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Critique: Assumptions and Presuppositions

To engage with other thought in a way that contributes to it we can to LACE: Listen, Affirm, Critique and Enrich. The previous piece, Critique: Uncovering Important Weaknesses, discussed critique in general and introduced the idea of deeper critique, which invites the other thought to question what it takes for granted, and that Christian thinkers are well-placed to do this. It introduced four levels at which things are taken for granted:

This page explains the four levels.

Assumptions rest on presuppositions. For example: The assumption "It might rain tomorrow" is not meaningful if we are in a desert, because the possibility of rain is presupposed by the assumption.

There are three kinds of presupposition, about what is meaningful: worldviews, ground-motives and standpoints. Today, "worldview" is often used loosely for all three, but since each influences thought in different ways, they need to be differentiated.

A worldview ("life- and world-view") is a community's beliefs about which aspect(s) of reality are most meaningful and should be focused on. This influences our decisions on how to understand and act. Examples: Rationalism focuses exclusively on the analytical aspect of reality, and is criticised for ignoring and denigrating other aspects, such as those involved in intuition. Materialism, similarly. A paradigm is similar to a worldview, but occurs within a specialised field. Example: Newton's laws of motion and Eistein's theories of Relativity give emphasis to different aspects, the spatial and the kinematic. Worldviews and paradigms usually involve focusing on one aspect (or a few) instead of others - and this is why they can determine what research is carried out.

Example: We can critique Feminism at the level of worldview, by asking which aspects it wishes to restore, and we find that each such aspect gives a different flavour. We can ask which is wishes to downplay, likewise. Then we can ask whether there are any other aspects not yet covered and bring that into the discussion. For example, technology is meaningful in the formative aspect and we may ask, what Feminism's attitude to technology is. Is it a masculine thing, in that much technological development has traditionally been carried out by men, or a feminist thing, in that women should get into technology? Also, do not women use technology much more in everyday life?

A ground-motive is deeper, being a presupposition about the entire range of aspects of reality, and how they relate to each other. A ground-motive tends to be held across society for several centuries. When a community of thought becomes dissatisfied with existing worldviews, it society's current ground-motive that tells us what is wrong with them and where to seek alternatives.

Dooyeweerd [1979] made a study of four main ground-motives that have shaped Western thought in this way, and Choi [2000], four ground-motives that have shaped Korean thought. Three Western ground-motives are dualistic, opposing one pole to another (Form versus Matter in ancient Greece, Nature versus Supernature in mediaeval Roman Catholicism and Scholasticism, Nature (or Determination) versus Freedom since the Humanistic Renaissance). Take for example the management paradigm / worldview of Fordism, which emphasises tight control of everything in a business. It is aligned with the Nature / Determination pole. In finding it results in injustices and dehumanization of workers, alternatives were sought - most of them at the opposing Freedom pole. Under a dualistic ground-motive, irresolvable conflicts enter and hinder a field, and much energy is spent by each side in fighting the other - what a waste!

Example: We may critique Feminism at this level by exposing its presupposition of the Nature-Freedom ground-motive. Are not the 'masculine' perspectives often criticised as being too controlling, and the 'feminine' ones often couched in terms of freedom? So, the fields where Feminism has had a voice, are characterized by opposing camps that seldom speak with each other. As I am about to show, it is not the fault of Feminism but of adhering to a dualistic ground-motive.

Dooyeweerd argued that dualistic (polar) ground-motives are false and harmful, and stultify humanity's thinking. Is that characterization of Feminism too simplistic? Is there not an element of control in Feminist thought, and of freedom in the perspectives they oppose? Dooyeweerd's fourth ground-motive is the Biblical one of Creation, Fall, Redemption, which allows for multiple aspects. It is the ground-motive that, he argued, lies at the root of genuine Christian thinking - thinking that takes the diversity and coherence and meaningfulness of Creation seriously.

(It was by adopting that ground-motive that Dooyeweerd was enabled to develop his suite of fifteen aspects. This is why his philosophy is useful to Christian thinkers - but by no means restricted to that. And Christian thinking can go on without Dooyeweerd, as long as it gives due respect to the diversity, coherence and meaningfulness of Creation.)

Basden [2011] has shown that it is possible to 'tranplant' conflicting views from what he calls the sterile soil of dualistic ground-motives into the fertile soil of the Biblical ground-motive. He takes three opposing approaches in information systems (positivist, interpretivist and critical) which tend to talk past each other, and argues that each finds different triads of aspects meaningful. As a result, they can fit together into a wider, multi-aspectual picture. Likewise, Basden [2008] argues that Feminism may be seen, not as antagonistic, but as seeking overlooked aspects - just as I have argued when Listening and Affirming.

Even deeper than ground-motives is the standpoint or what Clouser [2005] calls a Divinity Belief. This is visible mainly to philosophy, and concerns what is deemed self-dependent and on which all else depends. Most philosophy over the past 2,500 years, throughout the reigns of all three dualistic Western ground-motives, have presupposed Being as the fundamental. Things 'just are' and ultimately need no Creator. Dooyeweerd questioned this, and proposed that Meaning or Meaningfulness is more fundamental, and always refers ultimately beyond to a Creator. In the Being standpoint, meaning is arbitrary and is usually explained away.

Yet, today, many thinkers across all fields are finding Meaning to be important. But Christian thought can be comfortable with Meaning. Example: Some Feminisms want to affirm Meaning. Since there is no basis for Meaning in conventional thought, we can contribute to mainstream thought by offering them a way to tackle Meaning and Meaningfulness.

There is, however, little point in critiquing other thought and stopping there. We can proceed to enrich that thought. The next two pages discuss why we should enrich, and how we may do so.

Here are the elements of LACE:


For Dooyeweerd's Aspects, see "http://dooy.info/aspects.html".

Basden A. 2011. Enabling a Kleinian integration of interpretivist and critical-social IS research: The contribution of Dooyeweerd's philosophy. European Journal of Information Systems. 20, 477-489.

Choi Y-J. 2000. Dialogue and Antithesis: A Philosophical Study of the Significance of Herman Dooyeweerd's Transcendental Critique Thesis, Potchefstroomse Universiteit, S. Africa.

Also available online at Dialogue and Antithesis.

Clouser, R. 2005. The Myth of Religious Neutrality: An Essay on the Hidden Role of Religious Belief in Theories. University of Notre Dame Press, USA.

Dooyeweerd H, (1979), "Roots of Western culture; Pagan, Secular and Christian options", Wedge Publishing Company, Toronto, Canada.

Author: Andrew Basden.

First created: 18 January 2021 Last updated: