This is an association of people sympathetic to the idea that academic inquiry should help humanity acquire more wisdom by rational means. Wisdom is taken to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others. It includes knowledge, understanding and technological know-how, and much else besides. Friends of Wisdom try to encourage universities and schools actively to seek and promote wisdom by educational and intellectual means. At present, Friends of Wisdom communicate with one another in the main by email (JISCMAIL). If you wish to join, click HERE, and then click on "join or leave the list", or email: nick [at] knowledgetowisdom.org See Friends of Wisdom Website: www.knowledgetowisdom.org
Copyright Nicholas Maxwell All Rights Reserved
Essays Spelling out the "From Knowledge to Wisdom" Argument
From Knowledge to Wisdom: The Need for an Academic Revolution
(Emeritus Reader at University College London)
(Published in R. Barnett and N. Maxwell, eds., Wisdom in the University, Routledge 2008. See also London Review of Education, 5, 2007, pp. 97-115.)
Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;
Mere anarchy is loosed upon the world,
The blood-dimmed tide is loosed, and everywhere
The ceremony of innocence is drowned;
The best lack all conviction, while the worst
Are full of passionate intensity.
William Butler Yeats
At present the basic intellectual aim of academic inquiry is to improve knowledge. Much of the structure, the whole character, of academic inquiry, in universities all over the world, is shaped by the adoption of this as the basic intellectual aim. But, judged from the standpoint of making a contribution to human welfare, academic inquiry of this type is damagingly irrational. Three of four of the most elementary rules of rational problem-solving are violated. A revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry is needed so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom, conceived of as the capacity to realize what is of value, for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. This urgently needed revolution would affect every branch and aspect of the academic enterprise.
The world today is beset with problems. Most serious of all, perhaps, there is the impending problem of global warming. There is the problem of the progressive destruction of tropical rain forests and other natural habitats, with its concomitant devastating extinction of species. There is the problem of war, over 100 million people having died in countless wars in the 20th century (which compares unfavourably with the 12 million or so killed in wars during the 19th century). There is the arms trade, the massive stockpiling of armaments, even by poor countries, and the ever-present threat of their use by terrorists or in war, whether the arms be conventional, chemical, biological or nuclear. There is the sustained and profound injustice of immense differences of wealth across the globe, the industrially advanced first world of North America, Europe and elsewhere experiencing unprecedented wealth while something like three quarters of humanity live in conditions of poverty in the developing world, hungry, unemployed, without proper housing, health care, education, or even access to safe water. There is the long-standing problem of the rapid growth of the world's population, especially pronounced in the poorest parts of the world, and adversely affecting efforts at development. And there is the horror of the AIDS epidemic, again far more terrible in the poorest parts of the world, devastating millions of lives, destroying families, and crippling economies.
And, in addition to these stark global crises, there are problems of a more diffuse, intangible character, signs of a general cultural or spiritual malaise. There is the phenomenon of political apathy: the problems of humanity seem so immense, so remorseless, so utterly beyond human control, and each one of us, a mere individual, seems wholly impotent before the juggernaut of history. The new global economy can seem like a monster out of control, with human beings having to adapt their lives to its demands, rather than gaining support from it. There is the phenomenon of the trivialization of culture, as a result, perhaps, of technological innovation such as TV and the internet. Once, people created and participated in their own live music, theatre, art, poetry. Now this is pumped into our homes and into our ears by our technology, a mass-produced culture for mass consumption; we have become passive consumers, and the product becomes ever more trivial in content. And finally, there is the phenomenon of the rise of religious and political fanaticism and terrorism opposed, it can seem, either in a faint-hearted and self-doubting way, or brutally by war and the suspension of justice, apparently confirming Yeats's lines "The best lack all conviction, while the worst are full of passionate intensity".
2. From Knowledge to Wisdom
What can be done in response to global problems such as these? There are a multitude of things that can be done, and are being done, in varying degrees, with varying amounts of success. Here, I wish to concentrate on just one thing that could be done, which would go to the heart of the above global problems, and to the heart of our apparent current incapacity to respond adequately to these problems.
We need to bring about a wholesale, structural revolution in the aims and methods, the entire intellectual and institutional character of academic inquiry. At present academic inquiry is devoted to acquiring knowledge. The idea is to acquire knowledge, and then apply it to help solve social problems. This needs to change, so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom – wisdom being understood to be the capacity to realize what is of value in life for oneself and others (and thus including knowledge, know-how and understanding). Instead of devoting itself primarily to solving problems of knowledge, academic inquiry needs to give intellectual priority to the task of discovering possible solutions to problems of living.
The social sciences need to become social philosophy, or social methodology, devoted to promoting more cooperatively rational solving of conflicts and problems of living in the world. Social inquiry, so pursued, would be intellectually more fundamental than natural science. The natural sciences need to recognize three domains of discussion: evidence, theories, and aims. Problems concerning research aims need to be discussed by both scientists and non-scientists alike, involving as they do questions concerning social priorities and values. Philosophy needs to become the sustained rational exploration of our most fundamental problems of understanding; it also needs to take up the task of discovering how we may improve our personal, institutional and global aims and methods in life, so that what is of value in life may be realized more successfully. Education needs to change so that problems of living become more fundamental than problems of knowledge, the basic aim of education being to learn how to acquire wisdom in life. Academic inquiry as a whole needs to become somewhat like a people's civil service, having just sufficient power to retain its independence and integrity, doing for people, openly, what civil services are supposed to do, in secret, for governments. These and many other changes, affecting every branch and aspect of academic inquiry, all result from replacing the aim to acquire knowledge by the aim to promote wisdom by cooperatively rational means. (see Maxwell, N., 1976, 1984, 2004)
3. The Crisis of Science without Wisdom
It may seem surprising that I should suggest that changing the aims and methods of academic inquiry would help us tackle the above global problems. It is, however, of decisive importance to appreciate that all the above global problems have arisen because of a massive increase in scientific knowledge and technology without a concomitant increase in global wisdom. Degradation of the environment due to industrialization and modern agriculture, global warming, the horrific number of people killed in war, the arms trade and the stockpiling of modern armaments, the immense differences in the wealth of populations across the globe, rapid population growth: all these have been made possible by the rapid growth of science and technology since the birth of modern science in the 17th century. Modern science and technology are even implicated in the rapid spread of AIDS in the last few decades. It is possible that, in Africa, AIDS has been spread in part by contaminated needles used in inoculation programmes; and globally, AIDS has spread so rapidly because of travel made possible by modern technology. And the more intangible global problems indicated above may also have come about, in part, as a result of the rapid growth of modern science and technology.
That the rapid growth of scientific knowledge and technological know-how should have these kinds of consequence is all but inevitable. Scientific and technological progress massively increase our power to act: in the absence of wisdom, this will have beneficial consequences, but will also have harmful ones, whether intended, as in war, or unforeseen and unintended (initially at least), as in environmental degradation. As long as we lacked modern science, lack of wisdom did not matter too much: our power to wreak havoc on the planet and each other was limited. Now that our power to act has been so massively enhanced by modern science and technology, global wisdom has become, not a luxury, but a necessity.
The crisis of our times, in short – the crisis behind all the others – is the crisis of science without wisdom. Having a kind of academic inquiry that is, by and large, restricted to acquiring knowledge can only serve to intensify this crisis. Changing the nature of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, is the key intellectual and institutional change that we need to make in order to come to grips with our global problems – above all, the global problem behind all the others, the crisis of ever-increasing technological power in the absence of wisdom. We urgently need a new kind of academic inquiry that gives intellectual priority to promoting the growth of global wisdom.
4. The Damaging Irrationality of Knowledge-Inquiry
There are those who simply blame scientific rationality for our problems. Scientific rationality needs to be restrained, it is argued, by intuition and tradition, by morality or religion, by socialism, or by insights acquired from the arts or humanities: (see Marcuse, 1964; Laing, 1965; Roszak, 1973; Berman, 1981; Schwartz, 1987; Feyerabend, 1978, 1987; Appleyard, 1992). But this kind of response profoundly misses the point. What we are suffering from is not too much reason, but not enough. Scientific rationality, so-called, is actually a species of damaging irrationality masquerading as rationality. Academic inquiry as it mostly exists at present, devoted to the growth of knowledge and technological know-how – knowledge-inquiry I shall call it (Maxwell, 1984, chapters 2 and 6) – is actually profoundly irrational when judged from the standpoint of contributing to human welfare. Judged from this all-important standpoint, knowledge-inquiry violates three of the four most elementary, uncontroversial rules of reason that one can conceive of (to be indicated in a moment). And that knowledge-inquiry is grossly irrational in this way has everything to do with its tendency to generate the kind of global problems considered above. Instead of false simulacra of reason, what we so urgently need is authentic reason devoted to the growth of wisdom.
Knowledge-inquiry demands that a sharp split be made between the social or humanitarian aims of inquiry and the intellectual aim. The intellectual aim is to acquire knowledge of truth, nothing being presupposed about the truth. Only those considerations may enter into the intellectual domain of inquiry relevant to the determination of truth – claims to knowledge, results of observation and experiment, arguments designed to establish truth or falsity. Feelings and desires, values, ideals, political and religious views, expressions of hopes and fears, cries of pain, articulation of problems of living: all these must be ruthlessly excluded from the intellectual domain of inquiry as having no relevance to the pursuit of knowledge – although of course inquiry can seek to develop factual knowledge about these things, within psychology, sociology or anthropology. Within natural science, an even more severe censorship system operates: an idea, in order to enter into the intellectual domain of science, must be an empirically testable claim to factual knowledge.
The basic idea of knowledge-inquiry, then, is this. First, knowledge is to be acquired; then it can be applied to help solve social problems. For this to work, authentic objective knowledge must be acquired. Almost paradoxically, human values and aspirations must be excluded from the intellectual domain of inquiry so that genuine factual knowledge is acquired and inquiry can be of genuine human value, and can be capable of helping us realize our human aspirations.
This is the conception of inquiry which, I claim, violates reason in a wholesale, structural and damaging manner.
But what do I mean by "reason"? As I use the term here, rationality appeals to the idea that there are general methods, rules or strategies which, if put into practice, give us our best chance, other things being equal, of solving our problems, realizing our aims. Rationality is an aid to success, but does not guarantee success, and does not determine what needs to be done.
Four elementary rules of reason, alluded to above, are:
(1) Articulate and seek to improve the articulation of the basic problem(s) to be solved.
(2) Propose and critically assess alternative possible solutions.
(3) When necessary, break up the basic problem to be solved into a number of specialized problems – preliminary, simpler, analogous, subordinate problems – (to be tackled in accordance with rules (1) and (2)), in an attempt to work gradually toward a solution to the basic problem to be solved.
(4) Inter-connect attempts to solve the basic problem and specialized problems, so that basic problem solving may guide, and be guided by, specialized problem solving.
No enterprise which persistently violates (1) to (4) can be judged rational. If academic inquiry is to contribute to the aim of promoting human welfare, the quality of human life, by intellectual means, in a rational way, in a way that gives the best chances of success, then (1) to (4) must be built into the whole institutional/intellectual structure of academic inquiry.
In order to see that current academic inquiry, devoted primarily to the pursuit of knowledge, does indeed violate three of the above four rules of reason (when viewed from the standpoint of contributing to human welfare), two preliminary points need to be noted about the nature of the problems that academic inquiry ought to be trying to help solve.
First, granted that academic inquiry has, as its fundamental aim, to help promote human welfare by intellectual and educational means, then the problems that inquiry fundamentally ought to try to help solve are problems of living, problems of action. From the standpoint of achieving what is of value in life, it is what we do, or refrain from doing, that ultimately matters. Even where new knowledge and technological know-how are relevant to the achievement of what is of value – as it is in medicine or agriculture, for example – it is always what this new knowledge or technological know-how enables us to do that matters. All the global problems discussed above require, for their resolution, not merely new knowledge, but rather new policies, new institutions, new ways of living. Scientific knowledge, and associated technological know-how have, if anything, as we have seen, contributed to the creation of these problems in the first place. Thus problems of living – problems of poverty, ill-health, injustice, deprivation – are solved by what we do, or refrain from doing; they are not solved by the mere provision of some item of knowledge (except when a problem of living is a problem of knowledge).
Second, in order to achieve what is of value in life more successfully than we do at present, we need to discover how to resolve conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than we do at present. There is a spectrum of ways in which conflicts can be resolved, from murder or all out war at the violent end of the spectrum, via enslavement, threat of murder or war, threats of a less extreme kind, manipulation, bargaining, voting, to cooperative rationality at the other end of the spectrum, those involved seeking, by rational means, to arrive at that course of action which does the best justice to the interests of all those involved. A basic task for a kind of academic inquiry that seeks to help promote human welfare must be to discover how conflict resolution can be moved away from the violent end of the spectrum towards the cooperatively rational end.
Granted all this, and granted that the above four rules of reason are put into practice then, at the most fundamental level, academic inquiry needs to:
(1) Articulate, and seek to improve the articulation of, personal, social and global problems of living that need to be solved if the quality of human life is to be enhanced (including those indicated above);
(2) Propose and critically assess alternative possible solutions – alternative possible actions, policies, political programmes, legislative proposals, ideologies, philosophies of life.
In addition, of course, academic inquiry must:
(3) Break up the basic problems of living into subordinate, specialized problems – in particular, specialized problems of knowledge and technology.
(4) Inter-connect basic and specialized problem solving.
Academic inquiry as it mostly exists at present can be regarded as putting (3) into practice to splendid effect. The intricate maze of specialized disciplines devoted to improving knowledge and technological know-how that go to make up current academic inquiry is the result. But, disastrously, what we have at present, academic inquiry devoted primarily to improving knowledge, fails to put (1), (2) and (4) into practice. In pursuing knowledge, academic inquiry may articulate problems of knowledge, and propose and critically assess possible solutions, possible claims to knowledge – factual theses, observational and experimental results, theories. But, as we have seen, problems of knowledge are not (in general) problems of living; and solutions to problems of knowledge are not (in general) solutions to problems of living. Insofar as academia does at present put (1) and (2) into practice, in departments of social science and policy studies, it does so only at the periphery, and not as its central, fundamental intellectual task.
In short, academic inquiry devoted primarily to the pursuit of knowledge, when construed as having the basic humanitarian aim of helping to enhance the quality of human life by intellectual means, fails to put the two most elementary rules of reason into practice (rules (1) and (2)). Academic inquiry fails to do (at a fundamental level) what it most needs to do, namely (1) articulate problems of living, and (2) propose and critically assess possible solutions. And furthermore, as a result of failing to explore the basic problems that need to be solved, academic inquiry cannot put the fourth rule of rational problem solving into practice either, namely (4) inter-connect basic and specialized problem solving. As I have remarked, three of the four most elementary rules of rational problem solving are violated. (For a more detailed development of this argument see Maxwell, 1980, 1984, 2004.)
This gross structural irrationality of contemporary academic inquiry, of knowledge-inquiry, is no mere formal matter. It has profoundly damaging consequences for humanity. As I have pointed out above, granted that our aim is to contribute to human welfare by intellectual means, the basic problems we need to discover how to solve are problems of living, problems of action, not problems of knowledge. In failing to give intellectual priority to problems of living, knowledge-inquiry fails to tackle what most needs to be tackled in order to contribute to human welfare. In devoting itself to acquiring knowledge in a way that is unrelated to sustained concern about what humanity's most urgent problems are, as a result of failing to put (1) and (2) into practice, and thus failing to put (4) into practice as well, the danger is that scientific and technological research will respond to the interests of the powerful and the wealthy, rather than to the interests of the poor, of those most in need. Scientists, officially seeking knowledge of truth per se, have no official grounds for objecting if those who fund research – governments and industry – decide that the truth to be sought will reflect their interests, rather than the interests of the world’s poor. And priorities of scientific research, globally, do indeed reflect the interests of the first world, rather than those of the third world.
Knowledge and technology successfully pursued in a way that is not rationally subordinated to the tackling of more fundamental problems of living, through the failure to put (1), (2) and (4) into practice, is bound to lead to the kind of global problems discussed above, problems that arise as a result of newly acquired powers to act being divorced from the ability to act wisely. The creation of our current global problems, and our inability to respond adequately to these problems, has much to do, in other words, with the long-standing, rarely noticed, structural irrationality of our institutions and traditions of learning, devoted as they are to acquiring knowledge dissociated from learning how to tackle our problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways. Knowledge-inquiry, because of its irrationality, is designed to intensify, not help solve, our current global problems.
Inquiry devoted primarily to the pursuit of knowledge is, then, grossly and damagingly irrational when judged from the standpoint of contributing to human welfare by intellectual means. At once the question arises: What would a kind of inquiry be like that is devoted, in a genuinely rational way, to promoting human welfare by intellectual means? I shall call such a hypothetical kind of inquiry wisdom-inquiry, to stand in contrast to knowledge-inquiry.
As a first step at characterizing wisdom-inquiry, we may take knowledge-inquiry (at its best) and modify it just sufficiently to ensure that all four elementary rules of rational problem-solving, indicated above, are built into its intellectual and institutional structure: see Figure 1.
The primary change that needs to be made is to ensure that academic inquiry implements rules (1) and (2). It becomes the fundamental task of social inquiry and the humanities (1) to articulate, and seek to improve the articulation of, our problems of living, and (2) to propose and critically assess possible solutions, from the standpoint of their practicality and desirability. In particular, social inquiry has the task of discovering how conflicts may be resolved in less violent, more cooperatively rational ways. It also has the task of
Figure 1: Wisdom-Inquiry Implementing Problem-Solving Rationality
(Please enlarge to view)
promoting such tackling of problems of living in the social world beyond academe. Social inquiry is, thus, not primarily social science, nor, primarily, concerned to acquire knowledge of the social world; its primary task is to promote more cooperatively rational tackling of problems of living in the social world. Pursued in this way, social inquiry is intellectually more fundamental than the natural and technological sciences, which tackle subordinate problems of knowledge, understanding and technology, in accordance with rule (3). In Figure 1, implementation of rule (3) is represented by the specialized problem solving of the natural, technological and formal sciences, and more specialized aspects of social inquiry and the humanities. Rule (4) is represented by the two-way arrows linking fundamental and specialized problem solving, each influencing the other.
One can go further. According to this view, the thinking that we engage in as we live, in seeking to realize what is of value to us, is intellectually more fundamental than the whole of academic inquiry (which has, as its basic purpose, to help cooperatively rational thinking and problem solving in life to flourish). Academic thought emerges as a kind of specialization of personal and social thinking in life, the result of implementing rule (3); this means there needs to be a two-way interplay of ideas, arguments and experiences between the social world and academia, in accordance with rule (4). This is represented, in figure 1, by the two-way arrows linking academic inquiry and the social world.
The natural and technological sciences need to recognize three domains of discussion: evidence, theory, and aims. Discussion of aims seeks to identify that highly problematic region of overlap between that which is discoverable, and that which it is of value to discover. Discussion of what it is of value to discover interacts with social inquiry, in accordance with rule (4).
It may be asked: but if academic inquiry today really does suffer from the wholesale structural irrationality just indicated, when and how did this come about? I turn now to a consideration of that question. The answer leads to an improved version of wisdom-inquiry, and to a new argument in support of my claim that wisdom-inquiry, potentially, is more rigorous and of greater human value, than knowledge-inquiry.
6. The Traditional Enlightenment
The irrationality of contemporary academic inquiry has its roots in blunders made by the philosophes of the 18th century Enlightenment.
A basic idea of the Enlightenment, perhaps the basic idea, was to try to learn from scientific progress how to go about making social progress towards an enlightened world. The philosophes, Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet and others, did what they could to put this immensely important idea into practice, in their lives. They fought dictatorial power, superstition, and injustice with weapons no more lethal than those of argument and wit. They gave their support to the virtues of tolerance, openness to doubt, readiness to learn from criticism and from experience. Courageously and energetically they laboured to promote rationality in personal and social life (Gay, 1973).
Unfortunately, in developing the Enlightenment idea intellectually, the philosophes blundered. They thought the task was to develop the social sciences alongside the natural sciences. I shall call this the traditional Enlightenment Programme. It was developed throughout the 19th century, by Comte, Marx, Mill and others, and built into the institutional structure of universities during the 20th century, with the creation of departments of social science (see Aron, 1968, 1970; Farganis, 1993, Introduction; Hayek, 1979). Knowledge-inquiry, as we have it today, by and large, is the result, both natural science and social inquiry being devoted, in the first instance, to the pursuit of knowledge.
But, from the standpoint of creating a kind of inquiry designed to help humanity learn how to become civilized, all this amounts to a series of monumental blunders. These blunders are at the root of the damaging irrationality of current academic inquiry.
7. The New Enlightenment
In order to implement properly the basic Enlightenment idea of learning from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards a civilized world, it is essential to get the following three steps right.
1. The progress-achieving methods of science need to be correctly identified.
2. These methods need to be correctly generalized so that they become fruitfully
applicable to any human endeavour, whatever the aims may be, and not just applicable
to the endeavour of improving knowledge.
3. The correctly generalized progress-achieving methods then need to be exploited
correctly in the great human endeavour of trying to make social progress towards an
enlightened, wise, civilized world.
Unfortunately, the philosophes of the Enlightenment got all three points wrong. And as a result these blunders, undetected and uncorrected, are built into the intellectual-institutional structure of academia as it exists today.
First, the philosophes failed to capture correctly the progress-achieving methods of natural science. From D’Alembert in the 18th century to Popper in the 20th (Popper, 1963), the widely held view, amongst both scientists and philosophers, has been (and continues to be) that science proceeds by assessing theories impartially in the light of evidence, no permanent assumption being accepted by science about the universe independently of evidence. But this standard empiricist view is untenable. If taken literally, it would instantly bring science to a standstill. For, given any accepted theory of physics, T, Newtonian theory say, or quantum theory, endlessly many empirically more successful rivals can be concocted which agree with T about observed phenomena but disagree arbitrarily about some unobserved phenomena. Physics would be drowned in an ocean of such empirically more successful rival theories.
In practice, these rivals are excluded because they are disastrously disunified. Two considerations govern acceptance of theories in physics: empirical success and unity. But in persistently accepting unified theories, to the extent of rejecting disunified rivals that are just as, or even more, empirically successful, physics makes a big persistent assumption about the universe. The universe is such that all disunified theories are false. It has some kind of unified dynamic structure. It is physically comprehensible in the sense that explanations for phenomena exist to be discovered.
But this untestable (and thus metaphysical) assumption that the universe is comprehensible is profoundly problematic. Science is obliged to assume, but does not know, that the universe is comprehensible. Much less does it know that the universe is comprehensible in this or that way. A glance at the history of physics reveals that ideas have changed dramatically over time. In the 17th century there was the idea that the universe consists of corpuscles, minute billiard balls, which interact only by contact. This gave way to the idea that the universe consists of point-particles surrounded by rigid, spherically symmetrical fields of force, which in turn gave way to the idea that there is one unified self-interacting field, varying smoothly throughout space and time. Nowadays we have the idea that everything is made up of minute quantum strings embedded in ten or eleven dimensions of space-time. Some kind of assumption along these lines must be made but, given the historical record, and given that any such assumption concerns the ultimate nature of the universe, that of which we are most ignorant, it is only reasonable to conclude that it is almost bound to be false.
The way to overcome this fundamental dilemma inherent in the scientific enterprise is to construe physics as making a hierarchy of metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe, these assumptions asserting less and less as one goes up the hierarchy, and thus becoming more and more likely to be true: see figure 2. In this way a framework of relatively insubstantial, unproblematic, fixed assumptions and associated methods is created within which much more substantial and
problematic assumptions and associated methods can be changed, and indeed improved, as scientific knowledge improves. Put another way, a framework of relatively unspecific,
unproblematic, fixed aims and methods is created within which much more specific and problematic aims and methods evolve as scientific knowledge evolves. (A basic aim of science is to discover in what precise way the universe is comprehensible, this aim evolving as assumptions about comprehensibility evolve.) There is positive feedback between improving knowledge, and improving aims-and-methods, improving knowledge-about-how-to-improve-knowledge. This is the nub of scientific rationality,
the methodological key to the unprecedented success of science. Science adapts its nature to what it discovers about the nature of the universe (see Maxwell, 1974, 1976, 1984, 1998, 2004, 2005).
So much for the first blunder of the traditional Enlightenment, and how to put it right.
Second, having failed to identify the methods of science correctly, the philosophes naturally failed to generalize these methods properly. They failed to appreciate that the idea of representing the problematic aims (and associated methods) of science in the form of a hierarchy can be generalized and applied fruitfully to other worthwhile enterprises besides science. Many other enterprises have problematic aims – problematic because aims conflict, and because what we seek may be unrealizable, undesirable, or both. Such enterprises, with problematic aims, would benefit from employing a hierarchical methodology, generalized from that of science, thus making it possible to improve aims and methods as the enterprise proceeds. There is the hope that, as a result of exploiting in life methods generalized from those employed with such success in science, some of the astonishing success of science might be exported into other worthwhile human endeavours, with problematic aims quite different from those of science.
Third, and most disastrously of all, the philosophes failed completely to try to apply such generalized, hierarchical progress-achieving methods to the immense, and profoundly problematic enterprise of making social progress towards an enlightened,
Figure 2: Hierarchical Conception of Science
(Please enlarge to view)
wise world. The aim of such an enterprise is notoriously problematic. For all sorts of reasons, what constitutes a good world, an enlightened, wise or civilized world, attainable and genuinely desirable, must be inherently and permanently problematic. Here, above all, it is essential to employ the generalized version of the hierarchical, progress-achieving methods of science, designed specifically to facilitate progress when basic aims are problematic: see Figure 3. It is just this that the philosophes failed to do. Instead of applying the hierarchical methodology to social life, the philosophes sought to apply a seriously defective conception of scientific method to social science, to the task of making progress towards, not a better world, but to better knowledge of social phenomena. And this ancient blunder is still built into the institutional and intellectual structure of academia today, inherent in the current character of social science (Maxwell, 1984, 2007, chapters 3, 6 and 7).
Properly implemented, in short, the Enlightenment idea of learning from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards an enlightened world would involve developing social inquiry, not as social science, but as social methodology, or social philosophy. A basic task would be to get into personal and social life, and into other institutions besides that of science – into government, industry, agriculture, commerce, the media, law, education, international relations – hierarchical, progress-achieving methods (designed to improve problematic aims) arrived at by generalizing the methods of science. A basic task for academic inquiry as a whole would be to help humanity learn how to resolve its conflicts and problems of living in more just, cooperatively rational ways than at present. This task would be intellectually more fundamental than the scientific task of acquiring knowledge. Social inquiry would be intellectually more fundamental than physics. As I have already remarked, academia would be a kind of people’s civil service, doing openly for the public what actual civil services are supposed to do in secret for governments. Academia would have just sufficient power (but no more) to retain its independence from government, industry, the press, public opinion, and other centres of power and influence in the social world. It would seek to learn from, educate, and argue with the great social world beyond, but would not dictate. Academic thought would be pursued as a specialized, subordinate part of what is really important
and fundamental: the thinking that goes on, individually, socially and institutionally, in the social world, guiding individual, social and institutional actions and life. The fundamental intellectual and humanitarian aim of inquiry would be to help humanity acquire wisdom – wisdom being the capacity to realize (apprehend and create) what is of value in life, for oneself and others, wisdom thus including knowledge and technological know-how but much else besides.
One outcome of getting into social and institutional life the kind of aim-evolving, hierarchical methodology indicated above, generalized from science, is that it becomes possible for us to develop and assess rival philosophies of life as a part of social life, somewhat as theories are developed and assessed within science. Such a hierarchical methodology provides a framework within which competing views about what our aims and methods in life should be – competing religious, political and moral views – may be cooperatively assessed and tested against broadly agreed, unspecific aims (high up in the hierarchy of aims) and the experience of personal and social life. There is the possibility of cooperatively and progressively improving such philosophies of life (views about what is of value in life and how it is to be achieved) much as theories are cooperatively and progressively improved in science. In science, ideally, theories are critically assessed with respect to each other, with respect to metaphysical ideas concerning the comprehensibility of the universe, and with respect to experience (observational and experimental results). In a somewhat analogous way, diverse philosophies of life may be critically assessed with respect to each other, with respect to relatively uncontroversial, agreed ideas about aims and what is of value, and with respect to experience – what we do, achieve, fail to achieve, enjoy and suffer – the aim being to improve philosophies of life (and more specific philosophies of more specific enterprises within life such as government, education or art) so that they offer greater help with the realization of what is of value in life. This hierarchical methodology is especially relevant to the task of resolving conflicts about aims and ideals, as it helps disentangle agreement (high up in the hierarchy) and disagreement (more likely to be low down in the hierarchy).
Wisdom-inquiry, because of its greater rigour, has intellectual standards that are, in important respects, different from those of knowledge-inquiry. Whereas knowledge-inquiry demands that emotions and desires, values, human ideals and aspirations, philosophies of life be excluded from the intellectual domain of inquiry, wisdom-inquiry requires that they be included. In order to discover what is of value in life it is essential that we attend to our feelings and desires. But not everything we desire is desirable, and not everything that feels good is good. Feelings, desires and values need to be subjected to critical scrutiny. And of course feelings, desires and values must not be permitted to influence judgements of factual truth and falsity. Wisdom-inquiry embodies a synthesis of traditional rationalism and romanticism. It includes elements from both, and it improves on both. It incorporates romantic ideals of integrity, having to do with motivational and emotional honesty, honesty about desires and aims; and at the same time
it incorporates traditional rationalist ideals of integrity, having to do with respect for objective fact, knowledge, and valid argument. Traditional rationalism takes its inspiration from science and method; romanticism takes its inspiration from art, from imagination, and from passion. Wisdom-inquiry holds art to have a fundamental rational role in inquiry, in revealing what is of value, and unmasking false values; but science, too, is of fundamental importance. What we need, for wisdom, is an interplay of sceptical rationality and emotion, an interplay of mind and heart, so that we may develop mindful hearts and heartfelt minds. It is time we healed the great rift in our culture, so graphically depicted by Snow (1986).
All in all, if the Enlightenment revolution had been carried through properly, the three steps indicated above being correctly implemented, the outcome would have been a kind of academic inquiry very different from what we have at present, inquiry devoted primarily to the intellectual aim of acquiring knowledge.
8. Cultural Implications of Wisdom-Inquiry
Wisdom-inquiry does not just do better justice to the social or practical dimension of inquiry than knowledge-inquiry; it does better justice to the “intellectual” or “cultural” aspects as well.
From the standpoint of the intellectual or cultural aspect of inquiry, what really matters is the desire that people have to see, to know, to understand, the passionate
curiosity that individuals have about aspects of the world, and the knowledge and understanding that people acquire and share as a result of actively following up their curiosity. An important task for
Figure 3: Hierarchical Social Methodology Generalized from Science
(Please enlarge to view)
academic thought in universities is to encourage non-professional thought to flourish outside universities. As Einstein once remarked "Knowledge exists in two forms – lifeless, stored in books, and alive in the consciousness of men. The second form of existence is after all the essential one; the first, indispensable as it may be, occupies only an inferior position." (Einstein, 1973, p. 80).
Wisdom-inquiry is designed to promote all this in a number of ways. It does so as a result of holding thought, at its most fundamental, to be the personal thinking we engage in as we live. It does so by recognizing that acquiring knowledge and understanding involves articulating and solving personal problems that one encounters in seeking to know and understand. It does so by recognizing that passion, emotion and desire, have a rational role to play in inquiry, disinterested research being a myth. Again, as Einstein has put it "The most beautiful experience we can have is the mysterious. It is the fundamental emotion which stands at the cradle of true art and true science. Whoever does not know it and can no longer wonder, no longer marvel, is as good as dead, and his eyes are dimmed." (Einstein, 1973, p. 11).
Knowledge-inquiry, by contrast, all too often fails to nourish "the holy curiosity of inquiry" (Einstein, 1949, p. 17), and may even crush it out altogether. Knowledge-inquiry gives no rational role to emotion and desire; passionate curiosity, a sense of mystery, of wonder, have no place, officially, within the rational pursuit of knowledge. The intellectual domain becomes impersonal and split off from personal feelings and desires; it is difficult for "holy curiosity" to flourish in such circumstances. Knowledge-inquiry hardly encourages the view that inquiry at its most fundamental is the thinking that goes on as a part of life; on the contrary, it upholds the idea that fundamental research is highly esoteric, conducted by physicists in contexts remote from ordinary life. Even though the aim of inquiry may, officially, be human knowledge, the personal and social dimension of this is all too easily lost sight of, and progress in knowledge is conceived of in impersonal terms, stored lifelessly in books and journals. Rare is it for popular books on science to take seriously the task of exploring the fundamental problems of a science in as accessible, non-technical and intellectually responsible a way as possible. Such work is not highly regarded by knowledge-inquiry, as it does not contribute to "expert knowledge". The failure of knowledge-inquiry to take seriously the highly problematic nature of the aims of inquiry leads to insensitivity as to what aims are being pursued, to a kind of institutional hypocrisy. Officially, knowledge is being sought "for its own sake", but actually the goal may be immortality, fame, the flourishing of one's career or research group, as the existence of bitter priority disputes in science indicates. Education suffers. Science students are taught a mass of established scientific knowledge, but may not be informed of the problems which gave rise to this knowledge, the problems which scientists grappled with in creating the knowledge. Even more rarely are students encouraged themselves to grapple with such problems. And rare, too, is it for students to be encouraged to articulate their own problems of understanding that must, inevitably arise in absorbing all this information, or to articulate their instinctive criticisms of the received body of knowledge. All this tends to reduce education to a kind of intellectual indoctrination, and serves to kill "holy curiosity". Officially, courses in universities divide up into those that are vocational, like engineering, medicine and law, and those that are purely educational, like physics, philosophy or history. What is not noticed, again through insensitivity to problematic aims, is that the supposedly purely educational are actually vocational as well: the student is being trained to be an academic physicist, philosopher or historian, even though only a minute percentage of the students will go on to become academics. Real education, which must be open-ended, and without any pre-determined goal, rarely exists in universities, and yet few notice. (These considerations are developed further in Maxwell, 1976, 1984 and 2004.)
In order to enhance our understanding of persons as beings of value, potentially and actually, we need to understand them empathetically, by putting ourselves imaginatively into their shoes, and experiencing, in imagination, what they feel, think, desire, fear, plan, see, love and hate. For wisdom-inquiry, this kind of empathic understanding is rational and intellectually fundamental. Articulating problems of living, and proposing and assessing possible solutions is, we have seen, the fundamental intellectual activity of wisdom-inquiry. But it is just this that we need to do to acquire empathic understanding. Social inquiry, in tackling problems of living, is also promoting empathic understanding of people. Empathic understanding is essential to wisdom. Elsewhere I have argued, indeed, that empathic understanding plays an essential role in the evolution of consciousness. It is required for cooperative action, and even for science. (For a fuller exposition of such an account of empathic understanding see Maxwell, 1984, pp. 171-189 and chapter 10; and 2001, chapters 5-7 and 9).
Granted knowledge-inquiry, on the other hand, empathic understanding hardly satisfies basic requirements for being an intellectually legitimate kind of explanation and understanding (Maxwell, 1984, pp. 183-185). It has the status merely of “folk psychology”, on a par with “folk physics”.
Humanity is in deep trouble. We urgently need to learn how to make progress towards a wiser, more civilized world. This in turn requires that we possess traditions and institutions of learning rationally designed – well designed – to help us achieve this end. It is just this that we do not have at present. What we have instead is natural science and, more broadly, inquiry devoted to acquiring knowledge. Judged from the standpoint of helping us create a better world, knowledge-inquiry of this type is dangerously and damagingly irrational. We need to bring about a major intellectual and institutional revolution in the aims and methods of inquiry, from knowledge-inquiry to wisdom-inquiry. Almost every branch and aspect of academic inquiry needs to change.
A basic intellectual task of academic inquiry would be to articulate our problems of living (personal, social and global) and propose and critically assess possible solutions, possible actions. This would be the task of social inquiry and the humanities. Tackling problems of knowledge would be secondary. Social inquiry would be at the heart of the academic enterprise, intellectually more fundamental than natural science. On a rather more long-term basis, social inquiry would be concerned to help humanity build hierarchical methods of problem-solving into the fabric of social and political life so that we may gradually acquire the capacity to resolve our conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than at present. Natural science would change to include three domains of discussion: evidence, theory, and aims - the latter including discussion of metaphysics, values and politics. Academia would actively seek to educate the public by means of discussion and debate, and would not just study the public.
This revolution – intellectual, institutional and cultural – if it ever comes about, would be comparable in its long-term impact to that of the Renaissance, the scientific revolution, or the Enlightenment. The outcome would be traditions and institutions of learning rationally designed to help us acquire wisdom. There are a few scattered signs that this intellectual revolution, from knowledge to wisdom, is already under way. It will need, however, much wider cooperative support – from scientists, scholars, students, research councils, university administrators, vice chancellors, teachers, the media and the general public – if it is to become anything more than what it is at present, a fragmentary and often impotent movement of protest and opposition, often at odds with itself, exercising little influence on the main body of academic work. I can hardly imagine any more important work for anyone associated with academia than, in teaching, learning and research, to help promote this revolution.
For a much more detailed exposition of knowledge-inquiry, or “the philosophy of knowledge”, see Maxwell (1984, chapter 2). For evidence that knowledge-inquiry prevails in academia, see Maxwell (1984, chapter 6; 2000; 2007, chapter 6). I do not claim that everything in academia accords with the edicts of knowledge-inquiry. My claim is, rather, that this is the only candidate for rational inquiry in the public arena; it is the dominant view, exercising an all-pervasive influence over academe. Work that does not conform to its edicts has to struggle to survive.  This assumption may be challenged. Does not academic inquiry seek knowledge for its own sake – it may be asked – whether it helps promote human welfare or not? Later on, I will argue that the conception of inquiry I am arguing for, wisdom-inquiry, does better justice than knowledge-inquiry to both aspects of inquiry, pure and applied. The basic aim of inquiry, according to wisdom-inquiry, is to help us realize what is of value in life, “realize” meaning both “apprehend” and “make real”. “Realize” thus accommodates both aspects of inquiry, “pure” research or “knowledge pursued for its own sake” on the one hand, and technological or “mission-oriented” research on the other – both, ideally, seeking to contribute to what is of value in human life. Wisdom-inquiry, like sight, is there to help us find our way around. And like sight, wisdom-inquiry is of value to us in two ways: for its intrinsic value, and for practical purposes. The first is almost more precious than the second.  Funds devoted, in the USA, UK and some other wealthy countries, to military research are especially disturbing: see Langley (2005) and Smith (2003).  See Maxwell (1984, chapter 3) for a much more detailed discussion of the damaging social repercussions of knowledge-inquiry.  This two-way interaction between science and society is emphasized by Nowotny et al. (2001).  The blunders of the philosophes are not entirely undetected. Karl Popper, in his first four works, makes substantial improvements to the traditional Enlightenment programme (although Popper does not himself present his work in this fashion). Popper first improves traditional conceptions of the progress-achieving methods of science (Popper, 1959). This conception, falsificationism, is then generalized to become critical rationalism. This is then applied to social, political and philosophical problems (Popper, 1961, 1962, 1963). The version of the Enlightenment programme about to be outlined here can be regarded as a radical improvement of Popper’s version: see Maxwell (2004, chapter 3).  Natural science has made such astonishing progress in improving knowledge and understanding of nature because it has put something like the hierarchical methodology, indicated here, into scientific practice. Officially, however, scientists continue to hold the standard empiricist view that no untestable metaphysical theses concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe are accepted as a part of scientific knowledge. As I have argued elsewhere (Maxwell, 2004, chapter 2), science would be even more successful, in a number of ways, if scientists adopted and explicitly implemented the hierarchical methodology indicated here.  There are a number of ways of highlighting the inherently problematic character of the aim of creating civilization. People have very different ideas as to what does constitute civilization. Most views about what constitutes Utopia, an ideally civilized society, have been unrealizable and profoundly undesirable. People's interests, values and ideals clash. Even values that, one may hold, ought to be a part of civilization may clash. Thus freedom and equality, even though inter-related, may nevertheless clash. It would be an odd notion of individual freedom which held that freedom was for some, and not for others; and yet if equality is pursued too singlemindedly this will undermine individual freedom, and will even undermine equality, in that a privileged class will be required to enforce equality on the rest, as in the old Soviet Union. A basic aim of legislation for civilization, we may well hold, ought to be increase freedom by restricting it: this brings out the inherently problematic, paradoxical character of the aim of achieving civilization. One thinker who has stressed the inherently problematic, contradictory character of the idea of civilization is Isaiah Berlin; see, for example, Berlin (1980, pp. 74-79). Berlin thought the problem could not be solved; I, on the contrary, hold that the hierarchical methodology indicated here provides us with the means to learn how to improve our solution to it in real life. 
A recent, remarkable exception is Penrose (2004).  I might add that the hierarchical conception of science indicated here does better justice to the scientific quest for understanding than does orthodox standard empiricist views: see Maxwell (1998, chapters 4 and 8; 2004, chapter 2).
Appleyard, B., 1992, Understanding the Present: Science and the Soul of Modern
Man, Picador, London.
Aron, R. 1968, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, Penguin, Harmondsworth, vol. 1 1968; vol. 2, 1970.
Berlin, I., 1980, Against the Current, Hogarth Press, London.
Berman, B., 1981, The Reenchantment of the World, Cornell University Press, Ithaca.
Einstein, A., 1949, "Autobiographical Notes", in P. A. Schilpp, ed. Albert Einstein:
Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court, Illinois, pp. 3-94.
_______, 1973, Ideas and Opinions, Souvenir Press, London.
Farganis, J. (ed.), 1993, Readings in Social Theory: The classic Tradition to Post-
Modernism, McGraw-Hill, New York.
Feyerabend, P., 1978, Against Method, Verso, London.
________, 1987, Farewell to Reason, Verso, London.
Gay, P., 1973, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Wildwood House, London. Hayek, F. A., 1979, The Counter-Revolution of Science, 1979, LibertyPress, Indianapolis. Laing, R. D., 1965, The Divided Self, 1965, Penguin, Harmondsworth.
Langley, C., 2005, Soldiers in the Laboratory, Scientists for Global Responsibility,
Marcuse, H., 1964, One Dimensional Man, Beacon Press, Boston. Maxwell, N., 1974, ‘The Rationality of Scientific Discovery’, Philosophy of Science 41,
1974, pp. 123-53 and 247-95.
_______, 1976, What’s Wrong With Science?, Bran’s Head Books, Frome, England. _______, 1980, ‘Science, Reason, Knowledge and Wisdom: A Critique of Specialism’,
Inquiry 23, pp. 19-81.
_______, 1984, From Knowledge to Wisdom, Blackwell, Oxford (2nd edition, enlarged,
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_______, 1998, The Comprehensibility of the Universe (Oxford University Press,
Oxford, pbk. 2003).
_______, 2001, The Human World in the Physical Universe, Rowman and
Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland.
_______, 2004, Is Science Neurotic?, Imperial College Press, London.
_______, 2005, ‘Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Aim-Oriented Empiricism’, Philosophia 32,
Nowotny, H., Scott, P. and Gibbons, M., 2001, Re-Thinking Science, Polity Press,
Penrose, R., 2004, The Road to Reality, Jonathan Cape, London.
Popper, K. R., 1959, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Hutchinson, London.
_______, 1961, The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
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_______, 1963, Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge and Kegan Paul, London.
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Snow, C. P., 1986, The Two Cultures: And a Second Look, Cambridge University Press,
Do We Need a Scientific Revolution?
(Published in the Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, vol. 8, no. 3, September 2008)
(Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science at University College London)
Many see modern science as having serious defects, intellectual, social, moral. Few see this as having anything to do with the philosophy of science. I argue that many diverse ills of modern science are a consequence of the fact that the scientific community has long accepted, and sought to implement, a bad philosophy of science, which I call standard empiricism. This holds that the basic intellectual aim is truth, the basic method being impartial assessment of claims to knowledge with respect to evidence. Standard empiricism is, however, untenable. Furthermore, the attempt to put it into scientific practice has many damaging consequences for science. The scientific community urgently needs to bring about a revolution in both the conception of science, and science itself. It needs to be acknowledged that the actual aims of science make metaphysical, value and political assumptions and are, as a result, deeply problematic. Science needs to try to improve its aims and methods as it proceeds. Standard empiricism needs to be rejected, and the more rigorous philosophy of science of aim-oriented empiricism needs to be adopted and explicitly implemented in scientific practice instead. The outcome would be the emergence of a new kind of science, of greater value in both intellectual and humanitarian terms.
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Science suffers, in many different ways, from a bad philosophy of science. This philosophy holds that the proper basic intellectual aim of science is to acquire knowledge of truth, the basic method being to assess claims to knowledge impartially with respect to evidence. Considerations of simplicity, unity or explanatory power may legitimately influence choice of theory, but not in such a way that nature herself, or the phenomena, are presupposed to be simple, unified or comprehensible. No permanent thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence. Furthermore, values have no role to play within the intellectual domain of science. A basic humanitarian aim of science may be to help promote human welfare, but science seeks this by, in the first instance, pursuing the intellectual aim of acquiring knowledge in a way which is sharply dissociated from all consideration of human welfare and suffering.
This view, which I shall call standard empiricism (SE) is generally taken for granted by the scientific community. Scientists do what they can to ensure science conforms to the view. As a result, it exercises a widespread influence over science itself. It influences such things as the way aims and priorities of research are discussed and chosen, criteria for publication of scientific results, criteria for acceptance of results, the intellectual content of science, science education, the relationship between science and the public, science and other disciplines, even scientific careers, awards and prizes.
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SE is, however, untenable, as the following simple argument demonstrates. Physics only ever accepts theories that are (more or less) unified, even though endlessly many empirically more successful disunified rivals can always be concocted. Such a theory, T (Newtonian theory, quantum theory, general relativity or the standard model), almost always faces some empirical difficulties, and is thus, on the face of it, refuted (by phenomena A). There are phenomena, B, which come within the scope of the theory but which cannot be predicted because the equations of the theory cannot (as yet) be solved. And there are other phenomena (C) that fall outside the scope of the theory altogether. We can now artificially concoct a disunified, "patchwork quilt" rival, T*, which asserts that everything occurs as T predicts except for phenomena A, B and C: here T* asserts, in a grossly ad hoc way, that the phenomena occur in accordance with empirically established laws, LA, LB and LC.
Even though T* is more successful empirically than T, it and all analogous rival theories are, quite correctly, ignored by physics because they are all horribly disunified. They postulate different laws for different phenomena, and are just assumed to be false. But this means physics makes a big, implicit assumption about the universe: it is such that all such "patchwork quilt" theories are false. untenable.2
If physicists only ever accepted theories that postulate atoms even though empirically more successful rival theories are available that postulate other entities such as fields, it would surely be quite clear: physicists implicitly assume that the universe is such that all theories that postulate entities other than atoms are false. Just the same holds in connection with unified theories. That physicists only ever accept unified theories even though empirically more successful rival theories are available that are disunified means that physics implicitly assumes that the universe is such that all disunified theories are false.
But SE holds that no permanent thesis about the world can be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of evidence (let alone against the evidence). That physics does accept permanently (if implicitly) that there is some kind of underlying unity in nature thus suffices to refute SE. SE is, in short, untenable. Physics makes a big implicit assumption about the nature of the universe, upheld independently of empirical considerations - even, in a certain sense, in violation of such considerations: the universe possesses some kind of underlying dynamic unity, to the extent at least that it is such that all disunified physical theories are false. This is a secure tenet of scientific knowledge, to the extent that empirically successful theories that clash with it are not even considered for acceptance.
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This substantial, influential but implicit assumption is however highly problematic. What exactly does the assumption amount to? What basis can there be for accepting it as a part of scientific knowledge?
In order to answer the first question, it is necessary to know how to distinguish unified from disunified physical theories. This has long been a fundamental unsolved problem in the philosophy of science. It is a problem in part because any theory can be formulated in many different ways, some unified, some highly disunified. Even Einstein recognized the problem but confessed he did not know how to solve it.
The key to solving the problem is to attend, not to the theory itself, but to what it asserts about the universe, to its content in other words. A physical theory is unified if what it asserts - the content of the dynamical laws it specifies - are precisely the same throughout the range of possible phenomena to which the theory applies. A theory that specifies N different sets of laws for N ranges of possible phenomena, the laws of any one region being different from the laws of all the other regions, is disunified to degree N. For unity we require N = 1. This way of assessing the degree of unity of a theory is unaffected by changes of formulation. As long as different formulations all have the same content, the degree of unity will remain the same.
There is now a refinement. Sets of laws can differ in different ways, to different extents, in more or less substantial ways. Laws may differ in regions of space and time; or in ranges of other variables such as mass or relative velocity. Or a theory may, like the so-called standard model (the quantum field theory of fundamental forces and particles) postulate two or more different forces, or two or more kinds of fundamental particles (with different charges, masses or other properties). Such a theory is disunified because in one range of possible phenomena to which the theory applies, one kind of force operates, or one kind of particle exists, and in another range a different force operates, or a different particle exists, there thus being different laws in different ranges of possible phenomena. In addition to degrees of disunity there are, in short, different kinds of disunity, some more severe than others, depending on how different sets of laws are in different regions of phenomena. Elsewhere I have argued that eight different kinds of disunity can be distinguished.
The requirement that physics only accepts unified theories faces a further complication. In some cases, presented with a theory disunified to degree N = 3, let us say, we can restore unity of theory in an entirely artificial way by splitting the one disunified theory into three unified theories. In order to exclude this ruse, we need to formulate the requirement concerning unity in such a way that it applies to all fundamental dynamical theories (and to phenomenological laws when no theory exists). Physicists in effect demand of an acceptable new fundamental theory that it is such that it decreases both the kind (i.e. the severity) and the degree of the disunity of the totality of fundamental physical theory when it replaces predecessor theories or laws. A new theory must, in short, increase the unity of all fundamental physical theory, in addition to being sufficiently empirically successful, in order to be accepted as an addition to theoretical scientific knowledge. Seriously disunified theories are not considered, whatever their empirical success might be, because they do not enhance overall theoretical unity.
It is this persistent, implicit demand for increased theoretical unity that commits physics to a persistent, substantial assumption about the nature of the universe.
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But what should this assumption be? Should physics assume, boldly, that the universe is such that the yet-to-be-discovered true physical "theory of everything" is fully unified (in the sense explicated above)? Or should physics assume, more modestly, that the universe is such that the true theory of everything is at least more unified than the current totality of fundamental physical theory (new, empirically successful but disunified theories being rejected because they clash with this assumption)?
Some such assumption must be made if the empirical method of science is to work at all - since otherwise physics would be drowned in an ocean of empirically successful but grossly disunified theories, and scientific progress would come to an end. Whatever assumption is made, it is almost bound to be false. We do not know that the universe is unified. Even if it is, almost certainly it is not unified in the way current theoretical knowledge in physics suggests it is.
Contradictory considerations govern choice of assumption. The more specific and substantial we make the assumption, the greater the help we will receive with developing new physical theories - as long as the assumption is correct. On the other hand, the more specific and substantial the assumption is, the greater the chance, other things being equal, that it is false.
In order to resolve this dilemma, and give ourselves the best chances of learning, making progress, eliminating error, and improving our ideas, we need to see science as making, not one assumption, but a hierarchy of assumptions, these assumptions becoming less and less specific and substantial as one goes up the hierarchy, and thus more and more likely to be true, and more nearly such that their truth is required for science, or the pursuit of knowledge, to be possible at all: see figure 1. At the top there is the thesis that the universe is such that we can acquire some knowledge of our local circumstances. This is not an assumption we need ever reject since, if it is false, we cannot acquire knowledge whatever we assume. As we descend the hierarchy, assumptions become increasingly substantial, increasingly likely to be false and in need of revision. At level 5 there is the thesis that the universe is comprehensible in some way or other, there being some one kind of explanation for everything that occurs. At level 4 there is the thesis that the universe is physically comprehensible - it being such, in other words, that the true theory of everything is unified. (To say that a physical theory is unified is equivalent to saying that it is explanatory and, if it is a theory of everything, that the universe it depicts is physically comprehensible.) At level 3 there is the thesis that the universe is physically comprehensible in some more or less specific way. Ideas, here, have changed dramatically over the centuries. Once there was the idea that everything is made up of corpuscles that interact by contact; then the idea that everything is made up of point-particles that interact by means of a force at a distance; then the idea that there is a unified field; nowadays there is the idea that everything is made up of quantum strings. At level 2 there is current accepted fundamental physical theory, at present the standard model and general relativity, and at level 1 there is the mass of established empirical data.
Associated with each thesis there is a methodological rule (represented by dotted lines in the diagram) which asserts: accept that thesis one down in the hierarchy which, as far as possible (a) is compatible with the thesis above and (b) best accords with, and best promotes, empirically successful theories at level 2.
The thesis at level 7 is almost certainly true, the currently accepted thesis at level 3 almost certainly false. As we descend the hierarchy, we move at some point from truth to falsity. The whole idea of the hierarchy is to concentrate criticism and revision where it is most likely to be needed, low down in the hierarchy. A framework of relatively stable, unproblematic assumptions and associated methods is created (high up in the hierarchy) within which much
Figure 1: Aim-Oriented Empiricism
(Please enlarge to view)
more specific, problematic assumptions and associated methods (low down in the hierarchy) can be critically assessed, revised and developed so as to give maximum help with the task of improving theoretical and empirical knowledge at levels 2 and 1. In short, according to this view, as we improve our empirical knowledge, we improve assumptions and associated methods at levels 3, and perhaps 4: we improve our knowledge-about-how-to-improve knowledge. There can be something like positive feedback between improving knowledge, and improving knowledge-about-how-to-improve-knowledge. Science adapts its nature to what it finds out about the universe.
Another way of putting the matter is to say that the basic intellectual aim of science is not truth per se (as standard empiricism holds) but rather truth presupposed to be explanatory - explanatory truth, in other words. Because this aim is profoundly problematic, it is important that it is represented in the form of a hierarchy of aims and associated methods - metaphysical assumptions implicit in these aims becoming increasingly insubstantial as one ascends the hierarchy, and thus increasingly likely to be true - a framework of relatively unproblematic aims and methods thus being created within which more specific and problematic aims and methods can be critically assessed and improved, as science proceeds. This way of putting the matter is important because it makes it possible to generalize scientific methodology, so conceived, so that it becomes fruitfully applicable to worthwhile human endeavours with problematic aims other than science, a point I will take up below.
Natural science puts something close to this hierarchical view into practice, but in a way that is constrained and handicapped by general allegiance to standard empiricism (SE), and it is this which damages science in a variety of ways, as we shall now see.
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How then does general acceptance and attempted implementation of SE damage science? How would acceptance and explicit implementation instead of the hierarchical view I have just outlined, which elsewhere I have called "aim-oriented empiricism" (AOE), benefit science? Here are eight ways in which the move from SE to AOE would be beneficial.
1. AOE provides a more rigorous conception of science. An elementary requirement for rigour is that assumptions that are substantial, influential, problematic and implicit need to be made explicit so that they can be criticized, alternatives formulated and considered, in the hope of eliminating error and improving such assumptions. SE fails this requirement for rigour in failing to acknowledge the substantial, influential and problematic metaphysical (i.e. untestable) assumption that - at the very least - the universe is such that all disunified theories are false. AOE, by contrast, not only acknowledges such an assumption but, in addition, provides a framework within which what is most problematic can be subjected to severe, sustained criticism and attempted improvement, so as to help promote scientific progress. The hierarchy of assumptions of AOE might almost be construed as the outcome of repeated applications of the above requirement of rigour.
A sign of the greater rigour of AOE over SE is provided by the fact that three fundamental problems in the philosophy of science, which cannot be solved granted SE, are solved within the framework of AOE. These are (1) the problem of what it means to say of a physical theory that it is unified (discussed above in section III), (2) the problem of what it can mean to hold that science makes progress if it proceeds from one false theory to another (the problem of verisimilitude) and, most serious of all, (3) the problem of induction. Elsewhere I have shown that these problems, unsolvable granted SE, can be solved within the framework of AOE.
2. The greater rigour of AOE is no mere formal matter. It makes explicit the "positive feedback" feature of scientific method - the way in which methods for improving knowledge can themselves be improved, as science progresses, within a framework of persisting assumptions and meta-methods. Every scientist would agree that "positive feedback" of this type is an essential feature of scientific method at the empirical level. New knowledge leads to the development of new instruments, new experimental tools and techniques, which in turn may massively accelerate the acquisition of new knowledge. That something similar can go on at the theoretical level has not been properly acknowledged or understood, because of general acceptance of SE. For, whereas AOE stresses that methods (associated with lower level assumptions) improve as science progresses, SE specifies a fixed aim and fixed methods. Assumptions and associated methods of science have improved over the centuries (or we would still be stuck with pre-Galilean, Aristotelian science), but it has come about in an implicit, almost furtive fashion, retarded by general allegiance to SE.
3. In stressing the vital, "positive feedback" interplay between methods and theories, AOE does far better justice to scientific practice than does SE. This aspect of AOE physics is especially apparent in Einstein's development of special and general relativity, and in the role of symmetry principles in modern physics. Special relativity is a physical theory; it is a thesis about the nature of space and time (space-time is Minkowskian); and it is a methodological principle (an acceptable physical theory must be Lorentz invariant). AOE holds that methodological principles of this type may need to be revised or rejected - and just this happened, of course with the advent of general relativity (which asserts that space-time, in the presence of mass or energy, is curved and not flat). The principle of equivalence, associated with general relativity, has a status and role somewhat similar to that of Lorentz invariance of special relativity - as do gauge invariance and supersymmetry, associated with the standard model and string theory respectively.
4. So far AOE has been discussed as if relevant only to theoretical physics. But other branches of natural science have problematic aims too - in that aims make problematic assumptions about the world (assumptions usually taken from some more fundamental science). This is true, for example, of cosmology, chemistry, molecular biology, geology, ethology, neuroscience. Here too, in accordance with the basic idea of AOE, problematic aims need to be represented in the form of a hierarchy, aims becoming less problematic as one goes up the hierarchy, a framework of relatively unproblematic aims and methods being created in this way within which much more specific and problematic aims and associated methods may be criticized, alternatives being developed and assessed. The hierarchical, meta-methodological structure of AOE is relevant to all of natural science, and to all specialized disciplines within natural science, and not just to theoretical physics. SE, with its fixed aim for science, and its fixed methods, fails to do justice to any of this.
5. In moving from SE to AOE there is a profound enhancement in the scope of scientific knowledge and understanding. Granted SE, scientific knowledge consists of (1) empirical results, and (2) accepted laws and theories. By contrast, granted AOE, scientific knowledge consists, in addition to (1) and (2), the level 4 thesis that (3) the universe is physically comprehensible (i.e. is such that the true theory of everything is unified) - a thesis I shall call physicalism.
Granted SE, physicalism cannot be a part of scientific knowledge because, being metaphysical, it can be neither verified nor falsified empirically, and most certainly has not predicted empirical phenomena, and thus achieved empirical success (which is what a theory must do, according to SE, if it is to become a part of scientific knowledge). Granted AOE, however, physicalism emerges as an especially secure part of theoretical scientific knowledge since all physical theories that clash with it too severely are rejected, or not even considered, however empirically successful they might be if considered.
All scientific knowledge is conjectural in character, as Karl Popper tirelessly argued. This applies to physicalism too, of course. For all we can know for certain, physicalism may be false - as may be our best current theories of physics, the standard model and general relativity. (Physicalism implies, indeed, that these theories are false.) What arguments in support of AOE reveal, however, is that physicalism is a more secure part of (conjectural) theoretical scientific knowledge than our best current theories - and is certainly as much a part of current knowledge as these theories.
According to AOE, then, and in sharp contrast to SE, science already provides us with (conjectural) knowledge about the ultimate nature of the universe: it is physically comprehensible. Some kind of physical entity, some sort of field, exists everywhere, unchanging, and determines (perhaps probabilistically) the way everything that changes does change.
This represents, not just an enormous increase in the scope, the content, of scientific knowledge; it is an increase that is of profound significance for humanity. Physicalism threatens the value of human life. If it is true, how can there be free will? How can there be consciousness? What becomes of everything that physicalism seems to leave out, the whole world of human experience, meaning and value? The transition from SE to AOE serves to highlight just how fundamental and intellectually urgent these problems are (in that they are engendered by scientific knowledge, and not merely by speculative metaphysics).
6. AOE places far greater emphasis on the importance of the search for explanation and understanding in science than does SE. For a new theory to be accepted, granted SE, what really matters is that the theory is empirically successful. Considerations of simplicity, unity, explanatory character, may play a role as well, but as SE fails to explicate clearly what these non-empirical considerations are, and why they should be relevant, their influence is not nearly as important as empirical considerations. The move to AOE changes this situation dramatically. What the demand for unity means becomes quite clear. Why it is a legitimate, rational demand is also clear. And this demand for unity is so central to science that it persistently over-rides empirical considerations, as we have seen. This happens all the time in scientific practice, in defiance of SE, when empirically successful, disunified theories are ignored. And AOE provides a rationale for permitting unity or explanatoriness to over-ride empirical considerations. The quest to explain and understand becomes central to science, granted AOE, in a way which is not the case, granted SE.
That AOE does far better justice to the search for explanation and understanding in science than SE is strikingly borne out by the case of orthodox quantum theory (OQT). Those who developed OQT (Heisenberg, Bohr, Born and others) despaired of solving the quantum wave/particle dilemma (required for understanding) and, as a result, developed OQT, not as a theory about quantum systems per se, but rather as a theory about the results of performing measurements on such systems. The extraordinary empirical success of OQT led to its general acceptance, even though it fails to provide real explanation and understanding of quantum phenomena.
Viewed from the perspective of AOE, all this looks very different. Because OQT is a theory about the results of performing measurements on quantum systems (and not a theory about quantum systems per se), OQT is composed of a quantum part, and some part of classical physics for a treatment of measurement. OQT is, in other words, unacceptably disunified (being made of incompatible components). If AOE had been generally accepted when OQT was being developed, OQT might have been tolerated as an empirically successful theoretical scheme, but it would not have been regarded as an acceptable theory, precisely because of its gross disunity, its failure to provide explanation and understanding of the quantum domain. It is no accident, incidentally, that Einstein vehemently opposed OQT; he held a view close to AOE.
General acceptance of AOE in the 1920s would have led to recognition of the scientific importance of curing the unity defects of OQT, and developing a more acceptable version of quantum theory. As a result, we might today have such a version of the theory - something we still do not have, eighty years later! Here is a graphic example of the way acceptance of SE can damage the content of science.
7. Granted SE, there is no such thing as a rational method for the discovery of fundamental new theories. The only guidelines available are existing theories, but new theories almost invariably contradict predecessor theories. By contrast, AOE does provide science with a rational method of discovery - even though fallible and non-mechanical. In order to develop new fundamental physical theories (the hardest kind of case to consider), physicists need to resolve clashes between existing fundamental theories, and between these theories and metaphysical ideas at levels 3, and 4. Something like this method was employed by Einstein in discovering special and general relativity, and somewhat similar methods were employed by Yang, Mills, Weinberg, Salam, Gell-Mann and others in discovering elements of the standard model. As I have already remarked, science puts something like AOE into practice, but in an awkward, furtive, retarded way, handicapped by allegiance to SE.
8. The transition from SE to AOE would have fruitful implications for science education, and for public understanding and appreciation of science. The intellectual content of science, shaped by allegiance to SE, consists of theory and evidence. Metaphysics, philosophy, epistemology, questions about the meaning and value of human life must all be ruthlessly excluded from science, according to SE, to preserve its rationality, its intellectual integrity. The intellectual content of science, understood in this SE way, tends to be technical, esoteric, unintelligible and unappealing to many pupils, students and members of the public. There is the danger that science is reduced to being merely the highly technical enterprise of predicting more and more phenomena more and more accurately.
Science would be very different if shaped by allegiance to AOE. The metaphysical thesis of physicalism would be acknowledged to be a central, fundamental tenet of scientific knowledge. This is a thesis everyone can understand, unlike scientific theories like the standard model or general relativity. Methodological, epistemological and philosophical questions would be acknowledged to be an integral part of AOE science. Science becomes much more like natural philosophy, what it was for Galileo and his successors, before it became malformed by SE. The quest to understand becomes much more important, as we have seen. Science education (whether involving children, students or members of the public) would need to include discussion of ultimate scientific/ philosophical questions that we can all understand and appreciate. What kind of universe is this? Does science really tell us that physicalism is true? If it is true, what becomes of consciousness, free will, the meaning and value of human life? Instead of being primarily the technical, esoteric, unintelligible affair engendered by SE, AOE science becomes a dramatic, exhilarating and even alarming quest and adventure, "the greatest spiritual adventure of mankind" as Popper has called it, open to all, intelligible at the most fundamental level to all. Science would become again what it should be, somewhat like music, technical and professional in some respects but fundamentally open for all to enjoy and participate in, a vital part of culture and not something shielded from it.
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In the next two sections I discuss two generalizations of AOE. The first, discussed in this section, has to do with AOE applied to science. The second, discussed in the next section, has to do with AOE applied to all worthwhile endeavours with problematic aims other than science.
So far I have argued that the basic aim of science is not truth per se, but rather explanatory truth. But this latter is a part of a more general aim of science of seeking valuable truth - of value either because of its intrinsic or intellectual value (of value because it enables us to explain and understand or because of its inherent interest), or because it enables us to achieve other goals of value - health, communications, travel, prosperity, etc. - by means of technology, or in other ways.
In order for a result to be accepted for publication in a scientific journal, let alone accepted as a part of scientific knowledge, it is not enough that the result be new and sufficiently well established. It must, in addition, be judged to be of sufficient interest, significance or importance. Values, of one kind or another, thus play a decisive role in deciding what enters, and what is excluded from, the body of scientific knowledge. A science which accumulated a vast store of knowledge about facts all irredeemably trivial and useless would not be judged to be making splendid progress; it would, quite correctly, be held to be stagnant and decadent. It is desirable that science should seek valuable truth. And that values, of one kind or another, should influence the aims of research is inevitable. Infinitely many facts about the world are all around us, awaiting potential scientific investigation: inevitably decisions about what is important will influence what is, and what is not, studied.
Values influence the aims and content of science in a way quite different from the influence of metaphysical assumptions, discussed above in sections II to IV. Values do not, or ought not to, influence decisions about truth and falsity; rather, inevitably and quite properly, as I have said, they influence decisions about whether a result is sufficiently significant to enter the body of scientific knowledge, or even be published.
If metaphysical assumptions implicit in the aim of seeking explanatory truth are problematic, then it must be said that value assumptions, inherent in the aim of seeking valuable truth are, if anything, even more problematic. Of value to whom? When? In what way? How is one to decide between the very different values of science pursued for its own sake - for example, for the sake of explanation and understanding - and science pursued for the sake of achieving other aims of value - health, prosperity, etc.?
The argument here is exactly the same as before. If science is to stand any chance of pursuing aims that are both scientifically achievable and of value to achieve it is vital that possible and actual, highly problematic, aims be explicitly articulated as an integral part of science, so that they can be criticized, alternatives being developed and considered. Conjectures about (1) what is scientifically discoverable, and (2) what it would be of value to discover, need to be articulated and scrutinized in an attempt to discovery that highly problematic region of overlap of (1) and (2), the scientifically discoverable that is genuinely of value. Such conjectures concerning actual and possible aims need to be discussed in journals and forums open to scientists and non-scientists alike.
All this is encouraged by the generalized version of AOE which recognizes that a basic aim of science is valuable truth. SE, however, holds that the aim of science is truth as such, and denies that values have any role to play within the intellectual domain of science. Instead of recognizing the vital need to have three domains of scientific discussion, (1) evidence, (2) theory, and (3) aims, SE recognizes only the first two. And as a result of the profound influence that SE has long exercised over science, institutional means for the sustained imaginative and critical discussion of research aims and priorities have not been developed. Such matters are decided by grant giving bodies, committees, individual scientists, leaders of research groups.
The outcome that one would expect of this SE failure to promote sustained discussion of problematic aims is that the priorities of research come to reflect, not the noblest and best interests of humanity - such as help for the poor and those who suffer, the search for understanding - but rather the interests of those who pay for science, the wealthy and powerful, and the interests of scientists themselves, including such non-intellectual matters as careers and status.
Such is indeed the case. Much scientific and technological research is devoted to the interests of wealthy countries and not to the interests of the billion or so who live in abject poverty. Medical research is devoted primarily to the diseases of the wealthy, not the poor. And there is the scandal of military research. In the UK, 30% of the budget for research and development is spent on the military. In the USA it is 50%. In our world, fraught with gross inequalities, injustices, conflict and war, one may well wonder whether this expenditure is in the best interests of humanity. Striking, too, is the general silence about the matter, the failure of the scientific community to speak up about it. Whereas AOE insists that it is the professional duty of the scientific community to discuss and publicize these matters, SE implies that this lies beyond the scientist's brief, which has to do, exclusively, with the acquisition of value-neutral knowledge.
The problematic aims of science require further elaboration. The aim of seeking valuable truth needs to be regarded as a means to the realization of a farther social, or humanitarian aim: to make knowledge of valuable truth available to be used by people in their lives to enrich the quality of life, either culturally or intellectually, by enhancing personal knowledge and understanding of aspects of the world, or practically, to achieve other goals of value (health, prosperity, etc.). Inevitably scientific results are used to transform society. Science ought to do what it can to ensure that results are used for the benefit of all, and not in ways which are harmful. To this extent, science has a moral, a social, even a political, goal.
But this political or humanitarian goal is, if anything, even more problematic than the aims already discussed. Here, as before, it is vital that science promotes open, imaginative and critical discussion of actual and possible human uses of science, and relevant political policies and programmes, in an attempt to ensure that uses and policies of genuine benefit to humanity will be adopted. This is encouraged, indeed demanded, by AOE, but SE holds that it has nothing to do with science whatsoever.
Once again, because of the influence of SE, science has not developed institutional means for open, sustained, imaginative and critical discussion of the humanitarian aim of science to help enhance the quality of human life (by intellectual, technological and educational means). And as a result, as is to be expected, the impact of science on society has not always been of the best.
Modern science has, of course, been of immense benefit to humanity in countless ways. The modern world is inconceivable without it. But there is an underside to the blessings of science. They are not, to begin with, equably distributed throughout the world. Some billion people, as I have already mentioned, live in abject poverty, not much benefited by science. Science has made possible rapid population growth, modern agriculture and industry which in turn have led to pollution of earth, sea and air, destruction of natural habitats such as tropical rain forests, and rapid extinction of species. Science has made it possible for modern warfare to acquire its lethal character, and has led to the threats posed by modern armaments, conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear. Science has even played a role in engendering the AIDS crisis (AIDS being spread by modern methods of travel). And over everything hangs the menace of global warming, with its attendant threats of drought, storms floods, and death, threatening to intensify other crises (global warming being the outcome of population growth, modern industry and travel, all made possible by science).
AOE, recognizing the profoundly problematic character of the humanitarian scientific aim of helping to enhance the quality of human life, would anticipate problems such as these, and would require scientists and non-scientists alike to develop both scientific research and political policies designed to alleviate them. SE, by contrast, places all this outside the domain of science, and makes it no part of the professional task of the scientist to come to grips with such issues, as scientist. General acceptance of SE has thus played a role in allowing these crises to develop.
An important part of the humanitarian aim of science is the intellectual or educational one of enabling non-scientist to use science so as to enhance their personal knowledge and understanding of, and curiosity about, the world around them. Here too science must be judged to be only partially successful. Billions of people alive today are ignorant of even the most elementary aspects of the scientific picture of the world, and may well have a hostile attitude towards science. Acceptance of SE, rather than AOE, has contributed to this failure, partly in excluding the scientific picture of the world as an item of scientific knowledge, partly in down-playing the importance of public involvement with science by means of discussion and debate.
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Science is of value in three ways: (1) intellectually, in enhancing knowledge, understanding and curiosity, (2) practically, via technology and in other ways, and (3) methodologically, as a quite extraordinarily successful example of learning, of making progress, which may well have fruitful implications for all sorts of other worthwhile human endeavours that struggle to meet with success, and make progress. All three are deeply problematic. (1) and (2) are, of course, well known, but (3) is nowadays almost universally overlooked, ignored and unused.
(3) involves generalizing the progress-achieving methods of science so that they become fruitfully applicable to other worthwhile pursuits. But to do this successfully it is vital to adopt AOE, and not SE, as one's conception of the progress-achieving methods of science. For it is not just in science that aims are problematic; in life, too, aims can be profoundly problematic. This is especially true of the humanitarian, political aim to create a better world. SE, generalized so as to apply to this and other pursuits, provides no help with improving Figure 2: Implementing Generalization of Aim-Oriented Empiricism in Pursuit of Civilization
(Please enlarge to view)
problematic aims. AOE, generalized, by contrast, is specifically designed to help us improve problematic aims as we act. General acceptance of SE has had the effect of crippling this
third, methodological use of science. This may well be the most damaging consequence of the failure of the scientific community to adopt AOE and repudiate SE.
The basic idea of (3) goes back at least to the French Enlightenment. The philosophes,
Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet and others, had the idea of learning from scientific progress how to make social progress towards an enlightened world. But in developing this idea, they blundered, and it was, unfortunately, their botched version of the idea that was taken up and subsequently built into the institutional structure of academia. It is from this that we still suffer today.
In order to put (3) - the Enlightenment idea - successfully into practice, three steps need to be got right:-
(a) The progress-achieving methods of science need to be correctly characterized.
(b) These methods need to be correctly generalized, so that they become fruitfully applicable to worthwhile human pursuits other than science (especially to those with problematic aims) - government, the pursuit of justice, prosperity, security, art, happiness, love.
(c) These generalized, progress-achieving methods then need to be embedded into the fabric of society and our lives, into institutions associated with government, the law, the economy, etc., and above all into efforts to create a just, peaceful, sustainable, democratic, liberal, prosperous, civilized world.
The philosophes got all three steps, (a), (b) and (c), wrong. They (a) took inductivism, a crude version of SE, for granted, which (c) they applied, not to social life, but rather to the task of creating social science. This was developed throughout the 19th century, and built into academia in the early 20th century with the creation of departments of economics, anthropology, sociology, political science, psychology. The outcome is what we still have today, academia devoted primarily to the pursuit of knowledge.
But all this is a damaging mistake. Step (a) requires that we adopt AOE, not SE. Step (b) requires that AOE is generalized: whenever worthwhile but problematic aims are pursued, a hierarchy of aims (and associated methods) needs to be created, aims becoming increasingly unspecific and unproblematic as one goes up the hierarchy, in this way a framework of relatively unproblematic aims and methods being developed within which much more specific, problematic and controversial aims and methods can be improved as we act. Step (c) requires that this hierarchical meta-methodology be adopted and implemented by social life, by institutions other than science - especially by those whose basic aims are problematic. The aim of creating a better world is, for all sorts of reasons, profoundly problematic. Here, above all, the generalized version of AOE must be adopted and implemented. (See figure 2 for a cartoon version of what is required.)
Social inquiry, on this view, is not, in the first instance, social science, or the pursuit of knowledge at all; rather it is social methodology, or social philosophy, concerned to help humanity tackle its immense problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than at present, and seeking to build into social life progress-achieving methods arrived at by generalizing AOE - the progress-achieving methods of natural science.
If the basic Enlightenment idea had been properly developed in this way, in the 18th and 19th centuries, we might have learned how to avoid some of the horrors of the 20th century, and some of the crises that now beset us, partly as a result of the pursuit of SE science. For humanity would have had in its hands (what we still do not have today) institutions of inquiry rationally designed and devoted to help us make progress towards a genuinely civilized world.
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Many see modern science as having serious defects, intellectual, social, moral. Few see this as having anything to do with the philosophy of science. I have argued that many diverse ills of modern science are a consequence of the fact that the scientific community has long accepted, and sought to implement, a bad philosophy of science, namely standard empiricism. The scientific community urgently needs to bring about a revolution in both the conception of science, and science itself. Standard empiricism needs to be rejected, and the more rigorous philosophy of science of aim-oriented empiricism needs to be adopted and explicitly implemented in scientific practice instead. The outcome would be the emergence of a new kind of science, of greater value in both intellectual and humanitarian terms.
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Val di Bottoli, Tuscany, July 2008
 For a more detailed exposition of SE, see Maxwell (2007), pp. 32-51. For grounds for holding scientists do, by and large, accept SE, see Maxwell (1998, pp. 38-45; 2007, pp. 145-156; 2004, pp. 5-6, note 5).
 For more detailed refutations of SE, see Maxwell (1998, ch. 2; 2004, ch.1; 2005; 2007, ch. 9).
3]Einstein (1982, pp. 21-25).
 Maxwell (1998, pp. 89-93; 2004, appendix, section 2; 2007, ch. 14, section 2).
 A version of AOE was first expounded and defended in Maxwell (1974). For subsequent elaborations see Maxwell (1976a; 1984; 1998; 2004; 2005; 2007, ch. 14).
 Maxwell (2007), ch. 14.
 According to AOE, the philosophy of science, conceived of as being about the aims and methods of science, has an important, influential role to play within science, as an integral part of science itself. Most contemporary academic philosophy of science unfortunately takes versions of SE for granted and thereby condemns itself to being worse than useless. According to SE, science has a fixed aim and fixed methods: the philosophy of science cannot itself be a part of science since it does not consist of empirically testable ideas. SE philosophy of science, instead of performing the useful task of demolishing SE and arguing for its replacement, tries to justify SE, and of course fails. Furthermore, SE philosophy of science is obliged to interpret itself as a meta-discipline, seeking to clarify what the aims and methods of science are, but not in any way affecting science itself. In thus dissociating the philosophy of science from science itself, the discipline serves to undermine the very thing it claims to be seeking to understand, namely the rationality of science. This requires, as we have seen, that the philosophy of science is an integral, influential part of science itself, and not a distinct meta-discipline.
 See Maxwell (1993; 1998, pp. 123-140).
 See Maxwell (2004), pp. 41-47.
 Popper (1959; 1963).
 See Maxwell (1998, ch. 5; 2007, ch. 14, section 6).
 For my own attempt at solving these fundamental problems see Maxwell (1984, ch. 10; 2001).
 Over many years I have attempted to develop a version of quantum theory that solves the wave/particle problem and is testably distinct from OQT: see Maxwell (1972; 1976b; 1982; 1994; 1998, ch. 7; 2008a). The key idea is that the quantum domain is fundamentally probabilistic, the condition for probabilistic transitions to occur being that new particles, bound systems or stationary states are created as a result of inelastic collisions. Somewhat similar ideas, different in detail, have been put forward by Ghirardi et al (1986) and Penrose (1986).
 See Maxwell (1993; 1998, pp. 123-140 and 219-223; 2004, pp. 34-39.)
 I have sought to get this idea across in Maxwell (1976a; 2004, pp. 47-51; 2008b.)
 Recently, attempts have been made to create institutional means for the discussion of aims to which non-scientists can contribute, for example by the Royal Society, and by the E.S.R.C. Science in Society Programme, in the UK.
 See Langley (2005).
 The argument of this section is spelled out in much greater detail in Maxwell (1976a; 1984; 2004; 2007; 2008b). I should add that in recent years natural science has moved somewhat in the direction I have argued for (but independently of my work), as a result of growing awareness by scientists of environmental problems, especially global warming: see Maxwell (2007, chs. 11 and 12).
 The argument sketched in this section was first spelled out in some detail in Maxwell (1976a). A much fuller exposition is to be found in Maxwell (1984; see also 2004; 2007). More information about my work is available at www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk.
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Einstein, A. 1982, Autobiographical Notes, in Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, ed.,
P.A. Schilpp, Open Court, La Salle, Il., pp. 3-94.
Ghirardi, G. C., Rimini, A. and Weber, T., 1986, Unified dynamics for microscopic and
macroscopic systems, Physical Review D, 34, pp. 470-91.
Langley, C., 2005, Soldiers in the Laboratory, Scientists for Global Responsibility, Folkstone.
Maxwell, N., 1972, A New Look at the Quantum Mechanical Problem of Measurement,
American Journal of Physics 40, pp. 1431-5.
______, 1974, The Rationality of Scientific Discovery, Philosophy of Science 41, pp. 123-53
______, 1976a, What’s Wrong With Science?, Bran’s Head Books, Hayes.
______, 1976b, Towards a Micro Realistic Version of Quantum Mechanics, Foundations of
Physics 6, pp. 275-92 and 661-676.
______, 1982, Instead of Particles and Fields: A Micro Realistic Quantum "Smearon" Theory,
Foundations of Physics 12, pp. 607-31.
______, 1984, From Knowledge to Wisdom, Blackwell, Oxford.
______, 1993, Induction and Scientific Realism: Einstein versus van Frassen. Part Three:
Einstein, Aim-Oriented Empiricism and the Discovery of Special and General Relativity,
British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44, pp. 275-305.
______, 1994, Particle Creation as the Quantum Condition for Probabilistic Events to Occur,
Physics Letters A 187, pp. 351-355.
______, 1998, The Comprehensibility of the Universe, Oxford University Press, Oxford.
______, 2001, The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will and
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______, 2004, Is Science Neurotic?, Imperial College Press, London.
______, 2005, Popper, Kuhn, Lakatos and Aim-Oriented Empiricism, Philosophia 32, nos.
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______, 2007, From Knowledge to Wisdom (2nd ed., revised and enlarged, Pentire Press,
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For over 30 years I have argued, in and out of print that, for both intellectual and humanitarian reasons, we urgently need a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry. Now I find the revolution is underway – entirely independent of my own efforts to promote it.
My claim is that instead of giving priority to the search for knowledge, academia needs to devote itself to seeking and promoting wisdom by rational means, wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others. Wisdom thus includes knowledge but much else besides. A basic task of academia would be to help humanity learn how to create a better world.
Acquiring scientific knowledge dissociated from a more basic concern for wisdom, as we do at present, is dangerously and damagingly irrational.
Natural science has been extraordinarily successful in increasing knowledge. This has been of great benefit to humanity. But new knowledge and technological know-how increase our power to act which, without wisdom, may cause human suffering and death as well as human benefit. Just this has occurred. Indeed all our modern global problems have arisen in this way: global warming, the lethal character of modern war and terrorism, vast inequalities of wealth and power round the globe, rapid increase in population, rapid extinction of other species, even the aids epidemic (aids being spread by modern travel). All these have been made possible by modern science – especially science dissociated from a more fundamental rational pursuit of wisdom.
If we are to avoid in this century the horrors of the last one - wars, death camps, dictatorships, poverty, environmental damage - we urgently need to learn how to acquire more wisdom, which in turn means that our institutions of learning become devoted to that end.
The revolution we need would change every branch and aspect of academic inquiry. A basic intellectual task of academic inquiry would be to articulate our problems of living (personal, social and global) and propose and critically assess possible solutions, possible actions. This would be the task of social inquiry and the humanities. Tackling problems of knowledge would be secondary. Social inquiry would be at the heart of the academic enterprise, intellectually more fundamental than natural science. On a rather more long-term basis, social inquiry would be concerned to help humanity build cooperatively rational methods of problem-solving into the fabric of social and political life, so that we may gradually acquire the capacity to resolve our conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than at present. Natural science would change to include three domains of discussion: evidence, theory, and aims - the latter including discussion of metaphysics, values and politics. Academic inquiry as a whole would become a kind of people's civil service, doing openly for the public what actual civil services are supposed to do in secret for governments. Academia would actively seek to educate the public by means of discussion and debate, and would not just study the public. Academia would have just sufficient power to retain its independence from government, industry, the media, public opinion, but no more.
These changes are not arbitrary. They all come, I have argued, from demanding that academia cure its current structural irrationality, so that reason – the authentic article – may be devoted to promoting human welfare.
My efforts to start up a campaign to transform academia so that it becomes an educational resource to help humanity learn how to create a better world have not met with much success. I am not aware of any discipline, or any department in any university, that has changed in any way as a result of my work. Few are the academics who have even heard of my work. Even philosophers seem to be, by and large, ignorant of it, or indifferent to it – especially disappointing in view of the fact that the argument for the intellectual revolution is profoundly philosophical in character. And not just the argument: the outcome, the new conception of inquiry I argue for – wisdom-inquiry as it may be called – is, I claim, quintessentially philosophical in that it is the solution to a profoundly significant philosophical problem, namely: What kind of inquiry can best help us make progress towards a civilized world?
Viewed from another perspective, however, my call for a revolution, for the implementation of wisdom-inquiry, has been astonishingly successful. During the last ten to twenty years, all sorts of changes have taken place in academia that amount to putting aspects of wisdom-inquiry into practice – even if in complete ignorance of my work. In what follows I concentrate on universities in the UK.
Perhaps the most significant steps towards wisdom-inquiry that have taken place during the last twenty years are the creation of departments, institutions and research centres concerned with social policy, with problems of environmental degradation, climate change, poverty, injustice and war, and with such matters as medical ethics and community health. For example, a number of departments and research centres concerned in one way or another with policy issues have been created at my own university of University College London during the last 20 years.
At Cambridge University, there is a more interesting development. One can see the first hints of the institutional structure of wisdom-inquiry being superimposed upon the existing structure of knowledge-inquiry (as inquiry organized around the pursuit of knowledge may be called). As I have indicated, wisdom-inquiry puts the intellectual tackling of problems of living at the heart of academic inquiry, this activity being conducted in such a way that it both influences, and is influenced by, more specialized research. Knowledge-inquiry, by contrast, organizes intellectual activity into the conventional departments of knowledge: physics, chemistry, biology, history and the rest, in turn subdivided, again and again, into ever more narrow, specialized research disciplines. But this knowledge-inquiry structure of ever more specialized research is hopelessly inappropriate when it comes to tackling our major problems of living. In order to tackle environmental problems, for example, in a rational and effective way, specialized research into a multitude of different fields, from geology, engineering and economics to climate science, biology, architecture and metallurgy, needs to be connected to, and coordinated with, the different aspects of environmental problems. The sheer urgency of environmental problems has, it seems, forced Cambridge University to create the beginnings of wisdom-inquiry organization to deal with the issue. The “Cambridge Environmental Initiative” (CEI), launched in December 2004, distinguishes seven fields associated with environmental problems: conservation, climate change, energy, society, water waste built environment and industry, natural hazards, society, and technology, and under these headings, coordinates some 102 research groups working on specialized aspects of environmental issues in some 25 different (knowledge-inquiry) departments: see http://www.cei.group.cam.ac.uk/ . The CEI holds seminars, workshops and public lectures to put specialized research workers in diverse fields in touch with one another, and to inform the public. There is also a CEI newsletter.
A similar coordinating, interdisciplinary initiative exists at Oxford University. This is the School of Geography and the Environment, founded in 2005 under another name. This is made up of five research “clusters”, two previously established research centres, the Environmental Change Institute (founded in 1991) and the Transport Studies Institute, and three inter-departmental research programmes, the African Environments Programme the Oxford Centre for Water Research, and the Oxford branch of the Tyndall Centre (see below). The School has links with other such research centres, for example the UK Climate Impact Programme and the UK Energy Research Centre.
At Oxford University there is also the James Martin 21st Century School, founded in 2005 to “formulate new concepts, policies and technologies that will make the future a better place to be”. It is made up of fifteen Institutes devoted to research that ranges from ageing, armed conflict, cancer therapy and carbon reduction to nanoscience, oceans, science innovation and society, the future of the mind, and the future of humanity. At Oxford there is also the Smith School of Enterprise and the Environment, founded in 2008 to help government and industry tackle the challenges of the 21st century, especially those associated with climate change.
Somewhat similar developments have taken place recently at my own university, University College London. Not only are there 141 research institutes and centres at UCL, some only recently founded, many interdisciplinary in character, devoted to such themes as ageing, cancer, cities, culture, public policy, the environment, global health, governance, migration, neuroscience, and security. In addition, very recently, the attempt has been made to organize research at UCL around a few broad themes that include: global health, sustainable cities, intercultural interactions, and human wellbeing. This is being done so that UCL may all the better contribute to solving the immense global problems that confront humanity.
All these developments, surely echoed in many universities all over the world, can be regarded as first steps towards implementing wisdom-inquiry.
Equally impressive is the John Tyndall Centre for Climate Change Research, founded by 28 scientists from 10 different universities or institutions in 2000. It is based in six British universities, has links with six others, and is funded by three research councils, NERC, EPSRC and ESRC (environment, engineering and social economic research). It “brings together scientists, economists, engineers and social scientists, who together are working to develop sustainable responses to climate change through trans-disciplinary research and dialogue on both a national and international level – not just within the research community, but also with business leaders, policy advisors, the media and the public in general” (http://www.tyndall.ac.uk/general / about.shtml). All this is strikingly in accordance with basic features of wisdom-inquiry. We have here, perhaps, the real beginnings of wisdom-inquiry being put into academic practice.
A similar organization, modelled on the Tyndall Centre, is the UK Energy Research Centre (UKERC), launched in 2004, and also funded by the three research councils, NERC, EPSRC and ESRC. Its mission is to be a “centre of research, and source of authoritative information and leadership, on sustainable energy systems” (http://www.ukerc.ac.uk/). It coordinates research in some twelve British universities or research institutions. UKERC has created the National Energy Research Network (NERN), which seeks to link up the entire energy community, including people from academia, government, NGOs and business.
Another possible indication of a modest step towards wisdom-inquiry is the growth of peace studies and conflict resolution research. In Britain, the Peace Studies Department at Bradford University has “quadrupled in size” since 1984 (Professor Paul Rogers, personal communication), and is now the largest university department in this field in the world. INCORE, an International Conflict Research project, was established in 1993 at the University of Ulster, in Northern Ireland, in conjunction with the United Nations University. It develops conflict resolution strategies, and aims to influence policymakers and others involved in conflict resolution. Like the newly created environmental institutions just considered, it is highly interdisciplinary in character, in that it coordinates work done in history, policy studies, politics, international affairs, sociology, geography, architecture, communications, and social work as well as in peace and conflict studies. The Oxford Research Group, established in 1982, is an independent think tank which “seeks to develop effective methods whereby people can bring about positive change on issues of national and international security by non-violent means” (www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk/). It has links with a number of universities in Britain. Peace studies have also grown during the period we are considering at Sussex University, Kings College London, Leeds University, Coventry University and London Metropolitan University. Centres in the field in Britain created since 1984 include: the Centre for Peace and Reconciliation Studies at Warwick University founded in 1999, the Desmond Tutu Centre for War and Peace, established in 2004 at Liverpool Hope University; the Praxis Centre at Leeds Metropolitan University, launched in 2004; the Crime and Conflict Centre at Middlesex University; and the International Boundaries Research Unit, founded in 1989 at Durham University.
Additional indications of a general movement towards aspects of wisdom-inquiry are the following. Demos, a British independent think tank has, in recent years, convened conferences on the need for more public participation in discussion about aims and priorities of scientific research, and greater openness of science to the public. This has been taken up by The Royal Society which, in 2004, published a report on potential benefits and hazards of nanotechnology produced by a group consisting of both scientists and non-scientists. The Royal Society has also created a “Science in Society Programme” in 2000, with the aims of promoting “dialogue with society”, of involving “society positively in influencing and sharing responsibility for policy on scientific matters”, and of embracing “a culture of openness in decision-making” which takes into account “the values and attitudes of the public”. A similar initiative is the “science in society” research programme funded by the Economic and Social Research Council which has, in the Autumn of 2007, come up with six booklets reporting on various aspects of the relationship between science and society. Many scientists now appreciate that non-scientists ought to contribute to discussion concerning science policy. There is a growing awareness among scientists and others of the role that values play in science policy, and the importance of subjecting medical and other scientific research to ethical assessment. That universities are becoming increasingly concerned about these issues is indicated by
the creation, in recent years, of many departments of “science, technology and society”, in the UK, the USA and elsewhere, the intention being that these departments will concern themselves with interactions between science and society.
Even though academia is not organized in such a way as to give intellectual priority to helping humanity tackle its current global problems, academics do nevertheless publish books that tackle these issues, for experts and non-experts alike. For example, in recent years many books have been published on global warming and what to do about it: see: http://www.kings.cam.ac.uk/
Here are a few further scattered hints that the revolution, from knowledge to wisdom, may be underway – as yet unrecognized and unorganized. In recent years, research in psychology into the nature of wisdom has flourished, in the USA, Canada, Germany and elsewhere. Emerging out of this, and associated in part with Robert Sternberg, there is, in the USA, a “teaching for wisdom” initiative, the idea being that, whatever else is taught – science, history or mathematics – the teaching should be conducted in such a way that wisdom is also acquired. There is the Arete Initiative at Chicago University which has “launched a $2 million research programme on the nature and benefits of wisdom”: see http://wisdomresearch.org/. There are two initiatives that I have been involved with personally. The first is a new international group of over 200 scholars and educationalists called Friends of Wisdom, “an association of people sympathetic to the idea that academic inquiry should help humanity acquire more wisdom by rational means”: see www.knowledgetowisdom.org. The second is a special issue of the journal London Review of Education; of which I was guest editor, devoted to the theme “wisdom in the university”. This duly appeared in June 2007 (vol. 5, no.2). It contains seven articles on various aspects of the basic theme. Rather strikingly, another academic journal brought out a special issue on a similar theme in the same month. The April-June 2007 issue of Social Epistemology is devoted to the theme “wisdom in management” (vol. 21, no. 2). On the 5th December 2007, History and Policy was launched, a new initiative that seeks to bring together historians, politicians and the media, and “works for better public policy through an understanding of history”: see www.historyandpolicy.org/.
Out of curiosity, on 18 May 2009, I consulted Google to see whether it gives any indications of the revolution that may be underway. Here are the number of web pages that came up for various relevant topics: “Environmental Studies” 9,910,000; “Development Studies” 7,210,000; “Peace Studies” 529,000; “Policy Studies” 2,160,000; “Science, Technology and Society” 297,000; “Wisdom Studies” 5,510; “From Knowledge to Wisdom” 18,100; “Wisdom-Inquiry” 625. These figures do not, perhaps, in themselves tell us very much. There is probably a great deal of repetition – and Google gives us no idea of the intellectual quality of the departments or studies that are being referred to. One of the items that comes up in Google is Copthorne Macdonald’s “Wisdom Page” – a compilation of “various on-line texts concerning wisdom, references to books about wisdom, information about organizations that promote wisdom”, and including a bibliography of more than 800 works on wisdom prepared by Richard Trowbridge.
None of these developments quite amounts to advocating or implementing wisdom-inquiry (apart from the two I am associated with). One has to remember that “wisdom studies” is not the same thing as “wisdom-inquiry”. The new environmental research organizations, and the new emphasis on policy studies of various kinds, do not in themselves add up to wisdom-inquiry. In order to put wisdom-inquiry fully into academic practice, it would be essential for social inquiry and the humanities to give far greater emphasis to the task of helping humanity learn how to tackle its immense global problems in more cooperatively rational ways than at present. The imaginative and critical exploration of problems of living would need to proceed at the heart of academia, in such a way that it influences science policy, and is in turn influenced by the results of scientific and technological research. Academia would need to give much more emphasis to the task of public education by means of discussion and debate. Our only hope of tackling global problems of climate change, poverty, war and terrorism humanely and effectively is to tackle them democratically. But democratic governments are not likely to be all that much more enlightened than their electorates. This in turn means that electorates of democracies must have a good understanding of what our global problems are, and what needs to be done about them. Without that there is little hope of humanity making progress towards a better world. A vital task for universities is to help educate the public about what we need to do to avoid – at the least – the worst of future possible disasters. Wisdom-inquiry would undertake such a task of public education to an extent that is far beyond anything attempted or imagined by academics today. There is still a long way to go before we have what we so urgently need, a kind of academic inquiry rationally devoted to helping humanity learn how to create a better world. A university system that did that would need, for example, to create a shadow government, creating policies and possible legislation, imaginatively and critically, free of the shackles actual governments suffer from because of all sorts of pressures, honourable and dishonourable. As far as I know, there is not at present even a hint of an awareness that such an institution needs to be created within academia.
Nevertheless, the developments I have indicated can be regarded as signs that there is a growing awareness of the need for our universities to change so as to help individuals learn how to realize what is genuinely of value in life – and help humanity learn how to tackle its immense global problems in wiser, more cooperatively rational ways than we seem to be doing at present. My calls for this intellectual and institutional revolution may have been entirely in vain. But what I have been calling for, all these years, is perhaps, at last, beginning to happen, entirely independent of my ineffective shouting on the sidelines. If so, it is happening with agonizing slowness, in a dreadfully muddled and piecemeal way. It urgently needs academics and non-academics to wake up to what is going on – or what needs to go on – to help give direction, coherence and a rationale to this nascent revolution from knowledge to wisdom.
 This argument was first spelled out in my What’s Wrong With Science? (Bran’s Head Books, Frome, 1976), and in much greater detail in my From Knowledge to Wisdom (Basil Blackwell, Oxford, 1984); second edition, revised throughout, with a new introduction and three new chapters (Pentire Press, London, 2007). See also my “What Kind of Inquiry Can Best Help Us Create a Good World?”, Science, Technology and Human Values 17, 1992, 205-27; “Can Humanity Learn to become Civilized? The Crisis of Science without Civilization”, Journal of Applied Philosophy 17, 2000, 29-44; Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, London, 2004); “From Knowledge to Wisdom: The Need for an Academic Revolution”, London Review of Education, 5, 2007, 97-115 (reprinted in R. Barnett and N. Maxwell, eds., Wisdom in the University (Routledge, London, 2008, pp. 1-19, pbk. 2009); “Do We Need a Scientific Revolution?”, Journal for Biological Physics and Chemistry, 8, 2008, 95-105; and McHenry, L., ed., Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom (Frankfurt, Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, 2009).
 Tyndall Centre, ed., Truly Useful, (UK, Tyndall Centre).
 For an account of the birth and growth of peace studies in universities see Rogers, P. F. “Peace Studies” in A. Collins, ed., Contemporary Security Studies (Oxford University Press, 2006, Ch. 3).
 See Wilsdon, J. and R. Willis, See-through Science (Demos, London, 2004).
 See, for example, Sternberg, R. J., ed., Wisdom: Its Nature Origins and Development (Cambridge University Press, 1990).
 See Sternberg, R. J. et al., “Teaching for wisdom: what matters is not just what students know, but how they use it”, London Review of Education, 5, 2007, 143-158.
Philosophy Seminars for Five-Year-Olds
(Learning for Democracy, Vol. 1, No. 2, 2005, pp. 71-77. Reprinted in Gifted Education International, Vol. 22, No. 2/3, 2007, pp.122-7)
All of us, I believe, are extraordinarily active and creative intellectually when we are very young. Somehow, in the first few years of life, we acquire an identity, a consciousness of self; we discover, or create, a whole view of the world, a cosmology; and we learn to understand speech, and to speak ourselves. And we achieve all this without any formal education whatsoever. Compared with these mighty intellectual achievements of our childhood, the heights of adult artistic and scientific achievement all but pale into insignificance. It is reasonable to suppose that there is a biological, a neurological, basis for our extraordinary capacity to learn when we are very young. It probably has to do with the fact that our brains are still growing during the first few years of life. It is striking that there are things that can only be learnt during this time. If we have not had the opportunity to learn to speak by the age of twelve, we will never really learn to speak. Lightning calculators all begin to acquire their extraordinary arithmetical skills when very young. Some things, it seems, become too difficult for us to learn as we grow older. In our early childhood we are forced, by our situation, to be creative philosophers and metaphysicians, preoccupied by fundamental issues. One has only to think of the endless questioning of young children to appreciate something of their insatiable hunger to know, to understand.
The tragedy is that formal education so rarely helps us to recognize and to develop our early profound intellectual experiences and achievements. Instead of encouraging our instinctive curiosity to develop into adulthood, all too often education unintentionally stifles and crushes it out of existence.
Academic inquiry ought to be the outcome of all our efforts to discover what is of value in existence and to share our discoveries with others. At its most important and fundamental, inquiry is the thinking we engage in as we live, as we strive to realize what is of value to us in our life. All of us ought both to contribute to, and to learn from, inter-personal public inquiry. This two-way traffic of teaching and learning ought to start at the outset, when we first attend school. Young children, at school, need to be encouraged to tell each other about their discoveries, their experiences, their thoughts and problems. The teacher needs to encourage both speaking and listening. Such a class or seminar, devoted to the co-operative, imaginative and rational exploration of problems encountered in life, ought to form a standard – even a central and fundamental – part of all education, science and scholarship, from primary school to university.
If this were the case, then we might all discover how to use science and scholarship so as to develop our own thinking – and living. Telling others of our problems and ideas – and listening to others tell of theirs – would help us to discover and to value our own thinking. It is all too easy to dismiss our most serious and original thinking – those moments of bafflement, surmise and wonder – as mere wordless feeling, irredeemably private, signifying little. This is especially the case in childhood. Unarticulated, our thinking is liable to become neglected, stagnant, forgotten. If it is to flourish it is vital that we develop and constantly practise the difficult art of putting what we feel and think into public words. An education that gave an intellectually fundamental role to the development of this art would not only stimulate the growth of personal thinking, it would also enable us to discover vital inter-connections between our personal thinking and public scientific and scholarly thought. Academic education would be not an imposition but an invitation to participate from the outset.
I do not want to exaggerate. Education of this person-centred, participatory kind already exists, to some extent, in both the arts and the sciences. Teachers of literature, drama and the other arts appreciate that art serves, as it were, a double purpose. As we enhance our understanding and appreciation of literature, so too, incidentally, we may enhance our understanding of ourselves and of others. By exploring, in novels and plays, imaginary people living imaginary lives, we can achieve a freedom to explore aspects of ourselves without the embarrassment or torture of public self-exposure. Furthermore, in order to improve our understanding of literature it is important that we try our hand at writing, which can enhance our powers of self-expression and our self-understanding. Analogous remarks can be made about drama, art, music, dance. And again, in science education at its best, it is appreciated that it is not just scientific results that need to be taught, but also, and perhaps most fundamentally, scientific problems. It has long been appreciated that in order to understand science it is essential to do it.
What is missing in all this is an appreciation of the central and unifying role of philosophy in all of education – philosophy pursued as the co-operative, imaginative and rational exploration of fundamental problems of living. Philosophy pursued in this way would effortlessly bridge the gulf between science and art, science and the humanities. All other parts of the curriculum – the physical and biological sciences, mathematics, geography, history, politics, literature, theatre, religion, etc. – could quite naturally and understandably emerge out of, and feed back into, the central, unifying enterprise of philosophy pursued as the open, rational exploration of fundamental problems. The very problem of how to unify all the diverse aspects of the world into a coherent, understandable whole could itself be recognized and discussed. The world we live in is a more or less inter-connected whole: it is not experienced as being split up into physics, chemistry, biology, history, literature, religion, and so on. Setting out to improve children's knowledge and understanding of the world in specialized, dissociated fragments, without any indication as to how the fragments fit together or, worse, without even an indication of the existence of the problem, is in itself an appallingly anti-rational and alienating thing to do. It amounts to the imposition of a sort of intellectual schizophrenia. It sets up a barrier between personal thinking and departmentalized academic thought, resulting in mutual distrust rather than mutual enhancement between these two kinds of thought. In important respects, academic learning cannot promote – it can only sabotage – coherent, rational thought about problems of living in this one, real, inter-connected world.
Failure to teach philosophy to five-year-olds, as a central, unifying part of the curriculum, is the result of mistaken assumptions about both children and philosophy.
Philosophy, it is assumed, is too difficult and esoteric a subject to be taught to five-year-olds. Only adults can come to grips with such an advanced discipline. In fact it is, if anything, the other way round. Above all, it is young children who are compelled, by their situation, to be highly active and creative philosophers, daily concerned with fundamental problems about the nature of life and the world. Most adults have long ago settled in their minds, in one way or another, fundamental questions about the nature of life and the world. It is particular, detailed, and specialized problems that preoccupy adult minds. The mere fact that most adult teachers neither recognize, nor feel any discomfort concerning, the profound philosophical disorder of the curriculum they daily administer to children is itself a blatant indication of the unphilosophical character of the adult mind. Philosophy, one might say, is instinctively and naturally a concern of childhood, and only rather rarely and artificially still a matter of concern in adult life.
This in turn, of course, makes it difficult for adults to teach philosophy properly. The main mistake would be to teach philosophy as another academic subject, as a body of recognized problems, proposed solutions and debates. The pupil would be expected to learn this up. This would, of course, miss the point entirely.1 For what is needed is, in a sense, not the teaching of anything at all, but rather the encouraging of children themselves to engage in the activity of articulating and scrutinizing problems and their possible solutions. Furthermore, it would be vital to do this in an honest and open-ended way, there being no prohibitions on what problems can be discussed, what solutions considered. The nature of the universe, war, sex, death, power, money, politics, fame, pop stars, parents, school, work, marriage, the meaning of life, evolution, God, failure, drugs, love, suffering, happiness: whatever it is that the children find fascinating or disturbing, and want to discuss, deserves to be discussed. Where there are no known or no agreed answers, the teacher must acknowledge this. The teacher must readily acknowledge his or her own ignorance or uncertainties. The main task of the teacher will be to try to ensure that the children speak one at a time, that everyone gets to speak, and that those who are not speaking, listen. The teacher will also, of course, try to establish a spirit of generosity towards the ideas of others, while at the same time encouraging criticism and argument. The main object of the seminar is to enable children to discover for themselves the value of co-operative, imaginative, rational problem-solving by taking part in it themselves. Only good, experienced teachers could hope to make a success of the philosophy seminar run along these lines.
The purpose of the seminar is not to promote mere debate. Argument is to be used as an aid to exploration and discovery: it is not to be used merely to trounce opponents or to win converts – as an excuse, that is, for intellectual duelling or bullying. The seminar must not be conducted in such a way that it amounts to overt or disguised indoctrination in some creed – however correct or noble the creed may be judged to be. Insofar as a creed is implicit in the seminar, it might be put like this: it is proper and desirable for people to resolve problems and conflicts in co-operative, imaginative and rational ways. This creed is itself open to discussion and critical assessment – along with all other political, religious, moral, economic, social and philosophical doctrines. The problem of how to distinguish co-operative discussion from indoctrination deserves itself to be discussed when it arises. Again, the seminar is not group therapy. Its primary aim is not to solve the participants’ urgent practical, personal problems (although it may occasionally and incidentally help to do this). Problems can be imagined and do not need to be lived. Ideas can be aired as possibilities, and do not need to be believed. Accounts of personal experience are welcomed when relevant to the discussion, but are not expected or demanded. The aim of the seminar is to explore possibilities, and not to reach decision about actions. Unanimity does not need to be sought.
It is nothing less than an educational scandal that seminars of this type are not a standard part of school and university life, available to everyone from the age of five years upwards. However, it is not just that there has been a general failure to organize all education around such a philosophy seminar. Worse still, there has been, and still is, a general failure even to see the vital need to do this. The very idea of the philosophy seminar for five-year-olds, as indicated here, has generally not been entertained. A major reason for this is that the proper purpose and character of philosophy, and of academic inquiry more generally, has long been, and still is, radically misunderstood, especially by academics themselves.
Academic inquiry is widely taken to have as its proper, basic intellectual task the improvement of expert, specialized knowledge and technological know-how. As long as academic inquiry is pursued and organized with this basic task in mind, the philosophy seminar, as depicted above, can scarcely form a normal, let alone a central, part of university work. Non-expert, non-specialized discussion of our problems of living – however imaginative, rational, co-operative and potentially fruitful – cannot contribute to the acquisition of expert, specialized knowledge. Groups devoted to such discussion may amount to worthy debating societies, group therapy sessions or Quaker prayer meetings: they cannot constitute standard academic seminars.
The fault here lies with the orthodox conception of academic inquiry. It is an intellectual and human disaster. When judged from the standpoint of improving specialized knowledge, orthodox academic inquiry must, it is true, be judged to be, on the whole, both rational and extraordinarily successful. But when judged from the more important and fundamental standpoint of improving human welfare, enhancing the quality of human life, academic inquiry must be judged to be grossly irrational and unsuccessful. In order substantially to improve the quality of human life on earth we need, amongst other things, to get rid of war, the threat of war, armaments whether nuclear, biological, chemical or conventional, the extreme poverty of the third world, tyranny, exploitation and enslavement. Humanity needs to discover how to resolve its local and global conflicts and problems of living in more co-operatively rational ways. But co-operative action requires co-operative discussion. If academic inquiry is to devote itself, rationally and successfully, to promoting human welfare, then it must give priority to providing such co-operative discussion; it must, as a matter of absolute intellectual priority, (a) articulate our problems of living and (b) propose and critically assess alternative possible solutions, possible co-operative actions. Problems of knowledge must be tackled in a subordinate way, scientific and technological research emerging out of and feeding back into the more fundamental concern with problems of living.
Contemporary academic inquiry, in giving priority to problems of knowledge over problems of living, fails to do what it most needs to do: create and promote a tradition of thinking devoted to resolving human conflicts and problems in co-operatively rational ways. In the absence of a general capacity to act co-operatively, the mere provision of knowledge and technological know-how can do as much harm as good, as the twentieth-century record of science and war, and the nuclear arms race, so horrifyingly exemplifies.
We urgently need, in brief, a new, more intellectually rigorous and humanly desirable kind of academic inquiry, one which gives priority to helping us realize what is of value in life, individually, locally and globally. This new kind of inquiry gives intellectual priority to personal and social (or global) problems of living (rather than problems of knowledge) and endeavours to help us discover how to act, to live, in progressively more co-operatively rational ways, so that we achieve what is genuinely of value to us in the circumstances of our lives. The basic aim is to promote personal and social wisdom in life – wisdom being defined as the capacity to realize what is of value, for ourselves and others. Wisdom, so defined, includes, but goes beyond, knowledge and technological know-how. Given the existence of such a tradition of inquiry in the world, there is a real chance that humanity might learn how to make steady and substantial progress towards a generally happier state of affairs than that which we endure at present.
Once the academic community wakes up to the desperately urgent need to transform the academic enterprise in this way, so that its basic task becomes to promote not only knowledge but also personal and social wisdom in life, it will at once become blindingly obvious that the philosophy seminar, more or less as described above, does indeed need to be put at the heart of all inquiry and education, from primary school to university. Unfortunately, the academic community, despite being devoted to reason and innovation, is in many ways extremely conservative and highly resistant to change, especially when it comes to changing the overall aims and methods of inquiry. I am especially aware of this, having argued for some thirty years for the urgent need to change academic inquiry from knowledge to wisdom: so far I have seen few signs of change (see Maxwell, 1976, 1980, 1984, 2000, 2004). If we wait for the scientists, scholars and university administrators to wake up to what needs to be done, we may have to wait for ever. What we can do, and need to do, is begin with the five-year-olds. Professors may be past it, but five-year-olds are not.
The above was written long ago, in 1986, in complete ignorance of the philosophy for children movement. I then discovered Gareth Matthews’ delightful little book Philosophy for the Young Child (1980), and as a result I laid aside this plea for philosophy for five-years-olds on the assumption that the matter was already satisfactorily in hand. Since then, philosophy for children has become a world-wide movement, and it might seem that this essay is redundant. This is not the case, for at least two reasons.
First, the philosophy for children movement seems to take for granted a thoroughly orthodox, analytic conception of philosophy, according to which philosophy is one discipline alongside others, concerned with puzzle solving and conceptual analysis. Given this conception of philosophy, it is difficult to see why philosophy should occupy a central and fundamental role in the curriculum. What is lacking is an awareness of the need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry as a whole, including philosophy and education, so that the basic aim becomes to acquire and promote wisdom, problems of living being put at the heart of the academic enterprise. Once one becomes aware of the need to bring about this revolution, it becomes clear that the philosophy seminar, along the lines I have indicated, ought to be central to all of education. The philosophy for children movement would, in my view, become more credible and cogent were it to join forces with the effort to transform inquiry as whole so that it takes up its proper task of promoting wisdom by rational means. Only within a genuinely rational kind of inquiry devoted to promoting wisdom can the philosophy seminar, as I have described it, come to have its proper place and role.
Second, in England the national curriculum all but prohibits the philosophy seminar as I have depicted it. Group discussion, listening and speaking, and problem solving are, it is true, all encouraged, and citizenship and personal, social and health education are included. Furthermore, the curriculum for primary education may well be sufficiently flexible to permit something like the philosophy seminar to take place in individual schools. But there is, in the national curriculum, no hint that group discussion might feed into other parts of the curriculum, into science, history or English. And when it comes to secondary education, the curriculum seems to be so rigidly constructed that it seems impossible that the philosophy seminar could get elbow room, let alone influence the rest of the curriculum.
We need to bring about a revolution in the national curriculum here in England, and we need a world-wide revolution in education and academia, so that the philosophy seminar comes to play a central role, for five- to ninety-five-year olds.
Nicholas Maxwell, 13 Tavistock Terrace, London N19 4BZ, United Kingdom. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
1 This mistake is evident in current A-level philosophy syllabuses.
MATTHEWS, G. (1980) Philosophy for the Young Child. Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press.
MAXWELL, N. (1976) What’s Wrong with Science. Frome, UK: Bran’s Head Books.
MAXWELL, N. (1980) Science, reason, knowledge and wisdom: a critique of specialism. Inquiry, 23 (1), pp. 19-81.
MAXWELL, N. (1984) From Knowledge to Wisdom. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.
MAXWELL, N. (2000) Can humanity learn to become civilized? Journal of Applied Philosophy, 17 (1), pp. 29-44.
MAXWELL, N. (2004) Is Science Neurotic? London: Imperial College Press.