By a “world-outlook” I mean a systematic account of the nature of the world which claims, by showing the place of man in the scheme of things, to indicate the point and purpose of his life. The theory of the world is often called a metaphysical theory and the theory of conduct an ethical or moral theory. In my opinion the clarification and criticism of world-outlooks is a fundamental part of philosophy. Indeed, I hardly think that philosophy would have existed as something distinct from science or poetry but for the tendency to attempt some explanation of the world as the scene of human endeavour. When Kant referred to “the inevitable problems of pure reason” about “God, freedom, and immortality,” he was referring in a summary way to the fundamental philosophical task of analysing and criticizing world-outlooks, a task that may be undertaken even by those philosophers who do not believe that any world-outlook is or could be adequate. It is clear, of course, that the civilized religions, since they seek to show how human conduct fits in with some Divine Plan or Cosmic Conflict, have world-outlooks. It is, however, misleading to look upon religions and world-outlooks as the same thing, as some people do. For in ordinary usage religion involves belief in supernatural beings and conduct regulated in the light of this belief, but according to some world-outlooks (e.g. that of Spinoza) there are no supernatural beings, while according to others (e.g. Epicureanism) beings may exist deserving that description but human conduct need take no account of them.
1 Series: Contemporary World-Outlooks (II).