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Posts Tagged ‘Karl Popper’

A couple of years ago I finally read Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism, and although I agreed with much of it, I disagreed with his use of the term itself.  I have described myself as a radical historicist, because I believe that all knowledge is based on history.  In this I agree very much with Jose Ortega y Gasset, in his History as a System, in which he says that the social sciences are dedicated to discovering the nature of man, but they are mistaken because man has no nature, he has history.   The key, for me, is that human beings have free will, and are able to make decisions that may be unintuitive.  So I agree with Popper that history cannot be used to make predictions about the future.  But all that we know about people is based on history, and it is what we have to go on.
Popper, however, uses the term historicism to mean the opposite:  historicists, for him, believe in formulating laws of history, and using them to predict future behavior.   What he means by historicism is really Marxian historical materialism, to which he is very much opposed.
I was pleased to read in Peter Skagestad’s Making Sense of History: the Philosophies of Popper and Collingwood (Oslo, 1975), that Popper uses the term historicism in his own way, and not in its conventional meaning.  So I am not alone in objecting to this usage.  In fact, Popper has little to say about the writing of history itself — he really is addressing the social sciences, particularly sociology and economics.  He has only a brief aside about the craft of history.  So, I remain a historcist, but not Popper’s type of historicist.
(I should note that I greatly admire Popper’s The Open Society and its Enemies, and would highly recommend it.)
More recently, I have read Collingwood’s The Idea of History, to see where he stands.  I had long wanted to read this, and will post some thoughts on it soon.
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