Naming the Elephant

Worldview as a Concept

Book Review:

Review by: Eld. Amit Karthak

Sire, James W. Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept. 2nd Edition. Illinois, IVP Academic: 2015. ISBN: 978-0830840731

Sire’s Naming the Elephant is a companion volume to his first book The Universe Next Door for those desiring a more in-depth discussion of the nature of a worldview. The book is a clearly-written comprehensive work on the concept of worldview. Along with the success of The Universe Next Door, two important reasons from this edition as stated by Sire himself are his own discontentment on the definition of worldview (19,22, 140-157) and the influence of David Naugle’s work Worldview: History of a Concept (9,19, 46-55). In this edition, Sire presents a historical survey of the development of the worldview concept from Wilhelm Dilthey to David Naugle and offers an additional dimension to the worldview concept by adding the eighth question on “What personal, life-orienting core commitments are consistent with each worldview?” (155).

The author summarizes the content of the book as the addition of few important details to the basic conception of worldview, a set of scholarly definitions and a response to the notion of cultural liturgies (14).

From the analysis of the development of the concept of worldview, Sire enters into an extensive discussion on the precedence of ontology over epistemology in the study of worldview. He sees worldview as a spiritual discipline and presents its theoretical, pretheoretical, presuppositional characteristics in detail. He has presented worldview as an intellectual system, a way of life or a story. The public and private dimensions of a worldview, relevance to their objective and subjective character, role of behavior in an assessment of the nature of a person’s worldview are covered in the sixth chapter. He provides the reader with a refined definition of the worldview as:

A worldview is a commitment, a fundamental orientation of the heart, that can be expressed as a story or in a set of presuppositions (assumptions which may be true, partially true or entirely false) which we hold (consciously or subconsciously, consistently or inconsistently) about the basic constitution of reality, and that provides the foundation on which we live and move and have our being.[1]

The three major areas of concern as discussed in the book are related to the debate on the precedence of ontology over epistemology, the stages in the formation of a worldview, and public and private dimension of a worldview. Sire presents the role of worldview thinking in assessing one’s own worldview and those of others in a pluralistic world. The discussion is intended to give a picture of the pluralistic world of our time and importance of self-analysis.[2]

The simple metaphor of “Camel, Kangaroo and Elephant” (15-16) forms the basis of Sire’s analysis of the worldview in the book. The metaphor is intended to direct readers towards the two important characteristics of any worldview: its understanding of prime reality and its pretheoretical character. Sire commendably has considered both the Christian and non-Christian scholars in his book to understand and explain the concept of worldview in a clear and coherent way. A good amount of discussion is done on the Naugle synthesis on the worldview concept.

Sire’s intention to present a history of worldview concept, its relationship with ontology and epistemology, and the importance of the subject matter to understand diverse worldviews of the world is achieved unquestionably. His foundational belief in the reliability and the authority on the scripture forms the basis of his argument in the book.

The major discussion on the question of precedence of ontology over any other disciplines[3] leaves a reader with several confusing questions to deal with. Sire’s analysis of this question of precedence even though grounded on the historical, biblical, and theological perspective, is not free from criticism. At times, the reference to other scholars on the worldview concept and their ideas are not expressed clearly.

Even so, Sire’s Naming the Elephant can be considered as one of the best introductory books for the worldview studies. Reading through the pages of the book might lead to the questions that the book fails to discuss in detail or has given less attention.[4] Sire has successfully defined worldview, explained its formation and development, and motivated readers towards the understanding the importance of worldview concept.

The concepts and ideas expressed in the book can at times difficult and confusing for a global audience as the book is written in a North American cultural context. However, the simple and readable use of language and explanation of the difficult concepts are helpful for understanding the concept and ideas expressed in the book.  The book is an easy reference to study the basics of worldview concept and its importance in understanding our cultural context. It is a praiseworthy and helpful resource to develop a Christian world and life view in a pluralistic society.

[1] James W. Sire, (Naming the Elephant: Worldview as a Concept 2nd. Edition), Illinois, IVP Academic: 2015, 141.

[2] or as he calls it “naming your own elephant”

[3] Epistemology, Doing, Revelation, Hermeneutics and Worship in order of precedence.

[4] Some of the eastern philosophical world views such as Islam, and Spiritism etc. are left out from the discussion.