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Lecture 9. The World-view



· Give the definition to “world view”

· Define the types of world-view and study the correlation between them

One of the biggest problems of present society is the effect of overall change and acceleration on human psychology. Neither individual minds nor collective culture seem able to cope with the unpredictable change and growing complexity. Stress, uncertainty and frustration increase, minds are overloaded with information, knowledge fragments, values erode, and negative developments are consistently overemphasized, while positive ones are ignored. The resulting climate is one of nihilism, anxiety and despair. While the wisdom gathered in the past has lost much of its validity, we don't have a clear vision of the future either. As a result, there does not seem to be anything left to guide our actions.

What we need is a framework that ties everything together, that allows us to understand society, the world, and our place in it, and that could help us to make the critical decisions which will shape our future. It would synthesize the wisdom gathered in the different scientific disciplines, philosophies and religions. Rather than focusing on small sections of reality, it would provide us with a picture of the whole. In particular, it would help us to understand, and therefore cope with, complexity and change. Such a conceptual framework may be called a "world view".

The world-view is by no means all the views and notions of the surrounding world, that is to say, it is not simply a picture of the world taken in its integral form. Not a single specific science can be identified with a world-view, although each science does contain a world-view principle. For example, Darwin discovered the laws of the origin of species. This caused a revolution in biology and evoked universal interest. Did these laws evoke such interest because they were merely biological laws? Of course, not. They awakened such interest because they helped us to understand various philosophical questions, the question of purpose in living nature, the origin of man, and so on. The name of Einstein was made immortal by his discovery. But was this discovery purely physical, a solution to some particular scientific problem? No, Einstein's theory provided a key to the philosophical problem of the essence of space and time, their unity with matter. Why did the ideas of Sechenov on cerebral reflexes create such a furore among intellectuals? Not because they were merely physiological ideas, but because they solved certain philosophical problems of the relationship between consciousness and the brain. We know what a broad impact the principles of cybernetics have had. But cybernetics is not just a specific scientific theory. Cybernetics, and also genetics, raise profound philosophical problems.

The world-view contains something more than scientific information. It is a crucial regulative principle of all the vital relationships between man and social groups in their historical development. With its roots in the whole system of the individual and society's spiritual needs and interests, determined by human practice, by all man's accumulated experience, the world-view in its turn exerts a tremendous influence on the life of society and the individual.

The world-view is usually compared with ideology and these two concepts are sometimes treated as synonyms. But they intersect rather than coincide. Ideology embraces that part of the world-view that is oriented on social, class relationships, on the interests of certain social groups and, above all, on the phenomena of political power. The world-view, on the other hand, is oriented on the world as a whole, on the "man-universe" system.

The world-view may exist on the ordinary, everyday level generated by the empirical conditions of life and experience handed down from generation to generation. It may also be scientific, integrating the achievements of modem science concerning nature, society and humanity itself.

The world-view is not only the content, but also the mode of thinking about reality, and also the principles of life itself. An important component of the world-view is the ideals, the cherished and decisive aims of life. The character of a person's notion of the world, his world-view, facilitates the posing of certain goals which, when generalized, form a broad plan of life, ideals, notions of wellbeing, good and evil, beauty, and progress, which give the world-view tremendous power to inspire action. Knowledge becomes a world-view when it acquires the character of conviction, of complete and unshakable confidence in the rightness of certain ideas, views, principles, ideals, which take command of a person's soul, subordinate his actions, and rule his conscience or, in other words, form bonds that cannot be escaped without betraying oneself, set free "demons" that a person can conquer only by submitting to them and acting in accordance with their overwhelming power. The world-view influences standards of behavior, a person's attitude to his work, to other people, the character of his aspirations in life, his everyday existence, tastes and interests. It is a kind of spiritual prism through which everything around us is perceived, felt and transformed.

As most people would agree, it is ideological conviction, that is to say, a certain view of the world, that enables a person at a moment of mortal danger to overcome the instinct of self-preservation, to sacrifice his own life, to perform feats of daring in the name of freedom from oppression, in the name of scientific, moral, socio-political and other principles and ideals. The world-view does not exist by itself, apart from specific historical individuals, social groups, classes and parties. In one way or another, by reflecting certain phenomena of reality it expresses their value orientations, their relationship to events of social life. Philosophy, too, as the theoretical nucleus of the world-view, basically defends the interests of certain social groups and thus has a class and, in this sense, a party character. Depending on whether the socio-political interests of a given class coincide with the objective trend of history, its philosophical positions are either progressive or reactionary. They may be optimistic or pessimistic, religious or atheistic, idealist or materialist, humane or misanthropic. The whole history of philosophical thought is, in fact, a struggle between various world-views, a struggle which has often raged so fiercely that people preferred to be burnt at the stake, thrown into prison or condemned to penal servitude rather than betray their chosen cause.

So, a comprehensive world view (or worldview) is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the entirety of the individual or society's knowledge and point-of-view, including natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics. The term is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung, 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, group or culture interprets the world and interacts with it.

A worldview is a network of presuppositions which is not verified by the procedures of natural science but in terms of which every aspect of man’s knowledge and experience is interpreted and interrelated.

One of the most important concepts in cognitive philosophy and cognitive sciences is the German concept of Weltanschauung. This expression has often been used to refer 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.

The term 'Weltanschauung' is often wrongly attributed to Wilhelm von Humboldt the founder of German ethnolinguistics. As Jürgen Trabant points out, however, and as Underhll reminds us in his 'Humboldt, Worldview and Language' (2009), Humboldt's key concept was 'Weltansicht'. 'Weltanschauung', used first by Kant and later popularized by Hegel, was always used in German and later used in English to refer more to philosophies, ideologies and cultural or religious perspectives, than to linguistic communities and their mode of apprehending reality. 'Weltansicht' was used by Humboldt to refer to the overarching conceptual and censorial apprehension of reality shared by a linguistic community (Nation). But Humboldt maintained that the speaking human being was the core of language. Speech maintains worldviews. Worldviews are not prisons which contain and constrain us, they are the spaces we develop within, create and resist creatively in speaking together.

Worldview can be expressed as 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.

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, environmental-climatic conditions, the economic resources available, socio-cultural systems, and the language family.

Regardless of whether thought strongly shapes language and culture or vice versa, the worldview map of the world would likely be closely related to the linguistic map of the world. Similarly, it would probably almost coincide with a map of the world drawn on the basis of music across people.

The construction of integrating worldviews begins from fragments of worldviews offered to us by the different scientific disciplines and the various systems of knowledge. 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.

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 the following elements:

A model of the world

It should allow us to understand how the world functions and how it is structured. "World" here means the totality, everything that exists around us, including the physical universe, the Earth, life, mind, society and culture. We ourselves are an important part of that world. Therefore, a world view should also answer the basic question: "Who are we?"


The second component is supposed to explain the first one. It should answer the questions: "Why is the world the way it is? Where does it all come from? Where do we come from?" This is perhaps the most important part of a world view. If we can explain how and why a particular phenomenon (say life or mind) has arisen, we will be able to better understand how that phenomenon functions. It will also help us to understand how that phenomenon will continue to evolve.


This extrapolation of past evolution into the future defines a third component of a world view: futurology. It should answer the question "Where are we going to?" It should give us a list of possibilities, of more or less probable future developments. But this will confront us with a choice: which of the different alternatives should we promote and which should we avoid?


This is the more fundamental issue of value: "What is good and what is evil?" The theory of values defines the fourth component of a world view. It includes morality or ethics, the system of rules which tells us how we should or should not behave. It also gives us a sense of purpose, a direction or set of goals to guide our actions. Together with the answer to the question "why?" the answer to the question "what for?", may help us to understand the real meaning of life.


Knowing what to strive for does not yet mean knowing how to get there, though. The next component must be a theory of action (praxiology). It would answer the question "How should we act?" It would help us to solve practical problems and to implement plans of action.


Plans are based on knowledge and information, on theories and models describing the phenomena we encounter. Therefore, we need to understand how we can construct reliable models. This is the component of knowledge acquisition. It is equivalent to what in philosophy is called "epistemology" or "the theory of knowledge". It should allow us to distinguish better theories from worse theories. It should answer the traditional philosophical question "What is true and what is false?"

Building Blocks

The final point on the agenda of a world view builder is not meant to answer any fundamental question. It just reminds us that world views cannot be developed from scratch. You need building blocks to start with. These building blocks can be found in existing theories, models, concepts, guidelines and values, scattered over the different disciplines and ideologies. This defines the seventh component: fragments of world views as a starting point.

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 true founder of the idea that language and worldview are inextricable is the Prussian philologist, Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835). Humboldt remains, however, little known in English-speaking countries, despite the works of Brown, Manchester and Underhill. Humboldt argued that language was part of the creative adventure of mankind. Culture, language and linguistic communities developed simultaneously, he argued, and could not do so without one another. In stark contrast to linguistic determinism, which invites us to consider language as a constraint, a framework or a prison house, Humboldt maintained that speech is inherently and implicitly creative. Human beings take their place in speech and continue to modify language and thought by their creative exchanges. Worldview remains a confused and confusing concept in English, used very differently by linguists and sociologists. It is for this reason that Underhill suggests five subcategories: world-perceiving, world-conceiving, cultural mindset, personal world, and perspective.

Though the work of Humboldt offers a deep insight into the relationship between thinking and speaking, and though Edward Sapir gives a very subtle account of this relationship in English. English linguists tend to persist in attaching discussion of worldviews to the work of Whorf. And this trend has not changed with cognitive linguistics.

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.

The 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. The theory has also gained attention through the work of Lera Boroditsky at Stanford University.

Problem questions: Can you give the examples of lexical items which reflect the view of the particular culture representatives on the existing reality? What can these items tell about the features of the world which these people notice?



Date: 2014-12-22; view: 5411

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