Forms of Unreason
'Socrates's great equalitarian and liberating idea that it is possible to reason with a slave, and that there is an intellectual link between man and man, a medium of universal understanding, namely, "reason".'
O.S., i, 132
My favourite chapter in the whole of Popper's writing is the last but one in The Open Society where he explores the kind of borderland between reason and faith in reason, in a way which I have found of lasting value and comfort. The chapter begins with the observation that Marx was a rationalist, but that the consequence of his work and influence has been an undermining of belief in reason. Rationalism has been assaulted both from the Left - by the Marxist doctrine that opinions are determined by class interest - and also from the Right by Hegel's doctrine that ideas are determined by national interest. `This is why', says Popper, `the conflict between rationalism and irrationalism has become the most important intellectual, and perhaps even moral, issue of our time' (O. S., ii, 224).
Rationalism in Popper's sense implies an attitude of reasonableness, of `I may be wrong and you may be right, and by an effort we may get nearer the truth'. He is at pains to emphasise that this attitude cannot itself be justified by reason, it cannot be proved. It is more akin to a moral attitude. `For the question whether to adopt rationalism or irrationalism will deeply affect our whole attitude to other men, and towards the problems of social life.' (O.S.,ii, 232). He proceeds to justify his choice of rationalism mainly by looking at its opposite. What he calls `irrationalism' is the attitude of those who insist that 'human nature' is not rational. They may recognise reason and scientific method as useful tools to serve certain ends; but these very ends will be irrational because the `deep motives' of human action are emotional and not amenable to reason. Further, because of this and because so few people are capable of serious argument, the majority, they say, can only be tackled by an appeal to their emotions and passions rather than to their reason.
Irrationalism, since it is not bound by any rules or consistency, may be combined with any kind of belief including a belief in the brotherhood of man; but the irrationalist's belief that emotions and passions rather than reason are the mainspring of human action tend to lead to an appeal to violence and brute force as the ultimate arbiter in any dispute. Bertrand Russell had written: `Rationality ... is of supreme importance ... not only in ages in which it easily prevails, but even more, in those less fortunate times in which it is despised and rejected as the vain dream of men who lack the virility to kill where they cannot agree.' With what he calls a harmless test case Popper shows that even the most constructive emotion, love, is usually unable to decide a conflict. Tom likes the theatre and Dick likes dancing. Tom lovingly insists on going to a dance while Dick wants, for Tom's sake, to go to the theatre (O.S., ii, 236).
‘Starvation lunches' organised to help the underfed millions in the poorest countries of the world are probably a case in point. The idea that we should fast for this purpose is founded on generous emotions but bad reason. If the amount we eat has anything to do with providing more for Bangladesh, we would be more likely to help by eating more. For it is increased demand for their exports, rather than reduced demand, that is most likely to help them.
The adoption of rationalism implies, Popper says, a commitment to a common language of reason, and establishes a kind of moral obligation to use it with clarity and in such a way that it retain its function as a vehicle of argument. He inveighs against the tendency to regard language as a means of self-expression rather than a means of communication, and sees this misuse as part of the revolt against reason.
As a short digression to emphasise the point of clarity of language, here is Richard Asher, a medical lecturer of genius, talking to a meeting of psychiatrists (a profession not renowned for clarity):
“If for a moment we consider the dynamic formulation of both objective and subjective thought-fantasy, the cognitive functions can easily become projected into an integrated but psychically barren wish-fulfilment.”
The reader will be relieved to know that he went on:
“That last high-sounding sentence, as I hope you noticed, has no meaning whatsoever and is pure nonsense; but I wrote it to demonstrate that, with the aid of abstract terms, it is easy to parade such a brave show of words in front of one's thoughts that it is extremely difficult to see if there is any idea behind them; and it is equally easy to take a small idea and wrap around it such a mantle of language that it can dazzle the unwary into applause.”
That was a spoof; but here is a definition, quoted by June Lait and given, apparently in all seriousness, by the British Association of Social Workers:
“Social work is the purposeful and ethical application of personal skills in interpersonal relationships directed towards enhancing the personal and social functioning of an individual, family, group, or neighbourhood, which necessarily involves using evidence obtained from practice to help create a social environment conducive to the well being of all.”
Because the roots of reason lie in discussion and dialogue, there is implicit in rationalism a recognition of a common humanity. A cat can look at a king. An ignorant non-intellectual may put his finger on a professor's mistake. Criticism is the source of the advance of knowledge, and it can come from anybody. In his fascinating book on why things don't fall down, Professor J. E. Gordon tells how he `spent a whole evening in Cambridge trying to explain to two scientists of really shattering eminence and world-wide fame the basic difference between stress and strain and strength and stiffness' (A-level physics) in connection with a project about which they were advising the government. And he was not certain how far he was successful. I mention this not to jeer at the ignorance of our betters, but to emphasise that nobody knows everything, even about the subject he is supposed to be expert in, and so everybody needs to be subject to criticism.
The tendency of rationalism is thus anti-authoritarian, anti-elitist (to use the modern expression, though there is a regrettable tendency for this to mean anti-anybody with any kind of skill), and non-divisive. It is also equalitarian in the sense in which we talk of equality before the law. As Popper says: `It cannot be denied that human individuals are ... in very many respects unequal, nor ... that this inequality is in many respects highly desirable.' But this has nothing to do with political rights, with how you decide to treat people. `Equality before the law is not a fact but a political demand based upon a moral decision; and it is quite independent of the theory - which is probably false - that "all men are born equal"' (O.S., ii, 234). Individual irrationalists may adopt these attitudes which are consequences of rationalist faith; but rationalists, if they are consistent, must adopt them.
Rationalism in Popper's sense combines reason in the sense of argument and discussion - what is sometimes called `intellectualism' - with observation of the real world, learning by experience - empiricism. (But he is a follower of Immanuel Kant to the extent that he rejects `naive empiricism', what he calls the bucket theory, of mind, which sees the mind as a passive collector of perceptions.) Rationalism has to be distinguished, he says, from `pseudo-rationalism' as typified by Plato's remark in the Timaeus that `reason is shared only by the gods and by very few men'. Popper denounces this attitude as: `This authoritarian intellectualism, this belief in the possession of an infallible instrument of discovery ... this failure to distinguish between a man's intellectual powers and his indebtedness to others for all he can possibly know or understand' (O.S., ii, 227). His view is that `We not only owe our reason to others, but we can never excel others in our reasonableness in a way that would establish a claim to authority' (ibid., 226).
The rest of this chapter is devoted to three particular departures from reason which have a powerful influence on modern thought.
What Popper calls holism is the theory that the proper way of carrying out reforms is to treat the thing reformed - whether nation, segment of society, large area of city, or even (I would add) human patient - as a whole and change it as a whole. One alternative, if not the only one, is the theory he made explicit more than thirty years ago and called (perhaps rather unhappily) `piecemeal social engineering'. Here the method is: first to identify the problem, to state preferably in writing (so that it can be objectively criticised) what is the abuse or unfairness or inefficiency to be corrected and what is the object to be achieved; then to suggest a tentative solution - a `theory' - followed by attempts to guess in advance what will be the undesirable consequences of putting the solution into practice and the finding of ways of preventing or minimising them. The piecemeal planner is modest in his approach. `Like Socrates, he knows how little he knows.' He knows that we can learn only from our mistakes. He lays down criteria in advance for the judging of success or failure and takes steps to look out for unanticipated, but inevitable, snags or `side effects'. He will be careful not to make simultaneously more changes than he can hope to keep track of, in order to be sure that when things go wrong (as he must expect they will) he can know what is causing what.
A nice example of the best laid plans of men going wrong in the most unexpected way is provided by a case quoted by Professor Geoffrey Broadbent of some efficient planning of a new law court building. There was a gross reduction in space `wasted' on corridors and stairways and thus in the distances which people had to walk. But the consequence of ,the lack of dim corners where informal conferences and settlements can take place meant that many more cases came to trial ... and the court calendars became overloaded'.
The holist disparages the piecemeal method as lacking boldness. In his view society is usually at fault `from its roots'. A radical solution is needed and this must involve changing things as a whole. The first difficulty arises here. For while it is easy for people to agree on what the problems are - what the wrongs are that need righting - it i, virtually impossible for people to agree on the ideal of how things should be. Each has his own idea of Utopia and one man's meat is truly another's poison.
It may sometimes seem that there is only a theoretical difference between the two methods. For the scope of a piecemeal reform may be very great and that of the holist-in-spirit will usually be less than total. The holist can hardly change the language of a society, nor can he immediately change the make-up of its built environment, or the knowledge and skills of its members, three of the most important things in determining how a society functions. Nevertheless the difference in attitude of the two types of reformers makes a profound difference to the outcome. In the first place the holist is committed in principle to the largest possible scope, while the piecemeal planner limits his scope to the minimum necessary. He expects snags and is poised to adjust to them. The holist is committed to the execution of his plan in total. Snags must be brushed aside, a deaf ear turned to complaints. But the bigger the scheme the bigger the snags, and some will be so big as to make the working of the scheme imposible. So impromptu, piecemeal, changes will have to be made - `the notorious phenomenon of unplanned planning', as Popper calls it.
As examples of this one may cite the numerous ad hoc changes that have made nonsense of attempts to plan the national economy as a whole: the planned reduction in staffs to economise on public expenditure and then the job-creation scheme to cope with the unemployment it caused; the orders to local authorities to cut their capital expenditure and then the sudden offers to counties (of £5M in, the case of Hampshire in 1976/7) to be spent in a hurry on public works (which had just been cancelled) in order to help the resulting unemployment. The sustained campaign to drive small businesses and the self-employed to the wall and now, like Dr Johnson's patron, the encumbering of the survivors with help.
In fact the holist method turns out to be impossible (P.H., Section 24). The reason is that the whole idea depends on regarding human society as an assemblage of machines whose functions and inter-relationships can be known and planned for. But this is false. As Popper says:
“The holistic planner overlooks the fact that it is easy to centralize power but impossible to centralize all that knowledge which is distributed over many individual minds, and whose centralization would be necessary for the wise wielding of centralized power. (P. H., 90)”
The critics (and there are many doctors among them), who think that doctors should treat the whole man and not just his illness, make a similar mistake. What they usually mean is that the doctor should take into consideration other aspects, together with the physical. The ones they tend to think of are the psychological, social, and sexual aspects. But these do not make up the whole man, and for any list that might be produced one could always think of an item omitted. The conventional and rational medical attitude, which is that of the piecemeal planner, is first to see if there is a problem at all (is this abnormal or not?), if so, to make a diagnosis, a theory as to what is wrong, to be ready to correct this diagnosis as the case proceeds, to decide whether any treatment is possible or desirable and in deciding on the kind of treatment to take account of all those aspects that seem to be relevant. As
Richard Asher put it:
“Any reasonable doctor when managing a patient takes into account what his home is like, what sort of family he has, and whether he is rich or poor. If Mr Jones lives in one room with five children, two cats, and a drunken slatternly wife, any sensible doctor would not order him to rest at home with two-hourly feeds of steamed custard. Nobody would be the slightest bit impressed if anyone explained the obvious thing in a plain way, but if you follow my instructions and `consider the patient as a psycho-dynamic whole, viewed as a socio-economic unit integrated within the cultural framework of his environmental and psychobiological relationships' then everybody will be deeply impressed ... The use of these key words lends an impressive but nebulous air of humane profundity to your utterances and conveys that ordinary doctors are unsympathetic and remote beings with no, interest in: their patients' feelings.”
In a case of acute appendicitis or strangulated hernia, surgical operation must be carried out at once and all other considerations set aside, except for the fitness of the patient for operation. This is one extreme. At the other are the middle-aged ladies who throng G.P.s' surgeries complaining of dizzy turns. Here the doctor has to cast his net wide and often bring in outside help. The difference is that in the first, case the patient is not seeking to have his whole life delved into or changed. He only wants the blockage in his guts put right. In the dizzy turn case it is likely that a lot of factors are involved, many of them non-medical, and it is possible that her way of life may need some substantial change. It is clearly silly to assume from the start that every patient needs a radical change, any more than a car with a flat tyre needs a complete overhaul. It is well known among doctors that enthusiasts for the whole-man approach are the first to demand specialists when they themselves or their children are ill. Whole man-ism is for other people.
Perhaps the first difference between holism and the piecemeal approach - the fact that the piecemeal planner begins by formulating as accurately as possible what the problem is, while the holist begins with a pre-conceived `blue-print' of how things should be - is in practice the most important. To take a comparatively trivial but typical recent example; the change to reporting rainfall in centimetres. The holist approach clearly was: our aim is a clean-sweep. Away with these archaic measures, let us adopt throughout the whole range the system of measurements in use on the continent of Europe. He might have gone as far as to enquire whether there would be any snags in changing from inches, but would be easily persuaded that there would be negligible difficulty. The conversion from one scale to the other is after all a simple ratio. The piecemeal planner on the other hand would start by asking whether there was any problem in continuing to report rainfall in inches. It is inconceivable that he would have found any demand at all for the change. No problem, he would think, means no solution needed; and he would make no change.
I would emphasize that here, as in the case of so many holist-inspired schemes, it is the general public who are put to inconvenience for the sake of trivial advantage to a few experts or bureaucrats. While the continental meteorologist, mapping rainfalls around the world, would equip himself with a ready means of converting inches or any other local measure to centimetres, the British amateur who is casually interested to see whether this has been a wetter year than 1970 is put to some trouble. The same, of course, applies, only more so, to the many other measurements that have been gratuitously changed. One of the factors which led to the swift and almost debate-less making of these changes was the discounting, which is necessary for holists, of individual private knowledge. It is easy, for example, to remember that the normal body temperature, 98.4° on the Fahrenheit scale, is equivalent to 36.6° on the Centigrade (now re-named Celsius) scale. But the individual doctor will have mental pictures of variations from the normal. He will know that in acute appendicitis the temperature is usually a little over 99° F and that if it is as high as 101° F another diagnosis should be suspected. It is not so easy without pencil and paper to translate this kind of knowledge. Similarly with such rules of thumb as 1° F rise in temperature is accompanied, other things being equal, by a rise of pulse rate of about 10 per minute.
It is ironical too that while hurrying to rid us of inches and pounds, which everybody understands, our masters still make us buy our gas in therms, a highly parochial British measure which practically nobody understands. Yet there is an international metric measure of energy which even British people do understand - the kilowatt-hour, the unit by which electricity is sold, the heat given out by the standard one-bar electric fire in one hour. (One therm equals about 29.4 kilowatt-hours). Here is a change which would actually help ordinary people. It would make it much easier then to see whether gas or electricity is the best buy in any particular case.
The holist attitude very readily leads to what I have called solutioneering, a kind of problem shift. Because he does not believe in first considering the question; `what is the problem to be solved?' he quickly substitutes for the real problem the problem of the implementing of his solution. Let us say there is a traffic problem, not clearly formulated. The holist traffic engineer (they usually are holists - their training has taught them that the solution to all traffic problems is to build a new road) plans to build a new road, and the problem becomes how to get it built against the opposition to it, or which is the best route for it. The original problem of what is the best way to deal with the traffic never gets discussed at all.
As I write this (1979) my fellow city councillors and I are being invited by Hampshire County Council to choose between five alternative road schemes ranging in price from £41 million to £8 million. The problem we are trying to solve is nowhere spelt out in the report. It is just implied that now is the time to do something about the roads in a particular area of the city. One might reasonably assume that we are trying to eliminate bottlenecks and prevent some of the traffic delays which at present do occur. But the causes of the delays are not identified and the five alternatives are not presented as alternative solutions to problems. The one recommended to us retains a roundabout, which is in fact the biggest single obstruction to traffic flow, and it adds two new ones. There is thus a real possibility, which is not considered in the report, needless to say, that the result of spending some £6 million will be that traffic flows even more sluggishly.
Holism has inspired the following recent changes in our national life: the reorganisation of the National Health Service with an additional tier of management (see Chapter 10); the reorganisation of local government with its additional administrative tier, obliteration of historic names and boundaries, and creation of new non-communities; the reorganisation of the social. services (on the recommendations of the Seebohm report), diluting the skills of children's officers and mental welfare officers by making them take on each others' jobs; the reorganisation of the nursing service (Salmon report), surreptitiously substituting administration for nursing advancement as the reward of a nurse's ambitions; decimalisation and metrication of measurements and money; comprehensive reorganisation of secondary education in a blaze of publicity but simultaneously confused with a stealthy introduction of new and largely untested teaching methods and the quiet dropping of such unifying traditions as the learning of poetry and songs and of Euclidean geometry, that unique discipline combining logic with the appreciation of shape and form; the comprehensive redevelopment of cities (of which more anon) and the building of the motorway network. These are not all complete disasters, perhaps, although all have had very damaging consequences. Had it been generally realised that part of the steam behind all of them was holism, a logically impossible ideal, then the schemes might have been quite different or not carried out at all. Leslie Chapman's Your Disobedient Servant must make one suspect that at least part of the enthusiasm in the civil service for reorganisations is related to the fact that they make investigation of past mistakes that much more difficult. A department that has ceased to exist can hardly be brought to book.
It is worth pointing out that none of these schemes was introduced as a result of popular demand. Probably only comprehensive schooling figured in any of the political parties' manifestos. In some cases the schemes went directly against what was well known to be the general wish of the people. Comprehensive urban redevelopment has amounted, almost always, to rebuilding with flats, even if not very high ones. It was well known that almost everybody wanted a house with a garden and this was precisely what most of the destroyed areas consisted of. There was an element of ruthlessness in these schemes - the brainchildren of `experts' - in that they were foisted on an unwilling country, in some instances without the cases for and against ever being squarely argued in Parliament, and in others (e.g. the abandonment of formal teaching, comprehensive urban 'development, and the motorway network) without any prior authorisation by Parliament at all.
Occupying a sort of half-way house between holism and what I have called white-swanning is centralisation, that great panacea of our time. Its advantages are obvious at the start, but its disadvantages, which become obvious later, are usually ignored until too late. A nice instance was revealed to me when I was a governor of a comprehensive school. A new classroom block had just been completed; but one room which was intended for the showing of films and television was still lacking its blinds. These had had to be ordered through `central supply' at county headquarters thirty miles away. The clerk there had looked through his list and found that the cheapest blinds were those obtainable from France. He duly ordered them. They arrived a little late and, not very surprisingly, did not fit the windows. They were sent back and the second lot did not fit either. Less than a mile from the school was a factory for blinds which had hitherto supplied the needs of the area and fitted them with, so far as I was aware, complete satisfaction. In a flash I understood the need for all those juggernauts - to deliver from as far away as possible things that don't fit and take them back again!
Often closely allied with holism as an irrational influence in public and private decisions is the theory known as historicism, roughly what is also known as historical inevitability. This is the idea that there is a `tide of history', that `history' moves under laws analogous to those that keep the moon and the planets on their inevitable courses. The theory is the basis of innumerable myths, of the idea of the chosen people, the second coming, the master race, of peoples and classes carrying out their historic missions. We are actors in a play written by God, or swimmers in the great current of history.
In Marx's view the change from one state of social organisation to the other was inevitable, from feudalism to capitalism to socialism. The most that human action could do was to assist it on its inevitable course, give it a push on its way, as it were. The imagery he used was of the midwife. `When a society has discovered the natural law that determines its own movement, even then it can neither overleap the natural phases of its evolution, nor shuffle them out of the world by a stroke of the pen. But this much it can do: it can shorten and lessen the birth-pangs.' (From preface to Das Capital.) Popper comments that this excellently represents the historicist position. `Although it teaches neither inactivity nor real fatalism, historicism teaches the futility of any attempt to alter impending changes; a peculiar variety of fatalism, a fatalism in regard to the trends of history, as it were.'
Popper draws attention to a broad distinction between two kinds of prediction in the natural sciences, made from, on the one hand, astronomy and meteorology and, on the other, physics. The first two sciences on the whole enable one to make predictions which, although they may have practical use, do not suggest any action other than evasion. They predict the motions of the heavenly bodies or the weather but there is nothing we can do to change them. The typical prediction from physics, on the other hand, is of the form `if you do so and so then the result will be of such a kind'. It is broadly speaking the sciences which rely on observation which make prophecies, while those that rely principally on experiment make these technological predictions.
Historicists, for reasons which are explained in The Poverty of Historicism, tend to believe that sociological experiments are impractical and so the main task of the social sciences is prediction. The historicist thus tends to the notion that the task of the social sciences is similar to astronomy, namely to discover what the laws are and thus to make historical prophecies. Popper believes, on the contrary, that sociological experiment is not only possible but is all the time being carried out, that social science is more akin to physics. The setting up of the National Health Service, the launching of a new kind of insurance policy, even the opening of a hyper-market, are all sociological experiments. The conditions are less easy to control than they are in a physics laboratory; but even in a laboratory control is not by any means complete. Social scientists should be looking for laws, Popper thinks, analogous with physical laws, which forbid things, show what is impossible. The second law of thermo-dynamics in effect says `You cannot build a machine which is 100 per cent efficient'. Analogous laws of social science might be, he suggests, `You cannot have a full employment policy without inflation', and `You cannot, without increasing productivity, raise the real income of the working population', and thirdly `You cannot equalise real incomes and at the same time raise productivity' (C.R., 343). Have these `laws' been disproved? It would be nice to know whether we have been trying to lift ourselves by our own bootlaces.
Quite apart from its influence on Marxists, who espouse it openly, historicism exerts an unconscious influence on people of many different political persuasions who do not acknowledge the assumptions they are making. It is one of the great unconscious philosophies alluded to in Chapter 1. It is the source of the feeling that people have that `we must move with the times' and `keep up to date', that such and such `is not good enough for the 1970s, and that we must `prepare for the 1980s', etc. Above all it inspires the use of the word `modern' in such a way as to extol uncritically whatever is being advocated that is new and to disparage whatever is old, however satisfactory. Historicism is there in the background, all the time justifying change for change's sake: e.g. yards to metres (although metres are two centuries old), as opposed to change in order to remove injustice or inefficiency or because something better has been found. For example, the Portsmouth road scheme, mentioned earlier in this chapter, is being sold to councillors as one `to take the city into the mid-1990s'. The implication is that it is not enough to cure the existing bottlenecks and provide adequately for today's traffic. We must plan on an altogether bigger scale for the traffic of fifteen years ahead, although nobody can say where the petrol will come from, and the only evidence we have is to the effect that there was already a slight reduction in traffic flows in the year preceding the recent sharp increase in petrol prices.
Historicism is a less explicit and less coherent doctrine than holism - so much so that Popper found it necessary first to build up a good case for it before demolishing it. His arguments against historicism are, as usual, numerous. Here I shall state just two of them. He shows that the course of history is closely associated with the growth of knowledge, and strongly influenced by just such ideas as historicism and even more obviously by inventions - by World 3 in general. Such ideas and inventions are inherently unpredictable. `For he who could predict today by scientific means our discoveries of tomorrow could make them today; which would mean that there would be an end to the growth of knowledge' (O.K., 298).
Secondly, the concept of society as a `whole', as something that can move as a whole, whose course can be charted, however attractive it may be, is untenable. To illustrate its absurdity, Popper quotes the American historian, Henry Adams, who seriously hoped to determine the course of history by fixing two points on its track - one in the thirteenth century and the other in his own lifetime - and `with the help of these two points ... to project lines forward and backward' (P.H., 114).
Those who try to defend the idea of society moving `as a whole' tend to do so by pointing to unmistakable trends. But trends are not necessarily irreversible. In the 1960s there was a trend for brick houses to be replaced with concrete flats and for central heating systems to be powered by electricity, etc. It is not now difficult to imagine a contrary trend. Laws cannot be reversed. A law asserts that something is impossible.
Historicism is a powerful and pervasive doctrine largely because it is so deeply unconscious. We disparage something as being out of date with barely a thought as to the basis of our disparagement. Especially does this attitude show in the polarisation towards tradition. Some are instantly hostile to tradition, others want blindly to uphold it. Obviously the rational attitude is that traditions are good or bad according to whether their effects are beneficial or harmful, something that is totally apart from age. Democracy itself is under attack as being out of date, the implication being that its admitted shortcomings are to be ascribed to the fact that the origins of it are ancient. It should not need to be said that the age of an idea has nothing to do with its validity.
Herbert Marcuse, a Marxist philosopher who had a vogue with students in the late 1960s, attempted to take Popper to task on the subject of his rejection of historicism and to ridicule his way of proceeding: `What a strange method: to build up a position really worth attacking and then to attack it! ... against what is he arguing? Who has actually maintained what he is so effectively destroying?' The answer to the second question is nobody; but in asking this question Marcuse shows that he fails to grasp two points which, as we have seen, are to Popper the main justification of philosophy as a discipline. First, that philosophical arguments are not directed against people, but against statements, or theories, or other arguments. Although these have been proposed by people, they stand in their own right and are true or false regardless of the personality or character or reliability of their authors. They are World 3 objects. Secondly, that much of what we do is based on tacit assumptions, philosophical positions that we have adopted without actually stating them and certainly without criticising them. Marcuse does not seem to realise the power of an unformulated theory, or how the clear formulation of it may be the first step to its rebuttal, or even how ideas that seem sensible in our minds sometimes look silly when we try to state them clearly in words.
Another of Popper's critics is a romantic, Paul Feyerabend, who, in a book which in essence is an attack on rationalism, compares Popper unfavourably with John Stuart Mill. `Popper's philosophy, which some people would like to lay on us as the one and only humanitarian rationalism in existence today is but a pale reflection of Mill . . . it is . . . elitist, and is quite devoid of the concern for individual happiness that is such a characteristic feature of Mill.'
Elitism I have mentioned above; and as to concern for individual happiness, Popper answered that criticism thirty years before it was made in this passage, which deserves quotation in full:
“Of all political ideals, that of making the people happy is perhaps the most dangerous one. It leads invariably to the attempt to impose our scale of `higher' values upon others, in order to make them realise what seems to us of greatest importance for their happiness; in order, as it were, to save their souls. It leads to Utopianism and Romanticism. We all feel certain that everybody would be happy in the beautiful, the perfect community of our dreams. And no doubt, there would be heaven on earth if we could all love one another. But ... the attempt to make heaven on earth invariably produces hell. It leads to intolerance. It leads to religious laws, and to the saving of souls through the inquisition.”
He believes that it is based on a complete misunderstanding of our moral duties:
“It is our duty to help those who need our 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. The political demand for piecemeal (as opposed to Utopian) methods corresponds to the decision that the fight against suffering must be considered a duty, while the right to care for the happiness of others might be considered a privilege confined to the close circle of their friends. In their case, we may perhaps have a certain right to try to impose our scale of values - our preferences regarding music, for example. This right of ours exists only if, and because, they can get rid of us; because friendships can be ended. But the use of political means for imposing our scale of values upon others is a very different matter. Pain, suffering, injustice, and their prevention, these are the eternal problems of public morals, the `agenda' of public policy (as Bentham would have said). The `higher' values should very largely be considered as `non-agenda' and should be left to the realm of laissez-faire. (O.S., ii, 237)”
Disagreeing with the slogan of the utilitarians `the greatest happiness for the greatest number', Popper suggests `One should demand, more modestly, the least amount of suffering for all; and further, that unavoidable suffering - such as hunger in times of unavoidable shortage of food - should be distributed as equally as possible.'
He mentions elsewhere the extreme difficulty experienced by Christians over the centuries in following the famous injunction to `love your enemies' ('especially if they happen to be atheists or heretics'!). Sympathising with this difficulty he updates (to use an expression which he might condemn as historicist) this commandment to: `Help your enemies; assist those in distress, even if they hate you; but love only your friends' (O.S., ii, 237).
Romantics have always attacked rationalists and realists as being cold and calculating, and have shown comparatively little interest in whether what they say is true. Typically, from this point of view, Feyerabend in upholding Mill as against Popper makes no mention of the fact that Popper has completely refuted the doctrine of psychologism (see page 72) which formed a central part of Mill's philosophy. And although part of the continuing importance of The Open Society in our day is its demolition of Marxism as science, Popper goes out of his way on this point to agree with Marx against Mill.
Feyerabend, in disparaging Popper vis-a-vis Mill, accuses Popper and most of his followers of `unrelenting puritanism'. I invite the reader to judge that charge even on the many quotations from Popper in this book. Is it not likely that the puritans were in the forefront of his mind as an awful lesson when he wrote the passage just quoted about heaven or hell on earth? Feyerabend's disparagement amounts to little more than name-calling, the last resort of those whose arguments do not stand up.
The sociology of knowledge
The principal current opposition to the attitude of reasonableness rests on what is called the sociology of knowledge. This is the idea that truth is relative, that what is true for one historical period or social class is not necessarily true for another. It leads to such absurdities as there being things called proletarian science, bourgeois logic, and Jewish physics.
Here are two examples from current politics, one left and one right, of the depreciating effect of these ideas upon standards of truth and matters of fact. In their report on productivity in car factories, the Central Policy Review Staff (Think Tank) compared, among other things, the number of car doors turned out per hour by means of identical machinery in Ford's factories at Dagenham and at Genk in Belgium - 110 at Dagenham and 240 at Genk. Sunday Times reporters who visited the two factories and interviewed managers and workers, broadly confirmed these figures. But Mr Jack Jones, then General Secretary of the Transport and General Workers' Union, was concerned only to attack the report rather than to investigate the truth of it and the reasons behind the disparity. One of his associates summed up his attitude, saying `The Think Tank report? It was an attack on the British working man, wasn't it?' One is reminded of the old joke about the smoker who was so shocked by what he read about the dangers of smoking that he gave up reading.
On the other side, the Conservative council who have landed themselves in an absurd road-planning muddle described on page 99 discount the perfectly rational protests against the scheme because the most-organised protesters are known to be supporters of the Labour Party.
The idea underlying the relativity of truth is the misconception of scientific objectivity which I touched on page 13. This is that the objectivity of science depends upon the freedom from bias of the scientist. In fact it depends upon its public nature. A paper in a scientific journal is a World 3 object. If other scientists find that they cannot reproduce the results described, they will write and say so. advance towards truth and as the only alternative to Perhaps the original author will reply that they have violence; and the belief in the unity of mankind in the sense misunderstood him. The experiments must be performed that all men have something to contribute to human knowledge this and not like that. Ultimately, as the result of ledge and to the general well-being, and that there is no criticism and counter-criticism, a consensus will emerge. In natural barrier against co-operation and friendship. the first place, the new theory proposed may well attract attention because of the reputation or character of its proposer; but in the end it will become accepted as part of science only if it has stood up to criticism, and because of this alone. `The objectivity of science', says Popper, `is not a matter of individual scientists but rather the social result of their mutual criticism, of the friendly-hostile division of labour among scientists, of their co-operation and also their competition.' He sums it up with the aphorism `What the sociology of knowledge misses is nothing less than the sociology of knowledge itself' (P.H., 155). Objectivity depends on such social ideas as competition between individual scientists and schools of thought, the critical tradition, publication in competing journals and through competing publishers, discussion at congresses, and the power of the state in tolerating free discussion.
The sociology of knowledge belongs to a group of modern philosophies whose tendency, Popper points out, is to unveil our hidden motives (O.S., 215). It is associated in this respect with psychoanalysis, Marxism, and the philosophy of meaning. They are popular for the reasons given on page 18. It is such fun to see through the follies of the unenlightened. They are very harmful because they destroy the intellectual basis of any discussion by establishing what he calls a reinforced dogmatism, because any attack against them rebounds on the attacker and shows him as a victim of his own complexes, social bias, meaningless ideas, etc. These philosophies are death to the ethic of reasonableness.
To summarise: rationalism cannot be proved; it is a kind of faith. The main ideas that are implied and embraced by it are the concept of truth as an absolute standard; the importance of language as communication and as clear expression of meaning rather than as means of clouding issues, and of discussion and criticism as means for the advance towards truth and as the only alternative to violence, and the belief in the unity of mankind in the sense that all men have something to contribute to human knowledge and to the general well-being, and that there is no natural barrier against co-operation and friendship.