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Dialogue and Universalism

Volume 22, Issue 3, 2012

Civilization and Science

Nicholas Maxwell
Pages 39-63

The Menace of Science without Civilization
From Knowledge to Wisdom

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, brought us both all the great benefits of the modern world and the crises we now face. Modern science and technology have made possible modern industry and agriculture, the explosive growth of the world’s population, global warming, modern armaments and the lethal character of modern warfare, destruction of natural habitats and rapid extinction of species, immense inequalities of wealth and power across the globe, pollution of earth, sea and air, even the Aids epidemic (Aids being spread by modern travel). All these global problems have arisen because some of us have acquired unprecedented powers to act, via science and technology, without also acquiring the capacity to act wisely. We urgently need to bring about a revolution in universities so that the basic intellectual aim becomes, not knowledge merely, but rather wisdom—wisdom being the capacity to realize what is of value in life, for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. The revolution we require would put problems of living at the heart of the academic enterprise, the pursuit of knowledge emerging out of, and feeding back into, the fundamental intellectual activity of proposing and critically assessing possible actions, policies, political programs, from the standpoint of their capacity to help solve problems of living. This revolution would affect almost every branch and aspect of academic inquiry.

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