Lachlan passed away in January 2010.  As a memorial, this site remains as he left it.
Therefore the information on this site may not be current or accurate and should not be relied upon.
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Welcome to Lachlan Cranswick's Personal Homepage in Melbourne, Australia

Extracts from "Philosophy and the Real World : An Introduction to Karl Popper" by Bryan Magee : Published by Open Court Publishing, July 1985, ISBN: 0875484360

(An excellent background explanation (commonly out of print) to the philosophy of Karl Popper and to : "The Open Society and its Enemies vol 1: The Spell of Plato" by Karl Raimund Popper and "The Open Society and Its Enemies Volume 2: Hegel and Marx" by Karl Raimund Popper (Originally published 1945) )
"The general guiding principle for public policy put forward in The Open Society is: 'Minimize avoidable suffering'." Followed by: "Maximize the freedom of individuals to live as they wish" - quoted in "Philosophy and the Real World : An Introduction to Karl Popper" by Bryan Magee, ISBN: 0875484360 (Chapter 6)

"The vital question is not 'Who should rule?' but 'How can we minimize misrule?" - quoted in "Philosophy and the Real World : An Introduction to Karl Popper" by Bryan Magee, ISBN: 0875484360 (Chapter 6)

Lachlan's Homepage is at http://lachlan.bluehaze.com.au

[Back to Lachlan's Homepage] | [What's New at Lachlan's Homepage] | [Historial things, Literature and Poetry] | [Literature] | [Karl Popper Links]

[Galbraith: The Great Crash: 1929] | [Galbraith: Culture of Contentment] | [Galbraith: Money]
[Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 1] | [Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 2]
[Maggee: on the Philosphy of Karl Popper] | [Popper: Poverty of Historicism]
[Beard: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States]

The Bryan Magee Homepage

Top notch warts and All Obituary of Karl Popper: THE BRITISH ACADEMY: Obituary of Karl Raimund Popper: 1902 - 1994: by John Watkins: London School of Economics: (Published (December 1997) in Proceedings of the British Academy, Volume 94, pp. 645 to 684): http://www.britac.ac.uk/pubs/src/popper/

Biography and assessment of Karl Popper (at the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy): http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/popper/


samizdat: [Russ., lit., self published.] a system by which manuscripts denied official publication in the Soviet Union are circulated clandestinely in typescript or in mimeograph form, or are smuggled out for publication.

verisimilitude: [L. verisimilitudo, from verisimilis; see verisimilar]

  1. the appearance of being true or real
  2. something that has the mere apearance of being true or real

Routledge On... Karl Popper ("In 1945 Routledge and Kegan Paul published the first book by an unknown author, Karl Popper. Originally entitled A Social Philosophy for Everyman, it had been turned down by a considerable number of publishers when Herbert Read, then a director of Routledge, determined to take it on. It came out under the title, The Open Society and Its Enemies"): http://www.routledge.com/popper/

Karl Popper links

Web and literature references on the Toxicology and effects of Hemlock on humans and animals (For those curious about effects of Hemlock vs the reported accounts of deaths of Socrates (by Plato!) and Seneca; and pondering whether the reported toxicology is consistent.)

Extracts from "Egypt, Greece and Rome Civilizations of the Ancient Mediterranean" by Charles Freeman (Pub. 1999)

Chapter 6 - The Open Society

Extract from "Philosophy and the Real World : An Introduction to Karl Popper" by Bryan Magee Published by Open Court Publishing, July 1985, ISBN: 0-87548-436-0

From Plato to Marx most great political philosophies have had their roots in related views not only of social and historical development but of logic and science, and ultimately of epistemology. Readers who have followed me thus far can see now that Popper's is no exception. Because he regards living as first and foremost a process of problem solving he wants societies which are conducive to problem solving. And because problem-solving calls for the bold propounding of trial solutions which are then subjected to criticism and error-elimination, he wants forms of society which permit of the untrammelled assertion of differing proposals, followed by criticism, followed by the genuine possibility of change in the light of criticism. Regardless of any moral considerations (and it is of the highest importance to grasp this) he believes that a society organized on such lines will be more effective at solving its problems, and therefore more successful in achieving the aims of its members, than if it were organized on other lines. The common notion that the most efficient form of society, in theory at least, would be some form of dictatorship, is on this view utterly mistaken. That the dozen or more countries in the world that have the highest living standards (not that this would be his main criterion) are all liberal democracies is not because democracy is a luxury which their wealth enables them to afford: on the contrary, the mass of their people were living in poverty when they achieved universal suffrage. The causal connection is the other way round. Democracy has played a vital role in bringing about and sustaining high Living standards. Materially as in other ways, a society is practically bound to be more successful if it has free institutions than if it does not.

All government policies, indeed all executive and administrative decisions, involve empirical predictions: 'If we do X, Y will follow: on the other hand if we want to achieve B we must do A.' As everyone knows, such predictions not infrequently turn out to be wrong - everyone makes mistakes - and it is normal for them to have to be modified as their application proceeds. A policy is a hypthesis which has to be tested against reality and corrected in the light of experience. Detecting mistakes and inherent dangers by critical examination and discussion beforehand is an altogether more rational procedure, and one as a rule less wasteful of resources, people and time, than waiting till they reveal themselves in practice. Furthermore it is often only by critical examination of the practical results, as distinct from the policies themselves, that some of the mistakes are to be identified. For, in this connection, it is essential to face the fact that any action we take is likely to have unintended consequences. This simple point is one whose implications are highly charged for politics, administration and any form of planning. It can be illustrated easily. If I want to buy a house my very appearance in the market as a buyer will tend to raise the price: but although this is a direct consequence of my action no one can possibly maintain that it is an intended one. And when I go on to take out an insurance policy to raise a mortgage, this will tend to raise the value of the insurance company's shares: and again this direct consequence of my action has no connection with my intentions. (See pp. 103 and 105). Things are all the time happening which nobody planned or wants. And this inescapable fact should be allowed for both in decision making and in the creation of organizational structures: if it is nor it will be a permanent source of distortion. This again reinforces the need for critical vigilance in the administration of policies, and the allowance for their correction by error elimination. So not only do authorities which

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In all these cases the maximum possible tolerance or freedom is an optimum, not an absolute, for it has to be restricted if it is to exist at all. The government intervention which alone can guarantee it is a dangerous weapon: without it, or with too little, freedom dies: but with too much of it freedom dies also. We are brought back to the inescapability of control - which must mean, if it is to be effective, removability - of government by the governed as the "sine qua non" of democracy. This however, though necessary, is not sufficient It does not guarantee the preservation of freedom, for nothing can: the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. As Popper has remarked, institutions are like fortresses in that although to be effective they have to be properly constructed this alone will not make them work: they have also to be properly manned.

By and large political philosophers have regarded the most important question as being 'Who should rule?' and their differing philosophies seek to justify different answers: a single man, the well-born, the rich, the wise, the strong, the good, the majority, the proletariat, and so on. But the question itself is mistaken, for several reasons. First, it leads straight to another of Popper's paradoxes, which he calls 'the paradox of sovereignty'. If, say, power is put in the hands of the wisest man, he may from the depths of his wisdom adjudge: 'Not I but the morally good should be the ruler'. If the morally good has power he may say, being saintly: 'It is wrong for me to impose my will on others. Not I but the majority should rule'. The majority, having power, may say: 'We want a strong man to impose order and tell us what to do'. A second objection is that the question: 'Where should sovereignty lie?' rests on the assumption that ultimate power must be somewhere, which is not the case. In most societies there are different and to some extent conflicting power centres, not one of which can get everything its own way. In some societies power is quite widely diffused. The question 'Yes, but where does it ultimotely lie?' eliminates before it is raised the possibility of control over rulers, when this is the most important of all things to establish. The vital question is not 'Who should rule?' but 'How can we minimize misrule - both the likelihood of its occurring and, when it does occur, its consequences?'

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The general guiding principle for public policy put forward in The Open Society is: 'Minimize avoidable suffering'. Characteristically this has the immediate effect of drawing attention to problems. If, say, an Education Authority set itself the aim of maximizing opportunity for the children under its care it might, understandably, not be sure how to go about doing this; or it might start thinking in terms of spending its money on the building of model schools. But if, rather, it sets itself the aim of minimizing disadvantage, this directs its attention immediately to the most underprovided schools - those with the worst staffing problems, the most overcrowded classes, the slummiest buildings, the least or west educational equipment and makes doing something about them the fust priority. The Popperian approach has this consequence right across the board: instead of encouraging one to think about building Utopia it makes one seek out, and try to remove, the specific social evils under which human beings are suffering. In this way it is above all a practical approach, and yet one devoted to change. It starts from concern with human beings, and involves a permanent, active willingness to remould institutions.

'Minimize unhappiness' is not just a negative formulation of the Utilitarian maxim 'Maximize happiness'. There is a logical asymmetry here: we do not know how to make people happy, but we do know ways of lessening their unhappiness. Readers will at once see an analogy between this and the verifiability or falsifiability of scientific statements. 'I believe that there is, from the ethical point of view, no symmetry between suffering and happiness, or between pain and pleasure..., human suffering makes a direct moral appeal, namely, the appeal for help, while there is no similar call to increase the happiness of a man who is doing well anyway. (A further criticism of the Utilitarian formula "Maximize pleasure" is that it assumes, in principle, a continuous pleasure-pain scale which allows us to treat degrees of pain as negative degrees of pleasure. But, from the moral point of view, pain cannot be outweighed by pleasure, and especially not one man's pain by another man's pleasure. Instead of the greatest happiness for the greatest number, one should demand, more modestly, the least amount of avoidable suffering for all; and further, that unavoidable suffering - such as hunger in times of unavoidable shortage of food - should be distributed as equally as possible.)*" (The Open Society and its Enemies, vol. i, pp. 284-285)

Such an approach, Popper lightly claims, leads to a perpetual stream of demands for immediate action to remedy identifiable wrongs. And such action is of a kind most likely to secure widespread agreement, and result in manifest improvement. He is also, and again rightly, anxious to avoid Utopianism, which in practice is intolerant and authoritarian (this point will be returned to at greater length in the next chapter). There is, however, some doubt as to whether 'Minimize unhappiness' goes far enough to be our chief political maxim, for all its great heuristic value. It confines itself to rectifying abuses and anomalies within an existing pattern of distribution of power, possessions and opportunity. Taken literally, it would seem to rule out even such moderate liberal measures as state subsidy of the arts, and the municipal provision of such things as sports grounds and swimming baths. So extremely conservative a position would be an unnatural consequence of Popper's radical philosophy, at least in an affluent society - it has, indeed, proved too conservative for even a professional Conservative politician* (Sir Edward Boyle: New Society, 12.9.1963)

- and Popper himself would not want to rest on it. We should make it a methodological rule always to apply it first, and act on the consequences, but then wherever possible to look at the situation afresh, in terms of a second, richer formulation which subsumes our first one. The second formulation is: 'Maximize the freedom of individuals to live as they wish'. This requires massive public provision in education, the arts, housing, health, and every other aspect of social life - but always with the effect of extending the range of choice, and hence the freedom, open to individuals.


[Galbraith: The Great Crash: 1929] | [Galbraith: Culture of Contentment] | [Galbraith: Money]
[Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 1] | [Popper: Open Society and its Enemies vol 2]
[Maggee: on the Philosphy of Karl Popper] | [Popper: Poverty of Historicism]
[Beard: An Economic Interpretation of the Constitution of the United States]

[Back to Lachlan's Homepage] | [What's New at Lachlan's Homepage] | [Historial things, Literature and Poetry] | [Literature] | [Karl Popper Links]

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