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Three Criticisms of Popper

Each quote is from The Myth of the Framework by Karl Popper, which is an excellent book.
If the many, the specialists, gain the day, it will be the end of science as we know it - of great science. It will be a spiritual catastrophe comparable in its consequences to nuclear armament. (pg 72)
Popper wrote this around 1970, long after it was known that nuclear weapons did great good at the end of World War II. Presumably he means to say the Cold War is a comparable catastrophe to the end of science. In hindsight it is easy to see how false that is; the Cold War was expensive, but it did not ruin us; the world is still improving dramatically despite the presence of nuclear weapons. In large part it is improving due to the progress of science. Losing science would be a truly massive setback. Science is behind everything from farm equipment to cars to household appliances to lightbulbs to modern medicine to computers and the internet.
It is a crime to exaggerate the ugliness and the baseness of the world: it is ugly, but it is also very human. And it is threatened by great dangers. The greatest is world war. Almost as great is the population explosion. (pg 80)
Under free markets, people who produce less than they consume are no danger to the world. Either they receive voluntary aid from people with extra or they starve. That does not put me in danger. By contrast, a world war puts everyone in danger, not just the incompetent.

It is only under a system of redistribution of wealth at gunpoint that additional people can be a burden, but even then it is a smaller burden. Feeding one inept person costs less than feeding and arming one soldier.

Further, it is considerably easier to achieve free markets than world peace. Free markets are freedom applied to property. A free market means we tolerate each person to use his own property as he chooses. Peace requires that we tolerate each person to live his life as he chooses, which includes tolerating his decisions about his property, his religion, and more. Because peace requires a superset of what a free market requires, it is more difficult to attain.
I certainly agree with this idea, the idea of a society of free men (and also with the idea of loyalty to it). It is an idea that inspired the American and the French revolutions. (pg 80)
In contradiction to Popper, I assert that the French and American revolutions were drastically different in motive and inspiration, and that only the American revolution had liberty as its reason.

The reason for the American Revolution was that Britain was not granting its traditional and reasonable liberties to the American colonies. Britain understood liberty well but refused to apply it to America. America needed a revolution so it could have the same liberty that British citizens had.

The French Revolution was not a matter of reason at all. If they had used reason they would not have had a revolution. Reforms were taking place, but the revolutionaries irrationally decided a bloodbath would speed things along. They were utopian idealists who thought if their enemies were dead then the world would soon become the world they envisioned. Of course that didn't work; it made matters much worse.

One issue which Popper's view does not account for, and mine does, is that the American Revolution gloriously triumphed whereas the French Revolution met with miserable disaster.

Elliot Temple on August 18, 2008

Comments (2)

I agree with the claim that the French and American revolutions were very different in intent.

Do,you think that Popper is wrong to assert that the idea he agrees with inspired the French Revolution? Your criticism does not seem to directly contradict that point.

Anonymous at 3:25 PM on December 21, 2016 | #7982
Popper's being silly. He's being like "one of the things they wanted was freedom, and i agree with freedom". zzzz

i doubt Popper understands the French Revolution, but he just barely mentions it in passing here so you can't really tell.

curi at 3:28 PM on December 21, 2016 | #7985

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)