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FRIENDSOFWISDOM  May 2006

FRIENDSOFWISDOM May 2006

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Subject:

Re: Science and Wisdom-Inquiry

From:

ian glendinning <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:

Group concerned that academia should seek and promote wisdom <[log in to unmask]>

Date:

Tue, 23 May 2006 08:32:42 -0500

Content-Type:

text/plain

Parts/Attachments:

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text/plain (191 lines)

Nick, et al,

Not withstanding practical discussions about the best way to proceed,
I think this exchange pretty well sums up the core problem.

The standard empiricism of "scientific method" excludes "values" and
"aims towards progress" simply because it doesn't, it's philosophy is
to choose not to, not because it can't. This is indeed a kind of
neuroticism of science. Adoption of a philosophy of science that fixes
that, fixes the problem.

The problem as always is how to evaluate those progressive values, how
to make value judgements, that are not too easily distorted to
arbitrary ends. But applying "zero-tolerance" to values is at the
"autistic" end of the scale of wisdom. A mental disorder.

Ian

On 5/23/06, Nicholas Maxwell <[log in to unmask]> wrote:
>
> Dear Bob,
>
>                 A part of what's wrong with science, in my view, is that the
> scientific community takes for granted an untenable view about what the aims
> and methods of science ought to be, which I have called "standard
> empiricism".  According to standard empiricism, the basic intellectual aim
> of science is to improve knowledge of truth, the basic method being to
> assess claims to knowledge impartially with respect to evidence.  But this
> seriously misrepresents the aims of science.  Science both does, and ought
> to, seek explanatory truth (truth presupposed to be explanatory).  More
> generally, science seeks truth deemed to be important or of value, in one
> way or another.  There are, I have argued, problematic assumptions
> concerning metaphysics, values and politics inherent in the real aims of
> science which standard empiricism fails to acknowledge.  The result of this
> orthodox misrepresentation of the actual aims of science is that science
> fails to subject the problematic assumptions associated with these aims to
> sustained critical scrutiny, in an attempt to improve them.  And that in
> turn means that science fails to pursue aims in our best interests.  (One
> has to remember that something like a third of all public funds devoted to
> research and development is devoted to military research.  Is this really in
> our best interests?)  We need a new conception of science - which I have
> called "aim-oriented empiricism" - which acknowledges the real, problematic
> aims of science, and requires science to represent its aims in the form of a
> hierarchy, the aims becoming less and less specific as one goes up the
> hierarchy, and so less and less problematic, in this way a framework of more
> or less unproblematic aims and methods being created (high up in the
> hierarchy) within which much more specific and problematic aims and methods
> (low down in the hierarchy) and be critically assessed and improved.  For
> the detailed argument see my "Is Science Neurotic?" (2004); see also my "Can
> Humanity Learn to become Civilized?"
> (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00001709/) and
> "The Need for a Revolution in the Philosophy of Science",
> (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00002449/).
>
>                 This aim-oriented empiricist conception of the
> progress-achieving methods of science can be generalized to form an
> aim-oriented conception of rationality: whenever we are engaged in some
> worthwhile endeavour with problematic aims, we need to represent these aims
> in the form of such a hierarchy, so that we can improve specific,
> problematic aims and methods as we proceed.  This aim-oriented conception of
> rationality is especially relevant when it comes to the endeavour to make
> progress towards a good, civilized, wise world - an aim that is inherently
> profoundly problematic.
>
>                  But the above is only the first step of my argument.  It is
> not just science that needs to change, but even more important, the whole
> academic enterprise.  We need, I have argued, a new kind of academic inquiry
> that takes as its basic aim to help humanity to realize what is of value in
> life.  Academic inquiry needs itself to put aim-oriented rationality into
> practice, and needs to help humanity put it into practice in the rest of
> personal, institutional and social life.  The argument is spelled out in
> some detail in my "From Knowledge to Wisdom" (Blackwell, 1984), and in my
> more recent "Is Science Neurotic?".  For a summary see the article referred
> to above, "Can Humanity Learn to Become Civilized?"
> (http://philsci-archive.pitt.edu/archive/00001709/ , first
> published in Journal of Applied Philosophy 17, 2000, 29-44).
>
>                                     Best wishes,
>
>                                                Nick
> www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Isabel Adonis
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: Sunday, May 21, 2006 10:37 AM
> Subject: Re: Wisdom and its definition
>
> Dear Nicholas,
> Are you saying that what's wrong with science is that it cannot deal with
> values? That is not a fault, merely a limitation, and one which is necessary
> to the (limited) success that it has. Take the field of medicine; there are
> overarching values which define and limit what is permissible in the pursuit
> of medical knowledge. Then there are the standards and values of good
> science which aim to produce reliable knowledge. And then there are the
> values of the doctor in the application of that knowledge to benefit
> patients. So a scientist evaluating a treatment needs to take steps to allow
> for and discount the placebo effect in order to arrive at  reliable
> knowledge, but the practicioner may find that this is is the most effective
> part of the treatment. The fact/ value split is the very foundation of
> science, but science is merely a tool - the tool of tools perhaps - it can
> never be a guide to life. It has its own internal values and has value to
> humanity, but it does not deal with values; yet it takes a place in the
> heirarchy of values as any medical ethics committee will attest.
> But this is an idealised account. Doctors, scientists, and perhaps even
> friends of wisdom are not motivated solely by love of humanity, but also,
> and oten more, by desire for money, status, power, respect and particularly
> self-respect. I would like to say that I am not like this, but rationally I
> know that I am, though for much of the time I prefer to regard myself
> through rose tinted spectacles. Is this what you mean by undesirable
> desires? But I am not sure that the desire for self-respect is any 'higher'
> than any other desire - it just feels higher - and that is why I like it -
> in an older terminology it is one of the seven deadly sins - pride. In the
> end we, ourselves are the only problem confronting humanity; we are crippled
> by our desires and our fears and we have very little love. If we could learn
> to cooperate with each other, the practical problems of the world could be
> easily dealt with in a very short time, but we are all too greedy and
> fearful. Science cannot answer these problems, nor can psychology nor can
> even the non-scientific side of academia(I've heard that there are whole
> departments that deal in values, literature and art for example). I am
> fairly sure that the answer -call it wisdom or love or goodness or
> enlightenment - cannot be taught by any method, even by osmosis or example.
> Might it come by grace, when we learn to be honest to ourselves? I don't
> know, but I think that honesty is the first step.
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: Nicholas Maxwell
> To: [log in to unmask]
> Sent: Sunday, May 21, 2006 12:34 AM
> Subject: Re: Wisdom and its definition
>
>
> Dear Tom,
>
>                 It was not at all the point of my email responding to the
> question "Can wisdom be learned and taught?" that defining wisdom is an
> important thing to do.  On the contrary, with slight reservations, I agree
> with Karl Popper: setting out to define terms really is the wrong thing to
> do (see his "Open Society and Its Enemies", ch. 11, section 2).  What I was
> really trying to point out was that, when judged from the standpoint of
> helping to promote human welfare or enhance the quality of human life,
> knowledge-inquiry - academic inquiry as, by and large, we have it at present
> - is harmfully irrational.  We need a revolution in the aims and methods of
> academic inquiry.  This point - really important if it is correct - can be
> made, and perhaps should be made, without appealing to the notion of
> "wisdom" at all.  (In fact, when I first spelled the argument out, in my
> first book "What's Wrong With Science?" (1976), I did not use the word
> "wisdom " once.  Instead I spoke of "delight and compassion".  "Wisdom", for
> me, was very much an afterthought, merely shorthand for what I think really
> does matter, our capacity to create a world in which there is less
> unnecessary suffering and death than at present, a world in which more
> people are able to realize what is genuinely of value in their lives.)
>
>                 What are the main problems of living confronting humanity,
> and what do we need to do to resolve them?  What kind of world should we be
> trying to create?  What changes need to be made to academic inquiry if it is
> serve the best interests of humanity in the best way?  How can academic
> inquiry best help humanity learn how to create a better world?  How do we
> set about convincing our academic colleagues of the need for change?  These
> are the kind of issues we ought, in my view, to be discussing, not the
> somewhat scholastic question of how one should define wisdom.  "Wisdom" can,
> without doubt, be defined in a variety of ways, and one might pick on this
> definition or that, for this or that purpose.  Any attempt to pin down the
> definition seems to me to be misguided.
>
>                       Best wishes,
>
>                                    Nick
> www.nick-maxwell.demon.co.uk
> ----- Original Message -----
> From: "Tom Milner-Gulland"
> Sent: Saturday, May 20, 2006 11:03 PM
> Subject: Wisdom and its definition
>
> > If we want to sort out the idea of wisdom by by definitions then I suggest
> > we have to take account of the fact (as I see it) that wisdom has two
> > fairly distinct definitions, one being the simple grammatical principle
> > that it is the nounal form of 'wise' (and therefore is subordinate to the
> > notion of being wise, which surely incorporates such concerns as the
> > intuition of the agent) and the other being the more tangible notion of a
> > body of ideas the astute appropriation of which constitutes being wise.
> >
> > Perhaps it would be wise for list members to consider that we basically
> > know what Nick Maxwell is trying to say, i.e. (IIUC) that knowledge should
> > point us in some kind of general direction as regards what is or should -
> > by some kind of intuition-based rationality, even if it is imperfect - be
> > our common human goals, and it is time to take steps in that direction.
> >
> > Cheers,
> > Tom
> >
> >

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