Karl Popper

Biography, Biographie, Biografie

Sir Karl Raimund Popper (28 July 1902 – 17 September 1994) was an Austrian-British philosopher and professor. He is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century.
Popper is known for his rejection of the classical inductivist views on the scientific method, in favour of empirical falsification: A theory in the empirical sciences can never be proven, but it can be falsified, meaning that it can and should be scrutinized by decisive experiments.
H
e used the black swan fallacy to discuss falsification. If the outcome of an experiment contradicts the theory, one should refrain from ad hoc manoeuvres that evade the contradiction merely by making it less falsifiable.
Popper is also known for his opposition to the classical justificationist account of knowledge, which he replaced with critical rationalism, “the first non-justificational philosophy of criticism in the history of philosophy.”
In political discourse, he is known for his vigorous defence of liberal democracy and the principles of social criticism that he came to believe made a flourishing “open society” possible. His political philosophy embraces ideas from all major democratic political ideologies and attempts to reconcile them: socialism/social democracy, libertarianism/classical liberalism and conservatism.
Sources: (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Karl_Popper)

 

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Im Namen der Toleranz sollten wir uns das Recht vorbehalten, die Intoleranz nicht zu tolerieren.

…If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirma-tions, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theo-ries…

…Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

…We are social creatures to the inmost centre of our being. The notion that one can begin any-thing at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong.

…Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.

…The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff.

…True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.

…You can choose whatever name you like for the two types of government. I personally call the type of government which can be removed without violence “democracy”, and the other “tyranny”.
As quoted in Freedom: A New Analysis (1954) by Maurice William Cranston, p. 112

…Piecemeal social engineering resembles physical engineering in regarding the ends as beyond the province of technology. (All that technology may say about ends is whether or not they are compatible with each other or realizable.)
The Poverty of Historicism (1957) Ch. 22 The Unholy Alliance with Utopianism

…If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favor of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted.
The Poverty of Historicism (1957) Ch. 29 The Unity of Method

…Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.
Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach (1972)

…For it was my master who taught me not only how very little I knew but also that any wisdom to which I might ever aspire could consist only in realizing more fully the infinity of my ignorance.
Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography

…Before we as individuals are even conscious of our existence we have been profoundly influenced for a considerable time (since before birth) by our relationship to other individuals who have complicated histories, and are members of a society which has an infinitely more complicated and longer history than they do (and are members of it at a particular time and place in that history); and by the time we are able to make conscious choices we are already making use of categories in a language which has reached a particular degree of development through the lives of countless generations of human beings before us. . . . We are social creatures to the inmost centre of our being. The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or unindebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong.
As quoted in Popper (1973) by Bryan Magee

…Appealing to his [Einstein’s] way of expressing himself in theological terms, I said: If God had wanted to put everything into the universe from the beginning, He would have created a universe without change, without organisms and evolution, and without man and man’s experience of change. But he seems to have thought that a live universe with events unexpected even by Himself would be more interesting than a dead one.
As quoted in Omnipotence and Other Theological Mistakes by Charles Hartshorne (1984)

…From Plato to Karl Marx and beyond, the fundamental problem has always been: who should rule the state? (One of my main points will be that this problem must be replaced by a totally different one.)
Popper on Democracy: the open society and its enemies revisited. (1988)

…There is an almost universal tendency, perhaps an inborn tendency, to suspect the good faith of a man who holds opinions that differ from our own opinions. … It obviously endangers the freedom and the objectivity of our discussion if we attack a person instead of attacking an opinion or, more precisely, a theory.
“The Importance of Critical Discussion” in On the Barricades: Religion and Free Inquiry in Conflict (1989) by Robert Basil

…Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.
The Open Universe : An Argument for Indeterminism (1992), p. 44

…It seems to me that I may be living too long. Indeed: my nearest relations have all died, and so have some of my best friends, and even some of my best pupils. However, I do not have a reason to complain. I am grateful and happy to be alive, and still be able to continue with my work, if only just. My work seems to me more important than ever.
As quoted in “At 90, and Still Dynamic : Revisiting Sir Karl Popper and Attending His Birthday Party” by Eugene Yue-Ching Ho, in Intellectus 23 (Jul-Sep 1992)

…I think so badly of philosophy that I don’t like to talk about it. … I do not want to say anything bad about my dear colleagues, but the profession of teacher of philosophy is a ridiculous one. We don’t need a thousand of trained, and badly trained, philosophers — it is very silly. Actually most of them have nothing to say.
As quoted in “At 90, and Still Dynamic : Revisiting Sir Karl Popper and Attending His Birthday Party” by Eugene Yue-Ching Ho, in Intellectus 23 (Jul-Sep 1992)

…I appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger. This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher, and he has a devilish influence on Germany. … One has to read Heidegger in the original to see what a swindler he was.
As quoted in “At 90, and Still Dynamic : Revisiting Sir Karl Popper and Attending His Birthday Party” by Eugene Yue-Ching Ho, in Intellectus 23 (Jul-Sep 1992)

…When I speak of reason or rationalism, all I mean is the conviction that we can learn through criticism of our mistakes and errors, especially through criticism by others, and eventually also through self-criticism. A rationalist is simply someone for whom it is more important to learn than to be proved right; someone who is willing to learn from others — not by simply taking over another’s opinions, but by gladly allowing others to criticize his ideas and by gladly criticizing the ideas of others. The emphasis here is on the idea of criticism or, to be more precise, critical discussion. The genuine rationalist does not think that he or anyone else is in possession of the truth; nor does he think that mere criticism as such helps us achieve new ideas. But he does think that, in the sphere of ideas, only critical discussion can help us sort the wheat from the chaff. He is well aware that acceptance or rejection of an idea is never a purely rational matter; but he thinks that only critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgement of it.
“On Freedom” in All Life is Problem Solving (1999)

…Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.
As quoted in In Passing: Condolences and Complaints on Death, Dying, and Related Disappointments (2005) by Jon Winokur, p. 144

…Philosophers should consider the fact that the greatest happiness principle can easily be made an excuse for a benevolent dictatorship. We should replace it by a more modest and more realistic principle — the principle that the fight against avoidable misery should be a recognized aim of public policy, while the increase of happiness should be left, in the main, to private initiative.
As quoted in 1,001 Pearls of Wisdom (2006) by David Ross

…True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.
As quoted by Mark Damazer in “In Our Time’s Greatest Philosopher Vote” at In Our Time (BBC 4)

…Good tests kill flawed theories; we remain alive to guess again.
As quoted in My Universe : A Transcendent Reality (2011) by Alex Vary, Part II

 

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The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934)

First translated into English in 1959

…The answer to this problem is: as implied by Hume, we certainly are not justified in reasoning from an instance to the truth of the corresponding law. But to this negative result a second result, equally negative, may be added: we are justified in reasoning from a counterinstance to the falsity of the corresponding universal law (that is, of any law of which it is a counterinstance). Or in other words, from a purely logical point of view, the acceptance of one counterinstance to ‘All swans are white’ implies the falsity of the law ‘All swans are white’ – that law, that is, whose counterinstance we accepted. Induction is logically invalid; but refutation or falsification is a logically valid way of arguing from a single counterinstance to – or, rather, against – the corresponding law. This shows that I continue to agree with Hume’s negative logical result; but I extend it. This logical situation is completely independent of any question of whether we would, in practice, accept a single counterinstance – for example, a solitary black swan – in refutation of a so far highly successful law. I do not suggest that we would necessarily be so easily satisfied; we might well suspect that the black specimen before us was not a swan.”
Ch. 1 “A Survey of Some Fundamental Problems”, Section I: The Problem of Induction p. 27

…A principle of induction would be a statement with the help of which we could put inductive inferences into a logically acceptable form. In the eyes of the upholders of inductive logic, a principle of induction is of supreme importance for scientific method: “… this principle”, says Reichenbach, “determines the truth of scientific theories. To eliminate it from science would mean nothing less than to deprive science of the power to decide the truth or falsity of its theories. Without it, clearly, science would no longer have the right to distinguish its theories from the fanciful and arbitrary creations of the poet’s mind.”

…Now this principle of induction cannot be a purely logical truth like a tautology or an analytic statement. Indeed, if there were such a thing as a purely logical principle of induction, there would be no problem of induction; for in this case, all inductive inferences would have to be regarded as purely logical or tautological transformations, just like inferences in inductive logic. Thus the principle of induction must be a synthetic statement; that is, a statement whose negation is not self-contradictory but logically possible. So the question arises why such a principle should be accepted at all, and how we can justify its acceptance on rational grounds.
Ch. 1 “A Survey of Some Fundamental Problems”, Section I: The Problem of Induction

…The game of science is, in principle, without end. He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified, retires from the game.
Ch. 2 “On the Problem of a Theory of Scientific Method”, Section XI: Methodological Rules as Conventions

…Bold ideas, unjustified anticipations, and speculative thought, are our only means for interpreting nature: our only organon, our only instrument, for grasping her. And we must hazard them to win our prize. Those among us who are unwilling to expose their ideas to the hazard of refutation do not take part in the scientific game.
Ch. 10 “Corroboration, or How a Theory Stands up to Tests”, section 85: The Path of Science, p. 280

 

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The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…If in this book harsh words are spoken about some of the greatest among the intellectual leaders of mankind, my motive is not, I hope, the wish to belittle them. It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defence civilization depends, and to divide them. The responsibility of this tragic and possibly fatal division becomes ours if we hesitate to be outspoken in our criticism of what admittedly is a part of our intellectual heritage. By reluctance to criticize some of it, we may help to destroy it all.
Preface to the First Edition

…I see now more clearly than ever before that even our greatest troubles spring from something that is as admirable and sound as it is dangerous — from our impatience to better the lot of our fellows. For these troubles are the by-products of what is perhaps the greatest of all moral and spiritual revolutions of history, a movement which began three centuries ago. It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criticism. It is their unwillingness to sit back and leave the entire responsibility for ruling the world to human or superhuman authority, and their readiness to share the burden of responsibility for avoidable suffering, and to work for its avoidance. This revolution has created powers of appalling destructiveness; but they may yet be conquered.
Preface to the Second Edition.

…This book raises issues that might not be apparent from the table of contents.

…It sketches some of the difficulties faced by our civilization — a civilization which might be perhaps described as aiming at humanness and reasonableness, at equality and freedom; a civilization which is still in its infancy, as it were, and which continues to grow in spite of the fact that it has been so often betrayed by so many of the intellectual leaders of mankind. It attempts to show that this civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth — the transition from the tribal or “enclosed society,” with its submission to magical forces, to the ‘open society’ which sets free the critical powers of man. It attempts to show that the shock of this transition is one of the factors that have made possible the rise of those reactionary movements which have tried, and still try, to overthrow civilization and to return to tribalism.

…Introduction; part of this has sometimes been paraphrased : Our civilization has not yet fully recovered from the shock of its birth — the transition from the tribal or ‘closed society’, with its submission to magical forces, to the ‘open society’ which sets free the critical powers of man.

…We may become the makers of our fate when we have ceased to pose as its prophets.
Introduction

…if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.—In”
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity of humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesmen against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom, and who tried to teach him what matters most — that we are all frail human beings.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…“the paradox of tolerance: unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them.—In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…Aestheticism and radicalism must lead us to jettison reason, and to replace it by a desperate hope for political miracles. This irrational attitude which springs from intoxication with dreams of a beautiful world is what I call Romanticism. It may seek its heavenly city in the past or in the future; it may preach ‘back to nature’ or ‘forward to a world of love and beauty’; but its appeal is always to our emotions rather than to reason. Even with the best intentions of making heaven on earth it only succeeds in making it a hell – that hell which man alone prepares for his fellow-men.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…I would rather find a single causal law than be the king of Persia!
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…As indicated by our example, methodological nominalism is nowadays fairly generally accepted in the natural sciences. The problems of the social sciences, on the other hand, are still for the most part treated by essentialist methods. This is, in my opinion, one of the main reasons for their backwardness.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…a rational analysis of the consequences of a decision does not make the decision rational; the consequences do not determine our decision; it is always we who decide.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…I wish to make it clear that ‘history’ in the sense in which most people speak of it simply does not exist; and this is at least one reason why I say that it has no meaning.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…Great men may make great mistakes;
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…The future depends on ourselves, and we do not depend on any historical necessity.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…This is why the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…Our laws’, said Pericles, ‘afford equal justice to all alike in their private disputes, but we do not ignore the claims of excellence. When a citizen distinguishes himself, then he is preferred to the public service, not as a matter of privilege, but as a reward for merit; and poverty is not a bar …‘These…
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…The early Greek tribal society resembles in many respects that of peoples like the Polynesians, the Maoris for instance. Small bands of warriors, usually living in fortified settlements, ruled by tribal chiefs or kings, or by aristocratic families, were waging war against one another on sea as well as on land.
Karl Popper, The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945)

…What a monument of human smallness is this idea of the philosopher king. What a contrast between it and the simplicity of humaneness of Socrates, who warned the statesmen against the danger of being dazzled by his own power, excellence, and wisdom, and who tried to teach him what matters most — that we are all frail human beings. What a decline from this world of irony and reason and truthfulness down to Plato’s kingdom of the sage whose magical powers raise him high above ordinary men; although not quite high enough to forgo the use of lies, or to neglect the sorry trade of every shaman — the selling of spells, of breeding spells, in exchange for power over his fellow-men.
Vol. 1, Ch 8 “The Philosopher King”

…The open society is one in which men have learned to be to some extent critical of taboos, and to base decisions on the authority of their own intelligence.
Vol. 1, Endnotes to the Chapters : Notes to the Introduction.

…The so-called paradox of freedom is the argument that freedom in the sense of absence of any constraining control must lead to very great restraint, since it makes the bully free to enslave the meek. The idea is, in a slightly different form, and with very different tendency, clearly expressed in Plato.

…Less well known is the paradox of tolerance: Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. — In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal.
Vol. 1, Notes to the Chapters: Ch. 7, Note 4

…We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than that only freedom can make security secure.
Vol. 2, Ch. 21 “An Evaluation of the Prophecy”

…No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.
Vol. 2, Ch. 24 “Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt against Reason”

…I do not overlook the fact that there are irrationalists who love mankind, and that not all forms of irrationalism engender criminality. But I hold that he who teaches that not reason but love should rule opens up the way for those who rule by hate. (Socrates, I believe, saw something of this when he suggested that mistrust or hatred of argument is related to mistrust or hatred of man).
Vol. 2, Ch. 24 “Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt against Reason”

…the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. It leads to intolerance. It leads to religious wars, and to the saving of souls through the inquisition. And it is, I believe, based on a complete misunderstanding of our moral duties. It is our duty to help those who need help; but it cannot be our duty to make others happy, since this does not depend on us, and since it would only too often mean intruding on the privacy of those towards whom we have such amiable intentions.
Vol. 2, Ch. 24 “Oracular Philosophy and the Revolt against Reason”

…There is no history of mankind, there is only an indefinite number of histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world. But this, I hold, is an offence against every decent conception of mankind. It is hardly better than to treat the history of embezzlement or of robbery or of poisoning as the history of mankind. For the history of power politics is nothing but the history of international crime and mass murder (including it is true, some of the attempts to suppress them). This history is taught in schools, and some of the greatest criminals are extolled as heroes.
Vol 2, Ch. 25 “Has History any Meaning?”
Variant: There is no history of mankind, there are only many histories of all kinds of aspects of human life. And one of these is the history of political power. This is elevated into the history of the world.

 

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Utopia and Violence (1947)

…We all remember how many religious wars were fought for a religion of love and gentleness; how many bodies were burned alive with the genuinely kind intention of saving souls from the eternal fire of hell. Only if we give up our authoritarian attitude in the realm of opinion, only if we establish the attitude of give and take, of readiness to learn from other people, can we hope to control acts of violence inspired by piety and duty.
Utopia and Violence (1947)

 

Address to Institut des Arts in Brussels, Belgium (1947); later published The Hibbert Journal 46 (1948), and in Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963)

…Not only do I hate violence, but I firmly believe that the fight against it is not hopeless. I realize that the task is difficult. I realize that, only too often in the course of history, it has happened that what appeared at first to be a great success in the fight against violence was followed by a defeat. I do not overlook the fact that the new age of violence which was opened by the two World wars is by no means at an end. Nazism and Fascism are thoroughly beaten, but I must admit that their defeat does not mean that barbarism and brutality have been defeated. On the contrary, it is no use closing our eyes to the fact that these hateful ideas achieved something like a victory in defeat. I have to admit that Hitler succeeded in degrading the moral standards of our Western world, and that in the world of today there is more violence and brutal force than would have been tolerated even in the decade after the first World war. And we must face the possibility that our civilization may ultimately be destroyed by those new weapons which Hitlerism wished upon us, perhaps even within the first decade after the second World war; for no doubt the spirit of Hitlerism won its greatest victory over us when, after its defeat, we used the weapons which the threat of Nazism had induced us to develop.

…A rationalist, as I use the word, is a man who attempts to reach decisions by argument and perhaps, in certain cases, by compromise, rather than by violence. He is a man who would rather be unsuccessful in convincing another man by argument than successful in crushing him by force, by intimidation and threats, or even by persuasive propaganda.

…We all remember how many religious wars were fought for a religion of love and gentleness; how many bodies were burned alive with the genuinely kind intention of saving souls from the eternal fire of hell. Only if we give up our authoritarian attitude in the realm of opinion, only if we establish the attitude of give and take, of readiness to learn from other people, can we hope to control acts of violence inspired by piety and duty.

…There are many difficulties impeding the rapid spread of reasonableness. One of the main difficulties is that it always takes two to make a discussion reasonable. Each of the parties must be ready to learn from the other. You cannot have a rational discussion with a man who prefers shooting you to being convinced by you.

…Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realised.

 

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On Freedom (1958)

(1967) essay republished in Alles Leben ist Problemlösen (1994); translated as All Life is Problem Solving by Patrick Camiller (1994)

…The true Enlightenment thinker, the true rationalist, never wants to talk anyone into anything. No, he does not even want to convince; all the time he is aware that he may be wrong. Above all, he values the intellectual independence of others too highly to want to convince them in important matters. He would much rather invite contradiction, preferably in the form of rational and disciplined criticism. He seeks not to convince but to arouse — to challenge others to form free opinions.

…Although I consider our political world to be the best of which we have any historical knowledge, we should beware of attributing this fact to democracy or to freedom. Freedom is not a supplier who delivers goods to our door. Democracy does not ensure that anything is accomplished — certainly not an economic miracle. It is wrong and dangerous to extol freedom by telling people that they will certainly be all right once they are free. How someone fares in life is largely a matter of luck or grace, and to a comparatively small degree perhaps also of competence, diligence, and other virtues. The most we can say of democracy or freedom is that they give our personal abilities a little more influence on our well-being.

…It is wrong to think that belief in freedom always leads to victory; we must always be prepared for it to lead to defeat. If we choose freedom, then we must be prepared to perish along with it. Poland fought for freedom as no other country did. The Czech nation was prepared to fight for its freedom in 1938; it was not lack of courage that sealed its fate. The Hungarian Revolution of 1956 — the work of young people with nothing to lose but their chains — triumphed and then ended in failure. … Democracy and freedom do not guarantee the millennium. No, we do not choose political freedom because it promises us this or that. We choose it because it makes possible the only dignified form of human coexistence, the only form in which we can be fully responsible for ourselves. Whether we realize its possibilities depends on all kinds of things — and above all on ourselves.

 

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Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963)

Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963)

…The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific, and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance. For this, indeed, is the main source of our ignorance — the fact that our knowledge can be only finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.

…What we should do, I suggest, is to give up the idea of ultimate sources of knowledge, and admit that all knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach. We may admit that our groping is often inspired, but we must be on our guard against the belief, however deeply felt, that our inspiration carries any authority, divine or otherwise. If we thus admit that there is no authority beyond the reach of criticism to be found within the whole province of our knowledge, however far it may have penetrated into the unknown, then we can retain, without danger, the idea that truth is beyond human authority. And we must retain it. For without this idea there can be no objective standards of inquiry; no criticism of our conjectures; no groping for the unknown; no quest for knowledge.

…Introduction “On The Sources of Knowledge and of Ignorance” Section XVII, p. 30 Variant translation: I believe it is worthwhile trying to discover more about the world, even if this only teaches us how little we know. It might do us good to remember from time to time that, while differing widely in the various little bits we know, in our infinite ignorance we are all equal.

…If we thus admit that there is no authority beyond the reach of criticism to be found within the whole province of our knowledge, however far we may have penetrated into the unknown, then we can retain, without risk of dogmatism, the idea that truth itself is beyond all human authority. Indeed, we are not only able to retain this idea, we must retain it. For without it there can be no objective standards of scientific inquiry, no criticism of our conjectured solutions, no groping for the unknown, and no quest for knowledge.

…Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.
Ch. 1 “Science : Conjectures and Refutations”, Section VII

…The history of science, like the history of all human ideas, is a history of irresponsible dreams, of obstinacy, and of error. But science is one of the very few human activities — perhaps the only one — in which errors are systematically criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected. This is why we can say that, in science, we often learn from our mistakes, and why we can speak clearly and sensibly about making progress there.
Ch. 1 “Science : Conjectures and Refutations”

…Put in a nut-shell, my thesis amounts to this. The repeated attempts made by Rudolf Carnap to show that the demarcation between science and metaphysics coincides with that between sense and nonsense have failed. The reason is that the positivistic concept of ‘meaning’ or ‘sense’ (or of verifiability, or of inductive confirmability, etc.) is inappropriate for achieving this demarcation — simply because metaphysics need not be meaningless even though it is not science. In all its variations demarcation by meaninglessness has tended to be at the same time too narrow and too wide: as against all intentions and all claims, it has tended to exclude scientific theories as meaningless, while failing to exclude even that part of metaphysics which is known as ‘rational theology’.
Ch 11. “The Demarcation between Science and Metaphysics.” (Summary, p. 253)

…It is often asserted that discussion is only possible between people who have a common language and accept common basic assumptions. I think that this is a mistake. All that is needed is a readiness to learn from one’s partner in the discussion, which includes a genuine wish to understand what he intends to say. If this readiness is there, the discussion will be the more fruitful the more the partner’s backgrounds differ.
p. 352

…It seems to me certain that more people are killed out of righteous stupidity than out of wickedness.
p. 368

…As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analyzing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. “Because of my thousandfold experience,” he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: “And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one-fold.”

…I may illustrate this by two very different examples of human behaviour: that of a man who pushes a child into the water with the intention of drowning it; and that of a man who sacrifices his life in an attempt to save the child. Each of these two cases can be explained with equal ease in Freudian and in Adlerian terms. According to Freud the first man suffered from repression (say, of some component of his Oedipus complex), while the second man had achieved sublimation. According to Adler the first man suffered from feelings of inferiority (producing perhaps the need to prove to himself that he dared to commit some crime), and so did the second man (whose need was to prove to himself that he dared to rescue the child). I could not think of any human behaviour which could not be interpreted in terms of either theory. It was precisely this fact — that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed — which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favour of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.

…There are all kinds of sources of our knowledge; but none has authority … The fundamental mistake made by the philosophical theory of the ultimate sources of our knowledge is that it does not distinguish clearly enough between questions of origin and questions of validity.

Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963)

 

***

Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (1976)

…Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstand you.
Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography / Page 29

…Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research program.
Unsourced variant: Evolution is not a fact. Evolution doesn’t even qualify as a theory or as a hypothesis. It is a metaphysical research program, and it is not really testable science.
Karl Popper, Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography

Popper later retracted his criticisms: …I have changed my mind about the testability and logical status of the theory of natural selection; and I am glad to have an opportunity to make a recantation.
“Natural selection and the emergence of mind” dialectica Vol. 32 (1978), p. 339-355; republished in Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge (1987) edited by Gerard Radnitzky and W. W. Bartley, III

 

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In Search of a Better World (1984)

…All things living are in search of a better world.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/ Preface

…The belief in a political Utopia is especially dangerous. This is possibly connected with the fact that the search for a better world, like the investigation of our environment, is (if I am correct) one of the oldest and most important of all the instincts.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/

…Our aim as scientists is objective truth; more truth, more interesting truth, more intelligible truth. We cannot reasonably aim at certainty. Once we realize that human knowledge is fallible, we realize also that we can never be completely certain that we have not made a mistake.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/

…There are uncertain truths — even true statements that we may take to be false — but there are no uncertain certainties.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/

…Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/

…Why do I think that we, the intellectuals, are able to help? Simply because we, the intellectuals, have done the most terrible harm for thousands of years. Mass murder in the name of an idea, a doctrine, a theory, a religion — that is all our doing, our invention: the invention of the intellectuals. If only we would stop setting man against man — often with the best intentions — much would be gained. Nobody can say that it is impossible for us to stop doing this.
Karl Popper, In Search of a better World (1984)/

 

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the open society and its enemies revisited, Karl Popper on democracy

From the archives: the open society and its enemies revisited

Jan 31st 2016, 1:20

http://www.economist.com/blogs/democracyinamerica/2016/01/karl-popper-democracy

The first book in English by Professor Sir Karl Popper was accepted for publication in London while Hitler’s bombs were falling, and was published in 1945 under the title “The Open Society and its Enemies”. The book was well received, but in this article Sir Karl questions whether his central theory of democracy (which he does not characterise as “the rule of the people”) has been understood.

MY THEORY of democracy is very simple and easy for everybody to understand. But its fundamental problem is so different from the age-old theory of democracy which everybody takes for granted that it seems that this difference has not been grasped, just because of the simplicity of the theory. It avoids high-sounding, abstract words like “rule”, “freedom” and “reason”. I do believe in freedom and reason, but I do not think that one can construct a simple, practical and fruitful theory in these terms. They are too abstract, and too prone to be misused; and, of course, nothing whatever can be gained by their definition.

This article is divided into three main parts. The first sets out, briefly, what may be called the classical theory of democracy: the theory of the rule of the people. The second is a brief sketch of my more realistic theory. The third is, in the main, an outline of some practical applications of my theory, in reply to the question: “What practical difference does this new theory make?”

The classical theory

The classical theory is, in brief, the theory that democracy is the rule of the people, and that the people have a right to rule. For the claim that the people have this right, many and various reasons have been given; however, it will not be necessary for me to enter into these reasons here. Instead, I will briefly examine some of the historical background of the theory, and of the terminology.

Plato was the first theoretician to make a system out of the distinctions between what he regarded as the main forms of the city-state. According to the number of the rulers, he distinguished between: (1) monarchy, the rule of one good man, and tyranny, the distorted form of monarchy; (2) aristocracy, the rule of a few good men, and oligarchy, its distorted form; (3) democracy, the rule of the many, of all the people. Democracy did not have two forms. For the many always formed a rabble, and so democracy was distorted in itself.

If one looks more closely at this classification, and if one asks oneself what problem was at the back of Plato’s mind, then one finds that the following underlay not only Plato’s classification and theory, but also those of everybody else. From Plato to Karl Marx and beyond, the fundamental problem has always been: who should rule the state? (One of my main points will be that this problem must be replaced by a totally different one.) Plato’s answer was simple and naive: “the best” should rule. If possible, “the best of all”, alone. Next choice: the best few, the aristocrats. But certainly not the many, the rabble, the demos.

The Athenian practice had been, even before Plato’s birth, precisely the opposite: the people, the demos, should rule. All important. political decisions—such as war and peace—were made by the assembly of all full citizens. This is now called “direct democracy”; but we must never forget that the citizens formed a minority of the inhabitants—even of the natives. From the point of view here adopted, the important thing is that, in practice, the Athenian democrats regarded their democracy as the alternative to tyranny—to arbitrary rule: in fact, they knew well that a popular leader might be invested with tyrannical powers by a popular vote.

So they knew that a popular vote may be wrongheaded, even in the most important matters. (The institution of ostracism recognised this: the ostracised person was banned as a matter of precaution only; he was neither tried nor regarded as guilty.)The Athenians were right: decisions arrived at democratically, and even the powers conveyed upon a government by a democratic vote, may be wrong. It is hard, if not impossible, to construct a constitution that safeguards against mistakes. This is one of the strongest reasons for founding the idea of democracy upon the practical principle of avoiding tyranny rather than upon a divine, or a morally legitimate, right of the people to rule.

The (in my opinion, vicious) principle of legitimacy plays a great part in European history. While the Roman legions were strong, the Caesars based their power upon the principle: the army legitimises the ruler (by acclamation). But with the decline of the Empire, the problem of legitimacy became urgent; and this was strongly felt by Diocletian, who tried to support the new structure of the Imperium of the God-Caesars ideologically with traditional and religious distinctions and the corresponding attribution of different titles: Caesar, Augustus, Herculius, and Jovius (i.e., related to Jupiter).

Yet it seems that there was a need for a more authoritative, deeper religious legitimation. In the next generation, monotheism in the form of Christianity (which, of the available monotheisms, has spread most widely) offered itself to Constantine as the solution to the problem. From then on, the ruler ruled by the Grace of God—of the one and the only universal God. The complete success of this new ideology of legitimacy explains both the ties and the tensions between the spiritual and the worldly powers which thus became mutual dependants, and therefore rivals, throughout the Middle Ages.

So, in the Middle Ages, the answer to the question “Who should rule?” became the principle: God is the ruler, and He rules through His legitimate human representatives. It was this principle of legitimacy which was first seriously challenged by the Reformation and then by the English revolution of 1648-49 which proclaimed the divine right of the people to rule. But in this revolution the divine right of the people was immediately used to establish the dictatorship of Oliver Cromwell.

After the dictator’s death, there was a return to the older form of legitimacy; and it was the violation of protestant legitimacy by James II, by the legitimate monarch himself, which led to the “Glorious Revolution” of 1688, and to the development of British democracy through a gradual strengthening of the power of Parliament, which had legitimised William and Mary. The unique character of this development was precisely due to the experience that fundamental theological and ideological quarrels about who should rule lead only to catastrophe. Royal legitimacy was no longer a reliable principle, nor was the rule of the people. In practice, there was a monarchy of somewhat dubious legitimacy created by the will of Parliament, and a fairly steady increase of parliamentary power. The British became dubious about abstract principles; and the Platonic problem “Who should rule?” was no longer seriously raised in Britain until our own days.

Karl Marx, who was not a British politician, was still dominated by the old Platonic problem which he saw as: “Who should rule? The good or the bad—the workers or the capitalists?” And even those who rejected the state altogether, in the name of freedom, could not free themselves from the fetters of a misconceived old problem; for they called themselves anarchists—that is, opponents of all forms of rule. One can sympathise with their unsuccessful attempt to get away from the old problem “Who should rule?”

A more realistic theory

In “The Open Society and its Enemies” I suggested that an entirely new problem should be recognised as the fundamental problem of a rational political theory. The new problem, as distinct from the old “Who should rule?”, can be formulated as follows: how is the state to be constituted so that bad rulers can be got rid of without bloodshed, without violence?

This, in contrast to the old question, is a thoroughly practical, almost technical, problem. And the modern so-called democracies are all good examples of practical solutions to this problem, even though they were not consciously designed with this problem in mind. For they all adopt what is the simplest solution to the new problem—that is, the principle that the government can be dismissed by a majority vote.

In theory, however, these modern democracies are still based on the old problem, and on the completely impractical ideology that it is the people, the whole adult population, who are, or should by rights be, the real and ultimate and the only legitimate rulers. But, of course, nowhere do the people actually rule. It is governments that rule (and, unfortunately, also bureaucrats, our civil servants—or our uncivil masters, as Winston Churchill called them—whom it is difficult, if not impossible, to make accountable for their actions).

What are the consequences of this simple and practical theory of government? My way of putting the problem and my simple solution do not, of course, clash with the practice of western democracies, such as the unwritten constitution of Britain, and the many written constitutions which took the British Parliament more or less as their model. It is this practice (and not their theory) which my theory—my problem and its solution—tries to describe. And, for this reason, I think that I may call it a theory of “democracy”, even though it is emphatically not a theory of the “rule of the people”, but rather the rule of law that postulates the bloodless dismissal of the government by a majority vote.

My theory easily avoids the paradoxes and difficulties of the old theory—for instance, such problems as “What has to be done if ever the people vote to establish a dictatorship?” Of course, this is not likely to happen if the vote is free. But it has happened. And what if it does happen? Most constitutions in fact require far more than a majority vote to amend or change constitutional provisions, and thus would demand perhaps a two-thirds or even a three-quarters (“qualified”) majority for a vote against democracy. But this demand shows that they provide for such a change; and at the same time they do not conform to the principle that the (“unqualified”) majority will is the ultimate source of power—that the people, through a majority vote, are entitled to rule.

All these theoretical difficulties are avoided if one abandons the question “Who should rule?” and replaces it by the new and practical problem: how can we best avoid situations in which a bad ruler causes too much harm? When we say that the best solution known to us is a constitution that allows a majority vote to dismiss the government, then we do not say the majority vote will always be right. We do not even say that it will usually be right. We say only that this very imperfect procedure is the best so far invented. Winston Churchill once said, jokingly, that democracy is the worst form of government—with the exception of all other known forms of government.

And this is the point: anybody who has ever lived under another form of government—that is, under a dictatorship which cannot be removed without bloodshed—will know that a democracy, imperfect though it is, is worth fighting for and, I believe, worth dying for. This, however, is only my personal conviction. I should regard it as wrong to try to persuade others of it.

We could base our whole theory on this, that there are only two alternatives known to us: either a dictatorship or some form of democracy. And we do not base our choice on the goodness of democracy, which may be doubtful, but solely on the evilness of a dictatorship, which is certain. Not only because the dictator is bound to make bad use of his power, but because a dictator, even if he were benevolent, would rob all others of their responsibility, and thus of their human rights and duties. This is a sufficient basis for deciding in favour of democracy—that is, a rule of law that enables us to get rid of the government. No majority, however large, ought to be qualified to abandon this rule of law.

Proportional representation

Such are the theoretical differences between the old and the new theories. As an example of the practical difference between the theories, I propose to examine the issue of proportional representation.

The old theory and the belief that the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people constitutes a natural right, or a divine right, form the background of the usual argument in favour of proportional representation. For if people rule through their representatives, and by majority votes, then it is essential that the numerical distribution of opinion among the representatives mirrors as closely as possible that which prevails among those who are the real source of legitimate power: the people themselves. Everything else will he not only grossly unfair but against all the principles of justice.

This argument collapses if the old theory is given up, so that we can look, more dispassionately, and perhaps without much prejudice, at the inescapable (and possibly unintended) practical consequences of proportional representation. And these are devastating.

First of all, proportional representation confers, even if only indirectly, a constitutional status on political parties which they would otherwise not attain. For I can no longer choose a person whom I trust to represent me: I can choose only a party. And the people who may represent the party are chosen only by the party. And while people and their opinions always deserve the greatest respect, the opinions adopted by parties (which are typically instruments of personal advancement and of power, with all the chances for intrigue which this implies) are not to be identified with ordinary human opinions: they are ideologies.

In a constitution that does not provide for proportional representation, parties need not be mentioned at all. They need not be given official status. The electorate of each constituency sends its personal representative to the chamber. Whether he stands alone, or whether he combines with some others to form a party, is left to him. It is an affair he may have to explain and defend to his electorate.

His duty is to represent the interests of all those people whom he represents to the best of his ability. These interests will in almost all cases be identical with those of all the citizens of the country, of the nation. These are the interests he must pursue to the best of his knowledge. He is personally responsible to persons.

This is the only duty and the only responsibility of the representative that must be recognised by the constitution. If he considers that he has also a duty to a political party, then this must be due solely to the fact that he believes that through his connection with that party he can do his primary duty better than without the party. Consequently it is his duty to leave the party whenever he realises that he can do his primary duty better without that party, or perhaps with a different party.

All this is done away with if the constitution of the state incorporates proportional representation. For under proportional representation the candidate seeks election solely as the representative of a party, whatever the wording of the constitution may be. If he is elected, he is elected mainly, if not solely, because he belongs to, and represents, a certain party. Thus, his main loyalty must be to his party, and to the party’s ideology; not to people (except, perhaps, the leaders of the party).

It can therefore never be his duty to vote against his party. On the contrary, he is morally bound to the party as whose representative he was voted into parliament. And in the event that he can no longer square this with his conscience, it would, in my opinion, be his moral duty to resign not only from his party but from parliament, even though the country’s constitution may place no such obligation upon him.

In fact, the system under which he was elected robs him of personal responsibility; it makes of him a voting machine rather than a thinking and feeling person. In my view, this is by itself a sufficient argument against proportional representation. For what we need in politics are individuals who can judge on their own and who are prepared to carry personal responsibility.

Such individuals are difficult to find under any party system, even without proportional representation—and it must be admitted that we have not yet found a way of doing without parties. But if we have to have parties, we had better not, by our constitution, add deliberately to the enslavement of our representatives to the party machine and to the party ideology by introducing proportional representation.

The immediate consequence of proportional representation is that it will tend to increase the number of parties. This, at first glance, may seem desirable: more parties means more choice, more opportunities, less rigidity, more criticism. It also means a greater distribution of influence and of power.

However, this first impression is totally mistaken. The existence of many parties means, essentially, that a coalition government becomes inevitable. It means difficulties in the formation of any new government, and in keeping a government together for any length of time.

Minority rule

While proportional representation is based on the idea that the influence of a party should be proportional to its voting power, a coalition government means, more often than not, that small parties can exercise a disproportionately great—and often decisive—influence, both on the formation of a government and on its resignation, and so on all its decisions. Most important of all, it means the decay of responsibility. For in a coalition government there is reduced responsibility for all the partners in the coalition.

Proportional representation—and the greater number of parties as a result thereof—may therefore have a detrimental effect on the decisive issue of how to get rid of a government by voting it out of office, for instance in a parliamentary election. The voters are led to expect that perhaps none of the parties will obtain an absolute majority. With this expectation in their minds, the people hardly vote against any of the parties. As a result, on election day none of the parties is dismissed, none is convicted. Accordingly, nobody looks on election day as a Day of Judgment; as a day when a responsible government stands to account for its deeds and omissions, for its successes and failures, and a responsible opposition criticises this record and explains what steps the government ought to have taken, and why.

The loss of 5% or 10% of votes by one or other of the parties is not seen by the voters as a verdict of “guilty”. They look at it, rather, as a temporary fluctuation in popularity. In time, the people become used to the idea that none of the political parties or their leaders can really be made accountable for their decisions which may have been forced on them by the necessity to form a coalition.

From the point of view of the new theory, election day ought to be a Day of Judgment. As Pericles of Athens said in about 430 BC, “although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it.” Of course, we may misjudge it; in fact, we often do. But if we have lived through a party’s period of power and have felt its repercussions, we have at least some qualifications for judgment.

This presupposes that the party in power and its leaders were fully responsible for what they were doing. This, in turn, presupposes a majority government. But with proportional representation, even in the case of a single party governing with an absolute majority and thrown out by a majority of disenchanted citizens, the government may not be turned out of office. It would rather look for the smallest party strong enough to go on ruling with its help.

Hence the censured leader of the larger party would still continue to lead the government—in direct opposition to the majority vote and on the basis of help received from one of the small parties whose policies, in theory, may be far removed from “representing the will of the people”. Of course, the small party may not be strongly represented in the new government. But its power will be very great since it may topple the government at any time. All this grossly violates the idea that lies at the root of proportional representation: the idea that the influence exercised by any party must correspond to the number of votes it can muster.

The two-party system

In order to make a majority government probable, we need something approaching a two-party system, as in Britain and in the United States. Since the existence of the practice of proportional representation makes such a possibility hard to attain, I suggest that, in the interest of parliamentary responsibility, we should resist the perhaps-tempting idea that democracy demands proportional representation. Instead, we should strive for a two-party system, or at least for an approximation to it, for such a system encourages a continual process of self-criticism by the two parties.

Such a view will, however, provoke frequently voiced objections to the two-party system that merit examination: “A two-party system represses the formation of other parties.” This is correct. But considerable changes are apparent within the two major parties in Britain as well as in the United States. So the repression need not be a denial of flexibility.

The point is that in a two-party system the defeated party is liable to take an electoral defeat seriously. So it may look for an internal reform of its aims, which is an ideological reform. If the party is defeated twice in succession, or even three times, the search for new ideas may become frantic, which obviously is a healthy development. This is likely to happen, even if the loss of votes was not very great.

Under a system with many parties, and with coalitions, this is not likely to happen. Especially when the loss of votes is small, both the party bosses and the electorate are inclined to take the change quietly. They regard it as part of the game—since none of the parties had clear responsibilities. A democracy needs parties that are more sensitive than that and, if possible, constantly on the alert. Only in this way can they be induced to be self-critical. As things stand, an inclination to self-criticism after an electoral defeat is far more pronounced in countries with a two-party system than in those where there are several parties. In practice, then, a two-party system is likely to be more flexible than a multi-party system, contrary to first impressions.

It is said: “Proportional representation gives a new party a chance to rise. Without it, the chance is much diminished. And the mere existence of a third party may greatly improve the performance of the two big parties.” This may well be the case. But what if five or six such new parties emerge? As we have seen, even one small party may wield quite disproportionate power if it is in the position to decide which of the two big parties it will join to form a coalition government.

It is also said: “A two-party system is incompatible with the idea of an open society—with the openness for new ideas, and with the idea of pluralism.” Reply: both Britain and the United States are very open to new ideas. Complete openness would, of course, be self-defeating, as would be complete freedom. Also cultural openness and political openness are two different things. And more important even than opening wider and wider the political debate may be a proper attitude towards the political Day of Judgment.