Friday, September 18, 2009

Experimenting with Worldviews

As part of my interest in the way a person’s psychology affects their intellectual, philosophical, principled, moral beliefs, I’ve also been interested in worldviews or belief-systems or overall perspectives. Or, in Wilfred Sellars definition (of philosophy): “how things in the broadest possible sense of the term hang together in the broadest possible sense of the term.” In a recent book by Eugene Webb, “Worldview and Mind,” he quotes Marcus Borg’s definition of worldview: “a culture or religion’s taken-for-granted understanding of reality – a root image of what is real and thus of how to live” (pp 19-20 in Borg’s “The God We Never Knew).

Mostly, philosophical writing uses abstract concepts, but I think it often neglects offering concrete examples that illustrate the concepts. And I think that often this aversion or neglect of offering concrete examples is due to a fear that when one starts going into detail about what one is talking about the problems and anomalies will show themselves. It safer and more comfortable to speak abstractly.

Regarding worldviews, I wondered if I could describe one. So I chose the Christian worldview. And, surprisingly, it was hard. To include all major Christian sects I know of I had to make the most general, bland statements: Is the Bible believed by Christians to be written by God or just the sacred book, or, depending on the definition of sacred, the main book? Is sin central, or is love central? Is Jesus God incarnate or just a prophet? Did he actually rise from the dead or are we to understand the story metaphorically? Is that rising what’s centrally important or not?

Perhaps as the subject is narrowed – Catholics instead of Christians – one can be more specific.

But, instead of taking a social group’s worldview I thought that it would be easier and more inkeeping with this blog’s project to describe an individual’s worldview. Since my own is so ready-to-hand I will describe mine. I do this not to convince anyone of it, but as a researcher into one person’s worldview.

(Although one of the characteristics of one's worldviews is, I think, that we think that everything we believe is right, or, the best we can do right now; that no one knowingly holds a wrong view. Although again, I know a guy who doesn't believe the dinosaurs really existed on earth, yet he also knows that science has demonstrated it. Rational people have unusual and contradictory beliefs, some of which beliefs haven't met each other and some which, more interestingly, have and yet are still simultaneously held. In psychology this is called "cognitive dissonance."

What would a worldview look like? How extensive is it? What’s included and what’s not? How coherent is it? Does a worldview contain specific political beliefs or does a worldview describe one’s fundamental orienting categories a la Kant. And yet, even with those basic, orienting, physical, Kantian categories such as space, time and causality, there is philosophical debate about their nature. And there’s also people who have unorthodox – for the Western scientific rationalist – views of them: Jungian synchronicity, action at a distance, astrological effects, shamanistic and psychedelic space and time alterations, etc.

Since it’s a blog, I thought I’d just start describing some aspects of my worldview and reflect upon, and organize it, later. (As opposed to my usual tendency to make it all nice and polished and presentable before anyone sees it.)

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Arational Origin of Worldviews

Here's a part of an exchange I had at

I think it can stand alone.

There are other ways, [besides the Hindu/Advaita view] to experience existence and it's not necessarily the way things truly are (of course it may be). An alternative mystical approach, which I described, is to not have a view about how things are or what the essence of existence is or a metaphysic. One simply remains in a state of profoundly not knowing these kinds of things (but able to know many other things). One persists in the state of viewlessness. I'm partial to the view of viewlessness (so it’s obvious I’m not practicing it), but it seems contradictory to say that it is the Right Way to be.

Today I just read something apropos of our discussion. Slavoj Zizek writes in The Parallax View:

‘“anti-philosophy” – it is not surprising that Kierkegaard laid out its most concise formula: “The fact of the matter is that we must acknowledge that in the last resort there is no theory.” In all great “anti-philosophers,” from Kierkegaard and Nietzsche to the late work of Wittgenstein, the most radical authentic core of being human is perceived as a concrete practico-ethical engagement and/or choice which precedes (and grounds) every “theory,” every theoretical account of itself, and is, in this radical sense of the term, contingent (“irrational”) – it was Kant who laid the foundation for “anti-philosophy” when he asserted the primacy of practical over theoretical reason; Fichte simply spelled out its consequences when he wrote, apropos of the ultimate choice between Spinozism and the philosophy of subjective freedom: “What philosophy one chooses depends on what kind of man one is.” Thus Kant and Fichte – unexpectedly – would have agreed with Kierkegaard: in the last resort there is not theory, just a fundamental practice-ethical decision about what kind of life one wants to commit oneself to.’

So Zizek's suggesting the arational basis of the origins of our worldview.