Karl Popper

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Karl Raimond Popper

Sir Karl Popper c. 1980s
Full name Karl Raimond Popper
Born July 28, 1902
Vienna, Austria
Died September 17, 1994(1994-09-17) (aged 92)
London, England
Era 20th century philosophy
Region Western Philosophy
Main interests Epistemology
Philosophy of science
Social and political philosophy
Notable ideas Falsifiability Hypothetico-deductive method
Open society

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.

He is considered one of the most influential philosophers of science of the 20th century, and 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 | edit source]

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 became disillusioned, stopped believing in Marxism, and was a supporter of social liberalism for the rest of his life.

Falsification[change | edit source]

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 | edit source]

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 | edit source]

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".

Key works[change | edit source]

  • 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

Other pages[change | edit source]

References[change | edit source]

  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 | edit source]