[hist-analytic] Popper, Historicism, etc.

Brandon Young brandonbildung at gmail.com
Mon Sep 13 19:58:28 EDT 2010


A few remarks:
 About everything that is called "the philosophy of history" I am a
desperate skeptic. I know nothing of the future...I don't know whether the
human tragi-comedy is now in Act I or in Act V, or whether our present
disorders are those of infancy or of old age.

Some think it is the historian's business to penetrate beyond this apparent
confusion and heterogeneity and to grasp a simple intuition the  "Spirit" or
"meaning" of his period. With much hesitation, and a great respect for men
who would have thought otherwise, I submit this is exactly what we must
refrain from doing. I cannot conceive that these "Spirits" and "meanings"
have anymore reality than the shadows on the cave. Remember, the canals of
Mars disappeared when we got strong lenses.

Between different ages there is no impartial judge on Earth, for no one
stands outside the historical process; of course, no one is completely
enslaved to it as those who take our own age to not be one more period, but
a final and permanent platform from which we can see all other ages

I am excluding here that there most certainly are principles and facts. But
without each other they are blind. Before Hegel, everyone (except small
sects) thought that Truth, could we but know it, *must *be unchanging, at
least Truth about Goodness and the nature of good and evil. The accidental
qualities of  may change through history, but laws of essence can never

As a wise man once said: "Thought the human heart is not unchanging (nay,
changes in the twinkling of an eye), the laws of causation are. When poisons
become fashionable, they do not cease to kill."

How has it come that we use that highly emotive word* "stagnation" *with all
the malodorous and malarial overtones for what in other ages would have been
called permanence? It sounds well to say that the true prophet of his age is
a revolutionary, going further and faster than the movement of his age,
being the avante garde. But fashionable dicta bear little resemblance to
actual experience; that is, data. In fact, the real prophets from Elijah to
today are people who *resisted *the Zeitgeist of their time. Because of
this, I have a very low regard of climates of opinion, or polls. Progress is
made by those who shatter the paradigm and simply tell the truth.

In the end, it is arguable whether or not there has even been scientific
progress, nevermind a law of human nature other than the truisms of Good and
Evil. More efficient, cheaper, smaller, more powerful, etc., DO NOT mean any
technological (or whatever) growth is Good. In fact, often it is not.

Popper does not hint at this type of critique and The Open Society and Its
Enemies is one of the most over-rated books of modernity. Popper, like Ayn
Rand, confused collectivism with pathology. Collectivism need not be
destructive. In fact, if there is a sort of social law, it is that human
being tend to get together. And yes, there is groupthink (which is
advantageous to the species(, and groups, as a whole, make wiser decisions
than any single member of that group.

This is the Great Chain of Being in Aristotle and in others like Lovejoy and
even Alfred North Whitehead. And, unfortunately for confused thinkers like
Ayn Rand and Popper (here, elsewhere he is quite good) they connect the
historical foundation to be found in Plato. Poor Plato. Of course, the first
philosopher gets the blame. Popper and Rand's critique (if you want to even
call it a critique) is terrible, and more a reflection of their confused
historical tracings and suffering at the hands of a body-politic.

Popper should have read Edmund Burke more carefully. Hierarchy is a law of
nature. It will form wherever there is life (and even in other places).

To end, it is interesting to note that the medieval man saw his place at the
bottom of staircase looking up toward blinding light, while modern man, or
the modern atheist humanist (Hume nist) sees Man at the top of the staircase
looking down at a history lost in obscurity..

On Sun, Sep 12, 2010 at 12:31 PM, <Baynesr at comcast.net> wrote:

> Popper has an extreme view of Plato and Aristotle. I tend to be sympathetic
> but I think he takes an extreme view, possibly influenced by his book (The
> Open Society and Its Enemies) being written so closely to WWII. Popper
> procedure involves linking totalitarianism or collectivism to historicism,
> which I won't explain here, and then linking this to a contract view.
> Rawls takes a contract view but dispenses with the elements that would be
> necessary to forge an alliance with historicism by making the original
> position a "representational" device. This is not a new idea, but I don't
> want to dwell on this. What I do want to suggest is that the way Popper has
> worked out his view historicism and essentialism are linked, thus connecting
> his nominalism with anti-historicism. However, Popper's nominalism is a must
> for his theory of the individual (cum Hayek et al) and thus nominalism
> becomes associated in his mind with anti-historicism and anti-collectivism.
> What I am moving towards is a bit different.
> I acknowledge that in some sense Popper's anti-collectivism is correct and
> that, moreover, his view connecting individualism with "protectionism"
> (oddly little mention of Locke) has some merit. But, unlike, Popper I
> believe that what is fundamental to his nominalism is related to his
> deductive nomological account of explanation. This, in turn, feeds his
> anti-historicism. My present intention, subject to emendation, is to affirm
> a form of essentialism (in his sense) and reject the deductive nomological
> model; therefore, allowing a form of historicism some consistency with
> individualism. How? I do this mainly by considering the role of temporal
> considerations in attempting to arrive at historical explanation via the
> deductive nomological model. What is crucial, here, is not so much the
> nominalism, as the idea of the "present." It is the "present" that
> complicates the case for historicism, not so much essentialism. In other
> words, I substitute for invidividualism (but in only Popper's sense) the
> notion of the present. Understanding the role of the temporality of the
> present leads me to a different typology of laws in science and history. I
> reject physicalism on historicist grounds. This is admittedly, for some, a
> bit provocative, but it allows me to accumulate the strengths of
> individualism while not subscribing to nominalism. Now, strangely enough,
> there are aspects of sociobiology that support my position; that is, there
> is some support here for embracing some form of "essentialism" while, based
> on evolutionary considerations, backing an historicist point of view. I'm
> taking another look at Van Fraasen's The Scientific Image. His discussion of
> causation is wonderful. I can't comment since I'm working on this now. But
> much neglected is the role of probability in the treatment of the
> transitivity of causation, essential, I believe to an acceptable historicist
> account. This leads, ultimately, to a rejection of social contract theory in
> either the representational or historical form, in my opinion.
> Regards
> STeve Bayne

Brandon Young
(617) 816-6301
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