*  ESSAY *

“the missionary possibility immediately suggested itself of promoting the university’s conception of what is central to philosophical study. This volume is the result.”

The object of this investigation is to find where the thoughts of Popper and critical rationalism stand in the mainstream of academic philosophy at the end of the 20th century. The subject is Philosophy 1: A Guide Through the Subject, edited by A C Grayling, Oxford University Press, 1998, 670 pages.

In the Preface Grayling advises that the essays in this book are introductory but not elementary and they “seek to give the full character of inquiry into its most important questions”.

“London has arguably one of the best single-subject degrees in philosophy offered by any university in the world. When the opportunity arose to put together a collection of essays to serve as a companion to London’s philosophy degree, the missionary possibility immediately suggested itself of promoting the university’s conception of what is central to philosophical study. This volume is the result.”

The essays “aim at clear but unflinching examination of the central topics….And it is a also a survey: anyone interested to know what is at the centre of each major area of philosophical inquiry will find these essays thoroughly informative.”

The eleven chapters.

Chapter 1: Epistemology.

Chapter 2: Philosophical Logic.

Chapter 3: Methodology: The Philosophy of Science.

Chapter 4: Metaphysics.

Chapter 5: The Philosophy of Mind.

Chapter 6: Ancient Greece: Pre-Socratics to Plato.

Chapter 7: Aristotle.

Chapter 8: Modern Philosophy – The Rationalists.

Chapter 9: Modern Philosophy – The Empiricists.

Chapter 10: Ethics.

Chapter 11: Aesthetics.

First the simple index test: do Popper, Bartley, Miller, Musgrave, Agassi and assorted critical rationalists get a mention? Popper has an entry:  128-130.

Previous research has revealed that Bartley never gets a mention in the books that I have checked and neither do the others, apart from Miller who occasionally gets a mention in connection with the failure of Popper’s attempt to put a number on verisimilitude. But not in connection with their arguments against inductive logic.

Chapter by chapter:

So it seems that Popper has not made any official contribution to epistemology, and evolutionary epistemology does not exist.

Nor has he contributed to logic. Would someone like to comment on Popper’s work in logic – there is Popper and Miller on inductive logic, there is also his “logic without assumptions” project which I think he deemed a failure.

The three pages in the chapter on philosophy of science by David Papineau describe the failures of falsificationism and promptly dismiss the idea of conjectural knowledge, before getting down to the serious business of induction.

The other sections on philosophy of science, in addition to Induction and its Problems, are Laws of Nature (without mention of Popper on propensities), Realism, Instrumentalism and Underdetermination (without mention that one of Popper’s major concerns was realism versus instrumentalism) and Confirmation & Probability (without mention of Popper’s contribution to the propensity theory).

In the further reading list Papineau notes section 1 of LSD and as a rejoinder, two sections on a book by OHear on the philosophy of science. O’Hear wrote on of the first comprehensive books on Popper in 1982 and even then I could see that his case in favour of induction was pathetic. [He also argued, amazingly, for a kind of “direct perception” theory for external objects, as though there was no kind of processing of sensory inputs by theoretical assumptions and the nervous system].

Moving on to the chapter on metaphysics, which incorporates ontology (what sort of things there are in the world). Here one would like to see something about the “three world” theory. Also Popper’s rejoinder to the efforts of the positivists and logical empiricists to abolish metaphysics as meaningless. And his rehabilitation of metaphysics in the heart of science with the theory of metaphysical research programs. That came late in his career, after previous hints and allusions, in the third volume of the Postscript to the LSD in The metaphysical epilogue to Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics (1982). Still that was almost two decades before this volume appeared.

The chapter on philosophy of mind ignores the three world theory and Popper’s antiquated dualism, and the book that he wrote with Sir John Eccles on The Self and its Brain.

Moving on to the Greeks, no mention of Popper's challenge to Raven and Kirk on the Pre-Socratics, though they have several publications in the reading list. No mention of the way that Popper's commentary on Plato was supposed to ensure that "Platonic exegesis will never be the same again" (Bertrand Russell or Gilbert Ryle).  See if you can find a course on Plato's Republic anywhere in the world that has OSE on the reading list!

And so it goes, Popper's treatment of Aristotle was fairly focussed on his essentialism which has had a devastating effect on the social sciences and also phenomenology, this would be worth a mention if the author was alert to those kinds of implications of Aristotle's work.

In the chapter on Ethics there is room for some mention of Rawls on Justice but not for Popper's reinforcement of the dualism of facts and values, and the way that this does not render moral proposals "arbitrary".

And so it goes. No reader of this text would think that Popper existed outside the philosophy of science and even there his contribution could be relegated to a footnote. Certainly no reader would be moved to explore Popper's work any further.