Objective Knowledge

Karl Popper’s Objective Knowledge stands at the threshold of his last major philosophical phase, the period from his retirement from the London School of Economics in 1969 until his death in 1994. The two great books that he wrote before he came to London, Logik der Forschung (1934) and The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), contain much more than the innovations in the theory of scientific method and the theory of democracy for which they are famous. Logik der Forschung, translated into English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959), is by no means just a tract, even a revolutionary one, on the methods of science, since about one third of the text is devoted to searchingly original treatments of the frequency theory of probability and of the interpretation of quantum mechanics, whilst the unpublished manuscript on which the book was based, Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie (1979), at whose content it often hints, presents a wealth of significant material on the psychology of human learning and its biological context. Popper had, after all, been a student of Karl B¨ uhler, and had absorbed the theories of problem solving developed within the W¨ urzburg School (Popper 1974a, § 15). The Open Society and Its Enemies, for its part, is not so much a book defending democratic liberalism as a defence of democratic liberalism nestling within a book that discusses every other topic under the sun. It offers profound and provocative studies of the thought of Plato and Marx (see Hacohen 2000, Chapter 9, for a critical appreciation), an abundance of scholarly, if often controversial, historical interpretations of the work of Heraclitus, Aristotle, Hegel, J. S. Mill, Wittgenstein, Mannheim, and others, the elements of a new theory of rationality, and many elucidations of the workings of science that go beyond what is explicit in Logik der Forschung. One insight worth mentioning, since it is little known, is the clear recognition in section II of Chapter 11 that the progress of science is typically revolutionary, not cumulative; a commonplace today perhaps, but one....
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