Thursday, February 20, 2014

Popper: "The key Liberal philosopher of the past century"

I am pleased to see David Boyle picking up on the Karl Popper video I posted on Monday.

And I share his belief that Popper was "the key Liberal philosopher of the past century or so". Having written the entry on him in the Dictionary of Liberal Thought I have something of a proprietorial interest in the old boy. (Popper that is, not David Boyle.)

Certainly, Popper - and Isaiah Berlin - have far more to offer modern Liberals than to do L.T. Hobhouse or T.H. Green. I suspect those last two are more often mentioned than read. Anyone who has tried reading Green will know why.

And if you want a Liberal philosopher who speaks to our postmodern condition, try Richard Rorty.

Anyway, the purpose of this post is to recommend two easy ways into Popper's philosophy (though his own works are notable for their readability).

The first is Bryan Magee's short book on Popper in the Fontana Modern Masters series, which I recommended the other day. This gives me the chance to repeat a remarkable discovery about Bryan Magee that I made a few years ago:
I knew from his Confessions of a Philosopher that Magee was evacuated to Market Harborough during the war. I now know - having bought his latest volume of memoirs Growing Up in a War - the he stayed with two families here. The first lived just around the corner from where I live now. The second lived just around the corner from where I lived as a schoolboy (and where my mother still lives). 
He even mentions the little carpet warehouse across the road from my mother's house. In 1940 it was a factory making parachutes. And he used to buy sweets in the same corner shop as me.
Since I wrote that the the warehouse has been demolished and the land used for housing.

The second is Roger James's 1980 book Return to Reason, which you can find on the web in its entirety.

His first paragraph describes its purpose:
This book is about departures from reason in the conduct of public affairs and the power of certain wrong ideas and unquestioned assumptions. In exploring this power I shall draw extensively on the philosophy of Sir Karl Popper and I shall show how the disregard of it has led to so much that has gone wrong in our time. Also, very tentatively, I suggest how ways out of some of our troubles might follow from attention to rational methods and Popper's neglected ideas.
Which leads us back to David Boyle's post.

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