«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
In chapter six, I review the sociological literature on the culture of contemporary spirituality and delineate its relevant potentials and pitfalls for goals and issues of sustainable development. This overview shows that this culture is both a potentially promising force, as well as a phenomenon posing specific risks. A developmental-psychological understanding is introduced in order to be able to distinguish between more monistic and more integrative tendencies in this culture.
In chapter seven, I qualitatively explore the newly emerging integrative worldview (which appears to coincide with the integrative tendency of contemporary spirituality as discussed in chapter six), as disclosed through indepth interviews with carefully selected ‘integrative environmental leaders.’ This study also sheds light on how these leaders translate the ontological, epistemological, anthropological, and axiological presuppositions of their worldview into new approaches for sustainable development, resulting in a ‘sustainable social imaginary’ that may facilitate public communication and large-scale mobilization for sustainable solutions to our planetary issues.
In chapter eight, I synthesize many of the generated insights that have come forth through the earlier chapters, articulating an expanded understanding and articulation of the IWF—using my understanding of the worldview-concept and its operationalization into five aspects as an organizing scheme for differentiating four major, ideal-typical worldviews: a traditional, modern, postmodern, and integrative worldview. It is then demonstrated how this heuristic framework has value for further research into worldviews and sustainability, as well as how it can be applied for reflexive policy-making and sustainability communications, potentially serving as: 1) a heuristic for cultural and psychological self-reflexivity; 2) an analytical tool for understanding worldview-dynamics in society; and 3) a scaffolding for effective sustainability communications and solutions.
48 Chapter 9 starts with a discussion and reflection, articulating several limitations and considerations with respect to the dissertation as a whole. It then revisits the five-fold aim and the accompanying research questions as articulated in the present chapter, attempting to answer them and taking stock of the findings the research has generated. I conclude with sketching future perspectives by formulating the most central societal and policy implications of this study.
2.1 Introduction Environmental philosophers have for decades emphasized that the ‘materialistic,’ ‘reductionistic,’ ‘disenchanted,’ and ‘dualistic’ Western worldview is at the very root of environmental issues, and that a profound change in worldview is needed if we are to find solutions for our planetary challenges and make the transition to more sustainable societies (Devall & Sessions, 1985; Duintjer, 1988; Lemaire, 2002; Naess, 1989; Plumwood, 1993; Schlichting, 2011; White, 1967; Wilber, 1995; Zweers, 2000). Calicott (2011) therefore explains for example Aldo Leopold’s lifelong writing and activism in terms of a project of worldview remediation. Other voices have argued that global environmental issues, such as climate change, are cultural phenomena that are reshaping understandings of humanity’s place on earth, requiring a more reflexive framing that takes into account the different worldviews, values, and perspectives through which we view, enact, and respond to environmental problems (see e.g. Hulme, 2009; O' Brien et al., 2010). Worldviews thus tend to be seen as vital in both the origination of environmental problems as well as in the search for and implementation of sustainable solutions. Theoretical and empirical insight in worldviews is consequently an essential element in approaches aiming to design and support more sustainable pathways for society (M. De Groot, Drenthen, & De Groot, 2011; O' Brien, 2009).
However, the nature of worldviews remains controversial: the notion is debated and used in a variety of ways and contexts, and its connotations change over time and along with the evolving content of worldviews (Naugle, 2002).
Moreover, it is still unclear how the concept can best be operationalized. This is especially important for the (mostly social-science based) research that is being conducted into worldviews and value orientations. As will be discussed in chapter three, the field of environmental psychology has brought forth a myriad of approaches, scales, and constructs aiming to empirically explore the relationship between worldviews and environmental behavior—with interesting but not entirely satisfying results. Additionally, although the importance of worldviews is increasingly being emphasized in the climate change and sustainable development-debates (see e.g. Hulme, 2009; O' Brien et al., 2010), little consideration tends to be given to how to take up this task and challenge.
52 Overall, there appears to be a conceptual, empirical, and practical demand for more clarity on what worldviews are and how they can be operationalized.
In order to understand the nature of worldviews and their complex relationship to issues and goals of sustainability, we need a historical perspective on the concept—we need to “look back at its origins and the processes that brought it about” (Sztompka, 1993). In this chapter, I therefore aim to offer a framework for the operationalization of worldviews, by investigating various understandings of the term in the history of philosophy. This narrative starts with the ‘birth’ of the Kosmos in ancient Greece, and gains more force and speed with Kant’s coinage of the term Weltanschauung. However, exploring the concept of worldview, we inevitably also touch on its content. Comparing, for example, ancient Greek with contemporary ideas about worldviews shows how concept and content tend to be intimately related: while the Greek cosmology pointed to a unified understanding of the Kosmos, containing both physical and metaphysical dimensions and including questions of meaning, ethics, and aesthetics, cosmology nowadays generally (although not always) refers to the study of merely the physical universe (Kragh, 2007). The purpose of this enterprise is therefore twofold. In the first place, an exploration into the history of worldview-thinking helps us to fathom the complex, controversial, and much contemplated concept of worldview and do justice to its long history and evolution by offering a comprehensive and up-to-date understanding and operationalization. Secondly, through this historical exploration we also gain a rudimentary understanding of the evolution of thought itself—and with that, of contemporary worldviews, as they can be seen, in the words of Tarnas (1991), as the sum and consequence of a “long battle of ideas (p. xii).”
2.2 Methodology and justification The concept of worldview has not only travelled through many brilliant philosophical minds, but also extends its influence in other domains, such as the natural and social sciences (Naugle, 2002). However, in this exploration I will limit myself to discussing the ideas of philosophers. Moreover, I do not attempt to treat all philosophers who mentioned or defined the concept, but will only include several ‘big names,’ whose views profoundly changed the spirit of an era, 53 and are to some extent symbolic and representative of the larger currents of change taking place in the Western worldview. However, mainly due to a lack of space, I do that at the expense of describing, for example, countercurrents in detail. Lastly, I do not aim to do justice to the complexity and richness of each of these philosophers and their thought, but I reflect on their work from the perspective of my central concern: the relationship between worldviews and their relevance for the sustainable development debate. In this manner, I will discuss Plato’s notion of Kosmos (ancient worldview), Kant’s coinage of Weltanschauung (Enlightenment), Goethe’s Lebenswelt and Hegel’s Zeitgeist (Romanticism), Nietzsche’s perspectivism and Heidegger’s thought on die Zeit des Weltbildes (initiating postmodernism). Since time will tell which contemporary philosophers will truly change ‘the spirit of an era,’ I conclude with a section on contemporary currents, briefly touching on Deconstructionism and Social Constructionism (‘high postmodernism’), as well as on some of their (potential) successors—critical theory, integral theory, and critical realism.
In this exploration, I draw on established scholarly sources such as philosophical encyclopedias (notably the 2005 edition of The Oxford Companion to Philosophy and the German Historische Wörterbuch der Philosophie) as well as on primary and secondary sources concerning the specific philosopher in case. In addition, I have used three major works that give an overview of the history and evolution of the Western worldview. These works have helped me to ‘weave the thread,’ turning a collection of philosophers and their thoughts on the worldview-concept into a coherent narrative with a beginning and end, leading to arguably profound insights about the concept, especially in light of our planetary environmental challenges. David K. Naugle’s “Worldview: The History of a Concept” (2002) is probably the most comprehensive and rigorous historical examination of the worldview-concept available. However, Naugle reflects on the concept from an explicitly Christian, rather than an environmental, perspective. Charles Taylor’s “Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity” (1989)26 and Richard Tarnas’ “The Passion of the Western Mind: Understanding the 26 Sources of the Self articulates a history of the "modern identity" by exploring some of the major transformations that Western thought went through, from Plato to present-day.
Taylor received both the prestigious Kyoto Prize and the Templeton Prize, in addition to widespread esteem among fellow philosophers.
2.3 The philosophical exploration of the evolution of a concept In this section I discuss the different understandings of the concept of worldview in the history of philosophy, starting with Pythagoras’ and Plato’s notion of Kosmos.
2.3.1 The birth of the Kosmos in Greece For the concept of worldview to be born, first the idea of “world” needed to become a theme. According to scholar of philosophy and philology Rémi Braque28 (2003) the emergence of the concept of “world” first appeared in ancient Greece: “It was only at the halfway point of history that there appeared a word capable of designating all of reality in a unified way. Humanity was able to do without the idea of “world” for half of its history—not to mention the immensity of prehistory” (p. 11). Although Egyptian and Mesopotamian civilization used notions approaching the same meaning—by making references to the world either by more or less exhaustively enumerating its different components or by using terms that designate the idea of totality—these notions of world were, according to Brague, different from how “world” has been understood from the Greeks onward. While these civilizations did not make a clear differentiation between self and world, precisely that became the basis of
27 The Passion of the Western Mind provides a narrative history of Western thought. The book became a bestseller and continues to be a widely used text in colleges. Tarnas is the founding director of the ‘Philosophy, Cosmology and Consciousness’ program at the California Institute of Integral Studies.
28 Rémi Brague is a professor of medieval philosophy at the Sorbonne in Paris. In 1988 he wrote a book on the concept of world as used by the Greeks: Brague, R., 1988, Aristotle et la question du monde. Essai sur le contexte cosmologique et anthropologique de l’ontologie, Paris: Presses Universitaires de France.
The term Kosmos denotes order and beauty, and more specifically the beauty resulting from order. This “peculiarly Greek combination of order, structural perfection, and beauty” (Tarnas, 1991, pp. 46-47) is also reflected in the two different meanings of the word: order or harmonic whole as well as jewelry or ornament (Runes, 1983). Probably Pythagoras was the first to call Kosmos the encompassing of all things, because of the order that reigns in it: it is the order that connects the different aspects and makes them into a harmonic, beautiful whole. The Greeks tended to believe that the world and its human subjects were primarily connected through the existence of laws that governed them all: universal moral laws (Brague, 2003). Moral ideas were thus part of the very structure of reality; they were in fact the very source of the world order, that which justified a global view of that reality as constituting a Kosmos (Cornford, 2000 (1973)).
Cosmology in ancient times also typically encompassed a cosmogony, or origin story: an account of how the universe came into being (Freeland, 2006).
In his Timaeus, Plato offers a “likely account” of the generation of the world. This world is a living organism produced by a Divine maker, the Demiurge. Using the eternal and perfect world of Forms or Ideas as a template, he set about creating our world, which formerly only existed in a state of disorder. In order to make a living and intelligent whole, “he put intelligence in soul, and soul in body" (Cornford, 2000 (1973), p. 33). Then, since the part is imperfect compared to the whole, the world had to be one and only. Therefore, the Demiurge did not create several worlds, but “one and unique world” (ibid, p. 42).