Tag Archive: Berlin

The fundamental question of politics

The argument of The Open Society and Its Enemies is that wherever there is power there is the possiblitiy of abuse. This renders the fundamental question of politics not ‘who should rule?’ but, ‘how can we design government so that bad rulers can be removed without violence?’ [30]

Science’s social framework

Science is a special kind of endeavour. Philosophers have been seeking to specify in what ways it is special for almost four hundred years (at least since Francis Bacon). Karl Popper is known for his attempt to characterise it negatively, as refutable conjectures about the world. But this is not the sum of what he said. What is and is not refutable requires discussion, which is a social process; if conjectures about the world are to be refuted a social framework is needed for their testing. Popper’s negative method requires institutions and traditions. [9]

Respecting others’ opinions

The aim in an open society is not to put up with ideas with which we disagree. It is to take them seriously and to criticize them—not necessarily as a way of condemning them, but as a way of trying to understand them, and of testing whether or not they are true, and learning from them, even if learning from them means learning how and where they go wrong.

This is what Popper meant when he said that open society is ‘based on the idea of not merely tolerating dissenting opinions but respecting them.’ Open society is based on respect for other people, for their freedom and autonomy as rational agents—or, as Kant would have put it, for people as ends in themselves. It is not that we regard their ideas as evils that we have to tolerate for civility’s sake. And it is not even that we regard them as the ideas of other people who have just as much right to ideas as ourselves. That, at best, would be paternalism. And it would have nothing at all to do with a recognition of our own fallibility. Respect, on the contrary, means that we take the dissenting opinions of others seriously, and that we regard them as possibly true. It means, in fact, that we treat them as potentially our own—since we want to discover the truth and since we recognize that we may be in error—and it means, for this reason, that we try to do everything in our power to criticize them and to show that they are false. [33]

Tolerance vs. respect

Tolerance leads to our allowing differences to exist. But respect leads to our trying to learn from them. And here, the attempt to learn from beliefs that differ from our own may well conflict with the kind of negative freedom for which toler­ance is a necessary condition. I do not, in an open society, ask to be left alone in the security of my own beliefs. And I do not leave others alone in the security of theirs. I try, on the contray, to improve my situation by learning from others and from what they believe. This is not tolerance. It is respect. And I would even say that the ideal of open society is more closely aligned to positive freedom that it is to negative freedom … . [31-2]