Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Bursting some balloons with Popper

A good anecdote for any outbreak of Unionist fatalism; from "The Poverty of Historicism" by Karl Popper:
(1) The course of human history is strongly influenced by the growth of human knowledge;
(2) We cannot predict, by rational or scientific methods, the future growth of our scientific knowledge;
(3) We cannot, therefore, predict the future course of human history.

If you agree with Popper's analysis there*, then contrary to recent claims (here and here) the break-up of our nation is by no means inevitable. For Unionists then "resignation", not the various shades of nationalism within the UK, still remains our "greatest enemy".



*If you do however believe in the "inevitability of history" or "endism" as Arthur Aughey refers to it in the context of the Union, feel free to offer a defence in the comments; I'm trying desperately to get my head round Poverty of Historicism at the minute, so any constructive criticism of the above theory would be very beneficial!

8 comments:

kensei said...

Nothing is inevitable. I doubt, however, that the future break up of the UK depends much on scientific knowledge.

And if it does happen, you'll be able to look back and see some fo the forces now and their significance.

O'Neill said...

"Scientific knowledge" is that knowledge or information "accumulated by systematic study and organized by general principles" so it eg could cover areas like economic or social consequences of nation split ups. Depending on what it says it could determine the future of the UK.

What you describe in your second sentence is obviously hindsight not prediction, at the time of those events there is no predetermination of consequences.

Having said all that, the theory isnt all good news for a certain branch of NI Unionism- eg it's an illogical nonsense to talk about "securing the Union", if only for the fact that the legal and constitutional mechanism remains there (consent principle) which can just as easy work in either direction

wildgoose said...

Anything by Popper is worth reading, although I haven't read that particular book. A brilliant man.

You may also enjoy Steve Fuller's "Kuhn vs. Popper", subtitled "The Struggle for the Soul of Science".

kensei said...

"Scientific knowledge" is that knowledge or information "accumulated by systematic study and organized by general principles" so it eg could cover areas like economic or social consequences of nation split ups. Depending on what it says it could determine the future of the UK.

But the split up won't cause the split up. It will be political and social divergence taht will split the UK, and you'd need to go very broad to cover that under social sciences. And being rather fuuzzy sciences we take educated guesses.

What you describe in your second sentence is obviously hindsight not prediction, at the time of those events there is no predetermination of consequences.

Not what I am getting at. It's like a river carving it's path. It might look to go one way but whether by the underlying geography or outside forces not take that path. Or it might go that way. If it does, the same forces and geography mad eit inevitable. But the inevitability is only visible in hindsight. If taht amkes any kind of sense.

O'Neill said...

Wildgoose

Thanks for the suggestion. It was my better half who originally pointed me in the direction of his version of Open Society- finding Poverty of Historicism a more difficult read though.

O'Neill said...

"But the split up won't cause the split up."

I should have been more specific, it wasn't lessons from the potential break-up of the UK that I was talking about but from previous recent nation splits (eg Czechoslovakia, Yugoslavia etc). Obviously every split is different so and some of the social sciences may be a bit fuzzy but economics can measure things like change on GDP

Re the river example, the fact that the end destination isn't known for certain until that end has been reached is the important point, there could have been a whole set of unexpected external factors (flooding, manmade redirection) which could bring it to that destination.

Duncan Shipley Dalton said...

An interesting read and a book David Trimble recommended to me and interestingly enough he had been given as young man by Harry West. I often wonder to what extent it influenced his thinking.

Duncan Shipley Dalton said...

An interesting read and a book that David Trimble recommended to me and in turn he was given by Harry West many years before. I often wondered to what extent it influenced his thinking.