Ontology, worldviews, and all that!

Worldview is a term we use often in psychodrama. I find it very useful when chatting to various folks in various roles in various family systems. It is enormously helpful to think of a person having a worldview and then making the effort to get with it and investigate and come to know it. Such fun!

Anyway – I have included a great podcast at the end with a chap discussing his new book and working with worldviews in a rather great way. It is last because it is the heavier end of the philosophical spectrum. To get there I have provided three quotes and links to the articles they came from discussing what others have said about worldviews. I find it valuable to know if I am using a term in a way congruent at least some other folks in the world. I haven’t provided the references cited in each quote but they are in the downloadable article if you want them.


1) Servant Leadership: A Worldview Perspective

J. Randall Wallace, International Journal of Leadership Studies, Vol. 2 Iss. 2, 2007, pp. 114-132.

What is Worldview?

“Worldview comes from the German word ‘weltanschauung’ meaning a ‘look into the world.’ It refers to a wide world perception. It constitutes the framework through which an individual interprets the world and interacts in it” (Worldview, 2006, p. 1). Nash (1996) stated that the writings of philosophers identify assumptions about the make-up of reality or how the world works, conceptual schemes, or patterns of ideas or values and organizes them to form a worldview. In the same manner, religions offer a scheme for interpreting the world and, therefore, are recognized as worldviews as well (Nash, 1996). A worldview is used to interpret and make sense of the world. Perceptions of the world and reality can greatly differ between people or cultures since their assumptions of what is important and true differ. There are many types of worldviews vying for supremacy. These include religious systems (formal philosophic systems such as modernism or postmodernism), less formal systems including large group perspectives such as a particular culture, or personal systems.

A history of challenge, debate, and theorizing within the philosophic community demonstrates how worldviews may have inherent weaknesses, inconsistencies, or inabilities to account for various beliefs or practices. This is consistent with Kuhn (1970) who; in explaining the history of scientific advancement; identified the challenges, shifts, and transformations associated with comparing belief systems and selecting the most stable or cohesive.

The whole article may be found by clicking here.


2) What is a worldview?

Vidal, C. (2008) Wat is een wereldbeeld? (What is a worldview?), in Van Belle, H. & Van der Veken, J., Editors, Nieuwheid denken. De wetenschappen en het creatieve aspect van de werkelijkheid, in press. Acco, Leuven.


After all, what could be more important or influential than the way an individual, a family, a community, a nation, or an entire culture conceptualizes reality? Is there anything more profound or powerful than the shape and content of human consciousness and its primary interpretation of the nature of things? When it comes to the deepest questions about human life and existence, does anything surpass the final implications of the answers supplied by one's essential Weltanschauung?

D. K. Naugle, Worldview: The History of a Concept, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing, 2002, p.345.


The term worldview (Weltanschauung in German) has a long and fascinating history going back to Kant2. It has been and is used not only in philosophy, but also among others in theology, anthropology, or in education. David K. Naugle wrote a history of this concept and the above quotation shows its central importance.

The term is unfortunately often used without any precise definition behind it. What is more precisely a worldview? How can we define it? Even inside philosophy, many different definitions have been provided (e.g. by Kant, Hegel, Kierkegaard, Dilthey, Husserl, Jaspers, Heidegger, etc.). Conducting a systematic historical comparison of the different worldview definitions is outside the scope of this paper. Instead, we restrict our analysis to a clear and fruitful definition proposed by Leo Apostel and Jan van der Veken that we will detail in our first section.

The rest of the article may be found by clicking here.

3) The Psychology of Worldviews

It is a commonplace observation that “everybody sees the world in his or her own way.” However trite, this truism conceals an ancient and profound insight, the implications of which have been but poorly grasped in contemporary psychology. Approximately 2,500 years ago, it is said, the person we know as Buddha noted:

We are what we think.

All that we are arises with our thoughts.

With our thoughts we make the world.

(Byrom, 1976/1993, p. 1)

In modern times, we have seen this insight phrased in notable ways by poets and artists. Anaıs Nin is said to have observed, “We don’t see things as they are, we see them as we are.” As the artist Marvin Hill expressed it in one of his wood block prints: “The eye forms the world / the world forms the eye.” Put more prosaically, the nature of this in-sight is that human cognition and behavior are powerfully influenced by sets of beliefs and assumptions about life and reality. Applied to the individual level, this insight has implications for theories of personality, cognition, education, and intervention. Applied to the collective level, this insight can provide a basis for psychological theories of culture and conflict, faith and coping, war and peace. Particularly as psychologists search for ways to reintegrate the discipline after a century of tumultuous and fractious growth, it would be worthwhile for psychology and its subdisciplines to focus on a construct that is central to this aforementioned insight, a construct with a long history and road applicability but a dearth of serious theoretical formulation. This is the construct of worldview (or “world view”).

Worldviews are sets of beliefs and assumptions that describe reality. A given worldview encompasses assumptions about a heterogeneous variety of topics, including human nature, the meaning and nature of life, and the composition of the universe itself, to name but a few issues. The term worldview comes from the German Weltanschauung, meaning a view or perspective on the world or the universe “used to describe one’s total outlook on life, society and its institutions (Wolman, 1973, p. 406).

“A set of interrelated assumptions about the nature of the world is called a worldview” (Overton,1991, p. 269).

In the largest sense, a worldview is the interpretive lens one uses to understand reality and one’s existence within it (M. E. Miller & West, 1993).

Specialists in various subdisciplines of psychology have indicated that worldview has a central role in such fields as developmental psychology (Overton, 1991), environmental psychology (Altman & Rogoff, 1987), sport psychology (Kontos& Breland-Noble, 2002), general counseling and psychotherapy (Ibrahim, 1991; A. P. Jackson & Meadows, 1991), and especially multicultural counseling and psychotherapy (Fischer, Jome, & Atkinson, 1998; Ibrahim, 1999; Ibrahim, Roysircar-Sodowsky, & Ohnishi, 2001; Trevino, 1996). Indeed, if we are willing to consider ways in which aspects of worldview may appear under other names (e.g.“ values” or “schemas”), we may find the worldview construct hidden in the central literature of a number of psychological subdisciplines, including cognitive, social, personality, and cultural psychology. All of this is so despite the construct’s neglect in the mainstream theoretical literature.

If one reads how some authors describe the value of the worldview construct to their sub discipline (e.g., “One of the most popular constructs in the multicultural counseling literature is that of ‘worldview’”; Grieger & Ponterotto, 1995, p. 358) and then contrasts such comments with the absence of the construct from standard texts, handbooks, encyclopedias, and so forth (e.g., Kazdin, 2000), one comes away with the impression that worldview is the most important construct that the typical psychologist has never heard of.

If the worldview construct is to contribute appropriately across disciplines in the social sciences, and across subdisciplines within psychology, it will be necessary to come to a common understanding about what sorts of things the worldview construct addresses and how it functions within individual psychology. The present article is meant to advance this effort inseveral ways. First, I briefly define worldview in formal terms and specify its relationship to other important constructs, such as beliefs and values. Second, I review the major conceptualizations of worldview that emerged during the 20th century, focusing on authors in psychology, anthropology, and philosophy. Third, I justify the status of worldview as a psychological construct. Fourth, on the basis of the earlier review, I propose a model of the different dimensions of worldview. Fifth, I outline a theory of how worldview functions within individual personality. Finally, I suggest items for a worldview-oriented research agenda within personality and social psychology.

Defining “Worldview”

Worldview has gone by many names in the literature: “philosophy of life” (Jung, 1942/1954), “world hypotheses” (Pepper, 1942/1970), “world outlook” (Maslow, 1970a, p. 39), “assumptive worlds” (Frank, 1973), “visions of reality” (Messer, 1992, 2000), “self-and-world construct system” (Kottler & Hazler, 2001, p.361), and many others. In anthropology alone, worldviews have been denoted as “cultural orientations” (Kluckhohn, 1950), “value orientations,” “unconscious systems of meaning,” “unconscious canons of choice,” “configurations,” “culture themes,” and “core culture” (Kluckhohn & Strodtbeck, 1961/1973, pp. 1

2). Beyond the confusion created by using many names for the same construct, the worldview concept, as shall be seen, has been defined in perhaps as many ways as it has been named. For present purposes, worldview may be defined conceptually as follows:

"A worldview is a way of describing the universe and life within it, both in terms of what is and what ought to be. A given worldview is a set of beliefs that includes limiting statements and assumptions regarding what exists and what does not (either in actuality, or in principle), what objects or experiences are good or bad, and what objectives, behaviors, and relationships are desirable or undesirable. A worldview defines what can be known or done in the world, and how it can be known or done. In addition to defining what goals can be sought in life, a worldview defines what goals should be pursued. Worldviews include assumptions that may be unproven, and even unprovable, but these assumptions are superordinate, in that they provide the epistemic and ontological foundations for other beliefs within a belief system." (adapted from Koltko-Rivera, 2000, p. 2)

The theorists reviewed in this article were chosen because they explicitly spoke to such beliefs, whether or not they used the term worldview.

This article may be downloaded by clicking here.


4) A podcast: Ontology and all that.

Where do we come from? Are we merely a cluster of elementary particles in a gigantic world receptacle? And what does it all mean?

In this highly original new book, the philosopher Markus Gabriel challenges our notion of what exists and what it means to exist. He questions the idea that there is a world that encompasses everything like a container life, the universe, and everything else. This all-inclusive being does not exist and cannot exist. For the world itself is not found in the world. And even when we think about the world, the world about which we think is obviously not identical with the world in which we think. For, as we are thinking about the world, this is only a very small event in the world. Besides this, there are still innumerable other objects and events: rain showers, toothaches and the World Cup. Drawing on the recent history of philosophy, Gabriel asserts that the world cannot exist at all, because it is not found in the world. Yet with the exception of the world, everything else exists; even unicorns on the far side of the moon wearing police uniforms.

Revelling in witty thought experiments, word play, and the courage of provocation, Markus Gabriel demonstrates the necessity of a questioning mind and the role that humour can play in coming to terms with the abyss of human existence.