Karl Popper is regarded one of the greatest philosophers of his century. He had a major influence on the establishment of the philosophy of science and politics. Yet little research has been done on the interconnection of his theories’ elements. His philosophies are generally regarded unconnected. Therefore, we look for a link between his political and scientific theory. To what extent is his scientific and political philosophy interrelated? Popper’s philosophy of science and political theory are discussed before searching for a bridge between the various elements of his philosophy.
Popper holds that in the philosophy of science, demarcation is the central problem. Unlike the traditional view, he argues that there is no unique methodology specific to science. Instead, he uses falsifiability as criterion (critical rationalism): if a theory can be tested and falsified it is scientific; conversely, a theory which is compatible with all observations, is unscientific. Observation can never lead to confirmation of a claim because of the induction problem (Van Willigenburg 2008, p. 60). It is impossible to reach a sufficient level of confirmation of empirical claims. There are no absolute truths. All knowledge is hypothetical, provisional, and conjectural.
Popper, the herald of anti-totalitarianism, distanced himself from dogma and propaganda. He considered the general view on historicism to be the principal theoretical presupposition underpinning most forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism (Thornton 2009). Thus, he pleaded for the ‘Open Society’, in which critical discussion and argument are of vital importance. It is defined as ‘an association of free individuals respecting each other’s rights within the framework of mutual protection, and achieving a growing measure of humane and enlightened life’ (Levinson 1953, p. 17). Popper proposed three paradoxes; freedom (only possible within constraints, for limitless freedom abolishes itself), tolerance (limitless tolerance leads to intolerant people abolishing tolerance) and democracy (ends when the majority of the population votes an undemocratic party).
Popper made a clear distinction between piecemeal social engineering and utopian social engineering. He also believed that politics should abstain from drastic measures, and defended classical liberalism. Popper criticized historicism, defending the impossibility of a predictive science of history, since the growth of knowledge is a causal factor in the evolution of history and because no society is able to predict its future state of knowledge. Therefore, Popper considered metaphysical and historical indeterminism to be indissolubly connected. The principle of his critical rationalism is the acknowledgement that man is fallible.
This is evident both in Poppers philosophy of science about falsifiability and his political theory about the ‘Open Society’. The idea of a completely autonomous and sovereign man is surreal. One is shaped by many influences such as culture and education. Often our intentional deeds have unintentional consequences. Man is fallible, and because of this democracy is needed. Man’s capacity for justice makes democracy possible; however, man’s inclination to injustice makes democracy necessary (Niebuhr 1960). In science, knowledge grows by looking for evidence to falsify claims. In conjunction with this, the critical spirit should be sustained at the social level.
Critical spirit to science is of vital importance, for critical thinking is the essence of rationality (which falsifies theories). In Popper’s open society, individuals ought to scrutinize government policies’ consequences, which are subsequently either eliminated or adjusted, which leads to a growing measure in humane and enlightened life. One’s right to critically evaluate policies are protected, undesirable policies are abandoned like falsified scientific claims are eliminated, and differences between individuals on social policy are resolved by discussion rather than by force (Thornton 2009).
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* Stokes, G 1997, ‘Karl Popper’s Political Philosophy of Social Science’, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Vol. 27 Issue 1, pp. 56-79, viewed 13 October 2011, <http://pos.sagepub.com/content/27/1/56.abstract/>
* Thornton, S 2009, ‘Karl Popper’, The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, viewed 13 October 2011, <http://plato.stanford.edu/archives/sum2009/entries/popper/>
* Van Willigenburg, T 2008, Introduction to the Philosophy of the Management Sciences, Kant Academy, Utrecht
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