Category Archives: Shaping Our Disciplines For Christ

Two Provocatives (Part 1)

First of Two Provocative Statements About a Philosophical Understanding of Sustainability

Andrew Basden

My problem, my confusion was I was a member of the Green Party in the 1980’s, I still am actually [although I don’t like it]. I came across lots of different factions fighting against each other. There were the deep ecologists who emphasised species and so on, there were the green economists, there were the new agers and spirituality. There were people who were emphasising decentralisation, and so on, and I couldn’t understand what is sustainability. I wanted to understand what is sustainability.

I gave a talk at a conference and this guy afterwards came up to me and said, “You know that book you recommended, the book called Thine is the Kingdom by Paul Marshall?”, he said “Do you know what that book’s based on? It’s based on a Dutch philosopher by the name of Herman Dooyeweerd” and he explained a number of aspects.

And immediately over coffee, I saw that the factions in the Green movement were each emphasising one or other aspect. And so in a flash I saw, at last, I could understand sustainability as the working together in all aspects, and that all these different movements have something to give, even though they themselves may see their own aspect as the answer. So I started thinking about that.

This is about 1990 after I’d been with Peter for a time working technically.

I then saw that the other problem that I had in my work, which was the usefulness and benefits of ICT in use, could also be explained by aspects. They {Expert Systems or other ICT applications} could be socially beneficial, but economically detrimental, or the other way round: economically beneficial increasing profits, but socially detrimental. This gave me a way of thinking about aspects {about both ICT in use, and sustainability}.

Dooyeweerd’s Aspects and Sustainability

So I’d like very quickly to go through these aspects now and explain how I see their relation to sustainability, very briefly and Patrizia I think can do a lot more than that because that’s part of her PhD.

[I’ll start with the physical aspect.] I’ll go through them, there’s fifteen of these things (aspects).

Aspects are ways in which reality can be meaningful and lawful, the way in which reality functions and works. So for example, the situation we have now {the talk situation}, functions in the lingual aspect of communication, but also the social aspect of friendship; if I was trying to talk to you, not treating you as friends, it wouldn’t be a good talk. Then the pistic aspect (the Greek word pistis means faith, vision and commitment): If I didn’t believe what I was saying, it wouldn’t be a good talk. You have probably all heard lecturers who deliver their stuff without really believing it – and the students know. {Now we will go through the aspects of sustainability.}

  • So let’s start with the physical aspect. Things like climate change and geology, climate and geology are physical aspects of sustainability.
  • The biotic aspect is to do with life functions. So things like food, health, ecosystems are to do with the biotic aspect of sustainability.
  • The psychical or sensory aspect is when entities can feel and sense and respond to each other. And it’s also about animal emotions like fear and so on, that’s the Psychical or sensory aspect to sustainability.
  • Analytic aspect is more for humans. It our ability to distinguish one thing from another. So we distinguish issues in sustainability when we discuss it: What do we distinguish and what do we overlook? How do we classify things? That affects sustainability. The various arguments of different classification systems of “Here are the four things of sustainability” and “Here’s the ten”.
  • Formative aspect is our formative power: creative, deliberate formative power. Like a potter shaping mud or clay into a pot, or us shaping ideas, [or something], shaping people into an organisation. It’s to do with techniques, it’s to do with achievement. And sustainability requires techniques and achievements. Technology is in there as well.
  • Lingual aspect is to do with communications, and records and things like that. If we don’t have good communication we’ll not have good sustainability.
  • Social aspect is to do with collaboration, working together rather than just as separate individuals. The idea of ‘we’ rather than just a lot of I’s. Institutions – and the role of institutions in sustainability.
  • Economic aspect is of course to do with resources. Not just with money or production and consumption, but frugality in the use of scarce resources: management of scarce resources. Not necessarily use {of resources}. Of course there’s lots to discuss about that.
  • Aesthetic aspect is, Dooyeweerd said, the aspect of harmony as in an orchestra – lots of things, working together to produce something more than the sum of the parts. Holism is aesthetic. Also people are saying: fun is aesthetic. If sustainability isn’t fun, it’s not going to be taken up by people. Michelle was talking about teaching being fun.
  • Juridical aspect is the idea of “what is due” {to something}. It’s to do with laws and so on. But it’s more than laws, it’s something more fundamental. It gives us responsibility – to human beings, to the future generations, to the poor, to forests, to ecosystems, to animals – and it helps us separate out {different rights or responsibilities}. It helped me to make sense of the animal rights people, not just reject them {as many do}, but to see their place {in contributing to sustainability}.
  • The ethical aspect is not to do with good-and-bad: it’s goodness, self-giving, generosity. If society is generous with people self-giving and being willing to sacrifice themselves, {then sustainability increases}, but if everyone is self-interested and self-protective, sustainability is going to be harmed.
  • Finally the faith {or pistic} aspect: Ideology and religion, but it’s the aspect of commitment and vision; of trust or distrust. If that’s not there, if a community has low morale, it’s not so sustainable.

That helped me to see and think about sustainability in the round.

The Nature of Dooyeweerd’s Aspects: An Overview

Dooyeweerd claimed that this was not a final set {of aspects} nor some kind of absolute truth; it was always provisional – but maybe our best guess. It’s better than Maslow’s hierarchy because it’s wider and deeper and more philosophically based; Maslow’s hierarchy can be seen as perhaps a subset {of Dooyeweerd’s suite of aspects}.

It’s useful for a number of things as you can see in the paper {given out at the workshop}. It’s useful not so much as a check list – you can use it as a check list – or for making up questions in a questionnaire. But it’s better for separating out kinds of issues, because all of the aspects are irreducible {to each other}.

The green {pointing to diagram on a flipchart} is the characteristics that Dooyeweerd felt were of the aspects. Aspects are irreducible for example. Aspects are also normative – they have a normative thrust – and so they’re useful for guidance. Also they’re aspects of possibility, they’re a law side and so they’re useful for anticipation.

We find them very useful for stimulation, for thinking of what issues are being overlooked in a discourse. What elephants in the room are there? ({For example,} Often the aesthetic aspect is overlooked.8

They’re useful for research and practice, to guide both research and practice. Each science or discipline can be seen as centred on an aspect linked to other aspects. {See Page on sciences.}

The bridge between the human and the non-human.

Now there are some aspects which are mainly human. But in the same aspectual set there are the pre-human aspects, that animals and plants function in – and humans as well – and so it brings things together. It {Dooyeweerd’s approach} doesn’t separate the human from the non-human. It also doesn’t separate the subject from the object as Descartes did. It has aspects to do with the individual, it has aspects to do with the social, it has aspects to do with the structural elements of society, all in the same set.

The aspects have relationships with each other and so it offers the possibility of integrating – integrating various things. They are seen as practical because Dooyeweerd started with pre-theoretical thought rather than theoretical.

So I used Dooyeweerd as a framework, for understanding information systems, and possibly for sustainability as well. (I’m involved in the Ecosystem Services project to develop this.)

What I’ve done in my paper, is I’ve tried to work out from each person’s abstract, what I thought they were on about. I won’t go into this, you can see it in the paper, but {explaining the diagram} a house with someone in it is someone living in a city or in a urban environment. The guy with the hammer is the construction industry. The guy with arms extended is to do with values and care. Trees are obvious. A cloud is someone thinking or our view or something. An arrow between two people is communication and a long straight arrow is time and future.

Then in my paper I thought what aspects is each one focusing on? I don’t want to go into that detail.

Provocative Statement 1

Peter asked us to be provocative and I didn’t realise that when I wrote the paper. So I’ll make one provocative statement:

Dooyeweerd can address all sustainability issues,
or rather,

Dooyeweerd can help us address all sustainability issues.
Provocative? too arrogant? I put it forward as something to test. There still needs to be research and exploration of these possibilities, not just to see the aspects separating the issues, but all these other things as well and Patrizia and Manila especially have done some of that.

I think we need a hundred PhD students doing this. I believe that we need as many people exploring Dooyeweerd as used Michel Foucault or Jürgen Habermas, before we can really know whether Dooyeweerd can help us, whether this is true or not.

I was disappointed Chrisna that you moved away from Dooyeweerd and gave him lip service.

Chrisna: I used Dooyeweerd in my thesis.

A: I know! :-) But only with a bit of lip service there, I think? ;-)

Actually no, a PhD student ought to do what they think is interesting, not what the supervisor thinks interesting. Actually you ended up with probably one of the best PhD’s, so you actually did the right thing. But it did put a pause on the Dooyeweerd exploration to sustainability.

That’s one provocative statement.

NOTES Note 1. Professor Peter Brandon, whom the Workshop was honouring as a kind of Festschrift.

Note 2. I was at that time working in a research project led by Peter Brandon to build expert systems to help the Surveying Profession. Expert systems are computer applications that encapsulate human expertise about a particular topic, so as to give advice, stimulate thinking, provide understanding, etc.

Note 3. Aspects of ICT in use, or aspects of sustainability. The same suite of aspects. See “”.

Note 4. Patrizia Lombardi, joint organiser of the Workshop. Patrizia undertook a PhD with Peter Brandon and, at my suggestion, developed Dooyeweerd’s aspects as a framework for understanding urban sustainability. See Brandon PS, Lombardi P (2005) Evaluating Sustainable Development in the Built Environment. Oxford, UK: Blackwell Science.

Note 5. Michelle was one of the participants in the workshop, who had just spoken.

Note 6. The paper is a printed version that I wrote as a draft for the workshop.

Unity in diversity of the human soul: a hard scientific look

The brief peer-reviewed publication reproduced below in draft form is offered as an example both of Christian apologetics (albeit of a covert sort) and also of C-A-N-’s programme of ‘Shaping Our Disciplines.’ 

The Scriptures that are shared by Judaism with Christianity and Islam teach that each human individual (‘soul’) is – using contemporary scholarly terminology – both an embodied member of a biological species and an acculturated member of a social community: a dual nature held together as one person by actions, thoughts and feelings jointly between partners and among a wider circle of family and friends (Genesis 1:27-28 and 2:23-24).

In contrast, Western thought became increasingly dominated by a materialist ontology. For example, much of science treats people and their surroundings as piles of chemicals. Yet in western philosophy this pervasive Physicalist presumption is collapsing under the weight of its own incoherence (The waning of materialism – Koons & Bealer, OUP, 2010).

 Neither reductive neuroscience nor sceptical postmodernism can deny the reality of human achievements, such as the invention of objects that make air push upwards harder than gravity pulls downward (flight) and the creation of series of noises or marks that enable the hearer or reader to achieve more (linguistic communication). A private experience, a public speech, a passage of text or a piece of art can bear any number of interpretations. Yet what a community agrees that a set of words conveys about the material and societal practicalities of our shared life enables each of its members to form effective intentions.

The Letter to a medical journal drafted below exploits this reality to propose a “psychosocial” approach to measuring the effects on people’s wellbeing of what people do repeatedly.
– David Booth

Authors’ manuscript (revision of uncut draft before submission in December 2014)
Accepted version online: 26 May 2015;  doi:10.1038/ijo.2015.62
Hard copy: Booth, D. A. & Laguna-Camacho, A., 2015. Physical versus psychosocial measurement of influences on obesity. Comment on Durandhar et al. International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders, 39(7), pp. 1177-1178. DOI: 10.1038/ijo.2015.62

Letter to the Editor, International Journal of Obesity and Related Metabolic Disorders.
Physical versus psychosocial measures of influences on human obesity. Comment on Durandhar and others (2015) by David A. Bootha and Antonio Laguna-Camachob
aSchool of Psychology, University of Sussex, Brighton, UK. E-mail:
b Medical Sciences Research Centre, Autonomous University of the State of Mexico, Toluca City, Mexico. E-mail:

Eminent colleagues in research on energy balance and human obesity, including the two Editors of this journal, argue that research participants’ reports of their own food intake and physical activity should be replaced by monitoring instruments that generate data automatically.1 This proposal has two fundamental flaws. Each has been obvious for a long time. Neither of these criticisms is especially profound. Both basic deficiencies in research on human obesity can be overcome by objective verbal data developed in psychological science.

The first flaw is that the everyday actions that need to be measured are liable to be changed by awareness that they are being monitored. Participants in research on energy exchange between the body and the environment are likely to try to eat less and to exercise more if they think that they might be regarded as too heavy for their health. Furthermore, such efforts to adopt supposedly healthier practices are fully justifiable. Indeed, it would be unethical to try to persuade a participant to maintain habits which risk the disease and distress to which obesity can contribute. Attaching instruments to measure intake or movement may produce at least as much change as asking for a diary of weighed intakes or categories of physical activity.

Contrary to Durandhar and colleagues, the problem is not “self-”report. Awareness that an independent observer is making a record could change behaviour as much or even more.

Erroneous numbers for energy intake or expenditure can also come from intentional or unintentional omissions of intake or insertions of movement. Yet monitoring instruments can be abused, even when fixed to the body. People so minded can relax on a couch while knocking their wrist accelerometer in a walking rhythm!

For the same reason, participants’ reports of readings on their bathroom scales should not be impugned relative to weights read in clinic or laboratory. Anticipation of the appointment for measurement is liable to change behaviour which is thought to affect weight. In addition, the intervals between appointments are generally too long to track the step change in weight that results from a sustained alteration of energy intake or physical activity.

In short, all ethical observation is invalidated by reactivity. In addition, calculations of physicochemical values from records by wearable instruments and verbal reports share considerable inaccuracies. Poor sampling makes food composition databases and energy conversion factors highly approximate. Also, metabolic efficiencies and energy partitioning vary within and across individuals.

The second basic flaw is that physics and chemistry cannot capture the societally objective patterns in human ingestion and movement. Choices of foods and drinks, as well as exercising or resting, and keeping warm or cool, are all actions construed in words by a community. The identity of each habitual practice is specifiable only by a culture’s consensus on descriptions of the observed activities, as shown by biosocial thought experiments in the 1930s2 and more recently in human sciences.3,4

This principle has been recognised for physical activity.5 It has been implemented for a number of common habits of eating, drinking and exercise.6,7

Only habits that recur at least once a week or so are likely to have substantial effects on weight. Recall of habitual occurrences can be highly accurate back over at least a week.7,8,9 Hence it is possible to estimate changes in the frequency of each habit in free-living individuals with sufficient accuracy to measure the effects on weight.7

Participants should never be asked, “How often do you .?” Answering that question does not require any actual occasion to be recalled; there are many other ways of coming up with a number.10 Instead, the question should be “When did you last .?”, followed by “When was the last time before that?” The time between those two occurrences gives the exact current frequency.11

In order to measure the effect of a habit on weight, that recurrent pattern of actions must vary in frequency independently of other habits’ variations. This disconfounding has been attempted for energy intake between meals (‘snacking’)6,12 but not for other intake patterns.13 In addition, to show that the described behaviour influenced weight, rather than the other way round, the change in frequency of the habit must precede the start of the change in weight. Crucially, the asymptotic effect on weight of a change in frequency of a habit includes all compensation by later intake and/or expenditure.14,15

In summary, effects of observation on behaviour imperil accuracy and validity no less for instrument readings than for verbal records. In any case, human actions can only be identified by communally agreed descriptions. Fundamental scientific evidence from life in the locality is needed in order to determine the amount of weight change caused by a persisting change in frequency of a recognised habit.

Once the effectiveness of a habit has been measured, approximate measures of that activity’s usual material correlates are needed in order to specify supportive changes in the environment. These could include factors in the composition, labelling and marketing of foods, or in the provision of walkways, transport, room heating and so on, as well as dosage of a medication, design of a surgical procedure or intervention attuned to epigenetic background.16

Most importantly of all, the effects on weight of changes in socially identified habits translate directly into clinical or public messages for use within the same culture. Universal education in the options specified by such biosocial evidence may well be the only way to reduce the personal, social and economic costs of obesity and overweight.16

      1. Dhurandhar NV, Schoeller D, Brown AW, Heymsfield SB, Thomas D, Sørensen TIA et al. Energy balance measurement: when something is not better than nothing. Int J Obes 2015; accepted article preview 13 November 2014.
      2. Wittgenstein, L. Philosophical investigation [Posthumous translation by G.E.M. Anscombe]. Oxford: Blackwell,1953.
      3. Romney AK, Weller SC, Batchelder WH. Culture as consensus: a theory of culture and informant accuracy. Am Anthropol 1986;88:313-38.
      4. Maguire MJ, Dove Speaking of events: event word learning and event representation. In Understanding events: from perception to action, 193-218 [Shipley TF & Sacks JM, eds.]. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008.
      5. Westerterp KR. Pattern and intensity of physical activity. Nature 2001;410:539.
      6. Booth DA, Blair AJ, Lewis VJ, Baek SH. Patterns of eating and movement that best maintain reduction in overweight. Appetite 2004;43:277-83.
      7. Laguna-Camacho A. Patterns of eating and exercise that reduce weight. PhD Thesis 2013.
      8. Smith AF, Jobe JB, Mingay D Retrieval from memory of dietary information. Appl Cogn Psychol 1991;5:269-96.
      9. Armstrong AM, MacDonald A, Booth IW, Platts RG, Knibb RC, Booth DA. Errors in memory for dietary intake and their reduction. Appl Cogn Psychol. 2000;14:183-91.
      10. Sedlmeier P, Betsch T. [eds.] Etc. Frequency processing and cognition. New York: Oxford University Press, 2002.
      11. Booth DA, Platts R Tool for assessing and reducing an individual’s fat intake. Appetite 2000;34:107-8.
      12. Coakley EH, Rimm EB, Colditz G, Kawachi I, Willett, W. Predictors of weight change in men: results from the Health Professionals Follow-up Study. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1998;22:89-96.
      13. French SA, Jeffery RW, Murray D. Is dieting good for you?: prevalence, duration and associated weight and behavior changes for specific weight loss strategies over four years in US adults. Int J Obes Relat Metab Disord 1999;23:320-7.
      14. Booth DA. Mechanisms from models – actual effects from real life: the zero- calorie drink-break option. Appetite 1988;11 Supplement:94-102.
      15. Dhurandhar EJ, Kaiser KA, Dawson JA, Alcorn AS, Keating KD, Allison D. Predicting adult weight change in the real world: a systematic review and meta- analysis accounting for compensatory changes in energy intake or expenditure. Int J Obes (Lond). 2014 Oct 17. doi: 10.1038/ijo.2014.184. Epub ahead of publication.
      16. Booth DA, Booth P. Targeting cultural changes supportive of the healthiest lifestyle patterns. A biosocial evidence-base for prevention of obesity. Appetite 2011;56(1):210-21.