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Can Humanity Learn to Become Civilized

Can Humanity Learn to Become Civilized

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Published by Igor Mujdrica
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. But the second problem has not yet been solved. Solving the first problem without also solving the second puts us in a situation of great danger. All our current global problems have arisen as a result.
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. But the second problem has not yet been solved. Solving the first problem without also solving the second puts us in a situation of great danger. All our current global problems have arisen as a result.

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Published by: Igor Mujdrica on Dec 10, 2009
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1Can Humanity Learn to become Civilized?
The Crisis of Science without Civilization
(Published in Journal of Applied Philosophy 17, 2000, 29-44.) Nicholas MaxwellEmeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science at University CollegeLondonEmail:nicholas.maxwell@ucl.ac.ukWebsite:http://www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.ukAbstractTwo great problems of learning confront humanity: learningabout the nature of the universe and our place in it, andlearning how to become civilized. The first problem wassolved, in essence, in the 17th century, with the creation ofmodern science. But the second problem has not yet beensolved. Solving the first problem without also solving thesecond puts us in a situation of great danger. All our currentglobal problems have arisen as a result. What we need to do,in response to this unprecedented crisis, is learn from oursolution to the first problem how to solve the second. Thiswas the basic idea of the 18th century Enlightenment.Unfortunately, in carrying out this programme, theEnlightenment made three blunders, and it is this defectiveversion of the Enlightenment programme that we haveinstitutionalized in 20th century academic inquiry. In orderto solve the second great problem of learning we need tocorrect the three blunders of the traditional Enlightenment.This involves changing the nature of social inquiry, so thatsocial science becomes social methodology or social philosophy,
 
2concerned to help us build into social life the progress-achieving methods of aim-oriented rationality, arrived at bygeneralizing the progress-achieving methods of science. Italso involves, more generally, bringing about a revolution inthe nature of academic inquiry as a whole, so that it takes upits proper task of helping humanity learn how to become wiserby increasingly cooperatively rational means. The scientifictask of improving knowledge and understanding of nature becomesa part of the broader task of improving global wisdom.--------------Humanity faces two great problems of learning: learningabout the nature of the universe and our place in it, andlearning how to become civilized.The first problem was cracked, in essence, in the 17thcentury, with the birth of modern science. A method wasdiscovered for progressively improving knowledge andunderstanding of the natural world, the famous empirical methodof science. There is of course much that we still do not knowand understand, three or four centuries after the birth ofmodern science; nevertheless, during this time, science hasimmensely increased our knowledge and understanding, at an everaccelerating rate. And with this unprecedented increase inscientific knowledge and understanding has come a cascade oftechnological discoveries and developments which havetransformed the human condition [1]. It is this that has madethe modern world possible, so different in a multitude of ways
 
3from the world experienced by people in Europe or north Americaonly one or two centuries ago.But it is much less certain that the second great problemof learning has been cracked. Many, indeed, doubt that it canbe solved at all. The 20th century record is not exactlyencouraging when one takes into account the millionsslaughtered in countless wars, the millions killed in deathcamps, the all too many totalitarian regimes, the billionsliving today in conditions of abject poverty in the thirdworld, the annihilation of languages, cultures and traditionalways of life during the century, the destruction of naturalhabitats and the rapid extinction of species.One might conclude that we are growing, not morecivilized, but more barbaric. This is, however, to draw thewrong conclusion from history. All our distinctively 20thcentury disasters have one underlying cause: we have solved thefirst great problem of learning without also having solved thesecond problem [2].With rapidly increasing scientific knowledge comes rapidlyincreasing technological know-how, which brings with it animmense increase in the power to act. In the absence of asolution to the second great problem of learning, the increasein the power to act may have good consequences, but will asoften as not have all sorts of harmful consequences, whetherintended or not.Just this is an all too apparent feature of our world.Science and technology have been used in endless ways for human

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