One of the many remarkable features of Popper’s thought is the scope of his intellectual influence: he was lauded by Bertrand Russell, taught Imre Lakatos, Paul Feyerabend and the future billionaire investor and philanthropist George Soros at the London School of Economics, numbered David Miller, Joseph Agassi, Alan Musgrave and Jeremy Shearmur amongst his research assistants there and had reciprocally beneficial friendships with the economist Friedrich Hayek and the art historian Ernst Gombrich.
Additionally, Peter Medawar, John Eccles and Hermann Bondi are amongst the distinguished scientists who have acknowledged their intellectual indebtedness to his work, the latter declaring that “There is no more to science than its method, and there is no more to its method than Popper has said.” Karl Raimund Popper was born on 28 July 1902 in Vienna, which at that time could make some claim to be the cultural epicentre of the western world.
This latter ideal, Popper argued, was misconceived, but the issues raised by it ultimately had the effect of refocusing his attention from Bühler’s question of the unity of psychology to that of its scientificity, and this philosophical focus on questions of method, objectivity and claims to scientific status was to become a principal life-long concern for him.
This also brought the orientation of his thought into line with that of such contemporary ‘analytic’ philosophers as Frege and Russell as well as that of many members of the Vienna Circle and led him to effectively abandon psychology for philosophy of science.
His parents, who were of Jewish origin, brought him up in an atmosphere which he was later to describe as ‘decidedly bookish’.
His father was a lawyer by profession, but he also took a keen interest in the classics and in philosophy, and communicated to his son an interest in social and political issues which he was to never lose. Subsequently, his love for music became one of the inspirational forces in the development of his thought, and manifested itself in his highly original interpretation of the relationship between dogmatic and critical thinking, in his account of the distinction between objectivity and subjectivity, and, most importantly, in the growth of his hostility towards all forms of historicism, including historicist ideas about the nature of the ‘progressive’ in music.The dominance of the critical spirit in Einstein, and its total absence in Marx, Freud and Adler, struck Popper as being of fundamental importance: the pioneers of psychoanalysis, he came to think, couched their theories in terms which made them amenable only to confirmation, while Einstein’s theory, crucially, had testable implications which, if false, would have falsified the theory itself.Popper had a rather melancholic personality and took some time to settle on a career; he trained as a cabinetmaker, obtained a primary school teaching diploma in 1925 and qualified to teach mathematics and physics in secondary school in 1929.His mother inculcated in him such a passion for music that for a time he seriously contemplated taking it up as a career, and indeed he initially chose the history of music as a second subject for his Ph. The young Karl attended the local , where he was unhappy with the standards of the teaching, and, after an illness which kept him at home for a number of months, he left to attend the University of Vienna in 1918.However, he did not formally enroll at the University by taking the matriculation examination for another four years.The latter acted on the ideological grounds that it constituted what they believed to be a necessary dialectical step towards the implosion of capitalism and the ultimate revolutionary victory of communism.This was one factor which led to the much feared (1945), his most impassioned and brilliant social works, are as a consequence a powerful defence of democratic liberalism as a social and political philosophy, and a devastating critique of the principal philosophical presuppositions underpinning all forms of totalitarianism.Thirdly, as we have seen, Popper was profoundly impressed by the differences between the allegedly ‘scientific’ theories of Freud and Adler and the revolution effected by Einstein’s theory of relativity in physics in the first two decades of this century.The main difference between them, as Popper saw it, was that while Einstein’s theory was highly ‘risky’, in the sense that it was possible to deduce consequences from it which were, in the light of the then dominant Newtonian physics, highly improbable (e.g., that light is deflected towards solid bodies—confirmed by Eddington’s experiments in 1919), and which would, if they turned out to be false, falsify the whole theory, nothing could, even , falsify psychoanalytic theories.He was ill-at-ease in the philosophical milieu of post-war Britain which was, as he saw it, fixated with trivial linguistic concerns dictated by Wittgenstein, whom he considered to be his nemesis.Popper was a somewhat paradoxical man, whose theoretic commitment to the primacy of rational criticism was counterpointed by hostility towards anything that amounted to less than total acceptance of his own thought, and in Britain—as had been the case in Vienna—he became increasingly an isolated figure, though his ideas continued to inspire admiration.