Saturday, December 17, 2005

Popper on Saddam

One of my favorite philosophers is the late Sir Karl Popper. He was an extremely influential philosopher of science; whenever you talk of falsifiability being the criterion of science (that is, that a hypothesis can never be proved 100% by an number of tests, and yet one, repeatable, negative result is enough to disprove it) you are speaking of Popper's legacy. His epistemology was also an optimistic, soothing thing--he believed that there is objective truth out there, and that we can grasp it--and yet, we can never know for sure whether we have grasped it, and so must always leave our views open to reform and criticism. He also applied his insights from his meditations on the philosophy of science to political philosophy, and his devastating critique of historicism (the view that the past proceeds inexorably to a predestined future according to certain "laws" of history--Marx, drawing from Hegel, was big on this) is landmark.

Anyways, I was reading All Life is Problem Solving, a short collection of some of Popper's lectures, essays, etc, when I found this, from an interview with the German newspaper Der Spiegel in 1992:

Spiegel The collapse of Soviet Communism and the end of the bipolar system have not made the world a safer place. Everywhere we have to face the return of nationalist demons, loosely controlled nuclear weapons, and the migration of people stricken by poverty. Are these the new enemies of liberal democracy?

Popper Our first objective today must be peace. It is very hard to achieve ina world such as ours, where Saddam Hussein and other dictators likehim exist. We should not shrink from waing war for peace. In present conditions that is unavoidable. It is sad, but we have to do it if we want to save our world. Resolve is crucially important here. [emphasis added]

Spiegel War to stop the further spread of weapons of mass destruction?

Popper At the moment, nothing is more important than to prevent the spread of these lunatic bombs, which are already being traded on the black market. The states of the civilized world that have not gone mad must work together on this. For I repeat: just one Sakharov bomb is several times more powerful than the Hiroshima bomb. This means that, in any densely populated country, the detonation of just one bomb would cause millions of deaths, quite apart from the victims of radiation who would die of the effects over a number of years. We must not get used to such things. Here we must take action.
Somehow I had imagined that Popper would have sided with the liberation of
Iraq, despite the overwhelming opposition of intellectuals, had he been alive
today. Next, Popper proposes something I've always thought would make the
world a better place:

Spiegel Should the Americans act against Saddam again if it looks as if he is making bombs?

Popper Not only against Saddam. There should be a kind of task force of the civilized world for such cases. To be pacifist in the outmoded sense would be madness. We must wage wars for peace--obviously in the least terrible form. Since it is a question of force, force must be used to stop the bomb being used.
A task force of the civilized world, to wage for peace. Obviously the UN doesn't fit this bill; it sits passively by while thousands die in Darfur, and millions perish in the gulag state of North Korea. But, if the other nations of the world could set aside, momentarily, their anti-American animosity, and join us in the liberation of Iraq, and then of other countries, think how much better the world would be. What backwater tyranny could stand up to the collective migh of the developed countries?

Obviously, in this form, such a proposal is naive. But it does underscore the righteousness of the American cause and the cowardice and expediency of France, Germany, et al. If they were truly worried about the destabilization and deaths to be caused by the Iraq war, then they would have sent troops. Such a course would've reduced the number of dead, and more quickly brough pacification to the country. As it sits now, though, these countries position on the war in Iraq remains one of utter moral hypocrisy.


Anonymous A damn oll said...

I'm pretty sure Popper's philosophy was that of St. Augustine who got it from Plato, speaking through Socrates in the Meno. It is a good philosophy, though, and the more people who adopt it as their own, the better.

2:20 PM  
Blogger Grant said...

I don't think so. Popper despised Plato, (although he liked the Socrates that shines through in the earlier dialogues)--vol. one of his The Open Society and It's Enemies was a comprehensive attack on Plato as a totalitarian.

As for the Meno, Popper has a different epistemological view than Socrates' theory of recollection. We don’t recollect things by being reminded of them, in Popper’s view, but rather we discover a problem and attempt to solve it through conjecture and refutation—that is, making hypotheses and then testing them.

So, for Meno's paradox of inquiry (that you can't inquire into something you already know b/c, obviously you already know it, but you also can't inquire into somethign you don't know because you don't know what your looking for) Popper would have said “That’s why we have conjectures and refutations—to bring us closer to the truth, groping maybe blindly at first, but with each refuted conjecture we achieve more "verisimilitude" (a Popper term meaning "truth-likeness" or close to the truth).

7:06 PM  

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