[hist-analytic] Popper, Historicism, etc.

Baynesr at comcast.net Baynesr at comcast.net
Tue Sep 14 07:36:19 EDT 2010


Let me reply to a couple of your points, roughly in the order in which they are raised. I don't think philosophers of history are into predicting the future. If anything, it is quite the opposite: retrodiction. So I think you should rethink your skepticism a bit. 

You can find historians who are attempting to grasp a "simple intuition," but I can't think of one. Any ideas as to who might hold this view? Not all philosophers of history are spiritualists <g>, except maybe me. When the questions of philosophy of history are addressed by the guys with the "telescopes" then I'll subsume it under astronomy, physics, whatever, but so far there isn't much going on here, at least from what you've suggested, other than faith in science in dealing with philosophical questions of history. Indeed, it is the asymmetries of science and history that provoked the Hempel/Dray dispute which as far as I can tell had an outcome that favored the historians over the physicists. But that is a long story. By the way, Dray in on Hist-Analytic. 

We have to distinguish guys like Dray from Hegel; both are philosphers of history; they are surely different, fundamentally. 

You say Popper doesn't address a certain "critique," but I'm not sure what critique you are talking about. Could you be more specific? I used to agree with your view of Popper, but I have changed my mind. I think it is brilliant at places; far more informative and interesting to the politically minded than, say, Burke, who bores me to death. Your criticisms of Popper, I think, could be "sharpened" up a bit. I can't find any specific claims, textual references etc. 

Moreover, I see no evidence that Popper didn't read Burke very well. What is it in Burke about nature that you have in mind? We need some specifics. 



----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Brandon Young" <brandonbildung at gmail.com> 
To: Baynesr at comcast.net 
Cc: "hist-analytic" <hist-analytic at simplelists.co.uk> 
Sent: Monday, September 13, 2010 6:58:28 PM 
Subject: Re: Popper, Historicism, etc. 


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 objectively. 

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 change. 

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. 


STeve Bayne 

Brandon Young 
(617) 816-6301 
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