Our world suffers from bad philosophy. Universities around the world have, built into their intellectual/institutional structure, a seriously defective philosophy of inquiry we have inherited from the past. This holds that, in order to help promote human welfare, academia must devote itself to the pursuit of knowledge. First, knowledge is to be acquired; then, once acquired, it can be applied to help solve social problems. It is this ‘knowledge-inquiry’ philosophy that betrays both reason and humanity.
The extraordinarily successful pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how has been of immense benefit, and has made the modern world possible. It has also made possible all our current global problems. Modern science and technology have made possible modern industry, agriculture, medicine and hygiene, which in turn have made possible global warming, lethal modern warfare, explosive population growth, the destruction of natural habitats and rapid extinction of species, pollution of earth, sea and air, vast inequalities of wealth and power around the globe.
The problem is the gross and very damaging irrationality of knowledge-inquiry. What we need is a kind of academic inquiry that puts problems of living at the heart of the enterprise, and is rationally designed and devoted to helping humanity learn how to make progress towards as good and wise a world as possible. The basic intellectual aim should be to seek and promote wisdom, understood to be the capacity to realise what is of value in life, for oneself and others, thus including knowledge and technological know-how, but much else besides. ‘Wisdom-inquiry’ along these lines would differ dramatically from what we have at present, academia organised in accordance with the edicts of the false philosophy of knowledge-inquiry.
Wisdom-inquiry gives intellectual priority to the problems that primarily need to be solved if we are to create a better world, namely problems of living – personal, social, global. The central intellectual tasks of wisdom-inquiry are (1) to articulate, and improve the articulating of, our problems of living, and (2) to propose and critically assess possible solutions – possible actions, policies, political programmes, philosophies of life. The pursuit of knowledge and technological know-how emerges out of, and feeds back into, these fundamental intellectual activities. A transformed social science, devoted to helping humanity tackle problems of living in increasingly cooperatively rational ways, is intellectually more fundamental than natural science. Wisdom-inquiry seeks to help humanity learn what our global problems are, and what we need to do about them. A basic task of the university is to help people discover what is genuinely of value in life, and how it is to be realised.