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Worldviews W

Weltanschauung (World view)

The term is a literal translation 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 including all ideas, values, emotions, and ethics.

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.

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."

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 and that, even having chosen axioms not everything that was true in a given logical system could be proven.  

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.  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.  On the other hand, if different worldviews are held to be basically incommensurate and irreconcilable, then the situation is one of cultural relativism.  Additionally, religious believers might not wish to see their beliefs relativized into something that is only "true for them". This however is where fundamentalism takes hold, believing that you have the one true faith and that others are wrong or even evil.

We must learn the lessons of history that total belief in a worldview creates fanaticism, the Spanish Inquisition or McCarthy hearings. 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 supposedly higher ideal 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, violating human rights and ultimately perpetrating genocide.