The other day I came across this tweet:
— Lisa Quintana (@LisaQthinks) June 3, 2017
I agree that one ought to treat those who hold other worldviews graciously. I also agree with the advice as it is explained in the linked article.
The point to which I’d like to offer a critical response is with the tweeter’s reference to one’s own worldview as “the truth” and her characterization of intellectual engagement with others as “defending the truth” over against the error of one’s interlocutor.
[Aside: Now of course it is trivially the case that one only believes a proposition because one is of the conviction that the proposition in question is true. And since one believes all the propositions of a worldview that they accept, it follows that one seeks to defend a set of claims they hold to be true when they engage in intellectual debate with those who hold other opinions. But since that is trivially the case, it hardly needs to be stated.]
The problem with the wording of the tweet is that it predicates truth primarily of the total set of beliefs one holds — the “worldview” — rather than of each of the propositional claims that comprise the set. And this in turn suggests that intellectual exchange and debate is an all-or-nothing affair in which one defends their worldview as true and critiques the alternative worldview as false.
In point of fact, worldviews — or at least the propositional content of worldviews — consist of complex nested sets of truth claims. My worldview, for example, consists of beliefs about God, metaphysics, the nature of human persons, the end of human existence, the nature of the morally good and right, the structure and processes that govern the world of nature, the quality of aesthetic appreciation, the nature of society and law, and so on. To change my views on one of these topics is not automatically to change my worldview.
For example, my worldview includes the beliefs that (1) human beings are body/soul composites (a metaphysical belief), (2) that as a species we are the product of the natural processes broadly described in Neo-Darwinian evolution (a scientific belief), (3) that modern societies generally function most effectively with a mix of public institutions and a market exchange (an economic and social belief), (4) that states ought not utilize execution in their systems of jurisprudence (an ethical belief).
All these convictions are sufficiently fundamental that they are part of my worldview. Note as well that I could deny (1)-(4) while still retaining the same worldview type. At the same time, by abandoning (1)-(4) I would adopt a different token of the type.
Think about it like this. If we privilege religious commitment or ultimate metaphysical commitments in our categorization of worldview (hence the “Christian” worldview; the “naturalist” worldview, etc.) we might put it like this:
The Christian worldview is consistent both with the affirmation and denial of (1)-(4).
Various Christian worldviews (token examples of the Christian worldview type) could either affirm or deny (1)-(4).
And with that we can revisit the notion that one’s worldview is simply “The truth” and thus when we debate and dialogue with others we are “defending the truth”. If we privilege metaphysical commitment (e.g. the “Christian” worldview) then we might continue to think our worldview is simply true.
But we need to keep in mind that worldviews are always held as token examples of the general type. We don’t just hold “the Christian worldview”. We hold token examples of the Christian type. In point of fact, particular worldviews include complex sets of propositional claims and in any debate/dialogue you will likely find both agreement and disagreement with the worldview of your interlocutor. And on the points of disagreement, you may well end up changing your views on a particular topic while maintaining your overall worldview.