Course Number:        ICSD 1107AC/2107AC W20
Teaching Assistant:        Samir Gassanov,
Professor of Record:        Dr. Robert Sweetman,

Course Description

An exploration of central issues in philosophy, as addressed by Herman Dooyeweerd, Dirk Vollenhoven, and the “Amsterdam School” of neo-Calvinist thought. The course tests the relevance of this tradition for recent developments in Western philosophy. Special attention is given to critiques of foundationalism, metaphysics, and modernity within Reformational philosophy and in other schools of thought. The course locates the concerns that motivate Reformational philosophers, and it examines the arguments and texts in which these concerns surface. Seminar participants are invited to discover what is fruitful or not fruitful in the philosophical tradition that sustains the Institute for Christian Studies.

Course Requirements

Each seminar participant is expected to:

• do the required readings and post weekly reflections in response;
• initiate and participate in online discussions;
• write a comprehensive final exam.

The approximate weight assigned each component for the course mark is as follows:

Weekly reading and reflection


Online discussion


Final Examination


Required Texts - Participants must obtain the following texts by H. Dooyeweerd and Dirk Vollenhoven:

Dooyeweerd, Herman.
Roots of Western Culture: Pagan, Secular, and Christian Options (1945-48). Translated by John Kraay. Edited by Mark Vander Vennen and Bernard Zylstra. Newly edited by D. F. M. Strauss. Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen Press, 2003. ISBN 0-7734-8715-8

Vollenhoven, D. H. T.
Introduction to Philosophy. Sioux Center, Iowa: Dordt College Press, 2005. ISBN 978-0-932914-65-1.

All other required readings will be posted to the Google classroom.

A Note on Readings

Master’s courses at ICS normally require around 1250 pages of reading. This course is no exception. Unlike some other courses, however, all the reading occurs in preparation for weekly sessions. No additional reading is required for research papers, because there is no research paper in this course. You will read as much as you do for other courses, but all of it will occur during the semester. Once you hand in your essay exam, your course work is finished.

Final Exam

Description: There will be one comprehensive exam, a take-home essay that helps you synthesize what you have learned and apply this to issues and fields in which you have strong interests. It will be typed, and it should not exceed 10 double-spaced pages. The exam will be due by 5:00 p.m., Thursday, April 9. We shall discuss and design the exam as the course progresses.

Evaluation: I shall assess your essay according to three equally weighted criteria: writing, reasoning, and scope. A well-written essay will be free from errors of spelling, punctuation, and grammar; be clear, concise, imaginative, and persuasive; and use gender-inclusive language. A well-reasoned essay will use valid and sound arguments; it will also be open and fair to alternative positions. An essay with sufficient scope will be thorough, probing beneath the surface of its subject matter.

Course Schedule (Winter 2020)

Compositional notes: The course aims to familiarize students with both the "Classic" formulations of Reformational philosophy by Herman Dooyeweerd and Dirk H. Th. Vollenhoven and more "Contemporary" works by subsequent Reformational thinkers that deal with the topics addressed by Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven in light of later developments in philosophy and culture. Compositionally the course resembles a two-voice fugue, preceded by an improvisatory, context-setting prelude on "modernity." The fugue itself begins with questions about how Reformational philosophy positions itself in Western thought. This "exposition" gets "developed" in a section on postmetaphysical ontology, and it gets "recapitulated," but in a new key, in a section on "philosophy after foundationalism."

As in a fugue, the texts for each week include a "subject" (sounding the main theme), and a "counter-subject" (sounding with or against the main theme). The “subject" or “question” texts, listed below as "Classic Readings,” come mostly from Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven. The “counter-subject" or “answer” texts, listed below as "Contemporary Readings," are by more recent Reformational thinkers who have succeeded Dooyeweerd and Vollenhoven.

Topic and Week

Subject: classic readings

Answer: contemporary readings

PRELUDE: Modernity and its discontents

1. Pluralism

Week of January 13

Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (1945-48), pp. ix-15, 28-61, 219-24; 52 pp. [1979: vii-xii, 1-15, 28-60]

Griffioen, “Is a Pluralist Ethos Possible?” (1994), 15 pp.

2. Progress

Week of January 20

Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (1945-48), pp. 63-88, 225-33 (Glossary); 34 pp. [1979: 61-87]

Sweetman, “Of Tall Tales and Small Stories: Postmodern ‘Fragmatics’ and the Christian Historian” (1996), 19 pp.

3. Power, Faith, Culture

Week of January 27

Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (1945-48), pp. 89-110;
21 pp. [1979: 88-110]

Zuidervaart, “Good Cities, or Cities of the Good?” (2005), 15 pp.

EXPOSITION: Modes of critique

4. (Anti-)Thetical Critique

Week of February 3

Vollenhoven, “Calvinism and the Reformation of Philosophy” (1933), 33 pp.

Zuidervaart, “Earth’s Lament: Suffering, Hope, and Wisdom” (2003), 15 pp.

5. Transcendental Critique

Week of February 10

Dooyeweerd, “Christian Philosophy: An Exploration” (1956), 37 pp.

Zuidervaart, “The Great Turning Point: Religion and Rationality in Dooyeweerd’s Transcendental Critique” (2004), 25 pp.

6. Transformational Critique

Week of February 17

Klapwijk, “Antithesis, Synthesis, and the Idea of Transformational Philosophy” (1986), 15 pp.; Klapwijk, “Reformational Philosophy on the Boundary between the Past and the Future” (1987), 34 pp.

Sweetman, “Epilogue: Antiquity and the Future of Reformational Tears” (2007), 23 pp.

DEVELOPMENT: Philosophy after metaphysics

7. God and Cosmos

Week of February 24

Hart, Understanding Our World (1984), pp. 318-49, 360-70; 40 pp.

Zuidervaart, “Existence, Nomic Conditions, and God” (1985),
19 pp.

8. Law and Subject

Week of March 2

Vollenhoven, “Norm and Law of Nature” (1951); Vollenhoven, “The Unity of Life” (1955); Vollenhoven, Introduction to Philosophy (1941/1945), pp. 1-20; 28 pp. total

Hart, “Creation Order in Our Philosophical Tradition” (1995),
30 pp.

Introduction to Philosophy, pp. iii-xxxii (optional)

9. Societal Structures

Week of March 9

Dooyeweerd, Roots of Western Culture (1945-48), pp. 189-217 (29 pp.) [1979: 189-218];

Vollenhoven, “Sphere Sovereignty for Kuyper and for Us” (1950), (6 pp.)

Chaplin, “Dooyeweerd’s Notion of Societal Structural Principles” (1995), 21 pp.

RECAPITULATION: Philosophy after foundationalism

10. Structures and Direction

Week of March 16

Vollenhoven, Introduction to Philosophy (1941/1945), pp. 21-62; 42 pp.

Seerveld, “Dooyeweerd’s Legacy for Aesthetics: Modal Law Theory” (1985), 39 pp.

11. Creation, Fall, Redemption

Week of March 23

Vollenhoven, Introduction to Philosophy (1941/1945), pp. 62-106; 44 pp.

Olthuis, “Be(com)ing: Humankind as Gift and Call” (1993), 20 pp.

Wesselius, “Points of Convergence between Dooyeweerdian and Feminist Views of the Philosophic Self” (1997), 15 pp.

12. Wisdom, Theory, Practice

Week of March 30

Vollenhoven, Introduction to Philosophy (1941/1945), pp. 107-43; Vollenhoven, “Faith: Its Nature, Structure, and Significance for Science” (1950);

Vollenhoven, “Scripture Use and Philosophy” (1953); 50 pp. total

Hart, “Conceptual Understanding and Knowing Other-wise” (1997), 35 pp.

Syllabus, page