Karl Popper, Science and Enlightenment

London: UCL Press (2017)
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Karl Popper is famous for having proposed that science advances by a process of conjecture and refutation. He is also famous for defending the open society against what he saw as its arch enemies – Plato and Marx. Popper’s contributions to thought are of profound importance, but they are not the last word on the subject. They need to be improved. My concern in this book is to spell out what is of greatest importance in Popper’s work, what its failings are, how it needs to be improved to overcome these failings, and what implications emerge as a result. The book consists of a collection of essays which dramatically develop Karl Popper’s views about natural and social science, and how we should go about trying to solve social problems. Criticism of Popper’s falsificationist philosophy of natural science leads to a conception of science that I call aim-oriented empiricism. This makes explicit metaphysical theses concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe that are an implicit part of scientific knowledge – implicit in the way science excludes all theories that are not explanatory, even those that are more successful empirically than accepted theories. Aim-oriented empiricism has major implications, not just for the academic discipline of philosophy of science, but for science itself. Popper generalized his philosophy of science of falsificationism to arrive at a new conception of rationality – critical rationalism – the key methodological idea of Popper’s profound critical exploration of political and social issues in his The Open Society and Its Enemies, and The Poverty of Historicism. This path of Popper, from scientific method to rationality and social and political issues is followed here, but the starting point is aim-oriented empiricism rather than falsificationism. Aim-oriented empiricism is generalized to form a conception of rationality I call aim-oriented rationalism. This has far-reaching implications for political and social issues, for the nature of social inquiry and the humanities, and indeed for academic inquiry as a whole. The strategies for tackling social problems that arise from aim-oriented rationalism improve on Popper’s recommended strategies of piecemeal social engineering and critical rationalism, associated with Popper’s conception of the open society. This book thus sets out to develop Popper’s philosophy in new and fruitful directions. The theme of the book, in short, is to discover what can be learned from scientific progress about how to achieve social progress towards a better world.
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