on 30 April 2009
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, British philosopher 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. To appreciate the bare essence of Maxwell's conclusion, one need only consult a good dictionary and reflect on the state of the world today. But, the book helps bring the problem to life and presents a compelling rationale for the shift. Indeed, the essential argument of the book "rings true" (and loudly so) in light of what's going on in the world today on many dimensions.
Maxwell argues that the highest priority of inquiry--the "aim" of inquiry--should be to help humans realize (including achieve) "what is of value in life" in a broad sense of that phrase and in ways that are themselves subject to continuing assessment and improvement as wisdom and knowledge progress. For example, rather than claiming to seek "truth" primarily for the sake of knowledge itself, we should, Maxwell argues, place a higher priority on seeking understanding, and corresponding action, aimed at helping humans actually realize "what is of value in life."
The book is not simply or even primarily an emotional plea: Instead, the argument is based in reason, rationality, an analysis of shortcomings of current approaches, and wisdom. The book does not argue for wisdom-without-knowledge (as if there were such a thing for humans). It argues, instead, that a priority should be placed on wisdom and, within that broader context--and as one key element of it--on the acquisition of knowledge that serves the higher priority of wisdom and, in so doing, serves the aim mentioned above. Nor is the book's message relativistic in the sense of "everything is equally true" or "anything goes." In fact, the book reflects a deep appreciation for empirical discovery and practicality. That said, the book makes the very healthy argument, among others, that the aims and assumptions of inquiry, in general, should be made explicit and should be subject to ongoing assessment and improvement.
In a very helpful way, Maxwell uses the phrases "philosophy of wisdom," "philosophy of knowledge," "aim-oriented rationality," "standard empiricism," and "aim-oriented empiricism" to clarify concepts and express his argument. That said, given the immense importance of the topic, I could not possibly do it justice by trying to summarize Maxwell's compelling argument here.
"From Knowledge to Wisdom" is for the open-minded wisdom-seeker but perhaps not for the faint of heart. Maxwell sheds light on--and seeks to correct and improve--some key unexamined or under-examined assumptions that influence academia, scientific pursuit, and global well-being. Mary Poppins might have added a bit more sugar, but that's Mary Poppins.
In short, my recommendation: Read this book!