«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Although Kant tended to see a Weltanschauung as timeless and fixed, with Hegel’s Zeitgeist it became clear that worldviews are profoundly historically and culturally embedded. The concept therefore both reflects as well as invites a profound reflexivity—a reflexivity not only flowing forth from the acknowledgment of the existence of multiple worldviews and (thus) their cultural-historical and personal-idiosyncratically constituted natures, but also from a perspective on reality itself as brought into being through participation, that is, reality as fundamentally enactive and co-creative. This evolution climaxes in Nietzsche’s celebration of the affirmative power this can bring, prophesying the liberated, self-authoring individual to be born. In a sense, this insight explains why environmental philosophers have frequently pointed at our worldviews as rootcause of the environmental crisis: according to them it was precisely through our scientific, objectified, and dualistic worldview that the environmental crisis could come into being. Thus, the concept of worldview not only conveys that the world is viewed differently by different viewers, but also that those different viewers tend to enact, co-create, and bring forth different worlds—thereby emphasizing the power, significance, and potential of one’s worldview. A creative responsibility as well as a certain gravitas opens up when this insight is fully realized.
Next to the reflexive turn, and partially inspired by it, the evolution of the concept seems to be characteristic of an increasing inclusiveness, and potentially (developmental) integration. While the Greek revolution consisted of a fundamental differentiation between man and world, as Brague (2003) has 75 emphasized, it is with Descartes and Kant that man and world become truly separated: ontologically with Descartes, and epistemologically with Kant (Tarnas, 1991). In Kant’s understanding man could not have knowledge of the world in itself, but was always seeing his own construction of it, thereby forging the ‘Kantian divide,’ leaving humanity fundamentally split off from reality, dissociated from a disenchanted cosmos. Simultaneously, Kant opened up a new world to explore: the human mind and being through which the world is perceived, thereby further empowering what Taylor has called ‘the inward turn.’ While Kant conceptualized his “a priori structures” in a universal and transcendental way, the Romantics started to call attention to the individual, historical, cultural, and particular ways in which the human mind is co-creating the reality it is experiencing–-including the worlds of dreams and the imagination, emotions, expression, and intuition, participation in nature, and the unconscious (Hay, 2002; Tarnas, 1991; C. Taylor, 1989). In the philosophies of Goethe and Hegel, man and world are not ultimately separated, as Kant assumed, but instead Nature is coming to expression and self-revelation through man (Simmel, 2007; Tarnas, 1991), thereby voicing a new perspective on the relationship between humanity and nature. In contrast with the disengaged reason, the Romantics thus plea for a deeper engagement (Hay, 2002; C. Taylor, 1989).
In postmodernism these profoundly influential and in some sense contradictory cultural currents come together (Tarnas, 1991; C. Taylor, 1989), notably in Nietzsche’s perspectivism, which asserts, in the words of Zarathustra, that we need “a hundred-faced mirror” to catch even a glance of life (Nietzsche, 1999 (1911), p. 76). Nietzsche thus emphasizes the need to include multiple perspectives and modes of knowing. Thinkers like Lyotard, Derrida, and Foucault, through deconstructing the ‘totalizing narratives’ of the powerful elite, further this process of liberation, emancipation, and inclusion of (marginalized) voices—among which potentially the voice of nature. While critical theory, integral theory, and critical realism share postmodernism’s commitment to including multiple perspectives and dismantling the constructed nature of (social) phenomena, they simultaneously attempt to move beyond postmodernisms nihilist stance, re-vindicating the notions of human development and cultural evolution (though in a more complex, dialectical fashion than the modernist linear narrative) as well as the scientific project (though again, in a 76 more complex sense than the criticized positivist account of science). These currents may therefore be important to environmental discourse, as they potentially offer a new vision on the integration of humanity and nature, in a manner that is both critical and reflexive (as opposed to naïve) in its understanding of the human constructions of nature, yet realist (as opposed to nihilist) in its granting of some level of realness, autonomy, and value to nature in itself.
2.5 Conclusion and implications To return to and fulfill the twofold aim that this chapter started out with, I will first present the Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) for an understanding and operationalization of the worldview-concept. Secondly, I will demonstrate how the evolution of worldview-thinking seems to foster qualities that are crucial in the light of our global environmental challenges and the sustainable development debate.
2.5.1 Founding the Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) The IWF offers a working definition of ‘worldviews’ that aims to articulate the evolving understanding of the concept in the history of philosophy, while integrating the most central insights that have come forth through that (see summary and discussion). This working definition is as follows: Worldviews are inescapable, overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making that to a substantial extent inform how humans interpret, enact, and co-create reality. Additionally, the IWF offers an operationalization of the concept, by articulating and integrating the different aspects that worldviews are considered to consist of, as emphasized by the reviewed philosophers. Other disciplinary approaches have come up with comparable aspects (see notably K. A. Johnson et al., 2011). Of the five proposed aspects, the first three of ontology, epistemology, and axiology—which also can be seen as dominant subject-areas of philosophy—seem to be the most common, thus suggesting a fair degree of interdisciplinary agreement and overlap (see table 2; this list is not exhaustive).
In the first place, central to any worldview is an ontology, that is, a perspective on the nature of reality, being, or existence as such. Ontology deals 77 with questions concerning what entities exist and can be said to exist—the ‘what is really there,’ or in the words of Sire (2004) ‘the really real.’ An ontology is often related to a cosmogony, that is, an origin story or study of how the universe came to be what it is. All reviewed philosophers appear to be concerned with ontology, or metaphysics (even in their complete rejection of it, as in ‘high postmodernism’), and the larger evolution of the worldview-concept seems to be characterized by a shifting emphasis between ontology and epistemology.
Epistemology is a perspective on what knowledge is and how knowledge can come about, and is thus concerned with the nature, scope, and limitations of knowledge. The epistemological question is central to any worldview, and the concept of worldview came explicitly into being as a result of Kant’s epistemological turn. Another vital aspect of a worldview is an axiology, or a perspective on what a good life is, both in terms of morals and quality of life, or ethics and aesthetics. Also this aspect is central in the philosophical literature, and ethics is considered to be one of the main branches of philosophy (Deigh, 1999). Especially since the individualizing of the worldview-concept after Goethe, philosophers tend to emphasize how individuals’ ethical and aesthetic standpoints inform how they view the world.
Fourthly, worldviews consist of an anthropology or human image, that is, a perspective on who the human being is and what his role and position is in the universe surrounding him. In the evolution of the worldview-concept, the role of the human subject perceiving, conceptualizing, and (co-)creating the world has gradually become more central. While this aspect could be considered as part of ontology (as it concerns questions about the nature of the human being), for the sake of clarity and comprehensiveness, I prefer to differentiate it in the IWF.
Lastly, there is a societal vision or social imaginary, which refers to fundamental assumptions on how society should be organized and how societal problems should be addressed, that is, a broad understanding of the way a given people imagine their collective social life. This often also includes a perspective on, or vision of, what the future might hold, and what a desirable future would look like. Notably Heidegger, Habermas, and Taylor emphasize how studying the phenomena brought forth by a certain age—e.g. science, or the legal, administrative and moral systems—reveal and express the metaphysical underpinnings underlying them. Although one could potentially consider this 78 aspect as a combination of axiology and anthropology, in the context of empirical research this further differentiation seems particularly helpful, as it supports researchers to investigate the societal dimensions and implications of worldviews, as well as perspectives on the appropriate relationship between individual and society. So even though distinctions can be drawn between these different aspects, neatly separating them is not always possible. Instead, they appear to complexly and interdependently hang together as truly “overarching systems” in which the different aspects are related to each other in a somewhat logically coherent manner.32 A worldview can thus also be conceptualized as a complex constellation of ontological presuppositions, epistemic capacities, and ethical and aesthetic values that converge to dynamically organize a synthetic apprehension of the exterior world and one’s interior experiences.33 For an empirical operationalization of the concept of worldview in the context of (social) scientific research, these five aspects may be taken as a starting point. As the empirical study of chapter four shows, employing the IWF is likely to support a (more) systematized, balanced, and encompassing operationalization of worldviews. The employment of the five aspects also stimulates the researcher to explore worldviews as truly “overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making,” by investigating respondent’s foundational assumptions in a variety of aspects, rather than as somewhat random or more 32 By “logically coherent” I refer to the different aspects of worldviews relating to each other in a consistent, interwoven manner, meaning that they are interrelated to the point of forming an emergent, structured whole or system (e.g. that a certain view of nature lines up logically with a certain human image). Thus, I am explicitly not referring to the idea that these worldviews would not contain any contradictions or paradoxical elements.
33 It is important to note that of these five aspects, three can be considered primary (ontology, epistemology, and axiology), while two can be considered secondary (anthropology and societal vision). I view the primary aspects as essential components of a worldview, while the secondary aspects constitute expressions or applications that appear to flow from the primary aspects. As such, the number of secondary aspects included here is somewhat arbitrary, since there are myriad domains in which the primary \aspects can be expressed or applied. Thus, other secondary aspects could legitimately be included. For example, a category for semiology or rhetoric could be useful, as each worldview structure tends to confer certain distinct patterns of linguistic symbolism and communicative style in the process of describing and disclosing the world (see e.g. K. A. Johnson et al., 2011; KoltkoRivera, 2004). I have omitted such other potential secondary aspects in an effort to avoid overly complexifying the framework.
The aspects of worldviews, including exemplary questions and concerns for each of them
1. Ontology: A perspective on the nature of reality, often enriched with a cosmogony.
What is the nature of reality? What is nature? How did the universe come about? If there is such thing as the divine—what or who is it, and how is it related to the universe?
2. Epistemology: A perspective on how knowledge of reality can become about.
How can we know what is real? How can we gain knowledge of ourselves and the world? What is valid knowledge, and what is not?
3. Axiology: A perspective on what a ‘good life’ is, in terms of morals and quality of life, ethical and aesthetic values.
What is a good life? What kind of life has quality and gives fulfillment? What are our most cherished ethical and aesthetic values? What is life all about?
4. Anthropology: A perspective on who the human being is and what his role and position is in the universe.
Who or what is the human being? What is the nature of the human being? What is his role and purpose in existence?
5. Societal vision or social imaginary: A perspective on how society should be organized and how societal problems and issues should be addressed.
How should we organize our society? How should we address societal problems and issues? How do we collectively envision our social life?
Table 2: The Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) offers a working definition of worldviews, differentiates five major aspects to worldviews, and formulates exemplary questions for each aspect.
superficial opinions and beliefs. In that sense, the IWF seems to have the potential to support academic research in the timely topic of worldviews.