What is a Worldview?

Elroy Mariano

Ken Funk21 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 […]


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
, Hunter Mead defines Weltanschauung

[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
, 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
, 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

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

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

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

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
, 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,
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
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


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
(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

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

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
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
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

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

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

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

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

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

1 Jul 00

  • second draft
  • smaller figures

23 Jun 00












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