*  ESSAY *

A few years John Quiggin and I locked horns over the philosophy of economics. John is a leftwing blogger and he supported the Lakatosian approach, which I contested in a prolonged exchange until I thought I had him on toast. Then he declared that he took his stand with the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy where the author of the Popper entry took the  Lakatos line. He said something like "this guy is a professional philosopher, you convince him that you are correct and get  back to me".

Then I recalled an episode a few years previously on the Critical Cafe (a Popperian email discussion group). One of the regulars was a lawyer, not trained in philosophy but attuned to CR. He reported that he had exchanged some emails with a philosopher named Thornton to challenge some of the claims re Popper in his piece for the Stanford Encyclopedia. He told us that Thornton was prepared to come on the Cafe and debate the issues but then he had to report that Thornton was withdrawing the offer because our colleague had breached  protocol by repeating something from his private emails on the site. I don't recall any details, apart from having the conviction that Thornton had run away because he knew he would be thrashed by people who were not intimidated or blinded by the duststorm stirred up by Lakatos in his attack on Popper.

The entry starts in a positive way.

Karl Popper is generally regarded as one of the greatest philosophers of science of the 20th century. He was also a social and political philosopher of considerable stature, a self-professed ‘critical-rationalist’, a dedicated opponent of all forms of scepticism, conventionalism, and relativism in science and in human affairs generally, a committed advocate and staunch defender of the ‘Open Society’, and an implacable critic of totalitarianism in all of its forms. One of the many remarkable features of Popper's thought is the scope of his intellectual influence. In the modern technological and highly-specialised world scientists are rarely aware of the work of philosophers; it is virtually unprecedented to find them queuing up, as they have done in Popper's case, to testify to the enormously practical beneficial impact which that philosophical work has had upon their own. But notwithstanding the fact that he wrote on even the most technical matters with consummate clarity, the scope of Popper's work is such that it is commonplace by now to find that commentators tend to deal with the epistemological, scientific and social elements of his thought as if they were quite disparate and unconnected, and thus the fundamental unity of his philosophical vision and method has to a large degree been dissipated. Here we will try to trace the threads which interconnect the various elements of his philosophy, and which give it its fundamental unity.

So far, so good, however the most memorable part is likely to be the conclusion, under the heading of Criticial Evaluation because that is the "take home" lesson which hasty readers are likely to remember. It may be the section that most people will read, not  bothering with the lengthy text of  front of it.

"The shift in Popper's own basic position is taken by some critics as an indicator that falsificationism, for all its apparent merits, fares no better in the final analysis than verificationism."

A nice topic for an essay!

The entry has been revised in recent times and I have not had time to check the old and new versions, apart from the final section, the Critical Evaluation which is unchanged. In my exchange with John Quiggin I replied (a) the conclusions reached in the Critical Evaluation are invalid and (b) the issues were treated better in the body of the article than in the conclusion, indicating a degree of confusion and contradiction in the piece. A more cynical commentator would say that his conclusion caters for people who want to reject Popper's ideas while the body of the text (which will be less read) provided a more defensible and favourable take on Popper's ideas. Of course I need to read the whole thing again, but don't have time at present.