Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography Paperback – December 1, 1982
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- Publisher : Open Court (December 1, 1982)
- Language : English
- Paperback : 260 pages
- ISBN-10 : 0875483437
- ISBN-13 : 978-0875483436
- Item Weight : 11.8 ounces
- Dimensions : 5.5 x 0.59 x 8.5 inches
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In any event, an undersung great man explains himself. Very few philosophers make as much sense or explain their thinking in as facile a way.
He wrote in the “Acknowledgements” section of this book, “This autobiography was originally written to form a part of the two volume work ‘The Philosophy of Karl Popper,’ edited by Paul Arthur Schlipp… the autobiography is due to the initiative of Professor Schlipp… I am most grateful to him for everything he did in this connection and for his infinite patience in waiting for my autobiography from 1963 to 1969.”
He states a conclusion he reached after an argument with his father when he was fifteen: “Never let yourself be goaded into taking seriously problems about words and their meanings. What must be taken seriously are questions of fact, and assertions about facts: theories and hypotheses; the problems they solve; and the problems they raise… I shall refer to this piece of self-advice as my ‘anti-essentialist exhortation.’” (Pg. 19)
He observes, “I have in lectures often described this interesting situation by saying: we never know what we are talking about. For when we propose a theory, or try to understand a theory, we also propose, or try to understand, its logical implications; that is, all those statements which follow from it. But this… is a hopeless task: there is an infinity of unforeseeable nontrivial statements belonging to the informative content of any theory, and an exactly corresponding infinity of statements belong to its logical content. We can therefore never know or understand all the implications of any theory, or its full significance.” (Pg. 27-28)
Of the period around 1920, he recalls, “I remained a socialist for several years, even after my rejection of Marxism; and if there could be such a thing as socialism combined with individual liberty, I would be a socialist still. For nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.” (Pg. 36)
He recalls being impressed by Einstein’s insistence that his theory be tested: “Here was an attitude utterly different from the dogmatic attitude of Marx, Freud, Adler, and even more so that of their followers. Einstein was looking for crucial experiments whose agreement with his predictions would by no means establish his theory; while a disagreement, as he was the first to stress, would show his theory to be untenable. This, I felt, was the true scientific attitude. It was utterly different from the dogmatic attitude which constantly claimed to find ‘verification’ for its favorite theories. Thus I arrived, by the end of 1919, at the conclusion that the scientific attitude was a critical attitude, which did not look for verifications but for crucial tests; tests which could REFUTE the theory tested, though they could never establish it.” (Pg. 38)
After getting his Ph.D. in 1928, he mused, “I could apply my results concerning the method of trial and error in such a way as to replace the whole inductive methodology by a deductive one. The falsification or refutation of theories through the falsification or refutation of their deductive consequences was, clearly, a deductive inference… This view implied that scientific theories, if they are not falsified, for ever remain hypotheses or conjectures.” (Pg. 79) Later, he adds, “there is no induction, because universal theories are not deducible from singular statements. But they may be refuted by singular statements, since they may clash with descriptions of observable facts.” (Pg. 86)
He recalls, “My parents were both born in the Jewish faith, but were baptized into the Protestant (Lutheran) Church before any of their children arrived. After much thought my father had decided that living in an overwhelmingly Christian society imposed the obligation to give as little offense as possible---to become assimilated. This meant, however, giving offense to organized Judaism… But the answer was that Anti-Semitism was an evil… and that it was the task of all people of Jewish origin to do their best not to provoke it: moreover, many Jews did merge with the population: assimilation worked… All nationalism or racialism is evil, and Jewish nationalism is no exception.” (Pg. 105)
He then explains, “In the remainder of this Autobiography I intend to report on ideas rather than on events, though I may make historical remarks where it seems relevant. What I am aiming at is a survey of the various ideas and problems on which I have worked during my later years, and on which I am still working.” (Pg. 138)
He asserts, “I have often expressed this attitude by saying: “I am not a belief philosopher.’ Indeed, beliefs are quite insignificant for a theory of truth, or of deduction, or of ‘knowledge’ in the objective sense. A so-called ‘true belief’ is a belief in a theory which is true; and whether or not it is true is not a question of belief, but a question of fact. Similarly, ‘rational belief’… consists in giving preference to what is preferable in the light of critical arguments. So this again is not a question of belief, but a question of argument, and of the objective state of the critical debate.” (Pg. 145)
He says, “I now wish to give some reasons why I regard Darwinism as metaphysical, and as a research programme. It is metaphysical because it is not testable… Darwinism does not really PREDICT the evolution of variety. It therefore cannot really EXPLAIN it. At best, it can predict the evolution of variety under ‘favorable conditions.’ But it is hardly possible to describe in general terms what favorable conditions are---except that, in their presence, a variety of forms will emerge. And yet I believe I have taken the theory almost at its best---almost in its most testable form… And yet, the theory is valuable. I do not see how, without it, our knowledge could have grown as it has done since Darwin… Although it is metaphysical, it sheds much light upon very concrete and very practical researches. It allows us to study adaptation to a new environment… in a rational way: it suggests the existence of a mechanism of adaptation, and it allows us even to study in detail the mechanism at work. And it is the only theory which does all that.” (Pg. 171-172)
Later, he adds, “I do not think highly of the theoretical or explanatory power of the theory of evolution. But I think that an evolutionist approach to biological problems is inescapable, and also that in so desperate a problem situation we must clutch gratefully even at a straw.” (Pg. 189)
Although it is regrettable that Popper minimized his inclusion of “biographical” facts, this is still a fascinating book which sheds light on the man, and the development of his ideas.
They were rationalists of a specific kind. Not for them, the ramblings of a street preacher, social "activist" or leader of mass movements. Instead their actions were didactic, in the cause of something greater. Popper served as gadfly, professor, mathematician, scientist, philosopher and could be considered a spokesman for the groups. His life in Europe was remarkable for what was accomplished - oh, to have a such an inquiring, multi-faceted mind!!
This book is perhaps more approachable that some of his others. The title says it all; it is the story of the evolution of an intellect that seemed to retain its core. He was interested in so many things and so many areas that all his works are to some degrees syntheses of his interests. Whether he is admiring the logic of scientific discovery or the illogic of taxes, he is brillant, informative and endearing. The intellectual battles are here for all to see (and choose sides). He emerges with not only his mind but his soul intact.