Karl Popper, Science and Enlightenment
Nicholas Maxwell | September 2017
Open Access PDF
About the book
Here is an idea that just might save the world. It is that science, properly understood, provides us with the methodological key to the salvation of humanity. A version of this idea can be found in the works of Karl Popper. Famously, Popper argued that science cannot verify theories but can only refute them, and this is how science makes progress. Scientists are forced to think up something better, and it is this, according to Popper, that drives science forward.
But Nicholas Maxwell finds a flaw in this line of argument. Physicists only ever accept theories that are unified – theories that depict the same laws applying to the range of phenomena to which the theory applies – even though many other empirically more successful disunified theories are always available. This means that science makes a questionable assumption about the universe, namely that all disunified theories are false. Without some such presupposition as this, the whole empirical method of science breaks down.
By proposing a new conception of scientific methodology, which can be applied to all worthwhile human endeavours with problematic aims, Maxwell argues for a revolution in academic inquiry to help humanity make progress towards a better, more civilized and enlightened world.
About the author
Nicholas Maxwell has devoted much of his working life 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 published eight books on this theme, including How Universities Can Help Create a Wiser World (2014) and In Praise of Natural Philosophy (2017). For 30 years he taught philosophy of science at University College London, where he is now Emeritus Reader. For more about his work, see www.ucl.ac.uk/from-knowledge-to-wisdom.