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The Comprehensibility of the Universe: A New Conception of Science Hardcover – February 4, 1999

ISBN-13: 978-0198237761 ISBN-10: 0198237766

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Editorial Reviews


`Maxwell's highly informed discussions of the changing ontologies of various modern physical theories are enjoyable, and the physical and mathematical appendix of the book should be a great help to the beginners.' The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1

`This admirably ambitious book contains more thought-provoking material than can even be mentioned here. Maxwell's treatment of the descriptive problem of simplicity, and his novel proposals about quantum mechanics deserve special note.' The Philosophical Review, vol.110, no.1

`Maxwell ... has much of interest to say about the development of physical thought since Newton. His comprehensive coverage and sophisticated treatment of basic problems within the philosophy of science make the book well worth studying for philosophers of science as well as for scientists interested in philosophical and methodological matters pertaining to science.' International Philosophical Quarterly

`At the close of the twentieth century, The Comprehensibility of the Universe attempts to resurrect an ideal of modern philosophy: to make rational sense of science by offering a philosophical program for improving our knowledge and understanding of the universe. It is a consistent plea for articulating the metaphysical presuppositions of modern science and offers a cure for the theoretical schizophrenia resulting from acceptance of incoherent principles at the base of scientific theory.' Leemon B. McHenry

`Nicholas Maxwell ... offers a revamped empiricism, asserting that metaphysical theses feature centrally in the improvement of scientific methodologies and in the content of knowledge ... Maxwell performs a heroic feat in making the physics accessible to the non-physicist, including appendices that provide an introduction to the required mathematical and physical concepts ... Philosophically, there is much here to stimulate and provoke. In particular, there are rewarding comparisons to be made between the functional roles assigned to Maxwell's metaphysical 'blueprints' and Thomas Kuhn's paradigms, as well as between Maxwell's description of theoretical development and Imre Lakatos's methodology of scientific research programmes.' Anjan Chakravartty, THES, 24/9/99

About the Author

Nicholas Maxwell is Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science at the University of London.

More About the Author

Much of my working life has been devoted to trying to get across the point that we urgently need to bring about a revolution in the aims and methods of academic inquiry, so that the basic aim becomes to promote wisdom rather than just acquire knowledge. To begin with, I wanted to understand the nature of the universe. When still a boy I struggled with the baffling mysteries of theoretical physics - and failed the 11-plus exam twice! (This is an exam one had to pass in the UK when I was young in order to continue with one's education, unless one's parents could pay school fees. Fortunately, mine could.) Then, with adolescence, I began to feel it was much more important to understand the hearts and souls of people, the way to do that being via the novel. I plunged into the worlds of Dostoevsky, Kafka, Stendhal, Chekhov, D. H. Lawrence, Virginia Woolf and Flaubert. My real education began. I would become a novelist and dare to reveal dark secrets of the human heart no one before had uttered. But I never learnt how to fabricate in order to tell the truth. So, after failures, mystical experiences, and other travails, I became a philosopher. In all my work I have struggled with two basic problems: (1) How can human life exist - conscious, free, meaningful and of value - if the world really is more or less as modern physical science tells us it is? (2) What ought to be the overall aims and methods of science, and of academic inquiry more generally, granted that the basic task is to help humanity achieve what is of value in life? One might sum it up in one problem: How can life of value exist and best flourish in the real world?
I have published six books on this theme: What's Wrong With Science? (Bran's Head Books, 1976; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2009), From Knowledge to Wisdom (Blackwell, 1984; 2nd edition, Pentire Press, 2007), The Comprehensibility of the Universe (Oxford University Press, 1998; paperback 2003), The Human World in the Physical Universe: Consciousness, Free Will and Evolution (Rowman and Littlefield, 2001); Is Science Neurotic? (Imperial College Press, December 2004); and Cutting God in Half - And Putting the Pieces Together Again: A New Approach to Philosophy (Pentire Press, 2010). I have also contributed to a number of other books, and have published numerous papers in science and philosophy journals on problems that range from consciousness to quantum theory. For nearly thirty years I taught philosophy of science at University College London, where I am now Emeritus Reader in Philosophy of Science. In 2009 a book was published devoted to my work, edited by Leemon McHenry, called Science and the Pursuit of Wisdom: Studies in the Philosophy of Nicholas Maxwell (Ontos Verlag, Frankfurt). A few years ago I founded an organization called Friends of Wisdom, which promotes the idea that we need to bring about a revolution in our universities, so they come to help humanity learn how to create as good, as wise, a world as possible. Some universities are beginning to put my ideas into practice - for example, my own university, University College London. My website URL, where more information about my life and work may be found, is:

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