Karl Popper

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In The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism, Popper developed a critique of historicism and a defence of the 'Open Society'. Popper considered historicism to be the theory that history develops inexorably and necessarily according to knowable general laws towards a determinate end. He argued that this view is the principal theoretical presupposition underpinning most forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He argued that historicism is founded upon mistaken assumptions regarding the nature of scientific law and prediction. Since the growth of human knowledge is a causal factor in the evolution of human history, and since "no society can predict, scientifically, its own future states of knowledge", it follows, he argued, that there can be no predictive science of human history. For Popper, metaphysical and historical indeterminism go hand in hand. In After The Open Society, which was published posthumously, a large collection of his previously unpublished and uncollected essays on social and political topics was assembled. In this, one can trace his ideas from material that pre-dated The Open Society and Its Enemies to something that was completed just as he died.

In a 1992 lecture, Popper explained the connection between his political philosophy and his philosophy of science. As he stated, he was in his early years impressed by communism and also active in the Austrian Communist party. What had a profound effect on him was an event that happened in 1918: during a riot, caused by the Communists, the police shot several people, including some of Popper's friends. When Popper later told the leaders of the Communist party about this, they responded by stating that this loss of life was necessary in working towards the inevitable workers' revolution. This statement did not convince Popper and he started to think about what kind of reasoning would justify such a statement. He later concluded that there could not be any justification for it, and this was the start of his later criticism of historicism.

In 1947, Popper founded with Friedrich Hayek, Milton Friedman, Ludwig von Mises and others the Mont Pelerin Society to defend classical liberalism, in the spirit of the Open Society.

The paradox of tolerance

Although Popper was an advocate of toleration, he realized that even a tolerant person cannot always accept another's intolerance.

For, 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 utterence of intolerant philosophies should not always be suppressed, "as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion." However,

we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive , and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols.

Furthermore, in support of human rights legislation in the second half of the 20th century, he stated:

We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.[10]

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