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Popper, Karl Raimund (1902–94)

DOI: 10.4324/9780415249126-DD052-1
Version: v1,  Published online: 1998
Retrieved May 21, 2024, from

Article Summary

Popper belongs to a generation of Central European émigré scholars that profoundly influenced thought in the English-speaking countries in this century. His greatest contributions are in philosophy of science and in political and social philosophy. Popper’s ‘falsificationism’ reverses the usual view that accumulated experience leads to scientific hypotheses; rather, freely conjectured hypotheses precede, and are tested against, experience. The hypotheses that survive the testing process constitute current scientific knowledge. His general epistemology, ‘critical rationalism’, commends the Socratic method of posing questions and critically discussing the answers offered to them. He considers knowledge in the traditional sense of certainty, or in the modern sense of justified true belief, to be unobtainable.

After the Anschluss, Popper was stimulated by the problem of why democracies had succumbed to totalitarianism and applied his critical rationalism to political philosophy. Since we have no infallible ways of getting or maintaining good government, Plato’s question ‘Who should rule?’ is misdirected. To advocate the rule of the best, the wise or the just invites tyranny disguised under those principles. By contrast, a prudently constructed open society constructs institutions to ensure that any regime can be ousted without violence, no matter what higher ends it proclaims itself to be seeking. Couched in the form of extended critiques of Plato and Platonism as well as of Marx and Marxism, Popper’s political philosophy has had considerable influence in post-war Europe, East and West.

Citing this article:
Jarvie, Ian C.. Popper, Karl Raimund (1902–94), 1998, doi:10.4324/9780415249126-DD052-1. Routledge Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Taylor and Francis,
Copyright © 1998-2024 Routledge.

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