What is Christianity? Part 13
Worldview as a Way of Life?
The third objection that James Sire raises against his older conception of worldviews, is that it makes more sense to understand a worldview as being “a way of life” (NTE, p.97) rather than to understand a worldview as being “a system of thought” (NTE, p.98) because of “the practical, lived reality of worldviews…” (NTE, p.100).
The sub-section of Chapter 5 where Sire presents this third objection is called “Worldview as a Way of Life” (NTE, p.98-100). The first sentence in this sub-section is worth careful examination:
While worldviews have been overwhelmingly detected and expounded using intellectual categories, from the first there has been a recognition that they are inextricably tied to lived experience and behavior. (NTE, p.98, emphasis added)
Sire thinks it was a mistake to understand worldviews primarily in terms of “intellectual categories”, categories such as “beliefs” and “propositions” and “assumptions”. Sire appears to believe that there is a conflict between understanding worldviews in terms of “intellectual categories” and recognizing that worldviews are “tied to lived experience and behavior.” In the previous post, we examined a strong version of this view, namely the view that these are mutually exclusive claims:
(MEC) If X is best understood in terms of “intellectual categories” (such as “beliefs” or “propositions”), then X cannot be tied to lived experience and behavior.
I argued that worldview-related beliefs and assumptions, especially ethical beliefs, can be directly “tied to lived experience and behavior”, and thus that (MEC) is clearly false.
Another attempt to support the view that a worldview is “a way of life” is based on comments from the theologians Brian Walsh and J. Richard Middleton:
Worldviews are best understood as we see them incarnated, fleshed out in actual ways of life. They are not systems of thought, like theologies or philosophies. Rather worldviews are perceptual frameworks. (from Transforming Vision, quoted by Sire in NTE, p.98)
These comments, however, actually provide evidence against the view that a worldview is a way of life, and they provide evidence that supports my view that a worldview is a system of thought or a system of beliefs.
These comments by Walsh and Middleton presuppose the following claim about the incarnation of worldviews:
(WIC) A worldview can be incarnated in a way of life.
The first thing to note is that it is clear that a set or system of beliefs “can be incarnated in a way of life.” Thus, my cognitivist view of worldviews is fully compatible with (WIC).
The second thing to note is that it is clear that it makes no sense to say that a way of life “can be incarnated in a way of life.” Thus, Sire’s view that a worldview IS a way of life is NOT compatible with (WIC). Therefore, the comment by Walsh and Middleton about worldview incarnation supports my cognitivist view but is contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is a way of life.
The word “incarnated” is a metaphor. What does it mean? God is invisible and intangible. To say that God became “incarnated” in Jesus, is to say that Jesus is God in a visible and tangible form. Similarly, (WIC) implies that a worldview is something that is ordinarily invisible and intangible, but that becomes visible and tangible when the worldview is “incarnated” in a way of life.
We can see and observe the behavior and habits of a person and of a group of people. Thus, we can see and observe a way of life. But, (WIC) implies that a worldview is not ordinarily something that we can see and observe. This makes perfect sense if a worldview is a system of thought or system of beliefs. We cannot see or observe thoughts or beliefs in the way that we can see or observe actions and habits and practices.
So, if we understand the meaning of “incarnated” in (WIC), then it is clear that it makes perfect sense to think about a worldview as being a system of thought or system of beliefs that can be incarnated in a way of life, and it is clear that it makes no sense to think about a way of life being incarnated in a way of life, because a way of life is already something that we can see and observe, and thus there is no need for a way of life to be “incarnated” at all.
The next comments by Walsh and Middleton also support my cognitivist view of worldviews, and do not support Sire’s view that worldviews are ways of life. Walsh and Middleton argue that worldviews are “not systems of thought” but rather are “perceptual frameworks”. This is basically a self-undermining argument.
First of all “perceptual frameworks” is an unclear metaphor, and thus it has an immediate disadvantage relative to the clearer and more common-sense view that a worldview is a system of beliefs. But, if we unpack the meaning of this metaphor, it becomes fairly clear that this is just a confused way of referring to a system of beliefs.
The phrase “perceptual frameworks” is not only a metaphor, it is a mixed metaphor. The primary literal meaning of “perceive” is to have a SENSORY experience: especially “to see or hear” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition). Walsh and Middleton actually use the word “seeing” in this context:
Worldviews are “ways of seeing,” Walsh and Middleton say, and add, “If we want to understand what people see, or how well people see, we need to watch how they walk…” (NTE, p.98)
The problem here is that a blind person has a worldview, and deaf people also have worldviews. So, a worldview is NOT about literal seeing or literal hearing or about sensory experiences. Thus, the word “perceptual” must be taken non-literally, or at least not in terms of the primary meaning of the word. A secondary meaning of “perceive” is: “to become aware of in one’s mind; acheive understanding of” (The American Heritage Dictionary, 2nd College edition). In other words, the non-literal meaning of “perception” is about: cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing. A blind person can think. A blind person can have beliefs. A blind person can know things. That is the sort of “perception” that we are talking about, when we use the phrase “perceptual framework”.
What about the word “framework”? What does this word mean? The framework of a building is the physical part of the building that provides structure and stability to the building. That is the literal sense of the word. But we aren’t talking about buildings. We are talking about cognition, thinking, knowing, and believing.
What is it that provides structure and stability to thinking and cognition? We have basic assumptions or beliefs that provide stability and structure to our thinking. Our thinking and cognition and believing has a logical structure. Some beliefs are more basic, more fundamental to our thinking and believing, than other beliefs. So, we can reasonably infer that the non-literal meaning of “framework” is: beliefs that are basic or fundamental to our thinking and believing. Such basic beliefs provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing.
So, “perceptual framework” does NOT refer to a literal physical framework that provides structure and stability to our vision or hearing (whatever that might mean); rather, this phrase refers to a set of basic beliefs that provide structure and stability to our thinking and believing in general. In other words, when you get past the unclear metaphor and down to the literal meaning of it, the phrase “perceptual framework” actually refers to a system of thought or a system of beliefs. So, Walsh and Middleton are arguing that we should set aside the clear literal phrase “a system of beliefs” and replace this phrase with an unclear metaphor “a perceptual framework”, a metaphor that when analyzed turns out to be a reference to a system of beliefs.
Therefore, Walsh and Middleton put forward two different metaphorical expressions (“incarnated in a way of life” and “a perceptual framework”), as challenges to the clear and common-sense concept of a worldview as “a system of beliefs”. However, both metaphors, when examined more closely, support my cognitivist view of worldviews and are contrary to Sire’s claim that a worldview is “a way of life.”