Tuesday, January 23, 2007

"What in the World is a Worldview?"

Not only does everybody have one, but I think understanding them is key to a careful analysis and response to the cultural forces and beliefs around us. In light of this, and because much of what I will be writing on this blog will center around the concept of "worldview", I thought it fitting to address the subject directly in my first post. As with the title of this post, much of what follows is taken from Ken Samples' article of the same name in the latest issue (First Quarter/2007) of Reasons to Believe's publication, Connections (here, though this issue not available online as of this posting).

"Worldview" is derived from the German term Weltanshauung, and refers to the cluster of interconnected beliefs (not just isolated ideas, but a unified, basic conceptual system) an individual holds about life's most significant concepts. It seeks to answer questions such as:
  • Does God exist? If he does, what kind of God is he?
  • What can be known, and how can anyone know it?
  • Where did I come from?
  • How should I live?
  • What is wrong with humanity, and how is the problem solved?

In its simplest form, a worldview could be defined as how one sees life and the world. Samples says:

In this manner it can be compared to a pair of glasses. How a person makes sense of the world depends upon that person's "vision," so to speak. The interpretive "lens" helps people make sense of life and comprehend the world around them. Sometimes the lens brings clarity, other times it can distort reality (emphasis added).

So one way of putting it is that one's beliefs on the "Big Questions" form a big picture, a general outlook and perspective on life and the world. Another, more complex definition, again given by Samples, would be:

...a mental structure that organizes one's basic beliefs. This framework supplies a comprehensive view of what a person considers real, true, rational, good, valuable, and beautiful. In this vein, philosopher Ronald Nash defines a worldview as "a conceptual scheme by which we consciously or unconsciously place or fit everything we believe and by which we interpret and judge reality."

Critical to a worldview is its unified nature - a carefully examined and reflective worldview is not a collection of disconnected and unrelated beliefs, but an interconnected framework and conceptual structure that informs all of our decisions. This is why some have compared a worldview to a road map for life - our values inform our decisions and actions, and our worldviews guide the development of those values. Answering the fundamental questions of a worldview is necessary for making decisions and navigating through life, and every person's worldview in essence works like a chart or plan to supply direction.

So not only are worldviews necessary and important to any functioning human being, but their ramifications are far-reaching. Much of this blog will be devoted to testing the various worldviews held by the people with whom I come in contact. As for me, I seek to hold a carefully examined worldview in which all of my disparate beliefs fit into an overall framework.


cy said...

Hi Aaron,

Yes everyone has a worldview, but I think that not everyone has a consistent worldview. Most people don't reflect on whether the different parts of their worldview mesh or contradict eachother. I'm looking forward to reading your blog. Long may it continue.



PS - got the link from the maverickphilosopher.

Aaron Snell said...

Thanks for commenting, Cyrus, and for the encouragement. I agree that not everyone has a consistent worldview; moreover, not everyone lives consistently with their worldview. Regardless of how integrated a person's worldview is, however, what I find to be one of the most interesting things is how easily one can trace causes back to a persons' underlying wordlview - connecting the dots all the way back, as some have said.