Predrag Krstić

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Institute for philosophy and social theory, Belgrade



Thе paper presents and analyzes the social and political thought of Karl Popper. But since this thought may be unique in that it transmits or applies insights from another field in which Popper gained an enviable reputation – from the philosophy of science and the theory of knowledge, to the field of social theory and practice – it is necessary to point out some main characteristics of his epistemology. It is found that the defining property of what Popper sees as a successful method, primarily of the natural sciences, is a certain "turn towards negativity", the orientation of knowledge and its growth not to a solution, but to a problem, not to accuracy, but to error, not to proof, but to refutation. The second part of the paper is devoted to the effects of that turn when applied to the social sciences. Special attention is paid to step-by-step social technology or piecemeal social engineering, as a defense against utopian projects of historicism and as a measured, verifiable and correctable experiment-based engagement in improving human conditions. But if such a reorientation applies to Popper's installation of the social sciences as “empirical” and “technological” dealings with social institutions, it should apply even more to direct political practice. Popper believes that politicians, as well as sociologists or ethicists, should focus on alleviating or eliminating evil and suffering, abandon the search for the ideal good and, in particular, the implementation of their visions of the “life world”. Such an approach guarantees the “scientific” possibility of learning from mistakes, the possibility of correcting them and modifying the goals, as well as easier social agreement about the most pronounced evils, the elimination of which should be approached as a matter of urgency. The final part of the paper is dedicated to the question of which political group such a conception can be classified into, as well as to the remarks that can be addressed to it. “Broadly understood liberalism” allows libertarians as well as socialists and conservatives to fight for Popper's legacy – always with some reservations and aberration. His unified vision of science and politics according to the principle of “falsificationism” and according to the model of “critical rationalism”, apart from the external remark that it does not belong as a whole to any camp, can be addressed with a loyal remark that it is not “negative” enough, that presuppose the consistency of theory to real social antagonism, in this was precisely falsifying reality, as well as the remark that, by (over)emphasizing the dangers of “utopianism”, it overlooks its own, if not utopian, then at least emancipatory content. It is concluded that Popper's ‘scientific’ vision of social emancipation, based on the detection and denial of evil and error, may not be (any more) sufficient, but it certainly represents a permanent warning to all salvational projects and projections.