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Popper in 60 Minutes

Popper in 60 Minutes

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Popper in 60 Minutes

136 Seiten
1 Stunde
May 19, 2020


Karl Popper (1902-1994) is one of the great thinkers of the modern age. He developed his key idea, the "open society" already at age 17. Popper at the time believed passionately in Newton's theory of gravitation, by which the science of the day explained the motion of all bodies on earth and in the heavens. But during the great eclipse of 1919 observations were made that confirmed for the first time Einstein's theory of relativity. The London Times wrote: "Scientific Revolution; New Theory of the Universe; Newton's Conception Overthrown." If this is so, concluded Popper, and if a genius like Newton can prove to have been wrong and his knowledge, after two hundred years, can be replaced by a better knowledge, then perhaps there are no such things as truths "true once and for all". It was at this point that he developed his brilliant key idea: "Scientific knowledge is not knowledge; it is only conjectural knowledge." Every scientific theory must count as "true" only for so long as it cannot be refuted by some counter-example or replaced by a better theory. And just for this reason modern society must always be open to critiques and new theories. This applies also, indeed quite especially, to politics. Instead of calling, like Plato, for an ideal state, or pursuing, like Marx and Hegel, "totalitarian" philosophical-historical goals, the scientific method of trial and error must also be applied to politics.
Was Popper right? Is all our knowledge merely conjectural knowledge resting on trial and error? And did Plato, Hegel and Marx really pave the way for totalitarianism? Is what we need to improve society really rather the method of "hard science"? Can we solve our problems using Popper's "piecemeal social technology"? Popper gives clear and unmistakable answers. The book appears as part of the popular series "Great Thinkers in 60 Minutes".
May 19, 2020

Über den Autor

Dr Walther Ziegler is academically trained in the fields of philosophy, history and political science. As a foreign correspondent, reporter and newsroom coordinator for the German TV station ProSieben he has produced films on every continent. His news reports have won several prizes and awards. He has also authored numerous books in the field of philosophy. His many years of experience as a journalist mean that he is able to present the complex ideas of the great philosophers in a way that is both engaging and very clear. Since 2007 he has also been active as a teacher and trainer of young TV journalists in Munich, holding the post of Academic Director at the Media Academy, a University of Applied Sciences that offers film and TV courses at its base directly on the site of the major European film production company Bavaria Film. After the huge success of the book series "Great thinkers in 60 Minutes", he works as a freelance writer and philosopher.

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Popper in 60 Minutes - Walther Ziegler

My thanks go to Rudolf Aichner for his tireless critical editing; Silke Ruthenberg for the fine

graphics; Lydia Pointvogl, Eva Amberger, Christiane Hüttner, and Dr. Martin Engler for their

excellent work as manuscript readers and sub-editors; Prof. Guntram Knapp, who first

inspired me with enthusiasm for philosophy; and Angela Schumitz, who handled in the most

professional manner, as chief editorial reader, the production of both the German and the

English editions of this series of books.

My special thanks go to my translator

Dr Alexander Reynolds.

Himself a philosopher, he not only translated the original German text into English with great

care and precision but also, in passages where this was required in order to ensure clear

understanding, supplemented this text with certain formulations adapted specifically to the

needs of English-language readers.


Popper’s Great Discovery

Popper’s Central Idea

Popper’s Revolutionary Theory of Knowledge: Science as Merely Provisional Truth

Deduction Instead of Induction:

A Human Being is not a Bucket

Open and Closed Societies

The Open Society Instead of Plato’s Government by the Best

The False Prophets Hegel and Marx

Critical Rationalism as Constant Renewal of Knowledge and Society

Of What Use is Popper’s Discovery for Us Today?

Popper’s Notion of the Step-by-Step Improvement of Life

Is Popper Right? Did Plato, Hegel and Marx Prepare the Way for Totalitarianism?

The Positivism Dispute: Critical Rationalism Instead of Critical Theory?

Popper’s Legacy: All Life is Problem-Solving

Bibliographical References

Popper’s Great Discovery

Karl Popper (1902-1994) is indisputably one of the truly great thinkers of the modern age. At once scholar of the natural sciences and philosopher of society, he has left a profound and decisive mark both on the theory of scientific knowledge and on our political and social self-understanding.

Born in Austria, he spent most of his professional life as a professor of philosophy in London, where he acquired, in 1949, British citizenship. In 1965 he was even knighted by the Queen. When Sir Karl Popper died at the age of 92 he was celebrated as the philosopher of the 20th century and as the last in the row of the great men of the Enlightenment. The key idea which was later to bring him world renown he developed already as a 17-year-old in the city of his birth, Vienna. He counts, indeed, along with Rousseau and a handful of others, as one of those exceptions among philosophers whose key notions suddenly come to them in perfect clarity, as a sort of epiphany or moment of sudden sublime insight, in their most tender years. Paradoxically, the moment of illumination in Popper’s case was a moment of sudden darkness, namely, a solar eclipse:

This solar eclipse of 1919 and the photographs taken of it by the British astronomer Eddington became, for Popper, a turning point in his life. Whereas he had been, up until then, a passionate adherent to the views of Newton, whose theory of gravitation he considered to be irrefutably true, he was now forced to entirely rethink his position. Because it was Eddington’s photos of the positions of two particular stars that enabled Einstein to offer, for the very first time, real-world evidence of the truth of his revolutionary new theory of relativity.

In the celestial mechanics developed by Newton space is only a sort of receptacle which the various celestial bodies traverse, as time elapses, in perfectly straight lines. That a planet like Earth nonetheless takes a circular course around the sun is, according to Newton, due to the attraction of the gravitational force existing between sun and Earth. For Einstein, on the other hand, space and time are not independent magnitudes but rather blend together into a geometrical, four-dimensional continuum that Einstein referred to as spacetime, this spacetime being the true cause of the curvature of the courses followed by all celestial bodies. The spacetime continuum, claimed Einstein, can even bend light and for this reason, he went on, it is possible to see in the night sky on certain days, such as the day of the eclipse on that 29th of May, stars which are in fact located far behind the sun and which ought, therefore, not to be visible. While the moon passes, for some minutes, directly in front of the sun and darkens the latter’s brightness it is even possible to take photos of these stars. Through such photos, Einstein recognized, his theory of relativity would be either proven or dis-proven and Einstein even invited other researchers to proceed to such a real-world testing of his claims.

Though in that year of 1919 hostilities had barely ended between Germany and Great Britain, it was the latter country that mounted two expeditions to carry out this, the German physicist’s wish. One of these was led by Eddington. And lo and behold, the photos taken by Eddington’s expedition did indeed show the stars in question to be in positions that confirmed Einstein’s hypothesis of a curvature of spacetime and

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