Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Finding Uses for Used-Up Words: Thinking Weltanschauung "After" Heidegger

Academic journal article Philosophy Today

Finding Uses for Used-Up Words: Thinking Weltanschauung "After" Heidegger

Article excerpt

Although a fairly recent development in intellectual history, the notion of worldview [Weltanschauung] continues to appear with ever increasing frequency in the contemporary world. Over the past several decades, the idea of worldview has been used to characterize the areas of science,1 religion,2 ecology,3 and sociology,4 as well as such philosophical sub-disciplines as the philosophy of education,5 process philosophy,6 and philosophical counseling.7 Moreover, several colleges and universities now offer degrees in "Worldview Studies," and many more use the language of worldview in their educational mission statements.8 Anything that can be used to describe aspects of human existence that range from religious be lief to information technology (and applied to such varied thinkers as Herman Dooyeweerd and Richard Rorty), can certainly be said to be global in its scope and pervasive in its application.

Worldviews are admittedly products of culture, ethnicity, and position in society, but they are also much deeper than that-they are the ways in which one takes up her/his culture, ethnicity, and social position.9 The increased occurrence and importance of what I want to call the rhetoric of worldviews is characterized by dualistic thinking (e.g., good vs. evil, right vs. wrong, us vs. them). Further, this rhetoric demands essential decisions-embrace the ecological worldview or contribute to the ruin of the earth; accept the Christian worldview or remain separated from God; affirm the scientific worldview or remain in ignorance. This demand for decision serves to polarize and solidify various worldviews as even more antagonistically poised. We might, to borrow from Richard Rorty, claim that the contemporary rhetoric of worldview takes the form of a "final vocabulary" which excludes other voices and closes off criticism.10

Interestingly, the contemporary usage of the language of worldview both inherits the meaning of the philosophical elaboration of "worldview" as developed by such thinkers as Schleiermacher, Dilthey, Jaspers, and Husserl, while simultaneously contesting this elaboration on its most elemental points. That is, the contemporary political usage of worldview language insists on objectivity as well as universality, which are precisely antithetical to the very essence of worldview(s) as intrinsically subjective and multiple.11 Thus, a tension has developed in the space of public discourse between the rhetoric of worldview's historical heritage and the philosophical background of that history.

Despite the increased prevalence of the rhetoric of worldviews, and due in large part to the work of Martin Heidegger, the idea of worldviews has gone out of vogue in contemporary continental philosophy. Heidegger's critique of worldview can be seen throughout his authorship, but more extended considerations can be found in The Basic Problems of Phenomenology (1927), "The Age of the World Picture" (1938), and his Beitrage ( 1936).'2 While recognizing the important reasons for Heidegger's resistance to this rhetoric, simply rejecting it far too often leads to rejecting those areas of philosophy and culture that continue to deploy it. In order to foster a productive exchange of ideas across traditional philosophical, political, and religious lines, we need to rethink the use of the rhetoric of worldviews while allowing Heidegger's critique of it to continue to resound. We should ask, then, is there a value in maintaining the language of worldview even if the philosophical content of this language is contested? Should we be thinking "after" worldview in light of Heidegger's insights, or rather should we be thinking worldview "after" Heidegger?13

I want to offer a "provisional"14 thesis that the second avenue is the most profitable as well as the most efficacious for the future of both political and religious discourse. The true value of the rhetoric of worldviews lies precisely in using it as a performative method for enacting the philosophical rejection of this rhetoric as philosophical. …

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