From Knowledge to Wisdom



The case for the revolution in science, and in academic inquiry more generally, is spelled out in my book From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984; 2nd ed., Pentire Press, 2007): see below for reviews. The second edition, brought up to date, has a new introduction and three additional chapters. Here is an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio about my work. And here is another radio interview about From Knowledge to Wisdom.  Here is a review of the second edition of From Knowledge to Wisdom.  See also my Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, December 2004). For summaries, see The Basic Argument and Can Humanity Learn to become Civilized?.  Here is a podcast of me briefly expounding the argument for wisdom-inquiry (scroll down to episode 6). For a synoptic view of my work, see "How Can Life of Value Best Flourish in the Real World?", published in Leemon McHenry, ed., Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell, Ontos Verlag, February 2009. For my most recent account of the argument see Cutting God in Half - And Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy, Pentire Press, March 2010.  Here are online collections of my articles.

For an outline of my "from knowledge to wisdom" argument, see my TEDxUCL talk The Urgent Need for an Academic Revolution: From Knowledge to Wisdom.

One Critic's Verdict on 2nd Edition of From Knowledge to Wisdom

“Any philosopher or other person who seeks wisdom should read this book. Any educator who loves education--especially those in leadership positions--should read this book. Anyone who wants to understand an important source of modern human malaise should read this book. And anyone trying to figure out why, in a world that produces so many technical wonders, there is such an immense "wisdom gap" should read this book. In From Knowledge to Wisdom: A Revolution for Science and the Humanities, Second Edition . . . Nicholas Maxwell presents a compelling, wise, humane, and timely argument for a shift in our fundamental "aim of inquiry" from that of knowledge to that of wisdom.”
Jeff Huggins Metapsychology

What critics are saying about Is Science Neurotic?

"This book is bursting with intellectual energy and ambition...[It] provides a good account of issues needing debate. In accessible language, Maxwell articulates many of today's key scientific and social issues...his methodical analysis of topics such as induction and unity, his historical perspective on the Enlightenment, his opinions on string theory and his identification of the most important problems of living are absorbing and insightful."
Clare McNiven, Journal of Consciousness Studies, 12, No. 3, 2005, p. 89.

"Is science neurotic? Yes, says Nicholas Maxwell, and the sooner we acknowledge it and understand the reasons why, the better it will be for academic inquiry generally and, indeed, for the whole of humankind. This is a bold claim … But it is also realistic and deserves to be taken very seriously … My summary in no way does justice to the strength and detail of Maxwell's well crafted arguments … I found the book fascinating, stimulating and convincing … after reading this book, I have come to see the profound importance of its central message."
Dr. Mathew Iredale, The Philosopher's Magazine, Issue 31, 2005, pp. 86-87.

"… the title Is Science Neurotic? could be rewritten to read Is Academe Neurotic? since this book goes far beyond the science wars to condemn, in large, sweeping gestures, all of modern academic inquiry. The sweeping gestures are refreshing and exciting to read in the current climate of specialised, technical, philosophical writing. Stylistically, Maxwell writes like someone following Popper or Feyerabend, who understood the philosopher to be improving the World, rather than contributing to a small piece of one of many debates, each of which can be understood only by the small number of its participants…. In spite of this, the argument is complex, graceful, and its finer points are quite subtle…. The book's final chapter calls for nothing less than revolution in academia, including the very meaning of academic life and work, as well as a list of the nine most serious problems facing the contemporary world - problems which it is the task of academia to articulate, analyse, and attempt to solve. This chapter sums up what the reader has felt all along: that this is not really a work of philosophy of science, but a work of 'Philosophy', which addresses 'Big Questions' and answers them without hesitation…. I enjoyed the book as a whole for its intelligence, courageous spirit, and refusal to participate in the specialisation and elitism of the current academic climate…. it is a book that can be enjoyed by any intelligent lay-reader. It is a good book to assign to students for these reasons, as well - it will get them thinking about questions like: What is science for? What is philosophy for? Why should we think? Why should we learn? How can academia contribute of the welfare of people? … the feeling with which this book leaves the reader [is] that these are the questions in which philosophy is grounded and which it ought never to attempt to leave behind."
Margret Grebowicz, Metascience, 15, 2006, pp. 141-144.

"Maxwell's fundamental idea is so obvious that it has escaped notice. But acceptance of the idea requires nothing short of a complete revolution for the disciplines. Science should become more intellectually honest about its
metaphysical presuppositions and its involvement in contributing to human value. Following this first step it cures itself of its irrational repressed aims and is empowered to progress to a more civilized world."
Professor Leemon McHenry, Review of Metaphysics, March 2006, pp. 657-659.

"Maxwell argues that the metaphysical assumptions underlying present-day scientific inquiry, referred to as standard empiricism or SE, have led to ominous irrationality. Hence the alarmingly provocative title; hence also-the argument carries this far-the sad state of the world today. Nor is Maxwell above invoking, as a parallel example to science's besetting "neurosis," the irrational behavior of Oedipus as Freud saw him: unintentionally yet intentionally slaying his father for love of his mother (Mother Earth?). Maxwell proposes replacing SE with his own metaphysical remedy, aim-oriented empiricism, or AOE. Since science does not acknowledge metaphysical presumptions and therefore disallows questioning them - they are, by definition, outside the realm of scientific investigation - Maxwell has experienced, over the 30-plus years of his professional life, scholarly rejection, which perhaps explains his occasional shrill tone. But he is a passionate and, despite everything, optimistic idealist. Maxwell claims that AOE, if adopted, will help deal with major survival problems such as global warming, Third World poverty, and nuclear disarmament, and science itself will become wisdom-oriented rather than knowledge-oriented--a good thing. A large appendix, about a third of the book, fleshes the argument out in technical, epistemological terms. Summing Up: Recommended. General readers; graduate students; faculty."
Professor M. Schiff, Choice, vol. 42, no. II, July, 2005.

Is Science Neurotic? … is a rare and refreshing text that convincingly argues for a new conception of scientific empiricism that demands a re-evaluation of what [science and philosophy] can contribute to one another and of what they, and all academia, can contribute to humanity… Is Science Neurotic? is primarily a philosophy of science text, but it is clear that Maxwell is also appealing to scientists. The clear and concise style of the text's four main chapters make them accessible to anyone even vaguely familiar with philosophical writing and physics… it is quite inspiring to read a sound critique of the fragmented state of academia and an appeal to academia to promote and contribute to social change.
Sarah Smellie, Canadian Undergraduate Physics Journal

"Maxwell's aspirations are extraordinarily and admirably ambitious. He intends to contribute towards articulating and bringing about a form of social progress that embodies rationality and wisdom... by raising the question of how to integrate science into wisdom-inquiry and constructing novel and challenging arguments in answer to it, Maxwell is drawing attention to issues that need urgent attention in the philosophy of science."
Professor Hugh Lacey, Mind, Vol. 115, 2006, pp. 1154-1158.

“Maxwell has written a very important book . . . Maxwell eloquently discusses the astonishing advances and the terrifying realities of science without global wisdom. While science has brought forth significant advancements for society, it has also unleashed the potential for annihilation. Wisdom is now, as he puts it, not a luxury but a necessity . . . Maxwell’s book is first-rate. It demonstrates his erudition and devotion to his ideal of developing wisdom in students. Maxwell expertly discusses basic problems in our intellectual goals and methods of inquiry.”
Professor Joseph Davidow, Learning for Democracy, vol. 2, October 2006, pp. 78-80.

"Nicholas Maxwell's book passionately embraces Francis Bacon's dictum that '[t]he true and legitimate goal of the sciences is to endow human life with new discoveries and resources'. The book's scope is commendable. It offers a thorough critique of the contemporary philosophy and practice of both natural (Chapters 1 & 2) and social science (Chapter 3), and suggests a remedy for what the author believes is the neurotic repression of the aforementioned Baconian aims."
Slobadan Perovic, British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, vol. 58, 2007, pp. 361-3.

What critics said about the first edition of From Knowledge to Wisdom

“Maxwell is advocating nothing less than a revolution (based on reason, not on religious or Marxist doctrine) in our intellectual goals and methods of inquiry ... There are altogether too many symptoms of malaise in our science-based society for Nicholas Maxwell's diagnosis to be ignored."
Professor Christopher Longuet-Higgins, Nature.

“a strong effort is needed if one is to stand back and clearly state the objections to the whole enormous tangle of misconceptions which surround the notion of science to-day. Maxwell has made that effort in this powerful, profound and important book.”
Dr. Mary Midgley, University Quarterly.

“The essential idea is really so simple, so transparently right ... It is a profound book, refreshingly unpretentious, and deserves to be read, refined and implemented.”
Dr. Stewart Richards, Annals of Science.

“Maxwell's book is a major contribution to current work on the intellectual status and social functions of science ... [It] comes as an enormous breath of fresh air, for here is a philosopher of science with enough backbone to offer root and branch criticism of scientific practices and to call for their reform.”
Dr. David Collingridge, Social Studies of Science.

"Maxwell has, I believe, written a very important book which will resonate in the years to come. For those who are not inextricably and cynically locked into the power and career structure of academia with its government-industrial-military connections, this is a book to read, think about, and act on."
Dr. Brian Easlea, Journal of Applied Philosophy.

“This book is a provocative and sustained argument for a 'revolution', a call for a 'sweeping, holistic change in the overall aims and methods of institutionalized inquiry and education, from knowledge to wisdom' ... Maxwell offers solid and convincing arguments for the exciting and important thesis that rational research and debate among professionals concerning values and their realization is both possible and ought to be undertaken.”
Professor Jeff Foss, Canadian Philosophical Review

“Wisdom, as Maxwell's own experience shows, has been outlawed from the western academic and intellectual system ... In such a climate, Maxwell's effort to get a hearing on behalf of wisdom is indeed praiseworthy.”
Dr. Ziauddin Sardar, Inquiry

"I found Maxwell's exposition and critique of the current state of establishment science to be clear and convincing."
Professor Noretta Koertge, Isis

“Maxwell's argument ... is a powerful one. His critique of the underlying empiricism of the philosophy of knowledge is coherent and well argued, as is his defence of the philosophy of wisdom. Most interesting, perhaps, from a philosophical viewpoint, is his analysis of the social and human sciences and the humanities, which have always posed problems to more orthodox philosophers, wishing to reconcile them with the natural sciences. In Maxwell's schema they pose no such problems, featuring primarily ... as methodologies, aiding our pursuit of our diverse social and personal endeavours. This is an exciting and important work, which should be read by all students of the philosophy of science. It also provides a framework for historical analysis and should be of interest to all but the most blinkered of historians of science and philosophy.”
Dr. John Hendry, British Journal for the History of Science

“In this book, Nicholas Maxwell argues powerfully for an intellectual “revolution” transforming all branches of science and technology. Unlike such revolutions as those described by Thomas Kuhn, which affect knowledge about some aspect of the physical world, Maxwell’s revolution involves radical changes in the aims, methods, and products of scientific inquiry, changes that will give priority to the personal and social problems that people face in their efforts to achieve what is valuable and desirable.”
George Kneller, Canadian Journal of Education

“[T]here is...much of interest and, yes, much of value in this book...Maxwell is one of those rare professional philosophers who sees a problem in the divorce between thought and life which has characterized much of modern philosophy (and on both sides of the English channel, not merely in the so-called ‘analytic’ tradition’); he wishes to see thought applied to life and used to improve it. As a result, many of the issues he raises are of the first importance. . . He has . . produced a work which should give all philosophers and philosophically-minded scientists cause for reflection on their various endeavors; in particular, it should give philosophers who are content to be specialists a few sleepless nights.”
Professor Steven Yates, Metaphilosophy.

"Nicholas Maxwell (1984) defines freedom as 'the capacity to achieve what is of value in a range of circumstances'. I think this is about as good a short definition of freedom as could be. In particular, it appropriately leaves wide open the question of just what is of value. Our unique ability to reconsider our deepest convictions about what makes life worth living obliges us to take seriously the discovery that there is no palpable constraint on what we can consider."
Professor Daniel Dennett, Freedom Evolving

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What one critic has said about L. McHenry, ed., Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell, which contains two chapters by me, How Can Life of Value Best Flourish in the Real World? and Replies and Reflections, and twelve chapters discussing my work by various authors.

"Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom . . . is a collection of articles regarding different aspects of Nicholas Maxwell's philosophy. The name of Nicholas Maxwell for those who know him is tied to an original and revolutionary vision, and for those who do not know him it could be regarded as a token of a treasure to be discovered. Nicholas Maxwell is the man of his era; he observes the problems of his time and suggests a pervasive thought to solve them. For anyone who is somehow related to global problems, Maxwell's ideas are worth reading....As to Maxwell's thought, I think it is a kind of scientific moralism or moral scientism; Maxwell has tried to make science and academic inquiry more conscious regarding its work, aims, and outcomes. His thought seeks to direct science in a way to solve human problems, the problems which have been mostly the results of science itself. Being a systematic response to all contemporary and global problems, the thought of Nicholas Maxwell is an original one that meets all requirements of contemporariness and globality, two features which make any thought worthy of consideration for a wide range of audience."
R. Ramezanivarzaneh, Metapsychology