Tag Archive: utopia

The scope of piecemeal engineering

The difference between Utopian and piecemeal engineering turns out, in practice, to be a difference not so much in scale and scope as in caution and in preparedness for unavoidable surprises. … [W]hile the piecemeal engineer can attack his problem with an open mind as to the scope of the reform, the holist cannot do this; for he has decided before­hand that a complete reconstruction is possible and necessary. [63]

The idealism of piecemeal engineering

Utopian rationalism is a self-defeating rationalism. However benevolent its ends, it does not bring happiness, but only the familiar misery of being condemned to live under a tyrannical government.

It is important to understand this criticism fully. I do not criticize political ideals as such, nor do I assert that a political ideal can never be realized. This would not be a valid criticism. Many ideals have been realized which were once dogmatically declared to be unrealizable, for example, the establishment of workable and untyrannical institutions for securing civil peace, that is, for the suppression of crime within the state. Again, I see no reason why an international judicature and an international police force should be less successful in suppressing international crime, that is, na­tional aggression and the ill-treatment of minorities or perhaps majorities. I do not object to the attempt to realize such ideals.

Wherein, then, lies the difference between those benevolent Utopian plans to which I object because they lead to vio­lence, and those other important and far-reaching political reforms which I am inclined to recommend?

If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say:

Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means. Rather aim at the elimination of concrete miseries. Or, in more practical terms: fight for the elimination of poverty by direct means—for example, by making sure that everybody has a minimum income. Or fight against epidemics and disease by erecting hospitals and schools of medicine. Fight illiteracy as you fight criminality. But do all this by direct means. Choose what you consider the most urgent evil of the society in which you live, and try patiently to convince people that we can get rid of it.

But do not try to realize these aims indirectly by designing and working for a distant ideal of a society which is wholly good. However deeply you may feel indebted to its inspiring vision, do not think that you are obliged to work for its reali­zation, or that it is your mission to open the eyes of others to its beauty. Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realized. In brief, it is my thesis that human misery is the most urgent problem of a rational public policy and that happiness is not such a problem. The attainment of happiness should be left to our private endeavours.[484-5]

Scientifically planned politics

Das Wichtige am Entwurf einer mittelfristigen Perspektive innerhalb politischer Strukturen ist, daß er formell auf den legitimen Entscheidungsprozeß bezogen sein und zugleich von den Anliegen entfernt sein muß, die den Horizont der Entscheidungsträger begrenzen. Sie muß, mit anderen Worten, eine gesetzliche Grundlage haben, aber unabhängig sein in dem Sinn, daß die Amtszeit der Beteiligten länger ist als die von den Regierungen und Parlamenten. Um das zu erreichen, lassen sich verschiedene Wege denken. Einer ist ein Amt für technologische Bewertung, um einen irre­führenden, aber anerkannten Begriff zu verwenden: eine Behörde, in der Sozial- und Naturwissenschaftler regelmäßig die Politik der Regierung angesichts erklärter Ziele und bekannter Entwicklungen überprüfen. „Technologie“ bedeutet in diesem Zusammenhang die Übersetzung von Theorien in Praxis und die Bewertung der Praxis im Licht der Theorie. Möglicherweise könnte eine solche Einrichtung von der Erfahrung des deutschen Sachverständigenrates für die gesamtwirtschaftliche Entwicklung profitieren, dessen Jahresberichte einen erheblichen Einfluß auf die Wirtschafts­entwicklung des Landes haben. Ein gesetzlich verankerter Rat für mittelfristige Planung, der der Regierung jährlich Bericht erstattet, wäre eine Methode, um eine Mehrzahl von Erfahrungen zu verbinden. Auch auf andere Weise ließe sich wohl mit dem gleichen Problem fertigwerden: daß diejenigen, die sich vor der Öffentlichkeit für das verantworten müssen, was sie gestern getan haben und heute tun, nicht vergessen, daß es auch ein Morgen und Übermorgen geben wird. [110-11]

Pragmatisch zusammengekuschelt

Der neue Pragmatismus, der gegenwärtig so populär ist, das Bestehen auf dem Unmittelbaren, als sei dies ein Wert an sich, ist so blind, wie der Utopismus blendet. Ohne ein Bild der Zukunft läuft der Pragmatiker Gefahr, uns im Kreise herumzuführen – um am Ende noch zu behaupten, daß es nicht sein Fehler war, wenn wir nichts erreicht haben. Es ist sein Fehler. Eines der dringenden Erfordernisse der gegenwärtigen Politik ist die Ergänzung und Korrektur des Prag­matismus der Macher durch das Bewußtsein mittelfristiger Perspektiven. Jemand muß über den Rand der Untertasse hinausblicken, in der sich die meisten Politiker zusammengekuschelt haben, und ihnen sagen, was jenseits ihrer lokalen oder nationalen Wahlkreise, ihrer Wahlperiode, ihres notwendigerweise und zuweilen weniger notwendiger­weise begrenzten Horizonts geschieht. [108]

Don’t panic!

Nor will we ever run out of problems. The deeper an explanation is, the more new problems it creates. That must be so, if only because there can be no such thing as an ultimate explanation: just as ‘the gods did it’ is always a bad explan­ation, so any other purported foundation of all explanations must be bad too. It must be easily variable because it cannot answer the question: why that foundation and not another? Nothing can be explained only in terms of itself. That holds for philosophy just as it does for science, and in particular it holds for moral philosophy: no utopia is possible, but only because our values and our objectives can continue to improve indefinitely.

Thus fallibilism alone rather understates the error-prone nature of knowledge­-creation. Knowledge-creation is not only subject to error: errors are common, and significant, and always will be, and correcting them will always reveal further and better problems. And so the maxim that I suggested should be carved in stone, namely ‘The Earth’s biosphere is incapable of supporting human life’, is actually a special case of a much more general truth, namely that, for people, problems are inevitable. So let us carve that in stone: PROBLEMS ARE INEVITABLE.

It is inevitable that we face problems, but no particular problem is inevitable. We survive, and thrive, by solving each problem as it comes up. And, since the human ability to transform nature is limited only by the laws of physics, none of the endless stream of problems will ever constitute an impassable barrier. So a complementary and equally important truth about people and the physical world is that problems are soluble. By ‘soluble’ I mean that the right knowledge would solve them. It is not, of course, that we can possess knowledge just by wishing for it; but it is in principle accessible to us. So let us carve that in stone too: PROBLEMS ARE SOLUBLE.

That progress is both possible and desirable is perhaps the quintessential idea of the Enlightenment. It motivates all traditions of criticism, as well as the principle of seeking good explanations. But it can be interpreted in two almost opposite ways, both of which, confusingly, are known as ‘perfectibility’. One is that humans, or human societies, are capable of attaining a state of supposed perfection – such as the Buddhist or Hindu ‘nirvana’, or various political utopias. The other is that every attainable state can be indefinitely improved. Fallibilism rules out that first position in favour of the second. Neither the human condition in particular nor our explanatory knowledge in general will ever be perfect, nor even approximately perfect. We shall always be at the beginning of infinity. [64-5]

Moving on

Established mainstream philosophy of science and of society tries to give the impression that it has absorbed what is of value in Popper and moved on. Thus he and his followers are somehow out of step, possibly even outmoded. [23]