Recently some of my blog posts have been used by a teacher at St. John’s University to introduce the idea of “worldview” to one of her classes. Specifically her students have been reading and commenting on my two posts “Test Drive a Worldview” and “Why do Worldviews Clash?” I decided to add an extra post to my blog this week so that I could respond collectively to all of the thought-provoking feedback that has been provided in their comments.
One thing I noticed about the comments is that most of them reflect the recognition that different people hold different worldviews and that the clashes between worldviews occur when anyone assumes that their worldview is the only reality. Then of course you end up in an argument that inevitably goes like…
“Hello, this is the way the world is.”
“No, you are wrong; this is the way the world is.”
“No you are wrong; this is the way the world is.”
“No you are definitely wrong because the world is like this.”
(This continues until one person gives up, a fight (or war) breaks out, or someone converts to the other person’s worldview.)
All of you who have added comments seem to easily realize that as long as people believe that their worldview is the only “right” worldview clashes will be inevitable. In fact many of you pointed out the folly in these kinds of arguments, and expressed your own frustration in the fact that a lot of people don’t see that we all come from different backgrounds and all worldviews deserve to be respected.
Problem solved. Right? …not quite
You see, the understanding that different people have different worldviews that should all be respected is itself a worldview. It is sometimes called the post-modern worldview, or Relativism. It is the recognition that all truth is relative and that no truth is absolutely true for everyone but only relatively true for some people under some circumstances. Something might be true for you and not for me, another true for us and not for them. My truth or our truth isn’t truer just because it is mine or ours. All truth is relatively true and has to be honored as such.
Again, the belief that all truth is relative is itself also a worldview and when it comes into contact with other worldviews it tends to clash. Imagine a post-modernist talking to a fundamentalist.
“Hello, your fundamentalist truth is great and true for you, but not for me or them. We all have our own truth and none of them is any truer than any other.”
“No, you’re wrong. My truth is the truth and everyone else’s truth is wrong.”
“No, you’re wrong. Everyone’s truth is equally valid and your belief is not any more valid than anyone else’s.”
“No…” (You get the picture.)
Why is this? because Relativism can also be absolute. Think about that for a minute. If you believe that all truth is relative and that every truth needs to be respected, that belief is an absolute position. Absolute positions are positions that are always true no matter what. Relative positions are positions that are sometimes true but not always. The position that all truth is relative is an absolute position. It is a worldview, an absolute belief about what is real.
Yes, this get to the nub of the matter all right. Of course all world views cannot be true or “right.” We are marching toward the truth, but looking through a glass darkly. I think we one says that we should respect the truth as postulated by another, they sometimes mean that:(1) we should give that person’s thought or assertion a fair hearing; (2) we should try to see what is worthwhile and truth in it; and (3) we should try and integrate that which is worthwhile and truth into our thought. Somewhat Hegelian I guess.
Relativism as described here only works at high levels of abstraction where the truth cannot be ascertained.
so, a worldview must also be idealistic because fact gets in the way. The fact that 200 million native people here lost their lives and their ability to share a ‘diferent’ worldview impacts reletiveness on this land.
Nietsche and Rorty dealt with all this talk about Truth. This post is a rehash of old conversations. You cannot get to a new way of seeing using old vocabularies. What is really Real? What is there to be absolute or relative about? Do those ideas get to Truth? Is there Truth? Can being relative exist without being absolute? Is anything absolute; including the answers to these questions? Or does Platonic vocabularies not get us anywhere? I don’t know.
I had a very beautiful experience during the Parliament of World religions in Spain. All religions where gathered together and we found that in the end it is all about the same. That only ideas differ that are connected to all religion, but these are concepts, made my humans. Absolute vs. Relative. Personally I do not think one can avoid building upon findings in the past. I found that these questions go back the earliest philosophers. Simply said the Absolute is about higher ideas (Parmenides, Plato) that are not empirically seen and the relative is which is seen and can… Read more »
Thank you Liesbeth. The higher truth of oneness is ultimately the only way how we will be able to bring humanity together. The implications are far more reaching than “Oh, we are all one, let’s love each other”. That’s when oneness is only realized in a spiritual, aloof kind of way. Oneness can only be once… there is only one oneness. This is the foundation for monotheistic religions… somehow we always knew that nothing is separated. Oneness can ONLY manifest in uniqueness: everything is only once – you are unique. That also means that oneness can only be realized when… Read more »
Hello Dan, re: “Evolutionary enlightenment: realize that living enlightenment changes through all times. Oneness made personal: realize that living enlightenment today implicates for us to bring it down to the unique human beings in our life.” What seems to be Ev Enlight’s bringing something new to spirituality is pointing out that the personal and the planetary are interconnected and with our electronic capabilities, this interconnectivity may be accelerated much more than in past times. This interconnectivity may be seen as a democratization of spirituality and the human rights movement where all free to express themselves on the internet can participate… Read more »
In response, I wanted to say thank you again for all of your help, Jeff. I’m meeting with my class tomorrow, and I’ll get to hear their reactions. I’ve encouraged them to continue responding, so hopefully, you’ll see some of them pop up from time to time. We will be following up your pieces on worldview with some readings from NPR’s “This I Believe.” Hopefully, this will give them a better understanding of how perspectives are created, influenced, and influence action and help them to find respect for those perspectives which they feel they could never adopt themselves (They’re all… Read more »
“Worldview” is like the elephant being felt up by all the blind guys saying what the elephant looked like to their limited view.
All worldviews are only that, views and opinions. Humans have a propensity to prove their rightness in absolute terms without considering that their views, even religious ones, may be considered as only views and opinions and certainly not worth getting so exercised and certainly not worth waging wars.
. . no matter what others think or what happens, what motivates me to be involved in our work here on this island, is but for the wishes of all who make up the sand we walk on everyday – that for the good of all – I think we are getting our work directly from them, from the sand and the trees and the berries. The top of the drums are red and blue for the berries, the yellow line is for spirit aw’aw – the drum is a gift of the trees and the sand soaks in all… Read more »
Jeff wrote: “You see, the understanding that different people have different worldviews that should all be respected is itself a worldview. It is sometimes called the post-modern worldview, or Relativism. It is the recognition that all truth is relative and that no truth is absolutely true for everyone but only relatively true for some people under some circumstances. Something might be true for you and not for me, another true for us and not for them. My truth or our truth isn’t truer just because it is mine or ours. All truth is relatively true and has to be honored… Read more »
Thank you so much for this very articulate and thorough posting on the nature of relativism. How excellently you have articulated the issues and dangers involved in this kind of inquiry and helped me and I am sure many readers think more carefully through the issues involved. Bravo!
Thanks, Jeff! My pleasure! One more thing to add: a lot of people think that they are relativists (usually, I suspect, because they are uncomfortable talking about “objective truth” when that has connotations of hegemony and intolerance). However, I think most of these people are not actually relativists – they’re just modest. A great test to see if you are really a relativist about the truth is to consider a scenario where life and death are involved (i.e. where there are real consequences to what you claim is true). Let’s say you have a choice in flying in one of… Read more »