Herman Dooyeweerd (1894-1977)


Herman Dooyeweerd (7th October 1894 - 12th February 1977)


Dooyeweerd loved art and music and was an accomplished pianist, he enjoyed detective stories and was a supporter of Ajax, the famous Amsterdam football team, but it is not for these things that Dooyeweerd is remembered. He was the pioneer of the school of 'the philosophy of the cosmonomic principle' or more simply reformational philosophy.


He has been described as one of the foremost philosophers of the Netherlands. Dr. P.B. Cliteur, [1] wrote in 1994: '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 about a philosopher of international repute.'


G.E. Langemeijer, attorney general of the Dutch Appeal Court and chairman of the Royal Dutch Academy of Sciences, wrote in the Trouw [2] that Dooyeweerd was "the most original philosopher Holland has ever produced, even Spinoza not excepted". Giorgio Delvecchio, an Italian neo-Kantian philosopher, viewed Dooyeweerd as 'the most profound, innovative, and penetrating philosopher since Kant'. [3] More recently philosopher Alvin Plantinga stated that 'Dooyeweerd's work was comprehensive, insightful, profound, courageous, and quite properly influential.' [4]


Dooyeweerd was born on 7th October 1894 in Amsterdam to Herman Dooijeweerd, an accountant, (1850-1919) and Maria Christina Spaling (1862-1948). Maria was Herman's second wife, his first had died leaving him three daughters. Herman was the only boy of a family of five children. Dooyeweerd's father was greatly influenced by Abraham Kuyper and Dooyeweerd, who became a Christian at a young age, was immersed in kuyperian thought and neo-calvinism. He would have heard Kuyper's newspaper articles read aloud at home and he attended a Christian school whose head-master Dr J. Woltjer was an associate of Kuyper.


In 1912 he attended the Free University (Vrije Univeriteit, VU) in Amsterdam. There he studied law. He was disappointed with the VU as he expected to get a good grounding in the kuyperian worldview. The VU had been founded in 1880 by Kuyper and in Dooyeweerd's time there were only three faculties. The law faculty only had three professors: Fabius, Anema and Diepenhorst. In 1917 he received his doctorate for a thesis entitled: 'De Ministerraad in het Nederlandsche Staatsrecht' ('Cabinet Ministers under Dutch Constitutional Law').


He then took up the post of an assistant tax collector in Friesland. In 1918 he moved to Leiden where he had the post of an assistant to a municipal councillor. He was then asked to become the deputy head of the Public Health department in The Hague. During this time, he studied independently legal philosophy. He found that there was much conflict between the different approaches to legal philosophy and this made him convinced that there was a need for a 'genuinely Christian and biblically based insight and foundation'. [5]


Dooyeweerd began to correspond with his brother in law D. H. Th Vollenhoven - Vollenhoven, also a graduate of the VU, had married Dooyeweerd's sister in 1918. In these correspondences Dooyeweerd expressed a desire to 'work out the philosophical foundations of science and of developing a theistic position, along Calvinist lines'. [6] In May 1921 Vollen-hoven became a pastor in The Hague and this gave the two more time to talk together and develop their ideas.


In October 1922 the newly founded research institute of the Anti-Revolutionary Party, a party associated with Kuyper, appointed the 27-year-old Dooyeweerd the first director. This gave Dooyeweerd the time and opportunity to develop his philosophical ideas. [7] He married on Jantiena Wilhelmina Fernhout on 19th September 1924. It was during this time that he developed the idea of the religious root of theoretical thought: the idea that all the sciences are dependent on pre-theoretical presuppositions.


He worked for the 'Kuyper Institute', as it was known, for four years. He then accepted an offer to become professor of law at the VU, a position he held for 40 years until his retirement in 1965 at 70. His brief at the VU was to teach 'Intro-duction to the Science of Law', the 'History of traditional Dutch law' and 'Jurisprudence'. He replaced the 'Introduction' with an 'Encyclopaedia of Legal Science'.


It was at the VU that Dooyeweerd completed his De Wijsbegeerte der Wetsidee (Amsterdam: 1935-36). This was translated into English in 1953 as The New Critique of Theoretical Thought. This translation contained extensive revisions and additions. His next planned project was Reformation and Scholasticism in Philosophy [8] and then the Encyclopaedia of Legal Science. [9] He was not able to complete these fully during his lifetime. He founded and was editor in chief (1936 - 1976) of the journal Philosophia Reformata.


After the Second World War he travelled extensively to Switzerland, South Africa, France, Belgium, the United States, including several times to Harvard University - and Canada. It was the lectures during one of the tours to North America that formed the basis of In the Twilight of Western Thought (1960). During 1945 to 1948 he wrote a series of articles in the weekly Nieuw Nederland these formed the basis for his book Roots of Western Culture (1979).


In 1948 he was inducted into the Royal Academy of Dutch Sciences. Dooyeweerd was a prolific author and wrote around 200 articles and books. The last article he wrote was for Philosophia Reformata in 1975. Dooyeweerd's son had this to say of him: 


Dooyeweerd was a gifted man but in ways of a very down-to-earth person with his feet on the ground. We in the family loved him dearly and are, we think justifiably, proud of him. We remember him as someone who was humble before his God and always strove to be in his service. In the days just before his death I personally witnessed how he struggled greatly with the fact that in his own eyes he had not done all that he seemingly felt God had called him to do.




1. President of the `Humanist League' in The Netherlands and professor of philosophy at the Technical University of Delft. Cited in Witte Jr.


2. October 6, 1964. On the occasion of Dooyeweerd's 70th birthday. Cited in Witte Jr.


3. Cited in Witte Jr.


4. In 'Christian philosophy at the end of the twentieth century'.


5. Dooyeweerd Jr p. 107.


6. Henderson p. 27.


7. According to Witte Jr: 'His work in these four years culminated in five major articles, including a fifteen-part tract In the Struggle for a Christian Politics [Herman Dooyeweerd, "In den strijd om een Christelijke Staatkunde. Proeve van een fundeering der Calvinistische levens- en wereldbeschouwing in hare Wetsidee," I Antirevolutionaire Staatkunde (henceforth A.R.S.) 7-25 62- 79, 104-118, 161-173, 189-200, 228-244, 309-324, 433-460, 489-504, 528- 542 581-598, 617-634, (1924-5); 2 A.R.S. 244-65, 425-445 (1926). A.R.S. was the monthly journal of the Dr. Abraham Kuyper Foundation, which Dooyeweerd edited for several years. This work will appear as volume B5 of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd.] and an important monograph 'Calvinism and Natural Law' (contained in volume B1 of the Collected Works of Dooyeweerd). Details can be found here.


8. The three volume work has now recently been published by Edwin Mellen Press as A5, A6 and A7 of the Collected Works of Herman Dooyeweerd series.


9. The first volume of this has now been published (translated by Robert D. Knudsen) by Edwin Mellen as A8. A9-11 will appear shortly. Details can be found here.





The Dooyeweerd Pages: http://www.dooy.info/


Philosophia Reformata. International Philosophical Journal for Christianity, Science & Society.





Stichting voor Christelijke Filosofie:  https://www.christelijkefilosofie.nl/



Reformational Philosophy: https://www.allofliferedeemed.co.uk/