Emeritus Professor, Communication Science, University of Amsterdam, The Netherlands
There are many challenges to the creation of knowledge, both for science and society. The challenges to science include that, historically, universities have assisted the development of knowledge societies in which knowledge was created for human emancipation and welfare. In the 1980s, a shift became visible towards what in the 1990s was called the knowledge economy in which knowledge creation is market-driven and serves primarily the goals of economic productivity. In the knowledge economy, knowledge is no longer a public good and part of the common heritage of humankind but a largely privately owned commodity firmly protected by an effective intellectual property rights’ regime. It is an urgent task for the academic world to reclaim the knowledge society. There is an equally urgent need to develop forms of co-learning and interactive learning in order to explore how individual knowledge can become collective wisdom.
Science is critique. One can think uncritically about many things, but one cannot think scientifically in an uncritical way. It is difficult to imagine how anyone could engage in scientific research without being critical! Uncritical thinking may be characteristic of other discourses in society, science can only be critical because its brief is to make distinctions and to engage in analysis and assessment. This mental exercise requires a reflexive mind. In science there is no place for an absolutist mind. The reflexive mindset tells scientists that all claims to validity –be they political, moral, or religious – are open to examination and critique. The reflexive mind is willing to test all ideas in public, listen to those who criticize them and be open to the need to revise earlier convictions. The core of the reflexive mindset is the urge to ask questions.
The challenge to society includes that society will have to learn that: science is ‘speechless’ in the sense that no scientist can tell us how to behave morally; science has no answers to the fundamental existential questions about the meaning of life or about the choice between evolutionism versus creationism; science does not resolve our deepest uncertainties and doubts; scientists almost always disagree (from climate change to crime prevention, and from the use of dieting to how we should educate our children); and the developmnt of science brings both progress and risks.
Finally, let us not forget that the first systematic thinker about epistemology was a philosopher that we know best from his thinking about pleasure: Epicurus. From him we can learn that knowledge creation should be an activity to enjoy: one of the pleasures of human life.