Tag Archive: criticism

Critical discussion is always comparative

It is most important to see that a critical discussion always deals with more than one theory at a time. For in trying to assess the merits or demerits even of one theory, it always must try to judge whether the theory in question is an advance: whether it explains things that we have been unable to explain so far – that is to say, with the help of older theories. [160]

If you are serious about truth…

Wer wirklich an der Wahrheit Interesse hat, wird so verfahren, daß er gerade Auffassungen, die er für besonders wichtig hält, am schärfsten der kritischen Prüfung aussetzt, nicht nur diejenigen, die er ohnehin einigermaßen leichten Herzens zu opfern bereit ist. [135]

The price of knowledge

In his epistemological sensibility, Popper follows in the footsteps of the philosophers of the 18th-century Enlightenment. Their common starting point may be summarised in the following principle: The price of acquiring any knowledge at all is that it will be somehow distorted by the conditions of its acquisition; hence, criticism is the only universally reliable method. [127]

A necessary condition for critical distance

Even if ideas and arguments should be evaluated independently of their origins, we must still first learn about their origins, in order to ensure the evaluation is indeed independent of them. The only thing worse than accepting or reject­ing an idea because we know about its originator is doing so because we know nothing of the originator. Ignorance may appear in two positive guises. Both are due to the surface clarity of relatively contemporary texts, which effectively discourages any probing of their sources: on the one hand, we may read our own assumptions into the textual inter­stices; on the other, we may unwittingly take on board the text’s assumptions. In short, either our minds colonise theirs or theirs ours. In both cases, the distinction between the positions of interpreter and interpreting is dissolved, and hence a necessary condition for critical distance is lost. [71−2]

Alternative expressions of the open society

Once Popper’s philosophy of science is read alongside his political philosophy, it becomes clear that scientific inquiry and democratic politics are meant to be alternative expressions of what Popper called ‘the open society’.

… The open society is one whose members, like the citizens of classical Athens, treat openness to criticism and change as a personal ethic and a civic duty. [26]

Kuhnian success

In the last twenty years, however, a new generation has come to dominate the history, philosohpy and sociology of science. They take Structure as the unproblematic foundation for its inquiries – as if the original criticisms had never been made. Certainly Kuhn never answered the criticisms, and the current generation of science studies practitioners is sufficiently beholden to Structure not to want to answer them. One thing must be said in Kuhn’s behalf: he succeeded according to the terms set out by his own theory. [40−1]

Taking great pains to deceive oneself

Yet the greater part of it, I shall show, is nonsense, tricked out with a variety of metaphysical conceits, and its author can be excused of dishonesty only on the grounds that before deceiving others he has taken great pains to deceive himself. [99]

Without criticism no progress

But the most important misunderstandings and muddles arise out of the loose way in which dialecticians speak about contradictions.

They observe, correctly, that contradictions are of the greatest importance in the history of thought—precisely as impor­tant as is criticism. For criticism invariably consists in pointing out some contradiction; either a contradiction within the theory criticized, or a contradiction between the theory and another theory which we have some reason to accept, or a contradiction between the theory and certain facts—or more precisely, between the theory and certain statements of fact. Criticism can never do anything except either point out some such contradiction, or, perhaps, simply contradict the theory (i.e. the criticism may be simply the statement of an antithesis). But criticism is, in a very important sense, the main motive force of any intellectual development. Without contradictions, without criticism, there would be no rational motive for changing our theories: there would be no intellectual progress. [424]

Growing by mutual criticism

Reason, like science, grows by way of mutual criticism; the only possible way of ‘planning’ its growth is to develop those institutions that safeguard the freedom of this criticism, that is to say, the freedom of thought. [499]

How to get acquainted with a problem

We start, I say, with a problem – a difficulty. It is perhaps a practical problem, or a theoretical problem. Whatever it may be, when we first encounter the problem we cannot, obviously, know much about it. At best, we have only a vague idea what our problem really consists of. How, then, can we produce an adequate solution? Obviously, we cannot. We must first get better acquainted with the problem. But how?

My answer is very simple: by producing a very inadequate solution, and by criticizing this inadequate solution. Only in this way can we come to understand the problem. For to understand a problem means to understand why it is not easily soluble – why the more obvious solutions do not work. We must therefore produce these obvious solutions and try to find out why they will not do. In this way, we become acquainted with the problem. And in this way we may proceed from bad solutions to slightly better ones – provided always that we have the ability to guess again. [97-8]

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