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Fr. 426

October 30, 2013

These are, however, not the only questions that remain to be asked of the notion of worldview. More specifically, what is to be made of this notion of worldview? In other words, precisely how is one to characterize a worldview?

If, like Pritchard, one holds that the worldview is simply the background of beliefs, the question remains whether the worldview qua background is itself a collection of beliefs (a background comprised of beliefs) or something that has surpassed the state of mere belief to take on another status entirely (the background to one’s beliefs). In short, it seems legitimate to wonder whether the worldview is itself of the order of belief. If the former is the case and the worldview is a collection of beliefs, then it remains to be seen in just which way the relevant beliefs are organized and of which classes of beliefs any given worldview must be comprised. It is clear that not just any belief, true or not, will do for the creation and elaboration of a worldview. One has a hard time seeing how trivial beliefs, such as the correct sequence and correlation of names and telephone numbers in the phonebook or the number of leaves on a tree, would lend themselves to the formulation of a worldview, much less a coherent one.

That said, it is not impossible to see how one might go about setting out the general conditions for the elaboration of a worldview. Notably, worldviews tend to be total structures, general in scope, whereas particular beliefs tend to concern individual instances or states, being more limited in scope.  As such, the worldview would call for a collection of beliefs that stand in a productive relation to others, i.e. that these beliefs could engender or beget still other (attendant) beliefs. In short, these beliefs are precisely those which would serve to explain a broad range of phenomena within the world, from which subsidiary beliefs could be derived about the individual classes or instances of phenomena captured therein. Thus, one comes back again to the matter of explanatory power, albeit from a somewhat different angle.

If the latter and hence other than a collection of beliefs, this would seem to imply something more fundamental within the individual knower and of which the individual consciousness is less likely to have any significant awareness. At least from Pritchard’s brief discussion of the notion, this does not seem to be how he himself makes use of this term. Indeed, were this not the case, it would no longer clear of that which one would be speaking. What could ground, justify and thus concern one’s beliefs at their most basic level without itself belonging to the order or internal economy of believing? Unless one is willing to concede that the worldview is something like an intuition of the world that the individual would have in spite of herself and over the contents of which she would have no meaningful authority, even to alter, it is difficult to understand why the worldview qua something other would be concerned to this point with belief, something so different from it in purpose and economy.

This would seem to lead back to the first interpretation, that on which the worldview consists in a collection of beliefs of the right kind. Yet this raises still other questions. Is the particular collection and configuration of beliefs readymade, i.e. already available in the world as someone else’s worldview that the individual might then simply adopt as her own, or is it individualized and thus tailored to the specific situation of the individual holding it? Without a doubt and as has previously been maintained, a worldview is subject to revision on the part of the inquiring individual, but this leaves up in the air both to what extent a worldview depends on the circumstances of the individual holding it and how much she might be free to alter it. Are worldviews in and of themselves thoroughly individualized in that, at the level of the fine grain, a given worldview could not belong to any other individual than the one to whom it currently belongs? And would this difference at the level of the fine grain prevent one individual from identifying with the worldview of another even if the broad strokes of that worldview are found to be the same? While interesting, such questions surpass the boundaries of this inquiry.

In conclusion, the coherentist position brings with it several advantages and disadvantages. While the notion of worldview is helpful in making sense of how individuals relate to their beliefs and the justification thereof, this same notion brings with it significant complications in that knowledge and justification are no longer as closely linked as they are on the foundationalist or infinitist pictures. If the individual can be justified in believing anything so long as this belief accords with an internally consistent worldview or background of beliefs, it is no longer clear what value this understanding of justification has for knowledge. Nor is it clear that justification is necessary, much less sufficient, for knowledge. All in all, coherentism seems to bring out with particular force to what extent justification-talk is not of itself knowledge-talk. This is not to say that the two are unrelated nor that justification-talk has no relevance for knowledge-talk. That said, the two can be carried out in relative independence from one another.

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