Those who ask, “Why is it so?”, are tempted to think they have in their grasp the key to all answers.

The question appears on the cover of a university publication, accompanying a picture of a scientist. The man is obviously pondering some profound mystery. He stares into the distance, his bench with its complicated apparatus before him unseen. Some anomaly in the phenomena on which he has been working has struck him: he asks his question. And the university sees the man and his problem as a good symbol of what being a university is all about.

And it is a good symbol. A university in its restless quest for knowledge must constantly ask. “Why is it so?” When it thinks it has all the answers and ceases to ask such questions it ceases to be a university. It may be a place where learned men gather. It may have impressive buildings and equipment. Its library may be extensive. But if it has lost the spirit of earnest inquiry it has ceased to be a university, whatever it may call itself.

The question is a good one to ask in many areas of life, some far from a university. An uncritical acceptance of things as they are breeds slothfulness and stands in the way of progress. The forward looking must always be asking why things are as they are and whether they might be improved. There can be no advance as long as we remain in a stolid, unquestioning acceptance of the status quo. The question must be asked.

But there are dangers in asking it. The obvious one is that it can lead those who ask it to think they have in their grasp the key to all answers—in principle, at any rate. This is the constant temptation of the academic. He is aware he has answered many questions that ordinary people cannot answer. He is ...

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