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image of Philosophia Reformata

Ernst Cassirer (1946, 140) once observed: “In the history of ideas it is by no means unusual that a thinker develops a theory, the full purport and significance of which is still hidden to himself.” Cassirer was echoing no less a personage than Kant himself. Kant had written long before: “”¦ it is by no means unusual, upon comparing the thoughts which an author has expressed in regard to his subject, whether in ordinary conversation or in writing, to find that we understand him better than he has understood himself. As he has not sufficiently determined his concept, he has sometimes spoken, or even thought, in opposition to his own intention.”2 May we take our lead from Kant here? May we understand Dooyeweerd better than he understood himself, even to the point of attributing to him a view or views that would appear to be “in opposition to his own intention”? It may sound a little strange, but something of this sort seems to have been underway among Dooyeweerd interpreters for quite some time. Many have started from the assumption that Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven held to essentially the same position. Now, since there were some widely acknowledged differences, something would have to yield, and what often yielded was Dooyeweerd. It was thought that in essence Dooyeweerd was saying what Vollenhoven had also been saying. One could therefore allow for an error in Dooyeweerd here or there — perhaps even a “contradiction” — while continuing to hold him in high esteem.


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