…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
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.
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.
Nicholas Maxwell, Friends of Wisdom