Jancis Long, Semmelweis University of Medicine, Budapest, Hungary
This paper concerns the problem of maintaining openness and critical rationalism. In academic debates, local politics and post-communist Europe's recent rebuilding I have observed breakdown of these principles more frequently than their success, even among people consciously devoted to them.
Karl Popper made devastating arguments against historicism, collectivism and other aspects of totalitarian ideology, as well as providing the vision of a non-utopian open society and critical rational philosophy. Ernest Gellner extended our understanding of different forms of "closedness" embodied in traditionalism, marxism, religious fundamentalism and nationalism. But none of these great enemies of openness, I argue, explain some familiar failures of debate and social organization.
I argue that aspects of human psychology are triggered by situations of openness, and undermine its aims. These may be usefully distinguished from yearning for traditionalism or authoritarianism. Two of these are (1) the struggle for an attitude of equality against powerful tendencies toward dominance, dependence and community and (2) difficulties in giving and taking criticism, interpreted as a special application of the equality problem. I argue that these human failings break down attempts at openness and create discouraging situations in which the better known "enemies" can be promoted as solutions.
The conclusion is not pessimistic but pedagogic and critical. Openness and critical rationalism require training, practice, tolerance of failure and intolerance of solutions that promote closedness. Distinguishing between different causes of failure is useful. Is such a proposal authoritarian?
This paper argues that the intellectual and political milieux of progressive Viennese assimilated Jews decisively shaped Popper's utopian vision of the Open Society. Popper responded to dilemmas of Jewish identity in multicultural, yet ethnonational Central Europe, by radicalizing anti-nationalist currents in fin-de-siècle Viennese Spätaufklärung (late enlightenment). Modeled on Kant's world federation, his cosmopolitanism stripped ethnicity and nationality of significance. This would make it possible for Jews to claim membership in a universal humanity. But Popper seemed to betray cosmopolitanism's promise when he insisted, in his Autobiography , that Jewish assimilation was not only possible, but obligatory. I argue against critics of liberalism that his willingness to sacrifice communal identities to universalism was not inherent in liberal cosmopolitanism. Rather, it represented an intrusion of Central European reality into cosmopolitan dreams: Jews could not hope, Popper thought, to remain Jews and be recognized as Germans. His cosmopolitanism, vehement opposition to Zionism and insistence on partial Jewish responsibility for antisemitism reflected unresolvable identity-conflicts of assimilated Viennese Jews. The hopelessness of Jews' position in Central Europe gave birth to his cosmopolitanism yet, at the same time, doomed it. It is up to us to recover it and negotiate its relationship to communal identities.
Professor Jack Cohen
[Full text available in Volume 2 of The Critical Rationalist. ]
Ian Stewart and I have several publications (including "The Collapse of Chaos", Penguin 1994) in which we argue that, in a genuinely chaotic universe (in which most differences of initial-conditions, however small, lead to divergent trajectories) what needs explaining is not complexity but simplicity. In such a universe complexity should be overwhelming: the solar system shouldn't still be around, the lumps should have all zoomed off into space or into the Sun (or each other); holding ideas complex enough to build a Boeing 747 that flies in a couple of kilograms of nerve-stuff (multiplied by 50, say, and linked by language) should be overwhelmingly improbable; the existence of critical-points--or even liquids--should be very special, unstable cases. But of course we know it is not like that, and Stewart and I believe that emergent simplicities are "held in place" by context, not by one-level-down causalities of naive reductionist kinds. Because a bridge can be built of different materials (they are fungible, replaceable in function) it seems to us that emergent rules cannot (usefully--ah, what a world is there...) be argued from properties of components and their interactions: bridgeness, like volume, is a contextual property. The molecules of a gas, the girders of a bridge, don't know about volume or transit. These emergent properties are what scientific conjectures are about; disproofs, which almost always are presented as failures of mechanism ("this change of gene frequency won't mediate the natural-selective change you claim to be caused by it") don't address the contextual aspects of these emergent simplicities. How, then, can the emergent rules be tested by the application of "Normal Science" procedures? And if the rules arise as conjectures, but based in context rather than guesses about content, is this more than Kuhnian paradigm-shifts or Lakatosian research programs, which aimed to fill the gap that Popper left about how new conjectures arise? I will argue that, operationally, it is very different, and nearer to Popper's own thinking; it feels different from the inside. But, then, I am actually a working scientist and come at the problems from a different, much more naive, model. Perhaps I will learn some useful philosophy at the meeting and discover new difficulties with my science.