The Key to the Solution to the Crisis We Face

Human Affairs (forthcoming)

Nicholas Maxwell
University College London
Humanity faces two absolutely fundamental problems of learning: learning about the universe and ourselves and other forms of life as a part of the universe; and learning how to create a genuinely civilized, wise world. We have solved the first problem of learning. We did that in the 17th century when we created modern science. But we have not yet solved the second problem. This puts us in a situation of unprecedented danger. For, as a result of solving the first problem and creating modern science and technology, we have enormously increased our power to act. We have employed this vastly increased power to act to enhance human welfare in endlessly many ways, via the development of modern medicine and hygiene, modern industry and agriculture, modern transport and communications, and in countless other ways. But, in the absence of the solution to the second great problem of learning, these very successes, the outcome of our enhanced power to act have, as often as not, led to harm and death. They have led to population growth, environmental degradation, loss of wild life, mass extinction of species, gross inequality, the lethal character of modern war, the threat of nuclear weapons, pollution of earth, sea and air, and above all to the impending disasters of climate change. As a matter of extreme urgency, we need to discover how to solve the second great problem of learning. If we do not learn soon how to make progress towards a wiser, more civilized world, we may well end up destroying ourselves. But how is this to be done? This paper indicates the key to the solution to this crisis. We need to learn from our solution to the first great problem of learning how to go about solving the second great problem.
Keywords Climate crisis  Global warming  Global problems  Lethal modern war  Mass extinctions  Pollution of earth, sea and air  Population explosion  The Enlightenment  Modern Science and Technology  Two problems of learning  Academic revolution
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