An Overview of Clement Vidal’s, The Beginning and the End-Chapter 2

The Beginning and the End: The Meaning of Life in a Cosmological Perspective

(continued from last post)

Chapter 1 conducted a broad study of the philosophical method whose major aim is to construct worldviews–comprehensive and coherent answers to big questions like: where do we come from? Where are we going? What should we do? What does it all mean? Chapter 2 develops criteria to test the strengths and weaknesses of these worldviews.

In order to derive criteria to evaluate worldviews, Vidal takes three perspectives into account. The 1) objective or scientific; 2) subjective, existential, or phenomenological; and 3) intersubjective, social or cultural. These perspectives mirror the concerns of Kant’s three critiques, Popper’s three worlds, and Weber’s cultural spheres of value. The three perspectives distinguish between the objects of knowledge, the subjects who assimilate knowledge, and the communication process to transmit knowledge among subjects. “… the criteria can be seen as tools for philosophers to describe the history of philosophy, to work out their own philosophical position, or to clarify disagreements.” (Vidal, 18) Vidal draws heavily on Nicholas Rescher’s standards for evaluating philosophical theories to derive the criteria:

Objective criteria
Objective consistency  – The worldview exhibits internal and systemic consistency.
Scientificity – The worldview is compatible with science.
Scope – The worldview addresses a broad range of issues and levels,
in breadth and in depth.

Subjective criteria
Subjective consistency – The worldview fits knowledge and experiences individuals already have.
Personal utility – The worldview promotes a personally rewarding outlook on life.
Emotionality  – The worldview evokes emotions, so that it is more likely to be
assimilated and applied.

Intersubjective criteria
Intersubjective consistency – The worldview reduces conflicts between individuals.
Collective utility  – The worldview encourages an outlook on life and mobilizes
for what is socially beneficial.
Narrativity – The worldview presents its messages in the form of stories.(Vidal, 20)

Vidal’s subsequent discussion points out the strengths and weaknesses of each criteria. For instance: objective consistency informs a good worldview but overemphasizing it leads to a formalism that limits creativity; we must take modern science into account, yet dismissing non-scientific domains of knowledge leads to scientism; if the scope of a worldview is too narrow the resulting worldview becomes overspecialized, but as the scope expands synthetic integration becomes more difficult. Similarly the breadth or depth of the worldview can be too narrow or too broad.

When discussing the subjective and intersubjective criteria, Vidal also highlights how each component is an important part of a worldview, but that no criteria is sufficient by itself. He concludes by arguing that these criteria allow us to judge some worldviews as better than others. For instance continental philosophy generally ignores objective criteria while analytic philosophy often ignores subjective criteria.

Here are some things the three basic criteria illuminate. “… we humans are involved in three kinds of conflicts: against nature (objective), against ourselves (subjective), and against others (intersubjective) … objective criteria require that the worldview not be in friction with the outside world; subjective criteria require that the worldview not be in friction with an individual’s common knowledge and actions; and intersubjective criteria require that the worldview minimizes friction between individuals … A worldview that fits well in the three worlds has more chances to be accepted, appealing, and useful. Ideally, it would give rise to the following benefits: A consistent conception of the world (objective benefit); a lifeworld providing a meaning for life, useful for living a good life (subjective benefit); and a worldview whose foundations are fit for a well-organized society, where few conflicts arise arise (intersubjective benefit). Most importantly, those three worlds would be synthesized as far as possible in a coherent and comprehensive framework, thus forming a synthetic worldview. If we sum up the use of the three-perspectives criteria, we come to the goal of minimizing friction: a good worldview has a minimum of friction within and between objective, subjective, and intersubjective worlds.” (Vidal, 36-37)

With an understanding of the criteria a good worldview will satisfy, Vidal will turn in Chapter 3 to assessing various religious, scientific and philosophical worldviews.


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