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Spring 2004 · Vol. 33 No. 1 · pp. 123–125 

Book Review

Worldview: The History of a Concept

David K. Naugle. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 2002. 384 pages.

Reviewed by Brent G. Kyle

David Naugle, professor of philosophy at Dallas Baptist University, Dallas, Texas, explores the concept of worldview from Kant’s inaugural usage (which was allusive and minor) to its current use among Christian scholars (who employ the term frequently and significantly). Although the current nuances of Weltanschauung are primarily a post-Kantian invention, Naugle upholds the concept to be as old as thought itself. In its most straightforward definition, worldview “refers to a person’s interpretation of reality” or “basic view of life” (260). The term becomes more complex when its various nuances are considered. Parceling out these nuances is Naugle’s primary concern.

The first eight chapters consist of historical reflections on worldview. It is impossible, here, to retrace Naugle’s careful steps, as the discussion ranges from the post-Kantian proponents of worldview (Hegel, Kierkegaard, Dilthey, Nietzsche) to its various opponents (Husserl, Heidegger, D. Davidson); and from Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox theology (Orr, Kuyper, Pope John Paul II) to the natural sciences (Kuhn, Polanyi) and social sciences (Freud, Jung, Marx). Naugle’s historical treatment is detailed and invaluable, leaving no stone unturned.

In addition to this exhaustive treatment of the history of worldview, Naugle focuses his final three chapters on various theological and philosophical concerns, all the while prescribing a certain conception of worldview for (primarily) the Christian audience. As Naugle’s historical account amply reveals, the term worldview is steeped in myriad connotations, ranging from relativism to naturalism, many of which should be rejected by Christians who embrace the concept. Naugle urges Christians to purge worldview of this “conceptual baggage” and to replace the historical connotations with the proper biblical content. He focuses chapter nine on exactly what this biblical content is.

Naugle’s philosophical reflections culminate with two main claims: first, that worldview is best understood as a semiotic phenomenon, and, second, that worldview is an “inescapable function of the human heart.” By “semiotic phenomenon,” Naugle means that worldview is a “system {124} of signs,” and more specifically, a system of “narrative signs,” since humans inherently need stories to signify certain aspects of reality, which in turn helps them to understand the world (300).

Naugle provides a separate argument for the “inescapability” of worldview. His ongoing theme declares there is “no impartial ground” from which to reason or interpret reality. And his support for this claim is, basically, an invitation to reflect historically on the shortcomings of the Enlightenment project, which aimed to understand reality through pure reason, supposedly untainted by prejudice or tradition. Naugle reiterates the Gadamerian claim that the Enlightenment was plagued with a “prejudice against prejudice.” In other words, Enlightenment figures were motivated to overcome prejudice even though that motivation was itself an expression of prejudice. Since any attempt to overcome prejudice is self-defeating, prejudice itself must be inescapable, and correspondingly, so is worldview.

Unfortunately, Naugle’s philosophical reflections involve a few ambiguities in key places, one example being his discussion on realism and antirealism. Here, I believe, Naugle overlooks a practical distinction between epistemological realism/antirealism and metaphysical realism/antirealism. The former delineation primarily concerns perceptual and perhaps memory beliefs, though it says very little about nonperceptual beliefs regarding, say, the origin of the universe or the existence of God. Under this delineation, the debate turns on the presence of an interpositioned mental entity between the perceiver and physical object (i.e., a Lockean idea), and the extent to which that entity (if it exists) encumbers the perceiver’s epistemic access to the object. Naugle, in places, talks as if this is what he has in mind. After all, he explicitly mentions the direct realist’s “naïve” denial of the interpositioned mental entity, which ultimately makes it sound as if Naugle conflates worldview with that entity (321-22).

Metaphysical realism/antirealism is quite different. This delineation mainly regards our nonperceptual beliefs, which includes our overall interpretation of the world. The debate here turns on whether or not (and to what extent) the prejudices of our cognitive apparatus encumber our epistemic access to the world. But these prejudices are distinct from the sort of mental entity with which epistemologists are primarily concerned, and they also seem more akin to the concept of worldview than a mental entity which lies between the perceiver and object. This metaphysical delineation is allied with a discussion on worldview, but it is not clear that Naugle has this in mind.

Due to the blurred discussion on realism and antirealism, it is {125} unclear just where worldview stands in regard to this important issue. Part of the problem may be due to the sources Naugle utilizes: he repeatedly cites Richard Rorty (who, ironically, pronounced “the death of epistemology”) and N. T. Wright (a credible biblical scholar, but hardly an expert on realism and antirealism).

All in all, Naugle’s historical and theological reflections are aptly presented and vigorously articulated, though his philosophical commentary leaves something to be desired—namely the precision required for a philosophical explication of a concept.

Brent G. Kyle
Doctoral Student
Yale University Divinity School, New Haven, Connecticut

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