspect, nor was any aspect totally irrelevant to any entity. He presumed this could eliminate dualist paradoxes and steer away from reductionist thinking.

The cosmonomic philosophy that Dooyeweerd proposed included a list of fifteen fundamental aspects such as quantity, life, logic, history, significance, experience, aesthetics, morality, and faith. These were subject to change, and others have proposed their own catalogs of modalities. Per cosmonomic philosophy, every “thing” in reality is best defined through “meaning,” according to its interaction with all the different aspects. Only God, as the sole uncreated and necessary Being, would exist independently of these aspects; He is the source of all meaning.

Under this philosophy, all things are integrated. We can appropriately focus on specific aspects, leading to fundamental fields of study such as physical science, logic, or history. However, no single aspect can be all-sufficient; it would be false to embrace “nothing but” perspectives such as scientism, rationalism, or historicism. The combination of aspects can generate our frameworks for discussing being, modes of existence, forms and functions, and so forth.

Dooyeweerd’s work has been influential in religious philosophy and modern attitudes toward government. He is often associated with Neo-Calvinism, though Dooyeweerd preferred not to identify directly as “Calvinist.” His principles echo certain elements of presuppositional apologetics.

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This page last updated: January 31, 2024