A revolution for science and the humanities: From knowledge to wisdom

Dialogue and Universalism 15 (1-2):29-57 (2005)
Abstract
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, to the quality of human life, academic inquiry of this type, devoted, in the first instance, to the pursuit of knowledge, is grossly and damagingly irrational. Three of four of the most elementary and uncontroversial rules of rational problem solving conceivable are violated. This rarely noticed, damaging, structural irrationality in current academic inquiry stems from the 18th century Enlightenment. In seeking to learn from scientific progress how humanity might make social progress towards a wiser, more enlightened world, Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet et al. blundered; these blunders were developed throughout the 19th century, and built into the institutional structure of academic inquiry in the 20th century with the creation of diverse branches of social science. In order to create a kind of academic inquiry free of these blunders, devoted in a genuinely rational way to helping promote human welfare by intellectual and educational means, we need to bring about a major revolution in the overall aims and methods of inquiry, in its whole institutional and intellectual structure and character. The basic intellectual aim needs to become to 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). 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.
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Nicholas Maxwell (2006). Learning to Live a Life of Value. In Jason A. Merchey (ed.), Living a Life of Value. Values of the Wise Press. 383--395.
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