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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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Notes 217


Notes Introduction: Karl Popper, the Viennese Socrates 1 K. Popper, Replies to My Critics, p.963. 2 Notable among those who viewed Popper as a positivist is the Western (Hegelianized) Marxist Frankfurt school. Several prominent classical scholars have also viewed Popper as a positivist, notably John Wild, Leo Strauss, and Eric Voeglin. These criticisms of Popper will be revisited in subsequent chapters. 3 K. Popper, Realism and the Aim of Science, p.259 4 K. Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies, v.1, p.128 5 Indeed, if its expectations (see above, note 3 and related text) were quite distinct from that of other scholarly fields, natural science, as conceived by Popper, nonetheless shared fruitfully with these fields an approach rooted in the Socratic elenchus, a method of identifying logical and factual errors that might facilitate the refutation and elimination of an invalid hypothesis. Outside of natural science, error-elimination facilitated a narrowing of the range of admissible conjectures but rarely if ever held the prospect of a single theory securing a consensus in the field. By contrast error-elimination in natural science, fortified by a level of experimentation and empirical observation and corroboration unavailable in other fields, supported the pursuit of single theory consensus. Implausibly, John Wild found Popper to have made the claim “that Socrates was really the father of modern positivism and scientism, completely skeptical of all philosophical truth, trusting only in the variable conclusions of the physical and social sciences, and believing any conception of moral truth to be naïve...

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