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World view

World view

A world view[1] or worldview is the fundamental cognitive orientation of an individual or society encompassing the whole of the individual's or society's knowledge and point of view. A world view can include natural philosophy; fundamental, existential, and normative postulates; or themes, values, emotions, and ethics.[2]

Worldview remains a confused and confusing concept in English, used very differently by linguists and sociologists. It is for this reason that James W. Underhill suggests five subcategories: world-perceiving, world-conceiving, cultural mindset, personal world, and perspective.[3][4][5]

Worldviews are often taken to operate at a conscious level, directly accessible to articulation and discussion, as opposed to existing at a deeper, pre-conscious level, such as the idea of "ground" in Gestalt psychology and media analysis. However, core worldview beliefs are often deeply rooted, and so are only rarely reflected on by individuals, and are brought to the surface only in moments of crises of faith.

The term worldview is a calque of the German word Weltanschauung [ˈvɛltʔanˌʃaʊ.ʊŋ] (listen), composed of Welt ('world') and Anschauung ('view' or 'outlook').[6] The German word is also used in English. It is a concept fundamental to German philosophy, especially epistemology and refers to a wide world perception. Additionally, it refers to the framework of ideas and beliefs forming a global description through which an individual, group or culture watches and interprets the world and interacts with it.

Assessment and comparison

One can think of a worldview as comprising a number of basic beliefs which are philosophically equivalent to the axioms of the worldview considered as a logical or consistent 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.[7] However their coherence can be explored philosophically and logically.

If two different worldviews have sufficient common beliefs it may be possible to have a constructive dialogue between them.[8]

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.[9][10][11] Additionally, religious believers might not wish to see their beliefs relativized into something that is only "true for them".[12][13] 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.[14]

A third alternative sees the worldview approach as only a methodological relativism, as a suspension of 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."[15]

The comparison of religious, philosophical or scientific worldviews is a delicate endeavor, because such worldviews start from different presuppositions and cognitive values. Clément Vidal[16] has proposed metaphilosophical criteria for the comparison of worldviews, classifying them in three broad categories:

  1. objective: objective consistency, scientificity, scope

  2. subjective: subjective consistency, personal utility, emotionality

  3. intersubjective: intersubjective consistency, collective utility, narrativity

David Bell[17] has raised interesting questions on worldviews for the designers of superintelligences – machines much smarter than humans.  "Would they need worldviews, where would they get their worldviews and what would they be like?" The answers would have to relate to, for example, Christian worldviews. Some of the people who consider features of superintelligences say they will have characteristics that are often associated with divinity, raising big open questions for Christian believers. For example, very advanced machines could, perhaps,   ultimately engender in people a terrified reverence and mystical awe in the light of, say, an artificial agent's impressive understanding of the human condition. And perhaps some humans might even be induced to "worship and serve the creature rather than the Creator". On the other hand, what would the agent's relationship to God be? Anyone attempting to accommodate concepts such as an omnipotent, personal creator's sacrificial, emotional, spiritual and attitudinal demands being made of any man-made entity, superintelligent or not, could be said to have strayed into terra prohibita theologically, of course. And how would the worldviews of any superintelligences handle the relationships with what it might regard as its human 'creator'?


The Prussian philologist Wilhelm von Humboldt (1767–1835) originated the idea that language and worldview are inextricable. Humboldt saw language as part of the creative adventure of mankind. Culture, language and linguistic communities developed simultaneously 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.

Edward Sapir (1884–1939) also gives an account of the relationship between thinking and speaking in English.[18]

The linguistic relativity hypothesis of Benjamin Lee Whorf (1897–1941) describes how the syntactic-semantic structure of a language becomes an underlying structure for the world view or 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.[19]

Whorf's hypothesis became influential 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 (1947–) and his team at the Max Planck institute for psycholinguistics at Nijmegen, Netherlands.[20] 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 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. However, as Jürgen Trabant points out, and as James W. Underhill reminds us, Humboldt's key concept was Weltansicht.[3] Weltansicht was used by Humboldt to refer to the overarching conceptual and sensorial apprehension of reality shared by a linguistic community (Nation). On the other hand, Weltanschauung, first used by Kant and later popularized by Hegel, was always used in German and later in English to refer more to philosophies, ideologies and cultural or religious perspectives, than to linguistic communities and their mode of apprehending reality.

In 1911, the German philosopher Wilhelm Dilthey published an essay entitled "The Types of Worldview (Weltanschauung) and their Development in Metaphysics" that became quite influential. Dilthey characterized worldviews as providing a perspective on life that encompasses the cognitive, evaluative, and volitional aspects of human experience. Although worldviews have always been expressed in literature and religion, philosophers have attempted to give them conceptual definition in their metaphysical systems. On that basis, Dilthey found it possible to distinguish three general recurring types of worldview. The first of these he called naturalism because it gives priority to the perceptual and experimental determination of what is and allows contingency to influence how we evaluate and respond to reality. Naturalism can be found in Democritus, Hobbes, Hume and many other modern philosophers. The second type of worldview is called the idealism of freedom and is represented by Plato, Descartes, Kant, and Bergson among others. It is dualistic and gives primacy to the freedom of the will. The organizational order of our world is structured by our mind and the will to know. The third type is called objective idealism and Dilthey sees it in Heraclitus, Parmenides, Spinoza, Leibniz and Hegel. In objective idealism the ideal does not hover above what is actual but inheres in it. This third type of worldview is ultimately monistic and seeks to discern the inner coherence and harmony among all things. Dilthey thought it is impossible to come up with a universally valid metaphysical or systematic formulation of any of these worldviews, but regarded them as useful schema for his own more reflective kind of life philosophy. See Makkreel and Rodi, Wilhelm Dilthey, Selected Works, volume 6, 2019.

Anthropologically, worldviews 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."[21]

If it were possible to draw a map of the world on the basis of Weltanschauung,[22] 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,[22] environmental-climatic conditions, the economic resources available, socio-cultural systems, and the language family.[22] (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.[22]


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 people, the Iliad for the Ancient Greeks and Hellenized societies, the Silappadhikaram of the Tamil people, the Ramayana and Mahabharata of the Hindus, the Gilgamesh of the Mesopotamian-Sumerian civilization and the people of the Fertile Crescent at large, The Book of One Thousand and One Nights (Arabian nights) of the Arab world and the Sundiata epic of the Mandé people.

Terror management theory

A worldview, according to terror management theory (TMT), serves as a buffer against death anxiety.[23] It is theorised that living up to the ideals of one's worldview provides a sense of self-esteem which provides a sense of transcending the limits of human life (e.g. literally, as in religious belief in immortality, symbolically, as in art works or children to live on after one's death, or in contributions to one's culture).[23] Evidence in support of terror management theory includes a series of experiments by Jeff Schimel and colleagues in which a group of Canadians found to score highly on a measure of patriotism were asked to read an essay attacking the dominant Canadian worldview.[23]

Using a test of death-thought accessibility (DTA), involving an ambiguous word completion test (e.g. "COFF__" could either be completed as either "COFFEE" or "COFFIN" or "COFFER"), participants who had read the essay attacking their worldview were found to have a significantly higher level of DTA than the control group, who read a similar essay attacking Australian cultural values. Mood was also measured following the worldview threat, to test whether the increase in death thoughts following worldview threat were due to other causes, for example, anger at the attack on one's cultural worldview.[23] No significant changes on mood scales were found immediately following the worldview threat.[23]

To test the generalisability of these findings to groups and worldviews other than those of nationalistic Canadians, Schimel et al conducted a similar experiment on a group of religious individuals whose worldview included that of creationism.[23] Participants were asked to read an essay which argued in support of the theory of evolution, following which the same measure of DTA was taken as for the Canadian group.[23] Religious participants with a creationist worldview were found to have a significantly higher level of death-thought accessibility than those of the control group.[23]

Goldenberg et al found that highlighting the similarities between humans and other animals increases death-thought accessibility, as does attention to the physical rather than meaningful qualities of sex.[24]

Organic unity, causality, impact, philosophical naturalism and materialism

The term World View denotes a comprehensive set of opinions, seen as an organic unity, about the world as the medium and exercise of human existence. World View 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.


An unidirectional 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 traditions which are 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.

With the development of science came a clockwork universe of regular operation according to principle. Physiological understanding began to include humans as automatons, but what about human volition? 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.

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.


Nishida Kitaro wrote extensively on "the Religious Worldview" in exploring the philosophical significance of Eastern religions.[25]

According to Neo-Calvinist David Naugle's World view: 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."[26]

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."[27]

The commitment mentioned by James W. Sire can be extended further. The worldview increases the commitment to serve the world. With the change of a person's view towards the world, he/she can be motivated to serve the world. This serving attitude has been illustrated by Tareq M Zayed as the 'Emancipatory Worldview' in his writing "History of emancipatory worldview of Muslim learners".[28]

The question mentioned above - on whether the super-smart machines, that is, any superintelligences, as expected by some, could have worldviews - is interesting in this context and this would influence human worldviews.


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[29] and that, even having chosen axioms not everything that was true in a given logical system could be proven.[30] Some philosophers believe the problems extend to "the inconsistencies and failures which plagued the Enlightenment attempt to identify universal moral and rational principles";[31] although Enlightenment principles such as universal suffrage and the universal declaration of human rights are accepted, if not taken for granted, by many.[32]

The theory of relativity offers a Weltanschauung that is revolting to absolute space and time, yet provides a context for modern theories of electromagnetism and gravity. In a book review for a new undergraduate textbook on relativity by Wolfgang Rindler, Kenneth Jacobs[33] noted that "during the post-Sputnik era, special relativity began to take its rightful place in the undergraduate curriculum". On the adoption of the Weltanschauung, he notes, "The historical impact of any world picture is ... partly attributable to the zeal of the promulgators and to the efficacy of their teachings."

Philosophers also distinguish the manifest image from the scientific image. These phrases are due to the American 20th century philosopher Wilfrid Sellars. This is one angle on the ancient philosophical distinction between appearance and reality which is particularly pertinent to everyday contemporary living. Indeed, many believe that the scientific image, with its reductionist methodology, will undermine our sense of individual freedom and responsibility. So, many worry that as science advances, particularly cognitive neuroscience, we will be dehumanized. This certainly has powerful Nietzschean undertones. When our immediately given, manifest (sc. obvious) self-conception is shaken, what is lost for the individual and society? And does it have to be that way?[34] Some questions well worth working on, then, are those concerning the refinement of the manifest view of such centrally important concepts such as free will,[35] the self and individuality, and the possibility of real or lived meaning.


While Leo Apostel and his followers clearly hold that individuals can construct worldviews, other writers regard worldviews as operating at a community level, 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,[36] 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.

Classification of cultural worldviews

From across the world across all of the cultures, Roland Muller has suggested that cultural world views can be broken down into three separate world views.[37] It is not simple enough to say that each person is one of these three cultures. Instead, each individual is a mix of the three. For example, a person may be raised in a Power–Fear society, in an Honor–Shame family, and go to school under a Guilt–Innocence system.


In a Guilt–Innocence focused culture, schools focus on deductive reasoning, cause and effect, good questions, and process. Issues are often seen as black and white. Written contracts are paramount. Communication is direct, and can be blunt.[38]


Societies with a predominantly Honor–Shame worldview teach children to make honorable choices according to the situations they find themselves in. Communication, interpersonal interaction, and business dealings are very relationship-driven, with every interaction having an effect on the Honor–Shame status of the participants. In an Honor–Shame society the crucial objective is to avoid shame and to be viewed honorably by other people. The Honor–Shame paradigm is especially strong in most regions of Asia.[39]


Some cultures can be seen very clearly in operating under a Power–Fear worldview. In these cultures it is very important to assess the people around you and know where they fall in line according to their level of power. This can be used for good or for bad. A benevolent king rules with power and his citizens fully support him wielding that power. On the converse, a ruthless dictator can use his power to create a culture of fear where his citizens are oppressed.

Streams in contemporary American thought

According to Michael Lind, "a worldview is a more or less coherent understanding of the nature of reality, which permits its holders to interpret new information in light of their preconceptions. Clashes among worldviews cannot be ended by a simple appeal to facts. Even if rival sides agree on the facts, people may disagree on conclusions because of their different premises." This is why politicians often seem to talk past one another, or ascribe different meanings to the same events. Tribal or national wars are often the result of incompatible worldviews. Lind has organized American political worldviews into five categories:

  • Green Malthusianism synthesizes mystical versions of environmentalism with alarm about population growth in the tradition of the Rev. Thomas Malthus

  • Libertarian Isolationism would abandon foreign alliances, dismantle most of its military, and return to a 19th-century pattern of decentralized government and an economy based on small businesses and small farms.

  • Neoliberal Globalism believes that at home governments should provide only basic public goods like infrastructure and security, and do so by market-friendly methods

  • Populist Nationalism tends to favor restriction of legal as well as illegal immigration to protect the core stock of the tribe-state from dilution by different races, ethnic groups or religions. Populist nationalism also tends to favor protectionist policies that shield workers and businesses, particularly small businesses, from foreign competition.

  • Social Democracy claims an economic safety net, protecting citizens from unemployment, sickness, poverty in old age and other disasters, is necessary if democratic government is to retain popular support.

Lind argues that even though not all people will fit neatly into only one category or the other, their core worldview shape how they frame their arguments.[40]

See also

  • Attitude polarization

  • Basic beliefs

  • Belief

  • Belief networks

  • Christian worldview

  • Cognitive bias

  • Conformity

  • Contemplation

  • Context (language use)

  • Cultural bias

  • Cultural identity

  • Eschatology

  • Extrospection

  • Framing (social sciences)

  • Ideology

  • Life stance

  • Mental model

  • Mental representation

  • Metaknowledge

  • Metanarrative

  • Metaphysics

  • Mindset

  • Mythology

  • Norm (social)

  • Ontology

  • Organizing principle

  • Paradigm

  • Perspective

  • Philosophy

  • Psycholinguistics

  • Reality

  • Reality tunnel

  • Received view

  • Religion

  • Schema (psychology)

  • Scientific modeling

  • Scientism

  • Set (psychology)

  • Social justice

  • Social reality

  • Socially constructed reality

  • Subjective logic

  • Truth

  • Umwelt

  • Value system


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