Test Drive a Worldview

To respond to Andy, I knew that I was getting myself into some trouble by oversimplifying and over-generalizing philosophy and breaking it down into metaphysics, epistemology and ethics. I was lumping things, like logic into epistemology and aesthetics into ethics (which I probably would have been better off calling values theory.) I also regret using the phrase “complete” to describe a philosophical system when in fact “closed” would have better conveyed what I meant.

The point that I was making still intrigues me and it has to do with the nature of what a worldview is. In my last post I argued that if a philosophy dictates “what is real,” “how you determine what is real,” and “how you value what is real,” then it is a closed system. Internally it will be completely consistent, and as long as you “believe” in these three pillars everything (to lift a phrase from Carl) on the inside will look like non-fiction (ie. true) and everything on the outside will look like fiction (ie. not true.)

A worldview is not only a set of ideas or beliefs about the world; it is a complete psycho-emotional mental filter of the world. It is a 360 panoramic view of the real. Your worldview dictates how you think about the world, how you feel about the world and how you respond to the world. It envelops us so that the world from inside what worldview looks and feels completely different than the world seen from inside another.

As I study philosophy I like to try to get inside – to the extent possible – different worldviews and drink them up, appreciating each on its own merit before comparing them one to another. If I read enough and think enough there seems to be a point where I get a glimpse of the world from inside that worldview.

Recently, I have been reading the romantic poets, philosophers and scientists and sometimes I really seem to get a sense of the world they were looking at. It was a world of open and unlimited possibility in which strangely marvelous and unseen natural forces were guiding the movement of life. These natural invisible movements were continuously revealing themselves and there was a sense of awe and wonder at the marvel of life and reality. The Romantic mind has an aversion to too much control over the forces of nature. They prefer a kind of philosophical/spiritual/emotional aikido. They attempt to feel the underlying currents of life and match them in speed and intensity and allow the power of those deeper forces to move them so that they become an instrument of life.

It was this romantic spirit that was so alive in the work of the American Transcendentalists. Ralph Waldo Emerson, Margaret Fuller, Bronson Alcott, Henry David Thoreau, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and the other brilliant lights of Concord and New England were blazing Romantic spirits. And look at the wondrous result! Almost all of American culture can be traced to some aspect of their genius. There are four houses on two streets in Concord in which a huge amount of greater American literature was created. We might look at them through a modern lens and find much of their thinking lacking. The question remains if we will be as influential on our future as they have proved to be on theirs.

Rare Personal Aside: I was married this past weekend in the Hillside Chapel that in the late 1800’s housed The Concord School of Philosophy. That school, which ran for 10 consecutive summers, was a gathering place of great minds from across America. My wife (Amy) and I gave a brief talk to all who gathered expressing some of the ways in which we have both been inspired by their romantic pioneering spirit. And so I am thinking a great deal about these romantic thinkers and the world they lived in.