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A comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing natural philosophy, fundamental existential and normative postulates or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.[1] The term is a loan translation or calque of German Weltanschauung [ˈvɛlt.ʔanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ]  ( listen), composed of Welt, 'world', and Anschauung, 'view' or 'outlook'. It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy and epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs through which an individual interprets the world and interacts with it.


Origins of worldviews

Worldview and linguistics

A worldview describes a consistent (to a varying degree) and integral sense of existence and provides a framework for generating, sustaining, and applying knowledge.

The linguistic relativity hypothesis of Benjamin Lee Whorf describes how the syntactic-semantic structure of a language becomes an underlying structure for the Weltanschauung of a people through the organization of the causal perception of the world and the linguistic categorization of entities. As linguistic categorization emerges as a representation of worldview and causality, it further modifies social perception and thereby leads to a continual interaction between language and perception.[2]

The theory, or rather hypothesis, was well received in the late 1940s, but declined in prominence after a decade. In the 1990s, new research gave further support for the linguistic relativity theory, in the works of Stephen Levinson and his team at the Max Planck institute for Psycholinguistics at Nijmegen, Netherlands.[3]. The theory has also gained attention through the work of Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University

Weltanschauung and cognitive philosophy

One of the most important concepts in cognitive philosophy and cognitive sciences is the German concept of ‘Weltanschauung’. This expression refers to the "wide worldview" or "wide world perception" of a people, family, or person. The Weltanschauung of a people originates from the unique world experience of a people, which they experience over several millennia. The language of a people reflects the Weltanschauung of that people in the form of its syntactic structures and untranslatable connotations and its denotations.

Paul G. Hiebert suggests that Worldview is the fundamental cognitive, affective, and evaluative presuppositions a group of people make about the nature of things, and which they use to order their lives.[4][citation needed]

If it were possible to draw a map of the world on the basis of Weltanschauung, it would probably be seen to cross political borders — Weltanschauung is the product of political borders and common experiences of a people from a geographical region,[5] environmental-climatic conditions, the economic resources available, socio-cultural systems, and the linguistic family.[5] (The work of the population geneticist Luigi Luca Cavalli-Sforza aims to show the gene-linguistic co-evolution of people).

If the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis is correct, the worldview map of the world would be similar to the linguistic map of the world. However, it would also almost coincide with a map of the world drawn on the basis of music across people.[6]

Worldview and folk-epics

As natural language becomes manifestations of world perception, the literature of a people with common Weltanschauung emerges as holistic representations of the wide world perception of the people. Thus the extent and commonality between world folk-epics becomes a manifestation of the commonality and extent of a worldview.

Epic poems are shared often by people across political borders and across generations. Examples of such epics include the Nibelungenlied of the Germanic-Scandinavian people, the Illiad for the Ancient Greeks and Hellenized societies, the Silappadhikaram of the South Indian people, The Ramayana and Mahabharata of The North Indian people, The Gilgamesh of the Mesopotamian-Sumerian civilization and the people of the Fertile Crescent at large, The Arabian nights of the Arab world and the Sundiata epic of the Mandé people.

Construction of worldviews

The 'construction of integrating worldviews' begins from fragments of worldviews offered to us by the different scientific disciplines and the various systems of knowledge.[7] It is contributed to by different perspectives that exist in the world's different cultures. This is the main topic of research at the Center Leo Apostel for Interdisciplinary Studies.

It should be noted that while Apostel and his followers clearly hold that individuals can construct worldviews, other writers regard worldviews as operating at a community level, and/or in an unconscious way. For instance, if one's worldview is fixed by one's language, as according to a strong version of the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis, one would have to learn or invent a new language in order to construct a new worldview.

According to Apostel, a worldview is an ontology, or a descriptive model of the world. It should comprise these six elements:

  1. An explanation of the world
  2. A futurology, answering the question "where are we heading?"
  3. Values, answers to ethical questions: "What should we do?"
  4. A praxeology, or methodology, or theory of action.: "How should we attain our goals?"
  5. An epistemology, or theory of knowledge. "What is true and false?"
  6. An etiology. A constructed world-view should contain an account of its own "building blocks," its origins and construction.

Impact of worldviews

Structural aspects

The term denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity, about the world as the medium and exercise of human existence. Weltanschauung serves as a framework for generating various dimensions of human perception and experience like knowledge, politics, economics, religion, culture, science, and ethics. For example, worldview of causality as uni-directional, cyclic, or spiral generates a framework of the world that reflects these systems of causality. A uni-directional view of causality is present in some monotheistic views of the world with a beginning and an end and a single great force with a single end (e.g., Christianity and Islam), while a cyclic worldview of causality is present in religious tradition which is cyclic and seasonal and wherein events and experiences recur in systematic patterns (e.g., Zoroastrianism, Mithraism, and Hinduism).

These worldviews of causality not only underlie religious traditions but also other aspects of thought like the purpose of history, political and economic theories, and systems like democracy, authoritarianism, anarchism, capitalism, socialism, and communism.

The worldview of a linear and non-linear causality generates various related/conflicting disciplines and approaches in scientific thinking. The Weltanschauung of the temporal contiguity of act and event leads to underlying diversifications like determinism vs. free will. A worldview of free will leads to disciplines that are governed by simple laws that remain constant and are static and empirical in scientific method, while a worldview of determinism generates disciplines that are governed with generative systems and rationalistic in scientific method.[citation needed]

Some forms of Philosophical naturalism and materialism reject the validity of entities inaccessible to natural science. They view the scientific method as the most reliable model for building an understanding of the world.

Other aspects

In The Language of the Third Reich, Weltanschauungen came to designate the instinctive understanding of complex geo-political problems by the Nazis, which allowed them to act in the name of a higher ideal[8] and in accordance to their theory of the world. These acts perceived outside that unique Weltanschauung are now commonly perceived as acts of aggression, such as openly beginning invasions, twisting facts, and violating human rights.

Worldviews in religion and philosophy

Various writers suggest that religious or philosophical belief-systems should be seen as worldviews rather than a set of individual hypotheses or theories. Nishida Kitaro wrote extensively on "the Religious Worldview" in exploring the philosophical significance of Eastern religions.[9] According to Neo-Calvinist David Naugle's Worldview: The History of a Concept "Conceiving of Christianity as a worldview has been one of the most significant developments in the recent history of the church."[10]

The Christian thinker James W. Sire defines a worldview as "a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true, or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic construction of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being." He suggests that "we should all think in terms of worldviews, that is, with a consciousness not only of our own way of thought but also that of other people, so that we can first understand and then genuinely communicate with others in our pluralistic society."[11]

The philosophical importance of Worldviews became increasingly clear during the 20th Century for a number of reasons, such as increasing contact between cultures, and the failure of some aspects of the Enlightenment project, such as the rationalist project of attaining all truth by reason alone. Mathematical logic showed that fundamental choices of axioms were essential in deductive reasoning[12] and that, even having chosen axioms not everything that was true in a given logical system could be proven.[13] Some philosophers believe the problems extend to "the inconsistencies and failures which plagued the Enlightenment attempt to identify universal moral and rational principles";[14] although Enlightenment principles such as universal suffrage and (the universal declaration of) human rights are accepted, if not taken for granted, by many.[15]

A worldview can be considered as comprising a number of basic beliefs which are philosophically equivalent to the axioms of the worldview considered as a logical theory. These basic beliefs cannot, by definition, be proven (in the logical sense) within the worldview precisely because they are axioms, and are typically argued from rather than argued for.[16] However their coherence can be explored philosophically and logically, and if two different worldviews have sufficient common beliefs it may be possible to have a constructive dialogue between them.[17] On the other hand, if different worldviews are held to be basically incommensurate and irreconcilable, then the situation is one of cultural relativism and would therefore incur the standard criticisms from philosophical realists.[18][19][20] Additionally, religious believers might not wish to see their beliefs relativized into something that is only "true for them".[21][22] Subjective logic is a belief reasoning formalism where beliefs explicitly are subjectively held by individuals but where a consensus between different worldviews can be achieved.[23]

A third alternative is that the Worldview approach is only a methodological relativism, that it is a suspension judgment about the truth of various belief systems, but not a declaration that there is no global truth. For instance, the religious philosopher Ninian Smart begins his Worldviews: Cross-cultural Explorations of Human Beliefs with "Exploring Religions and Analysing Worldviews" and argues for "the neutral, dispassionate study of different religious and secular systems - a process I call worldview analysis."[24]

See also


  1. ^ Gary B. Palmer, Toward A Theory of Cultural Lingustics (University of Texas Press, 1996), 114.
  2. ^ Kay, P. and W. Kempton (1984). "What is the Sapir-Whorf Hypothesis?" American Anthropologist 86(1): 65-79.
  3. ^ Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics
  4. ^ Hiebert, Paul G. Transforming Worldviews: an anthropological understanding of how people change. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Academic, 2008
  5. ^ a b Carroll, John B. (ed.) [1956] (1997). Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. Cambridge, Mass.: Technology Press of Massachusetts Institute of Technology. ISBN 0-262-73006-5.
  6. ^ Whorf, Benjamin (John Carroll, Editor) (1956). Language, Thought, and Reality: Selected Writings of Benjamin Lee Whorf. MIT Press.
  7. ^ Aerts, Diederick, Apostel, Leo, De Moor, Bart, Hellemans, Staf, Maex, Edel, Van Belle, Hubert, Van der Veken, Jan. 1994. "World views. From Fragmentation to Integration". VUB Press. Translation of (Apostel and Van der Veken 1991) with some additions. - The basic book of World Views, from the Center Leo Apostel. See also Vidal C. (2008) Wat is een wereldbeeld? (What is a worldview?), in Van Belle, H. & Van der Veken, J., Editors, Nieuwheid denken. De wetenschappen en het creatieve aspect van de werkelijkheid, p71-85. Acco, Leuven.
  8. ^ Victor Klemperer, The Language of the Third Reich: A Philologist's Notebook, trans. Martin Brady, London: Continuum, 2002
  9. ^ indeed Kitaro's final book is Last Writings: Nothingness and the Religious Worldview
  10. ^ David K. Naugle Worldview: The History of a Concept ISBN 0802847617
  11. ^ James W. Sire The Universe Next Door: A Basic Worldview Catalog p15-16 (text readable at
  12. ^ Not just in the obvious sense that you need axioms to prove anything, but the fact that for example the Axiom of choice and Axiom S5, although widely regarded as correct, were in some sense optional.
  13. ^ see Godel's incompleteness theorem and discussion in eg John Lucas's The Freedom of the Will
  14. ^ Thus Alister McGrath in The Science of God p 109 citing in particular Alasdair MacIntyre's Whose Justice? Which Rationality? - he also cites Nicholas Wolterstorff and Paul Feyerabend
  15. ^ "Governments in a democracy do not grant the fundamental freedoms enumerated by Jefferson; governments are created to protect those freedoms that every individual possesses by virtue of his or her existence. In their formulation by the Enlightenment philosophers of the 17th and 18th centuries, inalienable rights are God-given natural rights. These rights are not destroyed when civil society is created, and neither society nor government can remove or "alienate" them."US Gov website on democracy
  16. ^ see eg Daniel Hill and Randal Rauser Christian Philosophy A-Z Edinburgh University Press (2006) ISBN 9780748621521 p200
  17. ^ In the Christian tradition this goes back at least to Justin Martyr's Dialogues with Trypho, A Jew, and has roots in the debates recorded in the New Testament For a discussion of the long history of religious dialogue in India, see Amartya Sen's The Argumentative Indian
  18. ^ Cognitive Relativism, Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  19. ^ The problem of self-refutation is quite general. It arises whether truth is relativized to a framework of concepts, of beliefs, of standards, of practices.Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  20. ^ The Friesian School on Relativism
  21. ^ Pope Benedict warns against relativism
  22. ^ Ratzinger, J. Relativism, the Central Problem for Faith Today
  23. ^ Jøsang, A. A Logic for Uncertain Probabilities. International Journal of Uncertainty, Fuzziness and Knowledge-Based Systems, 9(3), pp.279-311, June 2001.
  24. ^ Ninian Smart Worldviews: Crosscultural Explorations of Human Beliefs (3rd Edition) ISBN 0130209805 p14

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