Two Great Problems of Learning: Science and Civilization

by Nicholas Maxwell

Two great problems of learning confront humanity: learning about the nature of the universe and about ourselves and other living things as a part of the universe, and learning how to become civilized. The first problem was solved, in essence, in the seventeenth century, with the creation of modern science. But the second problem has not yet been solved. Solving the first problem without also solving the second puts us in a situation of great danger. All our current global problems have arisen as a result. What we need to do, in response to this unprecedented crisis, is learn from our solution to the first problem how to solve the second.

In this ebook, Nicholas Maxwell revisits the eighteenth-century Enlightenment in order to correct the defective vision on which the academic structures of today have been built. This will allow us, Maxwell argues, to succeed where the Enlightenment tried but failed: to learn from scientific progress how to go about making social progress towards as good a world as possible. The result would be a revolution in the nature of academic inquiry as a whole, which would finally take up its proper task of helping humanity learn how to become wiser by increasingly cooperatively rational means.

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About the Author


Nicholas Maxwell

Nicholas Maxwell is Emeritus Reader at University College London, where for nearly thirty years he taught philosophy of science. Much of his working life has been devoted to arguing that we need to bring about a revolution in academia so that it seeks and promotes wisdom and does not just acquire knowledge. He has previously published eight books on this theme:

  • What’s Wrong With Science? (Bran's Head Books, 1976)
  • From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984)
  • The Comprehensibility of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 1998)
  • The Human World in the Physical Universe (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001)
  • Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, 2004)
  • Cutting God in Half – And Putting the Pieces Together Again (Pentire Press, 2010)
  • How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World: The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution
  • Global Philosophy: What Philosophy Ought to Be

The latter two published by Imprint Academic in 2014. He has also published many papers on this theme and on such diverse subjects as scientific method, the rationality of science, the philosophy of the natural and social sciences, the humanities, quantum theory, causation, the mind-body problem, aesthetics, and moral philosophy. In 2003 he founded Friends of Wisdom, an international group of academics and educationalists concerned that universities should seek wisdom and not just acquire knowledge.