Karl Popper

Austrian-British philosopher of science and social and political philosopher noted for falsificationism and for criticism of Plato, Hegel and Marx as totalitarian opponents of open society (1902-1994)

Sir Karl Popper CH FRS FBA (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994) was an Austrian and British[1] philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics.

Karl Raimond Popper
Sir Karl Popper c. 1980s
Born28 July 1902
Vienna, Austria
Died17 September 1994(1994-09-17) (aged 92)
London, England
Era20th century philosophy
RegionWestern Philosophy
Main interests
Philosophy of science
Social and political philosophy
Notable ideas
Falsifiability Hypothetico-deductive method
Open society

He is considered one of the most influential philosophers of science of the 20th century. He also wrote on social and political philosophy, especially the evils of totalitarian ideas and politics. Popper is known for the idea of empirical falsification.

Life change

Karl Popper was born in Vienna (then in Austria-Hungary) in 1902 to middle-class parents of Jewish origins, both of whom had converted to Christianity.[2] Popper received a Lutheran upbringing and was educated at the University of Vienna.[2] His father had 12,000–14,000 volumes in his personal library.[3]

In 1919, he became attracted to Marxism. He joined the Association of Socialist School Students and also became a member of the Social Democratic Party of Austria, which was at that time a party that fully adopted the Marxist ideology.[4] He soon stopped believing in Marxism, and was a supporter of social liberalism for the rest of his life.

Falsification change

Popper, brought up in Vienna, was well aware of the Vienna Circle. That school of logical positivism, led by Moritz Schlick,[5] defined knowledge (especially scientific knowledge) as being propositions which could be verified.[6] Popper thought this was quite wrong. In his opinion, science grew indirectly, by wrong ideas being falsified. This he worked up in great detail in a series of books, of which The logic of scientific discovery is the most famous. All philosophy of science since then has had to deal with this issue, the criterion. By 'criterion' is meant: what is it that makes a theory truly scientific, as opposed to simply common sense or opinion?

The open society change

Popper's work on political philosophy is also of great importance. Marx claimed knowledge of an historical process, where societies evolved from one state to another, until they reached a final state. This type of thought is known as 'historicism'. Popper argued that the growth of human knowledge partly causes the evolution of human history. Since "no society can predict its own future states of knowledge", it follows that no science can predict human history.

Popper's great works in defence of the liberal society were The open society and its enemies and The poverty of historicism. His allies in this struggle were Friedrich Hayek, Ludwig von Mises and Milton Friedman.

The paradox of tolerance change

Although Popper was an advocate of toleration, he thought intolerance should not be tolerated. If tolerance allowed intolerance to succeed completely, tolerance itself would be threatened. In The open society and its enemies: The spell of Plato, he argued that:

"Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them".

The Three worlds doctrine change

The Three Worlds Doctrine was invented by Popper and is used in philosophy to understand the condition in which we find ourselves as human beings.

It assumes the existence of three worlds. They are

  • The outside world, which we know and understand with our senses.
  • The world of thought content that is passed between humans in culture and speech yet exists outside of any individual person.

This way of looking at reality is used by many philosophers to explain the relationship between the physical and spiritual worlds.

It was first described by the Austrian-British philosopher Karl Popper in a lecture given in August 1967.

Key works change

  • The logic of scientific discovery, 1934 (as Logik der Forschung, English translation 1959), ISBN 0-415-27844-9
  • The poverty of historicism, 1936 (private reading at a meeting in Brussels, 1944/45 as a series of journal articles in Econometrica, 1957 as a book), ISBN 0-415-06569-0
  • The open society and its enemies, 1945 Vol 1 The spell of Plato. ISBN 0-415-29063-5, Vol 2 The high tide of prophecy: Hegel, Marx, and the aftermath. ISBN 0-415-29063-5
  • Conjectures and refutations: the growth of scientific knowledge, 1963, ISBN 0-415-04318-2
  • Objective knowledge: an evolutionary approach, 1972, Rev. ed., 1979, ISBN 0-19-875024-2
  • Unended quest; an intellectual autobiography, 1976, ISBN 0-415-28590-9
  • After the Open Society, 2008. Edited by Jeremy Shearmur and Piers Norris Turner, this volume contains a large number of Popper's previously unpublished or uncollected writings on political and social themes. ISBN 978-0-415-30908-0

Related pages change

References change

  1. Watkins, J. Obituary of Karl Popper, 1902-1994. Proceedings of the British Academy, 94, pp. 645–684
  2. 2.0 2.1 Magee, Bryan 2001. The story of philosophy. New York: DK Publishing. p221
  3. Raphael F. The great philosophers London: Phoenix. p447
  4. http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/ - Stephen Thornton, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy
  5. Schlick, Moritz 1974. General theory of knowledge. Springer, Vienna and New York. (transl of the 2nd German edition of 1925).
  6. Ayer A.J. 1936 [2nd ed 1946] Language, truth and logic.

Other websites change