Two Great Problems of Learning: Science and Civilization
1 Implications of the New Enlightenment for Academic Inquiry given “Problem-Solving” Rationality
2 Implications of the New Enlightenment for Academic Inquiry given “Aim-Oriented” Rationality
3 Inquiry Pursued for Its Own Sake
Two great problems of learning confront humanity: learning about the nature of the universe and ourselves as a part of the universe; and learning how to become civilized.
The first problem was cracked, in essence, in the 17th century, with the birth of modern science. A method was discovered for progressively improving knowledge and understanding of the natural world, the famous empirical method of science.1 There is of course much that we still do not know and understand, four centuries after the birth of modern science; what is undeniable, however, is that, during this time, science has immensely increased our knowledge and understanding, at an ever accelerating rate.2 And with this unprecedented increase in scientific knowledge and understanding has come a cascade of technological discoveries and developments which have transformed the human condition.3 It is this that has made the modern world possible, so different in a multitude of ways from the world experienced by people in Europe or north America only one or two centuries ago.
But it is much less certain that the second great problem of learning has been cracked. Many, indeed, doubt that it is possible for humanity to learn to become more civilized at all.4 The 20th century record is not exactly encouraging. There are the horrors of the two world wars: 10 million people dead as a result of the first world war, 55 million as a result of the second. There are the obscenities of Stalin’s purges and programmes of collectivization – the latter, undertaken in the 1930s, causing the death of some 10 million Russian peasants mainly by man-made famine. There are Hitler’s death camps, over 5 million Jews, homosexuals, gypsies and others killed because deemed not fit for the Teutonic glory of the Third Reich. There is the insanity of the Cold War and the nuclear arms race, which put the entire human race at risk. There are the many hot wars since the end of the second world war: Burma, Korea, Kenya, Vietnam, Biafra, Israel, Cambodia, Algeria, the Iran/Iraq war, the Falkland Islands, Ethiopia, Nicaragua, Afghanistan, Yugoslavia, Angola, Kuwait, Chechnya, The Sudan, Mozambique, Kosovo. All in all, well over 100 million people have been killed in war during the 20th century, which compares unfavourably with the 12 million killed in war in the 19th century.5 There is China’s rape of Tibet, the Khmer Rouge’s devastation of Cambodia, the massacres of Rwanda and Burundi. In the 21st century there have been wars in Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan, Gaza, Somalia, Sri Lanka, Libya, Syria. And on top of all this, there are the billions of people who have had to live subjected to totalitarian regimes, facing arbitrary arrest, imprisonment, torture and death if heard to murmur the mildest protest. One thinks of the Soviet Union before its collapse, and today, amongst other nations, North Korea, China, Egypt, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Saudi Arabia, Zimbabwe, and even Russia today.
And as dreadful as all this, there is also the steady, daily, routine suffering and unnecessary death of thousands due to poverty and easily curable disease. It is estimated that a fifth of all people alive today live in conditions of abject poverty, without safe water, proper shelter, adequate food, education or health care. Half a million children die every year from easily curable disease as a result of poverty, lack of elementary health care.
And as if this record of what we do to each other is not enough, there is the record of what we do to the rest of life on the planet. Tropical rain forests, precious reservoirs of diverse species, are being destroyed at the rate of over two hundred thousand square kilometres a year. It is estimated that the globe’s tropical rainforests hold roughly four-fifths of all species on earth: if the rainforests disappear, the diversity of life on the planet will suffer a devastating blow. At the present rate of destruction, the rainforests will disappear by the year 2050. It is estimated that, at present, on average 10 species become extinct every day.
Not only do we slaughter each other, and wreak havoc on the rest of life on this planet; we also show an almost lunatic disregard for the quality of life of our children and grandchildren. We pollute the earth, the oceans and the air, thus causing global warming, which in turn will cause the polar icecaps to melt, and the sea level to rise, flooding some of the most densely populated regions on earth. We recklessly exploit finite resources of oil, for energy and transport, without any idea as to what our sources of energy will be when the oil runs out.6
One could surely say, entirely uncontroversially, that absolutely minimal requirements for civilization, for global wisdom or enlightenment,7 are: (1) people do not periodically slaughter each other in their millions; (2) people are not politically enslaved by brutal dictatorships; (3) millions do not live in extreme poverty while millions of others live in comparative wealth; (4) the human world shows some respect for other forms of life on the planet and does not indiscriminately exterminate other species; and (5) the way of life is sustainable in the long term. Our world, despite all its scientific, technological and intellectual sophistication, satisfies none of these five elementary requirements for civilization. Our world is barbaric in many ways, and we have much to learn if we are to attain even an elementary level of global civilization.8
No wonder that there are those who fear that, far from learning how to become more civilized, we are, on the contrary, losing what shreds of civilization we once had. Whereas in the 19th century “only” 12 million died as a result of war, the comparable figure for the 20th century is well over 100 million. It was not the 19th but the 20th and 21st centuries that have caused – and are causing – such havoc to the environment. It was in the 20th century that, for the first time, the means to destroy the human race for ever was put into the hands of a few, with the amassing of nuclear arsenals. And it was in the 20th century that we destroyed countless societies, languages, traditional ways of life, and left millions living in conditions of squalor in shanty towns in the third world. We are not becoming more civilized; we are becoming more barbaric.
And there is every prospect of things becoming worse in the 21st century. The world’s population will continue to rise, from over seven billion at the time of writing (2016), to ten or twelve billion in fifty years or so. The world’s poor will become increasingly well informed about the ways of life of the world’s wealthy – those who live in the industrially advanced parts of the world. Expectations will rise, just as the oil begins to run out, and it becomes apparent that the earth cannot sustain industrial and economic development for everyone at levels attained by those who live in Europe, north America, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, and parts of China. As more land is occupied by cities as populations expand, so more land, increasingly exhausted, will be needed to feed the growing population of the earth. Climate change may render whole tracts of land uninhabitable, in Africa, Asia, and elsewhere. All the ingredients one could require for conflict, for war, are present, even growing religious and national fanaticism. What hope is there, then, that we can become more civilized in the next century? Perhaps what shreds of civilization that have been achieved so far in the modern world are now in a state of decay. This has happened before. Even ancient Greece fell into decay.
But to conclude that we are becoming more barbaric as the decades roll by is to draw the wrong lesson from history. The real, deep, underlying crisis of our times is not that we are becoming more barbaric, but rather that we have solved the first great problem of learning without having solved the second. All our distinctive late 20th/early 21st century global crises and disasters are, in the end, due to this one underlying cause. It is, in other words, no accident that the 20th century was the most scientifically and technologically sophisticated century ever, and at the same time the most destructive: the first is the cause of the second.9 Solving the first great problem of learning without solving the second problem is bound to put humanity into a situation of great danger; it is bound to be a recipe for mixed blessings, a jumble of benefit and disaster.
With rapidly increasing scientific knowledge comes rapidly increasing technological know-how, which brings with it an immense increase in the power to act. In the absence of a solution to the second great problem of learning, the increase in the power to act may have good consequences, but will as often as not have all sorts of harmful consequences, whether intended or not.
Just this is an all too apparent feature of our world. Science and technology have been used in countless ways for the good of people, but have also been used to cause devastation, whether intentionally, in war, or unintentionally, in long-term environmental damage – a consequence of growth of population, industry and agriculture, made possible by growth of technology. As long as humanity’s power to act was limited, lack of wisdom, of enlightenment, of civilization, did not matter too much: humanity lacked the means to inflict too much damage on the planet.10 But with the immense increase in our powers to act that some of us have achieved in the last century or so as a result of the explosive growth of scientific knowledge and technology, our powers to destroy, to wreak havoc, intentionally or unintentionally, have become unprecedented and terrifying: global wisdom has become, not a luxury, but a necessity.
The scale of slaughter in war in the 20th century is so much higher than in the 19th century, not because we have become more barbaric, but because of two factors: first, there are vastly more people around in the 20th century to slaughter and be slaughtered; and second, the means to slaughter people in war have become vastly more effective. Both are consequences of scientific and technological progress. There are more people around because of developments in agriculture, industry, hygiene and medicine, all associated with scientific and technological progress; and the means to slaughter people have become vastly more effective because of scientific and technological progress. The machine gun, the tank, the submarine, the fighter and bomber aeroplane, radar, modern explosives and guns, rockets, guided missiles, chemical and biological weaponry, the nuclear bomb: these are 20th century developments. Whereas a century ago one more or less had to engage in hand to hand fighting in order to kill the enemy, now all that is required is that a button is pressed, a mile or two away, or a thousand miles away, and this suffices to kill thousands, even millions.
Again, unprecedented environmental damage caused in the 20th century is not due to an abrupt increase in greed or thoughtlessness for the future: it is the outcome of unprecedented population growth and industrial development, both made possible by growth in scientific knowledge and technological know-how.
In short, all our distinctively 20th century global problems can be traced back to this one basic source: we are in the novel situation of having solved the first great problem of learning without having also solved the second. Population growth, massive slaughter of people in war, global warming, wholesale extinction of species, depletion of natural resources, threats posed by chemical, biological and nuclear warfare: these are all due to the dangerous mix of much scientific knowledge and technological know-how combined with insufficient global wisdom. Once the first great problem of learning has been cracked, it becomes a matter of the utmost urgency to solve the second great problem – the problem of learning how to become civilized globally.
There are those who blame science for our modern predicament. As I have explained in note 9, there is a sense in which modern science is the cause of our characteristically modern disasters. But to blame science is to miss the point. It is rather like a carpenter blaming his tools for his inability to use them properly. Modern science is one of our most spectacular and noble accomplishments; it embodies an immense increase in our knowledge and understanding of the nature of the universe and our place in it. If we lack the wisdom to use the knowledge and power that this gives us in ways that are wholly beneficial, then this is our failing, not the failing of science. Even more important, demonizing science by making it responsible for our own failings prevents us from even considering the possibility that we might have much to learn from scientific progress about how to achieve social progress towards a better world.
Humanity is, then, in a situation of great peril. Having solved the first great problem of learning, it has become a matter of extreme urgency that we discover how to solve the second great problem of learning, so that we may make gradual social progress towards global wisdom.
For this vital, gigantic task of global learning, we require traditions and institutions of learning well-designed from the standpoint of helping humanity discover how to become civilized. Creating such traditions and institutions is clearly not sufficient to create global civilization; but it is, I submit, necessary. It is not just individuals who need to learn how to become more civilized; institutions, societies, economic and political structures and organizations need to learn this as well. For this kind of public, social, institutional learning to take place, it is essential that we have in existence public, organized learning as an influential part of the social fabric of our world.
But what kind of academic inquiry do we need to help us learn how to become civilized? And how adequate is academic inquiry as it exists at present when judged from this perspective?
Some, blaming science for our troubles, seek to develop a kind of social inquiry as different as possible from the natural sciences. But this, as I have already emphasized, is to miss the point. It is not the immense success of our solution to the first great problem of learning that has created our 20th century troubles so much as our failure to have solved, in addition, the second great problem of learning. Instead of blaming natural science for our troubles, we should rather strive to learn from scientific progress how we can make social progress towards a better world.
The crucial questions to ask, then, are the following. Can we learn from our extraordinarily successful solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second great problem? Can the progress-achieving methods of science be generalized so that they become fruitfully applicable to the immense task of making social progress towards a more civilized world? Can we create traditions and institutions of learning well designed from the standpoint of helping humanity learn how to become civilized? If we can, what would they be like, and how effective would they be? How good is current academic inquiry when judged from this perspective? What changes, if any, need to be made to current academic inquiry in order that it becomes the key to the solution to the second great problem of learning – a kind of inquiry well designed from the standpoint of helping humanity learn how to become civilized?
At this point it may be objected that academic inquiry, as it exists today, is the solution to the second great problem of learning, in so far as this amounts to having in existence appropriate traditions and institutions of inquiry. The fundamental inspiration behind much of social inquiry and the humanities, and higher learning more generally, is to help humanity become wiser and more civilized by means of self-knowledge, understanding and education. A basic raison d’être for creating the social sciences and the humanities, alongside the natural sciences, was to provide humanity with the intellectual means to learn how to make social progress towards a better world. Has not the second great problem of learning already been solved?
The answer is No. Academic inquiry, as it exists today, is the institutionalization of a botched attempt to solve the second great problem of learning. It is this botched attempt at solving the problem that we must now examine in more detail.
The idea of learning from the solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second problem is an old one. It goes back at least to the Enlightenment of the 18th century. One could even say that this was the basic idea of the philosophes of the French Enlightenment – Voltaire, Diderot, Condorcet et al.: to learn from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards world enlightenment.11
The best of the philosophes did what they could to put this immensely important idea into practice, in their lives. They fought dictatorial power, authoritarianism, superstition, dogma, mere tradition, injustice and intolerance with weapons no more lethal than those of argument and wit. They gave their support to the virtues of tolerance, diversity of opinions, openness to doubt, readiness to learn from criticism and from experience. They even lamented the development of specialized science and knowledge dissociated from the central task of achieving enlightenment. Courageously and energetically they laboured to promote rationality in personal and social life.12
Unfortunately, in developing the Enlightenment idea intellectually, in a little more detail, the philosophes made serious blunders. As a result, the Enlightenment programme (as we may call it) came to be developed in a seriously defective form, and it is this immensely influential, defective version of the programme, inherited from the 18th century, which may be called the traditional Enlightenment, that is built into 20th and 21st century institutions of academic inquiry. Our traditions and institutions of learning, when judged from the standpoint of helping us learn how to become more enlightened, are defective in a wholesale and structural way, and it is this which, in the long term, sabotages our efforts to create a more civilized world, and prevents us from avoiding the kind of horrors we have been exposed to during the 20th century – the first world war, the second world war, countless wars since, persistent third-world poverty, environmental degradation. The human disasters of our age are due in part to uncorrected philosophical disasters of the 18th century that have become a part of the intellectual and social fabric of our world.13 We have failed so far to learn from the solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second problem, even though our current traditions and institutions of learning arose out of an attempt to do just that.
The philosophes of the 18th century assumed, understandably enough, that the proper way to implement the Enlightenment programme was to develop social science alongside natural science. Francis Bacon (one of the heroes of the Enlightenment) had already stressed just how vital it is to improve knowledge of the natural world in order to achieve social progress.14 The philosophes generalized this, holding that it is just as vital to improve knowledge of the social world. If it is social progress that we seek, then it is perhaps above all the laws of social change that we need to know; improving knowledge of social phenomena may be even more important than improving knowledge of natural phenomena.
Thus the philosophes set about creating the social sciences: history, anthropology, political economy, psychology, sociology. The idea was to create social science so that it would be as similar as possible to natural science – apart of course from the one big difference that whereas natural science studies the natural world, social science would study the human world. To the philosophes it seemed vital to bring into existence the rational, scientific study of humanity, so that knowledge of ourselves might improve in the spectacular way in which scientific knowledge of Nature had improved. Improving social knowledge seemed the essential first step to improving social life.15
The traditional Enlightenment idea, as I have formulated it above, is neatly encapsulated in the subtitle of Hume’s Treatise on Human Nature. The subtitle reads: Being an Attempt to Introduce the Experimental Method of Reasoning into Moral Subjects.16 One should note that Hume called the social sciences “the moral sciences”. Condillac, Hartley and others sought to create scientific psychology, treading in the footsteps of Locke, and seeking to apply the methods of Newton to the study of the mind. Montesquieu founded modern sociology with his immensely influential De l’espirit des lois (the spirit of the laws). Gibbon wrote his monumental Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and Hume his History of England. More to the point, perhaps, Voltaire, Turgot, d’Alembert and Rousseau created and developed “philosophical” history – history that recorded the triumphs of the human mind and spirit, not just the crimes of kings.17 Rousseau made his important contribution to political science with his The Social Contract. Hume, again, published essays on political economy in his Political Discourses, and his friend, Adam Smith, made his fundamental contribution to the subject with his The Wealth of Nations. Diderot’s Encyclopedia, encompassing so much of what the Enlightenment stood for, included numerous articles on diverse social sciences. Condorcet, finally, sought to enhance the scientific status of social thought by making it mathematical as well as empirical.18
The Enlightenment effort to broaden the scope of science in these ways, so that it included the study of the social world in addition to the natural world, had an immense impact. Throughout the 19th century the diverse social sciences were developed, often by non-academics, very much in accordance with the basic Enlightenment idea, by such diverse figures as: Saint-Simon, Comte, Marx, Durkheim, Mill, Weber, and many others.19 Gradually, universities took notice of these developments until, by the mid twentieth century, all the diverse branches of the social sciences, the legacy of by the Enlightenment, were built into the institutional structure of universities all over the world, as recognized academic disciplines. And today, the traditional Enlightenment conception of social science continues to exercise a pervasive influence over academic thought and work.
But it is not just present day social science that has been shaped by the traditional Enlightenment. It is hardly too much to say that the whole nature of modern academic inquiry, its aims and methods, its intellectual and institutional structure, its role in society, has been shaped by the traditional Enlightenment. The traditional Enlightenment leads straight to a kind of inquiry, which may be called the philosophy of knowledge: modern academic inquiry, by and large, is the outcome of putting the philosophy of knowledge into practice.20
I must emphasize, however, that what I am calling “the traditional Enlightenment” and “the philosophy of knowledge” are what emerged out of the 18th century; they might almost be called 20th century misconceptions about what the 18th century Enlightenment stood for. The 18th century philosophes of the Enlightenment did indeed seek to develop the social sciences alongside the natural sciences, in the way I have indicated. But they also actively campaigned for tolerance, justice and reason in social life. And their commitment to the development of social science was an integral part of their active concern to help create a more enlightened world. Values were integral to their conception of social science; the sharp division between social science on the one hand, and value judgements on the other which, as we shall see, is such an important feature of “the philosophy of knowledge”, is a 19th or 20th century development.
Peter Gay sums up the matter like this.
The lust for improvement was never far from the philosophes’ consciousness. Facts and theories existed for the sake of values. Doubtless the philosophes found the world interesting for its own sake; their inquiries into comparative institutions or the history of religion are pervaded by the pure air of sheer curiosity. They delighted in the new, and found the steady enlargement of their world nothing less than exhilarating. But they could rest content with private pleasure as little as with scientific detachment; in this engagement with reform, they were different from many social scientists in our own day.21
But if beliefs and aspirations of 18th-century philosophes differ substantially from those of most 20th century academics, nevertheless the philosophes did fail to articulate their basic idea properly (as we shall see when we come to “the new Enlightenment” in the next chapter). Once the philosophes had interpreted the basic Enlightenment idea as requiring that social science should be developed alongside natural science, and once the division between fact and value had been insisted on, as it is, for example, in Hume’s insistence that “ought” cannot be derived from “is”,22 the subsequent emergence of what I am calling “the traditional Enlightenment” and “the philosophy of knowledge” is all but inevitable.
With these qualifications understood, let us now consider the conception of inquiry that emerges from “the traditional Enlightenment”, namely “the philosophy of knowledge”.
According to the philosophy of knowledge, the basic social or humanitarian goal of academic inquiry is, ideally, to help promote human welfare, help humanity become civilized. But, in order to pursue this humanitarian goal rationally, it is essential that inquiry, in the first instance, pursues the entirely distinct intellectual goal of improving knowledge of factual truth. First, knowledge must be acquired; then it can be applied to help solve social problems.
In order to be of human value, academic inquiry must obtain genuine, reliable factual knowledge, and not mere prejudice, propaganda or ideology. This means that the intellectual domain of inquiry, devoted to improving knowledge, must attend only to that which is relevant to the acquisition of knowledge: factual claims to knowledge, reports of observations and experiments, arguments and deductions involved in assessing claims to knowledge. Such things as feelings, desires, values, expressions of suffering or joy, and economic, political or religious considerations must all be ruthlessly excluded. They may, of course, be studied, by the relevant branch of social science, but they cannot be allowed to influence academic thought. In order to help alleviate human suffering and contribute to the quality of human life, academic inquiry must, paradoxically, ruthlessly exclude all consideration of suffering and value from the intellectual domain of inquiry (except in so far as these are objects of factual study within social science).
Even though philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry is ultimately concerned to help solve social problems of living, it does this by devoting itself primarily to solving purely intellectual problems of knowledge. Contributions to inquiry, intellectual progress, academic success and failure, are all to be judged in terms of success in solving problems of knowledge, in improving knowledge of truth.
At the centre of the philosophy of knowledge there is a philosophy of natural science, which may be called standard empiricism. According to standard empiricism, the intellectual aim of natural science is to improve factual knowledge about natural phenomena, nothing being presupposed about the nature of the universe independently of evidence. The basic method of natural science is to accept and reject proposed laws and theories in an impartial way solely with respect to their empirical success and failure, no substantial thesis about the universe being accepted as a part of knowledge independently of empirical considerations. Considerations of simplicity, unity or explanatory power may influence acceptance and rejection of theories as well, but this must not commit science to assuming permanently that Nature herself is simple, unified or comprehensible.23 The philosophy of knowledge arises as a generalization of this standard empiricist philosophy of natural science.
According to the philosophy of knowledge, diverse disciplines can be ordered, roughly, with respect to how intellectually fundamental, and rigorous, they are. The most fundamental and rigorous discipline is logic; then comes mathematics; then theoretical physics; then phenomenological physics (dealing with actual phenomena in a theoretically non-fundamental way); then applications of physics to such subjects as astrophysics and geology. Then comes physical chemistry, and organic chemistry. Then comes biology: first, molecular biology, then physiology, anatomy, evolutionary theory, the study of animal behaviour. Then come the social sciences: anthropology, sociology, psychology, economics, political science, linguistics. Finally there come the humanities: history, the study of culture, literature and art, and philosophy. As one ascends this hierarchy, from the intellectually fundamental and rigorous to the non-fundamental and non-rigorous, a discipline may presuppose and use results of a more fundamental discipline, but not vice versa. Biology may presuppose chemistry, and chemistry may presuppose physics, but physics does not, and must not, presuppose biology.
The philosophy of knowledge, once built into the institutional structure of academic inquiry, operates as a system of censorship, determining decisively what can, and what cannot be permitted to enter the intellectual domain of inquiry – academic journals, textbooks, lectures and seminars. Within science, as specified by standard empiricism, only testable factual claims to knowledge are permitted to enter (in accordance with Popper’s criterion of demarcation24). Non-testable factual claims to knowledge, metaphysical assertions, are excluded.25 Within the formal sciences, mathematics, statistics and logic, even more severe principles of censorship operate; strictly speaking, only proven propositions may enter, although in practice mathematics tolerates discussion of hypotheses not proven but in principle amenable to proof or disproof. Elsewhere within academic inquiry, within the humanities for example, more relaxed standards of censorship may operate, according to the philosophy of knowledge: contributions do not need to be provable or empirically testable. Nevertheless, throughout the intellectual domain of inquiry, science and non-science included, only factual claims to knowledge, and that which is rationally relevant to the assessment of such claims, can be permitted to pass the censor; expressions of human feelings, hopes, fears and desires, political programmes and ideals, ideologies, values, stories and works of art: all this must be ruthlessly excluded (except for being the objects of factual study).
Proponents of the philosophy of knowledge invariably point to the disasters that befell Soviet biology and agriculture when, at the instigation of Lysenko under Stalin, these crucial censorship standards were violated, and political and ideological considerations were permitted to influence Soviet science. Knowledge degenerates into mere propaganda, and people suffer and die.26
One important feature of philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry to note is that, in giving priority to the pursuit of knowledge, and in excluding expressions of feelings, desires and values from the intellectual domain of inquiry as a result, the activity of tackling problems of living is excluded from inquiry. Inquiry devotes itself to articulating more or less specialized, technical problems of knowledge, to proposing and critically assessing possible solutions to such problems – laws and theories, results of observation and experiment, diverse factual claims to knowledge. The intellectual tasks of articulating problems of living, of proposing and critically assessing possible solutions to such problems, cannot go on within the intellectual domain of philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry. Thus sociology, in the first instance at least, seeks to solve, not social problems, not problems experienced by people in life, but rather sociological problems, problems of knowledge and understanding about social phenomena. Political science does not have the task of solving political problems; its task, rather, is to solve problems of knowledge and understanding about political phenomena. Even economics does not take, as its intellectual goal, to solve real-life economic problems: it is rather, in the first instance, concerned to solve problems of knowledge and understanding about economic phenomena (which may then subsequently be used to help solve economic problems).
It is of course entirely permissible for philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry to gather factual knowledge about what people believe or claim to be problems of living, and to be acceptable solutions to such problems. Furthermore, it is permissible for philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry to provide conditional knowledge concerning problems of living and how they are to be solved: if such and such is regarded as a problem of living, and if such and such values or priorities are held, then such and such a policy, or line of action, constitutes an acceptable solution. If poverty is held to be a problem, and such and such range of actions are deemed to be acceptable, then the best option is such and such.
What philosophy-of-knowledge cannot do is formulate, evaluate and judge problems of living as such; it cannot evaluate rival proposed solutions – rival possible actions - from the standpoint of their value in resolving problems of living, problems of human suffering and deprivation. It cannot advocate or argue for policies intended to solve such problems. Above all, the intellectual domain of inquiry cannot be committed to the pursuit of any political or humanitarian programme, however humane and enlightened. Policies, political programmes, philosophies of life, values other than those associated with the search for truth: none of these has any place within the intellectual domain of inquiry.27 At most, claims to factual knowledge about such things have a place (i.e. such and such policies are held by such and such governments or groups, or such and such policies, if implemented, have such and such consequences).
Values, feelings, desires, problems of living, policies, political programmes, philosophies of life, ideologies and ideals must all be rigorously and ruthlessly excluded from inquiry so that it may acquire authentic, objective factual knowledge – and thus, in the end, produce that which is of real value to humanity. If the floodgates were to be opened, and values, feelings, desires, problems of living, etc., were to be permitted to rush into the intellectual domain of inquiry, influencing academic thought, not only would objective factual knowledge be sabotaged; the human value of inquiry would be sabotaged as well.
It may well be a part of the ultimate humanitarian aim of philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry to contribute to helping humanity become more civilized. The way rational inquiry must do this, according to the philosophy of knowledge, is, however, in the first instance, to acquire genuine, objective factual knowledge, stripped of all considerations concerning value. Once such knowledge has been acquired, it may then be used to help solve real-life problems of living, via technology, medicine, engineering, agriculture, and diverse fields of professional expertise.
This, then, is the conception of inquiry that emerges once the traditional Enlightenment idea is accepted that, in order to benefit humanity, inquiry must, in the first instance, acquire objective, reliable, factual knowledge. Once such knowledge has been acquired, it can then, in a secondary way, be applied to help solve social problems.28
The basic Enlightenment idea – to learn how to create an enlightened world by means of science and reason – was opposed. It was opposed by Romanticism. The Enlightenment stressed the supreme importance of science, knowledge, reason, method, objectivity, logic, impersonal observation and experiment. Romanticism found all this restrictive, oppressive, impersonal. It seemed to deny too much of what is of value in life. Thus Romanticism – stemming from such figures as Rousseau, Blake, Wordsworth, Beethoven, Goethe and many others – stressed the supreme value of art, self-expression, personal feelings, experiences and intuitions, imagination, spontaneity, individuality, creativity, sympathetic understanding, inspiration, genius, vision. For the traditional Enlightenment, intellectual integrity had to do with acquiring knowledge: it meant that one should attend to logic, to evidence – emotions and desires, hopes, fears and values all being disregarded in the quest for Truth. By contrast, for Romanticism, intellectual integrity had to do with emotional and motivational honesty, rather than honesty concerning fact or objective truth. Whereas for the traditional Enlightenment, intellectual integrity demands the suppression (or ignoring) of emotion and desire, for Romanticism intellectual integrity demands, above all, the expression, the honest acknowledgement of emotion and desire. Standards of intellectual integrity are diametrically opposed.29
As far as academic inquiry is concerned, Romanticism leads to anti-scientific conceptions of social inquiry and the humanities, to what Isaiah Berlin has called “the Counter-Enlightenment”.30 What is important is the empathetic study of the imaginings of humanity – the dreams and fantasies, the religion, the arts and ideas, the hopes and fears, the values. Whereas Nature is unaffected by our ideas about it, we are affected by our ideas about ourselves: this alone ensures, so the figures of the Counter-Enlightenment argue, that the study of human culture and society cannot be like natural science.
The Counter-Enlightenment does not object to the idea that social inquiry and the humanities should have the basic intellectual aim of improving knowledge and understanding of our human world; it objects simply to the Enlightenment thesis that the kind of knowledge sought, and methods employed, ought to be as similar as possible to that of the natural sciences. It objects to the idea that scientific rationality ought to prevail in all areas of thought and life.
The Enlightenment has also been criticized by the Frankfurt school, by postmodernists and by others. For a clearly written, sympathetic but critical discussion of such criticisms of the Enlightenment, from Horkheimer and Adorno, via Lyotard, Foucault, Habermas and Derrida to MacIntyre and Rorty, see Anthony Gascardi, Consequences of Enlightenment (Cambridge University Press, 1999).31
Academic inquiry today is by and large an uneasy, confused mixture of what we have inherited from the traditional Enlightenment – the philosophy of knowledge – and from Romanticism, the Counter-Enlightenment and postmodernism. The natural and technological sciences, mathematics, so-called analytic philosophy, economics, physical anthropology, and parts of the other social sciences are primarily infused with traditional Enlightenment values and ideals; social anthropology, some social psychology, cultural and literary studies, so-called continental philosophy and other branches or traditions within the humanities are infused with counter-Enlightenment values and ideals. And in other areas of our cultural and social life today – in education, politics, medicine, psychotherapy, the arts, the green movement – the battle between the traditional Enlightenment and the Romantic opposition continues to be fought.32 And the net result is that we have failed to learn properly from scientific progress how to achieve social progress towards enlightenment. We do not today possess what we so urgently need: a kind of organized inquiry rationally devoted to the growth of wisdom.
During the course of the argument, various views will be introduced, some of which have already been indicated: Basic Enlightenment Idea, Traditional Enlightenment, Philosophy of Knowledge, Standard Empiricism, Romanticism, “New” Enlightenment, Aim-Oriented Empiricism, Aim-Oriented Rationality, Philosophy of Wisdom. I have given a summary of these views, and an indication of the way they are related to one another, in table 1. I suggest this table is referred to as the rest of the argument of this book unfolds.
|Basic Enlightenment Idea||Generalize progress-achieving methods of science and apply to the task of creating civilization.||An excellent idea. The way to exploit our solution to the first great problem of learning in order to solve the second one.|
|Traditional Enlightenment||Apply the methods of science to the task of creating social science.||Three blunders. Gets scientific method wrong. Does not generalize it properly. Does not apply it to life.|
|Standard Empiricism (SE)||Scientific theories to be assessed by evidence, no factual thesis to be accepted as part of scientific knowledge on grounds other than evidence.||Untenable. Persistent preference in physics for unified theories means physics assumes there is underlying unity in nature.|
|Philosophy of Knowledge||First acquire knowledge and then apply to the task of solving social problems.||Violates three of the four most elementary rules of reason conceivable (given that the aim is to promote civilization).|
|Romanticism||Passion, intuition, imagination and art are what matter in life, not reason or science.||Of great value, but fails to spot the irrationality of the Traditional Enlightenment.|
|The “Popperian” version of the “New” Enlightenment.||Apply generalized version of falsificationsim to the task of solving problems of living rationally.||Improvement over The Traditional Enlightenment, but based on defective SE version of scientific method.|
|The “Popperian” version of the Philosophy of Wisdom.||A kind of inquiry that puts the four rules of reason into practice in helping humanity learn how to become civilized.||Improvement over the Philosophy of Knowledge, but based on conception of reason generalized from the defective conception of scientific method of SE.|
|Aim-Oriented Empiricism (AOE).||Conception of scientific method which specifies how the aims and methods of science are to be improved.||Correct conception of scientific method; the key to the immense success of science.|
|The AOE version of the “New” Enlightrenment.||Apply generalized version of AOE to task of solving problems of living in cooperatively rational ways.||Corrects all three blunders of the Traditional Enlightenment.|
|The AOE version of the Philosophy of Wisdom.||A kind of inquiry that puts generalized version of AOE into practice in helping humanity earn how to become civilized.||A kind of inquiry rationally devoted to helping promote world enlightenment. Solves second great problem of learning.|
Romanticism is right to object to the traditional Enlightenment, but wrong to object on grounds of too much reason. What is wrong with the traditional Enlightenment is not too much reason but, quite to the contrary, not enough. The traditional Enlightenment is a characteristic kind of irrationality masquerading as rationality. In some respects it is Romanticism, rather than the traditional Enlightenment that embodies reason – especially when it stresses emotional and motivational honesty. If the basic Enlightenment idea had been put properly into practice, free of blunders, there would have been no need for the Romantic opposition: the Enlightenment would have been a synthesis of Rationalism and Romanticism from the outset and we, today, would possess what we so urgently need, traditions and institutions of learning well-designed from the standpoint of helping us realize what is of value in life.
What, then, are the blunders of the traditional Enlightenment? What kind of inquiry would be free of these blunders? What changes need to be made to existing traditions and institutions of inquiry, to philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry, to eliminate the adverse consequences of these ancient blunders? How are these changes to be brought about? How would making these changes help us become more civilized?
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.
The progress-achieving methods of science need to be correctly identified.
These methods need to be correctly generalized so that they become fruitfully applicable to any problematic, worthwhile human endeavour, whatever the aims may be, and not just applicable to the endeavour of improving knowledge.
The correctly generalized progress-achieving methods then need to be exploited correctly by the great, profoundly problematic human endeavour of trying to make social progress towards an enlightened, civilized world.
Unfortunately, the philosophes of the Enlightenment got all three points disastrously wrong. They failed to capture correctly the progress-achieving methods of natural science; they failed to generalize these methods properly; and, most disastrously of all, they failed to apply them properly so that humanity might learn how to become civilized by rational means. That the philosophes made these blunders in the 18th century is forgivable; what is unforgivable is that these blunders still remain unrecognized and uncorrected today, over two centuries later. Instead of correcting the blunders, we have, if anything, intensified them, and we have allowed our traditions and institutions of learning to be shaped by them as they have developed throughout the 19th and 20th centuries, so that the blunders are now an all-pervasive feature of our world.
By far the most serious of the blunders made by the traditional Enlightenment occurred at the third of the above three steps. The basic Enlightenment idea, it needs to be remembered, is to learn from our solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second problem – to learn, that is, from scientific progress how to make social progress towards an enlightened world. Putting this idea into practice involves getting appropriately generalized progress-achieving methods of science into social life itself! It involves getting progress-achieving methods into our institutions and ways of life, into government, industry, agriculture, commerce, international relations, the media, the arts, education. The task, after all, is to make social progress towards a better world. The task is to build into our institutions and ways of living the capacity to learn, to evolve, so that gradually social life becomes more civilized. And the basic idea of the Enlightenment is that, in striving to achieve this gigantic programme of institutional and social learning, we should learn what we can from the extraordinary success of science. To repeat, it is into social life itself that we need to get appropriately generalized progress-achieving methods of science. And this in turn means that the basic task of social inquiry is to help people and institutions put progress-achieving methods into practice in life. Social inquiry is not, primarily, social science; it is, rather, social methodology, or social philosophy, concerned primarily, not to study or improve knowledge about social phenomena, but to help people and institutions tackle problems of living in increasingly cooperatively rational ways, gradually making progress towards global civilization. The sociology of government does not, primarily, seek to acquire knowledge about government; rather it seeks to discover how government may conduct itself in ways more conducive to contributing to the growth of civilization. Economics is not, primarily, the science of economic phenomena; it is, rather, concerned to help economic activity adopt aims and methods that aid the creation and just distribution of sustainable wealth, thus contributing to the growth of global civilization.
This, then, is the intellectual disaster at the heart of modern academic inquiry, inherited from the 18th-century Enlightenment. Instead of taking as absolutely fundamental the task of helping humanity learn how to become more civilized by getting into social life customs and strategies designed to help humanity make progress towards civilization, modern academic inquiry takes as fundamental the intellectual task of improving knowledge of natural and social phenomena. Instead of getting appropriately generalized progress-achieving methods of natural science into social life, academic inquiry restricts itself to getting such methods into social science! Instead of helping people get more wisdom into the social world, social inquiry confines itself to studying the social world. The momentous task of helping humanity learn how to become more civilized is abandoned in favour of the rather more restricted task of helping academics become more knowledgeable. And the outcome is that academic inquiry as it exists today fails to be the solution to the second great problem of learning.
Let us now consider the above three steps of the New Enlightenment programme in turn.
The official view of the 18th-century Enlightenment was that natural science makes progress because it puts inductivism into practice, the method of learning from experience, from observation and experiment, expounded by Francis Bacon and John Locke and exploited to such great effect by Isaac Newton (as the philosophes believed33). This view has undergone many revisions since the 18th century; few today would want to defend inductivism in quite the form that it took for Condillac, d’Alembert or Voltaire.34 One basic assumption from that time still persists however, as a central tenet of what may be called standard empiricism:35 the essence of scientific method is that in science claims to knowledge are assessed impartially by means of evidence (plus considerations of simplicity, unity or explanatory power), no assumption about the world being accepted permanently, as a part of scientific knowledge, independently of empirical considerations.36 This assumption, still the orthodox view among scientists, and still influential in the way science is done, taught, communicated and understood,37 is the first great blunder. As we shall see in a moment, the assumption is untenable.
One well known contemporary version of standard empiricism is Karl Popper’s methodology of conjecture and refutation. According to Popper, in response to problems (in the main, for Popper, empirical refutations of existing theories), scientists put forward new conjectures, new theories, which must explain the empirical success of earlier theories they are intended to replace, and must predict new phenomena. If, in addition, the new predictions meet with empirical success, the new theory is accepted as a (tentative) contribution to knowledge until it is in turn refuted. Science makes progress by putting forward bold conjectures which are then subjected to sustained, ruthless attempted empirical falsification. It makes progress by means of a process of trial and error, of learning from mistakes.38
Popper’s conception of scientific method is an improvement over 18th-century views but, like all other versions of standard empiricism, it is still defective. Popper himself makes it quite clear that his conception of science is a version of standard empiricism. He asserts that in his view science proceeds in accordance with “the principle of empiricism which asserts that in science, only observation and experiment may decide upon the acceptance or rejection of scientific statements, including laws and theories”.39 According to Popper, then, no substantial thesis about the world may be accepted as a part of scientific knowledge independent of empirical considerations.
But this orthodox, standard empiricist conception of science (whether Popper’s version or some other version) is untenable. In physics, any theory, T (Newtonian theory for example, quantum theory or general relativity), however well established empirically, will apply to a vast range of phenomena never yet observed, most of which, indeed, may never occur at all. It is thus easy to concoct endlessly many rivals to T, which agree precisely with T as far as all observed phenomena are concerned, but disagree with T, in arbitrary ways, for different specific unobserved phenomena: see diagram 1. There will always be infinitely many such grossly ad hoc rivals to T, all equally successful empirically as T itself. (It is easy, indeed, to concoct endlessly many rivals to T that are empirically more successful than T is.) Evidence alone cannot decide between T and its infinitely many equally empirically successful (or more successful) but ad hoc rivals.40
Confronted with this dilemma, most scientists would argue that in order to be accepted as a part of knowledge a theory must satisfy two requirements: it must be sufficiently successful empirically; and it must be sufficiently simple, unified, explanatory or non-ad hoc. The above ad hoc rivals to T satisfy the first of these requirements but not the second, and it is on these grounds that they do not receive any consideration within science. Nevertheless, even though infinitely many empirically successful but grossly disunified, ad hoc theories are persistently ignored in science, this does not violate the basic empiricist tenet that in science no factual assumption about the world can be upheld independently of (let alone in violation of) evidence.
The initial standard empiricist view, which ignores simplicity, though utterly unworkable, has the merit of being an honest doctrine. The revised standard empiricist view just indicated, which appeals to simplicity, is a much more workable doctrine in scientific practice; but it suffers from being thoroughly dishonest. In persistently accepting only those theories that are simple, unified, explanatory or non-ad hoc, and persistently ignoring infinitely many disunified, ad hoc rivals just as successful empirically (or even more successful), science does make a substantial assumption about the world independently of (and even in violation of) evidence. If physicists only considered theories that postulate atoms, all theories that postulate fields, such as the electromagnetic field, being persistently ignored whatever their empirical success might be if taken into account, it would be clear that physicists were just assuming that the world is made up of atoms, and not fields, independently of evidence. Likewise, in considering only sufficiently simple, unified, non-ad hoc theories, and ignoring those that are disunified and ad hoc however empirically successful, science in practice makes a substantial assumption about the world, independently of evidence, to the effect (at least) that the world behaves as if simple or unified.41
Without some such assumption as this, the empirical method breaks down. It becomes drowned in an ocean of empirically successful ad hoc theories. In order to do science at all, in other words, some kind of assumption must be made about the object of our inquiries, just that of which we are most ignorant: the ultimate nature of the universe. Furthermore, it is here above all, where we are most ignorant, that it is vital, for the success of science, that we make as good an assumption as possible, one which does the best possible justice to the real nature of things. For it is this basic cosmological assumption that will determine our methodology, what kind of theories we are prepared to consider. If, for example, we assume that the universe is controlled by gods and, as a result, consider only theories about the desires, moods and intentions of gods, we will not meet with much success if in fact the universe is controlled by some pattern of impersonal physical law. And equally, of course, we will not meet with much success if we assume that impersonal physical law governs all phenomena when in fact ill-tempered gods are in control who expect to be worshipped.
In short, in order to proceed at all we must make some assumption about the ultimate nature of the universe; in order to proceed successfully we must make an assumption that is near enough correct: and yet it is just here that we are horribly ignorant, and are almost bound to get things hopelessly wrong.
The solution to this basic dilemma confronting the scientific endeavour (as expounded in some detail in my The Comprehensibility of the Universe42) can be put like this. Cosmological speculation about the ultimate nature of the universe, being necessary for science to be possible at all, must be regarded as a part of scientific knowledge itself, however epistemologically unsound it may be in other respects. The best such speculation available is that the universe is comprehensible in some way or other and, more specifically, in the light of the immense apparent success of modern natural science, that it is physically comprehensible. But both these speculations may be false; in order to take this possibility into account, we need to adopt a hierarchy of increasingly contentless cosmological conjectures until we arrive at the conjecture that the universe is such that it is possible for us to acquire some knowledge of our local circumstances sufficient to make life possible, a conjecture so contentless and vital for the pursuit of knowledge that it could not be rational for us to reject it in any circumstances whatsoever. As a result of adopting such a hierarchy of increasingly contentless cosmological conjectures in this way, we maximize our chances of adopting conjectures that promote the growth of knowledge, and minimize our chances of taking some cosmological assumption for granted that is false and impedes the growth of knowledge: see diagram 2. The hope is that as we increase our knowledge about the world we improve (lower level) cosmological assumptions implicit in our methods, and thus in turn improve our methods. As a result of improving our knowledge we improve our knowledge about how to improve knowledge. Science adapts its own nature to what it learns about the nature of the universe, thus increasing its capacity to make progress in knowledge about the world.
What does it mean to assert that the universe is comprehensible? It means that the universe is such that there is something (God, tribe of gods, cosmic goal, pattern of physical law, cosmic programme or whatever), which exists everywhere in an unchanging form and which, in some sense, determines or is responsible for everything that changes, all change and diversity in the world in principle being explicable and understandable in terms of the underlying unchanging something.
If the something that determines all change is what corresponds out there in the world to a unified pattern of physical law, then the universe is physically comprehensible. The universe is physically comprehensible, in other words, if and only if some yet-to-be-discovered unified physical “theory of everything” is true.
As we ascend the hierarchy of cosmological conjectures depicted in diagram 2, each conjecture asserts less and less concerning the comprehensibility or knowability of the universe. At level 3 there is the best current conjecture as to the more or less specific way in which the universe is physically comprehensible. This might, today, be string theory. At level 4 there is the much more imprecise assertion that the universe is physically comprehensible. At level 5 there is the still more imprecise conjecture that the universe is comprehensible in some way or other. At level 6 there is the still vaguer assertion of “meta-knowability”, to the effect that the universe is such that there is some discoverable conjecture about the nature of the universe which, if adopted, aids the empirical progress of science. At level 7, as we have seen, there is the extremely vague assumption that the universe is such that some knowledge of our immediate environment can be acquired, sufficient to make life possible. Accepting this assumption can only help, and cannot, in any circumstances, damage the pursuit of knowledge of the truth. It will be in the interests of the pursuit of knowledge to accept this assertion, whatever the universe is like.
Associated with these five cosmological assumptions there are methodological rules, depicted by dotted lines in the diagram, which constrain acceptance of theses lower down in the hierarchy on non-empirical grounds, and in particular constrain acceptance of level 2 scientific theories (so that empirically successful ad hoc theories are ruled out). As one descends the hierarchy, and the assumptions become increasingly substantial, so correspondingly, the methodological rules become increasingly restrictive.43
This aim-oriented empiricist methodology (as I have called it elsewhere44) is, I maintain, the key to the success of modern science. The basic aim of science of discovering how, and to what extent, the universe is comprehensible is deeply problematic; it is essential that we try to improve the aim, and associated methods, as we proceed, in the light of apparent success and failure. In order to do this in the best possible way we need to represent our aim at a number of levels, from the specific and problematic to the highly unspecific and unproblematic, thus creating a framework of fixed aims and metamethods within which the (more or less specific) aims and methods of science may be progressively improved in the light of apparent empirical success and failure, as depicted in diagram 2.
What this means is that science is able to develop and implement improved philosophies-of-science with improving knowledge – a philosophy-of-science here being a more or less specific aim for science and associated methods. Aim-oriented empiricism provides a fixed meta-methodological framework within which rival more or less specific philosophies-of-science may be assessed in terms their relative fruitfulness in generating new knowledge. Far from being a meta-discipline, dissociated from science itself, philosophy of science becomes, for aim-oriented empiricism, a vital, integral part of science itself. This enables science to adapt its nature, its more or less specific aims-and-methods, to what it finds out about the kind of universe in which we find ourselves.45
The result of all this, then, is that as we improve our knowledge about the world we are able to improve our knowledge about how to improve knowledge, the methodological key to the rapid progress of modern science.
All this is in sharp contrast to the orthodox standard empiricist view, according to which science has the fixed, unproblematic basic aim of improving knowledge of factual truth, nothing being permanently presupposed about the nature of the world, the basic method being to assess theories impartially with respect to evidence. Acceptance of this view by the scientific community has obscured the real, problematic aim of science of improving knowledge about the universe presupposed to be comprehensible or at least partially knowable; it has obscured the need to improve (more or less specific) aims and methods as science proceeds.
Despite this, the progress-achieving methods of aim-oriented empiricism (AOE) have been put more or less successfully into scientific practice. Science has made progress despite, and not because of, official views on the philosophy science upheld by scientists and philosophers alike. Modern science began when Kepler, Galileo and others rejected Aristotelian cosmology and associated methods, and adopted instead the view that Nature is physically comprehensible or, as Galileo put it, that “the book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics”, precise hypotheses then being put forward and assessed by means of methods associated with the new view of Nature.46 And ever since, in scientific practice, aims and methods have evolved with evolving knowledge until, with Einstein, the process becomes explicit. In seeking to discover underlying unity in Nature, Einstein was led to reinterpret old, or put forward new, physical principles which can be interpreted either as factual or methodological, and which led to the discovery of new physical theories, such as special and general relativity. Einstein’s immense contributions to physics owed much to his explicit exploitation of aim-oriented empiricism in scientific practice.47
So much for the progress-achieving methods of science. Let us now consider the second step of the new Enlightenment.
Having failed to specify the progress-achieving methods of natural science correctly, it is not surprising that the Enlightenment also failed to generalize these methods properly to form a progress-achieving conception of rationality, fruitfully applicable, potentially, to anything problematic and worthwhile that we might do. It is worth considering, nevertheless, one recent attempt to carry through this part of the Enlightenment programme, made by Karl Popper.
Popper is one of the few philosophers of science of the last century who took the basic Enlightenment idea seriously (although Popper never explicitly referred to it as an idea of the Enlightenment). Popper’s major achievement, in my view, is (a) to characterize scientific method illuminatingly (even if defectively) from the standpoint of its capacity to generate progress, in his The Logic of Scientific Discovery, (b) to show how this can be generalized to constitute a conception of progress-achieving rationality, applicable, potentially, to all that we do, and then (c) to use this conception of rationality to expose the profound irrationality and inhumanity of some traditional approaches to the task of creating (or maintaining) civilization, most notably those of Plato and Marx in his The Open Society and Its Enemies. In his The Poverty of Historicism Popper is more concerned to discuss the implications of generalized scientific rationality for social science; in Conjectures and Refutations he is more concerned to discuss implications of generalized scientific rationality for philosophy. The Postscript might be characterised as applying scientific rationality to science itself (when it is not simply defending falsificationism).48
Even though the way Popper develops and applies the basic Enlightenment idea in his writings improves on what the 18th-century philosophes had in mind, it is still deeply flawed, in part because Popper begins with a defective standard empiricist conception of scientific method, in part because Popper perpetuates the third blunder of the traditional Enlightenment, indicated above and to be discussed in more detail below. Despite this, Popper’s “critical” or “problem-solving” conception of rationality, when improved, forms an important part of a more adequate conception, arrived at by generalizing the more adequate aim-oriented empiricist conception of scientific method indicated above. In what follows, I expound and assess, first the improved version of Popper’s conception, and then the more adequate “aim-oriented” conception of rationality that I wish to defend.
Taking his problem-solving, falsificationist conception of scientific method as his starting point, Popper has argued that it can be generalized to form a conception of rationality, critical rationalism, which is potentially fruitful whatever we may be doing.49 The decisive point, for Popper, is that empirical falsification is just one especially severe form of criticism. Outside science, we may not be able to falsify decisively, but we can, more generally, criticize, and thus hope to make progress. The scientific method of tackling problems by means of conjecture and refutation becomes the general method of tackling problems by means of conjecture and criticism. Popper’s conception of rationality, which he arrives at by generalizing his conception of scientific method, can be summarized, when improved somewhat,50 in the following four basic rules.
(i) Articulate and seek to improve the articulation of the basic problem(s) to be solved.
(ii) Propose and critically assess alternative possible solutions.
(iii) When necessary, break up the basic problem to be solved into a number of preliminary, simpler, analogous, subordinate or specialized problems (to be tackled in accordance with rules (i) and (ii)), in an attempt to work gradually towards a solution to the basic problem to be solved.
(iv) Inter-connect attempts to solve basic and specialized problems, so that basic problem-solving may guide, and be guided by, specialized problem-solving.
The nub of Popper’s critical rationalism is in rule (ii). But rule (i) is required as well. In real life (as opposed to academic examinations) we do not encounter problems clearly and correctly formulated; recognition of the existence of a problem may begin merely with the disappointment of some unformulated expectation. Clarifying the nature of the problem we seek to solve, even perhaps more or less radically changing the problem in the light of what we learn, is a vital part of rational problem solving (and a vital part of scientific research).
Rule (iii) becomes vital when a problem is too difficult to solve at once. The fundamental scientific problem “What is the nature of the universe?” is a case in point.51 We may regard the Presocratic philosophers as trying to solve this problem all at once, as it were, by putting forward rival conjectures, in accordance with rule (ii); but this direct attack failed. Modern science began when Galileo, Kepler and others tried to tackle preliminary, subordinate problems within the framework of some sort of general answer to the fundamental scientific problem (such as Galileo’s “the book of Nature is written in the language of mathematics”).
Once rule (iii) is put into practice it is vital to put rule (iv) into practice as well, so that efforts to solve specialized and fundamental problems may learn from each other, and so that absorption in specialized problems does not lead to the basic problem to be solved being forgotten.
It might seem that the above transition from scientific method to rationality loses the idea of learning from experience; but this is not so. Critical rationalism, as enshrined in the above four rules, is a method for learning from experience. Experience is what we acquire through trying out various possible solutions to the problem we wish to solve, and discovering that these possibilities more or less fail. Consider, for example, a problem of action, a technological or political problem, perhaps: in criticizing a proposed solution we may well appeal to the (adverse) outcome of attempting to put the solution into practice; that is, we appeal to experience. Experience, in this broad sense, is what we acquire through trying to do things, trying to solve problems: it is a generalization of the notion of experience as this arises in connection with science – observation and experimentation. Critical rationalism might also be called “critical empiricism”; it is as much a generalization of scientific empiricism as it is of scientific rationality.52
“Rationality”, as the term is being used here, appeals to the idea that there is some rather ill-defined set of rules, methods or strategies which, if put into practice, give us our best chances of solving our problems (or realizing our aims) whatever we may be doing. The rules of reason are fallible and non-mechanical; they do not determine precisely what we should do, in any specified situation, and do not guarantee success; they thus do not have the character of an algorithm.
They are meta-rules; they presuppose that there is much that we can already do, that there is a vast array of diverse methods that we can successfully employ in a wide range of activities, using them, in other words, to solve readily a wide range of diverse problems: the meta-rules of reason tell us how to exploit these diverse first-level actions and rules to the best advantage to solve as-yet unsolved problems. (The above four rules of reason all presuppose that there is much that we can already do – in articulating problems, proposing and critically assessing possible solutions, etc.) It is the meta-methodological character of rationality which enables rationality to be useful and fruitful universally, whatever we may be doing.
If reason were an algorithm that determined what we should do in any given situation, then reason would, in a sense, abolish freedom. Or rather, it would reduce free will to one decision: to be rational, to act in accordance with the algorithm of reason.53 The above, non-algorithmical conception of rationality does the opposite; it can only enhance freedom. In acting rationally we improve our chances of solving our problems, of realizing our aims; and the strategies of reason are of such a general character that they cannot be regarded as specifying precisely what we should do or think. Rationality does require that we adopt a critical attitude to proposed solutions to problems, it is true, but leaves it open to us to discover what is to be criticized, by what means, and how lethal any given criticism is. In certain limited situations, algorithms exist which specify precisely what steps need to be taken to solve certain specified types of problem; where such algorithms exist (associated with decision theory or games theory, for example), it is irrational not to exploit them. But rationality also requires that algorithms be used critically. It is always an open question as to whether a given algorithm applies to a given situation – a question which cannot in general be decided algorithmically. There is no general algorithm for the use of algorithms, and hence rationality cannot be reduced to acting in accordance with algorithms.54
The above four rules of problem-solving embody something like the kernel of rationality, and I shall appeal to them in what follows. Even if not sufficient for rationality, they are necessary. No enterprise which persistently violates them can hope to be rational. (Below we shall see that philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry, viewed from the standpoint of helping humanity learn how to become civilized, violates three of the above four elementary rules of rational problem-solving. It is as hopelessly irrational as that!)
Despite their fundamental importance, rules (i) to (iv) are, nevertheless, as a characterization of rationality, inadequate in at least two ways. For one thing, one could consider formulating any number of further rules of rational problem-solving, such as:
(v). In attempting to solve a new problem, P2, pick out an analogous already-solved problem, P1, and adapt the solution, S1, to P1, taking into account the differences between P1 and P2, to form S1*, a possible solution to P2.
It is worth noting in passing that the basic Enlightenment idea being advocated in this book of learning from our solution to the first great problem of learning how to go about solving the second great problem is a straightforward case of putting rule (v) into practice.55
A much more serious defect, however, has to do with the failure of the above problem-solving conception of rationality to come to grips with what needs to be done when aims are being pursued that are inherently problematic. This defect stems from the defective conception of scientific method, which gave rise to the rules (i) to (iv) in the first place, by a process of generalization. As we have seen, Popper’s falsificationist conception of scientific method is a version of standard empiricism: the inherently problematic basic aim of science of improving knowledge of the world presupposed to be comprehensible is replaced by the ostensibly unproblematic aim of improving knowledge of the world about which no presuppositions are made at all. At least two bad consequences flow from this blunder concerning the aim of science: first, the problem of induction becomes insoluble;56 second, scientific method comes to be characterized in such a way that no provision is included for the improvement of the problematic basic aim.
By contrast, aim-oriented empiricism, the conception of scientific method outlined above in section 2 of the present chapter, stresses the inherently problematic character of the basic aim of science, and provides a “meta-methodological” framework within which it becomes possible to improve more or less specific aims and methods of science in the light of improving knowledge. All this is likely, when generalized, to have wide applicability to life, because aims in life invariably, at some point, become problematic, even though we all too often try to convince ourselves that this is not the case. In these circumstances it ought to be helpful to acknowledge, and try to solve, problems associated with aims.57
An aim, whether of an individual person, a group of people or an institution, may be problematic because it is not as realizable as it is believed to be, or not as desirable, there being, perhaps, some modified aim that is more realizable, more desirable, or both. We may seek an aim A as a means to a more general or distant aim B, and A may not be the best means to B. An aim may not be as desirable as it seems because, in realizing the aim, we realize other, unintended things that are undesirable. Or, putting the point slightly differently, an aim that seems desirable may not be because it conflicts in unnoticed ways with other desirable aims.58 We may pursue unrealizable aims because we hold false beliefs which tell us that the aims are realizable. Or we may pursue undesirable aims out of inertia; once upon a time the aims were desirable, but circumstances have changed, and what was once desirable is so no longer. This applies especially to institutions which, in their very nature, resist change.
Problems associated with aims intensify dramatically when we consider aims, not just from the standpoint of this individual or that, but from the standpoint of all those associated with some social activity, endeavour or institution. And finally, it must be emphasized, the aim of creating a civilized world is inherently and permanently problematic. Not only do people’s interests and ideals conflict; such things as freedom and equality, inherent to civilization, conflict. Some degree of equality may well be deemed to be essential to civilization; but if equality is pursued with too much determination, not only does this lead to loss of liberty, it also results in loss of equality in that a special (privileged) class has to be created to enforce equality on the majority, as in the Soviet Union under communism. A too enthusiastic pursuit of equality destroys equality. Again, a basic aim of legislation for civilization ought to be to increase freedom by restricting it: this brings out the inherently problematic, paradoxical character of the aim of achieving civilization.59
The basic rule of aim-oriented rationality – the conception of rationality arrived at by generalizing aim-oriented empiricism – can be stated like this: Whenever aims are problematic, try to improve aims and methods as you proceed.
In a little more detail, I suggest the following as basic rules of aim-oriented rationality, arrived at by generalizing the meta-methods of aim-oriented empiricism.
(I) Articulate, and try to improve the articulation of, problems associated with aims-and-methods.
(II) Propose and critically assess possible solutions, possible aims-and-methods.
(III) Assess these with respect to experience when they are put into practice in life.
(IV) Given a long-term, inherently highly problematic aim, represent this at a number of levels of specificness and generality, in an attempt to arrive at a relatively unproblematic representation of the aim which can provide a framework within which problems associated with more specific versions of the aim may be resolved.
(V) Adapt this to the case of cooperative resolution of conflicts.
(VI) Whenever rationality appears to be a liability, and irrationality seems to be required for success, conjecture that aims are being misrepresented and try to articulate repressed, problematic aims.
(VII) Interconnect thought about problematic aims-and-methods and actions in such a way as to promote the improvement of aims and methods in life.
(VIII) Try to discover why a problematic aim is being pursued, both in the historical or causal sense of how the aim came to be pursued in the first place, and in the rationalistic sense of for what further aim (if any) the given aim is being pursued.
Rules (I) to (VIII) are intended to provide a general meta-methodology designed to help us improve problematic aims-and-methods as we act, in the light of imagination and experience. If by a “philosophy of X” we mean a view as to what the aim-and-methods of the endeavour X ought to be,60 then rules (I) to (VIII) can be characterized as providing a meta-methodology for improving “philosophies” in the light of imagination and experience. Instead of assessing rival explanatory theories, or rival blueprints and associated methods in the light of imagination and experiment (as in science) we are assessing rival proposals for action, programmes, scenarios, policies or philosophies in the light of imagination and experience. In this sense, rules (I) to (VIII) are intended to make empirical philosophy possible (empirical science being a specialized part of empirical philosophy).
Points made above in connection with problem-solving rationality apply here also, in connection with aim-oriented rationality. Thus the above rules (I) to (VIII) are fallible, non-mechanical “level 2” meta-rules, which presuppose that there are a host of “level 1” rules which we can put more or less successfully into action, as we act in the world and make judgements about desirability, success and failure. Thus in assessing the success or failure of a philosophy by means of experience in accordance with rule (III), “level 1” rules will be used (no doubt in an entirely implicit way) in the assessment of the success or failure of what was done, how good it felt, how desirable it seemed to be.
We come now to the third step of the Enlightenment Programme. It is here that the traditional Enlightenment makes its worst, its most monumental blunder.
The traditional Enlightenment holds, as we have seen, that the methods of natural science need to be applied, not to social life, but to the task of creating and developing the social sciences. First, knowledge is to be acquired; then, secondarily, it can be applied to help solve social problems.
But the basic Enlightenment idea is to learn from scientific progress how to make social progress towards an enlightened world. This means, as I have already indicated, that appropriately generalized versions of the progress-achieving methods of science need to be applied, not in the first instance to social science but rather to social life itself. The task must be to get into the fabric of our personal and social lives methods or strategies which will help us make progress towards better ways of living. We need to extract from the one immensely successful institutional enterprise of natural science those methods responsible for this success, so that they may be generalized and applied to other institutions – government, industry, agriculture, medicine, the media, the law, international relations, education, the arts. What matters, in short, is that social life makes progress towards enlightenment, and not that social science makes progress towards greater knowledge of social phenomena.
It may be objected that the traditional Enlightenment is right: acquisition of knowledge must be the first priority. Before we can begin to tackle problems of living rationally, before we can even know what these problems are, we first need to acquire relevant knowledge.
I have six replies to this objection.
First, even if the objection were valid, it would still be vital for a kind of inquiry designed to help us build a better world to include rational exploration of problems of living, and to ensure that this guides priorities of scientific research (and is guided by the results of such research), roughly in accordance with rule (iv) of problem-solving rationality.
Second, the validity of the objection becomes dubious when we take into account the considerable success people met with in solving problems of living in a state of extreme ignorance, before the advent of science. We still today often arrive at solutions to problems of living in ignorance of relevant facts.
Third, the objection is not valid. In order to articulate problems of living and explore possible solutions we need to be able to act in the world, imagine possible actions and share our imaginings with others: in so far as some common sense knowledge is implicit in all this, such knowledge is required to tackle successfully problems of living. But this does not mean that we must give intellectual priority to acquiring new relevant knowledge before we can be in a position to tackle rationally our problems of living.
Fourth, simply in order to have some idea of what kind of knowledge or know-how it is relevant for us to try to acquire, we must first have some provisional ideas as to what our problem of living is and what we might do to solve it. Articulating our problem of living and proposing and critically assessing possible solutions, in accordance with rules (i) and (ii) needs to be intellectually prior to acquiring relevant knowledge simply for this reason: we cannot know what new knowledge it is relevant for us to acquire until we have at least a preliminary idea as to what our problem of living is, and what we propose to do about it. A slight change in the way we construe our problem may lead to a drastic change in the kind of knowledge it is relevant to acquire: changing the way we construe problems of health, to include prevention of disease (and not just curing of disease) leads to a dramatic change in the kind of knowledge we need to acquire (importance of exercise, diet etc.). Including the importance of avoiding pollution in the problem of creating wealth by means of industrial development leads to the need to develop entirely new kinds of knowledge.
Fifth, relevant knowledge is often hard to acquire; it would be a disaster if we suspended life until it had been acquired. Knowledge of how our brains work is presumably highly relevant to all that we do but clearly, suspending rational tackling of problems of living until this relevant knowledge has been acquired would not be a sensible step to take. It would, in any case, make it impossible for us to acquire the relevant knowledge (since this requires scientists to act in doing research). Scientific research is itself a kind of action carried on in a state of relative ignorance.
Sixth, the capacity to act, to live, more or less successfully in the world, is more fundamental than (propositional) knowledge. All our knowledge is but a development of our capacity to act. Dissociated from life, from action, knowledge stored in libraries is just paper and ink, devoid of meaning. In this sense, problems of living are more fundamental than problems of knowledge (which are but an aspect of problems of living); giving intellectual priority to problems of living quite properly reflects this point.61
One can get an idea of just how disastrous the orthodox view is that knowledge must first be acquired before rational action becomes possible from the following point. When judged from the standpoint of helping us build a better world, a kind of inquiry that restricts itself to acquiring knowledge (as modern academic inquiry very largely does) – inquiry pursued in accordance with the philosophy of knowledge, in other words, associated with the traditional Enlightenment – violates three of the above four elementary rules of rational problem-solving, (i) to (iv). In concentrating on solving problems of knowledge to the exclusion of problems of living (which have no place within the intellectual domain of a kind of inquiry devoted to acquiring knowledge), this kind of philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry violates rules (i) and (ii).62 Rule (iii) is put splendidly into effect, in that a vast maze of subordinate, specialized problem-solving is created, the specialized problems of knowledge and technology of modern academia. But rule (iv) is violated in that, since rules (i) and (ii) are ignored, there can be no hope of inter-connecting fundamental and specialized problem-solving. These are the intellectual blunders that are built into institutional/intellectual structure of modern academia (without anyone apparently noticing). The result is the modern world: immensely sophisticated scientific knowledge and technology combined with a woeful incapacity to learn how to tackle problems of living – above all global problems of living – in cooperatively rational ways.
In short, the traditional Enlightenment gets all three steps of the Enlightenment programme wrong (whereas the new Enlightenment emerges as a result of putting all three steps correctly into practice). Furthermore, philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry, associated with the traditional Enlightenment, violates three of the four most elementary rules of rational problem-solving conceivable, when assessed from the standpoint of helping humanity learn to become civilized. It fails, in a quite elementary way, to comply with aim-oriented rationality in that it misrepresents the proper intellectual aims of science, and of inquiry more generally, and fails to insist that aims-and-methods evolve. By contrast, as we shall see in the next chapter, inquiry associated with the new Enlightenment emerges as a result of implementing all four of the above rules of rational problem-solving; and it complies with the edicts of aim-oriented rationality.
The differences between the botched traditional Enlightenment, and the new Enlightenment, free of blunders, are immense. Whereas the main task of the traditional Enlightenment is to create a society which has available as much knowledge as possible of natural and social phenomena, the main task of the new Enlightenment is to create a rational society, a society which devotes reason to achieving and maintaining a sustainable, enlightened civilized world. If the Enlightenment had been developed successfully as the new Enlightenment during the last two and a half centuries, instead of the botched traditional Enlightenment, we would now live in a different world. Not only would we have developed science and technology, but we would have also developed the wisdom to use our increased power to act for the long-term good of humanity. The awful mismatch between scientific and technological sophistication and political idiocy, such a feature of our world, would not have been allowed to develop or persist. There is every chance that we would have learned how to avoid many of the man-made horrors of the 20th century – the wars, the death camps, the famines, the millions of devastated human lives. In particular, we would now possess traditions and institutions of learning rationally devoted to promoting enlightened civilization. We would have learned from the solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second problem. Both great problems of learning would have been cracked.
Let us look, then, at the implications of the new Enlightenment for academic inquiry. Let us see, in particular, how academic inquiry developed in accordance with the new Enlightenment would differ from academic inquiry as we have it at present, shaped by the traditional Enlightenment and the Romantic opposition, the counter-Enlightenment (as indicated above). In what follows I consider these implications adopting, first, the above “problem-solving” conception of rationality; and then the improved “aim-oriented” conception. I call the conception of inquiry that emerges “the philosophy of wisdom”. It contrasts with “the philosophy of knowledge”, the conception of inquiry implied by the botched traditional Enlightenment.
I have said that the traditional Enlightenment leads to the philosophy of knowledge, and the new Enlightenment leads to the philosophy of wisdom. How do these two versions of the Enlightenment differ from the corresponding two “philosophies” to which they lead? Let me quickly elucidate how I am using these key terms.
The two versions of the Enlightenment are different versions of the basic Enlightenment idea: to learn from the solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second problem. Solving the second great problem of learning involves gradually bringing about a multitude of changes to traditions, institutions and ways of life throughout our human world. Thus the two versions of the Enlightenment have implications for the entire social world.
The two corresponding “philosophies”, however, are two rival conceptions of organized or institutionalized inquiry. Both construe inquiry as having, as a basic aim, to help humanity learn how so to change the human world so that progress is made towards global civilization. Both construe inquiry, in other words, as seeking to help humanity learn how to solve the second great problem of learning (in addition to the first). But the two kinds of inquiry go about this task in very different ways. The philosophy of knowledge asserts that knowledge must first be acquired and then, secondarily, applied to help solve social problems. The philosophy of wisdom asserts, as we shall see in more detail below, that the fundamental intellectual task of inquiry is to help humanity tackle its social problems in more cooperatively rational ways.
In short, the two versions of the Enlightenment have implications for all of the social world; in particular, they have implications for one specific bit of the social world – institutionalized inquiry; the two “philosophies” spell out in more detail what these specific implications are.
Let us now see what the implications of the new Enlightenment are for the nature of academic inquiry, beginning first with the improved version of Popper’s “problem-solving” conception of rationality (generalized from his falsificationist conception of scientific method), and then, in the next section, accepting the “aim-oriented” conception of rationality arrived at by generalizing “aim-oriented empiricism”.
There are two crucial preliminary points that need to be made. First, in order to create a better world, the problems that we need to solve are, fundamentally, problems of living rather than problems of knowledge. It is what we do (or refrain from doing) that matters, and not just what we know. Even where new knowledge or technology is needed, in connection with agriculture or medicine for example, it is always what this enables us to do that solves the problem of living.
Second, in order to make progress towards a sustainable, civilized world we need to learn how to resolve our conflicts in more cooperative ways than at present. A group acts cooperatively in so far as all members of the group share responsibility for what is done, and for deciding what is done, proposals for action, for resolution of problems and conflicts, being judged on their merits from the standpoint of the interests of the members of the group (or the group as a whole), there being no permanent leadership or delegation of power. Competition is not opposed to cooperation if it proceeds within a framework of cooperation, as it does ideally within science. There are of course degrees of cooperativeness, from its absence, all out violence, at one extreme, through settling of conflicts by means of threat, agreed procedures such as voting, via bargaining, to all out cooperativeness at the other extreme. If we are to develop a sustainable, civilized world we need to move progressively away from the violent end of this spectrum towards the cooperative end.
Given these two points, and given the “problem-solving” version of the new Enlightenment that we are considering, a basic task of academic inquiry must be to help us discover how to tackle personal, social and global problems of living in increasingly cooperatively rational ways (in accordance with the four rules of problem-solving rationality spelled out in section 3 of the last chapter), so that we may discover how to realize what is of value to us in life, in so far as this is sufficiently compatible with civilization.
A basic task of inquiry, then, must be (i) to articulate personal, social and global problems of living, and (ii) to propose possible solutions, possible actions, to be critically assessed from the standpoint of their capacity, if enacted, to enable us to realize what is of value. Academic inquiry needs itself to engage in rational exploration of problems of living in this way, and needs to promote the doing of this in the world at large, by means of advocacy, argument, debate, and education. Academic inquiry has the overall social or political goal of helping humanity become more cooperatively rational by cooperatively rational means.
These intellectually central and fundamental tasks, undertaken in accordance with rules (i) and (ii) of problem-solving rationality indicated in section 3 of the last chapter, need to be performed by social inquiry and the humanities. Thus the various branches of the social sciences and humanities – economics, politics, sociology, psychology, anthropology, human geography, history, philosophy, cultural studies – are not primarily sciences at all; they are not even non-scientific disciplines devoted to acquiring knowledge of the human world (as the Counter-Enlightenment holds). Their primary intellectual task is to invent and explore imaginatively diverse possible, more or less cooperative actions, diverse possible ways of living, policies, economic and political programmes, institutions, philosophies of life, and to assess these critically from the standpoint of their desirability and feasibility, their capacity, if implemented, to help us make progress towards a good world. Social inquiry and the humanities are primarily concerned to improve our ideas about how to live rather than our ideas about what is the case. Pursued in this way, social inquiry and the humanities form the central, fundamental part of inquiry as a whole; they are intellectually more fundamental than the biological, physical and technological sciences (all in sharp contrast to philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry).
In addition, in order to do justice to the intractability of many problems of living, inquiry will implement rule (iii), and break up fundamental problems of living into a host of subordinate, specialized problems of knowledge and know-how, thus creating many subordinate, specialized disciplines. Social inquiry itself needs to acquire knowledge of relevant social phenomena, in order to aid the articulation of problems of living and the assessment of proposed solutions. The technological sciences – medicine, agriculture, engineering, artificial intelligence – tackle diverse technical problems of know-how, thus enhancing our power to act, to solve our problems of living, to achieve what is of value. The physical and biological sciences tackle problems of knowledge and understanding of diverse aspects of the natural world, thereby improving our knowledge and understanding of what it is possible and not possible to do in order to solve problems of living. Mathematics, by contrast, is not concerned to improve knowledge of anything actual at all. It is concerned rather to develop, systematize and unify abstract problem-solving methods; it is concerned with the exploration of problematic possibilities. As a result, mathematics is able enormously to enhance our problem-solving powers even though it does not in itself embody knowledge of any aspect of the actual.63
All this more specialized problem-solving is however inter-connected with thought about fundamental problems of living, in accordance with rule (iv) of problem-solving rationality, so that each may guide and be influenced by the other. This does not mean, however, that only those subordinate or specialized problems are tackled which are seen to have an immediate relevance to our problems of living. There are at least four reasons for this. First, knowledge and understanding can be of value in their own right. Second, it often, though by no means always, happens that solutions to practical problems emerge from entirely unexpected quarters, as a result of research into apparently unrelated matters. The use of X-rays in medicine is an obvious example. Third, we do not altogether know what our problems of living are: we need research into matters not immediately related to our present social concerns in part to help us discover the existence of problems of living of which we are not aware. Fourth, future problems of living may differ from our present problems, for a variety of reasons: specialized research not obviously needed from the standpoint of our immediate concerns may well be worth supporting because of a possible relevance to future concerns. A basic aim of inquiry is to build up our general problem-solving power, and this requires research to be undertaken that is not obviously related to immediate human need. None of this, however, counteracts the fundamental importance of ensuring that rule (iv) is built into the organizational structure of inquiry.
For each one of us, the most important and fundamental inquiry going on in the world is the thinking that we engage in, on our own or with others, as we live – the thinking that guides or influences our actions. And from the standpoint of building a better world it is course this kind of personally and socially active thought guiding personal and social life that really matters. The basic task of institutionalized or academic thought is to help enhance, by cooperatively rational means, the quality of personally and socially active thought so that it may all the better enable us to realize what is of value in so far as this is compatible with a good world. The intellectual progress of socially active thought is what ultimately matters, the intellectual progress of academic thought being but a means to that end.
In a sense, academic inquiry as a whole is a specialized part of the more fundamental socially active inquiry which we all engage in as we live. To the extent that this is true, the relationship between academic thought and thought in the rest of the social world needs to comply with rule (iv): each needs to learn from the other. Again, within academic inquiry, social inquiry is more fundamental than natural science, in so far as social inquiry tackles our fundamental problems of living whereas natural science tackles subordinate problems of knowledge.
In diagram 3 I have tried to indicate how the rules of problem-solving rationality, (i) to (iv), being built into the institutional structure of academic inquiry, affect both its internal organization and its relationship to the rest of the social world.
Diagram 3: Philosophy of Wisdom Inquiry Implementing Problem- Solving Rationality in order to Help Humanity make Progress towards a Civilized World
The basic intellectual aim of inquiry may be said to be, not knowledge, but wisdom – wisdom being understood to be the desire, the active endeavour and the capacity to realize64 what is desirable and of value in life, for oneself and others. Wisdom includes knowledge, know-how and understanding but goes beyond them in also including the desire and active striving for what is of value, the ability to experience value, actually and potentially, in the circumstances of life, the capacity to help realize what is of value for oneself and others, the capacity to help solve those problems of living that need to be solved if what is of value is to be realized, the capacity to use and develop knowledge, technology and understanding as needed for the realization of value. Wisdom, like knowledge, can be conceived of not only in personal terms but also in institutional or social terms. We can thus interpret the philosophy of wisdom as asserting that the basic task of rational inquiry is to help us develop wiser ways of living, wiser institutions, customs and social relations, a wiser world.
It is absolutely essential that academic inquiry is without political power, and is non-authoritarian in character. There can be no question of academics deciding for the rest of us what our problems are, how they should be solved, how we should live or what is of value. Far from depriving us of the power to decide for ourselves, the task of academic inquiry is to help us enhance our power to decide well for ourselves by providing us with good ideas, proposals and arguments for our consideration. Academics need to engage in debate with non-academics, but must have no power or authority to determine the thoughts and decisions of others. Academic inquiry is a sort of people’s civil service, doing openly for the public, with exemplary intellectual honesty and integrity, what actual civil servants are supposed to do, in secret, for governments.
Academic inquiry must of course retain its independence, and must not degenerate into merely serving the special interests of government, industry, the nation, or public opinion. The academic world needs just sufficient power and authority to retain its independence, but no more. Academic inquiry needs to be non-authoritarian, not only about questions of value and how we are to live, but also about questions of fact and knowledge. All academic pronouncements, however expert and specialized, need to be open to challenge from non-experts. If we are to believe the pronouncements of experts, this should be because there are good reasons to do so, and not because experts possess some unassailable authority of expertise — being a sort of latter-day priesthood attending the oracle science. The non-authoritarian character of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, has much to do with adoption of a non-authoritarian conception of reason.
So far academic inquiry has been characterized as having the task of helping humanity learn how to tackle its problems of living more rationally; nothing has been said about learning from experience. But, as I indicated above, the four rules of reason that we are considering are also rules for learning from experience; this has a vital role to play in the conception of inquiry we are considering. What we learn as a result of attempting to put into practice some proposed solution to a problem of living is of course all important for learning how to build a better world. A vital task for academic inquiry (especially for history) is to monitor the successes and failures of our past attempts at solving problems of living. As far as possible we should try to keep our failures to social experiments that we perform in imagination rather than in practice in the real world, so that we only suffer the consequences of failure in imagination, and not in reality. But however vivid, far-seeing and accurate our imagination may be, failure in practice will always happen, and we should seek to learn all we can from it for future actions. To this extent, the conception of inquiry we are considering can be regarded as a kind of empiricism. In two crucial respects, however, it differs from what is usually meant by empiricism. First, what is learned is how to do things, how to realize what is of value, how to live, and not, primarily, what we learn in the context of science: knowledge of fact. And secondly, as I have already remarked, “experience” means something like “what we acquire as a result attempting to do things, attempting to realize what is of value”, and not, primarily, what it means in the context of science: observation and experiment. (This latter meaning is a specialized version of the former meaning.)
It is important to appreciate that the conception of academic inquiry that we are considering is designed to help us to see, to know and to understand, for their own sake, just as much as it is designed to help us solve practical problems of living.65 It might seem that social inquiry, in articulating problems of living and proposing possible solutions, has only a severely practical purpose. But engaging in this intellectual activity of articulating personal and social problems of living is just what we need to do if we are to develop a good empathic or “personalistic” understanding of our fellow human beings (and of ourselves) – a kind of understanding that can do justice to our humanity, to what is of value, potentially and actually, in our lives. In order to understand another person as a person (as opposed to a biological or physical system) I need to be able, in imagination, to see, desire, fear, believe, experience and suffer what the other person sees, desires, etc. I need to be able, in imagination, to enter into the other person’s world; that is, I need to be able to understand his problems of living as he understands them, and I need also, perhaps, to understand a more objective version of these problems. In giving intellectual priority to the tasks of articulating problems of living and exploring possible solutions, social inquiry thereby gives intellectual priority to the development of a kind of understanding that people can acquire of one another that is of great intrinsic value. In my view, indeed, personalistic understanding is essential to the development of our humanity, even to the development of consciousness. Our being able to understand each other in this way is also essential for cooperatively rational action.
And it is essential for science. It is only because scientists can enter imaginatively into each other’s problems and research projects that objective scientific knowledge can develop. At least two rather different motives exist for trying to see the world as another sees it: one may seek to improve one’s knowledge of the other person; or one may seek to improve one’s knowledge of the world, it being possible that the other person has something to contribute to one’s own knowledge. Scientific knowledge arises as a result of the latter use of personalistic understanding – scientific knowledge being, in part, the product of endless acts of personalistic understanding between scientists (with the personalistic element largely suppressed so that it becomes invisible). It is hardly too much to say that almost all that is of value in human life is based on personalistic understanding.66
The basic intellectual aim of the kind of inquiry we are considering is to devote reason to the discovery of what is of value in life. This immediately carries with it the consequence that the arts have a vital rational contribution to make to inquiry, as revelations of value, as imaginative explorations of possibilities, desirable or disastrous, or as vehicles for the criticism of fraudulent values through comedy, satire or tragedy. Literature and drama also have a rational role to play in enhancing our ability to understand others personalistically, as a result of identifying imaginatively with fictional characters – literature in this respect merging into biography, documentary and history. Literary criticism bridges the gap between literature and social inquiry, and is more concerned with the content of literature than the means by which it achieves its effects.
Another important consequence flows from the point that the basic aim of inquiry is to help us discover what is of value, namely that our feelings and desires have a vital rational role to play within the intellectual domain of inquiry. If we are to discover for ourselves what is of value, then we must attend to our feelings and desires. But not everything that feels good is good, and not everything that we desire is desirable. Rationality requires that feelings and desires take fact, knowledge and logic into account, just as it requires that priorities for scientific research take feelings and desires into account. In insisting on this kind of interplay between feelings and desires on the one hand, knowledge and understanding on the other, the conception of inquiry that we are considering resolves the conflict between Rationalism and Romanticism, and helps us to acquire what we need if we are to contribute to building civilization: mindful hearts and heartfelt minds.67
This concludes my sketch of academic inquiry shaped by the new Enlightenment and based on the above quasi-Popperian problem-solving conception of rationality. Note that it differs dramatically from academic inquiry as it mostly exists today, in the schools and universities of the world. This is because academic inquiry, as it actually exists, has been massively influenced by the traditional, intellectually defective Enlightenment and the philosophy of knowledge, and by the Romantic Counter-Enlightenment.
Note, too, the rigour of philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry (conducted properly in accordance with the framework just indicated) in comparison with the profound irrationality of philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry, when the two kinds of inquiry are judged from the standpoint of helping us create a better world. Philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry arises as a result of putting the four basic rules of rational problem-solving into practice; philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry, by contrast, as we saw in the last chapter, violates three of these four basic rules of reason! In concentrating on solving problems of knowledge to the exclusion of problems of living (which have no place within the intellectual domain of a kind of inquiry devoted to acquiring knowledge), philosophy-of-knowledge inquiry violates rules (i) and (ii). Rule (iii) is put splendidly into effect, in that a vast maze of subordinate, specialized problem-solving is created, the specialized problems of knowledge and technology of modern academia. But rule (iv) is violated in that, since rules (i) and (ii) are ignored, there can be no hope of inter-connecting fundamental and specialized problem-solving.
From the standpoint of creating civilization, this gross irrationality of academic inquiry restricted to the pursuit of knowledge has disastrous consequences. Failure to put rules (i) and (ii) into practice means that academic inquiry fails to do what it most needs to do if it is to help humanity become more civilized: create and scrutinize possible increasingly cooperative resolutions to global problems, possible actions, policies, ways of living, institutions, scenarios, values which, if enacted, would promote civilization. Implementing rule (iii) without also implementing rules (i), (ii) and (iv) means that knowledge and technological know-how are developed divorced from sustained imaginative and critical thinking about what our problems of living are, and how they should be solved. No wonder a mismatch develops between the priorities of scientific and technological research on the one hand, and human need on the other.
Here is the nub of our failure to solve the second great problem of learning. Academic inquiry as it mostly exists at present, devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how, influenced by the traditional Enlightenment, violates three of the four most elementary rules of rational problem-solving that one can think of. This is a direct consequence of the third blunder of the traditional Enlightenment: applying generalized scientific method to social science rather than to social life.68
So far we have considered the implications of the new Enlightenment granted the “problem-solving” conception of rationality; let us now see how this picture is modified granted the improved “aim-oriented” conception of rationality (AOR), spelled out in section 3 of the last chapter. Here are nine ways in which adopting aim-oriented rationality improves on and amplifies the above picture.
1. So far, social inquiry has been characterized as having the basic task of promoting problem-solving rationality in social life. This is now amended to include the long-term task of helping us build AOR (as summed up in the Rules (I) to (VIII) of section 3 of chapter 3) into social life. Social inquiry becomes social methodology or social philosophy rather than, primarily, social science (or the unscientific pursuit of social knowledge). Each major public institution – government, law, industry, commerce, the arts, and so on – ought to have its attendant branch of sociology, concerned with improving the aims and methods of these institutions. The sociology, or methodology or philosophy, of an institution is itself a part of that institution; the institution, and its sociology, learn from each other in the way in which science and the philosophy of science learn from each other according to aim-oriented empiricism.
In other words, the relationship between physics and the philosophy of physics, as depicted by aim-oriented empiricism (AOE) in section 2 of chapter 3, may be regarded as paradigmatic of what ought to be the relationship between a particular institution and the sociology of that institution. Precisely because physics has a problematic basic aim, it is important that some discussion of rival possible aims and methods, rival philosophies of physics, forms an integral part of physics itself.69 Natural science has only made progress because the aims and methods of science have evolved with evolving knowledge within the kind of framework specified by AOE (this framework being largely implicit in science as a result of general acceptance of standard empiricism). Analogously, just because the aims of government or the law (or whatever), are problematic, some discussion of rival possible aims and methods, rival philosophies, of government or the law needs to go on as an integral part of the institution in question, if the institution is to serve the best interests of humanity.
All this requires that science is conceived of in terms of AOE. If standard empiricism (SE) is accepted, science has a fixed aim and fixed methods, and the kind of interplay between science and the philosophy of science that plays such a vital role in the success of science according to AOE, disappears. Besides, SE, in restricting science to testable theories, excludes philosophies of science from the intellectual domain of science. A wedge is driven between science, and the philosophy of science.
2. It follows immediately that the sociology of science is the very same thing as the philosophy of science, properly conceived. Both are that aspect of science concerned to help improve the basic problematic aims, and associated methods, of science.70
3. AOR becomes relevant whenever basic aims are problematic. But, as we saw in section 3, chapter 3, the aim of creating an enlightened, wise or civilized world is profoundly problematic. Thus AOR is above all relevant to the pursuit of this aim. AOR implies that the enterprise of creating civilization needs to represent the goal at a number of different levels analogously to the way in which physics represents its basic aim at a number of different levels as depicted in diagram 2. We need to represent civilization in increasingly unspecific or general ways so as to be increasingly unproblematic; and we need to represent it in increasingly specific, detailed ways at the cost of becoming increasingly problematic: see diagram 4 for a cartoon indication of what is required.
Diagram 4: Aim-Oriented Rationality (AOR) applied to the Task of Making Progress towards a Civilized World
Some readers may have been waiting rather impatiently for me to say what I mean by “civilization”, ever since I gave a rather rough and ready negative characterization in section 1 of chapter 1. Well, here is the reason why I have delayed doing this for so long. Any notion like “civilization”, that stands for a highly desirable, highly problematic aim, must not be given a single definition. It must be given a hierarchical characterization, in accordance with AOR, there being a highly vague, unproblematic notion at the top, notions becoming increasingly precise and problematic as one descends the hierarchy until, at the bottom, there are a number of rival, specific, controversial, problematic notions, the hope being that critical thought plus experience, with the aid of the AOR framework, can choose between and improve upon these rival specific notions.
As far as “civilization” is concerned, at the top of the hierarchy we might put:
(A) Civilization is that ideal, realizable social order (whatever it may be) which we ought to try to attain in the long term.71 This is so vague, so open-ended, that few will quarrel with this definition of civilization, although some may question the usefulness of such a vague notion, or the value of having any such long-term aim for humanity.
Somewhat lower down in the hierarchy we might have:
(B) A civilized world is one in which everyone can share equally in enjoying, sustaining and creating what is of value in life, in so far as this is possible.
This is intended to be as open-ended, as vague, as possible without being entirely vacuous: not only does it leave open what is of value in life; it leaves open the crucial question of how possible it is for everyone to share equally in enjoying, sustaining and creating what is of value. Nevertheless, some illiberal conceptions of civilization are excluded.
I intend (B) to be interpreted in such a way as to imply liberalism. If, however, some highly illiberal view as to what is of value is upheld, the result might be a version of (B) that clashes with liberalism. In order to exclude this possibility, we need, slightly further down in the hierarchy:
(C) In addition to (B), that which is ultimately of value in existence is individual persons (or, more generally, sentient beings). Everything else of value is so because it is related to, or contributes to, the value of persons.72
It is vital to interpret liberalism, or personalism (as this doctrine about what is of ultimate value in existence might be called) as a version of value realism, as a conjecture, that is, as to what is, objectively, of value in existence, and not as, merely, an expression of a preference. If liberalism is a mere matter of taste or preference, it is in danger of destroying itself. For, if this is all liberalism is, what justification can there be for opposing with force those who violate liberal values to the extent of exploiting, enslaving or killing others? In defending one’s liberal value tastes or preferences with force one is, it would seem, no better, morally, than all those illiberal fundamentalists, racists and fascists prepared to impose their views on others by means of force.
But how are objections to value realism to be met? What objective, or rational grounds are there for accepting liberalism and rejecting rival views about what is objectively of value? What is the rational or moral justification for opposing with force those who violate liberal values (in a way sufficiently extreme to deserve forceful opposition)? I would suggest that force against an individual or group is justified if no other means are available to stop or prevent the individual or group doing sufficiently serious harm to others (and that harm is itself unwarranted).73
Much lower down in the hierarchy, and rather more specifically still, we ought to hold, I conjecture, that:
(D) A civilized world is one that is liberal, democratic, just, sustainable, egalitarian, peaceful, knowledgeable, rational and wise, one that intelligently, democratically and justly, tackles problems of human suffering and deprivation in effective ways, but also one that sustains joy, love, friendship, happiness, fulfilment, kindness, individual freedom, creativity, adventurousness, great art and science.
My picture of a civilized world includes such things as: good lives, in all their immense rich variety; good things in life, the joys of living well, such as those that come from creative work, from loving, from friendship, from all that rich variety of good things that there are in our world; many people with the capacity for enjoyment, for creativity, but also in possession of such virtues as sincerity, kindness, nobility of spirit, a sense of fun: these, in so far as they are possible, are, in my view, a part of civilization.74
A civilized world becomes increasingly uncivilized as it contains more and more avoidable human suffering, injustice, slavery and war, and less and less democracy, wealth, science, wisdom, humanity, sanity.
There may not be much serious disagreement with this characterization at the topmost, vaguest level. But lower down in the hierarchy of levels, where I have characterized civilization in somewhat more detail, there is bound to be disagreement. There will be those who will insist on global socialism, with the elimination of capitalism, as a necessary condition for world-wide civilization. Others will stipulate that genuine civilization must be based on the principle of this or that religion, whether Christian, Islamic, Buddhist, or whatever. Others, again, will oppose the idea of democratic world government as unrealizable, undesirable, or both, and will stipulate that world civilization must involve independent Nations and a world-wide unconstrained free market. Aim-oriented rationality requires that these rival, more specific views be assessed against competitors by experience, actual and imaginative, within the kind of overall hierarchical framework indicated in diagram 4.
The creation of an agreed structure of aims-and-methods, of the kind depicted in diagram 4, together with agreement as to what constitutes the best choice of aim at each level, becomes a fundamental task for philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry. It is a fundamental task for social philosophy. One might call the discipline which tackles this task “Utopian Studies”. Utopian studies, so construed, have an intellectually fundamental role to play within philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry. (This contrasts sharply with the status that Utopian thought has within philosophy of knowledge inquiry, where it is either excluded altogether as politics or ideology, or regarded as an object of study, within sociology or the history of ideas.75)
4. AOR, applied to science, provides a new way at arriving at the philosophy of wisdom, a way which can be regarded as continuing the line of argument that takes one from SE to AOE. One outcome of this argument is a clarification of the relationship between natural science and social inquiry within the philosophy of wisdom. There are five steps to consider: see diagram 5.76
(a) We begin with physics as construed by SE and the philosophy of knowledge: the basic intellectual aim of physics is knowledge of truth, this aim being entirely uninfluenced by metaphysical assumptions, values, moral considerations, political programmes.
(b) The basic intellectual aim of physics is knowledge, not of truth per se, but rather of explanatory truth, the metaphysical assumption that the universe is comprehensible being built into the basic aim. Science quite properly makes this assumption as a part of the hierarchy of assumptions indicated in diagram 2. Acknowledging this produces a more rigorous physics than denying it. This takes us from SE to AOE.
(c) The basic intellectual aim of physics is knowledge not just of explanatory truth, but rather, more generally, of valuable truth – one kind of which is explanatory truth. Truth may also be of value because it is useful, or has some other kind of significance. Values, of one kind or another, are implicit in the priorities of research. In order to become a part of scientific knowledge, it is not enough that a result be true, verified and novel; it must also be judged to be sufficiently important to be published in a scientific journal, thus to become a part of the body of knowledge. Knowledge could be gathered about all sorts of matters: numbers of leaves on trees in a certain park on a certain day, numbers of grains of gravel on paths, facts about books, their history, manufacture, etc., stored in a library; the possibilities are endless. From the infinite store of facts that the world presents to us for possible study, science attempts to select those that are, for some reason, of use or of value to us. And not only is it inevitable that values should influence choice of subject matter; this is desirable. We want science to procure knowledge of valuable truth, and not of truth that is irredeemably trivial. A science which amassed a great store of wholly valueless knowledge would not, quite properly, be regarded as making progress. This shows that the very notion of scientific progress involves values.
In one vital respect, the way in which values ought to influence science differs from the way in which metaphysics influences science. The metaphysical assumption of physicalism exercises a massive influence over what is taken to be true and false in science, as we saw in section 2 of chapter 3. Value judgements, by contrast, ought not to influence what is taken to be true and false in science. The mere fact that we desire something to be true or false does not make it so: human hopes and fears are, on the whole, a poor guide to truth. Values ought to influence, not decisions about what is true and false, but rather decisions about what to develop knowledge about. Values come to exercise a profound influence over the content of a scientific discipline as a result of influencing scientists in their choice of research topics and problems, their choice of subject-matter.77 It is important, however, that science exercises a certain tolerance towards new knowledge that appears to be without value (as I have already remarked, in effect, in commenting on possible misuse of rule (iv)): appearances can be deceptive; an item of apparently trivial knowledge may turn out to be, or may lead towards, knowledge of great value.
The aim of acquiring knowledge of valuable truth is, if anything, even more problematic than that of acquiring knowledge of explanatory truth. AOR, applied to science interpreted as pursuing the problematic aim of improving knowledge of valuable truth, implies that aims for science need to be articulated at a number of levels of precision, desirability and conjectured realizability: see (c) of diagram 5. In particular, conjectures about what is scientifically discoverable need to intermingle with ideas about what would be desirable to discover, so that we may pick out research aims that are both realizable and desirable to realize (i.e. of value). The rational choosing of research aims requires an integration of factual and value considerations; choosing research aims cannot be left to scientists, since they have no particular expertise in deciding questions of human value for the rest of us. Granted that the rationality of science depends, in part, on more and less specific research aims being chosen rationally (i.e. in accordance with the rules of AOR), and granted the role that values play in research aims, it follows that the rationality of science requires that values be chosen rationally – i.e. that human priorities in life be chosen rationally.
Just as AOE demands that metaphysical assumptions are chosen rationally (if science is to be rational), so too humane AOE (as the more general view may be called) demands that value assumptions, assumptions about priorities, are chosen rationally. The philosophy-of-knowledge strategy of shielding science from an irrational society to preserve its rationality can have only limited success: in the end, for science to be rational, it is necessary that science be set in a rational social world (at least in one which chooses its priorities rationally, in accordance with AOR).
(d) In pursuing the intellectual aim of knowledge of valuable truth, the scientist also acts; doing the research, and especially, publishing and defending the result, are human actions, pursued in order to realize a range of human aims, the act of communication having a vast range of possible human consequences, from nothing to the agony and death of millions (as in the case of the discovery of the nuclear chain reaction that led to the nuclear bombs exploded over Hiroshima and Nagasaki). Even when the scientist is doing pure research, he is acting as a social being, his actions having a moral and political dimension. An extreme case is the morality, the political acceptability, of Heisenberg and his fellow scientists working on the bomb in Hitler’s Germany. Even if the research as such does not hurt anybody (and this may not be the case), we may nevertheless hold it to be criminally culpable to create knowledge of how to build an atom bomb in a regime as evil as Hitler’s. We may require, then, that the scientist, as scientist, acts in a way that is (1) non-criminal, (2) just, (3) moral (4) democratic (as far as possible), and even perhaps (5) rationally cooperative (as far as possible).
The pattern of argument, encountered in (b) and (c), arises here too. Science forms a part of various human projects and programmes – political, commercial, military, humanitarian, national – simply as a result of being an integral part of the social world. Science is more rigorous if the moral and political dimension of science is explicitly acknowledged rather than disavowed. If science is pursued in a politically insane social world, both the use of science, and the priorities of scientific research (at the very least) are bound to be adversely affected. Once again, science is only fully rational if set in a rational social world.
What ought to be the moral and political commitments of natural science? There is, in the practice of science itself, at its best, a nascent moral and political philosophy. At its best, science is committed to what might be called “tempered cooperative rationality”.78 Scientists, in pursuing science, have their own individual aims: the desire for knowledge and understanding, for fame, for immortality, or, more modestly, for a career, or the desire to help relieve human suffering. In addition there are the (problematic) aims of science as a whole. Ideally, scientists cooperate in pursuing the overall aims of science, so that when individual aims conflict with one another, or with the aims of science, the conflicts are resolved in a cooperatively rational way in the interests of the overall aims of science. Ideally, in resolving conflicts, scientists do not bargain, and do not lie or cheat; anyone can present their case, and decisions are reached on the merits of the arguments, and not on the basis of power, prestige, favour, bribery or corruption. But even this idealized picture of cooperative rationality within science is tempered in various ways. On the whole, only qualified scientists are permitted to contribute to science: others are excluded on the grounds that they will not have anything worthwhile to contribute. The contributions of scientists who have already made major discoveries receive much more attention than contributions from unknown scientists. Some scientific journals carry much more prestige than others. All of this is intended to be in the interests of science itself, in the interests of scientific progress.
In practice, of course, this ideal of tempered cooperative rationality is compromised in all sorts of ways. One can argue, nevertheless, that the ideal of tempered cooperative rationality amounts to a morality, a political philosophy, that the scientific community adopts for itself, (as an ideal at least), and thus forms a legitimate basis for a morality and political philosophy for humanity as whole, to which the scientific community may commit itself. Scientists can legitimately commit themselves, as scientists, to the political programme of creating a more cooperatively rational world (by cooperatively rational means) in so far as this is desirable and realizable.
(e) Not only is there inevitably a moral and political dimension to the scientific enterprise (whether or not this is recognized by scientists); the scientific community has an intellectual and moral obligation to associate science with a moral and political programme, that of the new Enlightenment and the philosophy of wisdom.
Science has created a new crisis for humanity – the crisis of knowledge without wisdom. Science owes it to us to help us overcome this crisis. In order to do this we must acquire wisdom. Thus science has an obligation to help humanity acquire wisdom. This, in outline, is the argument.
In a little more detail, the argument goes like this. Science has transformed the human condition. It has made possible the creation of the modern world. As a result of vastly improving our knowledge and technology, science has vastly increased our power to act, to the extent that, with the discovery of the H-bomb, we acquired the capacity to wipe out almost all life, and probably all human life, on the planet. But, as I have already pointed out, increasing our power to act, as a result of increasing our technological know-how (and our industrial might) without at the same time increasing our wisdom, is as likely to lead to harm as good. It all depends on how wise we are in the first place. Granted that we exhibit an admixture of wisdom, stupidity and criminality comparable to that revealed in human history before the advent of science, the mere increase in technological power is almost bound to lead to much human suffering in addition to human good. The record of the 20th century, and the 21st century so far – the record, merely, of war – bears the point out. Almost all the global problems that occasion so much concern – war, population growth, abject poverty in the third world contrasting so sharply with first world wealth, rapid extinction of species, the destruction of tropical rain forests and other natural habitats, the threat of conventional, chemical, biological and nuclear armaments, the impending disasters of global warming – all these have come to be as a result of industrial, agricultural and medical developments, made possible in turn by technological and scientific developments. When we lived in scattered hunting-and-gathering tribes, before the advent of modern science and technology, our lack of power to act meant that lack of wisdom did not matter too much. Now, in the modern world, with its vast extension of our power to act, lack of wisdom has become a menace. It threatens our survival (as the nuclear arsenal of the world demonstrates).
Having helped create the problem of increased power to act without increased wisdom, science owes us, I claim, a certain obligation to help us solve this problem. This obligation becomes all the stronger when one takes into account that part of the reason for our failure to acquire greater wisdom with greater knowledge is due to a misapplication of science (or of scientific method) to the problem, as enshrined in the traditional Enlightenment programme and the philosophy of knowledge. If making rapid progress in knowledge without making comparable progress in wisdom creates the problem, then the solution is to learn from the rapid progress in scientific knowledge how to make rapid progress in wisdom: the source of the problem – science – contains, potentially, the key to the solution of the problem. This is, of course, just the basic Enlightenment idea. This is not an idea we have ignored; on the contrary, our traditions and institutions of learning are massively influenced by the idea, but unfortunately by a botched version of the idea (the traditional Enlightenment and the philosophy of knowledge). Science not only helped create the problem; it also helped create our current incapacity to learn how to solve the problem. All the more grounds, I claim, for holding that science ought to commit itself to the task of removing the defects from the Enlightenment programme already in existence. To do this is to commit science to the programme of the new Enlightenment and the philosophy of wisdom.
There is an additional point. In becoming a part of the humanitarian programme of the new Enlightenment and the philosophy of wisdom, science does not commit itself irrationally to some ideology or system of values. The commitment is rational, in that it takes place within the framework of aim-oriented rationality, the fundamental aim (to promote global civilization by increasingly cooperatively rational means) being open to rational reassessment and improvement in the light of experience, imagination and criticism. Aim-oriented rationality is, in this way, essential to wisdom inquiry – a point I return to below.
This concludes my account of how scrutiny of problems associated with the aims of science, in accordance with AOR, leads one from SE to the philosophy of wisdom, in the steps (a) to (e). The argument helps clarify what ought to be the relationship between natural science and social inquiry within the framework of the philosophy of wisdom: consideration of human needs and problems, moral and political programmes, is relevant to the rational choosing of aims for scientific research; in this way, social inquiry has a fundamental role to play within natural science. But this requires that science is understood in terms of the kind of aim-oriented empiricist views depicted in (b) to (d); if science is conceived in terms of SE, the very possibility of this kind of rational link between natural science and social inquiry disappears, because level 3 discussion of aims disappears from the intellectual domain of science, as depicted in (a). (Choosing scientific laws and theories falls within the scope of scientific method, according to SE, but not choosing aims!)
5. According to the philosophy of wisdom, academic inquiry is, quite properly, committed to a political programme, a philosophy of life, an ideology, a system of values, a morality and political philosophy. But how can this be justified?
A part of the justification has just been given in 4 above. Values and political objectives, of one kind or another, will inevitably be implicit in the priorities of scientific research, and the way the results of such research are exploited: in making such problematic, substantial, influential and implicit commitments explicit and criticizable, the philosophy of wisdom enhances rationality and objectivity. Again, a political philosophy, internal to science itself, is implicit in the practice of science – namely that of tempered cooperative rationality. The philosophy of wisdom in effect generalizes this, so that it becomes a political philosophy applicable, not just to science, but to life, one that ought to be available, not just to the scientific community, but to everyone.
Again, as I emphasized in 4 above in connection with science, the philosophy of wisdom commits academic inquiry to a system of values, to a political programme and philosophy only in so far as this accords with AOR. This means that, even though academic inquiry is committed to tempered cooperative rationality, it must persistently tackle problems associated with this commitment, explore alternatives, represent the commitment at various levels of precision and imprecision, non-academics playing an influential role in the debate. All this transforms what otherwise might be an irrational, dogmatic commitment into one which is rational, undogmatic, improvable.
In this respect, “aim-oriented” rationality is an absolutely vital ingredient of the New Enlightenment and the philosophy of wisdom: the neo-Popperian “problem-solving” conception of rationality is fatally inadequate. Only within the hierarchical framework of AOR can we have a rational commitment to a goal that has values built into it, a commitment that allows for learning about, for improvement in, the goal that is being sought. As we shall see below, AOR makes possible a kind of empirical philosophy; it provides a method for choosing between and improving rival philosophies of life, rival political views, rival ideologies, rival systems of values by means of actual and imaginative experience.
6. AOR is especially relevant when it comes to resolving conflicts cooperatively. If two groups have partly conflicting aims but wish to discover the best resolution of the conflict, AOR helps in requiring of those involved that they represent aims at a level of sufficient imprecision for agreement to be possible, thus creating an agreed framework within which disagreements may be explored and resolved. AOR cannot, of itself, combat non-cooperativeness, or induce a desire for cooperativeness; it can however facilitate the cooperative resolution of conflicts if the desire for this exists. In facilitating the cooperative resolution of conflicts in this way, AOR can, in the long term, encourage the desire for cooperation to grow (if only because it encourages belief in the possibility of cooperation). I must emphasize, however, that the feasibility and value of philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry does not depend on there being a social world that already resolves its conflicts in cooperatively rational ways. Of course not. In our world, force is required to restrain those who seek to sabotage or overthrow democracy and liberty by violence. The realistic task, as I have already stressed, is to move mechanisms for resolving conflicts from the violent and unjust end of the spectrum to the cooperative and just end.
7. One important way in which AOE differs from SE is that AOE alone provides a rational (if fallible) method of discovery.79 Philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry based methodologically on the generalized version of AOE (namely AOR) will, in appropriate circumstances, inherit this rational method of discovery. This will not be the case for philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry arrived at by generalizing SE (“Popperian” problem-solving inquiry).
8. AOR is the key to the unification of Rationalism and Romanticism. It appeals to, and improves on, both rationalist and romantic ideals of integrity and value. Rationalist ideals of integrity have to do with such things as reason, evidence, logic, objectivity, fact, validity, truth, knowledge, science; romantic ideals have to do with emotional and motivational integrity, with self-expression, self-discovery, imagination, expression of inner feelings and desires, however wild or reprehensible, inspiration, passion, subjectivity, individual idiosyncrasy, emotional and aesthetic authenticity, art. AOR insists, in effect, that emotional and motivational integrity – integrity about aims and priorities – are fundamental to reason, science, objectivity, knowledge, in that integrity concerning aims and priorities of science are essential to the rationality and objectivity of science (AOE), and this is the case, quite generally in life, whenever aims and priorities are problematic. Thus Rationalism requires a basic component of Romanticism in order to be rational. Again, in order to seek realization of what is of value rationally it is necessary to attend to such romantic things as feelings, desires, subjective experience, intuition, feelings concerning authenticity. And art has a rational role to play within philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry, as I have already stressed. On the other hand, Romanticism requires basic components of Rationalism. Without a concern for objective fact, evidence, truth, knowledge, Romanticism degenerates into infantile fantasy. Without rationalist doubt and discussion, Romanticism degenerates into dogma and intolerance. The realization of what is of value in life – which is what most concerns Romanticism, as it does Rationalism – demands a synthesis of rationalist and romantic components, as depicted by AOR and the philosophy of wisdom. In unifying traditional Rationalism and Romanticism, the new Enlightenment improves on both.
9. Perhaps the most important feature of AOR is one already indicated above: AOR provides a meta-methodology for the improvement and assessment of philosophies of life, in the light of critical discussion and personal and social experience, this helping us to improve philosophies of life implicit in, or influential over, our actual lives, our actual human world. We are aim-pursuing entities embedded in the physical universe. In order to realize what is of most value in the circumstances of our lives we need to improve our aims-and-methods, our actions, in life. We need to learn how to do this. We will be much helped if we live in a society and culture that has enlightened ideas (1) about aims-and-methods for life, and (2) how to learn how to improve aims-and-methods in life. For this we require AOR. It is not sufficient, but it is necessary. AOR is necessary for rationality. Granted that in many contexts in life aims are problematic, so much so that so far we have failed to pursue the best aims, then in these contexts our actual aims will differ from our best aims. In these contexts, it may well be that the more rationally we pursue our actual aims the worse off we will be from the standpoint of achieving our best aims. In these circumstances, any conception of rationality that does not include rules for the improvement of aims must be defective.
In order to overcome this systematic defect we require AOR. We need to be able to adjust our (problematic) aims as we proceed, in the light of success and failure, in such a way as to give ourselves the best chance of improving our actual aims, our actual lives, in the given circumstances.
AOR and the philosophy of wisdom hold out the hope that we can create traditions and institutions of learning, a social structure and culture, which is such that tempered cooperative rationality flourishes to its fullest possible extent and degree. This would involve articulating actual aims-and-methods, developing alternatives in an attempt to resolve problems or overcome defects, critically assessing such alternative “philosophies” in the light of experience, both actual and imagined, modifying actual aims-and-methods in the light of what has been imagined.
From what has been said so far, the reader may have gained the impression that inquiry pursued in accordance with the philosophy of wisdom is severely practical in aims and character, there being no room within this framework for pure science and scholarship, pursued for their own sake. If this is the impression that has been gained, it rests on a mistake. Not only does the philosophy of wisdom stress the vital importance of inquiry pursued for its own sake; in addition, a part of the case for the philosophy of wisdom is that it does better justice to this aspect of inquiry, in addition to the practical aspects of inquiry, than does the philosophy of knowledge.
According to the conception of inquiry we are considering, the basic aim of inquiry is wisdom, defined as the capacity to realize what is of value, for oneself and others. “Realize”, as I remark in note 64, is deliberately ambiguous, in that it is intended to mean both to “apprehend” and to “make real”. Inquiry pursued in order to “realize” what is of value in the first sense is inquiry pursued for its own sake, and not for the sake of other ends. It is theoretical physics pursued in order to enhance one’s own knowledge and understanding of the dynamical structure of this mysterious universe we find ourselves in. It is biology pursued in order to enhance our knowledge and understanding of the rich variety of living things on earth, their physical structure, their extraordinary diversity of design, their ways of life. It is astronomy and cosmology pursued in order to improve one’s own knowledge and understanding of the universe. It is geology pursued in order to increase knowledge of the earth’s structure, and its history. It is history pursued in order to improve knowledge and understanding of past human events, people, ways of living; and so on. Inquiry, viewed from this perspective, might be regarded as a collection of intellectual spectacles, telescopes and microscopes, manufactured for us to use in order to aid our exploration of our world.
There are a number of ways in which the philosophy of wisdom does better justice to this “intellectual” or “cultural” aspect of inquiry than does the philosophy of knowledge.
1. One important way in which natural science is of value culturally is via its capacity to enhance our understanding of nature. Aim-oriented empiricism (the philosophy of science associated with the philosophy of wisdom) does full justice to this aspect of science. It holds that, in order to be acceptable, a theory must (a) unify or explain, and (b) successfully predict phenomena. Standard empiricism (the philosophy of science associated with the philosophy of knowledge), by contrast, cannot do justice to this aspect of science. It holds that theories are to be assessed on the basis of empirical success and failure, no permanent assumption being made about the universe. As a result, standard empiricism cannot do justice to the way science persistently chooses theories that explain and enable us to understand, for to do so would be to acknowledge that science does make a persistent assumption about the universe, namely that it is comprehensible, which clashes with the basic tenet of standard empiricism. As a result, “explanation”, within standard empiricism, tends to mean no more than “prediction of a wide range of phenomena”, which is, of course, a part, but only a part, of what scientific explanation amounts to.
2. Most scientists accept standard empiricism as the official conception of science. But standard empiricism, as we have just seen, fails to do justice to science as the search for understanding. The result is that there is always the danger that science itself will come to neglect the search for understanding, and will settle for the less demanding goal of merely predicting more and more phenomena more and more accurately. Orthodox quantum theory (OQT) provides an example. Granted aim-oriented empiricism, OQT is unacceptable. OQT predicts a wealth of phenomena, but fails to solve basic problems of understanding, such as what sort of entity an electron is, and whether quantum phenomena are probabilistic or deterministic in character. Granted standard empiricism, however, OQT is eminently acceptable. For decades, the majority of physicists accepted OQT and thereby abandoned the search for understanding. The cultural value of science has been, as a result, seriously compromised.80
3. In addition to the above, standard empiricism is quite unable to say what it is for a theory to “unify”, to “explain”, to enhance our “understanding”. Aim-oriented empiricism, by contrast, makes clear what it is for a theory to be unifying or explanatory, and hence (to this extent) to be capable of enhancing our understanding.81
4. 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. Philosophy of wisdom inquiry, as I have stressed above, gives a rational and intellectually fundamental role to empathetic or personalistic understanding, in requiring that the tasks of articulating problems of living, and proposing and critically assessing possible solutions are intellectually fundamental. Empathic understanding fails to satisfy intellectual criteria for good explanations that stem from knowledge-inquiry. Such understanding is personal, emotional, subjective, not based on any obvious theory, and not obviously falsifiable. Psychologists working within the framework of the philosophy of knowledge, tend to dismiss empathic understanding as mere “folk” psychology, to be replaced by decent scientific psychology.82
The study of human beings within the framework of the philosophy of knowledge favours the attempt to develop theories that predict human behaviour. But this kind of predictive knowledge of people, if successful, is designed to enable some to manipulate others. In predicting that people in specified states and situations will behave in such and such ways, this kind of predictive knowledge invites us to treat our fellow human being as things, as natural phenomena, to be manipulated, by advertising, propaganda, induction courses or other methods into behaving in desired ways. In inviting us to see our fellow human beings in such a way, this kind of knowledge is hardly of intrinsic value. It is only of value if made intellectually subsidiary to knowledge and understanding of people that is empathic in character, as it would be within the framework of the philosophy of wisdom.
By contrast, philosophy of wisdom inquiry, in giving an intellectually fundamental role to personalistic understanding, makes seeing and appreciating what is of value in the lives of others a basic concern. And in addition philosophy of wisdom inquiry facilitates cooperative action. In order to act together cooperatively, we need to be able to acquire understanding of each other’s goals, concerns, problems, beliefs, values, ideals. We need, in short, to be able to enhance our personalistic understanding of each other – just that which philosophy of wisdom inquiry is designed to promote.
5. 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 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.”83
Philosophy of 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.”84
Philosophy of knowledge inquiry, by contrast, all too often fails to nourish “the holy curiosity of inquiry”,85 and may even crush it out altogether. Philosophy of 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. Philosophy of 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.86 Such work is not highly regarded by philosophy of knowledge inquiry, as it does not contribute to “expert knowledge”. The failure of philosophy 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.87
We require a social and cultural revolution as substantial and dramatic, perhaps, as that of the Reformation, the Scientific Revolution, or the 18th-century Enlightenment. This revolution involves changing the traditional Enlightenment and the Romantic opposition so that these become unified in the new Enlightenment; it involves appropriately modifying all those activities and institutions affected by the traditional Enlightenment and the Romantic opposition so that they come to embody the new Enlightenment; this includes science, art, politics, education, medicine, philosophy, law, industry, agriculture, education.
In particular it involves changing academic inquiry so that, instead of being shaped by the philosophy of knowledge and the Counter-Enlightenment, as at present, it comes to be shaped by the philosophy of wisdom. Here, in summary form, are some of the structural changes that need to be made (in particular) to academic inquiry if it is to come to embody the philosophy of wisdom.
1. There needs to be a change in the basic intellectual aim of inquiry, from the growth of knowledge to the growth of wisdom.
2. There needs to be a change in the nature of academic problems – so that problems of living are included as well as problems of knowledge.
3. There needs to be a change in the nature of academic ideas, so that proposals for action are included as well as claims to knowledge.
4. There needs to be a change in what constitutes intellectual progress, so that progress-in-ideas-relevant-to-achieving-a-more-civilized-world is included as well as progress in knowledge.
5. There needs to be a change in the nature of social inquiry, so that it includes promotion of cooperative rationality as well as acquisition of knowledge of social phenomena.
6. Natural science needs to change, so that it includes at least three levels of discussion: evidence, theory, and research aims. Discussion of aims needs to bring together scientific, metaphysical and evaluative consideration in an attempt to discover the most desirable and realizable aims.
7. There needs to be a change in the relationship between social inquiry and natural science, so that social inquiry becomes intellectually more fundamental from the standpoint of tackling problems of living, promoting wisdom.
8. The way in which academic inquiry as a whole is related to the rest of the human world needs to change. Instead of being intellectually dissociated from the rest of society, academic inquiry needs to be communicating with, learning from, teaching and arguing with the rest of society – in such a way as to promote cooperative rationality and social wisdom.
9. There needs to be a change in the role that political and religious ideas, works of art, expressions of feelings, desires and values have within rational inquiry. Instead of being excluded, they need to be explicitly included and critically assessed, as possible indications and revelations of what is of value, vital ingredients of wisdom.
10. There need to be changes in education so that, for example, seminars devoted to the cooperative, imaginative and critical exploration of problems of living and how they are to be solved are at the heart of all education from five-year-olds onwards.88
11. There need to be changes in the aims, priorities and character of pure science and scholarship, so that it is the curiosity, the seeing and searching, the knowing and understanding of individual persons that ultimately matters, the more impersonal, esoteric, purely intellectual aspects of science and scholarship being means to this end.
12. There need to be changes in the way mathematics is understood, pursued and taught. Mathematics is not a branch of knowledge at all. Rather, it is concerned to explore problematic possibilities, and to develop, systematize and unify problem-solving methods.89
13. Literature needs to be put close to the heart of rational inquiry, in so far as it explores imaginatively our most profound problems of living and aids personalistic understanding in life by enhancing our ability to enter imaginatively into the problems and lives of others.
14. Philosophy needs to change so that it ceases to be just another specialized discipline and becomes instead that aspect of inquiry as a whole that is concerned with our most general and fundamental problems – those problems that cut across all disciplinary boundaries. Philosophy needs to become again what it was for Socrates: the attempt to devote reason to the growth of wisdom in life.
15. There needs to be a change in views about what constitute academic contributions, so that publications which promote (or have the potential to promote) public understanding as to what our problems of livings are and what we need to do about them are included, in addition to contributions addressed primarily to the academic community.
16. Every university needs to create a seminar or symposium devoted to the sustained discussion of fundamental problems that cut across all conventional academic boundaries, global problems of living being included as well as problems of knowledge and understanding.
These are the changes that need to be made to academic inquiry if we are to overcome the botched attempt at a solution to the second great problem of learning represented by the traditional Enlightenment and the philosophy of knowledge, and develop the correct solution to the problem – a kind of inquiry rationally devoted to helping humanity learn how to become civilized.
Three additional changes that would help philosophy of wisdom inquiry to flourish are:-
17. Natural science needs to create committees, in the public eye, and manned by scientists and non-scientists alike, concerned to highlight and discuss failures of the priorities of research to respond to the interests of those whose needs are the greatest – the poor of the earth – as a result of the inevitable tendency of research priorities to reflect the interests of those who pay for science, and the interests of scientists themselves.
18. Every national university system needs to include a national shadow government, seeking to do, virtually, free of the constraints of power, what the actual national government ought to be doing. The hope would be that virtual and actual governments would learn from each other.
19. The world’s universities need to include a virtual world government which seeks to do what an actual elected world government ought to do, if it existed. The virtual world government would also have the task of working out how an actual democratically elected world government might be created.
TWO RIVAL KINDS OF INQUIRY
|Two rival ideals for rational inquiry – science, technological research, social inquiry, humanities and education.||PHILOSOPHY OF KNOWLEDGE||PHILOSOPHY OF WISDOM|
THREE POINTS OF AGREEMENT
|1. Basic humanitarian or social aim of inquiry:||To help promote human welfare, help achieve social progress towards a better world.||To help us solve our personal and global problems of living so that we realize what is of value to us in life - a better world.|
|2. Human value of inquiry:||Two kinds of value: (a) cultural, (b) practical.||Two kinds of value (a) cultural, (b) practical.|
|3. Rationality of inquiry:||Seeks to pursue humanitarian goal of inquiry rationally. (Failure.)||Seeks to pursue humanitarian goal of inquiry rationally. (Success!)|
TWENTY SIX POINTS OF DISAGREEMENT
|1. Basic intellectual aim of inquiry:||Improve expert knowledge and technological know-how.||Help promote personal and global wisdom in life by cooperatively rational means.|
|2. Location of thought:||Universities, research institutions, academic journals, textbooks, lectures, seminars.||Personal and social thinking guiding personal and social actions. Academic inquiry arises out of, and is designed to help improve, what really matters, active personal and social thought.|
|3. Method:||Decisively dissociate intellectual domain of inquiry from social life (within context of justification), only that which is rationally relevant to improving knowledge being allowed to enter intellectual domain of inquiry.||Apply basic rules of rational problem solving directly to personal and global problems of living, to personal and social pursuits, so that we may realize what is of value in life by more cooperatively rational means.|
|4. Rationale for method:||Relevant knowledge must first be acquired before proposals for action can be formulated and rationally assessed.||We cannot know what is relevant knowledge until we first put forward conjectural proposals for action. Action, and ideas for action, intellectually more fundamental than knowledge.|
|5. Entities of thought:||Claims to knowledge; reports of results of observation and experiment; laws and theories; factual descriptions and explanations; factual conjectures.||Proposals for personal and social actions intended, if implemented, to help realize what is of value. Possible imagined deeds, policies, plans, political programmes, possible philosophies of life. And, in addition, claims to knowledge.|
|6. Assessment:||Claims to knowledge to be assessed rationally solely with respect to fact, truth, logic, evidence (insofar as this is possible).||Proposals for action to be assessed for their capacity, if implemented, to realize what is of value, resolve problems and conflicts in increasingly cooperative, just ways.|
|7. Role of values, political and religious ideas, desires and feelings within intellectual domain of inquiry:||To be excluded from intellectual domain of inquiry as far as possible, since they have no rational role to play from standpoint of improving knowledge.||Vital rational role to play within intellectual domain of inquiry. To be made explicit, upheld conjecturally, and examined critically.|
|8. Nature of social inquiry:||A part of science; or at least a part of the pursuit of knowledge (about social world).||Not science or, fundamentally, the pursuit of knowledge. Rather the vital, fundamental intellectual activity of articulating human problems of living, proposing and criticizing possible human actions. Or social methodology of diverse human pursuits, promoting cooperative aim-pursuing rationality in life.|
|9. Nature of natural science:||Two domains of discussion: (i) Empirical data; (ii) laws and theories, the latter to be assessed solely with respect to empirical success and failure. No permanent metaphysical presupposition about the world upheld independently of empirical considerations.||Three domains of discussion: (i) empirical data; (ii) laws and theories; (iii) aims (incorporating metaphysical ideas and values). Laws and theories are to be assessed with respect to (a) empirical success and failure (b) consistency with best aims. It is permanently assumed that the universe is comprehensible and that human life is of value.|
|10. Relationship between social inquiry and natural science:||Disciplines, for the least to the most fundamental are: Philosophy, Sociology, Psychology, Anthropology, Ethology, Biology, Chemistry, Astronomy, Physics||Social inquiry intellectually more fundamental than natural science. Two-way flow of ideas, proposals, knowledge and arguments between problems of living and aims of science.|
|11. Relationship between academic inquiry as a whole and personal and global life:||Social science studies the social world, communication with what is being studied being problematic.||Personal and social thinking actively guiding life is intellectually fundamental. Two-way flow of communication between academic inquiry and social world vital for rationality and human value of academic inquiry.|
|12. Relationship between thought and action:||Inquiry must be dissociated from action, from social life, in order to be rational.||Thought (inquiry) must influence, and be influenced by, action, social life, in order to be rational.|
|13. Understanding in natural science:||Predicting more and more phenomena more and more accurately. Expert, professional, technical, intellectual.||Fitting apparently diverse phenomena into more and more comprehensive, comprehensible patterns. Personal and social in character.|
|14. Political, social and value commitments of intellectual domain of inquiry:||Commitment to the discovery of knowledge of factual truth.||Commitment to developing more cooperative world by cooperatively rational means (insofar as this is possible).|
|15. Intellectual value of natural science when pursued for its own sake:||Impersonal, intellectual, not an aspect of personal and social life.||Wholly personal and social in character. The seeing, searching, knowing, understanding, wondering of people: (natural philosophy like music or poetry).|
|16. Understanding in social inquiry:||Explaining human behaviour. Ideally, predicting behaviour, useful for manipulating people.||Promoting personalistic understanding in the world between people. Essential for all cooperative (rational) action. Thus essential for science. Vital element of humanity.|
|17. Intellectual value of social inquiry pursued for its own sake:||Impersonal, intellectual, distinct from personal and social life itself.||Seeing, experiencing, what is of value in others (and in oneself) via personalistic understanding.|
|18. Empiricism: the meaning of “experience”:||Observation and Experimentation (assessing knowledge claims).||Trying to realize goals of value, personal and social action, what we acquire when we do things (or try to do things).|
|19. Role and status of literature, art, music, etc. in intellectual domain of inquiry:||None.||Vital rational role as possible revelations of value (and exposure of fraudulent claims to value).|
|20. Nature of intellectual problems:||Problems of knowledge.||Imaginatively represented problems of living (plus relevant subordinate problems of knowledge).|
|21. Nature of intellectual progress:||Progress in improving knowledge (whether or not this helps promote social progress).||Progress in developing ideas designed to help humanity achieve social progress towards a better world.|
|22. Value realism:||Facts utterly distinct from values. Value not an intrinsic aspect of reality.||People (and other living things) intrinsically of value.|
|23. Role and status of religion in inquiry:||None.||Inquiry is a (cooperatively rational) religious enterprise. To help realize God (conceived as that which is of value in existence - that which is of most value associated with our human world).|
|24. Education:||Academic education (acquiring knowledge) is quite different from learning how to live.||Academic education is learning how to live – how to realize what is of value in life.|
|25. The nature of mathematics:||A branch of knowledge.||Not knowledge at all, but exploration of problematic possibilities; development, systematization and unification of more or less general problem solving methods.|
|26. The sociology and philosophy of inquiry:||The sociology of science quite different from the philosophy of science.||Sociology of inquiry identical to philosophy of inquiry: proposing and critically assessing aims and methods for inquiry. In particular, sociology of science is identical to philosophy of science.|
So far I have depicted three conceptions of inquiry: (1) knowledge-inquiry (with standard empiricism as the core conception of natural science); (2) Romantic or Counter-Enlightenment inquiry; and (3) wisdom-inquiry (with aim-oriented empiricism as the associated conception of natural science).90 I have argued that, at present, a combination of (1) and (2) dominates academia. (1) dominates the natural sciences, parts of the social sciences, the formal sciences (mathematics, statistics and logic) and parts of the humanities such as so-called “analytic” philosophy; (2) exercises greater influence over cultural, media and linguistic studies, the more social, cultural or humanistic parts of the social sciences, and so-called “continental” philosophy. The great ideological divide is between the empiricism and rationalism of knowledge-inquiry, on the one hand, and the anti-rationalist Romanticism of the Counter-Enlightenment, on the other hand.
But all this is a mistake. It is the outcome of institutionalizing the traditional Enlightenment, along with its three blunders, and paying lip-service to the inadequate opposition of Romanticism. What ought to have been done, and what still needs to be done, is to correct the three blunders of the traditional Enlightenment, thus creating the new Enlightenment. This in turn requires that academia be developed in accordance with the precepts of wisdom-inquiry.
But is it true that academic inquiry today, all over the world, is dominated by (1) and (2), to the exclusion of (3)? Is it even the case that (1) and (3) are mutually exclusive? Is there not, rather, a difference of emphasis? (1) gives priority to tackling problems of knowledge whereas (3) gives priority to tackling problems of living. Nevertheless, within the framework of (1), it is legitimate to consider how knowledge can be applied to help solve problems of living, which must involve some consideration of problems of living and what needs to be done to solve them; and of course (3) includes science and the pursuit of knowledge.
Despite this overlap, there are, nevertheless, major differences between knowledge-inquiry and wisdom-inquiry, as we saw in the last chapter. At present it is overwhelmingly knowledge-inquiry rather than wisdom-inquiry that dominates universities all over the world (with some counter-Enlightenment inquiry being tolerated as just indicated).
Academics do, of course, at present engage in some wisdom-inquiry work in such disciplines as social policy, development studies, economic policy, peace studies. But even here, knowledge-inquiry standards tend to prevail, as we shall see in a moment. Again, there are academics who stand out against the prevailing intellectual tide, but these are exceptional individuals and not the norm.
How does knowledge-inquiry maintain its grip on academic inquiry? It does so by determining what is to count as a contribution to academic thought. Most academics may be indifferent to the philosophical question of what philosophy of inquiry ought to prevail throughout science and scholarship. All academics care passionately, however, that their academic work is published, and receives the recognition that is its due. There are noble reasons for this passionate concern: if a scientist or scholar has made some important discovery, it is proper that she should be concerned that others get to know about it. And there are less noble reasons for this passionate concern: Nobel prizes, professorial chairs, reputations, careers depend on publications. The prevailing intellectual standards, that decide what is and is not published, what is deemed to be important and less important are, thus, of major concern to all academics. But current intellectual standards are of course determined by the current philosophy of inquiry. Academics thus have powerful motives for maintaining the current philosophy of inquiry, whatever it may be.
Senior and influential academics, who have made contributions to their subject deemed to be of major importance by their peers, owe their position to the fact that their work emerges as excellent when judged by current standards: they will tend fiercely to resist any tampering with such standards, which might lead to a reassessment of their work, of their own importance. Academics struggling to establish or maintain an academic career, are hardly in a position to call current standards into question. In order to be published and win recognition for their work, they are obliged to take current standards as they find them; they must try to shape their work to conform to such standards, whatever their individual views may be about the adequacy of such standards. Students, undergraduate and postgraduate, are not taught standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge; rather these current philosophies of science and inquiry are implicit in everything that they are taught, the message being all the more powerful for being left implicit. Students are indoctrinated rather than educated in the current philosophy of inquiry. Editors of journals, referees for journal articles, and for books for publishers, examiners of degree courses and postgraduate work again are obliged to evaluate and judge in terms of current academic standards.
What matters, in short, is the philosophy of inquiry that is built into the structure of academic institutions, into the way subjects are taught and inter-related, influencing myriads of small decisions about what research to do, how to proceed, how to write up the results, what contributions to journals to accept and reject, what to teach and not to teach, how to act towards the non-academic world, what to include in, and exclude from, textbooks and seminars, influencing decisions about who to promote and who to fail, who to praise, who to criticize and who to ignore. At present the philosophy of inquiry that informs such a multitude of day-to-day scientific and academic decisions, in the vast majority of cases, is standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge (with the Counter-Enlightenment having some influence in some contexts).
There is an important additional factor that tends to preserve standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge once these have been institutionally established in the way just described. Standard empiricism banishes critical discussion of itself from science, and the philosophy of knowledge tends to banish criticism of itself from those parts of inquiry it dominates. To criticize standard empiricism is to engage in philosophy of science; but philosophy of science involves questions about how science ought to proceed; it is concerned with norms, and not with testable factual statements. Thus standard empiricism excludes philosophy of science, and criticism of itself, from science. Once accepted by science, standard empiricism excludes criticism of itself within science (since such criticism is not concerned with testable claims to knowledge). And, more generally, to discuss the adequacy of the philosophy of knowledge is to discuss questions about what the overall aims and methods of academic inquiry ought to be. Such questions are not about factual claims to knowledge, and thus do not satisfy philosophy-of-knowledge criteria for inclusion in the intellectual domain of inquiry. Once accepted, the philosophy of knowledge excludes criticism of itself within the intellectual domain of inquiry. In short, once these views have been built into the institutional structure of science, or of academic inquiry more generally, they effectively shield themselves from criticism from within.
Is not all this excessively cynical? Is it really the case that scientists and academics maintain orthodoxy merely out of self-interest? This is not what I hold. In my view the majority of scientists, and of academics more generally, are sincere in their belief in standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge. These views are upheld and defended out of passionate conviction. In crude outline, most academics would probably defend current orthodoxy along something like the following lines:
Our capacity to acquire objective factual knowledge about the world and ourselves is of immense importance. Without this, what shreds of civilization we already possess would crumble into a new age of barbarism. But our capacity to acquire knowledge depends crucially on the adoption and implementation of standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge. These must therefore be defended against attack, against intellectual sabotage.
These are the attitudes that lie behind current maintenance of orthodoxy. Hence the importance of at least establishing a debate as to whether orthodoxy is indeed the epitome of rationality; or whether, as I have argued here, orthodoxy is seriously irrational, and needs to be substantially improved to become genuinely rational. It is difficult for those who defend orthodoxy with such determination to appreciate that what they are defending is a characteristic kind of damaging irrationality masquerading as rationality.
There are, then, honourable if misguided motives behind the defence of orthodoxy; these are backed up, as I have indicated, by less honourable motives that have more to do with self-interest than the preservation of precious intellectual values.
There is another crucial factor responsible for the preservation of the status quo: rampant specialization. Most scientists, and most academics more generally, are not interested in academia as a whole. Each academic is concerned with his specific, specialized field of research or, more narrowly still, his own research group, his own research, or research career. By and large, academics have abandoned concern or responsibility for the whole academic enterprise.91 But it is only if there is such a concern for the enterprise as a whole, that the issue of whether knowledge-inquiry or wisdom-inquiry should be put into academic practice can get a hearing, or even make sense. For specialized academic researchers of today, arguments against knowledge-inquiry and for wisdom-inquiry, however cogent and decisive, are likely to seem irrelevant, even meaningless. Today, only academic bureaucrats and politicians care about academia as a whole: they cannot be trusted to reach decisions that are in the long-term interests of science, thought, and humanity.
But is it true that standard empiricism and the philosophy of knowledge dominate academic inquiry today, the Counter-Enlightenment having some influence in some contexts? Is there no wisdom-inquiry? Let us look at some evidence.
Evidence for the overwhelming domination of knowledge-inquiry over wisdom-inquiry is to be found in chapter six of my From Knowledge to Wisdom, especially the second edition published in 2007. In that book I looked at the following: (1) books about the modern university; (2) the philosophy and sociology of science; (3) statements of leading scientists; (4) Physics Abstracts; (5) Chemistry, Biology, Geo and Psychology Abstracts; (6) Journal titles and contents; (7) books on economics, sociology and psychology; (8) philosophy. In 1984, the year From Knowledge to Wisdom was published, knowledge-inquiry prevailed and was taken for granted by academics with few exceptions.
Have things changed since then? In the 2007 edition of the book, I indicate some minor changes that have occurred to the eight facets of academia I examined since 1984. Some of these could be interpreted as steps towards wisdom-inquiry.92 Nevertheless, the revolution advocated by From Knowledge to Wisdom has not occurred. There is still, amongst the vast majority of academics today, no awareness at all that a more intellectually rigorous and humanly valuable kind of inquiry than that which we have at present, exists as an option. Until the arguments of From Knowledge to Wisdom and the present book are more widely appreciated, there will be no overall change, from knowledge-inquiry to wisdom-inquiry. We will continue to have a kind of inquiry that fails to be the solution to the second great problem of learning.
Here – to conclude this chapter on a slightly more optimistic note – are a few developments that have taken place in universities during the last 10 to 20 years that can, perhaps, be regarded as early, scattered, small-scale hints of a future movement away from knowledge-inquiry towards wisdom-inquiry.
There has been a growth of departments, institutions and research groups devoted to policy studies: development studies, peace studies, research devoted to discovering how to promote world health, well-being, education, equality, economic prosperity. There has also been a tremendous growth in research devoted to helping to solve or ameliorate major global problems: climate change, habitat destruction, species extinction, loss of biodiversity. New initiatives and institutions have been created to facilitate research devoted to help resolve global problems. At my own university – University College London – the Grand Challenges Programme was initiated around 2010 to bring specialists together to tackle global problems. This has engendered widespread enthusiasm and involvement across disciplines at UCL., and other universities in Britain and elsewhere have been led to consider creating similar initiatives. Both Oxford and Cambridge Universities have similar research programmes.
Scientists and other academics have become much more aware, during the last 10 to 20 years, of the importance of arousing the interest of the public in their work. Once upon a time, it was thought sufficient to explain science to the public; nowadays it is appreciated that scientists should be prepared to engage in debate and discussion with the public about significant scientific developments. The Royal Society in Britain puts on lectures, open to the public, with the intention, we may presume, of arousing interest in science among the public. Universities do likewise.
In recent years, research councils, in awarding grants for research, have placed considerable emphasis on the need for research projects to have “impact”. There is here an indication of awareness of the need for science to be relevant to human life – even though “impact” is no substitute for what is really needed: sustained imaginative and critical exploration of actual and possible research aims conducted cooperatively by scientists and non-scientists together.
In 1990, Robert Sternberg, a distinguished American psychologist, edited and published a book on wisdom – a collection of chapters by a number of authors from various parts of the world who had been engaged in doing research on wisdom from various perspectives.93 The book provoked considerable interest, and led to a growing field of research into wisdom, primarily by psychologists and sociologists. Subsequently, the University of Chicago created its Center of Practical Wisdom, which lists an enormous number of publications on wisdom since Sternberg’s book, and has associated with it the Wisdom Research Network for those engaged in research on wisdom.
This growth industry in research into wisdom is yet another indication of a growing awareness in academia of the urgent need for change if universities are to respond adequately to the problems of the world today. Research into wisdom is not, however, the same thing as wisdom-inquiry. On the contrary, it is very much a knowledge-inquiry enterprise. The basic idea might be put like this. Humanity urgently needs greater wisdom. This requires that we gain knowledge about what wisdom is, how it is acquired, how we ascertain who has it. First, we need to acquire knowledge about wisdom; then, we can apply this knowledge to help develop a wiser world. This, of course, is exactly the methodology of knowledge-inquiry, and differs profoundly from the basic message of this book: we need to transform the basic intellectual aim of academic inquiry, from knowledge to wisdom, so that humanity comes to have what it so urgently needs: institutions of learning rationally designed and devoted to helping us make progress towards a wiser world.94
Here, as elsewhere, it is clear that there is a growing awareness in academia of the urgent need for change, but what happens as a result is not what is really required. Other developments in academia in recent years have made things much worse. Increasingly these days universities are dominated by commercial interests. In connection with both education and research, what really seems to matter, from the standpoint of the administration, is the amount of money that these activities bring into the university. There has also, perhaps, been a tendency for academics to become increasingly impotent over the years, power to bring about change being increasingly concentrated in the hands of academic managers and politicians. None of this augers well for wisdom-inquiry.
Despite these depressing conclusions, it is still possible that a range of piecemeal changes that have taken place, and are taking place, in particular disciplines may eventually have the cumulative effect of moving academia in the direction of the pursuit of wisdom. A quiet, as yet unrecognized revolution may even now be going on. It would help enormously, however, if the decisive argument for the urgent need to transform knowledge-inquiry into wisdom-inquiry was much better known.
Any number of objections may be raised against the argument so far. I will attempt to rebut the most important in the next chapter. Let us, for the time being, assume that the argument so far is broadly correct. Academic inquiry, as at present constituted, is indeed a botched attempt to learn from our solution to the first great problem of learning how to solve the second one. In order to have traditions and institutions of learning rationally devoted to helping humanity learn how to become civilized we need to change dramatically the overall aims and methods, the whole character, of academic inquiry, so that the fundamental philosophy becomes that of wisdom rather than knowledge.
Granted all this, the question at once arises: How would establishing wisdom-inquiry in universities all over the world make a difference? How and why would the existence of this kind of inquiry in practice do what knowledge-inquiry has so far failed to do, help humanity learn how to become civilized?
There are really two questions to consider. First: “Is it possible, politically and otherwise, to bring wisdom-inquiry into existence in the world as it is at present? Or is it necessary to establish global wisdom before wisdom-inquiry becomes possible – so that wisdom-inquiry is only possible when it is no longer needed?” Second: “Granted that wisdom-inquiry is politically possible (to some extent at least) in the world as it is at present, how and why would the existence of such inquiry promote global wisdom? Even if wisdom-inquiry proceeds splendidly within the groves of academe, is it not conceivable that the rest of the social world would pay no attention whatsoever, all the inconvenient ideas, policy proposals, arguments and criticisms of wisdom-academics being systematically ignored by governments, the media, international corporations and agencies, the world’s population quite generally?”
As far as the first question is concerned, it is obvious that wisdom-inquiry would not be possible in dictatorial regimes.95 A primary task for wisdom-inquiry is to criticize government policy and deeds, and propose alternatives – and to argue that democracy needs to be established where it does not exist. In a number of countries today, even a whisper of any of this leads to arrest and imprisonment; in some countries it leads straight to torture and execution. I do not recommend that anyone tries to put wisdom-inquiry into practice in China as it exists at the time of writing (2016); and even in a somewhat more benign dictatorship, such as Saudi Arabia perhaps, any such attempt might well be met with imprisonment.
But what of liberal democracies in Europe, America, the far East, and elsewhere? Would not democratic governments, at least, permit wisdom-inquiry to develop, should academics themselves actively desire it?
Much depends on how wisdom-inquiry has been introduced. It might come about piecemeal and gradually, over a period of fifty to one hundred years, it gradually becoming accepted that academics have a professional duty to criticize government and other authorities, after initial skirmishes. Alternatively, wisdom-inquiry might be introduced much more rapidly, as a result of the efforts of key academics who become convinced of the need for change. In this case, the academic establishment would, initially at least, oppose change. Governments, funding bodies, industry and even the public might all oppose change, support those traditionalists who seek to maintain knowledge-inquiry. It is conceivable that young academics might find that their careers suffer if they attempt to put wisdom-inquiry into practice. Departments and universities that tolerate wisdom-inquiry work might find that funding suffers. At present, academics who wish to publish letters in the press, giving their department and university as their address, need the permission of their head of department. Such permission is not, of course, required for publication in academic journals. Such a distinction is typical of philosophy-of-knowledge intellectual standards, and forms, potentially, a way of ensuring that letters are not published in the press that might harm the “prestige”, the funding prospects, of the university. Transgressing such rules, as someone pursuing wisdom-inquiry might be obliged to do, might well, eventually, provide grounds for non-renewal of a contract, for dismissal, in other words.
In Britain, Margaret Thatcher, when prime minister, notoriously put pressure on civil servants to conform to government policy. Those who came up with “problems” rather than “solutions” were not promoted; in some cases those involved resigned. Wherever universities are largely funded by the government, so that the status of academics is not so very different from that of civil servants, the same pressures could be employed to discourage academic criticism of government.
Even in liberal democracies, in other words, academics would need to fight to create and maintain wisdom-inquiry in universities. Wisdom-inquiry is much more politically explosive, much more likely to meet opposition from the authorities, than knowledge-inquiry. Nevertheless, the basic principles required to maintain wisdom-inquiry in society – freedom of speech, the right of individuals to criticize government and other authorities publicly – have been long recognized in liberal societies. In such societies the press is free to criticize government (even if all too often it criticizes minor matters and overlooks matters of real substance). All this shows that it is entirely possible for wisdom-inquiry to exist in liberal democracies as they exist at present. No major structural changes in society would be needed for wisdom-inquiry to be tolerated - more or less as the press is tolerated today, or books, pamphlets and other works highly critical of government are tolerated.
The philosophes of the 18th-century French Enlightenment managed to put basic elements of wisdom-inquiry into practice in a society far more intolerant and repressive than liberal democracies are today. They did so, furthermore, in such a way as to have a profound, long-term impact on subsequent events. If the philosophes could give birth to elements of wisdom-inquiry in far more difficult circumstances, without the support of academic institutions, it ought to be possible for today’s academics, with the support of their institutions, and in a far more liberal political climate, to develop further what the philosophes began.
Let us suppose, then, that the revolution has occurred; universities put wisdom-inquiry into practice (but otherwise everything remains much as it was before). How does this help humanity become enlightened?
One immediate doubt concerns the capacity of wisdom-inquiry to come up with anything very new. Do not liberal democracies support a torrent of books, papers, articles and speeches highly critical of government and other public bodies, industry, commerce, the media and other aspects of public life, full of proposals for better policies, improved institutions, more adequate solutions to social, political and economic problems? Even if academic social scientists are not actively engaged, at a fundamental level, in proposing and critically assessing possible solutions to problems of living, others engage in such thought almost to excess. Do we not suffer, in fact, from a constant, almost hysterical desire to change, to improve, to modernize?
From the standpoint of achieving civilization what matters, of course, is not the sheer volume of criticism and counter-proposals for action that a society sustains, but the quality of such thought, and its effectiveness, its capacity to exercise a beneficial influence on social life. In order to see whether wisdom-inquiry has anything to add to liberal democracy, we need to be more specific; we need to specify basic policies for a better world that it is reasonable to suppose wisdom-inquiry might come up with. Let us suppose, then, for the sake of the argument, that the new breed of wisdom-academics come up with the following twelve basic policies that the world needs to adopt and implement in order to become more civilized (in senses (A) to (C) of chapter 4).
(1) The creation of liberal democracy in all countries (a liberal democracy being understood to protect civil rights of individuals, there being, in particular, no torture, no death sentence, and no imprisonment for legitimate political action, as far as the state is concerned).
(2) The creation of global liberal democracy.
(3) The creation of a sustainable world industry and agriculture, with no long-term bad environmental consequences (such as warming of the planet, extinction of species,96 destruction of natural habitats such as tropical rainforests).
(4) A more just distribution of the world’s wealth.
(5) An end to population growth.
(6) A more equable distribution of land ownership, especially in south America, south Africa, Indonesia and elsewhere.
(7) An end to war, including civil war.
(8) An end to the arms trade.
(9) The elimination of nuclear, chemical and biological weapons, and democratic control of conventional weapons to suppress local and global crime.
(10) An end to third world poverty, unnecessary infant mortality, child labour and slavery, lack of adequate housing, food and water, health care, education.
(11) Meta-Policy: The development and implementation of policies which progressively create a world in which everyone shares equally in creating, sustaining and enjoying what is of value in life in so far as this is possible.
(12) The creation of aim-oriented rationalist industries and institutions.
These, let us suppose, are the policies or aims97 that academia imaginatively develops and critically scrutinizes, argues for, advocates and teaches. Let us, for the moment, take for granted that these are realistic policies, in the long term at least which, if implemented, would help to make the world more civilized. How would the advocacy of these policies by an academic establishment that puts wisdom-inquiry into practice help humanity adopt and implement these policies intelligently and effectively?
Apart from (12), there is nothing novel about any of these policies. Some have considerable popular support, some are actively supported by campaigns or charities such as the green movement or amnesty international, and some have been adopted, officially at least, by some governments: all have been argued for at some time or other. Some academics have concerned themselves, in their professional capacity, with aspects of some of these policies, within the current framework of knowledge-inquiry. Despite this, at present the world attempts to put these policies into practice in only a very feeble or hypocritical fashion, if at all. The above policies are not exactly at the centre of attention in the media, and in current political debate. And of course many people, groups, corporations, institutions and countries oppose many of these policies, and pursue courses of action which are the very opposite of what these policies require.
This situation would be transformed by an academic establishment that took the above policies as basic within the framework of wisdom-inquiry. Such an academic establishment would pour forth a flood of books, articles, television programmes, newspaper articles, lectures, interviews and reports emphasizing and re-emphasizing the importance of taking the above policies seriously, illustrating the disasters that ensue if this is not done, and tackling the multitude of problems that need to be solved if these policies are to be implemented. The outcome of all this would be to keep the problems of civilization constantly before the public mind. In the public arena, there would be persistent discussion of these problems, and what to do about them. This would affect radically what people believe to be possible. It would influence political parties in their choice of policies and priorities; and, ultimately, it would affect government action. The industrial and commercial world would need to take into account the interests, the concerns of consumers who take seriously the possibility of creating a more civilized world.
Academics have a multitude of contacts with government, the civil service, industry, the financial world, the media, the judiciary, local government, education. If all these contacts are used to argue the case for the adoption and implementation of the above policies, and the arguments and policies are sound, this is bound to influence attitudes towards their acceptability.
Wisdom based academic inquiry does not just inform the rest of the population about the results of its deliberations. It also does all it can to promote, to provoke, cooperative rational problem-solving in personal and social life. And, unlike knowledge based inquiry, it eagerly seeks to learn from non-academics what approaches to problems, what policies and strategies have met with success and failure. Wisdom-inquiry strives to make itself available as a resource for cooperative rational problem-solving in life in a way in which knowledge-inquiry does not.
Wisdom-inquiry would also influence the social world via education. Students who do three years of wisdom-inquiry (as opposed to knowledge-inquiry) in whatever field – economics, natural science, sociology, philosophy or literature – are bound to see the world and its problems differently. The idea that humanity can learn how to solve its problems in increasingly rationally cooperative ways, thus making progress towards global civilization, will be familiar and obvious, and not utopian nonsense. Graduates will be aware of more or less specific changes that could be made to current institutions, practices, habits of thought, which would promote social wisdom and civilization. Policies at present impossible, because only a few people see the need for them, or are able to imagine them as practical, become possible because a sufficient number of graduates are in positions of influence or power who know full well that these policies have been subjected to sustained critical scrutiny, and have emerged as viable.
It is of course true that, in industrially advanced societies only 20 to at most 50 per cent of the population receives a university education. But wisdom-inquiry would have an impact far beyond those who do go to university. In the first place, as I have indicated, graduates tend to occupy positions of influence or power in society. Secondly, many teachers in primary and secondary schools are graduates; and all teachers, in attending a teacher’s training course, would be exposed to wisdom-inquiry. Thirdly, what is taught in primary and secondary schools and their equivalent is massively influenced by what goes on at university level. Wisdom-inquiry would be located, not just in universities, but in colleges of further education, in secondary and primary schools as well. Everyone would receive wisdom education.
In a democracy, people get the governments that they deserve. A politically naive electorate may well be bamboozled by charismatic and corrupt politicians into electing governments that pursue policies of disaster, as in what used to be Yugoslavia, to take an especially horrific case in point. But a politically sophisticated electorate will not so easily be fooled; an electorate educated in wisdom will, in particular, demand of its government that it treats its electorate as adults, speaks the truth about economic and social realities, and implements wisdom-policies wherever feasible. Wisdom cannot be imposed on people from above; nor can it be imposed on government by the electorate. A wise society becomes possible only when those in power, and those who are governed, share a certain level of political sophistication and wisdom. But wisdom does not drop out of the air, as if by some miracle. It needs to be learned.
Knowledge based education and inquiry does not, in itself, help one acquire wisdom, not even political wisdom. Wisdom based education would however be designed to do just that. Knowledge-education cannot teach political wisdom: judged from the standards of knowledge-inquiry, any attempt to do that would degenerate into political indoctrination of one kind or another. The nearest one can get to political education is to study the political constitution of one’s country, the political manifestos of political parties, or recent political history, since this involves the acquisition of factual knowledge, and not the making of political judgements. Granted wisdom-education, however, imaginative exploration of problems of living, imaginative and critical exploration of possible solutions become central to the whole of education. In particular, critical examination of political doctrines and manifestos, critical examination of government policy and action, become an important part of education. The tendency of governments to deceive, to massage public opinion with propaganda, to incite hatred of traditional enemies, or even to go to war, in order to gain popularity: consideration of these and other such standard ploys of politicians and governments would form a basic part of wisdom based political education. At the same time, however, such education would indicate the danger, the self-defeatism of disillusionment with and disengagement from politics. Compromise, lost opportunities, muddle, politicians pursuing personal power, status or wealth at the expense of the public good: these are inevitable features of democratic politics in the real world, and do not constitute good grounds for turning one’s back on the political scene. In these ways, wisdom-education is designed to promote political enlightenment, something that knowledge-education cannot do.
There is an important, more general, more fundamental way in which wisdom-education would help us discover how to live civilized lives – something which knowledge-education cannot provide. At the centre of wisdom-education, from the age of five (let us suppose) onwards, there would be a discussion seminar, concerned to encourage children to engage in the activity of articulating and scrutinizing problems and their possible solutions.98 This seminar would be conducted in such a way as to encourage open-ended, uninhibited discussion, there being no prohibition on what problems can be discussed, what solutions considered. War, sex, death, power, the nature of the universe, 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 agreed answers, the teacher must acknowledge this. The teacher must readily acknowledge his or her own personal ignorance or uncertainties, in addition to confessing his or her convictions. The main task of the teacher will be to try to ensure that the children speak one at a time, that everyone gets a chance to speak, and 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 cooperative, imaginative, rational problem-solving by taking part in it themselves. Only good, experienced teachers could hope to make a success of the 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 that creed may be judged to be. In so far 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 cooperative, 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 cooperative 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 urgent, practical, personal problems of the participants (although it may occasionally and incidentally 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 to be 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 decisions about actions. Unanimity does not need to be sought. One would expect the seminar, however, to feed into, and be fed by, other parts of education: science, literature, history.99
The hope would be that wisdom-education, conducted along these lines, would achieve three things not achieved by knowledge-education.100 First, it would help pupils to discover that rational inquiry, the sciences and the humanities, or culture more generally, are there is to be used by the individual to enhance his or her own capacity to realize what is of value in his or her own life. The sciences and the humanities are the outcome, the record, of individuals (more or less cooperatively) searching, striving to solve problems of knowledge and understanding, problems of realizing what is of value; it is there for us to use in our search for what is of value, and to contribute to, ourselves, as best we can. Second, wisdom-education would produce a politically enlightened electorate. And third, it would help produce people who are able to, and desire to, tackle life’s problems and conflicts in cooperatively rational ways, to the extent that this is possible.
In the many different ways indicated, then, wisdom based academic inquiry would have a profound affect on the way people and institutions think about and tackle problems of civilization.
At this point a serious objection must be considered. One main obstacle to the creation of a more civilized world, it may be argued, is simple public apathy towards any such project. The goal is too distant, too vast, too abstract and impersonal to excite personal excitement and involvement. University based wisdom-inquiry might be able to bring to the world’s attention the serious problems of civilization; it might be able to specify a number of severely scrutinized policy options which, if adopted, really would help the world become more civilized. But unless wisdom-inquiry engages in some form of indoctrination or brain-washing, unless it manages to inspire and inflame, the rational act of pointing to problems and possible solutions, possible policies, is all too likely to be greeted with a public yawn. People are too embroiled in the immediate problems of their lives, problems of careers, earning a living, bringing up and providing for family, to take seriously great public measures designed to bring about a more civilized world. Especially will this be the case if these measures involve some degree of sacrifice of time, energy or money.
There is, I believe, in most of us a profound and passionate hunger for a better world, a world free of the horrors of the 20th and 21st centuries. Most of us have a deep interest in the creation of a more civilized world. This is obvious as far as the poorest fifth of the world’s population are concerned. But it is true also of those who live in wealthy, industrially advanced countries. Most of us have children, or hope to have children, and hope to have grandchildren, even great grandchildren. Those of us who are childless nevertheless are involved with the lives of our spouses, friends or family, or involved with pursuits, institutions, clubs or societies. We cannot help but hope that something of what we care for will survive our own personal death. If we have children, we must be concerned about what kind of world that they, or their children, will inherit. We must have an interest in the future flourishing of humanity, its capacity to avoid the destructive horrors of modern war, poverty, totalitarianism.
One reason for widespread apparent apathy comes from a deep suspicion of all political programmes or ideologies that promise to deliver civilization on earth. In the past, humanity has so often been bamboozled and betrayed by false promises. The Enlightenment led to the gruesome nightmares of the French revolution. Socialism and Marxism led to the Russian revolution, to Lenin, and then to Stalin, to the Chinese revolution, Mao and the cultural revolution. Right wing political ideology has produced Franco, Mussolini, Hitler, and any number of other dictators since. Promises of Utopia are pure fantasies which, if taken seriously lead, not to universal happiness but to war, repression, tyranny, arbitrary imprisonment, torture and death.
The New Enlightenment approach to world civilization differs from any of the above in countless ways. It is based on cooperative rationality and democracy, not on force (force being used only to restrain criminality). Wisdom-inquiry sets out to put forward and scrutinize possible policies for a better world, so that political programmes and actions may be based on well-tested ideas, and not on the inspiration and charisma of political leaders. Academics have no legislative power; they can only propose and criticize, and learn from the non-academic world. If wisdom based academic inquiry really does come up with practical, worthwhile proposals which, when implemented, really do help solve problems of civilization, people may come to believe that gradual social progress towards global civilization is a possibility (even if they do not lose a healthy scepticism).
Apathy can also come from impotence. What can the individual hope to accomplish, confronted by the vast, complex, impersonal modern world? When people lived in isolated hunting and gathering societies, each individual had a political voice, some chance of influencing the life of the tribe. Since those far off days, the tribe has become the human race, some five and a half billion people in number, all but a minute fraction complete strangers, living unfamiliar lives in far off places, speaking incomprehensible languages. No wonder the individual today feels powerless, helpless, apathetic.
An important function of wisdom-inquiry is to respond to this malaise of powerlessness and apathy. When a serious problem confronted the tribe, in the old days of hunting and gathering societies, it was at least possible for the tribe to sit down by the fireside and explore possible responses. Today this is not logistically possible: the tribe is too big. We need an institutional substitute for tribal discussion. It is an important part of the function of wisdom-inquiry to provide such an institutional substitute.101 Wisdom-inquiry needs to provoke and sustain cooperatively rational tackling of problems of living in highly local, inter-personal ways; and it needs to inter-relate this with global thinking about global problems. The abstract, impersonal aspects of wisdom-inquiry are there partly as a reflection of the impersonal aspects of the universe, partly to accommodate thought about millions, or even billions of people. Wisdom-inquiry needs, however, to inter-relate the impersonal and the personal, so that individual persons are encouraged in their personal thinking to come to grips with the impersonal – the vast, complex social world of humanity, the somewhat vaster world of the cosmos. By inter-connecting the local and the global, wisdom-inquiry would help individuals discover how to act locally in such a way as to help local conditions to flourish without detriment to the world as a whole – so that local consumption of food, drink or fuel, for example, does not cause pollution, poverty or extinction of species elsewhere on the planet. As a result of making very public what can be done locally to help globally, wisdom-inquiry would help people to acquire power to affect beneficially their own lives and the lives of people immediately around them, without at the same time contributing to global damage, and even perhaps making a minute, individual contribution towards the creation of a better world. With wisdom-inquiry of this type in place, it would be possible for individuals to come to terms with what they, as individuals, can achieve globally, especially when individual action can be coordinated with the action of others.
From what I have said so far, it may seem that I hold that, in order to build a better world it suffices to point out to the world’s population (a) that it is in all our long-term interests to build a better world, and (b) what it is that individuals need to do to bring about a better world. The idea, here, is that once individuals appreciate (a) and (b), they will go ahead and do what is specified in (b) to bring about (a). This is, of course, for all sorts of reasons, ludicrously naive. A “better world”, as we have characterized it, is very much more in the interests of the poor than the wealthy. Even if the poor are eager to make a start on building a better world, the wealthy and powerful may not be so keen, and may well arrange matters so as to make it impossible for the poor to act, or even inform themselves about what needs to be done. But quite apart from this naivety (which all traditional socialists will pounce upon), there is another, even greater naivety in the above scenario. It expects individuals to act in new ways, for the sake of the general good, in the hope that others too will act in these new ways, merely because it has been determined that if this is done, everyone will benefit.
As a matter of fact people do act in such quasi-altruistic ways.102 People sort out their rubbish into different categories, and take bottles to bottle banks, in the hope that others too will do this so that the environment may be protected. Nevertheless, if we are to make progress towards global civilization we cannot, I believe, rely on people taking up such new quasi-altruistic actions as our main strategy.103 Instead we need to create conditions, by legislation or in other ways, which are such that it is in people’s own interests to adopt actions conducive to promoting civilization. Democratically and rationally, we need to manipulate ourselves so that our circumstances become such that we desire and seek what we ought to desire and seek from the standpoint of creating civilization.
Another objection that may be made to what has been said in this chapter so far is that it attributes to academia a degree of social influence that is far in excess of what it is capable of. Far from being in the thick of political life academics, typically and notoriously, live secluded lives, devoting themselves to the study of esoteric matters of no relevance to the lives of ordinary people. The very word ‘academic’ has acquired the secondary meaning ‘useless’, ‘irrelevant’, ‘pointless’.
But even the harshest critics of academia (on the grounds of its uselessness) must concede that parts of academic inquiry have had an immense impact on the modern world. Science and technology have transformed the world we live in, and scientific and technological research are largely, though not exclusively, a part of academic inquiry. (This is especially true of more fundamental research.) As I have already remarked, universities exercise an impact on the social world via education, and via their training of professionals: doctors, engineers, lawyers, teachers, and so on. And in a multitude of ways, academics today, working within the framework of knowledge-inquiry, influence the social world around them by means of publications, television, official reports, contacts with government and industry.
The crucial point, in the present connection, however, is that the transition from knowledge-inquiry to wisdom-inquiry changes dramatically the role that universities have in society, and hence the impact that universities have on social life.
The biggest change, in moving from knowledge to wisdom inquiry, is a change in the basic intellectual aim of inquiry. Whereas for knowledge-inquiry the intellectual aim is acquisition of knowledge, which needs to be sharply dissociated from the social aims of inquiry, for wisdom- inquiry the intellectual and social aims are the same: to promote wisdom in life. This difference dramatically affects the whole way in which academia seeks to relate itself to the rest of the social world.
Given knowledge-inquiry, the primary task of the academic (scientist or scholar), is not to engage with the social world outside academia; it is rather to contribute to academic knowledge and scholarship. Eventually, no doubt, new knowledge will be taken up and used, where relevant, by those outside academia, by industry, the military, government, the general public. Any such use of new knowledge is not, however, the primary concern of the academic, which is to add to the store of academic knowledge, whatever its subsequent human use or value may turn out to be. In a secondary way, of course, academics may write popular works intended for the general public; they may write for newspapers or take part in TV or radio programmes; and they may do consultant and other work for industry or government. But, in line with philosophy-of-knowledge standards, such work tends to be regarded by academia as somewhat suspect, adding nothing to the scientific or scholarly reputation of the academic involved. (But attitudes here may be somewhat hypocritical, a cover for envy.) Again, academics may become involved with environmental or civil rights pressure groups: such work is quite distinct from, and adds nothing to the proper, purely academic work of contributing to knowledge. Granted knowledge-inquiry, in other words, the primary task is to make contributions to knowledge internally, within academia itself: it is not to engage with the outside social world, and cannot be to take part in some morally committed political campaign. In acting thus the academic ceases to act as scientist or scholar and becomes an ordinary citizen like any other.104
Given this, and granted that knowledge-inquiry by and large prevails today, it is not surprising that most people outside universities should regard what goes on inside universities as largely irrelevant to the big political, economic, social issues of the day. It is not surprising that the main thesis of this book – in order to build a better world we need to change the nature of academic inquiry – is likely to be greeted with some scepticism. How can changing something as “academic” as academic inquiry change anything that really matters?
But granted wisdom-inquiry, the way in which academia is related to the rest of the social world would change dramatically. The basic intellectual aim of inquiry is the same as the social aim: to promote wisdom in life. Contributions to thought are a means to that end. Thus, from the standpoint of wisdom inquiry, the primary, the fundamental task of the academic is to speak to, engage in discussion with, people outside universities. Writing newspaper articles, giving public lectures, taking part in TV programmes, writing books and articles for public consumption, far from being dubious non-professional activities, at best secondary to the main academic business of contributing to knowledge, are on the contrary the central academic concern. Educating one’s fellow academics by publishing scientific or scholarly articles in academic journals, even though important, is nevertheless a means to the end of educating the public. What ultimately matters is public wisdom, and not just wisdom of the professors.
The content of what academics have to communicate changes dramatically as well, as we move from knowledge to wisdom inquiry. Instead of the products of inquiry being exclusively contributions to knowledge, they become, in addition, expressions of problems of living, and proposals for their solution: economic and political policies, criticisms of current actions and policies, political philosophies and philosophies of life. Wisdom-inquiry is directly concerned with ideas implicated in the way people live in a way in which knowledge-inquiry cannot be. It would, in short, be impossible to dismiss wisdom-inquiry as merely “academic”.
At this point defenders of the academic status quo may object that putting the philosophy of wisdom into practice would have the effect of destroying all genuine science and scholarship and transforming academia into nothing more than another campaigning organization. But this objection fails to grasp the nature of what is being proposed. The central task of wisdom-inquiry is to help humanity acquire wisdom (by cooperatively rational means). Wisdom includes knowledge, technological know-how and understanding. Science and scholarship are thus vital to wisdom-inquiry. A part of the case for the philosophy of wisdom, indeed, is that wisdom-inquiry does far better justice to the intellectual, the cultural value of science and scholarship pursued for their own sakes than does knowledge-inquiry.105
It is surely obvious that a necessary condition for the world to become more civilized is that there exists, in a publicly available way, a sustained rational exploration of the problems that need to be solved, the policies that need to be adopted, if this is to occur. This is clearly not sufficient; but it is, I maintain, necessary. Where is this sustained discussion to occur? At the UN? Amongst governments? Civil services? In the media? Amongst citizens of the world, wherever they may be? Good discussion of policies for civilization must ultimately occur in all these contexts, if such policies are to be identified and acted upon, in the real world. But what is to engender such discussion in these places? It hardly takes place at present, except in isolated, fragmentary and powerless ways. The job needs to be done by a reformed academia.
In order to arrive at a good understanding of what our problems are, and what we can do to ameliorate them, one needs to step back from the fray and consider such things as long-term consequences of actual and possible actions, the circumstances of people living in distant places, the outcome of adopting new ways of living, new technology, or creating new institutions and social arrangements. For this to be possible, one must be free of the day-to-day pressures that assail politicians, journalists, even civil servants. To say this is just to say that when one faces a long-term, intractable problem, it is essential for a part of one’s mind at least to become disengaged from immediate concerns so that it can consider broader, more long-term issues. We need a body of intelligent professionals, dissociated from power, and free of the pressures of day-to-day journalism, who have the time, the resources, the capacity, to look at our most serious long-term problems and their possible resolution, and at more immediate issues from that perspective.
In order to meet this need, it is essential that we bring about a revolution in our universities so that they come to put wisdom-inquiry into academic practice.
Any number of objections may be made to the claim that humanity can learn to become more civilized. (1) Humanity is altogether too greedy, too stupid, or too selfish to want to be more civilized, or to be able to learn how to become more civilized. (2) This is true, at least, of those who hold power, governments, the military and police, giant industries and media moguls (and all the employees who enable those who man mighty organizations to act in politically powerful ways). (3) We are caught in a socio-economic-political-global structure – the modern world – which makes a more rational approach to global politics impossible. (4) Lack of civilization, at some level, is an inevitable conjunct to civilization itself, in that civilization only exists if there is individual liberty, and individual liberty will result, some of the time, in uncivilized action. If we try to enforce civilization by political diktat we thereby, inevitably, destroy civilization (in destroying freedom).
(5) Creating a more civilized world by rational means involves creating a more cooperatively rational world; but there are inbuilt limitations on a group of people with conflicts acting cooperatively, especially as the group in question grows in size to become the seven billion or so of the world’s population. (6) Science is too different from political life for there to be anything worthwhile to be learnt from scientific success about how to achieve social progress towards civilization. (6a) In science there is a decisive procedure for eliminating ideas, namely, empirical refutation: nothing comparable obtains, or can obtain, in the political domain. (6b) In science experiments or trials may be carried out relatively painlessly (except, perhaps, when new drugs are being given in live trials); in life, social experiments, in that they involve people, may cause much pain if they go wrong, and may be difficult to stop once started. (6c) Scientific progress requires a number of highly intelligent and motivated people to pursue science on the behalf of the rest of us, funded by government and industry; social progress requires almost everyone to take part, including the stupid, the criminal, the mad or otherwise handicapped, the ill, the highly unmotivated; and in general there is no payment. (6d) Scientists, at a certain level, have an agreed, common objective: to improve knowledge. In life, people often have quite different or conflicting goals, and there is no general agreement as to what civilization ought to mean, or even whether it is desirable to pursue civilization in any sense. (6e) Science is about fact, politics about value, the quality of life. This difference ensures that science has nothing to teach political action (for civilization). (6f) Science is male-dominated, fiercely competitive, and at times terrifyingly impersonal; this means it is quite unfit to provide any kind of guide for life. (7) The very idea of a rational society is an obscenity. It would amount to a world in which all human action is dictated by Reason; this would be an insect world, a world of rational robots devoid of individual freedom, spontaneity, the free expression of individual selves in individual lives.
Here, in brief, are my replies to these objections.
(1) Precisely because humanity is greedy, stupid, selfish and worse, it is vital, in our own interests, that we establish traditions and institutions of cooperative rationality where feasible and desirable, and guard tempered cooperative rationality with force to the extent that this is necessary. Human nature is the product of cultural evolution, of learning, to an extent that is not true of any other species. If we can learn to be human (beginning with pre-human capacities for learning) then, surely, we can learn how to live in more cooperatively rational ways, to the extent that this is feasible.
(2) In a free market and democracy that also sustains public cooperatively rational learning, the public will soon learn how to control the economy and the political system, and temper the power of politicians, the military, the commercial giants, the media moguls, etc.
(3) We are the modern world; if we can change ourselves, and coordinate such changes with others, we can change the modern world; such coordinated change does on occasion occur, as when an idea for change becomes widely accepted so that it begins to affect the real world; feminism is an example, and religious fundamentalism (in the opposite direction) is another; there is no reason why the new Enlightenment might not come to be such an idea; the existing world order renders this improbable perhaps, but not impossible.
(4) Philosophy-of-wisdom inquiry is needed in part just because the modern world creates horrendous problems for cooperative rationality. It would be needed even in a genuinely civilized world in which, inevitably, difficult (and sometimes unsolvable) problems would confront cooperative rationality.
(5) It is vital to appreciate the inherent limitations and difficulties of cooperative rationality in the modern world.
(6a) Some proposals for action can be shown to be unacceptable quite decisively as a result of experience acquired through attempting to put the proposal into action. Where this is not possible, it may still be possible to assess the merits of the proposal to some extent by means of experience. If assessing proposals for action by means of human experience is much more indecisive than assessing scientific theories by means of evidence, then we need, all the more, to devote our care and attention to the former case.
(6b) Precisely because experimentation in life is so much more difficult than in science, it is vital that in life we endeavour to learn as much as possible from (a) experiments that we perform in our imagination, and (b) experiments that occur as a result of what actually happens.
(6c) Because humanity does not have the aptitude or desire for wisdom that scientists have for knowledge, it is unreasonable to suppose that progress towards global wisdom could be as explosively rapid as progress in science. Nevertheless, progress in wisdom might go better than it does at present.
(6d) Cooperative rationality is only feasible when there is the common desire of those involved to resolve conflicts in a cooperatively rational way.
(6e) AOR can help us improve our decisions about what is desirable or of value, even if it cannot reach decisions for us.
(6f) In taking science as a guide for life, it is the progress-achieving methodology of science to which we need to attend. It is this that we need to generalize in such a way that it becomes fruitfully applicable, potentially, to all that we do. That modern science is male-dominated, fiercely competitive, and at times terrifyingly impersonal should not deter us from seeing what can be learned from the progress-achieving methods of science - unless, perhaps, it should turn out that being male-dominated, fiercely competitive and impersonal is essential to scientific method and progress. (But this, I submit, is not the case.)
(7) The idea of a rational society is only an obscenity if we hold seriously defective conceptions of reason – ones which identify reason with logic and mathematics, for example, or with reaching all decisions by means of logic and evidence, or by means of some fixed algorithm. The fear is that such conceptions of reason seek to deprive us of spontaneity, idiosyncrasy, freedom, so that we act in a rule-dominated way and never on the basis of hunch, feeling, impulse, inspiration. But, as I have argued above, neither problem-solving rationality nor AOR suffers from these defects: both of these conceptions of reason are designed to enhance freedom, and not deprive us of it. Horror of the rational society is based on defective conceptions of reason, stemming mostly from the irrational traditional Enlightenment and the philosophy of knowledge.
In order to create a better world, we need to learn how to do it. We need to learn how to resolve our conflicts and problems of living in more cooperatively rational ways than we do at present. And in order to do this, we need traditions and institutions of learning rationally devoted to this end. In our vast, complex, diverse, rapidly changing world, charged with conflict and injustice, there is very little hope that we will discover how to resolve our conflicts and problems in more peaceful, just and cooperative ways than at present unless we have good traditions and institutions of inquiry designed to help us learn how to do this. Cooperative action without cooperative discussion is limited in scope. When viewed from this standpoint, what we have at present - academic inquiry devoted primarily to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how (the product of the traditional Enlightenment and the Counter-Enlightenment) – is damagingly irrational. We urgently need a new, more rational kind of inquiry, free of the blunders of the traditional Enlightenment, which takes, as a basic task, to help us build into the human world the progress-achieving methodology of aim-oriented rationality, arrived at by generalizing the progress-achieving methods of science, as depicted in this book. Traditions and institutions of learning of this type, devoted to promoting rational wisdom, would give intellectual priority to the tasks of articulating our problems of living, and proposing and critically assessing possible cooperative solutions, problems of knowledge and technological know-how being tackled in an intellectually subordinate way. In order to develop this urgently needed kind of inquiry we will need to change almost every branch and aspect of the academic enterprise. Above all, we will need to change social inquiry and the humanities so that they take up their proper tasks of promoting cooperative rationality in the social world. This new kind inquiry would do better justice to both practical and cultural dimensions of inquiry.
1. Some scientists, and many historians of science deny that there is any such thing as scientific method. This is a symptom of the persistent failure of the intellectual community to get the progress-achieving methods of science properly into focus, as we shall see in chapter three.
2. Actually, some contemporary historians and sociologists of science do deny that science has improved our knowledge of the world; this denial is another symptom of the general failure to get the nature of scientific method properly into focus, as we shall see in chapter three.
3. There is a long-standing debate as to whether technology emerges from science, or develops independently, or actually contributes to science (as in the case of the steam engine leading to the development of thermodynamics). I sidestep this debate, here, and assume, merely that, as far as modern science is concerned, science and technology developed in tandem with one another, each contributing to the development of the other.
5. Gil Elliot, in his Twentieth Century Book of the Dead, Allen Lane, 1972, estimates numbers of 20th century deaths due to violence, up to 1972, as follows: First World War: 10 million; The Jews of Europe: 5 million; Russian Civil War period 1917-21: 10 million; China 20th Century: 20 million; Russia, Stalin’s totalitarian state: 20 million; Russia, Second World War: 20 million; rest of the Second World War: 10 million; other 20th-century conflicts: 10 million. Total Estimate up to 1972: 110 million. Some estimates put deaths due to war in the 20th century as high as 160 to 200 million.
6. No one knows whether fusion power will ever become a realistic possibility.
7. I use the terms “civilized”, “wise” and “enlightened” world more or less interchangeably to mean “good” world. (The argument of this book is so general and fundamental that, at this stage, any distinctions in meaning between these terms is irrelevant.)
8. This minimal characterization of a “civilized” (or, equivalently, an “enlightened” or “wise”) world will suffice for the time being. Later on, in chapter 4, I will consider what we ought to mean by civilization more carefully.
9. It may be objected: it is not science that is the cause of our global problems but rather the things that we do, made possible by science and technology. This is obviously correct. But it is also correct to say that scientific and technological progress is the cause. The meaning of “cause” is ambiguous. By “the cause” of event E we may mean something like “the most obvious observable events preceding E that figure in the common sense explanation for the occurrence of E”. In this sense, human actions (made possible by science) are the cause of such things as people being killed in war, destruction of tropical rain forests. On the other hand, by the “cause” of E we may mean “that prior change in the environment of E which led to the occurrence of E, and without which E would not have occurred”. If we put the 20th century into the context of human history, then it is entirely correct to say that, in this sense, scientific-and-technological progress is the cause of distinctively 20th century disasters: what has changed, what is new, is scientific knowledge, not human nature. Yet again, from the standpoint of theoretical physics, “the cause” of E might be interpreted to mean something like “the physical state of affairs prior to E, throughout a sufficiently large spatial region surrounding the place where E occurs”. In this third sense, the sun continuing to shine is as much a part of the cause of war and pollution as human action or human science and technology.
10. Humans have been causing some environmental damage for centuries. Aldous Huxley cites the ancient destruction of the cedars of Lebanon as an example; see his The Human Situation, Triad/Panther Books, 1980, pp. 21-22. For a discussion of the role of early man in causing extinction of species see M. Holdgate, From Care to Action, Earthscan, 1996, pp. 1-10.
11. The Enlightenment was so rich in ideas and enthusiasms that it does not do it justice to boil it all down to elaborations of any one single idea. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau, between them, wrote plays and novels, composed music, wrote on education, art and acting and much else besides. But if one has to pick out just one idea that does the best justice to the diverse interests and writings of the philosophes, it is the one I have indicated: to learn from progress in natural philosophy how to achieve social progress towards an enlightened world.
12. The best overall account of the Enlightenment that I know of is still Peter Gay’s The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, Wildwood House, 1973.
13. As we shall see below, intellectual mistakes of the 18th century Enlightenment were intensified by subsequent 19th and 20th-century developments. It is not the philosophes of the 18th century who are to be blamed for our present problems, but rather subsequent thinkers who intensified, rather than corrected, 18th-century mistakes.
14. For the importance of Francis Bacon for the Enlightenment see: P. Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, vol. 1, pp. 11-12 and p. 322.
15. This is the theme of Peter Gays’ great work The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, summed up in the title of volume 2: The Science of Freedom.
16. I am grateful to Andrew Belsey for pointing this out to me.
17. Some main contributions to “philosophical history” were Voltaire’s Essai sur les moeurs et l’espirit des nations, d’Alembert’s Preliminary Discourse to Diderot’s Encyclopédie, Rousseau’s Discourse on the Origin of Inequality and Essay on the Origin of Languages and Condorcet’s Esquisse d’un tableau historique des progrès de l’esprit humain. For discussion of philosophical history see Gay’s The Enlightenment, vol. 2, pp. 368-396, and Mark Hulliung, The Autocritique of Enlightenment, Harvard University Press, 1994, ch. 2.
18. See K. M. Baker, Condorcet: From Natural Philosophy to Social Mathematics, University of Chicago Press, 1982.
19. The history of social science is a vast field of study. Here are a few introductory works, most with suggestions for further reading: R. Aron, Main Currents in Sociological Thought, Penguin, vol. 1, 1968, vol. 2, 1970; J. Farganis, ed., Readings in Social Theory: The classic Tradition to Post-Modernism, McGraw-Hill, 1993; F. A. Hayek, The Counter-Revolution of Science, Liberty Press, 1979; R. Heilbroner, The Worldly Philosophers: the lives, times and ideas of the great economic thinkers, Simon and Shuster, 1980; A Giddens, Capitalism and modern social theory: an analysis of the writings of Marx, Durkheim and Max Weber, Cambridge University Press, 1971; G. Duncan, Marx and Mill, Cambridge University Press, 1978.
20. For a discussion of the extent to which the traditional Enlightenment and the philosophy of knowledge dominate modern academic inquiry see: N. Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom, Blackwell, 1984, ch. 6; 2nd ed., Pentire Press, 2007, ch. 6.
21. Peter Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, volume 2, p. 321.
22. D. Hume, Treatise of Human Nature, book III, Part I.
23. Standard empiricism will receive more detailed consideration in the next chapter.
24. According to Popper, an idea, in order to be scientific, must be empirically falsifiable: see K.R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Hutchinson, 1959, Part I.
25. An important qualification needs to be added to this. Ideas of all sorts are permitted to influence scientific thinking in the context of discovery, during the process of research, when new knowledge is being sought: but this, according to standard empiricism, is a non-rational process in any case (see Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery, pp. 31-32). It is in the context of justification and publication, when the results of research are communicated and assessed, that all ideas other than testable factual claims to knowledge must be excluded.
26. See for example A. O’Hear, An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989, p. 2, 8 and 214. For the very real disasters brought about by Stalin’s imposition of Lysenkoism, see Z.A. Medvedev, The Rise and Fall of T. P. Lysenko, Columbia University Press, New York, 1969.
27. In practice such things have a recognized role to play in think tanks, committed to one or other political or economic programme or philosophy, on the fringes of academic inquiry.
29. The literature on Romanticism is vast. I cite here just two works: M. Praz, The Romantic Agony, Penguin, 1960; and H. Honour, Romanticism, Penguin, 1981.
30. I. Berlin, Against the Current, Hogarth Press, 1980, ch. 1.
31. For less sympathetic criticisms of postmodernists’ anti-rationalism see: Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont, Intellectual Impostures (Profile Books, 1998); P. Gross et al., (eds.), The Flight from Science and Reason (Academy of Sciences, 1996); Noretta Koertge (ed.), A House Built on Sand: Exposing Postmodernist Myths About Science (Oxford University Press, 1998). I must stress that the criticisms I have to make of the traditional Enlightenment differ dramatically from the criticisms of Romanticism, the Frankfurt school, and Postmodernism. What is wrong with the traditional Enlightenment is not too much reason, but not enough. As we shall see in the next chapter, the traditional Enlightenment made serious blunders, subsequently built into the intellectual/institutional structure of academic inquiry; what I seek to do is to rescue the Enlightenment from these blunders. Unlike other critics of the Enlightenment, I am a passionate enthusiast for the Enlightenment; my aim is to revive the Enlightenment by freeing it of its traditional defects. I also differ from Sokal, Bricmont, and contributors to the volumes edited by Gross and Koertge, in holding that current conceptions of scientific rationality are seriously flawed, stemming as they do from the blunders of the traditional Enlightenment. Romantics are right to criticize the traditional Enlightenment, but wrong to criticize it for giving too much emphasis to reason. What is wrong with the traditional Enlightenment is its irrationality, not its rationality. Critics of Romanticism (Sokal et al.) are right to criticize Romantics’ anti-rationalism, but wrong to defend or presuppose irrational conceptions of rationality, inherited from the rationality blunders of the traditional Enlightenment.
32. It is fought in contemporary terms; rarely is there an awareness of the historical roots of the conflict.
33. For the influence of Newton on the Enlightenment see P. Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, vol. 2, pp. 128-152. For a brief consideration of the question of whether Newton himself espoused the kind of inductivist view the philosophes of the Enlightenment tended to attribute to him, see note 46.
34. See P. Gay, The Enlightenment: An Interpretation, vol. 2, p. 149, p. 165 and pp. 176-180.
35. As I indicted in the last chapter, standard empiricism is the paradigmatic core of the philosophy of knowledge.
36. As I have indicated, standard empiricism may allow that considerations of simplicity, unity or explanatory power influence choice of theory in science as long as this does not amount to making a permanent assumption about the world. Again, standard empiricism may allow that choice of theory is biased in the direction of some paradigm or ‘hard core’, upheld for a time independently of empirical considerations, as described by Kuhn and Lakatos, as long as in the long term empirical considerations determine the choice of such paradigms or ‘hard cores’: see T. S. Kuhn, The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Chicago University Press, 1962; I. Lakatos, “Falsification and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes” in I. Lakatos and A. Musgrave, eds., Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press, 1970, pp. 91-195. Both Kuhn and Lakatos, like Popper, defend versions of standard empiricism.
37. For an account of just how widely held and influential standard empiricism is, see N. Maxwell, The Comprehensibility of the Universe, Oxford University Press, 1998, pp. 37-45. See also N. Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom, chs. 2 and 6.
38. K. R. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Hutchinson, 1959; Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963. For a lucid exposition of Popper’s philosophy of science see Bryan Magee, Popper, Fontana, 1973. See also my ‘Karl Raimund Popper’, in British Philosophers, 1800-2000, edited by P. Dematteis, P. Fosl and L. McHenry, Bruccoli Clark Layman, Columbia, 2002, pp. 176-194.
39. K. R. Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963, p. 54.
40. For more detailed formulations of this argument see N. Maxwell: “A Critique of Popper’s Views of Scientific Method”, Philosophy of Science 39, 1972, pp. 131-52; “The Rationality of Scientific Discovery, Parts I and II”, Philosophy of Science 41, 1974, pp. 123-53 and 247-295; From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods of Science, Basil Blackwell, 1984, ch. 9; “Induction and Scientific Realism: Einstein versus van Fraassen, Parts I and II”, The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44, 1993, pp. 61-79 and 81-191; The Comprehensibility of the Universe: A New Conception of Science, Oxford University Press, 1998; Understanding Scientific Progress, Paragon House, 2017; and In Praise of Natural Philosophy, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
41. For more detailed expositions of this argument see works referred to in note 40, especially The Comprehensibility of the Universe, Understanding Scientific Progress and In Praise of Natural Philosophy.
42. N. Maxwell, The Comprehensibility of the Universe: A New Conception of Science, Oxford University Press, 1998, chapter one and p. 165. See also Understanding Scientific Progress, and In Praise of Natural Philosophy.
43. For a more detailed exposition of this conception of science see works referred to in note 40, apart from the first one. The argument of Understanding Scientific Progress is especially decisive. I there show that aim-oriented empiricism not only suffices to solve the long-standing problem of induction (and other major philosophical problems of scientific progress); it is required to solve this problem. (The problem of induction, which goes back to David Hume over 278 years ago, is the problem of how theories can be verified, or even just selected, by means of evidence.)
46. It is probably true to say that those who created modern science – Galileo, Kepler, Newton, Descartes, Huygens, Leibniz and others – did not believe in standard empiricism. Belief in out and out empiricism was confined to philosophers, such as Francis Bacon and John Locke; it was not upheld by working natural philosophers.
How then did standard empiricism become the orthodox view among scientists? It happened because the philosophes of the Enlightenment perceived Descartes to be a system-builder, a thinker who attempted to arrive at knowledge of nature by reason, independently of experience, but perceived Newton to be an inductivist, a natural philosopher who based his results exclusively on experience. With the downfall of Cartesian science and the triumph of Newtonian science came the downfall of Cartesian rationalist methodology and the triumph of Newton’s perceived radical empiricist methodology. There was the added point that it seemed inconceivable that reason alone could establish anything about the nature of the universe. Kant’s attempt, in his Critique of Pure Reason, to establish synthetic a priori judgements – items of knowledge about the experienced world established independently of experience – did not convince. In addition to this, those who claimed to establish factual propositions about the (observable) universe by means of reason alone, such as Descartes, Leibniz and Kant, did not agree among themselves as to what these propositions should be, and furthermore were contradicted by the advance of science itself when, for example, acceptance of general relativity led to the rejection of Euclidean geometry as an accurate description of the nature of physical space.
Newton, as perceived by his followers at least, played a key role in this saga of confusion. His derivation of his universal law of gravitation from the phenomena by induction, as set out in his Principia, became, subsequently, the very paradigm of proper scientific reasoning and method. Subsequent scientists, such as Coulomb and Ampère, did their best to imitate Newton’s inductivist method. Did Newton himself, then, believe in a version of standard empiricism? On the one hand, Newton did, famously, claim to have arrived at his universal law of gravitation by induction from the phenomena. At the beginning of Book Three of his Principia, Newton specifies four rules of reasoning in philosophy (i.e. in natural philosophy or science); the fourth of these rules specifies that propositions arrived at by induction from phenomena are to be regarded as “very nearly true” until contrary evidence arises. All this lends support to the Enlightenment view that Newton advocated inductivism. One might conclude from this that Newton believed in the key tenet of standard empiricism, namely that in science “no substantial thesis about the world must be accepted independent of evidence”. On the other hand, Newton’s first rule of reasoning asserts: “We are to admit no more causes of natural things than such as are both true and sufficient to explain their appearances.” And Newton goes on to explain: “To this purpose the philosophers say that Nature does nothing in vain, and more is in vain when less will serve; for Nature is pleased with simplicity, and affects not the pomp of superfluous causes.” (I. Newton, Principia, translated by A. Motte, University of California Press, 1962, vol II, 398-400; first published 1687.) All this suggests strongly that Newton held that natural philosophy needs the substantial assumption that Nature is simple – an assumption upheld independently of evidence. Newton’s second and third rules of reasoning bear out this interpretation. In some respects, in other words, Newton, like other creators of modern science, believed in a view that is closer to aim-oriented empiricism than to standard empiricism.
An additional point to note is that Newton could not possibly have derived his law of gravitation from the phenomena. Newton’s “phenomena” are Kepler’s laws of planetary motion, already, incidentally, quite speculative and theoretical, and thus only “phenomena” in a rather stretched version of the meaning of that word. Whereas Kepler’s laws are restricted to the solar system, Newton’s Law of gravitation is about all objects everywhere, at all times and places: Newton’s law vastly exceeds the content of Kepler’s laws. Furthermore, and much more important, Newton’s law of gravitation actually contradicts Kepler’s laws, as Newton himself showed. (Given Newtonian theory, Kepler’s laws are only correct if the sun does not move, and the planets do not attract each other; Newtonian theory contradicts both points.) An argument that ends in the conclusion contradicting the premises does not establish the conclusion; it has the form of a reductio ad absurdum, and establishes, merely, that the premises cannot be correct. Newton’s derivation of his law of gravitation, far from being a model of rectitude in scientific reasoning, is deeply flawed. (This point was first noted by Pierre Duhem in his The Aim and Structure of Physical Theory, Atheneum, 1962, first published in 1906.)
For a much more detailed discussion of the origins of modern science in natural philosophy, the demise of natural philosophy and the rise of science and standard empiricism, and the role of Newton in all this, see my In Praise of Natural Philosophy, McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2017.
47. See: N. Maxwell, “Induction and Scientific Realism, Part III: Einstein, Aim-Oriented Empiricism and the Discovery of Special and General Relativity”, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44, 1993, pp. 275-305.
48. K. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Hutchinson, 1959; The Open Society and Its Enemies, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966; The Poverty of Historicism, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1974; Conjectures and Refutations, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1963; The Postscript, Hutchinson, 1983.
49. “...inter-subjective testing is merely a very important aspect of the more general idea of inter-subjective criticism, or in other words, of the idea of mutual rational control by critical discussion.” K. Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Hutchinson, 1959, p. 44, note 1. See also K. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1966; chs. 23 and 24.
50. Popper’s conception is given by the first two rules; I have added rules (iii) and (iv). Popper was too hostile to specialization to see the need for it, and hence the need for rules which interconnect specialized and fundamental problem-solving, that is, rules (iii) and (iv). For my own earlier expositions of this problem-solving conception of rationality see: N. Maxwell, “Science, Reason, Knowledge and Wisdom: A Critique of Specialism”, Inquiry 23, 1980, pp. 19-81; From Knowledge to Wisdom, ch. 3; “What Kind of Inquiry Can Best Help Us Create a Good World?”, Science, Technology and Human Values 17, 1992, pp. 205-227.
51. And so, of course, is the problem of creating a civilized world.
52. “Rationality”, as the term is being used here, is not opposed to, but includes “empiricism” or “learning from experience”. Philosophers have, unfortunately confused the issue by using the term “rationalism” to stand for the view that knowledge can be acquired independently of experience; philosophers thus juxtapose “rationalism” and “empiricism”: see, for example, J. Cottingham, Rationalism, Paladin Books, London, 1984. Long ago, Popper pointed out how confusing and misleading this traditional philosophical terminology is (Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, vol. 2, note 1 to ch. 24, p. 352): his comments have been ignored.
53. There are algorithms, such as utility theory, which take as input the desires or utilities of the agent in question; these lie beyond the scope of the rules of such algorithms.
54. For further discussion of the conception of rationality being appealed to here, see: N. Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom, Ch. 5.
55. The solution to the first great problem of learning is scientific method – aim-oriented empiricism. The solution to the second great problem of learning is the generalized version of this, to be discussed in the next section, namely aim-oriented rationality. Or rather, the solution is to build into institutions, into our entire social world, the progress-achieving methods of aim-oriented rationality so that we may make social progress towards a more enlightened, civilized world.
56. See N. Maxwell, The Comprehensibility of the Universe, ch. 2. The solution to the problem of induction, as I have already remarked, is to be found in my Understanding Scientific Progress.
57. All problem-solving is aim-pursuing and, in sense, all aim-pursuing is problem-solving - except that the extraordinarily difficult problems that need to be solved if we are to realize even the simplest of our aims, such as to walk across a room or answer the telephone, may be solved by our brains without our even being aware of it, so that we are not conscious of there being any problem at all. Even the most sophisticated robots, however, find such problems extraordinarily difficult to solve. Construing rationality in terms of aim-pursuing rather than problem-solving has the great advantage that it provides a framework within which, modifying or changing the problems being tackled becomes something that can be assessed rationally, in that aims being pursued can be rationally modified or changed.
58. Thus during the first five decades of the last century it was mostly assumed that technological, industrial and economic growth is a desirable aim to pursue, in an unqualified way. Only in the 1960’s did it begin to occur to people that depletion of resources and degradation of the environment, brought about by unqualified industrial and economic growth, might be highly undesirable. The aim of “progress”, interpreted as unqualified growth, became suspect; the aim needed to be modified in order to become genuinely desirable.
59. That the aim of creating civilization is inherently problematic, even inherently self-contradictory, has been emphasized especially by Isaiah Berlin: see, for example, his Against the Current, Hogarth Press, London, 1980. Berlin fails, however, to go on to make the crucial points that (a) a similar situation arises in connection with science, and (b) the all-important conclusion to draw is that the task of making progress towards civilization needs to put aim-oriented rationality into practice, a conception of rationality tailor-made for the pursuit of inherently problematic aims, arrived at by generalizing aim-oriented empiricism, itself tailor-made for the comparable situation that arises in connection with the problematic aims of science.
60. X might be the theatre, politics, science, education, finding a husband or wife, dealing with crime or, rather more generally, building a better world.
61. For a development of this point, see N. Maxwell, From Knowledge to Wisdom, pp. 174-181.
62. Putting rules (i) and (ii) into practice involves (i) articulating problems of living, and (ii) proposing and critically assessing possible solutions, possible actions, as we shall see in the next chapter.
64. “Realize” is intentionally ambiguous in that it here means both “to apprehend” and “to make real”. This distinction corresponds, very roughly, to the traditional distinction between pure and applied science and scholarship - inquiry pursued for its own sake, and inquiry pursued in order to realize other practical goals of value. In other words, “Wisdom” involves both “seeing, apprehending, experiencing, knowing and understanding” on the one hand, and “creating, making real, making the potential actual" on the other hand. Inquiry pursued in accordance with the philosophy of wisdom includes both “pure” and “applied” aspects of science and scholarship, a point to be developed further in section 3 of the present chapter.
66. For a development of these points concerning empathic, or “person-to-person” understanding see my From Knowledge to Wisdom, pp. 181-189.
67 See my What’s Wrong With Science?, Bran’s Head Books, 1976, p. 5.
68. Fortunately, academic inquiry as it actually exists is not restricted to the philosophy of knowledge and the Counter-Enlightenment: rational exploration of possible solutions to problems of living does go on, within such disciplines as social policy, international relations, human geography, ecology, politics, transport policy, and so on, as we shall see in chapter six. For a discussion of the extent to which the philosophy of knowledge dominated academic inquiry in the early 1980’s see my From Knowledge to Wisdom, ch. 6. See, too, ch. 6 of the 2nd edition for an account of how things had changed by 2006. And see my How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World, Imprint Academic, 2014, ch. 4, for a more recent assessment.
70. At present the philosophy of science and the sociology of science are not just separate disciples; they are disciplines which scarcely communicate with one another. This is a direct consequence of the current prevalence of the philosophy of knowledge. The philosophy of science is concerned with norms, with questions about what the aims and methods of science ought to be: it takes on the hopeless task of trying to justify SE and the philosophy of knowledge. The sociology of science conceives of itself as a branch of sociology, a branch of social science: it exemplifies the philosophy of knowledge in seeking to improve factual knowledge about science conceived of as a social phenomenon. Thus, although both philosophy and sociology of science take the philosophy of knowledge for granted, the two disciplines are at daggers drawn because one discipline is concerned with norms and justification whereas the other is concerned with social fact. Accept the philosophy of wisdom, and the absurd gulf between the two disciplines disappears: the philosophy and sociology of science become one and the same discipline, concerned with norms, with ideal aims and methods for science, but concerned also with science as a social phenomenon because the basic aim of science is conceived as being humanitarian or social: to promote human knowledge and understanding or, more fundamentally, to help promote social wisdom. (I might add that, in recent years, the gulf between philosophy and sociology of science has perhaps lessened, not because sociology has become concerned with norms but, quite the contrary, philosophy of science, deplorably, has begun to treat questions of scientific method as if they were matters of sociological fact.)
71. “Civilized” can of course be interpreted to mean “polite”, “orderly”, “effete” or “cultured.” I am not using the term in this conventional, slightly derogatory sense. Alternatively “civilization” may be used to refer to any large group of people who sustain an elaborate social system, however barbaric they may be. I am not using the term in this anthropological or historical sense either. I am using the word in what might be called the Ghandian sense. Once, on one of his trips to Britain, Ghandi was asked what he thought of Western Civilization. He replied “I think it would be a good idea”.
72. See my From Knowledge to Wisdom, pp. 248-259, for a somewhat more passionate and detailed expression of this view.
73 This needs to be elaborated and qualified in many ways to exclude misinterpretations.
74. It is important to appreciate that some good things in life, such as happiness perhaps, can be planned for, but are likely to become unobtainable if aimed for directly. Those who strive to be happy cannot be happy; happiness comes only to those who strive for other things or, perhaps, do not strive at all. A good mother is one who cares well for her child, not one who aims to be a good mother.
75. See for example F.E. & F.P. Manuel, Utopian Thought in the Western World, Blackwell, 1979.
76. For a dramatization of this argument see: N. Maxwell, What’s Wrong With Science?, Bran’s Head Books, 1976.
77. There are, in short, two quite different ways in which values may influence science. They may influence judgements about truth and falsity; this is always illegitimate. Or they may influence judgements about what to study, what to try to acquire knowledge about; this influence is both legitimate and inevitable. Failure to draw this distinction is likely to lead one to conclude that values have no legitimate role to play within science itself. Just this mistake is made by Anthony O’Hear in his An Introduction to the Philosophy of Science (Clarendon Press, 1979). During the course of criticizing my From Knowledge to Wisdom and Sandra Harding’s The Science Question in Feminism (Cornell University Press, Ithaca, 1986) for claiming that values do have a legitimate role to play within science, O’Hear writes: “We cannot, as Harding and Maxwell appear to want us to do, assume in our scientific work one version of a specific value and then expect that nature is obligingly going to fit in” (p. 228). O’Hear here commits the blunder of assuming that the only way values can influence science is by influencing what is accepted and rejected as fact. And he does this even though I made it abundantly clear, in my From Knowledge to Wisdom, that what I was considering was values influencing choice of subject matter, not decisions about truth and falsity – there being no grounds at all for supposing that something might be discoverable or true just because we desired it to be so. (Far from this, in my book I stressed just how problematic the aim of discovering valuable truth is: see From Knowledge to Wisdom, pp. 100-5.) One may add that values may legitimately influence judgements of truth negatively in that, if it is especially important that a scientific result is correct because otherwise people will die (because of side-effects of a drug, perhaps), then all the more does that piece of science need to be subjected to fierce empirical and critical scrutiny.
78. This is cooperativeness limited by such considerations as practicality, inequality of talent, skill or knowledge, desirability of avoiding wasteful struggles for power.
79. See N. Maxwell, The Rationality of Scientific Discovery, Philosophy of Science 41, 1974, pp. 123-153 & pp. 247-295; Induction and Scientific Realism: Einstein versus van Fraassen, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 44, 1993, pp. 275-305; The Comprehensibility of the Universe, pp. 29-30, pp. 80-89, pp. 108-109, pp. 219-223 & p. 229; In Praise of Natural Philosophy, ch. 5; Understanding Scientific Progress, ch. 11.
80. See The Comprehensibility of the Universe, ch. 6, for details. See also In Praise of Natural Philosophy, ch. 5.
81. See The Comprehensibility of the Universe, Chs. 3 & 4. See also Understanding Scientific Progress, ch. 5.
82. For a more detailed discussion of these issues see my From Knowledge to Wisdom, pp. 181-189.
83 A. Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, Souvenir Press, 1973, p. 80.
84 Einstein, Ideas and Opinions, p. 11.
85 Einstein, A., “Autobiographical Notes”, in P. A. Schilpp, ed. Albert Einstein: Philosopher-Scientist, Open Court, 1949, p. 17.
86 A recent, remarkable exception is R. Penrose, The Road to Reality, Jonathan Cape, 2004.
87 These considerations are developed further in my What’s Wrong With Science?, From Knowledge to Wisdom, and Is Science Neurotic?, Imperial College Press, 2004.
88 See ‘Philosophy Seminars for Five-Year-Olds’, ch. 1 of my Global Philosophy, Imprint Academic, 2014.
90. In what follows, “knowledge-inquiry” and “wisdom-inquiry” stand for inquiry shaped by, respectively, the edicts of the philosophy of knowledge and the philosophy of wisdom.
91 For the intellectual and humanitarian evils of rampant specialization see my Science, Reason, Knowledge, and Wisdom: a Critique of Specialism, Inquiry, vol. 23, no. 1, 1980, pp. 19-81.
92 See also my How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World, ch. 4: ‘Is the Wisdom Revolution Underway?’.
93 R.J. Sternberg, ed., Wisdom: Its Nature, Origins and Development, Cambridge University Press, 1990.
95. It is perfectly possible, however, for knowledge-inquiry to exist in such regimes, as long as it does not try to acquire knowledge about politically sensitive matters, or does not try to oppose dogmas dear to the regime. The natural sciences flourished in the Soviet Union, but ran into difficulties in connection with Lysenko’s doctrines favoured by Stalin. Wisdom-inquiry would, however, have been unthinkable. This illustrates the point that wisdom-inquiry is much more difficult to establish, politically, than knowledge-inquiry; the intellectual standards of wisdom-inquiry are much more demanding than those of knowledge-inquiry.
96. Unless the species in question is a harmful virus or bacterium.
97. Are (1) to (12) policies or aims? If we take our basic aim to be world civilization, then they may legitimately be considered to be policies, especially if put forward in contrast to other possibilities (such as world economic growth, conversion of humanity to Christianity or Islam, preservation of independent nation states). If, however, we forget about world civilization, and concentrate on one or other of (1) to (12) as an end in itself, then it becomes an aim rather than a policy; we need much more specific policies to attain the aim. A policy becomes an aim if considered as an end in itself; and, vice versa, an aim becomes a policy if considered as a means to the realization of a more basic aim, especially if it is one among a number of rival possible such means.
100. Wisdom-inquiry would require there to be a version of this seminar at all levels of education, right up to the level of postgraduates and professors.
101. The primary substitute is representational government. But in addition to deliberations associated more or less directly with the execution of political power, we need sustained deliberations carried on openly in public, concerning matters not always on the immediate political agenda, deliberations removed from political power, and thus free of the distortions brought about by power. Once upon a time the priesthood might have fulfilled this role. Today, neither the civil service nor the press can fulfil the role. Knowledge-inquiry cannot do it either, but wisdom-inquiry is designed specifically to take it up.
102. I say ‘quasi-altruistic’ because what is involved is not acting for the benefit of others per se, but rather, acting for the benefit of oneself and others in the expectation that others will do likewise.
103. I say “new quasi-altruistic actions” because all of social life, in a sense, relies on already established quasi-altruistic actions. What is more questionable is that new quasi-altruistic actions will become established in a society once the need for such actions has become generally recognized. Contemporary life exhibits many counter-instances. Everyone agrees in Britain, at the time of writing, that there are too many cars on the road; everyone expects everyone else to cut down on their use of the car. Few unilaterally make less use of their car in the expectation that others will follow.
104. In recent times in the UK there has been a tendency for work for industry and government to increase; this makes it all the more important that philosophy of wisdom standards operate within universities, guiding involvement of universities with the rest of society for the good of humanity, and not just for the good of universities, the wealthy and powerful.
About the Author
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, and 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.
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