What is a Worldview?

Ken Funk
21 March 2001

The meaning of the term worldview (also world-view, world view, and German Weltanschauung) seems self-evident: an intellectual perspective on the world or universe. Indeed, the 1989 edition of the Oxford English Dictionary defines world-view as a "... contemplation of the world, [a] view of life ..." The OED defines Weltanschauung (literally, a perception of the world) as "... [a] particular philosophy of life; a concept of the world held by an individual or a group ..." 

In Types and Problems of Philosophy, Hunter Mead defines Weltanschauung as 

[a]n all-inclusive world-view or outlook. A somewhat poetic term to indicate either an articulated system of philosophy or a more or less unconscious attitude toward life and the world ...

In his article on the philosopher Wilhelm Dilthy in The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, H.P. Rickman writes

[t]here is in mankind a persistent tendency to achieve a comprehensive interpretation, a Weltanschauung, or philosophy, in which a picture of reality is combined with a sense of its meaning and value and with principles of action ...

In "The Question of a Weltanschauung" from his New Introductory Lectures in Psycho-Analysis, Sigmund Freud describes Weltanschauung as

... an intellectual construction which solves all the problems of our existence uniformly on the basis of one overriding hypothesis, which, accordingly, leaves no question unanswered and in which everything that interests us finds its fixed place.

James W. Sire, in Discipleship of the Mind, defines world view as 

... a set of presuppositions ... which we hold ... about the makeup of our world.

These definitions, though essentially in accord with one another and seemingly not at all inconsistent with current usage, are somewhat superficial.

Worldview in Context

Figures 1 and 2 provide a basis for a deeper understanding of worldview. The sensing, thinking, knowing, acting self exists in the milieu of a world (more accurately, a universe) of matter, energy, information and other sensing, thinking, knowing, acting selves (Figure 1). At the heart of one's knowledge is one's worldview or Weltanschauung.

Figure 1. The self and its worldview in the context of the world.

To sense is to see, hear, taste, and feel stimuli from the world and from the self (Figure 2). To act is to orient sensory organs (including eyes and ears), to move body parts, to manipulate external objects, and to communicate by speaking, writing, and other actions. Although we humans are not unique in our ability to sense and to act on our environment, it is in us, so far as we know, that thought as the basis for action is most highly developed.

Thought is a process, a sequence of mental states or events, in which sensed stimuli and existing knowledge are transformed to new or modified knowledge, some instances of which are intents that trigger motor control signals that command our muscles to action. While some actions are merely the result of sensorimotor reflexes, responses to emotions like fear or anger, or automatized patterns developed through habit, we at least like to believe that most of our actions are more reflective, being based on "higher" forms of thought.

For example, there is in most sensory experience an element of perception, in which sensed stimuli are first recognized and interpreted in light of existing knowledge (learned patterns) before they are committed to action. And to bring thought to bear on some stimuli or knowledge rather than others requires a focusing of attention, an allocation of limited mental resources to some mental activities and away from others. But it is in our reason -- and specialized forms of reason like problem solving, judging, and deciding -- that we take the most pride.

Reasoning is focused, goal-directed thought that starts from perceptions and existing knowledge and works toward new and valued knowledge. Reasoning therefore begins with knowledge and ends with knowledge, the opinions, beliefs, and certainties that one holds. By inductive reasoning (which is idealized in empirical science), one works from perceptions and other particular knowledge to more general knowledge. By deduction (exemplified by mathematical logic) further generalizations and, more practically, particular knowledge, is produced. Over a lifetime, reason builds up not only particular opinions and beliefs, but also a body of more and more basic, general, and fundamental knowledge on which the particular beliefs, and the intents for external acts, are based. This core of fundamental knowledge, the worldview, is not only the basis for the deductive reasoning that ultimately leads to action, but also is the foundation for all reasoning, providing the standards of value to establish the cognitive goals towards which reason works and to select the rules by which reason operates. The large red arrows in Figures 1 and 2 symbolize the absolutely crucial role that the worldview plays in one's behavior.

Figure 2. The worldview in the context of the self.

To put this more concisely, and consistently with the definitions considered above,

A worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all one's perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing.

One's worldview is also referred to as one's philosophy, philosophy of life, mindset, outlook on life,  formula for life, ideology, faith, or even religion.

The elements of one's worldview, the beliefs about certain aspects of Reality, are one's

  • epistemology: beliefs about the nature and sources of knowledge;
  • metaphysics: beliefs about the ultimate nature of Reality;
  • cosmology: beliefs about the origins and nature of the universe, life, and especially Man;
  • teleology: beliefs about the meaning and purpose of the universe, its inanimate elements, and its inhabitants;
  • theology: beliefs about the existence and nature of God;
  • anthropology: beliefs about the nature and purpose of Man in general and, oneself in particular;
  • axiology: beliefs about the nature of value, what is good and bad, what is right and wrong.

The following elaboration of  these elements and their implications to thought and action is based on Hunter Mead's Types and Problems of Philosophy, which I highly recommend for further study. For each worldview element I pose for you some important questions whose answers constitute your corresponding beliefs. I suggest a few possible answers you could give to these questions. Then I present some of the implications those beliefs could have to your thought, other beliefs, and action.

But first I must acknowledge some assumptions that underlie or constrain what I say. First, your worldview may not be explicit. In fact few people take the time to thoroughly think out, much less articulate, their worldview; nevertheless your worldview is implicit in and can be at least partially inferred from your behavior. Second, the elements of your worldview are highly interrelated; it is almost impossible to speak of one element independently of the others. Third, the questions I pose to you are not comprehensive: there are many more, related questions that could be asked. Fourth, the example answers I give to the questions -- that is, worldview beliefs -- are not comprehensive: many other perspectives are possible and you may not find your answers among those that I suggest. But, I hope, they illustrate the points. Fifth, my assertion that your worldview influences your action is based on the assumption that thought is the basis for action and knowledge is the basis for thought. Of course, as I wrote above, some actions are reflexive or automatic in nature: conscious thought, much less knowledge and, especially, worldview, probably have little direct influence on them. Nevertheless, even highly automatized or impulsive actions often follow patterns of behavior that originated in considered acts. Finally, my exposition of worldview is based on my own worldview and the questions that I choose to pose to you, the possible answers that I give as examples, and even the way I present those example answers are colored by my worldview.


Your epistemology is what you believe about knowledge and knowing: their nature, basis, and validation.

Epistemological Beliefs

What is knowledge? You may believe that knowledge is simply information. Perhaps you consider it merely a state of the brain, the result of the actions of neural mechanisms. Or possibly it is something deeper than information or mechanism: the state of a not wholly material mind that exists for the time being on a fleshy substrate and that will persist even after the substrate has long since died and decayed. Maybe you believe that your knowledge is a localized manifestation of the contents of a Cosmic Mind.

What is knowing? You might believe that knowing is a passive response to sensory evidence or an act of trust or commitment in the absence of any external guarantee.

What is the basis for knowledge? You may hold that the only valid basis for knowledge is empirical evidence derived from sensory experience, or that reason is the supreme authority for knowledge. Perhaps you consider authority, in the form of books or people, as the most reliable source of knowledge. Perhaps, to you, intuition -- a direct perception of the world, independent of sense or reason -- provides the best evidence for knowledge (see Figure 2), or maybe revelation -- direct apprehension of truths coming from outside of nature -- is the supreme source of knowledge. More likely than any of the above opinions, you affirm that no single source of evidence for knowledge is sufficient, but instead you ascribe certain relative weights to authority, empirical evidence, reason, intuition, and revelation.

What is the difference between knowledge and faith? You may see a profound distinction between knowledge and faith, the former being validated certainty, the latter fanciful, ungrounded hope. On the other hand, you may view knowledge as a continuum based on your level of confidence in a proposition, with faith, opinion, and certainty being merely points along that continuum.

Is certainty possible? You may think that it is possible to have complete certainty about some knowledge or that it is presumptuous -- even dangerous -- to claim certainty about anything of consequence.

Epistemological Implications

Your epistemology, what you believe about knowledge, affects what you accept as valid evidence and therefore what you are willing to believe about particulars. It affects the relative significance you ascribe to authority, empirical evidence, reason, intuition, and revelation. It affects how certain you can be about any knowledge and therefore what risks you will take in acting on that knowledge.

If knowledge is merely brain state, then true knowledge in the sense of its correspondence to the actual state of the world is suspect. Your beliefs, and therefore your acts, are at the mercy of your neural machinery and are valid and valuable only to the extent that those mechanisms correspond to reality; confidence and certainty must be suspect to you. At the opposite extreme, if knowledge is an extension of a Cosmic Mind, then you may feel that you can claim access to real truth, perhaps directly through revelation, and that your actions can be grounded in fundamental reality.

If you hold reason to be the paramount basis for knowledge, then you must discount any hypothesis that cannot be validated rationally and you cannot use such a hypothesis as a reliable basis for action. If you believe sensory evidence to be the test of truth, then knowledge must be verified empirically before it can be the grounds for your thoughts or acts. If you rely on intuition or revelation, "lower" forms of evidence are discounted. If you depend on authority to validate knowledge, you will be reticent to believe, think, or act without the blessing of some external source of authority.

If you believe certainty is possible, you can have complete confidence in the validity of thoughts and actions. You will feel justified in taking extreme measures to secure valued ends, even at the risk of being branded a fanatic. On the other hand, if you doubt the possibility of absolute certainty, you are more likely to assume an attitude of intellectual humility and be more prone to conservatism and moderation in your behavior.


Your metaphysics are the beliefs you hold about the ultimate nature of Reality.

Metaphysical Beliefs

What is the ultimate nature of Reality? If you are a philosophical naturalist (sometimes called a materialist), you believe that the universe consists solely of matter, energy, and information and that there is nothing outside that material universe. The universe is mechanistic and uncaring and there is no Mind or God or Spirit that created it, guides it, or even considers it. On the other hand, if you are a philosophical idealist, you believe that Reality is ultimately noumenal (of the Mind) or spiritual in nature. There is a supernatural Something outside and above nature that created it, and perhaps even now has a part in guiding it. There is a moral order to the universe: good is not only desirable but possible, achievable, perhaps even inevitable.

What is Truth? There are three major theories with respect to truth. If you subscribe to the correspondance theory of truth, you believe that truth corresponds to what really is, that there is a direct relationship between true knowledge in your mind or brain and what actually exists outside yourself. If you believe that such a strict definition of truth is unrealistic, you may believe that truth is merely that knowledge which is internally consistent. That is the consistency theory of truth, whose archetype is mathematical logic, where consistency is a necessary condition for any proposition to be considered valid. If you are a pragmatist, you hold to the pragmatic theory of truth: truth is what works. Whether or not knowledge corresponds to external reality and whether or not it is consistent with other knowledge is immaterial. What counts is that what you believe to be true leads to valued ends. If it works for you, it is true for you, though it might not be true for someone else.

What is the ultimate test for truth? This question and its possible answers parallel the epistemological question concerning valid bases for knowledge. You may hold that some authority -- some book or person or organization -- holds the keys to truth: whatever he/she/it says is true. As an empiricist, you may hold that truth is discovered only by empirical inquiry. If you are a rationalist you would say that truth is found through valid inductive and deductive reasoning. On the other hand, you may believe that you know the truth directly through intuition or even revelation.

Metaphysical Implications

If you are a philosophical naturalist (equivalently, a materialist) and believe that nothing exists outside of the physical universe, then you can believe in no spiritual realm, no God. There can be no absolute, externally valid standards of value and morality; any standards are simply (collective) choices or norms, simple artifacts of human biology, human inventions with no broader significance. In the end, the individual person is free to choose his or her morality and act as he or she sees fit, without fear of violating any absolute, objective, universal rules. Life itself being material, there is no afterlife and no reward or punishment for "good" or "bad" behavior. There are no absolute personal responsibilities, no obligations, and since there is no One or Thing to reward or punish "good" or "bad" behavior, in the end there are no significant consequences of it.

On the other hand, if you believe that Reality is ultimately spiritual in nature, there is room for a God or gods and just possibly an absolute and eternal moral order to which you may be responsible. You may have an accountability for your acts that goes beyond just yourself, your family, your friends, your community, or your government. You may have a moral obligation to believe, think, and act in conformance with that supernatural reality and you will probably try to do so, at least part of the time.

With regard to truth, if you subscribe to the correspondence theory of truth, then you are more likely to seek truth, by thought and act, outside yourself. If you hold to the consistency theory of truth you may be content to rely on reason as a primary means for discovering truth. If you are a pure pragmatist, you will discount the notion of absolute truth as irrelevant and will search for truth only as far as is needed to realize practical ends, whatever you determine them to be.


Your cosmology consists of your beliefs about the origin of the universe, of life, and particularly, of Man.

Cosmological Beliefs

What is the origin of the universe? One possible answer to this question is chance: the universe as it exists now is simply the mechanical response of matter and energy to random events and the laws of physics over a very long time. Standing in direct opposition to this is the notion that the universe is the result of the acts of a supernatural Creator that formed the universe ex nihilo (out of nothing).

What is the origin of life? What is the origin of Man? Here again, you may believe that life, and even the human race, is the result of chance, random events, and natural selection. At the opposite end of the cosmological spectrum is the belief that Something outside of nature instantaneously created life pretty much as we see it today. Some hold an intermediate position, that of a gradual rise of plant, animal, and even human life from non-living matter, not by mere chance and natural selection, but through guidance by a divine shepherd or helmsman, towards a desired end, according to a plan or purpose.

Cosmological Implications

If you believe that things came to be primarily by chance, then the universe, the laws of physics, life in general, and even human life have no universal significance. This in turn implies that human thought and action themselves have limited significance: in the Big Picture, one thought or act is equivalent to any other.

On the other hand, if the universe was created by a Designer, presumably that Designer had a plan or purpose and what you are or do can, and perhaps therefore should, be consistent with that plan.


And that is the substance of your teleology, your beliefs about purpose.

Teleological Beliefs

Does the universe have a purpose? Obviously, one possible answer is No. You may believe that the universe has no goal or desired end other than what its inhabitants choose to establish and pursue. The alternative is to believe that there is some purpose: some purposive Agent has either created the universe according to a plan or has "adopted" the universe, but in either case wishes for it some process or end state.

If the universe has a purpose, whose purpose is it? If you believe that the universe has no purpose, then of course this question is meaningless. On the contrary, given a purpose, there must be a purposive Agent. You probably believe that this is God or a god or gods, but perhaps you consider its personification only anthropomorphism, that Agent transcending personhood.

What is the purpose of the universe? Here there are many possible answers, the simplest one being that this purpose is unknown, even unknowable. Perhaps you believe that the purpose of the universe is an ever-increasing complexity and interdependence of its elements. Maybe it is a growing consciousness of its inhabitants and ultimately a self-consciousness on the part of the universe itself. You may believe that there is no more purpose to the universe than simply the happiness of its conscious occupants. If you believe in God (see below), knowledge of or communion with God by its conscious inhabitants may be the Grand Purpose.

Teleological Implications

 If the universe has no purpose, then we have no obligation to fulfill other than what we, perhaps collectively, choose. There is no accountability to Something higher than ourselves and no meaning to life other than what we choose. In the end, our acts cannot be judged according to a universal purpose, so there is no real fear of "missing the mark." Our acts are neither justified nor not justified by conformance or lack of conformance to a Plan. There can be no direct link between is and ought; in fact, ought may be a meaningless term.

But if there is a Plan or Purpose to the universe we may have an obligation to think and act consistently with it, and therefore life may have meaning in its context. There can be a link between is and ought and this may (or at least should) make us try to act as in certain ways. Of course, obligation may not be the right term to use in regard to this Purpose: if free will is an illusion, we may have no choice but to behave in a manner consistently with the Purpose, being mere automata whose actions were pre-programmed before time.


Your theology is comprised of your beliefs about God.

Theological Beliefs

Is there a God? If you are a theist you say yes, if an atheist no, and if an agnostic you say maybe. Theists differ as to the number of gods: traditional western belief (that is, post-classical) is monotheistic, but many people believe in multiple gods.

What is God's nature? Assuming that you believe in a God or gods, there are many possible beliefs about His/Her/Its/Their nature. For the sake of simplicity, I will give monotheistic, masculine examples, but they can be generalized. Most likely you believe that God exists outside of and above nature. You may believe that He is a localized Person or that God transcends personhood. He may be benevolent or tyrannical, loving or indifferent, omnipotent or limited in power, omniscient or only partly knowledgeable of what is going on in the universe.

What is the relationship of God to the material universe? He may be the creator or just a chance companion to it. If He is the Creator, he may have made it and left, being now sort of an absentee landlord (the position of deism), or He may still be interested in and intimately involved in perhaps all of its doings. If you are a pantheist, you probably hold that God and the universe are One.

What is the relationship of God to Man? God may be a loving parent or a childish tyrant. He may be lawgiver, policeman, judge, and executioner or a caring but just disciplinarian. You may believe that God is indifferent to the activities of us humans or that He desires an intimate relationship with each individual person. Perhaps God speaks to us or perhaps he has left us to work things out on our own.

Theological Implications

If there is no God, then you must look elsewhere for a source of and purpose for the universe. With regard to your behavior, there is no One to be accountable to, no One to obey, no One to talk to, no One to love, and no One to look to for help in time of need -- nor are any of these necessary. But if you believe in God, then perhaps you believe that you do have an obligation, that you ought to think and act so as to please Him, that you have the privilege to communicate with Him, and that you ought to be in proper relationship with Him.


The term anthropology usually refers to the study of human culture and human artifacts, but in the context of worldview, I take it to mean your beliefs about Man. I do not wish to be sexist, but to avoid cumbersome prose as much as possible, by Man I mean all humans, of both genders and all ages.

Anthropological Beliefs

What is Man? Man may be merely a cosmic accident or just one step in the directionless chain of evolution. Maybe you believe that though Man is an evolutionary step, that step is nevertheless a very important one on the path to some valued end. If you are a theist you may see Man as the gem of God's creation or even a creature created in His own image. At the extreme, you may consider Man a part of God or even a god himself.

What is Man's place in the universe? Man may be an infinitesimally, insignificant part of the universe or a key step in the progress of evolution towards new and better beings. He may be merely a part of earth's global ecosystem or a steward responsible for the well-being of the lower organisms and the inanimate elements. Perhaps you would go so far as to say that Man's unique place in the universe is as a moral agent, to think and act in such a way as to realize the good.

Does Man have free will? Perhaps not: perhaps we are mechanisms, slaves to our instincts and/or conditions and events beyond our control. Perhaps we are puppets of God, acting out a script that we had no part in writing. But maybe you believe that we do have the ability to think and act with at least partial freedom. Though there may be constraints, imposed by the laws of physics and biology or the guidance of God, we do have choices, for which we may be responsible.

What ought Man to do? Maybe you believe that you have no obligation to anyone or anything beyond yourself (if you so choose). Or maybe you do have a responsibility for the well-being of the universe in general and Man in particular. Perhaps you have a responsibility to believe in, love, obey, even enter into communion with God.

Is Man basically good or evil? Perhaps beliefs about good and evil belong more properly in your axiology (see below), but this question is fundamental to your view of Man. Although western thought, grounded in principles of Christianity, held fallen Man to be fundamentally sinful and continually striving against his evil nature, and although that belief is still held by some today, it is more likely that you believe that people are basically good and only wanting the environment and the opportunity to express that goodness. Maybe even more common is the belief that Man is basically neither good nor evil, but morally neutral from birth, and whether one follows a path of good or evil depends on external influences and strength of will.

Anthropological Implications

If we are mere mechanistic elements of the universe, then we are free to think and act on impulse and we and our behavior have no special significance or value. If we are stewards of the creation of God, then we have a responsibility to take care of our part of the universe. If we are created in God's image, then we have great intrinsic value and we should see to our own and, especially, to others' well-being. If we are moral agents, then we have an obligation to know what is good and to do well what is right. If we are basically good, then that obligation should be a light one and we merely need to be sensitive to and to follow our own natural inclinations -- and help others do the same. If we are born morally neutral, then things are only a little more difficult: moral goodness must be cultivated and rewarded and evil must be discouraged and, fortunately, there is nothing working in us to resist such moral training. But if Man is basically wicked, then we should resist certain natural inclinations to evil, and seeing that evil is so intrinsic to our nature and such resistance is ultimately futile, we must look to Someone or Something higher than ourselves for forgiveness, redemption, and moral strength to behave as we ought.


The term axiology comes from the Greek axios or worth. In philosophy, axiology is that field that concerns itself with the subject of value and all pro and con assertions. In the context of worldview, your axiology consists of your beliefs about the nature of value and what is valuable: what is good and what is bad, what is right and what is wrong. Virtually all elements of your worldview, from your epistemology to your anthropology, are intimately related to your axiology and it is your beliefs about the value of things that are the proximate cause for most of your behavior.

Axiological Beliefs

What is value? Maybe you define value in terms of worth, but if so you run into the problem of circularity, for worth is usually defined in terms of value. Perhaps you believe that value is merely a personal preference for things. You may believe that value is the interest someone has in a thing, the degree to which something is the fulfillment of some desire, or even the true object of someone's desire. Bucking the present trend of relativistic thinking, you might consider value to be a property of the elements of the universe as concrete (though not as obvious) as shape and size. All such definitions are problematic and it may be simpler (and perhaps more correct) to believe that value is a primitive, indefinable term that every thinking person understands without explanation.

What kinds of value are there? You may think that value is value. But more likely, you acknowledge that there are several kinds of value: non-moral values (economic value, aesthetic value, simple goodness), and moral value (the extent to which a thought or act is morally right or wrong).

Is value objective or relative? You may believe that value is objective, that it is inherent in the object of consideration and independent of anyone's assessment of it. Value is then "built into" the universe, a fundamental, metaphysical reality. Or perhaps you believe that value is subjective, that it exists only in the mind of the subject (e.g., you) and therefore varies from subject to subject. If so, you must believe that an object has no value independent of a subject that assesses it.

Is value absolute or relative? You may believe that value is absolute, that there is an absolute, eternal, and universal standard of value which applies to all people and any other moral agents for all time. Perhaps, on the contrary, you believe that value is relative to a time, a place, a culture or an individual: there are no standards of value that apply under all circumstances.

Perhaps the last two questions seem to be the same and, indeed, they are very closely related. But they are different, as the following table illustrates.

  and value is objective ... and value is subjective ...
If value is absolute ... then value is inherent in the object and is eternally and universally constant. then there is one Subject whose standards are universally and eternally valid.
If value is relative ... then an object's inherent value may change over time or space (i.e., value is a dynamic property of the object). then value is inherent in the subject but is relative to the time and place in which the subject assesses it.

What is the source of value? This follows closely from, but is not identical with either of, the previous two questions. The value of a thing or act may be imposed by the self or it may be decided by a society or culture. Perhaps you believe that value comes from the very nature of the universe. Some believe that value is defined by God or the gods.

What is the highest good? Although there is often surprising agreement about whether a thing is good or bad, one aspect that distinguishes one individual's axiology from another's is the extent of goodness ascribed to a thing, that is, how good or how bad it is. Each of us has a hierarchy of value, whose apex is the highest good, our summum bonum, perhaps the single most distinguishing feature of one's worldview. To the hedonist, the highest good is pleasure or happiness; to the aesthete it is beauty; to the philosopher, truth; to the scholar it may be knowledge; to the naturalist it may be nature in its undisturbed order and splendor. If you are a secular humanist you likely consider humans and their well-being the highest good, a closely-related summum bonum being self-realization: the full realization of one's capacities or potentialities. Technological Man ascribes great value, perhaps the greatest, to power, speed, efficiency, productivity, or information. To the religious the summum bonum may be God or perhaps it is intimate knowledge of, or communion, or mystical union with God.

What is right? What is right or wrong follows from what is good or bad, and besides being at the peak of one's hierarchy of value, one's summum bonum is something to which all acts could and indeed should potentially lead. The simple answer to the question posed by this paragraph is that what leads to the good is right and what leads away from it, to the bad, is wrong. Depending on your beliefs about what is good and, especially, about what the summum bonum is, you may believe that whatever brings pleasure or happiness is right and what leads to pain is wrong. Acts that create beauty or lead to knowledge of truth are held to be right by many. Other candidates for right behavior are acts that preserve the natural order, behaviors that help one realize his innate potentialities and capacities, or courses of action that realize speed, efficiency, power, productivity, or the possession of information. To those that hold God or the things of God as the highest good, what is right, indeed one's moral obligation, is to love and obey God and perhaps to seek His Kingdom.

Axiological Implications

It is impossible to overstate the importance of your axiology in determining your behavior. It is the foundation for all of your conscious judgments and decisions and therefore the basis for all purposive thought and action. Although some acts are reflexive or instinctive and cannot therefore be ascribed to conscious reference to your beliefs about value, any action based on even the most cursory reflection has its foundation in your standards of what is good or bad, right or wrong.

Regarding your beliefs about the nature of value itself, if you believe that value is relative and subjective then you need not worry that your standards of value are more or less valid than anyone else's; there can be no universal standard against which to judge your thoughts and acts. If value is relative and subjective you have no moral obligation to act in a certain way: you are free to choose and abide by (or ignore) any standards you create yourself or adopt from society; you need feel no guilt for being "bad" if you have been true to your standards. On the other hand, if you believe value objective and absolute, you do have moral obligations; there is a right set of standards to judge against; and you should think and act according to those standards.

Regarding your beliefs about the value of things, if your summum bonum is pleasure, then you may, and indeed should, act in such a way as to yield the greatest possible pleasure and avoid pain, your own and perhaps others'. If your summum bonum is truth, you may seek knowledge, information, or even just data, and trust to authority, sensory evidence, and/or your own rational capacity to judge what is true. If your highest good is beauty, you may seek to create it yourself or find it in nature or in the works of others. If it is human well-being (however you define it), you may strive to realize it directly through your own behavior or indirectly by encouraging or exhorting others. If it is self-realization, you may try to identify your own (and others') personal potentialities and cultivate them to their fullest expression. If you believe that some combination of speed, power, efficiency, and productivity is the highest good, then you may seek it through your own work as a scientist, engineer, or inventor or by acquiring and using the technologies developed by others. If your summum bonum is God, you may seek Him and His Kingdom and try to think and act in such a way as to please Him.


In summary, your worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all your perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing. Your worldview consists of your epistemology, your metaphysics, your cosmology, your teleology, your theology, your anthropology, and your axiology. Each of these subsets of your worldview (each of these views) is highly interrelated with and affects virtually all of the others.

I claim that you have a worldview and that your worldview (especially your axiology) is the basis for and therefore fundamental to what you believe about the particulars of reality and what you think and do. If you deny that you have a worldview, then you are naive, willfully ignorant, or simply misled; you cannot argue your case to the end, for to do so you must invoke more and more fundamental beliefs, leading you ultimately to what I have defined as your worldview. If you deny that your worldview fundamentally affects what you think and do, then you must acknowledge that your behavior is impulsive, reflexive, or emotional at best; ignorant or irrational at worst.

Assuming that a worldview can be incorrect or at least inappropriate, if your worldview is erroneous, then your behavior is misguided, even wrong. If you fail to examine, articulate, and refine your worldview, then your worldview may in fact be wrong, with the above consequences, and you will always be ill-prepared to substantiate your beliefs and justify your acts, for you will have only proximate opinions and direct sensory evidence as justification.

If you fail to be conscious of your worldview and fail to appeal to it as a basis for your thoughts and acts, you will be at the mercy of your emotions, your impulses, and your reflexes (not that such responsive behavior is always bad); you will be inclined to "follow the crowd" and conform to social and cultural norms and patterns of thought and behavior regardless of their merit.

If you are unwilling to acknowledge and articulate your worldview, to make known your fundamental opinions, and to bring to the front of discourse your basic beliefs, you are being intellectually evasive at best or dishonest at worst. Those around you must always be in the dark concerning your underlying beliefs and motives. They will be forced to guess (perhaps wrongly) the true meaning of what you say and the purpose of what you do.

If you consider a worldview a private matter and take steps to prevent the open discussion of worldviews, you are in fact imposing your worldview on others; by doing so you would deny individuals the opportunity to bring their own worldviews fully to bear on matters of common concern and the opportunity to examine their worldviews in the light of others'; you would effectively restrict public discourse to trivialities and ungrounded assertions.

On the other hand, if you use a position of power or authority to impose your worldview on others or somehow force or coerce others into adopting elements of your own worldview, you are denying them the opportunity to seek out their own answers to the important questions posed above; you may be personally responsible for condemning them to life with an erroneous worldview; you may be denying truth and goodness a chance to manifest themselves in those who you are manipulating; and anyway, in the end, if and when your power over them wanes, they may come to reject, even abhor, the beliefs you have imposed upon them.

Your worldview -- anyone's worldview -- is too important to ignore. If there is such a thing as obligation, we as knowing, thinking beings have an obligation to examine, articulate, refine, communicate, and consciously and consistently apply our worldviews. To fail to do so is to be something less than human. Socrates, during his trial for being impious to the Greek gods and corrupting the youth of Athens by his teachings, said "... the unexamined life is not worth living ..." (Plato, Apology). He was right, and without complaint he accepted the sentence of death to prove it. There can be no stronger testimony to the validity of these assertions than that.

What's New

Following, listed most recent first, are significant changes made to this page since its creation.

21 Mar 01

  • revised short definition of worldview: A worldview is the set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of Reality that ground and influence all one's perceiving, thinking, knowing, and doing.

1 Jul 00

  • second draft
  • smaller figures

23 Jun 00

  • original page