Eugene Yue-Ching Ho
Originally published in Intellectus
23 (Jul-Sep 1992), p. 6.
Intellectus is the official bulletin of the Hong Kong Institute of Economic Science (IES).
(HTML Version: 29th January 1997)
Following IES's publication (IES Book Series No. 1) in November 1991 of my Chinese translation of Sir Karl Popper's new work, A World of Propensities, the second in the Series appeared in July 1992. Co-edited by Mr Robert Lee and myself, it is a Chinese festschrift in honour of Sir Karl Popper, who has just turned 90 years old on 28 July this year. It came out on 14 July, just 4 days before Mr Pui-Chong Lund and I left for England to meet Sir Karl and attend his birthday party (see my essay "At 90 and Still Dynamic: Revisiting Sir Karl Popper and Attending His Birthday party"). Together, Mr Lund and I presented the book to him as one of our birthday gifts.
Many of Sir Karl's books have been reissued in 1991 and 1992, in time for his 90th birthday. Among them are Realism and the Aim of Science, The Open Universe, Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics, Conjectures and Refutations, The Poverty of Historicism, the two volumes of The Open Society and Its Enemies, and, last but not least, his intellectual autobiography Unended Quest, which includes a foreword by Helmut Kohl, the Chancellor of Germany. This foreword, by the way, came as a nasty shock for Popper. "I have never had anybody write things in my book before," he said. "Why would I want this?...I respect this man [ie., Chancellor Kohl], but he compliments me on my modesty and now people will think I wanted him to be praising me."
There are translations of Popper's works too. Of particular interest is the Russian translation of The Open Society: 50,000 copies are about to appear in Russia, where once it was censored, because of its scathing attack on Marxism. Then there is a revised translation of The Open Society in German.
But although these great works have been either reprinted or given a new translation, there is not a single festschrift in the Western world dedicated to this distinguished philosopher. The IES festschrift, therefore, is unique in one very important sense: IT IS THE ONLY CELEBRATORY VOLUME PUBLISHED ON OCCASION OF SIR KARL'S 90TH BIRTHDAY. There is simply not a second festschrift which reminds the intellectual world that he is now in his ninetieth year.
12 authors have contributed essays which make up the IES festschrift, 9 of them members of our Institute: Mr Henry Woo, Dr Tommy Lau, Dr Man Si-Wai, Mr Lee Ching-Teen, Dr Ip Po-Keung, Dr Rex Li, Mr Pui-Chong Lund, and us two co-editors. The other three contributors are Professors Qiu Ren-Zong and Ji Shu-Li and Mr Ho Wing-Kuan. Sir Karl being an influential thinker who is equally knowledgeable in philosophy, the natural and biological sciences, the social and political sciences, history, and other cultural subjects, the festschrift therefore carries essays which deal with these topics. There is, for example, an essay on Popper and social science; one on Popper's understanding of the meaning of history; and three on the open society and some related problems. Other contributions consider his "Conjecture-and-Refutation" methodology, his realistic interpretation of quantum physics (as opposed to the naive Copenhagen Interpretation), his evolutionary theory of knowledge, his correspondence theory of truth as applied to the criticism of religion, and his "World 3" theory, etc. Then there are three contributions which give a glimpse of the human side of Popper, one being a biographical essay, and the other two being reports of the two co-editors' visits to him in 1990 and 1991 respectively.
I had, in preparing the festschrift, made an attempt to ask Sir Karl to write something in the form of a foreword or introduction. But that was the time when he was busily engaged in lecture tours in Spain, Germany, and other places; besides, he said he had other things to write about. "I am too old to work fast," he wrote in a neatly hand-written letter dated 7 February 1992, "and I have, unfortunately, more to write than I can! I should have loved to honour you and your readers by a good essay--but good essays need good ideas and a good deal of hard, long work." However, he agreed that we print the facsimile of his letter in the festschrift. (The handwriting, as it appears in the letter, does not betray Sir Karl's old age: instead, it represents him as still having a very steady hand.)
Although unsuccessful in obtaining a formal foreword from Sir Karl, I did actually gain other help from him and from his secretary, Mrs Melitta Mew, in preparing the festschrift: they had provided me with three photographs of Sir Karl (two black-and-whites, and one in colour), as well as an 87-page list of all his publications, from 1925 down to the present. The colour photograph finally comes out as the portrait on the book cover, while the entries in the list of publications were carefully selected and eventually comprise a 19-page Appendix which bears the title "Sir Karl Popper: Selected List of Publications". Despite its being drastically condensed, this list nevertheless gives an idea of the immense breadth of Sir Karl's intellectual interests: the theory of probability, relativity, quantum physics, thermodynamics, cosmology, ancient and modern philosophy, language and the body-mind problem, political theory, biological evolution, history, structure in science and art, book collecting, and so on. It also directs the curious reader where to look for the less-known works of this important philosopher of the 20th Century.