Karl Popper

Karl Popper is the major philosopher of the scientific method. For my research I read his two volume book, The Open Society and Its Enemies. I had this book sitting in my personal library for years unread. Then in the last few months I tackled it, reading Volume 1, Plato, then putting it aside before tackling Volume 2, Hegel and Marx. I had to stop about two thirds of the way through Volume 2 as my brain needed a rest, so I read some light fiction and then finished it up.

Popper’s argument against these philosophers is primarily an attack on what he calls historicism. He wrote a complete book on the subject called The Poverty of Historicism (which I have not yet read). Basically, he argues that historicism promotes the idea that there are “inexorable laws of historical destiny”. Political philosophies based on such notions promote a wholesale remaking of society and lead to totalitarian anti-liberal government.

Plato, he argues, idealized the past, a golden age in Greek history, and believed that everything had been going to hell in a handbasket ever since. He wanted to arrest change and even turn back the clock to recreate his ideal society, one ruled by a philosopher king.

Popper is remarkably sympathetic to Marx while clearly detesting Hegel. Marx, he argues, was, at heart a man who loved freedom. He saw in the system extant at the time, the early factory system of the Industrial Revolution, a tyranny of the rich. He (Marx) advocated a dictatorship of the proletariat as a stepping stone on the way to a withering away of the state. He advocated this because he saw the system of the day as a dictatorship of the bourgeoisie.

Ultimately though, Popper saw Marx’s philosophy as a closed system based on the opposite of Plato’s vision. While Plato wanted to arrest progress and regress back to ancient times, Marx wanted to speed up the historical process to the socialist system he saw as inevitable. Marx advocated what Popper calls wholesale social engineering.

Popper is not really clear on what he means by an open society, but the basic tenets are a democratic government and an approach to change based on empiricism and pragmatism, what he calls piecemeal social engineering.

It is a tough read and one I will comment on in more detail when I re-read it.


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