Nicholas Maxwell


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Emeritus Reader, Science and Technology Studies

University College London

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NICHOLAS MAXWELL has devoted much of his working life to arguing that we need to bring about a revolution in academia so that it comes to seek and promote wisdom and does not just acquire knowledge. He has published six books on this theme: What’s Wrong With Science? (Bran's Head Books, 1976), From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984; 2nd edition, revised throughout with 3 new chapters, Pentire Press, 2007), 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, December 2004), and Cutting God in Half - And Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy (Pentire Press, 2010), How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World, and Global Philosophy: What Philosophy Ought to Be (the latter two both published in 2014 by Imprint Academic). He has also contributed to a number of other books, including Wisdom in the University (Routledge, 2008) co-edited with Ronald Barnett, and has published numerous papers in science and philosophy journals on problems that range from consciousness to quantum theory. For nearly thirty years he taught philosophy of science at University College London, where he is now Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science. He has given lectures at Universities and Conferences all over Britain, Europe and north America, and has taken part in the BBC Programme “Start the Week” on Radio 4, and 'How to Think About Science' on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. In 2003 he founded Friends of Wisdom, an international group of people sympathetic to the idea that academic inquiry should help humanity acquire more wisdom by rational means (see www.knowledgetowisdom.org).


All my research work, and much of my teaching, during the past 45 years or so, have been concerned, in one way or another, with two fundamental, inter-related problems:
Problem I: How can our human world exist, imbued with sensory qualities, meaning, value, consciousness and freedom, if the universe really is more or less as modern physics tells us it is?
Problem II: What ought to be the overall aims and methods of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, granted that the basic task is to help humanity achieve what is of value - a more civilized world - by cooperatively rational means (it being assumed that knowledge and understanding are of value in themselves and form a part of civilized
life)?
The first problem includes the mind/body problem, the problem of free will and determinism, and the problem of the relationship between facts and values; it includes problems concerning the relationship between perceptual and physical properties, and problems concerning the relationship between different branches of the sciences, from physics via biology to psychology. It involves problems concerning the interpretation of the neurosciences, Darwinian theory, and modern physical theory, especially quantum theory; and it involves questions concerning scientific realism, scientific essentialism and instrumentalism. Work that I have done on this problem includes: my MA thesis, my first three papers (published in 1966 and 1968), a series of papers on quantum theory, parts of What's Wrong With Science?, "Methodological Problems of Neuroscience", chapter 10 of From Knowledge to Wisdom, and part 2 of "Induction and Scientific Realism". Especially significant are: "Physics and Common Sense" (1966), chapter 10 of From Knowledge to Wisdom, and "The Mind-Body Problem and Explanatory Dualism" (2000). The various strands of this long-standing research were brought together in my book The Human World in the Physical Universe (2001).
My work on the second problem goes back to two papers of mine on the rationality of science published in Philosophy of Science in 1972 and 1974. Natural science is, I argued, deeply flawed because scientists misrepresent the real, problematic aims of science. The official aim is truth, but the actual aim is explanatory truth or, more generally, valuable truth. Highly problematic assumptions concerning metaphysics, values and politics are inherent in the real, unacknowledged intellectual aims of science, and these aims (and associated methods) need to be improved as science proceeds. I then realized that the argument has implications, not just for science, but for academic inquiry as a whole. Officially, academia first seeks knowledge, and then seeks to apply it to help solve social problems. But if the fundamental aim is to help promote human welfare, the basic problems that need to be solved are problems of living rather than just problems of knowledge. Giving intellectual priority to the pursuit of knowledge is damagingly irrational from the standpoint of helping to promote human welfare. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods, the whole character and structure, of academia so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom – wisdom being conceived to be the capacity to realize what is of value for oneself and others, thus including knowledge, technological know-how and understanding, but much else besides. This work has been spelled out in my books What’s Wrong With Science? (1976), From Knowledge to Wisdom (1984 and 2007), The Comprehensibility of the Universe (1998), Is Science Neurotic? (2004), and in numerous papers published over the years in books and journals.
For a summary of my work on both problems see my “How Can Life of Value Best Flourish in the Real World?” available on my website www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom , where further details about my research work can be found.



Recent Publications
In Praise of Natural Philosophy: A Revolution for Thought and Life
McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal The central thesis of this book is that we need to reform philosophy and join it to science to recreate a modern version of natural philosophy; we need to do this in the interests of rigour, intellectual honesty, and so that science may serve the best...
Understanding Scientific Progress
Paragon House, St. Paul, MN "Understanding Scientific Progress constitutes a potentially enormous and revolutionary advancement in philosophy of science. It deserves to be read and studied by everyone with any interest in or connection with physics or the theory of science...
Two Great Problems of Learning: Science and Civilization
Rounded Globe https://roundedglobe.com/books/61539716-6ed9-4df5-89fa-8fdd5ec80df8/Two%20Great%20Problems%20of%20Learning:%20Science%20and%20Civilization/ Two great problems of learning confront humanity: learning about the nature of the universe and about ourselves and other living things as a part of the universe, and learning how to become civilized. The first problem was solved, in essence, in the seventeenth...
Can the World Acquire Wisdom?
Philosophy Now, June/July Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat...
What's Wrong with Science and Technology Studies? What Needs to Be Done to Put It Right?,
Raffaelle Pisano, ed., A Bridge between Conceptual Frameworks: Sciences, Society and Technology Studies, Springer, Dordrecht, 2015, pp. vii-xxxvii. : http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1400296/ After a sketch of the optimism and high aspirations of History and Philosophy of Science when I first joined the field in the mid 1960s, I go on to describe the disastrous impact of "the strong programme" and social constructivism in history...
Can Scientific Method Help Us Create a Wiser World?
N. Dalal, A. Intezari & M. Heitz (eds.), Practical Wisdom in the Age of Technology: Insights, Issues and Questions for a New Millennium, available at http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXCSM Nicholas Maxwell (2015) Two great problems of learning confront humanity: (1) learning about the universe, and about ourselves as a part of the universe, and (2) learning how to make progress towards as good a world as possible. We solved the first problem...
How Humanity Might Avoid Devastation
Ethical Record, vol. 120, no. 1, January, pp. 18-23. We face grave global problems. One might think universities are doing all they can to help solve these problems. But universities, in successfully pursuing scientific knowledge and technological know-how in a way that is dissociated from a more fundamental...
Global Philosophy: What Philosophy Ought to Be
Imprint Academic Global Philosophy: Preface Learning, Global Problems and Play These essays are about education, learning, rational inquiry, philosophy, science studies, problem solving, academic inquiry, global problems, wisdom and, above all, the urgent need for an...
How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World: The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution
Imprint Academic, Exeter, UK. Scientific knowledge and technological know-how have unquestionably brought great benefits to humanity. But they have also made possible – even caused – our current global crises, above all the impending crisis of global warming. In this book, I argue...
Misconceptions Concerning Wisdom
Journal of Modern Wisdom, vol. 2, March 2013, pp. 92-97; http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXMCW If our concern is to help wisdom to flourish in the world, then the central task before us is to transform academia so that it takes up its proper task of seeking and promoting wisdom instead of just acquiring knowledge. Improving knowledge about wisdom...
Knowledge or Wisdom?
The Philosophers' Magazine, Issue 62, 3rd Quarter, 2013, pp. 17-18. http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXDPB A bad philosophy of inquiry, built into the intellectual/institutional structure of universities round the world, betrays both reason and humanity.
What Philosophy Ought to Be
C. Tandy, ed., 2014, Death And Anti-Death, Volume 11: Ten Years After Donald Davidson (1917-2003), Ria University Press, Palo Alto, California. http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1400215/. The proper task of philosophy is to keep alive awareness of what our most fundamental, important, urgent problems are, what our best attempts are at solving them and, if possible, what needs to be done to improve these attempts. Unfortunately, academic...
From knowledge to wisdom: Assessment and prospects after three decades
Integral Review: Special Issue: International Symposium: Research Across Boundaries, Part 1, ed. M. Markus and M. Edwards, vol. 9, no. 2, 2013, pp. 76-112 (http://www.integral-review.org/current_issue/index.asp). Normal 0 false false false EN-GB X-NONE X-NONE MicrosoftInternetExplorer4 st1\:*{behavior:url(#ieooui) } /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style...
Arguing for wisdom in the university: an intellectual autobiography
Nicholas Maxwell (2012) Arguing for wisdom in the university: an intellectual autobiography. Philosophia, vol. 40, no. 4, pp. 663-704. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1344128/. Abstract For forty years I have argued that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in academia so that the basic task becomes to seek and promote wisdom. How did I come to argue for such a preposterously gigantic intellectual revolution? It goes...
How universities can help humanity learn how to resolve the crises of our times - from knowledge to wisdom: the University College London experience
Nicholas Maxwell (2012) How universities can help humanity learn how to resolve the crises of our times - from knowledge to wisdom: the University College London experience. In: Rooney, D and Hearn, G and Kastelle, T, (eds.) Handbook on the knowledge economy, volume two, pp. 158 - 179, Edward Elgar: Cheltenham, UK. Available online at http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXHUC-2 We are in a state of impending crisis. And the fault lies in part with academia. For two centuries or so, academia has been devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how. This has enormously increased our power to act which has, in turn...
The Menace of Science without Wisdom
Ethical Record, vol. 117, no. 9, October 2012, pp. 10-15. /* Style Definitions */ table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:"Table Normal"; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-priority:99; mso-style-qformat:yes; mso-style-parent:""; mso-padding...
Creating a better world: towards the university of wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2011) Creating a better world: towards the university of wisdom. In: Barnett, R, (ed.) The future university: ideas and possibilities, pp. 123 - 138, Routledge: New York. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1329627/ Universities need to change dramatically in order to help humanity make progress towards as good a world as possible.
We need an academic revolution
Nicholas Maxwell (2011) We need an academic revolution, Oxford Magazine, no. 309, pp. 15-18. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1329516/ Universities today betray both reason and humanity. They are still dominated by the idea, inherited from the past, that the best way the academic enterprise can help promote human welfare is, in the first instance, to pursue the intellectual aim of acquiring...
Reply to Comments on Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) Reply to Comments on Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom, Philosophia, vol. 38, no. 4, pp. 667-690. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1329617/ In this article I reply to comments made by Agustin Vicente and Giridhari Lal Pandit on Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom (McHenry, 2009). I criticize analytic philosophy, go on to expound the argument for the need for a revolution in academic inquiry...
Wisdom-inquiry. One of the 50 best ideas of the 21st century
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) Wisdom-inquiry. One of the 50 best ideas of the 21st century, The Philosophers' Magazine, issue 50, 3rd quarter, article 34. Available online at http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXDPL The most exciting and important new philosophical idea of the past decade, in my view, is the discovery that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in science, and in academic inquiry more generally, so that the basic intellectual aim becomes to...
Universities: from knowledge to wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) Universities: from knowledge to wisdom, Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter, issue 38, pp. 18-20. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105705/ We need a revolution in academic inquiry so that problems of living are put at the heart of the academic enterprise, and the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom. There are signs that this revolution is beginning to occur, especially in connection...
Wisdom mathematics
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) Wisdom mathematics, Friends of Wisdom Newsletter, vol. 1, no. 6, pp. 1 - 6. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1370628/ What implications does wisdom-inquiry have for mathematics? Is not mathematics an especially secure branch of knowledge, immune to any changes that may be brought about by moving from knowledge-inquiry to wisdom-inquiry? All the well-known views that...
The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution, in Levene, M and Johnson, R and Roberts, P, (eds.) History at the End of the World?, pp. 80-93, Humanities-Ebooks: Penrith, UK Humanity faces two great problems of learning: learning about the nature of the universe and about ourselves as a part of the universe, and learning how to make progress towards a good, civilized world. We solved the first problem when we created modern...
Cutting God in Half - and Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy
Nicholas Maxwell (2010) Cutting God in Half - and Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy, Pentire Press, London, UK. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105672/ Cutting God in Half argues that, in order to tackle climate change, world poverty, extinction of species and our other global problems rather better than we are doing at present we need to bring about a revolution in science, and in academia more generally...
The urgent need for an academic revolution: the rational pursuit of wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2009) The urgent need for an academic revolution: the rational pursuit of wisdom, in Tandy, C, (ed.) Nine Hundred Years After St. Anselm (1033-1109), pp. 211-238, Ria University Press, Palto Alto, California. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105666/ We are in a state of impending crisis. And the fault lies in part with academia. For two centuries or so, academia has been devoted to the pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how. This has enormously increased our power to act which has, in turn...
Are Universities Undergoing an Intellectual Revolution?
Nicholas Maxwell (2009) Are Universities Undergoing an Intellectual Revolution?, Oxford Magazine , issue 290, 8th Week, Trinity Term, pp. 13-16. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105613/ For over 30 years I have argued, in and out of print that, for both intellectual and humanitarian reasons, we urgently need a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry. Instead of giving priority to the search for knowledge, academia needs...
How Can Life of Value Best Flourish in the Real World?
Nicholas Maxwell (2009) How Can Life of Value Best Flourish in the Real World?, in McHenry, L, (ed.) Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell, pp. 1-56, Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/15607/ In this essay I outline my work in philosophy during the last forty years. I explain how my work has sought to help solve two fundamental problems, namely: Problem 1 : How can we understand our human world, embedded as it is within the physical universe...
Replies and Reflections
Nicholas Maxwell (2009) Replies and Reflections, in McHenry, L, (ed.) Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell, pp. 249-313, Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt, Germany. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105618/ I reply to critical discussion of my work by Copthorne Macdonald, Steve Fuller, John Stewart, Joseph Agassi, Margaret Boden, Donald Gillies, Mathew Iredale, David Hodgson, Karl Rogers, and Leemon McHenry.
From knowledge to wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2009) From knowledge to wisdom, in Cayley, D, (ed.) Ideas on the Nature of Science, pp. 360-378, Goose Lane Edictions, New Brunswick, Canada. See http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXFKT-6 There are these two absolutely basic problems: to learn about the universe and ourselves as a part of the universe, and to learn how to create a civilized world. Essentially, we have solved the first problem. We solved it when we created modern science...
Do We Need a Scientific Revolution?
Nicholas Maxwell (2008) Do We Need a Scientific Revolution?, Journal of Biological Physics and Chemistry, vol. 8, no. 3, pp. 95-105. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/15352/ Many see modern science as having serious defects, intellectual, social, moral. Few see this as having anything to do with the philosophy of science. I argue that many diverse ills of modern science are a consequence of the fact that the scientific community...
Are philosophers responsible for global warming?
Nicholas Maxwell (2008) Are philosophers responsible for global warming?, Philosophy Now, issue 65, pp. 12-13. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/20190/ Global warming has come about as a result of rapid population increase plus our whole modern way of life, all made possible by modern science. In order to tackle global warming successfully, we need a new kind of inquiry that gives intellectual priority...
Wisdom in the University
Ronald Barnett and Nicholas Maxwell (eds.) Wisdom in the University, Routledge, London. A collection of eight essays by various authors on the theme that academic inquiry needs to be transformed so as to promote wisdom and not just acquire knowledge.
Can the world learn wisdom?
Nicholas Maxwell (2007) Can the World Learn Wisdom?, Solidarity, Sustainability and Non-Violence, vol. 3, no. 4: http://www.pelicanweb.org/solisustv03n04maxwell.html The crisis of our times is that we have science without wisdom. This is the crisis behind all the others. Population growth, the terrifyingly lethal character of modern war and terrorism, immense differences of wealth across the globe, annihilation of...
Philosophy Seminars for Five-Year-Olds
Nicholas Maxwell (2005) Philosophy Seminars for Five-Year-Olds, Learning for Democracy: An International Journal of Thought and Practice , vol. 1, no. 2, pp. 71-77. Available at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105637/ Pupils, from five year olds onwards, ought to be encouraged, as a fundamental part of education, to engage in imaginative and critical discussion about how to go about solving problems – including problems of living. The role of the teacher would be,...
A Revolution for Science and the Humanities: From Knowledge to Wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2005) A Revolution for Science and the Humanities: From Knowledge to Wisdom, Dialogue and Universalism , vol. XV, nos. 1-2, pp. 29-57. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105662/ At present the basic intellectual aim of academic inquiry is to improve knowledge. Much of the structure, the whole character, of academic inquiry, in universities all over the world, is shaped by the adoption of this as the basic intellectual aim. But...
Is Science Neurotic?
Nicholas Maxwell (2004) Is Science Neurotic? (First ed.). Imperial College Press: London. In this book it is argued that science suffers from a damaging but rarely noticed methodological disease, called here rationalistic neurosis. Science fails to acknowledge explicitly problematic assumptions having to do with metaphysics, values and politics...
In Defence of Seeking Wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2004) In Defence of Seeking Wisdom, Metaphilosophy, vol. 35, no. 5, pp. 733-743. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105633/ Steven Yates has criticized my claim that we need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the aim becomes to promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge. Yates's main criticism is that the proposed revolution...
Do Philosophers Love Wisdom?
Nicholas Maxwell (2003) Do Philosophers Love Wisdom?, The Philosophers’ Magazine, Issue 22, 2nd quarter, 2003, pp. 22-24. Available online at http://philpapers.org/rec/MAXDPL-2 Academic inquiry as it exists today is the product of two past revolutions: the scientific revolution of the 16th and 17th centuries, and the Enlightenment of the 18th century. But the latter revolution made grave blunders, which are still built into...
Science, Knowledge, Wisdom and the Public Good
Nicholas Maxwell (2003) Science, Knowledge, Wisdom and the Public Good, Scientists for Global Responsibility Newsletter, no, 26, pp. 7-9. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105642/ We need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, so that the basic aim becomes to seek and promote wisdom, help humanity learn how to make progress towards a wise world.
The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will and Evolution
Nicholas Maxwell (2001) The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will and Evolution, Rowman and Littlefield, Lanham, Maryland. How is it possible for the world as we experience it to exist embedded in the physical universe? How can there be sensory qualities, consciousness, freedom, science and art, friendship, love, justice - all that which gives meaning and value to life -...
Can Humanity Learn to Create a Better World? The Crisis of Science without Wisdom
Nicholas Maxwell (2001) Can Humanity Learn to Create a Better World? The Crisis of Science without Wisdom, in Bentley, T and Jones, DS, (eds.) The Moral Universe, pp. 149-156, Demos, London, UK. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105652/ Science without wisdom puts humanity into a situation of unprecedented danger. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in academia so that the basic aim becomes to help humanity learn how to create a wiser world.
Can Humanity Learn to become Civilized? The Crisis of Science without Civilization
Nicholas Maxwell (2000) Can Humanity Learn to become Civilized? The Crisis of Science without Civilization, Journal of Applied Philosophy, vol. 17, no. 1, pp. 29-44. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105630/ Two great problems of learning confront humanity: learning about the nature of the universe and our place in it, and learning how to become civilized. The first problem was solved, in essence, in the 17th century, with the creation of modern science....
Are There Objective Values?
Nicholas Maxwell (1999) Are There Objective Values?, The Dalhousie Review, vol. 79, no. 3, pp. 301-317. Available online at http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/105657/ In this paper I demolish three influential arguments - moral, metaphysical and epistemological - against value realism. We have good reasons to believe, and no good reasons not to believe, that value-features, value-facts, really do exist in the world...
What kind of inquiry can best help us create a good world?
Nicholas Maxwell (1992) What kind of inquiry can best help us create a good world?, Science, Technology and Human Values, vol. 17, pp. 205-227. In order to create a good world, we need to learn how to do it - how to resolve our appalling problems and conflicts in more cooperative ways than at present. And in order to do this, we need traditions and institutions of learning rationally devoted...
From knowledge to wisdom: guiding choices in scientific research
Nicholas Maxwell (1984) From knowledge to wisdom: guiding choices in scientific research. Bulletin of science, technology and society, vol. 4, pp. 316-334. This article argues for the need to put into practice a profound and comprehensive intellectual revolution, affecting to a greater or lesser extent all branches of scientific and technological research, scholarship and education. This intellectual revolution...
From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution in the Aims and Methods of Science
Basil Blackwell, Oxford From Knowledge to Wisdom argues that there is an urgent need, for both intellectual and humanitarian reasons, to bring about a revolution in science and the humanities. The outcome would be a kind of academic inquiry rationally devoted to helping humanity...
Science, reason, knowledge, and wisdom: a critique of specialism
Inquiry , 23 (1) pp. 19 - 81. Available online at: http://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/1348870/ Abstract In this paper I argue for a kind of intellectual inquiry which has, as its basic aim, to help all of us to resolve rationally the most important problems that we encounter in our lives, problems that arise as we seek to discover and achieve that...
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University College London

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Emeritus Reader, Science and Technology Studies

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