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Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

Kuhn vs Popper - About James H. Collier

traverses the centuries

traverses the centuries to discuss the great Germandialectician, G.W.F. Hegel (1770–1831), and contemporarydevelopments relating to Marxism andfascism. Popper characterises the Biblical Jews as aclosed society whose ‘tribal’ identity came morefrom whom they opposed than what they stood for.From that standpoint, Christianity’s universalismrepresented an important step toward the opensociety. However, like Plato’s position, it containedthe seeds of historicism, which have becomeespecially dangerous in the modern period ashistoricist visions of scientific progress are attachedto secular versions of Providence. Here Hegel ismade to stand for all the authoritarian movementson the right and the left that have exploited thistendency. In contrast, when Popper looked for aversion of his falsificationist scientific ethic inpolitical philosophy, he found it in the decidedlyanti-historicist, existentialist Christianity of the‘Danish Socrates’, Søren Kierkegaard (1813–55),whose works had been translated into Germanduring Popper’s youth.However, Popper’s scientific existentialism wasgiven a distinctive spin in Britain, where BertrandRussell anointed Popper his successor as knighterrant of liberal and rationalist values. It is worthstressing both the philosophical and the politicalsides of Popper’s assumption of Russell’s mantle.28

Russell and Popper shared an antipathy not only toauthoritarian politics but also to philosophicalprofessionalism. As they saw it, each had its ownself-certifying way of evading responsibility for theconsequences of its assertions – be it called ‘reasonsof state’, ‘common sense’, or ‘ordinary language’.This view had a profound effect on the post-wargeneration of British politicians on the LabourParty’s social democratic wing, such as AnthonyCrosland and Richard Crossman, who foughtfor greater social accountability in economicperformance and political practice. Popper’s ‘opensociety’ was taken to support government thatdecentralised its own power at the same time as itredistributed wealth. Not surprisingly, then, in thesame year that he debated Kuhn, Popper wassounded out for a knighthood by representativesof Harold Wilson’s Labour government. Popperaccepted the honour two years later.However, in 1965 both Kuhn’s and Popper’sviews on science were probably known more byreputation than by readership. Once Popper’s Logicwas finally published in English in 1959, it wastreated to a simplistic and bemused response, asoften befalls works that are translated long aftertheir original publication. Even positive reviewsgave the impression that Popper was yesterday’sman, an image that Lakatos’ conference did nothing29

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