Tag: enlightenment

Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke

In our times, from the highest class of society down to the lowest, every one lives as under the eye of a hostile and dreaded censorship. Not only in what concerns others, but in what concerns only themselves, the individual, or the fam­ily, do not ask themselves—what do I prefer? or, what would suit my character and disposition? or, what would allow the best and highest in me to have fair-play, and enable it to grow and thrive? They ask themselves, what is suitable to my position? what is usually done by persons of my station and pecuniary circumstances? or (worse still) what is usu­ally done by persons of a station and circumstances superior to mine? I do not mean that they choose what is customary, in preference to what suits their own inclination. It does not occur to them to have any inclination, except for what is cus­tomary. Thus the mind itself is bowed to the yoke: even in what people do for pleasure, conformity is the first thing thought of; they like in crowds; they exercise choice only among things commonly done: peculiarity of taste, eccentricity of conduct, are shunned equally with crimes: until by dint of not following their own nature, they have no nature to fol­low: their human capacities are withered and starved: they become incapable of any strong wishes or native pleasures, and are generally without either opinions or feelings of home growth, or properly their own. Now is this, or is it not, the desirable condition of human nature?[ch. III, 78-9]

The mental process of critical rationalism

It is the fashion of the present time to disparage negative logic—that which points out weaknesses in theory or errors in practice, without establishing positive truths. Such negative criticism would indeed be poor enough as an ultimate re­sult; but as a means to attaining any positive knowledge or conviction worthy the name, it cannot be valued too highly; and until people are again systematically trained to it, there will be few great thinkers, and a low general average of intellect, in any but the mathematical and physical departments of speculation. On any other subject no one’s opinions deserve the name of knowledge, except so far as he has either had forced upon him by others, or gone through of him­self, the same mental process which would have been required of him in carrying on an active controversy with oppo­nents. That, therefore, which when absent, it is so indispensable, but so difficult, to create, how worse than absurd is it to forego, when spontaneously offering itself! If there are any persons who contest a received opinion, or who will do so if law or opinion will let them, let us thank them for it, open our minds to listen to them, and rejoice that there is some one to do for us what we otherwise ought, if we have any regard for either the certainty or the vitality of our convictions, to do with much greater labour for ourselves. [ch. II, 57-8]

The importance of an enlightened society

But it is not the minds of heretics that are deteriorated most, by the ban placed on all inquiry which does not end in the orthodox conclusions. The greatest harm done is to those who are not heretics, and whose whole mental development is cramped, and their reason cowed, by the fear of heresy. Who can compute what the world loses in the multitude of promising intellects combined with timid characters, who dare not follow out any bold, vigorous, independent train of thought, lest it should land them in something which would admit of being considered irreligious or immoral? Among them we may occasionally see some man of deep conscientiousness, and subtle and refined understanding, who spends a life in sophisticating with an intellect which he cannot silence, and exhausts the resources of ingenuity in attempting to reconcile the promptings of his conscience and reason with orthodoxy, which yet he does not, perhaps, to the end succeed in doing. No one can be a great thinker who does not recognise, that as a thinker it is his first duty to follow his intellect to whatever conclusions it may lead. Truth gains more even by the errors of one who, with due study and preparation, thinks for himself, than by the true opinions of those who only hold them because they do not suffer themselves to think. Not that it is solely, or chiefly, to form great thinkers, that freedom of thinking is required. On the contrary, it is as much, and even more indispensable, to enable average human beings to attain the mental stature which they are capable of. There have been, and may again be, great individual thinkers, in a general atmosphere of mental slavery. But there never has been, nor ever will be, in that atmosphere, an intellectually active people. Where any people has made a temporary approach to such a character, it has been because the dread of heterodox specu­lation was for a time suspended. Where there is a tacit convention that principles are not to be disputed; where the discussion of the greatest questions which can occupy humanity is considered to be closed, we cannot hope to find that generally high scale of mental activity which has made some periods of history so remarkable. Never when controversy avoided the subjects which are large and important enough to kindle enthusiasm, was the mind of a people stirred up from its foundations, and the impulse given which raised even persons of the most ordinary intellect to something of the dignity of thinking beings. Of such we have had an example in the condition of Europe during the times immediately following the Reformation; another, though limited to the Continent and to a more cultivated class, in the speculative movement of the latter half of the eighteenth century; and a third, of still briefer duration, in the intellectual fermentation of Germany during the Goethian and Fichtean period. These periods differed widely in the particular opinions which they developed; but were alike in this, that during all three the yoke of authority was broken. In each, an old mental des­potism had been thrown off, and no new one had yet taken its place. The impulse given at these three periods has made Europe what it now is. Every single improvement which has taken place either in the human mind or in institu­tions, may be traced distinctly to one or other of them. Appearances have for some time indicated that all three impulses are well-nigh spent; and we can expect no fresh start, until we again assert our mental freedom. [ch. II, 43-5]

The longing of uncounted men

I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago. It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criti­cism. It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered. [Preface to 2nd ed.]

The experiment of democracy

The methods of science — with all its imperfections — can be used to improve social, political, and economic systems, and this is, I think, true no matter what criterion of improvement is adopted. How is this possible if science is based on experiment? Humans are not electrons or laboratory rats. But every act of Congress, every Supreme Court decision, every Presidential National Security Directive, every change in the Prime Rate is an experiment. Every shift in eco­nomic policy, every increase or decrease in funding of Head Start, every toughening of criminal sentences is an experiment. Exchanging needles, making condoms available, or decriminalizing marijuana are all experiments. Doing nothing to help Abyssinia against Italy, or to prevent Nazi Germany from invading the Rhineland, was an experiment. Communism in Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union, and China was an experiment. Privatizing mental health care or prisons is an experiment. Japan and West Germany investing a great deal in science and technology and next to nothing on defense — and finding that their economies boomed — was an experiment. Handguns are available for self-protection in Seattle, but not in nearby Vancouver, Canada; handgun killings are five times more common and the handgun suicide rate is ten times greater in Seattle. Guns make impulsive killing easy. This is also an experiment. In almost all of these cases, adequate control experiments are not performed, or variables are insufficiently separated. Nevertheless, to a certain and often useful degree, policy ideas can be tested. The great waste would be to ignore the results of social experiments because they seem to be ideologically unpalatable. [423]

Let the party think for you

In Wirklichkeit aber nimmt mit sehr wenigen Ausnahmen jemand, der in eine Partei eintritt, gehorsam jene Geistes­haltung an, die er später folgendermaßen ausdrücken wird: „Als Monarchist, als Sozialist meine ich, dass …“ Das ist so bequem! Denn es heißt, nicht zu denken. Es gibt nichts Bequemeres als nicht zu denken.

Das dritte Merkmal der Parteien – nämlich dass sie Maschinen zur Fabrikation kollektiver Leidenschaft sind – ist so augenscheinlich, dass es keiner Erläuterung bedarf. Die kollektive Leidenschaft ist die einzige Energie, die den Parteien für die Propaganda nach außen hin und für den Druck, den sie auf die Seele jedes Mitglieds ausüben, zur Verfügung steht.

Man gibt zu, dass der Parteiengeist blind macht, dass er taub macht für die Gerechtigkeit und dass er selbst recht­schaffene Leute zum grausamsten Wüten gegen Unschuldige hinreißt. Man gibt es zu, doch man denkt nicht daran, die Organismen abzuschaffen, die einen solchen Geist fabrizieren. [28-9]

Critical rationality in public life

[Albert:] Falls ich wirklich etwas für Dich bzw. für die Sache des Kritischen Rationalismus im deutschen Sprachraum getan habe, habe ich es ja immer gleichzeitig für meine Sache getan, denn ich identifiziere mich damit und habe auch schon große Freude daran gehabt, daß ich immer wieder Gelegenheit habe, etwas dazu beizutragen. Es ist also ge­wissermaßen ein wohlverstandener Egoismus erheblich daran beteiligt. Ich könnte mir nichts Schöneres vorstellen, als wenn diese Art von Philosophie gerade im deutschen Sprachraum, wo die Aufklärung immer wieder verketzert wurde, sich bis zu einem gewissen Grade durchsetzen würde und wenn von ihr dann auch günstige Wirkungen auf das kultu­relle und politische Leben ausgehen würden. [111]

The supposed limits of the critical method

Erstaunlicherweise pflegt man im deutschen Sprachbereich gerade eine der ältesten und darüber hinaus eine der wirksamsten und für unsere kulturelle und soziale Entwicklung bedeutsamsten Traditionen des europäischen Denkens nicht selten zu vergessen, zu bagatellisieren oder gar zu diffamieren, oder aber sie zumindest als frag­würdig zu behan­deln: nämlich die Tradition des kritischen Denkens und der kritischen Diskussion, der unvor­eingenommenen Analyse und Prüfung von Anschauungen, Wertungen, Autoritäten und Institutionen. Die bei uns noch immer weitverbreitete Gewohnheit, kritisches Denken mit einem negativen Wertakzent zu ver­sehen, mag dazu verleiten, daß man die Rolle und die historische Bedeutung dieser Tradition falsch einschätzt, zumal sich alle möglichen Verfechter von Auffassun­gen, die durch kritische Untersuchungen gefährdet sind, große Mühe geben, eine solche Fehleinschätzung zu fördern und den Wirkungsbereich der Kritik nach Möglich­keit einzuschränken.

Renewing the Enlightenment

Die Tradition der Aufklärung, für die man im deutschen Sprachbereich so selten einen Fürsprecher findet, wird von einem neu durchdachten konsequenten Kritizismus her erneuert werden müssen.

The role of explanation in science

In general, when theories are easily variable in the sense I have described, experimental testing is almost useless for correcting their errors. I call such theories bad explanations. Being proved wrong by experiment, and changing the theories to other bad explanations, does not get their holders one jot closer to the truth.

Because explanation plays this central role in science, and because testability is of little use in the case of bad explan­ations, I myself prefer to call myths, superstitions and similar theories unscientilic even when they make testable predic­tions. But it does not matter what terminology you use, so long as it does not lead you to conclude that there is something worthwhile about the Persephone myth, or the prophet’s apocalyptic theory or the gamblers delusion, just because it is testable. Nor is a person capable of making progress merely by virtue of being willing to drop a theory when it is refuted: one must also be seeking a better explanation of the relevant phenomena. That is the scientific frame of mind. …

The quest for good explanations is, I believe, the basic regulating principle not only of science, but of the Enlightenment generally. It is the feature that distinguishes those approaches to knowledge from all others, and it implies all those other conditions for scientific progress I have discussed: It trivially implies that prediction alone is insufficient. Somewhat less trivially, it leads to the rejection of authority, because if we adopt a theory on authority, that means that we would also have accepted a range of different theories on authority. And hence it also implies the need for a tradition of criticism. It also implies a methodological rule – a criterion for reality – namely that we should conclude that a particular thing is real if and only if it figures in our best explanation of something. [22-3]