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The Viennese Socrates

Karl Popper and the Reconstruction of Progressive Politics


Philip Benesch

The Viennese Socrates: Karl Popper and the Reconstruction of Progressive Politics examines Karl Popper’s attempt to develop a political theory that draws upon Socratic fallibilism and commitment to ethical autonomy while preserving progressive sociological insights and commitment to activism. Philip Benesch argues that Popper’s critique of Marxist theory is largely an endeavor to separate its progressive-activist core from its positivist and uncritical-rationalist entanglements. The author defends Popper against the charges of positivism and scientism leveled by the Frankfurt School, among others. Although he is in no sense an apologist for Popper’s commentary on the classical tradition of philosophy, Benesch contends that Popper’s philosophical contribution is of classical breadth and significance and that it continues and advances «the great conversation» that is the substance of the classical tradition.


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6. Chains of Reason 139


Chapter 6 Chains of Reason Had Popper’s works been translated into English in the sequence in which he wrote them, he may have been recognized as a rationalist critic of inductive methodology and of pure empiricism before he became identified with the assault on the uncritical rationalism which he found in the philosophical works of Plato, Aristotle, and Hegel. Alas, the timeliness of The Open Society and Its Enemies led to that work being published in Britain almost fifteen years before the first English translation of the Logic of Scientific Discovery. Popper’s reputation in the English-speaking world was to be so strongly forged by The Open Society and Its Enemies that his praise of scientific method in contrast to the pure rationalist tradition led to him being mistaken for a positivist, an uncritical empiricist, and even as an anti- rationalist. While he resolutely opposed the tradition of pure rationalism that he believed derived from Plato and which thrived, in spite of Kant’s critique, through to Hegel, Popper identified himself with Socratic rationalism: a rationalism that was modest, fallibilistic, and self-critical. In this chapter I will examine Popper’s treatment of the science/culture distinction. After some preliminary general remarks I consider Popper’s differences with the Frankfurt School and his brief entanglement in the so- called positivist debate in German social theory. I turn next to the autonomous sociology proposed by Popper and identify shortcomings (indeed, contradictions) in his formulation of a non-psyschologistic methodology for the analysis of unintended social developments. The chapter...

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