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Cafe Philosophique: Karl Popper

January 14 @ 6:30 pm - 9:30 pm GMT

Karl Popper

Join us for a lively evening discussion. No knowledge of philosophy required; just a willingness to ask questions and have an open mind. To reserve a place at our next cafe email Matt (matt@topspinwebdesign.co.uk) or phone 07726 303517 / 01905 767426. Cost is £10, which includes a 2-course meal. Pay on the day. Please let Matt know if you have any special dietary requirements. (More details on our Facebook page).

Karl Popper

Karl Popper, along with his colleague Hayek, left Vienna in the 1930’s. After the War they were both awarded professorships at the LSE. His advocacy of the Open Society played a key role in political philosophy at a time when totalitarianism continued to be a major threat to western democracies. In his book Open Society and Its Enemies, Popper argues that no philosophy or ideology is the final arbiter of truth, and that societies can only flourish when they allow for democratic governance, freedom of expression, and respect for individual rights.

His advocacy of critical rationalism allies himself with the free thinking of Socrates rather than Plato, Hegel and Marx who he argued were enemies of the State advocating that the individual role is to serve the state. Popper’s defence of the Open Society was based on fundamental questions of political philosophy such as:

  1. Who decides how society should be organised?
  2. How should such decisions be implemented?
  3. For whose benefit is society organised?

He based his analysis  on two sets of underlying philosophical adds psychological perspectives  i.e.

  1. the tension between freedom and social justice
  2. the nature of knowledge including the impossibility of learning from past events (and, he argued, the subjective selection of events by the role of memory) as well as the impossibility of learning from a scientific approach to understanding  (as science, he argued, can only establish what is wrong – not what is right).

Central to his thinking was the human ‘instinct’ towards ‘tribalism’ and its associations with strong leadership, an idealistic view of the past and the comfort of ‘group thinking’ with its defence against critical thinking. This included religion and its regression to a Garden of Eden mentality. He argued that closed groups that advocated an ideal of social justice were actually participating in this regression and that in doing so were giving up any sense of equality and freedom.

Popper concluded that socialism was “no more than a beautiful dream,” and the dream is undone by the conflict between freedom and equality. The Great Society only becomes possible through individual efforts being guided not by the aim of helping particular other persons but by the identification of laws which are just and for all.

Popper asks: Is there really no other way for people to maintain a democratic government than by handing over unlimited power to a closed group of elected representatives whose decisions must be guided by the outcomes of bargaining processes in which they negotiate with a sufficient number of supporters to out vote the rest? Furthermore, in order to retain a majority, they must do what they can to buy the support of the different groups of interests by granting them special benefits. Claims by these different and usually minority groups to represent the will of the people often result in unintended consequences rather than deliberate decisions by and for the majority.

His reply to this question of whether there is an alternative to government by closed groups is that there cannot be any return to an implied harmonious state of Nature – a Garden of Eden. Once we become fully human and begin to rely upon our reason, feel the call of personal responsibilities, and acknowledge the responsibility of helping to advance knowledge we cannot return to the closed society. If we wish to remain human then there is only one way – the way of the Open Society. We must go on into the unknown, the uncertain and insecure using what reasoning we may have to plan for both security and freedom.


Matthew Jenkins
01905767426 / 07726303517


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