THE POVERTY OF HISTORICISM PDF

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1 23 Author's personal copy Metascience blocwindcotssidi.cf REVIEW ESSAY Karl Popper's The Poverty of Historicism after 60 years. The Poverty of Historicism. blocwindcotssidi.cf September 1`, `. This book-length essay is a thinly veiled attack on Marxism, although the word Marx- ism hardly. THE POVERTY OFWSIORiaSM ARK PAPERBACKS THE POVERTY OF HISTORICISM The Poverty of Historicism is a devastating criticism of the belief in the.


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The Poverty of Historicism is a book by twentieth century philosopher Karl Popper which seeks to persuade the reader of both the danger and. The Poverty of. Charles Taylor. IT is not easy to see what kind of doctrine. Professor Popper is trying to pillory under the title "historicism." The main beliefs of. Although the original paper that this book was based on was written over eighty years ago, The Poverty of Historicism contains many important ideas that are still .

There is a further aspect of social newness. We have seen that every particular social happening, every single event in social life, can be said to be new, in a certain sense. It may be classified with other events; it may resemble those events in certain aspects; but it will always be unique in a very definite way. This leads, as far as sociological explanation is concerned, to a situation which is markedly different from that in physics.

It is conceivable that, by analysing social life, we may be able to discover, and to understand intuitively, how and why any particular event came about; that we may clearly understand its causes and effects — the forces which occasioned it and its influence on other events.

Yet we may nevertheless find that we are unable to formulate general laws which would serve as a description, in general terms, of such causal links. For it may be only the one particular socio- logical situation, and no other, which could be cor- rectly explained by the particular forces that we have discovered.

And these forces may well be unique: One which has been discussed very frequently and which wall not be discussed here is the sociological role of certain unique personalities.

Another of these aspects is the complexity of social phenomena. In physics we are dealing with a subject- matter which is much less complicated; in spite of that, we further simpUfy matters artificially by the method of experimental isolation. Since this method is not applicable in sociology we are faced with a twofold complexity — a complexity arising out of the impossi- bility of artificial isolation, and a complexity due to the fact that social life is a natural phenomenon that pre- supposes the mental life of individuals, i.

The fact that sociology comes last in this hierarchy of sciences plainly shows us the tremendous complexity of the factors in- volved in social life.

Even if there were immutable sociological uniformities, like the uniformities in the field of physics, we might very well be unable to find them, owing to this twofold complexity. But if we cannot find them, then there is little point in maintain- ing that they nevertheless exist. In this respect, I quite agree with it, even though I do not believe that historical prophecy is one of the tasks of 12 5] Inexactitude of Prediction the social sciences. Yet historicism argues that social prediction must be very difficult, not only on account of the complexity of social structures, but also on ac- count of a peculiar complexity arising from the inter- connection between predictions and the predicted events.

The idea that a prediction may have influence upon the predicted event is a very old one. Oedipus, in the legend, killed his father whom he had never seen be- fore; and this was the direct result of the prophecy which had caused his father to abandon him.

Historicists have recently pointed out that this kind of influence may be relevant to the social sciences; that it may increase the difficulty of making exact pre- dictions and endanger their objectivity. They say that absurd consequences would follow from the assump- tion that the social sciences could ever be so far developed as to permit precise scientific forecasts of every kind of social fact and event, and that this assumption can therefore be refuted on purely logical grounds.

For, if such a novel kind of scientific social calendar were constructed and became known it could not be kept secret for long since it could in principle be re-discovered by anybody it would cer- tainly cause actions which would upset its prediction. Suppose, for instance, it were predicted that the price of shares would rise for three days and then fall. Plainly, everyone connected with the market would sell on the third day, causing a fall of prices on that day and falsifying the prediction.

The idea, in short, 13 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I of an exact and detailed calendar of social events is self-contradictory; and exact and detailed scientific social predictions are therefore impossible.

But according to historicism, this influence can, under certain circum- stances, have important repercussions upon the pre- dicting observer. It is possible to main- tain that this uncertainty is due to an interaction be- tween the observed object and the observing subject since both belong to the same physical world of action and interaction. As Bohr has pointed out, there are analogies in other sciences to this situation in physics, especially in biology and psychology.

But nowhere is the fact that the scientist and his object belong to the same world of greater moment than in the social sciences, where it leads as has been shown to an uncertainty of prediction, which is sometimes of great practical significance.

We are fiiced, in the social sciences, with a full and complicated interaction between observer and ob- served, between subject and object. The awareness of the existence of tendencies which might produce a fiiture event, and, furthermore, the awareness that the prediction might itself exert an influence on events predicted is likely to have repercussions on the content 14 6] Objectivity and Valuation of the prediction; and the repercussions might be of such a kind as gravely to impair the objectivity of the predictions and of other results of research in the social sciences.

A prediction is a social happening which may inter- act with other social happenings, and among them with the one which it predicts.

It may, as we have seen, help to precipitate this event; but it is easy to see that it may also influence it in other ways. It may, in an extreme case, even cause the happening it predicts: At the other extreme the prediction of an impending event may lead to its prevention so that, by deliberately or negligently abstaining from predicting it, the social scientist, it may be said, could bring it about, or could cause it to happen. There will clearly be many intermediate cases between these two extremes.

The action of predicting something, and that of abstaining from prediction, might both have all sorts of consequences. Now it is clear that social scientists must, in time, become aware of these possibilities. A, social scientist may, for instance, predict something, foreseeing that his prediction will cause it to happen. Or he may deny that a certain event is to be expected, thereby pre- venting it. And in both cases he may be observing the principle which seems to ensure scientific objectivity: But though he has told the truth, we cannot say that he has observed scientific objectivity; for in making forecasts which forthcoming happenings fulfil he may have influenced those happenings in the direction that he personally preferred.

The historicist may admit that this picture is some- what schematic, but he will insist that it brings out sharply a point we find in almost every chapter of the 15 Anti-Xaturalistic Doctrines [I social sciences. The social scientist may be striving to find the truth; but, at the same time, he must always be exerting a definite influ- ence upon society.

The very fact that his pronounce- ments do exert an influence destroys their objectivity. We have so far been assuming that the social scientist really strives to find the truth, and nothing but the truth; but the historicist will point out that the situ- ation we have described brings out the difficulties of our assumption. For where predilections and interests have such influence on the content of scientific theories and predictions, it must become highly doubtful whether bias can be determined and avoided.

Thus we need not be surprised to find that there is very little in the social sciences that resembles the objective and ideal quest for truth which we meet in physics. We must expect to find as many tendencies in the social sciences as can be found in social life; as many stand- points as there are interests. The social group is more than the mere sum total of its members, and it is also more than the mere sum total of the merely personal relationships existing at any moment be- tween any of its members.

This is readily seen even in a simple group consisting of three members. A group founded by A and B will be different in character from a group consisting of the same members but founded by B and C.

A group can easily retain its character intact if it loses some of its less important members. And it is even conceivable that a group may keep much of its original character even if all of its original members are replaced by others. The personalities of its members may have a great influence on the history and structure of the group, but this fact does not pre- vent the group from having a history and a structure of its own; nor does it prevent the group from strongly influencing the personalities of its members.

All social groups have their own traditions, their own institutions, their own rites. Historicism claims that we must study the history of the group, its tradi- tions and institutions, if we wish to understand and explain it as it is now, and if we wish to understand and perhaps to foresee, its future development. For if social structures in general cannot be explained as combinations of their parts or members, then clearly it must be impossible to explain new social structures by this method.

Take the solar system, for instance; although it may be interesting to study its history, and although this study may throw light on its present state, we know that, in a sense, this state is in- dependent of the history of the system. The structure of the system, its future movements and develop- ments, are fully determined by the present constel- i8 8] Intuitive Understanding lation of its members.

Given the relative positions, masses, and momenta, of its members at any one instant, the future movements of the system are all fully determined. We do not require additional know- ledge as to which of the planets is older, or which was brought into the system from outside: Indeed, holism is said to be characteristic of biological phenomena in general, and the holistic approach is regarded as indispensable in considering how the history of various organisms influences their behaviour.

The holistic arguments of historicism are thus apt to stress the similarity between social groups and organisms, although they need not necessarily lead to an acceptance of the biological theory of social structures.

Similarly, the well-known theory of the existence of a group-spirit, as the carrier of the group- traditions, although not necessarily itself a part of the historicist argument, is closely related to the holistic view.

A more historical method of approach is therefore considered necessary in social studies. It is part of the anti-naturalistic view of historicism that we must try to understand intuitively the history of the various social groups, and this view is sometimes developed into a methodological doctrine which is very closely related to historicism, although it is not invariably combined with it.

THE DONOVAN REPORT: A CASE STUDY IN THE POVERTY OF HISTORICISM

It is the doctrine that the proper method of the social sciences, as opposed to the method of the natural sciences, is based upon an intimate understanding of social phenomena.

The following oppositions and con- trasts are usually stressed in connection with this doc- trine. Physics aims at causal explanation: In physics events are explained rigorously and quantitatively, and with the aid of mathematical formulae.

This is why physics oper- ates with inductive generalizations whereas sociology can only operate with the help of sympathetic imagin- ation. And it is also the reason why physics can arrive at universally valid uniformities, and explain par- ticular events as instances of such uniformities, whereas sociology must be content with the intuitive under- standing of unique events, and of the role they play in particular situations, occurring within particular struggles of interests, tendencies, and destinies.

I propose to distinguish between three different variants of the doctrine of intuitive understanding. The first asserts that a social event is understood when 20 8] Intuitive Understanding analysed in terms of the forces that brought it about, i. The actions of individuals or groups are here understood as being in accordance with their aims — as promoting their real advantage or, at least, their imagined advantage.

The method of sociology is here thought of as an imaginative reconstruction of either rational or irrational activities, directed towards certain ends. The second variant goes further. It admits that such an analysis is necessary, particularly in regard to the understanding of individual actions or group activ- ities.

But it maintains that more is needed for the understanding of social life. If we want to understand the meaning of a social event, a certain political action for instance, then it is not enough to understand, teleo- logically, how and why it was brought about. Over and above that, we must understand its meaning, the significance of its occurrence.

From the standpoint I am describing as the second variant, the reply would be: It creates a new situ- ation, demanding a re-orientation and re-interpreta- tion of all objects and of all actions in that particular field.

To understand such an event as, say, the creation of a new army in a certain country, it is necessary to analyse intentions, interests, and so forth. But we can- not fully understand the meaning or significance of this action without also analysing its situational value; the military forces of another country, for example, which were fully sufficient for its protection up to that time, may now have become quite inadequate.

In short, the 21 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I whole social situation may have changed, even before any further factual changes have occurred, either physical or even psychological; for the situation may have changed long before the change has been noticed by anybody. Thus in order to understand social life, we must go beyond the mere analysis of factual causes and effects, i.

The event gains its significance from its influ- ence upon the whole, and its significance is therefore in part determined by the whole. The third variant of the doctrine of intuitive under- standing goes even further, while fully admitting everything maintained by the first and second variant. It holds that to understand the meaning or significance of a social event, more is required than an analysis of its genesis, effects, and situational value.

Over and above such an analysis, it is necessary to analyse ob- jective, underlying historical trends and tendencies such as the growth or dechne of certain traditions or powers prevaihng at the period in question, and to analyse the contribution of the event in question to the historical process by which such trends become mani- fest.

A fiiU understanding of the Dreyfus Affair, for instance, demands over and above an analysis of its genesis, effects, and situational value, an insight into the fact that it was the manifestation of the contest between two historical tendencies in the development of the French Republic, democratic and autocratic, progressive and reactionary. This third variant of the method of intuitive under- standing, with its emphasis on historical trends or tendencies, is a position which suggests to a certain extent the apphcation of inference by analogy from one historical period to another.

For though it fully recog- 22 8] Intuitive Understanding nizes that historical periods are intrinsically different, and that no event can really repeat itself in another period of social development, it can admit that anal- ogous tendencies may become dominant in different periods which are, perhaps, very far removed from one another.

Such similarities or analogies have been said to hold, for instance, between Greece before Alexander, and Southern Germany before Bismarck. We see, accordingly, that a method capable of understanding the meaning of social events must go far beyond causal explanation.

It must be holistic in character; it must aim at determining the role played by the event within a complex structure — within a whole which comprises not only contemporaneous parts but also the successive stages of a temporal development. This may explain why the third variant of the method of intuitive understanding tends to rely upon the analogy between an organism and a group, and why it tends to operate with ideas such as that of a mind or spirit of an age, the source and overseer of all those historical tendencies or trends which play such an important role in determining the meaning of sociological events.

But the method of intuitive understanding does not only fit in with the ideas of holism. See, for example, section i6. In physics, it is said, events are ex- plained rigorously and precisely, in quantitative terms, and with the aid of mathematical formulae. Sociology, on the other hand, tries to understand historical de- velopment more in qualitative terms; for example, in terms of conflicting tendencies and aims. The argument against the applicability of quanti- tative and mathematical methods is by no means peculiar to historicists; and, indeed, such methods are sometimes repudiated even by writers with strong anti- historicist views.

But some of the most persuasive arguments against quantitative and mathematical methods bring out very well the point of view which I call historicism, and these arguments will be dis- cussed here.

When we consider the opposition to the use of quantitative and mathematical methods in sociology, a strong objection must at once occur to us: How, in face of this, can it be denied that they are applicable? Against this objection, the opposition to the quanti- tative and mathematical point of view may be upheld by some arguments characteristic of historicist ways of thinking. The social sciences know nothing that can be compared to the mathematically formulated causal laws of physics.

Consider, for instance, the physical law that for light of any given wave-length the smaller the aper- ture through which a Hght ray passes, the greater is the angle of diffraction. A physical law of this type has the form: In other words, such a law expresses a dependence of one measurable quantity on another and the manner in which the one quantity depends on the other is laid down in exact quantitative terms.

Physics has been successful in ex- pressing all its laws in this form. In order to achieve this, its first task was to translate all physical qualities into quantitative terms. For instance, it had to replace the qualitative description of a certain kind of light — e.

Such a process of quantitatively describing physical qualities is obviously a necessary pre-requisite for the quantitative formulation of causal physical laws. These enable us to explain why some- thing has happened; for example, under the assump- tion of the law concerning the relations between the width of an aperture and the angle of diffraction, we can give a causal explanation of an increase of the angle of diffraction in terms of the fact that the aper- ture was decreased.

Causal explanation, the historicist maintains, must also be attempted by the social sciences. They may, for 25 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I instance, undertake to explain imperialism in terms of industrial expansion. But if we consider this example we see at once that it is hopeless to attempt to express sociological laws in quantitative terms. As there is no known way of expressing in quantitative terms the qualities of these entities, no quantitative laws can be formulated.

Thus, the causal laws of the social sciences, supposing that there are any, must differ widely in character from those of physics, being qualitative rather than quantitative and mathe- matical. If sociological laws determine the degree of anything, they will do so only in very vague terms, and will permit, at the best, a very rough scaling. It appears that qualities — whether physical or non- physical — can only be appraised by intuition.

JVominalism of universals, one of the oldest and most fundamental problems of philosophy. This problem, over which a major battle raged during the Middle Ages, is rooted in the philosophies of Plato and Aristotle. It is usually interpreted as a purely metaphysical problem; but like most meta- physical problems it can be re-formulated so as to be- come a problem of scientific method.

We shall deal only with the methodological problem here, giving a brief outline of the metaphysical issue by way of an introduction.

Such terms as these are proper names, labels attached by convention to the individual things denoted by them. Over the nature of universal terms a long and some- times bitter dispute raged between two parties. One held that universals differ from proper names only in being attached to the members of a set or class of single things, rather than to just one single thing. This is the doctrine of the nominalist party. This property, denoted by the universal term, is regarded as an object which deserves investigation just as much as the individual things themselves.

Thus universal terms are held to denote universal objects, just as singular terms denote indi- vidual things. But essentialism not only believes in the existence of uniyersals i. Singular objects, it points out, show many accidental features, features which are of no interest to science. To take an example from the social sciences: Science must strip away the accidental and penetrate to the essence of things. But the essence of anything is always something universal.

These last remarks indicate some of the method- mogical implications of this metaphysical problem However, the methodological issue I am now going to discuss may in fact be considered independently of the metophysical issue.

We will approach it along another path— one that avoids the question of the existence of universal and singular objects, and of their differences. For they regard words merely as useful instruments of description. Most people will admit that methodological nomin- alism has been victorious in the natural sciences.

Physics does not inquire, for instance, into the essence of atoms or of light, but it uses these terms with great freedom to explain and describe certain physical ob- servations, and also as names of certain important and complicated physical structures. So it is with biology. Nevertheless, scientific biology deals on the whole with different problems, and adopts explanatory and descriptive methods very similar to those used in physics. Thus in the social sciences we should expect methodological naturalists to favour nominalism, and anti-naturalists to favour essentialism.

Yet in fact essentialism seems to have the upper hand here; and 29 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I it is not even faced by any very energetic opposition. It has therefore been suggested that while the methods of the natural sciences are fundamentally nominalistic, social science must adopt a methodological essentialism? Every important sociological entity presupposes uni- versal terms for its description and it would be point- less freely to introduce new terms, as has been done so successfully in the natural sciences.

The task of social science is to describe such entities clearly and properly, i. Although historicists may differ in their attitude towards the metaphysical issue, and in their opinion with regard to the methodology of natural science, it is clear that they will be inclined to side with essentialism and against nominalism so far as the methodology of social science is concerned. In fact, nearly every historicist I know of takes this attitude.

But it is worth considering whether it is only the general anti-natural- istic tendency of historicism that accounts for this, or whether there are any specific historicist arguments that may be urged in favour of methodological essentialism. Nominalism In the first place it is clear that the argument against the use of quantitative methods in social science is relevant to this issue. The emphasis on the qualitative character of social events, together with the emphasis on intuitive understanding as opposed to mere descrip- tion , indicates an attitude closely related to essentialism.

But there are other arguments, more typical of historicism, which follow a trend of thought that will by now be familiar to the reader. Incidentally, they are practically the same arguments as those which, according to Aristotle, led Plato to develop the first theory of essences.

Historicism stresses the importance of change. Now in every change, the historicist might argue, there must be something that changes. Even if nothing remains unchanged, we must be able to identify what has changed in order to speak of change at all.

This is comparatively easy in physics. In mechanics, for ex- ample, all changes are movements, i. But sociology, which is chiefly interested in social institutions, faces greater difficulties, for such institutions are not so easy to identify after they have undergone change. In the simple descriptive sense it is not possible to regard a social institution before a change as the same as that institution after a change; it might, from the descriptive point of view, be entirely different.

A naturalistic description of contemporary institutions of govern- ment in Britcdn, for example, might have to present them as entirely different from what they were four centuries ago. Yet we can say that, in so far as there is a government, it is essentially the same, even although it may have changed considerably. Its function within modern society is essentially analogous to the function it then fulfilled.

Though hardly any describable features have remained the same, the essential identity of the 31 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I institution is preserved, permitting us to regard one institution as a changed form of the other: It is plain, of course, that some sociological terms, such as depression, inflation, deflation, etc.

But even so they have not retained their nominalistic character. As conditions change, we soon find social scientists disagreeing about whether certain pheno- mena are really inflations or not; thus for the sake of precision it may become necessary to investigate the essential nature or the essential meaning of inflation.

The extent of possible changes cannot be limited a priori. It is impossible to say what sort of change a social entity can withstand and yet remain the same. Phenomena which from some standpoints may be essentially different, may from others be essentially the same. From the historicist arguments developed above, it follows that a bare description of social developments is impossible; or rather, that a sociological description can never be merely a description in the nominalist sense.

And if a sociological description cannot dispense with essences, a theory of social development will be even less able to do so. For who would deny that problems such as the determination and explanation of the characteristic features of a certain social period, together with its tensions and intrinsic tendencies and 32 lo] Essentialism vs.

Mominalism trends, must defy all attempts at treatment by nomin- alist methods? Methodological essentialism can accordingly be based on the historicist argument which actually led Plato to his metaphysical essentialism, the Heraclitean argument that changing things defy rational descrip- tion. Hence science or knowledge presupposes some- thing that does not change but remains identical with itself — an essence.

History, i. But this correlation has yet another side: For if that principle of a thing which remains identical or unchanged when the thing changes is its essence or idea, or form, or nature, or substance , then the changes which the thing undergoes bring to light diflferent sides or aspects or possibilities of the thing and therefore of its essence.

The essence, accord- ingly, can be interpreted as the sum or source of the potentialities inherent in the thing, and the changes or movements can be interpreted as the realization or actualization of the hidden potentialities of its essence.

This theory is due to Aristotle. It follows that a thing, i. If, for instance, we want to find out whether a certain thing is made of gold, we have to beat it, or to test it chemically, thus changing it and thereby unfolding some of its hidden potentialities. In the same way, the essence of a man — his personality — can only be known as it unfolds itself in his biography.

Applying this principle to sociology we are led to the conclusion that the essence or the real character, of a social group can reveal itself, and be known, only through its history. But if social groups can be known only through their history, the concepts used to 33 Anti-Naturalistic Doctrines [I describe them must be historical concepts; and indeed, such sociological concepts as the Japanese state or the Italian nation or the Aryan race can hardly be inter- preted as anything but concepts based on the study of history.

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The same is valid for social classes: Essentialism may have been introduced on the ground that it enables us to detect an identity in things that change, but it furnishes in its turn some of the most powerful arguments in support of the doctrine that the social sciences must adopt a historical method; that is to say, in support of the doctrine of historicism.

By saying that it is a theoretical discipline we mean that sociology has to explain and to predict events, with the help of theories or of universal laws which it tries to discover. By describing sociology as empirical, we mean to say that it is backed by experience, that the events it explains and predicts are observable facts, and that observation is the basis for the acceptance or re- jection of any propounded theory. When we speak of success in physics we have in mind the success of its predictions: When we contrast the relative 35 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [II success of sociology with the success of physics, then we are assuming that success in sociology would like- wise consist, basically, in the corroboration of pre- dictions.

It follows that certain methods — prediction with the help of laws, and the testing of laws by observa- tion — must be common to physics and sociology.

I fully agree with this view, in spite of the fact that I consider it one of the basic assumptions of historicism. But I do not agree with the more detailed develop- ment of this view which leads to a number of ideas which I shall describe in what follows. At first sight these ideas might appear to be fairly straightforward consequences of the general view just outlined. But in fact, they involve other assumptions, namely, the anti- naturalistic doctrines of historicism; and more especi- ally, the doctrine of historical laws or trends.

The possibility of such long-term forecasts, they claim, is thereby established, showing that the old dreams of prophesying the distant future do not transcend the limits of what may be attained by the human mind. The social sciences must aim just as high. If it is possible for astronomy to predict eclipses, why should it not be possible for sociology to predict revolutions?

An exact scientific calendar of social events, comparable to, say, the Nautical Almanack, has been shown in sections 5 and 6 to be logically impossible. Even though revolu- tions may be predicted by the social sciences, no such prediction can be exact; there must be a margin of uncertainty as to its details and as to its timing. While conceding, and even emphasizing, the defici- encies of sociological predictions with respect to detail and precision, historicists hold that the sweep and the significance of such forecasts might compensate for these drawbacks.

The deficiencies arise mainly from the complexity of social events, from their interconnec- tions, and from the qualitative character of socio- logical terms. But although social science in conse- quence suffers from vagueness, its qualitative terms at the same time provide it with a certain richness and comprehensiveness of meaning. Predictions of the kind described, i. Accord- ing to historicism, this is the kind of prediction which sociology has to attempt.

It is certainly true that such large-scale forecasts — long-term forecasts of a wide range and possibly some- what vague — can be achieved in some sciences. In- stances of important and fairly successful large-scale prediction can be found within the field of astronomy. Examples are the prediction of sun-spot activity on the basis of periodic laws significant for climatic vari- ations or of daily and seasonal changes in the ioniz- ation of the upper atmosphere significant for wireless communication.

These resemble eclipse predictions in so far as they deal with events in a comparatively 37 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [ii distant future, but they differ from them in being often merely statistical and in any case less exact with respect to details, timing, and other 'features. We see that large-scale predictions are not perhaps impracticable in themselves; and if long-term forecasts are at all attainable by the social sciences then it is fairly clear that they can only be what we have described as large- scale forecasts.

On the other hand, it follows from our exposition of the anti-naturalistic doctrines of histori- cism that short-term predictions in the social sciences must suffer from great disadvantages.

Lack of exactness must affect them considerably, for by their very nature they can deal only with details, with the smaller fea- tures of social life, since they are confined to brief periods. But a prediction of details which is inexact in its details is pretty useless.

Thus, if we are at all inter- ested in social predictions, large-scale forecasts which are also long-term forecasts remain, according to historicism, not only the most fascinating but actually the only forecasts worth attempting. That is so even with the observational basis of astronomy. The facts on which astronomy is based are contained in the records of the observatory; records which inform us, for instance, that at such and such a date hour, second the planet Mercury has been ob- served by Mr.

So-and-so in a certain position. Similarly, the observational basis of sociology can be given only in the form of a chronicle of events, namely of political or social happenings. History in this narrow sense is the basis of sociology. It would be ridiculous to deny the importance of history in this narrow sense as an empirical basis for social science. But one of the characteristic claims of historicism which is closely associated with its denial of the applicability of the experimental method, is that history, political and social, is the only empirical source of sociology.

Thus the historicist visualizes sociology as a theoretical and empirical disciphne whose empirical basis is formed by a chronicle of die facts of history alone, and whose aim is to make forecasts, preferably large-scale forecasts. Clearly, these forecasts must also be of a historical character, since their testing by experience, their verification or refutation, must be left to future history.

Thus the making and testing of large-scale historical forecasts is the task of sociology as seen by historicism. In brief, the historicist claims that sociology is theoretical history. The part of astronomy which historicists usually consider, celestial mechanics, is based on dynamics, the theory of motions as deter- mined by forces. Historicist writers have often insisted that sociology should be based in a similar way on a social dynamics, the theory of socizd movement as determined by social or historical forces.

Statics, the physicist knows, is only an abstraction from dynamics; it is, as it were, the theory of how and why, under certain circumstances, nothing happens, i. Dynamics, on the 39 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [11 other hand, deals with the general case, i. Thus, only dynamics can give us the real, universally valid laws of mechanics; for nature is process; it moves, changes, develops — although sometimes only slowly, so that some developments may be difficult to observe.

But, the historicist might claim, the analogy goes deeper. He might claim, for instance, that soci- ology, as conceived by historicism, is akin to dynamics because it is essentially a causal theory; for causal explanation in general is an explanation of how and why certain things happened. Basically, such an ex- planation must always have an historical element. If you ask someone who has broken his leg how and why it happened, you expect that he will tell you the history of the accident. But even on the level of theo- retical thought, and especially on the level of theories permitting prediction, a historical analysis of the causes of an event is necessary.

A typical example of the need for a historical causal analysis, the historicist will assert, is the problem of the origins, or the essential causes, of war. In physics, such an analysis is achieved by a deter- mination of the interacting forces, i. It has to analyse the forces which produce social change and create human his- tory.

From dynamics we learn how the interacting forces constitute new forces; and conversely, by analysing forces into their components, we are able to penetrate into the more fundamental causes of the events under consideration.

Similarly, historicism de- mands the recogmtion of the fundamental importance 40 14] Historical Laws of historical forces, whether spiritual or material; for example, religious or ethical ideas, or economic inter- ests.

To analyse, to disentangle this thicket of conflict- ing tendencies and forces and to penetrate to its roots, to the universal driving forces and laws of social change — this is the task of the social sciences, as seen by his- toricism. Only in this way can we develop a theoretical science on which to base those large-scale forecasts whose confirmation would mean the success of social theory. Its scientific forecasts must be based on laws, and since they are historical forecasts, forecasts of social change, they must be based on historical laws.

But at the same time the historicist holds that the method of generalization is inapplicable to social science, and that we must not assume uniformities of social life to be invariably valid through space and time, since they usually apply only to a certain cultural or historical period.

But this can only mean that they apply to the whole of human history, covering all of its periods rather than merely some of them.

But there can be no social uniformities which hold good beyond single periods. Thus the only universally valid laws of society must be the laws which link up the successive periods.

They must be laws of historical development w aich. This is what historicists mean by saying that the only real laws of sociology are historical laws. And it makes this idea more concrete, for it shows that these forecasts have the character of historical prophecies.

Sociology thus becomes, to the historicist, an attempt to solve the old problem of foretelling the future; not so much the future of the individual as that of groups, and of the human race. It is the science of things to come, of impending developments. If the attempt to furnish us with political foresight of scientific validity were to succeed, then sociology would prove to be of the greatest value to politicians, especially to those whose vision extends beyond the exigencies of the present, to politicians with a sense of historic destiny.

Some historicists, it is true, are content to predict only the next stages of the human pilgrimage, and even these in very cautious terms. But one idea is common to them all — that sociological study should help to reveal the political future, and that it could thereby become the foremost iiKtrument of far-sighted practical politics.

From the point of view of the pragmatic value of science, the significance of scientific predictions is clear enough. It has not always been realized, however, that two different kinds of prediction can be distinguished in science, and accordingly two different ways of being 42 15] Prophecy vs. Engineering practical.

These two kinds of predictions are obviously very different although both are important and fulfil age- old dreams.

In the one case we are told about an event which we can do nothing to prevent. Its practical value lies in our being warned of the predicted event, so that we can side-step it or meet it prepared possibly with the help of predictions of the other kind. Opposed to these are predictions of the second kind which we can describe as technological predictions since predictions of this kind form a basis of engineering.

They are, so to speak, constructive, intimating the steps open to us if we want to achieve certain results. The greater part of physics nearly the whole of it apart from astronomy and meteorology makes predictions of such a form that, considered from a practical stand- point, they can be described as technological pre- diction.

The distinction between these two sorts of prediction roughly coincides with the lesser or greater importance of the part played by designed experi- ment, as opposed to mere patient observation, in the science concerned. The typical experimental sciences are capable of making technological predictions, while those employing mainly non-experimental observa- tions produce prophecies.

The Canadian Historical Review

I do not wish to be taken as implying that all sciences, or even all scientific predictions, are funda- mentally practical — that they are necessarily either prophetic or technological and cannot be' anything 43 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [II else. I only want to draw attention to a distinction between the two kinds of prediction and the sciences corresponding to them. It is worth noting that this difference between the prophetic and the engineering character of sciences does not correspond to the difference between long-term and short-term predictions.

Although most engineering predictions are short-term there are also long-term technological predictions, for instance, about the life- time of an engine.

Again, astronomical prophecies may be dther short-term or long-term, and most meteor- ological prophecies are comparatively short-term.

The idea of social engineer- 44 1 6 ] The Theory of Historical Development ing, the planning and construction of institutions, with the aim, perhaps, of arresting or of controlling or of quickening impending social developments, appears to some historicists as possible.

To others, this would seem an almost impossible undertaking, or one which overlooks the fact that political planning, like all social activity, must stand under the superior sway of his- torical forces.

Social science is nothing but history: Not, however, history in the traditional sense of a mere chronicle of historical facts. The kind of history with which historicists wish to identify sociology looks not only backwards to the past but also forwards to the future. It is the study of the operative forces and, above all, of the laws of social development.

Accordingly, it could be described as historical theory, or as theoretical history, since the only universally valid social laws have been identified as historical laws. They must be laws of process, of change, of development — not the pseudo-laws of apparent constancies or uniformities. According to historicists, sociologists must try to get a general idea of the broad trends in accordance with which social structures change.

But besides this, they should try to understand the causes of this process, the working of the forces responsible for change. They should tvy to formulate hypotheses about general trends underlying social development, in order that men may adjust themselves to impending changes by deducing prophecies from these laws. In opposition to the histoiicist methodology, we could conceive of a methodology which aims at a techno- logical social science. Such a methodology would lead to the study of the general laws of social life with the aim of finding all those facts which would be indispensable as a basis for the work of everyone seeking to reform social institutions.

There is no doubt that such facts exist. We know many Utopian systems, for instance, which are impracticable simply because they do not consider such facts sufficiently. Historical experience would serve it as a. But, instead of trying to find laws of social development, it would look for the various laws which impose limitations upon the construction of social institutions, or for other uttformities though these, the histoiicist says, do not exist. As well as using counter-arguments of a kind already discussed, the historicist could question the possibility and the utility of such a social technology in another way.

Even so, historicist arguments can show 46 1 6] The Theory of Historical Development that such a plan would deserve no serious consider- ation. It would still remain an unrealistic and Utopian dream, just because it does not take account of the laws of historical development.

Karl Popper

Social revolutions are j. The old idea of a powerful philosopher-king who would put into practice some carefully thought out plans was a fairy-tale invented in the interest of a land-owning aris- tocracy.

The democratic equivalent of this fairy-tale is the superstition that enough people of good will may be persuaded by rational argument to take planned action. History shows that the social reality is quite different. The course of historical development is never shaped by theoretical constructions, however excellent, although such schemes might, admittedly, exert some influence, along with many other less rational or even quite irrational factors. Even if such a rational p lan coincides with the interests of powerful groups it will never be realized in the way in which it was conceived, in spite of the fact that the struggle for its realization would then become a major factor in the historical process.

The real outcome will always be very diffemxt from the rational construction.

It will always be the resultant of the momentary constellation of contesting forces. Furthermore, under no circumstances could the outcome of rational planning become a stable structure; for the balance of forces is bound to change. All social engineering, no matter how much it prides itself on its realism and on its scientific character, is doomed to remain a Utopian dream. So far, the historicist would continue, the argument has been directed against the practical possibility of social engineering backed by some theoretical social science, and not against the idea of such a science it- self.

It can easily be extended, however, so as to prove 47 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [11 the impossibility of any theoretical social science of the technological kind. We have seen that practical engineering ventures must be doomed to failure on account of very important sociological facts and laws. But this implies not only that such a venture has no practical value but also that it is theoretically un- sound, since it overlooks the only really important social laws — the laws of development.

Any social science which does not teach the impossibility of rational social construction is entirely blind to the most important facts of social life, and must overlook the only social laws of real validity and of real im- portance. Social sciences seeking to provide a back- ground for social engineering cannot, therefore, be true descriptions of social facts. They are impossible in themselves.

The historicist will claim that besides this decisive criticism there are other reasons for rejecting techno- -4— - logical sociologies. One reason is, for example, that they neglect such aspects of the social development as the emergence of novelty. The idea that we can construct new social structures rationally on a scientific basis implies that we can bring into existence a new social period more or less precisely in the way we have planned it. Yet if the plan is based on a science that covers social facts, it cannot account for intrinsically new features, only for newness of arrangement see section 3.

But we know that a new period will have its own intrinsic novelty — an argument which must render any detailed planning futile, and any science upon which it is grounded untrue. These historicist considerations can be applied to all social sciences, including economics. Economics, there- 48 17] Interpreting vs.

Planning fore, cannot give us any valuable information con- cerning social reform. Only a pseudo-economics can seek to offer a background for rational economic plan- ning. Truly scientific economics can merely help to reveal the driving forces of economic development through different historical periods. It may help us to foresee the outlines of future periods, but it cannot help us to develop and put into operation any detailed plan for any new period.

What holds for the other social sciences must hold for economics. Historicism fully recognizes that our wishes and thoughts, our dreams and our reasoning, our fears and our know- ledge, our interests and our energies, are all forces in the development of society. It does not teach that nothing can be brought about; it only predicts that neither your dreams nor what your reason constructs will ever be brought about according to plan.

Only such plans as fit in with the main current of history can be effective. We can now see exactly the sort of activity admitted by historicists to be reasonable.

Only such activities are reasonable as fit in with, and help along, the impending changes. Social midwifery is the only perfectly reasonable activity open to us, the only activity that can be based upon scientific foresight.

Although no scientific theory as such can directly encourage activity it could only discourage certain 49 Pro-Naturalistic Doctrines [11 activities as unrealistic , it can, by implication, give encouragement to those who feel that they ought to do something.

Historicism definitely offers this Idnd of encouragement. It even gives human reason a certain part to play; for it is scientific reasoning, historicist social science, which alone can tell us the direction any reasonable activity must take if it is to coincide with the direction of impending changes.

Historical prophecy and the interpretation of his- tory must thus become the basis of any thought-out and realistic social action. Consequently, interpretation of history must be the central job of historicist thought; and in point of fact it has become so. All the thoughts and all the activities of historicists aim at interpreting the past, in order to predict the future. Can historicism offer hope or encouragement to those who want to see a better world?

But this view would amount to a belief in social and political miracles, since it denies to human reason the power of bringing about a more reasonable world.

In fact, some influential historicist writers have optimistically foretold the coming of a realm of free- dom, in which human affairs could be planned ration- ally. And they teach that the transition from the realm of necessity in which mankind at present suffers to the realm of fireedom and reason cannot be brought about by reason but miraculously — only by harsh necessity, by the blind and inexorable laws of historical develop- ment, to which they counsel us to submit.

Those who desire an increase in the influence of reason in social life can only be advised by historicism to study and interpret history, in order to discover the 50 1 7] Interpreting vs. Planning laws of its development. If such interpretation reveals that changes answering to their desire are impending, then the desire is a reasonable one, for it agrees with scientific prediction.

If the impending development happens to tend in another direction, then the wish to make the world more reasonable turns out to be en- tirely unreasonable; to historicists it is then just a Utopian dream.

Activism can be justified only so long as it acquiesces in impending changes and helps them along. I have already shown that the naturalistic method, as seen by historicism, implies a definite sociological theory — the theory that society does not significantly develop or change.

We now find that the historicist method implies a strangely similar sociological theory — the theory that society will necessarily change but along a predetermined path that cannot change, through stages predetermined by inexorable necessity. But this much it can do: Although it teaches neither inactivity nor real fa talism, historicism teaches the futility of any attempt to alter impending changes; a peculiar variety of fatahsm, a fatalism in regard to the trends of history, as it were.

But it is in conflict with the most significant doctrines of historicism. For as we now see, we may say: For these formulations try to show that the leanings of some historicists towards optimism or activism are defeated by the outcome of the historicist analysis itself This may seem to imply the charge that historicism is inconsistent.

And it may be objected that it is not fair to allow criticism and irony to creep into an exposition. I do not think this reproach would be just, however. Only those who are optimists or activists first, and historicists afterwards, can take my remarks as critical in an adverse sense. There will be many who feel in this way: But to those who are primarily historicists, my remarks ought to appear not as a criticism of their historicist doctrines but only as a criticism of attempts to link it with optimism or activism.

They are these: all tests can be interpreted as attempts to weed out false theories - to find the weak points of a theory in order to reject it if it is falsified by the test. This view is sometimes considered paradoxical; our aim, it is said, it to establish theories, not to eliminate false ones. But just because it is our aim to establish theories as well as we can, we must test them as severely as we can; that is, we must try to find fault with them, we must try to falsify them.

Only if we cannot falsify them in spite of our best efforts can we say that they have sood up to severe tests.

This is the reason why the discovery of instances which confirm a theory mean very little if we have not tried, and failed, to discover refutations. For if we are uncirtical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favour of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted.

In order to make the method of selection by elimination work, and to ensure that only the fittest theories survive, their struggle for life must be made severe by them. Extract from Chapter The Unity of Method: Page Extract from "The Poverty of Historicism" by Karl Raimund Popper Originally published in book form Edition extracts taken from version published by Routledge and Kegan Paul , reprint, ISBN 0 2 "For we can say b that is it irrelevant from the point of view of science whether we have obtained our theories by jumping to unwarranted conclusions or merely by stumbling over them that is, by 'intuition' , or else by some inductive procedure.

The question 'How did you first find your theory? And the method of testing described here is fertile; it leads to new observations, and to a mutual give and take between theory and observation. Is there nothing whatever in the historicist demand for the reform of history - for a sociology which plays a role of a theoretical history, or a theory of historical development?

See sections 12 and Is there nothing whatever in the historicist idea of 'periods'; of the 'spirit' or 'style' of an age; of irresistible historical tendencies; of movements which captivate the minds of individuals and which surge on like a flood, driving, rather than being driven by individual men? Nobody who had read, for example the speculations of Tolstoy in War and Peace - historicist, no doubt, but stating his motives with candour - on the movement of the men of the West towards the East and the counter movement of the Russians towards the West, can deny that historicism answers a real need.

We have to satisfy this need by offering something better before we can seriously hope to get rid of historicism. Tolstoy's historicism is a reaction against a method of writing history which implicitly accepts the truth of the principle of leadership; a method which attributes much - too much, if Tolstoy is right, as he undboubtedly is - to the great man, the leader.

Tolstoy tires to show, successfully I think, the small influence of the actions and decisions of Napoleon, Alexander Kutuzov, and the other great leaders of , in the face of what may be called the logic of events.

Tolstoy points out, rightly, the neglected by very great importance of decisions and actions of the countless unknown individuals who fought the battles, who burned Moscow, and who invented the partisan method of fighting.

But he believes that he can see some kind of historical determination in these events - fate, historical laws, or a plan.

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In his version of historicism, he combines both methodological individualism and collectivism; that is to say, he represents a high typical combination - typical of his time, and, I am afraid, of our own - of democratic-individualist and collectivist-nationalistic elements. This example may remind us that there are some sound elements in historicism; it is a reaction aginst the naive method of interpreting political history merely as the story of great tyrants and great generals.

Historicists rightly reel that there may be somethign better than this method. It is this feeling which makes the idea of 'spirits' - of an age, of a nation, of an army - so seductive.

Historical Interpretation: Page Extract from "The Poverty of Historicism" by Karl Raimund Popper Originally published in book form Edition extracts taken from version published by Routledge and Kegan Paul , reprint, ISBN 0 2 "The only way out of this difficulty is, I bleive, consciously to introduce a preconceived selective point of view into one's history; that is, to write that history which interests us.

This does not mean that we may twist the facts until they fit into a framework of preconceived ideas, or that we may neglect the facts that do not fit. On the contrary and objectively in the sense of 'scientific objectivity', to be discussed in the next section. But it means that we need not worry about all those facts and aspects which have no bearing upon our point of view and which therefor do not interest us. Such selective approaches fulfil functions in the study of history which are in some ways analogous to those of theories of science.

It is therefore understandable that they have often been taken for theories.

And indeed, those rare ideas inherent in these approaches which can be formulated in the form of testable hypotheses, whether singular or universal, may well be treated as scientific hypotheses. But as a rule, these historical 'approaches' or 'points of view' cannot be tested.

They cannot be refuted, and apparent confirmation are therefore of no value, even if they are as numerous as the stars in the sky. We shall call such a selective point of view or focus of historical interest, if it cannot be formualted as a testable hypothesis, a historical interpretation. Historicism mistakes these interpretations for theories. This is one of its cardinal errors. It is possible for example, to interpret 'history' as the history of class struggle, or of the struggle of races for supremacy, of as the history of religious ideas, or as the history of the struggle between the 'open' and the 'closed' society, or as the history of scientific and industrial progress.

All these are more or less interesting points of view, and as such perfectly unobjectionable. But historicists do not present them as such; they do not see that there is necessarily a plurality of interpretations which are fundamentally on the same level of both, suggestiveness and arbitrariness even though some of them may be distinguished by their fertility - a point of some importance.

Instead, theh present them as doctrines or theories, asserting that 'all history is the history of class struggle', etc. And if they actually find that their point of view is fertile, and that many facts can be ordered and interpreted in its light, then they mistake this for a confirmation, of even for a proof, of their doctrine.

By closing down, or by controlling laboratories for research, by supperssing. For science needs evend more competition between hypotheses and ever more rigourous tests. And the competing hypotheses need personal representation, as it were: they need advoates, they need a jury, and even a public. This personal representation must be institutionally organized if we wish to ensure that is works. And these institutions have to be paid for, and protected by law.

Ultimately progress depends very largely on political factors; on political institutions that safeguard the freedom of through: on democracy. It is of some interest that what is usually called 'scientific objectivity' is based, to some extent on social institutions. The naive view that scientific objectivity rests on the mental or psychological attitude of the individual scientist, on his training, care, and scientific detachment, generates as a reaction the sceptical view that scientists can never be objective.

It overlooks the fact that it is the public character of science and of its institutions which imposes a mental discipline upon the individual scientist, and which preserves the objectivity of science and its tradition of critically discussing new ideas. There may, for example, be an epidemic of mysticism. This is certainly possible, for since some do react to scientific progress or to the demands of an open society by withdrawing into mysticism, everyone might react in this way.

Such a possiblity may perhaps be counteracted by devising a further set of social institutions, such as educational institutions, to discourage uniformity of outlook and encourage diversity.

Also, the idea of progess and its enthusiastic propagation may have some effect. But all this cannot make progess certain. For we cannot exclude the logical possibility, say, of a bacterium or virus that spreads the wish for Nirvana. We thus find that even the best institutions can never be foolproof.

As I have said before, 'Institutions are like fortresses. They must be well desinged and properly manned'. But we can never make sure that the right man will be attracted by scientific research. Nor can we make sure that there will be men of imagination who have the knack of inventing new hypotheses. And ultimately, much depends on sheer luck, in these matters. For truth is not manifest, and it is a mistake to believe - as did Comte and Mill - that once the 'obstacles' the allusion is to the Church are removed, truth will be visible to all who genuinely want to see it" Controlling the Human Factor Extract from Chapter The Institutional Theory of Progess: Page Extract from "The Poverty of Historicism" by Karl Raimund Popper Originally published in book form Edition extracts taken from version published by Routledge and Kegan Paul , reprint, ISBN 0 2 "With this, we reach a result which contrasts startingly wiht the still fashionable method of Comte and Mill.

Instead of reducing sociological considerations to the apparently firm basis of psychology of human nature, we might say that the human factor is the ultimate uncertain and wayward element in social life and in all social institutions.

Indeed this is the element which ultimately cannot be completely controlled by institutions as Spinoza first saw ; for every attempt at controlling it completely must lead to tyranny; which means, to the omnipotence of the human factor - the whims of a few men, or even of one.

But it is not possible to control the human factor by science - the opposite of whim? No doubt, biology and psychology can solve, or will soon be able to solve, the 'problem of transforming man'. Yet those who attempt to do this are bound to destroy the objectivity of science, and science itself, since these are both based upon free competition of thought; that is, upon freedom. If the growth of reason is to continue, and human rationality is to survive, then the diversity of individuals and their opinions, aims, and purposes must never be interfered with except in extreme cases where political freedom is endangered.

Even the emotionally satisfying appeal for a common purpose, however excellent, is an appeal to abandon all rival moral opinions and the cross-criticisms and arguments to which they give rise. It is an appeal to abandon rational thought. The evolutionist who demands the 'scientific' control of human nature does not realize how suicidal this demand is. The mainspring of evolution and progress is the variety of the material which may become subject to selection. So far as human evolution is concerned it is the 'freedom to be odd and unlike one's neighbour' - 'to disagree with the majority, and go one's own way'.

Holistic control, which must lead to the equalization not of human rights but of human minds, would mean the end of progress! Its oldest forms, such as the doctrines of the life cycles of cities and races, actually precede the primative teleological view that there are hidden purposes behind the apparently blind decrees of fate. Although this divination of bidden purposes is far removed from the scientific way of thinking it has left unmistakable traces upon even the most modern historicist theories.Cassirer, vol.

They must be well designed and properly manned. Hayek had a considerable influence on Popper, but few commentators seem to have noticed. Publication was delayed by some years because my manuscript was rejected by the philosophical periodical to which it was submitted. The practical significance of this logical situation is considerable: And there it remained until the three articles were published, with some modifications, 12 years later, as the slim volume that is here under review.

If, on the other hand, the prediction of a trend that is conditional—based on a theory— is falsified, we have an idea where to start looking for the source of the falsification. Jacobs, S.

KILEY from Gilbert
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