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Can universities save us from disaster?

Nicholas Maxwell (Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London, London, UK)

On the Horizon

ISSN: 1074-8121

Article publication date: 8 May 2017




The purpose of this paper is to spell out the urgent need to correct structural rationality defects in academia as it exists at present, so that it may become actively and effectively engaged in helping us solve the grave global problems that confront us.


The paper spells out an argument for the urgent need to bring about a revolution in academic inquiry so that the basic aim becomes social wisdom and not just specialized knowledge, problems of living being put at the heart of the academic enterprise.


Natural science needs to become more like natural philosophy; social science needs to become social methodology or social philosophy; and a basic task of academia needs to become public education about what our problems are and what we need to do about them. Almost every part and aspect of academia needs to change.

Research limitations/implications

The implication is the urgent need to bring about an intellectual/institutional revolution in academic inquiry, so that the aim becomes wisdom, and not just knowledge.

Practical implications

There are substantial practical implications for natural science, social inquiry and the humanities, education, social, economic and political life.

Social implications

There is a need for a new kind of academic inquiry rationally designed and devoted to helping us make social progress towards as good a world as possible. The social implications are profound.


In the author’s view, bringing about the academic revolution, from knowledge-inquiry to wisdom-inquiry, is the single most important thing needed for the long-term interests of humanity.



Maxwell, N. (2017), "Can universities save us from disaster?", On the Horizon, Vol. 25 No. 2, pp. 115-130.



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Copyright © 2017, Emerald Publishing Limited

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