Reformed Epistemology

Dirk H. T. Vollenhoven (1892-1978) was professor of philosophy at the Vrije Universiteit in Amsterdam from 1926 to 1963 and one of the founders of Reformational philosophy.

As Anthony Tol explains in his general introduction to (his translation of) Vollenhoven's 1926 inaugural address, the Reformed epistemology that Vollenhoven espouses here is essentially three-layered. Most basic is the intuition-the starting point of all knowing. It starts with discerning. Then there is knowledge. At this point language, communication, and judgments are relevant. The third layer is thought. Thought may disclose and renew or criticize and correct against the background of what we know. Thought is also central to concept formation. The factor that runs through these three layers is truth, taken realistically. It has its seat in the intuition of discerning. It is central to knowledge, for the essence of knowledge is said to be "possessing truth." And in connection with thought, or more particularly in concept formation, the latter is described as "truth grasped in a form."

Apart from advocating his own understanding of epistemology in this inaugural address, Vollenhoven takes issue with how epistemology is generally understood. The critique is cast in a historical overview. Vollenhoven is particularly critical of two features that were prominent during the first half of the 20th century, namely, scholasticism, which turns the religious presupposition of philosophy into an ontological feature of reality itself, and humanism, which interprets the responsibility that one has for one's acts and dealings with one's neighbor and the world as essentially derived from self-responsibility.

Vollenhoven ends his academic discussion with Husserl, who is portrayed as caught in a web of humanism ("creative Ego"; "idealism") and a version of scholasticism. Vollenhoven counters this not only in the interest of "the free development of epistemology," but also to forewarn Christian academics to withstand the temptations of synthesis with scholasticism and/or humanism, and to understand Christendom as calling for a different development, one that is informed and encouraged by different presuppositions.

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