Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Tim's Argument Summary of K. Popper 'The Open Society and its Enemies.'

Every wanted to read this two volume beast of a book? No? Well you should! You haven't got time? Well here is my 1 paragraph per chapter summary of the book. Enjoy.

1. Historicism + the Myth of Destiny. Historicism – Racialism + Marxism
2. Hesiod + HERACLITUS – comes us with the problem of change
3. Theory of Forms/Ideas. 1. Central to his theory of Knowledge which depends on gaining access to the “essence of things” in the world of ‘Ideas’ or unchanging forms; 2. Provides regularities that maintain continuity behind chaos; 3. Provides the rationalization of the quest to achieve the unchanging social order which approximates to the Ideal of the State. Essentialism (know the essence, the definition, and the name). ‘The Ideas or Forms are earlier and better than their changing and decaying copies and are themselves not in flux.’
4. * Change and Rest. Plato’s political program to create a stable, totalitarian state. ‘He thought of existing states as decaying copies of Form or Idea of a state.’ He tried to reconstruct the ‘idea’ from Sparta and Greece – and so tried to replicate it by eliminating the ‘germs’ of disunion and decay as radically as possible. So the master class is esteemed which guaranteed its economics, its breeding, and its training. State must take control, people are human sheep; right breeding is essential; writing includes strict censorship as does some music.
5. Nature and Convention. The moral demands of our new and changing world is for equality, freedom, and helping the weak. Three purposes: 1. Views on critical dualism, does not lead to the conclusion: one system better than another; 2. Critical dualism = one important difference between closed and open societies; 3. He shows how Plato fudged the distinction to support his political program.
6. * Totalitarian Justice. Plato created an influential theory of totalitarian justice as an alternative to equalitarian/individualist justice. Plato said individualism is not compatible with altruism. He exploited weaknesses used to defend equalitarian justice. These weaknesses are theories of natural rights etc.
7. The Principle of Leadership. Who shall rule the state = accepted as the fundamental question...Popper says this is unhelpful and misleading + results in confusion about realistic + rational objectives of democratic reform. Sec.1-3 outlines his alternative approach to democracy; Sec.4-5 criticises Plato’s theory of ‘leadership of the wise’ and attacks Plato’s theory of education which prepares ‘philosophical kings for their role.’
8. The Philosopher King. Expansion of Ch.7, more detail on breeding and training.
9. Aesthetism, Perfectionism, Utopianism. SOCIAL ENGINEERING – shouldn’t be aiming for the greatest good, but instead eliminating urgent evils. Plato’s method leads to huge human suffering (n.b. this is pre Soviet Disaster, Pre-Cambodia, Pre Mao’s China). Control of past = essential, and so the future has to be re-written. Moral principles in CHAPTER 5 minimize suffering rather than maximize happiness, promote tolerance and avoid tyranny. Fit with piecemeal reform and democratic government because most people can agree on concrete steps to address suffering and the problems of people in need whereas there are likely to be many conflicting views on the way that happiness should be sought. Killing people is not a reversible process.
10. The open society and its enemies. Tribal/collectivist society = closed. Society in which individuals are confronted with personal decisions = open. Plato genuinely hated tyranny + desired to make people happy by relieving the strain of social and political change. Popper believes society is progressing from closed to open, Plato’s idea makes people sit where they are which leads to fundamentalism and cults. ‘We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure, using what reason we may have to plan as well as we can for both security and freedom.’ [Last Page, Vol. 1]
11. NEW VOLUME YAY! – ‘The Aristotelian Roots of Hegelianism.’ Popper critiques methodology and epistemology that seeks true definitions and detailed conceptual analysis and labels this essentialism. Aristotle did not like democracy. – Meaning of terms is v-unhelpful (says Popper), essentialism is an unhelpful obsession with terms
12. ‘Hegel and the New Tribalism.’
13. *(NOTE. Christian authoritarianism of the middle ages) Marxism = the most dangerous form of historianism. Marx places great stress on scientific prediction – which led him astray.
14. Marx rejected the idea that motives or psychological factors provide adequate explanation of socioeconomic structures and historical events.
15. Marx was not a vulgar Marxist, or a vulgar materialist. Marx says that the social sciences coincide with historical or evolutionary method, and especially with historical prophecy. Marx also says that the economic organisation of society is fundamental for the society’s historical development. (Popper disagrees with these two claims).
16. The Classes. The Marxist theory of classes is a dangerous over-simplification.
17. The Legal and the Social System. – Marx’s theory of the state. Marx asserts (and Popper denies) the need to use political power to control economic power. Abuse of power is not supposed to be a problem under socialism. Rules need to be impartial and not discretionary orders.
18. *’The Coming of Socialism.’ Popper tests the coherence of the chain of predictions that Marx made for the coming of socialism following the revolution. Can we assume that a classless society will emerge from the battle?
19. ‘The Social Revolution.’ – Marx, social prophecy that struggle would end in violent war between the classes (last class standing). Marxist rhetoric undermines democracy and opens the way for fascism.
20. ‘Capitalism and its Fate.’ Marx gives way to basically a theory of exploitation. Marx was completely wrong in his prophecies, yet justified in reacting against oppressive capitalism.
21. ‘An Evaluation of the Prophecy.’ Free market will minimize (or tend to correct) overproduction and underproduction, and will ensure a fairly rapid recovery form busts
22. *’The Moral Theory of Historicism.’ Marxism cannot provide either reliable prophecies (nothing can) or advice on the piecemeal reforms that might achieve desired outcomes (Marx regarded that as Utopian) what accounts for the power and impact of Marxism? OPEN SOCIETY GIVES SPACE TO CREATE NEW OPTIONS AND OPPORTUNITIES. Marx determinism was in conflict with his activism and his moralism, those who take on the whole package confuse themselves.
23. *’The Sociology of Knowledge.’ Whatever objectivity and rationality we can achieve cannot be attributed to special qualities of mind but to the give and take of criticism in a community. Popper talks against two emerging ideas, one was controlling social change by means of largescale central planning, the other was the theory of social determination of scientific knowledge.
24. ‘Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt against Reason.’ Rationalism / Reason?
25. *‘Has History any Meaning?’ ‘In this chapter Popper is revealed as something like an existentialist (without hysteria) with the message that history has no meaning but we can give it meaning.’
a. Outlines the importance of theories to organise historical data
b. Theories in Scientific research
c. Role of problems/issues/points of view in compiling historical narratives
d. Meaning and purpose in history
History has no meaning. A universal history of mankind would have to be the story of all men and women, “the history of all human hopes, struggles, and sufferings” because nobody is more important than anyone else (a highly egalitarian view!). But that history cannot be written, it is far too rich, all narratives have to be selective and focused.
He discusses the extent that the Christian view of history helps/hinders good historical research and writing. He criticises Kierkegaard.
“History has no meaning, we can give it a meaning.”


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