Previous Fora / 2003

Opening speech of Ferenc Madl (President of the Republic of Hungary)

World Science Forum - Budapest

Opening address by Professor Ferenc Mádl, President of Hungary

Saturday, 8 November 2003


Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

On behalf of the Republic of Hungary, I welcome you all at the World Science Forum - Budapest. I do hope that your participation in this unique meeting will be enriching academically, culturally, and spiritually. I sincerely hope that academically we will learn a lot: we will learn about the novel challenges that knowledge and science face in the advent of the 21st century, and we will also learn about the new roles of knowledge in Society. I also hope that we will be enriched spiritually: we will be strengthened by a new insight into how knowledge can and will assist in an optimal manner Mankind in this century. Finally, I wish that you will find stimulating and will enjoy the cultural environment that our country and its capital, Budapest, can provide you with.

I stand in front of you as a man uniting in his person two worlds. Coming from the world of the Academia, in these days I also represent the world of politics. But it is my strong conviction that this dual background, this dual affiliation requires no fundamentally different personalities, since at the deepest levels the very same personal attitude and ethical principles should stand behind both of them.

If I may summarise these attitudes and principles as briefly as possible in order to characterise the common ground for these two worlds, I could describe it as follows: The strive for the truth and the common good with full responsibility.

The world of Knowledge, the world of the Academia, the world of Science strives for the truth: the true knowledge of Nature and the true knowledge of the human nature. It is its inherent obligation and main impetus. But this strife is not for its own sake: it is for the common good of humankind, it is for us, people. For this reason, this everlasting pursuit of knowledge, of truth requires our full responsibility. - The world of Politics should strive for the common good of people, of peoples, of Mankind. And this strife is also about the truth, which should be the core of all political activities. All responsible political activities.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

Immanuel Kant, the towering figure of the history of philosophy, in the Conclusions of his "Critique of the Practical Reason" writes the following:

"Two things fill the mind with ever new and increasing admiration and awe: the starry heavens above and the moral law within."

We have indeed good reasons to admire these two worlds accessible by our human mind: the world of Science, the world of Knowledge and the world of Morality, the world of Justice. But these two worlds are not alien to each other: they belong to the very same reality, they belong to the essence of human nature.

And I am deeply convinced that the present World Science Forum is also about this dual facet of the same reality; the intricate and inherently deep relationship between truth and moral value. And about its clear consequence: RESPONSIBILITY.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

One of the leading philosophers of science of the 20th century, Thomas Kuhn, in his book "The Structures of Scientific Revolutions" set forth the thesis that the development of science is not linear and smoothly continuous. It rather consists of paradigm changes. A new scientific paradigm abruptly and in a revolutionary manner displaces older theories and schools of thoughts. For instance, the Lamarckian view on the causes of biological diversity was quickly superseded by Darwin's evolutionary theory in the late 19th century or the Newtonian world view in physics was lavishingly superseded (and incorporated) by Einstein's relativity theory and the foundations of quantum mechanics in the beginning of the 20th century.

We may also witness paradigm changes in the relationship between Knowledge, Science and Society. Whereas until the 18th century the production of knowledge, scientific endeavour was mainly the "hobby" of some priviledged scientists, lead by their curiosity, in the 19th century scientific research started to serve the needs of the industry and public life as witnessed by, for instance, the use of the steam engine or electricity. In the 20th century science has grown up to "partnership" with grand politics: for instance, nuclear technologies have played a key role in deciding over the fate of countries...

Now-a-days we witness a new and unforeseenly profound paradigm change in the relationship between producing and consuming new knowledge. New knowledge has become an imminent reality in the individuals' everyday life. We have an almost immediate access to the most recent results of the achievements of the scientific world and can use in our daily life almost without a delay the new developments. It is witnessed by, for instance, the Internet, mobile telephony or the application of gene technologies in modern medicine.

This narrowing gap between the production of knowledge and the consumption of knowledge, between knowledge and Society, between knowledge and the individual person, inevitably leads us to the question: Where and what is our role in this process?

Can we influence and direct this process, or it is driven by the forces alien to us, humans? Can we plan the future relationship between Knowledge and Society, or it cannot be designed and foreseen?

I have to admit: I cannot answer these questions.

But I am deeply convinced that we have to have a common attitude towards all these questions. A common ground of all those who participate in the production and consumption of Knowledge. A common denominator of all those who participate in the generation and dissemination of new knowledge, new information through their research or academic activities, as well as all those who contribute to the development of our Society by over-bridging the gap between Knowledge and Society. And this can be put in one word: RESPONSIBILITY.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen!

The future is indeed in our hands and we ALL are responsible for the future of Mankind, for the future of the global Society of the 21st Century.

We ALL are responsible for it. We, as scientists, the representatives of the academic world have the same responsibility and we, the representatives of the world of politics, the world of decision making at national or international levels.

This responsibility is not dividable. This responsibility cannot be delegated to the others: Scientists cannot delegate this responsibility to the world of politicians, decision-makers, "global strategists"; and vice versa: politicians, decision makers cannot delegate it to the world of science, the Academia. And it cannot be appropriated, either: The world of science and the world of politics should equally share this responsibility. It is a common responsibility.

And this is why we are here now. With our full responsibility for the future, we have to survey the new challenges with which Knowledge and Society are faced in the advent of the 21st Century, and by exchanging our visions and thoughts, we have to try to find answers to these challenges.

Most probably, we shall not find final answers to some of the most burning questions with which Knowledge and Society are faced in these early days of the Third Millenium. And most probably we shall raise more questions during the coming days than the number of questions which can be answered here at this Forum.

But hopefully, we shall lay the foundations of a new and continuous dialogue between Knowledge and Society as a witness to our common responsibility for the future of Humankind.

Your Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen! In this spirit I wish you all a fruitful and enriching discussion here at the World Science Forum - Budapest. I hope that you will leave the Forum, and our country, Hungary, enriched both culturally and academically. I hope that with this event we shall contribute to a better partnership between Knowledge and Society in the 21st Century. And finally, allow me to express my sincere hope that the World Science Forum - Budapest will demonstrate clearly to the World: both the world of science, the world of knowledge and the leaders of Society: world of political, industrial, financial decision makers feel a common responsibility for our common, undividable future.