Section A

Section A consists of publications on

the University

In 1970 I went to the Free University of Amsterdam to further my studies, and registered for the ‘doctoraal’ exam. In the Netherlands the student revolt of 1968 had not fizzled out yet. In fact for the next seven to eight years the country’s universities would suffer at the hands of rebellious students. Coming from South Africa, I was afraid to call the revolt a ‘Communist’ one; ‘white’ South Africans were seen as the equivalent of Marxists. I later discovered that my Dutch fellow Reformed senior students did in fact regard the revolting Dutch student leadership, such as Ton Regtien (author of De universiteit in opstand), as Communist inspired. Elsewhere on this webpage I have a translation of a folder distributed by a student named Cor Lander – almost blind with ideological rage, extremely arrogant and denigrating of his seniors, factually threatening to oppress all those who did not believe that Karl Marx was the great sotêr.

Ironically those student leaders settled into well-paid careers (Cohn-Bendit, the great French leader of the revolt, became a German cabinet minister for the Green Party! Others even ‘worse’: bankers!) Their disruption of the universities and in particular the demand for ‘study wages’ while hanging round on campuses for years, antagonised even the democratic left-wingers. The universities themselves were to suffer harm when subsidies were diminished. Probably the greatest irony was that the next generation of students were not interested in university politics at all. And the universities themselves adopted a harsh managerialism and neo-liberal capitalism as basis – that which the rebels fought so hard against.

At the Free University the revolt had led to a total reconsideration of its Reformed basis and its structures. During the 1970-71 academic year prof Henk van Riessen had his ‘werkcolleges’ on philosophy of society in a reformational perspective, allocating a social sphere to each participating student. I do not remember how the topic of the university fell into my lap, but it was really the beginning of a long series of publications touching on the majority of aspects of university life. The after effects of the student rebellion would come to South Africa in very different formats, but became one neo-liberal capitalist current after the 1994 political change.

By 1973 the Centrale Interfaculteit established a number of voluntary research groups. I was approached to join the research group, ‘The University’, under the leadership of the late Dr A Th Brüggemann-Kruijff, a very talented and seriously missed philosopher whose memories we cherish. My two topics were:
  1. A historical analysis of views on the task of the university.
  2. The idea of a Christian university basis
The results of the work of the research group were published in 1978 in De taak van die Universiteit under the editorship of Dr A Th Brüggemann-Kruijff et al. I have summarised the results of topic 1 in an article in Koers – the Festschrift for J A L Taljaard - to be found elsewhere on this webpage. The particulars are:

Venter, J J. 1975: Yesterday and today: the task of the university, Koers 60 (4,5,6): 402-424.

There has not yet been any opportunity to translate topic 1 into English. The Institute for Reformational Studies at the erstwhile Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education got permission from the publisher to republish my long article on topic 2 in English in its Orientation series. Since about 1986 it had become clear that the management of Potchefstroom University for Christian Higher Education had chosen direction towards the neo-liberal capitalistic approach, apparently believing that this was the way to preserve the ‘Christian National’ character of the University. The University soon began to secularise in the direction of Afrikaner capitalism and managerialism. Senate and Faculty Boards became rubber stamps...

When the IRS published the edition of Orientation in which my article on the basis appeared, director-editor Bennie van der Walt (and the rest of us) still believed in two callings:
  1. We could still, by taking up matters critically yet in line with responsible scholarship, support a difficult return of our institution to its roots.
  2. We could also be of support, especially in the third world, to the struggling Christian tertiary institutions, to help them continue their struggle for Christian scholarship.
The article on the basis of the Reformational university, as well as another on the role of philosophy in such a university – in Tydskrif vir Christelike Wetenskap – date from the era when we still struggled to retain something of our Christian heritage - a heritage has been sacrificed for many times over. Many of us had to work night and day to sustain it. We inherited it from
nineteenth century Biblically living rural people – even before the Free University in Amsterdam came into being. In the middle of the twentieth century, engaged in a fierce struggle for survival against liberal secularism, rural people, of whom the majority had at best a primary school education, would contribute ‘a cow a year’ to keep an institution going for their children to receive a Reformed Christian education (while not having much insight into what was actually taking place at such an institution). Often the institution was derailed into overt nationalism (not totally without reason, for the after effects of colonial war and oppression remained for long).

We did believe that we could protect some of the core ... But money and ethnicity counted for more.

The IRS was closed down. The new government put the final nail in the coffin of the P U for C H E by merging it with another, secular, historically Black university. A few pockets of real, responsible Christian scholarship remain within the new, North West University – somewhere in the margins.

The following articles are to be found in this section, click on the article to view an excerpt from it:

  1. Yesterday, today: the task of the university
  2. Reformational university basis in operation
  3. A human(e) ‘university’: resisting scientism, technicism, and economism.
  4. A creative humane university – coping with the business model

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Section B

Some thoughts on economics

My interest in issues around economics and the economy mostly found expression in publications concerning philosophy of society, natural law and methodology.

The two books on natural law elsewhere on this site are examples of such analyses. Even be-fore my studies in the Netherlands in the 1970’s a basic critical attitude towards capitalism had been developing in my mind. I was still very young, and unschooled in economic theory and practice. The extreme criticisms that I found in the Netherlands from the side of the revolting students, had some good effects:

  • Firstly I began to realise that some aspects of capitalism did warrant serious criticism.
  • In that situation I also had to learn that there were varieties of Marxism and socialism, and that one could learn something from this.
Back in South Africa I discovered to my great shock that my own and other young colleagues’ attempts at developing a Christian critique was considered ‘Neo-Marxist’ or even ‘Communist’. Even in 2012 at a Calvinist meeting a retired minister of the Reformed Churches approached me to ask what I was doing there – he had heard that I was a ‘liberalist and a
communist’ …
I amusedly told him that I was also called a verkrampte, a racist, a cultural racist, a jingo … which means I had to be a Christian! (Makes one wonder about whether the enmity of some theologians towards Reformational Philosophy creates superficial and judgmental ministers of religion, who condemn persons forty odds years without even talking to them or read their publications.)

It was during those days that I realised that I needed some formal training in economics. So I followed economics course up to the level of B A Honours, together with some basic theory of management.

During the later 1980’s we were steamrolled with the idea of ‘competitive excellence’. I had by then began to restructure my courses in the history of philosophy into a foundational history (reminiscent of, but not the same as present-day history of ideas or intellectual history). Thus I began to work on cultural issues and their philosophical foundations, among others the role of competitiveness in Western intellectual history. Studies in economics came to overlap with the history of military and political thought, but at the same time with the history of world pictures and worldviews. I discovered a network of ideas of competition, especially with regard to the faith in progress, the idea of a balance of powers in politics, the opposition between mechanistic and organismic world pictures and worldviews, and human dignity.

Quite helpful was reading economists and biologists neglected by philosophers. It is too easily forgotten that economics only became a separate discipline in the early nineteenth century and that Darwin was a theologian! Before the 19th century economics was usually taught as part of moral philosophy. However, already in the seventeenth century economic behaviour had been approached from a Cartesian mathematical point of view, with mechanistic tendencies in the views on exchange. This presupposed a stereotypical behaviour in economic agents, thus dehumanising the economically active human into a machine that behaves according to mathematically predictable rules. The stenotype behaviours of economic agents in
Ricardo and Marx are typical examples of the dehumanising of human agency for the sake of calculative predictive science.

Thus analysed, capitalistic economic theory lost its philosophical innocence. But taking it up in the context of competitiveness (as a moral code and a guarantee of quality), opened up a world of insight into the history of Western culture. I have discussed the latter in the books on natural law available on this site.

Broadly my approach to teaching philosophy in the format of critical thinking about the philosophy-worldview-culture relationships has come into its own in the creative ways in which my younger colleagues are using it. I have made the mistake of calling it ‘history of ideas’, which became somewhat of an albatross around my neck, because the work is confused with contemporary – somewhat idealistic or intellectualistic – ‘histories of ideas’ or ‘intellectual histories’. My version is nearer to a history of philosophy in culture and culture in philosophy. Thus economic practices, both in themselves and as theorised by economists, find them-selves in my courses, and even so issues in the natural sciences, networked into cultural practices.

The following articles are to be found in this section, click on the article to view an excerpt from it:

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Section C:


For the time being, I have a single article on the Modern historical ontology, but the issues regarding it have been worked out in other publications.

My initial studies into the later 17th up to the 19th century showed a historicised ontology.
Although initially surprised, I later realised that it was inevitable: Modern Humanism believed in the supremacy of humankind – thus the keystone of Modern ontology had to be humanity. But empirically the vast majority of humankind lived in fear and superstition – subject to the forces of nature beyond it and in its own being. The only way a Humanistic ontology could survive over against ‘reality’ was in the form of a history of progress. Kant expressed this as the initial subjection to nature, followed much later by a vision of nature as but a ‘phenomenon’ of the mind itself. A Humanist ontology had to be a historically progressive one.

In Kant history is focused in rational humankind as its causa finalis. This is the historicised expression, as I discovered soon afterwards, of the Humanistic ontology of mastery and appropriation, of advantage taking. This speaks of technical mastery, of ownership, and of exploitation. The historical ontology discussed in the article below was the outcome of the Descartes Humanism being in contradiction with empirical reality.

In the two books on natural law elsewhere on this website, I have gone quite deeply into the different expressions of the Modern ontology, in different areas of scholarship and in different cultures areas.

With hindsight one can also judge what a history of mastery, appropriation, and exploitation of nature and fellow human beings brought to the world.

Here is an excerpt from this article:

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Coming from a Reformational background, my early issues concerned the relationship between ‘faith-and-science’.

Or rather more general: what influence do belief systems have when scholars are engaged in their everyday business?

The wider philosophical and moral connections were not too difficult to find then – especially when began to read the doctrines of scientists and scholars.

However: quite early I came to the conclusion that the really difficult problem was located in the question of the relationship between standardised techniques and belief systems. Are standardised techniques neutral with regard to belief systems?

Marxists like Klaus and Mao Tse Tung do believe they are not. But I am not a Marxist or any kind of Hegelian.

One had thus to look into the connections between formalised systems and belief systems. A highly formalised technique, such as present-day mathematics, statistics and formal logic appear quite locked into themselves with regard to the contents of belief systems. Highly sophisticated technical instruments (radio telescopes), electronic scanners, apparently have no such connections either.

Latour makes the interesting observation that the more we tell ourselves that ‘nature’ speaks to us, the more we are listening to intermediaries – quasi-objects he calls them.

However, in the goal-directed development of techniques and instruments – especially if one follows the growth of a specific technique and its sophistication, one does find that it approaches the object or an abstraction of it.

This does not make it neutral, for exactly the goal-directedness and the shape of the method or technique express beliefs of a more foundational kind. Given this approach, I have not produced ‘pure’ publications in methodology. Worldviews, ontologies, epistemologies – the wider range have been taken into account. This means that other publications on this site have methodological implications too.

My work in the area of methodology has been rooted in the Middle Ages. This is not irrelevant. Scholastic methodology was the sophistication of that Western methodology which originated in Ancient Athens. Descartes’ method was in fact a de-sophistication of Scholastic methodology.

And when we compare Aristotle’s logical techniques with those of present-day logic – for example the issue of the existential implication of universal concepts – we do find different ontological points of departure. Modern formal logics are much more subjectivist than that of Aristotle. In fact I believe that Aristotle’s understanding of the nature of the ‘universal’ (that is the issue of universal versus individual) vis-à-vis the ‘particular’ (that is the whole versus part issue) differed totally from today’s formalistic understanding of such issues - ontologies do express belief systems.

Hegel points to a very important issue regarding formal logic: the logical forms themselves, if we do want to distinguish them from one another, have to have different contents. We do distinguish the disjunction from the conditional, even if we do define them in terms of one another. In fact, in order to have valid definitions, they have to be distinct in content, whatever ontological status we assign to them.

Under this heading, for now, I republish only those works that concern more general methodological issues. Unfortunately some of these have only been published in Afrikaans. But they can at least help South Africans abroad too – given that the third largest Afrikaans speaking city is in Australia! And some Dutch colleagues do find Afrikaans readable ‘taaltje’!

I am presently working on more technical aspects of methodology, as well as the possible connections between formal methods and ideologies.

So: watch this space!

Section E:

Under Construction

Section F:


Einstein - Meetkunde en Ervaring (Afrikaans)

- provided with marginal comments,
- an introductory background to Einstein's philosophical thinking
- explanations of terminlogy
- together with a revised translation into English by an unknown translator,
- and indexed 

‘n Deel van my werk oor die fundamentele geskiedenis van die Westerse intellektuele kultuur, handel oor die veelsinnige idee van ‘rasionaliteit’.

Ek het elders vertel dat ek gegroei het vanaf ‘n belangstelling in die kwessie van die verhouding tussen ‘commitment and life, including theory’ na die kwessie van geloofstoewyding en die gebruik van gestandaardiseerde tegnieke.

Geloofstoewyding in verhouding tot rasionaliteit as tegnies-logikale denke (‘logikaal’ soos ontwikkel deur die logika as wetenskap) is een vraag wat in ʼn hoofstuk oor die dominasie van die rede in die Weste tuishoort. Andere verwaarloosde temas is ‘rede en intuïsie’, ‘rede en bepeinsing’. In die afgelope vierhonderd jaar het die verhouding tussen rede en politieke mag sterk op die voorgrond gekom, en in die twintigste eeu ook die tussen rede en kompetisie.

Die Middeleeue was die maker van die Moderne algemene metodologie. Petrus Lombardus met sy Sententiae, Anselmus met sy ‘Maar is dit nie dat ...’, Abaelardus in sy Sic et non, en Thomas met sy quaestio-metode, het standhoudende verwerkings van Plato en Aristoteles se pogings tot rasionele praktyke van geleerdheid daargestel.

Anselmus se Proslogion is een van dié fassinerende Middeleeuse werke oor en in geloofstoewyding-en-rasionaliteit. Die sogenaamde ‘ontologiese godsbewys’ daarin het in 800 jaar nie ophou aandag trek nie. Ongelukkig word dit buite verband geruk en vergeefs herskryf in terme van die hedendaagse logika’s. Sekerlik die uiterste poging hiertoe vind ons in die werke van D P Henry, wat Anselmus herskrywe het tot ʼn Lesniewskiaanse nominalis.

Ek weet dat Roland Barthes die outeur dood verklaar het sonder dat die boek onderteken is. Die soort hermeneutiese subjektivisme verwoes die sin van lees en skrywe. Ons kan niks uit die geskiedenis leer as ons in ieder geval nie kan weet wat die outeur wou sê nie. Aanhangers van hierdie subjektiwisme gebruik dan juis nougeset hulle guru se leestegnieke – maar die guru is dan ook reeds ‘dood’ sonder dat hy sy tegniese voorskrifte onderteken het. En ons kan nie weet of ons weet wat die bedoeling van sy tegnieke soos opgeskrewe eintlik is nie.

Ek neem die teks ernstig as die teks wat deur iemand anders as ekself, in ʼn bepaalde kultuurkonteks geskrywe is. Ek aanvaar kontinuïteit en diskontinuïteit in die geskiedenis en tussen kulture, tot stand gebring deur ʼn gedeelde werklikheid en ʼn gedeelde menslikheid. Dieselfde respek wat ek aan die skrywer as lewende medemens sou verskuldig wees (byvoorbeeld deur nie sy/ haar woorde te verdraai nie) is ek ook verskuldig aan die skrywer as gestorwe – dus aan sy nalatenskap. Daarom vind ek dit nodig om uiters hard te werk om so ʼn skrywer, lewend, Barthesiaans dood, of werklik gestorwe, se stem te laat deurklink. Ek weet dat sukses nie gewaarborg is nie, maar akademiese slapgeestige lees, so asof ek maar my eie teks mag maak wanneer ek opsom, parafraseer of vertaal, pas nie in die etiek van geleerdheid nie.

Die moderniseerders van Anselmus ignoreer meesal die Middeleeuse wysgerig-teologiese konteks, sy aansluiting by Augustinus en die ontwikkeling van ʼn eie logika vanuit Augustinus se werkwoordgebruik, die Neo-Platonistiese erfenis vanuit Augustinus, die direkte invloede van sy eie leermeesters waaronder Lanfranc van Bec, sy debat met die nominalisme, en so meer. Wanneer die ontologiese godsbewys uitgesonder word vir analise, dan mis ons die Middeleeuse kultuurkonteks met die gebed as skryfgenre, die Augustiniese driefasige mistiek waarvolgens die gebed gestruktureer is, en waarbinne die logies-argumenterende onderdele ingeweef is. Die werk is nie alleen struktureel ʼn eenheidspad nie, maar die basiese formules waarmee die godsbewys gevoer word, verskyn in verskillende vorme in elke nuwe bewys regdeur die werk. Anselmus wou nie maar ʼn godsbewys voer en dan so bietjie oor God vertel nie; hy bou ʼn boek van intuïtief-logiese, verligte, insigte oor ʼn besondere, enigste godheid, soos hy ook in Cur deus homo? ʼn bewys bou oor ʼn enigste verlosser.

In my seleksie van tekste soek ek na werke waarin die outeur sy eie samevatting van sy denke oor ʼn onderwerp gee. Sulke werkies gaan na die kern, is kursusmatig kort, en is meesal meer toeganklik as die groot werke wat vir akademies-hooggeskooldes geskrywe is (en dikwels ook vir hulle onverstaanbaar is).

Die Proslogion is een van die min werke van sy soort wat soveel belangstelling bly gaande maak.

  • Ek het uit F S Schmitt se Latyn-Duits uitgawe oorgeneem die idee om die teks tipografies te redigeer so dat sekere elemente uitstaan. Ek het egter my eie tipografiese analise gevolg. Ek het probeer – nie oral ewe suksesvol nie – om die hoofsinne uit te lig. Verder het ek in die poëtiese gedeeltes, (wat sterk deur die Psalmdigkuns beïnvloed is - chiastiese parallelle gedagtelyne en metafoorplasings) – probeer om die poëtiese ritme uit te lig deur die teenstellings uit te lig asook die parallelle uitbreidings van gedagtes. Derdens: die belangrikste: Anselmus gebruik ryklik die logiese ‘operatore’ van die Latynse taal, en die logiese strukture van sy eie en eietydse logika. Hulle is deur inkepings en kursiverings uitgelig.
  • Die verwysings na Bybeltekse het ek van Schmitt oorgeneem.
In die deel oor metodologie sal vyf artikels verskyn oor Anselmus se metode.

Hier volg nou die inhousopgawe van Anselmus se werkie, asook sy voorwoord en ʼn snit uit die ‘ontologiese godsbewys’.


Ander vertalings/Other Translations:

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In the developing world, as well as surely in small institutions worldwide, some departments are often kept small – usually the foundational ones in the arts and social sciences. This skewing of tertiary education is rooted in two almost ideological beliefs:
  1. Technology in association with exact science will save the world from its troubles.
  2. Only knowledge with a direct utilitarian value is worthwhile knowledge.
The smaller departments have problems when it comes to specialization. All members of staff have to make sure that the disciplinary syllabus is somehow covered. Apart from this, head of departments often select the nicest parts for themselves to work in. The rest is distributed among the few staff members, and from time to time – as the fads go – they will have to move over to different sections of the discipline.

This is not in itself a serious problem – in fact it may be good. For it enforces a search for context and connections – provided one does not stick to teaching from textbooks, but also read, and have the students read, original texts. My course in cultural-philosophical history (under the title: history of ideas), had some of its roots in these continual shifts. I often had to move my focus – in older terms: a jack of all trades … I may not have mastered all trades, but I began to see connections among them. These brought deepened insights.

Realising, however, that students (and fellow staff members) whose primary focus was not philosophy, often had trouble to follow philosophical texts, I began to translate and comment upon such texts. I found quite some appreciation for this from younger colleagues and students. Not always from my seniors though - they had difficulty in seeing this as ‘research’.

In the 1980’s lecturers in literature, linguistics, and philosophy engaged in a special discipline philosophy course for students in linguistics and literature. Our colleague, Prof Hein Viljoen, applied successfully for research funding in methodology, studying the methodological implications of representation for the study of literature, which at the same time formed the focus of our course. My article on Hume, Hegel and Heidegger on this site (under methodology) belonged to this project. Up until then I did not realise the great importance of the issue of ‘representation’ in Modernity; I was in fact slowly moving from a focus on Ancient and Medieval philosophy into Modern thought.

I was also asked to teach a section on Structuralism. For this purpose I translated some smaller pieces from Roland Barthes in order to find a fairly precise circumscription of Structuralism.

Soon afterwards my interest in the eighteenth century began to grow. I was struck by the peculiarities of Modernity’s use of ‘nature’ (compared to that of the Middle Ages). From papers to articles to two books, my insights developed. I discovered that although linguists and literary scholars tend to find the roots of Structuralism in Ferdinand de Saussure, many of his important ideas have clearly been recognised by Aristotle, the Middle Ages, but in Modernity especially by Vico, Turgot and Comte. At present I am trying to elaborate this
somewhat more.

Thus in this section the reader may expect some fragments from Auguste Comte, the foundational sections of Saussure’s Cours de Linguistique générale, and some brief essays of Roland Barthes. I hope to expand in this area over time.

  1. Auguste Comte - Système de politique positive (uit bande II en III; 1851-54). (Uittreksels)

Section G:


‘Lank gelede. Lank gelede ... ‘ (sing Stef Bosch) moes ek Middeleeuse filosofie vir voorgraadse studente aanbied. Vinnig is notas geskrywe - vulpen met ouderwetse ink - en gefotokopieer (kopieerders het darem al bestaan), aan studente uitgedeel. Die notas het binne hulle eie grense gegroei deur aanvulling, korreksies, kruisverwysings. Hulle is deur my vrou getik met ‘n IBM gholfbal tikmasjien ‘lank gelede ...’ en so aan studente voorsien. Dankie vandag vir skandeerders en OCR’s.

Onlangs het ek die notas opgediep as geheueverfrissing vir ‘n ander. ‘n Kollega en vriend wat ook sy geheue daaruit verfris het, het gemeen hulle is publiseerbaar. Ek het gehuiwer, gedagtig daaraan dat resensente klasnotas mag kritiseer asof dit pretensieuse ‘navorsingswerk’ is. Aan hulle sê ek graag: handboekies oor moeiliker onderwerpe is nie ‘n skande nie. En ja - as u goed kyk sal u nog navorsingswerk ook raaksien. 


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