[lit-ideas] Re: The Worlds of Sir Karl Popper

  • From: Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
  • Date: Mon, 9 Feb 2015 10:56:02 +0000 (UTC)

From O.K.>The notion that the commitment to rationalism is a choice or decision 
which cannot itself be rationally justified - or that to justify it in rational 
terms would be sort of circular - is, I think, found in the Open Society and 
Its Enemies. Is this reckoned an early work ?>
Is it "early"? Maybe or maybe not: OSE was published, iirc, c.1945, ten years 
after LdF - i.e. some ten years after P's most noted "early" work. But OSE 
might yet be termed "early" given the length of Popper's publishing career: 
Popper's 'Obj Knowl' was published c.1970 and TSAIB was published c.1977, and 
the 3 volume 'Postscript' to LdF (though based on O.S. from the late 50s) was 
only finally published in 1982. And there have been several books since then, 
such as "The Myth of the Framework", though these are usually based on writings 
that are not recent to their publication.

Afair, I did not claim that OSE was an early work but merely that certain 
points - like the above - do not belong to Popper's "mature" philosophy. (But 
more on this below: for Popper's revision does not amount to an outright 
repudiation of what is written in OSE).

Publication dates are not always the most reliable guide to classifying the 
time-periods in which thinking developed: on the point raised above, afaik, 
Popper revised his OSE approach to rationalism in the light of William 
Bartley's criticism. This revision occurred in the 1960s.

The nub of Bartley's elaborate criticism is that it does not matter so much 
whether adopting a rational attitude is a product of a rational or non-rational 
process or 'commitment', or even an irrational 'commitment': what matters is 
that adopting a rational attitude (or the rational attitude so adopted) can be 
defended on rational grounds - rather than merely on non-rational or irrational 
ones. A most important point is that this defence does not depend on justifying 
'rationalism', in the traditional way of philosophy, but it is sufficient if 
'rationalism' itself withstands rational criticism. If rationalism can be so 
defended, then it is "comprehensive" in that it owes no debt to non-rationalism 
or irrationalism in terms of its defence. 

In some ways Bartley's pov is implicit in Popper's early work where that early 
work accounts for the rationality of science not in terms of the 'rational 
production' of scientific theories (in contrast to inductive accounts which 
pretend to do so) but in the application of a rational/critical methods to 
testing theories (irrespective of whether their production is, or is not, part 
of a 'rational' process).In this light, Popper's position in OSE might seem 
surprising - as it might seem to fail to keep apart the issues of the 
production of a 'rational attitude' and issues of whether a 'rational attitude' 
is itself rationally defensible (paralleling the distinction between issues as 
to whether the production of scientific theories is 'rational' and issues as to 
whether such theories are rationally defensible). 

Perhaps Popper was being too generous in OSE in conceding a kind of priority to 
the non-rational or the irrational: but there is more to it, for there is a 
core of important truth to the concessions made in OSE - namely, that reason 
cannot be used to compel anyone to adopt an attitude of reasonableness. 
Popper's concessions were not part of a philosophy hung-up on trying to compel 
the unreasonable to be reasonable - rather he was indicating why, rationally 
speaking, they are a lost cause. OSE was after all part of  Popper's "war work" 
and he takes a clear line - as the title indicates - between the friends and 
the enemies of the OS: the book is addressed to its friends and potential 
friends and does not seek to convert its enemies (though it of course had a 
powerful effect on many one-time enemies of the OS).
Another aspect of Popper's OSE treatment is that he is against forms of 
'rationalism' that are excessive, both because they are false and also likely 
self-defeating - for example, he makes clear that his form of 'rationalism' is 
not based on the assumption that people are entirely or mostly 'rational' or 
that 'rationalism' is an easy attitude to practice. In this he is advocating a 
'rationalism' that withstands rational criticism - and opposing forms of 
'rationalism' (or pseudo-rationalism) that do not withstand rational criticism.

So whether the OSE is "early" or not, in Popper's "mature" philosophy Bartley's 
criticism is acknowledged and there is no needless concession that there is a 
priority of irrationalism or non-rationalism in terms of the defence of 
rationalism.

DnlLdn


 

     On Sunday, 8 February 2015, 21:50, Omar Kusturica <omarkusto@xxxxxxxxx> 
wrote:
   

 The notion that the commitment to rationalism is a choice or decision which 
cannot itself be rationally justified - or that to justify it in rational terms 
would be sort of circular - is, I think, found in the Open Society and Its 
Enemies. Is this reckoned an early work ?
O.K.
On Sun, Feb 8, 2015 at 9:35 PM, Donal McEvoy <donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

JLS' post ends>Did [Popper] ever acknowledged that perhaps he was (let's say, 
'falsificationally')  mistaken?>
Perhaps we should distinguish major and minor points, as it were, and here ask 
the question in relation to major points (errors on minor points being of 
secondary importance to errors on major ones)?
The answer is yes: one acknowledged major error is Popper's proposed definition 
of 'verisimiltude', which was independently shown to be be mistaken by Pavel 
Tichy and David Miller (the latter Popper's research assistant for many years).
Another major example arises in connection with another part of JLS' post:

>He wasn't waiting for the solution of problems that the invocation of these 
three realms would create. Perhaps he even relished the fact that his 
invocation of three worlds would create problems. 
 
That would be odd, since he thought, Popper did, that solvable, and  
reasonable, problems arise in _science_, rather than philosophy; yet the  
invocation of three worlds, as McEvoy might agree, pertains to _metaphysics_,  
where 
'progress' is, if I may use a mixed metaphor, more obscure.>
I think Popper did indeed relish the problem-generating nature of the theory 
that (in addition to W1 and W2) there is a W3. But this is not so "odd" when 
seen against a very important strand of Popper's theory of knowledge, which 
might be described loosely as follows. 

There is a kind of position that says for every genuine problem there is a 
solution [on one interpretation, we might extract this view from W in the 
Tractatus - "The riddle does not exist"; or Hume, in the mode in which he was a 
forerunner of Logical Positivism]. This position is refuted, we might say, by 
the existence of insoluble problems [though of course the refutation can always 
be evaded - either by maintaining that presently insoluble problems will 
nevertheless prove soluble or by maintaining an insoluble problem is never a 
genuine problem]. 

Against all this, Popper does think it likely that there are genuine problems 
that may be permanently insoluble, though we should not be dogmatic as to what 
they are - for even problems that now appear insoluble may in time be solved 
(as the history of ideas shows). But he also thinks problems typically have 
depth. So much so we may say that for every genuine solution (to a problem) 
there is a problem i.e. that even the most successful solutions typically 
create new problems - problems that arise in the light of the solution. Thus 
Popper's schema of problems and (tentative) solutions, which he applies to the 
growth of knowledge in all fields, does not lead to a point of finality but to 
further problems requiring further (tentative) solutions.

There is a major error Popper made in his first work in relation to all this: 
he at first wrongly identified the limits of rationality with the limits of 
science i.e. took the position that only scientific problems could be resolved 
in a rational way, whereas metaphysical/non-scientific problems could not. This 
error was tied into some other errors, including the error of thinking 
rationality could not ultimately be rationally based because it always involved 
a prior non-rational commitment to rationality. 

This major error was admitted by Popper and its correction is important to 
understanding his mature philosophy. He does continue to accept that 
metaphysical dispute is typically less amenable to rational solution than the 
problems of science, but contends that a more-or-less rational approach is 
possible even to metaphysical problems - and some would contend, on his behalf, 
that his own work exemplifies the rational approach to philosophical questions.

DnlLdn

 

     On Sunday, 8 February 2015, 13:23, "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" 
<dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:
   

 

In a message dated 2/5/2015 9:11:22 A.M. Eastern Standard Time,  
donalmcevoyuk@xxxxxxxxxxx writes:
D
Waiting for time and  space
Ldn

Well, space seems to be encompassed by Ldn, although it is a  tricky 
referential expression, if ever there was one. I think Mill discusses the  
denotation (never connotation) of "London" in System of Logic (the logical  
textbook for any nineteenth-century Oxonian student) and concludes that it  
overlaps with what the Romans called "Londinium".
 
While Donal is 'waiting for time and space', one wonders about Popper.  
Sometime, Popper decides that there are three worlds. He wasn't _waiting_. He  
wasn't waiting for the solution of problems that the invocation of these 
three  realms would create. Perhaps he even relished the fact that his 
invocation of  three worlds would create problems. 
 
That would be odd, since he thought, Popper did, that solvable, and  
reasonable, problems arise in _science_, rather than philosophy; yet the  
invocation of three worlds, as McEvoy might agree, pertains to _metaphysics_,  
where 
'progress' is, if I may use a mixed metaphor, more obscure. 
 
There are paradigmatic items for each world as appealed by Popper. W1 is  
the physical world of 'material objects', such as ... Eddington's Table. But  
Eddington was never sure what his table consisted of. He concluded:  
wavicles.
 
W2 is the world of the Psyche -- something so ethereal that the Greeks  
represented as a female with eternal curiosity (as per Canova's statue -- I'm  
actually studying the libretto to Bartok's "Bluebeard" where the references 
to  this topic may be seen to re-appear). W2 is the world of the soul, 50% 
of  philosophers agree that does not exist.
 
W3 is the world of objective knowledge, when Popper knows that most  
philosophers take 'knowledge' to pertain to psychology, and avoid 'objective'  
like the rats (This English expression, 'like the rats', shows little sympathy  
for this species of mammals). It is perhaps Popper's most controversial  
world.
 
There was once a film (a flop in London): "The World of Beatrix Potter". It 
 is in this spirit that I have entitled this post as I have.
 
So what was Popper thinking when he comes with this which he KNEW was going 
 to be 'controversial'. Was there progress in his view of this. Did he ever 
 acknowledged that perhaps he was (let's say, 'falsificationally')  
mistaken?
 
Cheers,
 
Speranza
 
 
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