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  • A General Theory of Worldviews Based on Mādhyamika and Process Philosophies
  • Peter Kakol

The aim of this essay is to make a contribution to the emerging field of "cross-cultural analysis of worldviews" by showing how the basic insights of process philosophy and Mādhyamika Buddhism can be combined into a comprehensive theory of worldviews that is both developmental and typological (or diachronic and synchronic). It is hoped that this theory of worldviews will enable cross-cultural analyses of worldviews to go beyond mere comparison of similarities and differences between worldviews by showing how worldviews can mutually transform one another through dialogue. I will begin by outlining the basic ideas of both process thought and Mādhyamika Buddhism, their respective theories of worldviews, and how these relate to contemporary thought. I will then argue that these two theories are compatible with one another and that their combination can contribute to the development of a general theory of worldviews. Finally, I will show how such a general theory of worldviews—which is also necessarily a general theory of values—can be used in the evaluative analysis of worldviews.

Process Philosophy

The idea that reality is a cumulative process of perspectival and experiential events has been advocated by philosophers and religious thinkers in various places around the world since people first started writing down their thoughts on the nature of reality. Some examples of individuals and schools of thought who can be described as subscribing to the process view are: Heraclitus, the Stoics, early Buddhism, Leibniz, Hegel, Nietzsche, Bergson, William James, Gilles Deleuze, and Wilfrid Sellars. However, it is in the thought of Alfred North Whitehead and his student Charles Hartshorne that the argument for a process view of reality has been put in its most coherent and systematic form to date. My use of the term "process philosophy" in this essay refers primarily to the Whiteheadian-Hartshornean variety and secondarily to process thought in its widest and most general sense as the idea of the perspectival event.

The process view of reality is based on the recognition of the asymmetrical relation between ultimate conceptual contrasts such as becoming and being, process and thing, and event and structure, in that becomings include beings, processes include things, and events include structures, but not vice versa. The reason for this is that beings, things, and structures are special cases of, respectively, becomings, processes, and events. For example, being, or that which does not become, can be understood as a special case of becoming, in the sense of being the extreme limit, or [End Page 207] zero point, of becoming. But there is no way of understanding becoming in a similar way as being derivable from being. Hence, becoming includes being as whole includes part. That becoming is more basic than being can be seen in the fact that becomings exist that are not "owned" by beings—like the raining of rain or the flashing of lightning—whereas it is difficult to understand beings apart from what they do, for the question of what beings are over and above what they do is both nonsensical and unfalsifiable. Furthermore, this fact is also supported by the basic axiom of modal logic that the conjunction of necessity and contingency is itself contingent. For example, when the statement "two plus two is four," which is a necessary truth, is conjoined with the statement "it will rain tomorrow," which is contingently true, the resulting statement "two plus two is four and it will rain tomorrow" has contingent truth status—in logical formalism, N.C≡C, which implies that the contingent can include necessary aspects. Also, while necessary statements can be constructed out of contingent statements, contingent statements cannot be constructed out of purely necessary statements; so contingency has primacy over, and is inclusive of, necessity.

Likewise, the relative has primacy over, and is inclusive of, the absolute or nonrelative. The common mistake of confusing the absolute with the inclusive—or even the all-inclusive—is most likely based on the assumption that the independent includes the dependent. However, it is really the dependent that includes the independent, just as the whole is dependent on its independent parts. It...


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