fallibilist

"I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." (Karl Popper)

Friday, February 10, 2006

Welcome

You are very welcome to my new blog. My name is Karole Cuddihy and I am a final year law student in University College Cork. Apart from introducing myself biographically (as to which see the profile linked to on the left) I want to use this first post to set out here a snapshot of how I think.

I believe that the most important contribution we can make to thinking about politics, policy and (my own area) law, is to develop a new way of talking. We need to look at the big picture - at how the very notion of the nation-state has come under increasing strain; at how our international institutions have fared; and at what choices and opportunities we face, in a manner conducive to respectful and honest dialogue. Far more unites those who disagree about politics and policy in Western democracies than divides us from those who profess intentions to destroy us and our way of life. Simplistic left-right, liberal-conservative dichotomies are of little use. I'm interested in finding the best (or least bad) solution to the challenges we face. In that regard I hope my blog adds a different voice to the world of the Irish "blogosphere" as it is sometimes called.

Policy should be debated on its merits; the (supposed) motivations of political actors are of secondary importance. A policy is either wise or it is not. Blogs serve a useful purpose in allowing varying views and degrees of interest to come to bear on events. They are a useful addition to the traditional media, being far more agile and informal than newspapers. But their impersonal nature allows for misrepresentation, evasion and a disingenuous style of argument that is ultimately not worth the effort. Open debate is at the core of modern democracy and we should exercise it to the best of our ability. We have the right to insult, mock and misrepresent others' views, but we also, I believe have the duty to exercise caution and show respect for the legitimate views of our fellow democrats. We should also realise that every discipline has its own contribution to make. No one discipline has the full answer to the problems with which we have to contend. And neither, for that matter, does any universal theory or (political) philosophy. Personally, I favour an open market economy and see globalisation (in the sense of integration of markets across borders) as a great - though not unqualified - opportunity of our time. But I realise these convictions offer no real answers. They are but a starting point. How to better society in practice is a question with an empirical answer only reachable through constant re-assessment and questioning. This is the spirit in which I propose to approach discussion on this blog.

The blog's name comes from a description I read of the thought of Karl Popper, published in 2000 in the Hoover Digest. It reads in part:

"Popper was a fallibilist, one who perceives great error and danger in any theory of knowledge—or regime—that claimed to offer certain truth. In such a system, there would be no incentive to establish social and political structures that promote learning or the free exchange of ideas; truth is already at hand. In the name of historical progress, the regime may then justify the squelching of human freedoms and even atrocities on a grand scale. Consequently, Popper fought against those who claimed to know the historical laws of change, a false doctrine Popper called historicism. Historicist prophecies were a threat to the open society, and, indeed, both nazism and Soviet-style totalitarianism alike produced unimaginable horrors."

Later it goes on to argue that:

"both Marxism ("scientific" socialism) and Freudianism were purported to be scientific theories by their proponents, who seemed able to interpret every possible circumstance as confirmation of their theories and thus insulate themselves from criticism. Although these verifications carried little weight, they tended to produce convictions of certainty. In contrast, Popper argued that what made theories scientific was their falsifiability, or their possibility of being refuted. Only when a theory could be wrong is it impressive that it survives testing and criticism. Popper therefore sought to delineate the philosophical underpinnings that distinguish natural sciences such as Einstein’s physics from the pseudosciences—Marxian "scientific" socialism, psychoanalysis—he had come to reject. His political and scientific philosophies are thus deeply connected through his early experiences with Marxism and psychoanalysis. Popper argued that progress requires a critical structure within which competing theories can be tested. Popper captured his philosophy, called falsificationism or critical rationalism, with the motto "I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort, we may get nearer to the truth." Instead of attempting futilely to verify or justify our theories, Popper claimed we should try to falsify them since we need only a single negative instance to refute a universal theory. Consequently, what matters in rational debate is that different positions are open to criticism, which becomes the engine of progress by removing from consideration false theories, leaving only the provisionally best theories behind. The "best" theories could still not be verified or justified, but since they had not been falsified either, they would be preferable to falsified theories. The rationality of holding a particular position would be granted to the extent to which the theory is open to criticism. This makes possible not only progress but also optimism, which is for Popper a moral duty."
If we, on all sides, can accept that "convictions of certainty" are an inferior method to the type of constant re-assessment Popper had in mind, we will, I believe, be on a better path.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

Karole,

Great work there. Interesting quotes. Well done. Keep it up.

Wish I had something intellectual to add but I don't, so I found an encouraging quote.

“Academic chairs are many, but wise and noble teachers are few; lecture-rooms are numerous and large, but the number of young people who genuinely thirst after truth and justice is small.” Albert Einstein

D.

Sat Feb 11, 07:52:00 PM GMT  
Blogger Carlotta said...

Always great to find a Popperian. Will be reading with interest!

Wed Feb 15, 08:00:00 AM GMT  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Thu Sep 21, 08:48:00 PM GMT+1  

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