The Annual Conference on Popper's Philosophy has been running for more than 10 years now and is something of an institution. The first of the series of Annual Conferences was organised in Manchester in 1984 by Dr. Jeremy Shearmur, at one time Popper's research assistant. In 1986 it was moved to Coventry, organised by David Miller (University of Warwick) and Larry Briskman (University of Edinburgh). In 1987 Miller and Briskman asked me to run the Annual Conference, so in 1988 I brought it to London and the L.S.E., with the continuing assistance of David Miller.
The principal aims of the Conference are to examine Popper's philosophy in a critical light, to explore new applications of his philosophy, and to make this accessible to academics and the general public alike. While encouraging talks on the application of Popper's work to new problems, we have also made a point of inviting critics of Popper's work, so that critics, stimulated by the debate, are encouraged to look more deeply into Popper's work. Several important articles have sprung from debates held at the Conference. Judging from comments about the Conference, I think we can say that over the years we have built up a reputation for lively, good-humoured and provocative debate. Inviting critics is not only more entertaining and productive of new knowledge, but also an application of Popper's philosophy to itself.
Popper's Critical Rationalism holds that we are all infinitely ignorant and differ only in the little bits of knowledge that we do have. Not only that, but each piece of this "knowledge" is a fallible guess, a leap in the dark. Thus Popper's philosophy, indeed any philosophy, and even Critical Rationalism itself, is a bold guess that is open to debate. Central to Popper's Critical Rationalism is the attitude that I may be wrong and you may be right, and together we may get nearer to the truth. It is in this spirit of friendly competitiveness and cooperation that people participate in the Popper Conference. It is rather like the adversarial method of a law court, but without personal reference - though it may get rather heated. Usually, conferences about the work of a particular philosopher are sham or incomplete critical contexts in which anything which is not a mere elaboration or application of the revered philosopher's ideas is tacitly disallowed.
Some may accept this but think that to preserve Popper's work, one must invest exclusively in non-critical ventures to spread copies of his work. A critical context, they may suspect, is likely to endanger the survival of Popper's key ideas. On the contrary, the more an idea is discussed by intellectuals (especially its opponents) and survives criticism, the more likely it is to survive and be applied to new problems. A strong position (if pressed) can only blossom under fundamental attack. An idea ignored by intellectuals becomes ossified. And if it does not survive criticism? Well, why would you want to sustain a false philosophy if your goal is truth and successful action? (For more on criticism and survival of ideas see my "Dawkins and Incurable Mind Viruses: Memes, Rationality and Evolution" Journal of Social and Evolutionary Systems , Vol. 17, No 3. 1994. On the self-applicability of Critical Rationalism see William Warren Bartley's book The Retreat to Commitment , Open Court, 1962/1984.)
The Karl Popper Web will contribute to this healthy critical context. Of course, we are ignorant and fallible human beings and we may fall short of our ideal, we may be less critical because of personal fears to offend others, we may confuse the objective theory to be criticised and the person who advances it, but that is why we have the explicit ideal to help keep us on track.