What is a worldview? Part 1

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nasa.freeuse.planet.earthThe purpose of my last blog post was to provide a starting point for the discussion. I claimed that a person’s worldview begins, more often than not, on what they believe to be true about nature, more specifically material matter e.g. the universe, planet, and its inhabitants — namely human beings.  A person either believes nature is all that there is, or that it is not.  (I will hold off on the discussion of agnosticism for now.)

If a person believes that nature is all that exists, he is a strict materialist.  If he believes in at least some element of existence to be beyond nature, I would classify his worldview as being a supernatural one.

A quick historical background

The main reason to explore a word’s historical background in further depth– particularly one that has its roots in another language — is to gain a better understanding of how to use the word in the English language and to prevent misunderstandings when discussing this unruly topic.

‘Worldview’ is a compound word that seems to lend itself to multiple meanings and/or a plethora of definitions.  This post could trail off into one exclusively about meaning in language or historical linguistics but to keep things simple I will stay close to the matter at hand — ultimately how the word ‘worldview’ is used in the English language, and how I will use it in this blog.

As mentioned in previous posts, the word ‘worldview’ has its roots in the German word ‘Weltanschauung’.  Because ‘worldview’ is a borrowed word that has been translated literally, it is called a calque.  For a list of common calques we use in everyday link, check out this partial list on wikipedia (not that I agree with everything on wikipedia, but I do think the list provided helps in this context).

Sigmund Freud used it in his lectures sometimes.  According to Fordham University’s Internet History Sourcebook Project – a collection of historical and academic documents — in 1918 Freud defined ‘weltanschauung’ as “an intellectual construction which gives a unified solution of all the problems of our existence in… a comprehensive hypothesis… in which no question is left open and in which everything in which we are interested finds a place.” To read the lecture in its entirety, click here.

Like any philosophical term, I believe it is a good idea to attempt to define it as comprehensive and precise as possible for the context and discussion in which it is being used.  This does not mean that the way I will define the term is by any means the best way, but clearly defining the term for the discussion prevents misunderstandings and provides a reference for the discussion.  I will do this in my next entry titled: What is a worldview? Part 2.

On a separate note, my goal is to eventually provide a more comprehensive glossary of terms for use on this site at a later time.

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