This August, the OUP Philosophy team honours Sir Karl Raimund Popper (1902–1994) as their Philosopher of the Month. A British (Austrian-born) philosopher, Popper’s considerable reputation comes from his work on the philosophy of science and his political philosophy. Popper is widely regarded as one of the greatest thinkers of the twentieth century.
Born to a middle-class Jewish family in Vienna, Popper studied mathematics, physics, and psychology at the University of Vienna, graduating with a doctorate in psychology in 1928. His first book The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge was shorted down to become arguably his most famous work and also the first to be published by the philosopher, Logik der Forschung (1934). The Vienna Circle became interested in Popper’s work after this despite it contesting some of their basic concepts. Popper shared their interest in distinguishing between science and other activities, but in contrast to them never supported the idea that non-scientific activities were meaningless. He instead disapproved of pseudo-science, believing that the fundamental feature of a scientific theory is that it should be falsifiable. An example of this pseudo-science which could not be falsified was Freud’s psychoanalytic theory which Popper contrasted with true science from the likes of Einstein.
Aware of the Nazi threat to Jews, Popper emigrated to New Zealand in 1937 to take up a lectureship at Canterbury University. Popper stayed in New Zealand until after the war and went on to publish Open Society and Its Enemies in 1945. This attacked historicism in political philosophy, blaming the works of Plato, Marx, and Hegel for the events of World War II. With the help of his friend Friedrich August von Hayek, Popper obtained a readership at the London School of Economics in 1946. Popper spent the rest of his life in Britain and during this time was made a fellow of both the Royal Society and the British Academy, a Membre de I’Institute de France, and was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965. He spent the latter half of his life placing his theory of error-seeking in both science and politics within a generalized theory of evolution and also went on to translate Logik der Forschung to English himself, publishing it as The Logic of Scientific Discovery in 1959. Popper retired from the London School of Economics in 1969, but continued publishing work up until his death in 1994.
For more on Popper’s life and work, browse our interactive timeline below:
Featured image credit: Panorama Vienna, Austria. Photo by Michal Jarmoluk. Public domain via Pixabay.