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The Poverty of Historicism (Routledge Classics) 2nd Edition

4.8 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0415278461
ISBN-10: 0415278465
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Editorial Reviews


"Probably the only book published this year which will outlive the century."
-Arthur Koestler, author of "Darkness at Noon

About the Author

Karl Popper (1902-94). Philosopher, born in Vienna. One of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century.

Product Details

  • Series: Routledge Classics
  • Paperback: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (March 31, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415278465
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415278461
  • Product Dimensions: 5.1 x 0.4 x 7.8 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 6.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.8 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #166,946 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By A Customer on May 3, 2004
Format: Paperback
Do you have a deep down, hard to enunciate, disquiet with the level of debate in the broad area of social theory and "social engineering"? Do you feel that many of the claims and pronouncements made by social theorists (of any political disposition) are unjustified, but do not really know why you feel that way? If so, this book is a useful starting point for an examination of the problem.
In it, Popper develops the argument that "Historicism" (the term has more than one meaning in different contexts) as he defines it is a flawed approach, and that it is not a justifiable base for the sweeping claims of the historicist. To Popper, historicism is the concept that, by examination of history, we are able to define the rules that govern social change and hence are able to predict those changes. His initial impetus to look into this area was a critical evaluation of Marx - see his essay "How I became a philosopher without really trying" published in "All life is problem solving".
In its simplest form, Popper's argument is the observation that observation of the past does not allow one to accurately predict the future. This may seem to be a fairly obvious statement, but it is worth keeping in mind as he develops the various arguments that make up the case for and against historicism.
Popper's philosophy is often overlooked, perhaps because he attempts to limit himself to goals that he can reasonably achieve. He is a very prominent figure in the philosophy of science, and much of his epistemology relates to the methodology of the empirical sciences, and hence to direct observation, and the relationship of observation to development and testing of theories. Perhaps because he is not too ambitious, his philosophy is less "sexy".
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Format: Paperback
Sir Popper is considered one of the most important thinkers in the area of philosophy of science. "The Poverty of Historicism" despite its complexity, carries a fundamental simple message: prediction over the course of history (its social and economic implications) is nothing more than a fantasy, an illusion. And this assertion is based on the principle that the events/persons responsible for changes are themselves affected by these same changes. It is Heisenberg's principle of uncertainty applied to social sciences!
Historicism is the theory that history develops itself according to pre-determined, inexorable laws with a fixed objective or end. Fascism and communism were laid upon these presuppositions, and the course fo history has proven the fallacy (therefore poverty) of such assumptions. The attempt to have a holistic approach by eliminating individual differences through "brain washing" is incompatible with critical thought, and although it will bring about a concentration of power it will also cause an erosion of knowledge. The Poverty of Historicism becomes a poverty of imagination, of the ability of critical judgement and analysis. Historicism, according to Karl Popper preposterously assumes the postion of having discovered the problem of "change," but revolutions are not unique to our modern era and the metaphysical speculation of what constitutes "change" has been addressed since the time of Heraclitus.
The goal of applying scientific methods with the same accuracy and predictability as those in theoretical physics is bound to end in failure when it concerns the course of history. The influence of the prediction upon the predicted events is here being termed as the "Oedipus effect.
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1. Historicism is a term that was invented by Karl Popper. He did it on purpose to prevent confusion with any other existing term.
2. The book is about methodology of social science but of course most of the conclusions are about the nature of social science.
3. He seeks to refute the two core arguments that are advanced to show that social science is not like science.
4. The anti naturalist doctrine says social science is not like science because unlike in science we cannot really follow the hypothesis>experiment>conclusion> refinement of hypothesis cycle. Various reasons are offered for this such as being unable to experiment, complexity of social science (includes biology, psychology etc.), novelty (every situation is unique because of the `uncertainty principle') and the fact that social experiments is not worth doing in a piecemeal fashion because their generalisability is very less.
5. The naturalist doctrine on the other hand looks at social science as being similar to astronomy (global laws which explain everything about the universe and cannot be disobeyed or overturned no matter what we do) and says that laws of social science can be found. These laws are not accurate in the short term but work very well in the long term across periods of history and in fact are necessary to be able to make out the transition between different periods of stages of history as the deeper content of each of these stages cannot be known with accuracy. Also these laws can be solely understood by studying the history that is records of past events. These laws are called Holism by Popper and he shows that even in the anti naturalist doctrine holism is popular because it is used as a constant between the various stages of history (which in the short term cannot be analysed and predicted).
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