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Karl Popper - The Formative Years, 1902-1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna Hardcover – 23 Oct 2000

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 626 pages
  • Publisher: Cambridge University Press (23 Oct. 2000)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0521470536
  • ISBN-13: 978-0521470537
  • Product Dimensions: 15.2 x 3.8 x 22.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 2,888,212 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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'Karl Popper was not always forthcoming about his early life and his early intellectual trajectory may surprise some of his admirers. But the real hero of this book is the long-lost intellectual milieu of Vienna in the 1920s and 1930s that did so much to shape him.' The Economist, from Books of the Year 2000

'Malachi Hacohen has written an exciting book, which will be the starting-point for any future work on the development of Karl Popper's ideas. For those with an interest in Popper, the book is a must. It should also be of immense interest to all those concerned with the history of philosophy and, more generally, of ideas in the twentieth century. Hacohen's work combines detailed archival research with engagement of Popper's politics and philosophy and an ability to write in an interesting and provocative manner. An essential purchase.' Jeremy Shearmur, Australian National University

'Hacohen has labored long and hard in the archives, and the result is a magnificent work of scholarship.' New York Times Book Review

'… its rich evocation of the turbulent yet vital interwar Vienna should win this formidable book a wider readership.' Publishers Weekly

' … this is likely to be the standard reference for some time … It is a work of quite remarkable scholarship, well organised, clearly and vigorously written. It stands as a monument to Popper's indomitable spirit and to the support of many people.' Quadrant

'Malachi Hacohen's biography of Karl Popper is in many ways an extraordinary book … Hacohen's book is not only unique, its extremely careful, quite detailed, and very well-written. It is clearly … a truly great biography.' Review of Social Economy

Book Description

This intellectual 2001 biography recovers the legacy of Karl Popper (1902–1945); the progressive, cosmopolitan, Viennese socialist who combated fascism, revolutionized the philosophy of science, and envisioned the Open Society. Hacohen restores Popper's works to their original Central European contexts, and reveals their relevance for contemporary politics and philosophy.

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"It is difficult - nay impossible - to recreate the atmosphere in which I grew up," wrote Popper in a draft of his Autobiography. Read the first page
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Mr. Francois Marcognet on 1 April 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Excellent and complete study of the first part (1902-1945) of the life of Karl Popper (1902-1994).
A masterly intellectual biography which contributes to a good understanding of the conditions and the problematics of research of the young Popper until his maturity. Very interesting book historically (ideological, social and political context): Vienna "fin de siècle", pre-war, 1914-1919, interwar in Austria and Second World War .
We find in the chapters the philosophical bases, problems and solutions of the thinker, and long studies upon his relationships with the members of the Vienna Circle: Schlick, Carnap, Wittgenstein, Neurath, Karl Menger..., the scientists: Einstein, Born, Bohr, Schrödinger, Russel, Lorenz..., and also Hayek.
So appeared the data of his epistemology, i. e. critical rationalism, with its implications in sciences (physics), social sciences and political philosophy. We see how Popper renewed epistemology through his solutions to fundamental philosophical problems, and at the same time he defended democracy and the open society, all on the grounds of his theory of knowledge.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on (beta) 6 reviews
14 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Battle of Britain in the world of ideas 12 Feb. 2002
By Rafe Champion - Published on
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
The book has several different aspects, all of absorbing interest, including the detailed reconstruction of Popper's intellectual career and the depiction of the social and political milieu of Vienna between the wars.
Popper was the archetypal workaholic. Hacohen reports that he worked for 360 days of the year, all day, without the distraction of newspapers, radio or TV. Several times a month, even in old age, he worked all night and friends such as Bryan Magee would get an early morning call from Popper, bubbling with excitement to report on his latest ideas. Popper lived well out of London near High Wycombe and when Magee gained Popper's confidence he was invited to visit, taking the train to "Havercombe" (in Popper's heavily accented English). When I made the trip to Havercombe, Popper arranged to meet me at the station, carrying a copy of the BBC Listener, presumably to pick him out from all the other elderly gentlemen of middle-European extraction who might be thronging the platform at 2.00 on a Wednesday afternoon. In the event, he left the magazine at home and the kiosk had sold out so he had to buy The Times and fold it to the size of the Listener. Of course he was the only person in sight apart from the Station Master. Popper, then aged 70, had what his research assistant tactfully described as a "very positive" attitude to driving. Fortunately it was not far to his home and there were few other cars on the road. Safely home, our conversation laboured, and he frequently pushed a tray of choc-chip cookies towards me. Later he lamented to his assistant that I had eaten a whole weeks supply of his favorite cookies in one afternoon. These aspects of Popper are the other face of the man who some described as "the totalitarian liberal".
Hacohen has provided sufficient background to explain why Popper's ideas were so exciting for some people, and so threatening for others, though it was left to Bill Bartley in the 1960s to articulate the way that Popper had challenged the unstated and uncriticised assumption of "justificationism" which is the glue that holds together the ideas of the positivists and other "true belief" philosophers. Popper's lack of progress in the community of professional philosophers needs to be understood against the persisting background of justificationism, subjectivism and determinism which he has criticised in favour of critical rationalism, conjectural objective knowledge and non-determinism.
Hacohen has assembled a massive amount of material and a lesser talent in organization would have lost the plot among the details. Helped by a liberal quantity of headings sub-headings and his very clear exposition, he has kept his material under control and kept several balls in the air with superb aplomb. The several balls are Popper's diverse interests and the chaotic events that were going on around him in Vienna, not only among the intellectuals but also in Austrian politics.
These events forced Popper to flee to the other side of the world, to New Zealand, surely the antithesis of Vienna in most cultural, intellectual and political respects. There, his campaign for critical rationalism, objectivism and non-determinism was waged in political philosophy. His achievement in writing the two large volumes of "The Open Society and its Enemies" can be compared with the Battle of Britain, where young pilots held Hitler at bay in the skies over the English Channel. Popper daily patrolled the intellectual stratosphere, challenging Hitler's intellectual henchmen from Plato to modern times. This work would have been an amazing achievement under any circumstances, as it was it had to be done in the face of dreadful news from home (fourteen relatives died in the Holocaust), under the threat of Japanese invasion and against the resistance of his Professor who regarded his research and writing as theft to teaching time.
To conclude, this book is a wonderful piece of scholarship and its deserves to be read with close attention by anyone with a shred of interest in the ideas that have shaped the world today. With any luck Popper's ideas will help to shape the world tomorrow. I dissent from Hocohen's reading of Popper's ideas as a prop for social democracy, but anyone imbued with the spirit of critical rationalism can make up their own mind on that.
This book is actually worth six stars, so buy two copies, one for your local library.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Young Popper 22 April 2001
By John C. Landon - Published on
Format: Hardcover
We tend to see Karl Popper from a later perspective of the years of the Cold War. And yet his roots explain a number of enigmas surrounding his work.This is a very compelling and very useful portrait of the early years of Karl Popper in the age of Wittgenstein's Vienna, and the interwar years. The background of Popper's The Poverty of Historicism, for example, lies in the methodological debates of this prior era, and the background given in the book greatly illuminates some of this classic's oddities. Popper's youth and formative years, when he was a socialist,and a socialist soon confronted by socialist theories in action, are brought out against the background of the extraordinary period after World War I and the calamities swiftly following one another. Through all of this we see Popper's distinctly uncharacteristic and yet brilliant development as he becomes a philosopher of science, in counterpoint to the logical positivists, with whom he was always confused. All this coming to fruition in the mid-thirties and the onset of Nazism, as Popper joins the endless list of refugees from one of the most creative cultural generational series of modern times. In fact the portraits of many of the figures of this time, with many of whom Popper interacted, makes up a striking portrait of cultural history. One is oddly reminded of the inverted resemblance to George Lukacs, another scion of this era, whose different response and fate to one and the same chaotification and reification of theory in practice echoes as a mirror image the swiftly conservatized The Poverty of Historicism, beside the equally classic The Open Society and its Enemies. The brilliant tactics of these works should make the history told by Hacohen of interest to any leftist, for the lines of counterargument stand clear, if only the point Popper made is understood. And, indeed, this greater context shows perhaps the limitations of these works. The critique of historicism is really about what Popper called the Oedipus effect, the interaction of theory and practice, and the outcome of the 'future of theory'. That future was the present, and had no theory, save that in the minds of those embarking on disorderly realizations, and this was the present of the Young Popper, a living figure indeed before the older conservative we know. Popper's courage in attacking Plato was so peculiar to some, that we forget that it attempted a virtual course in universal history itself, in that the birth of philosophy has always been haunted by the Platonic rejection of democracy. And therein lies a flaw in Popper's thinking,perhaps, if we can find a universal history that is not an historicism. We can, but that is another book. Fascinating work, and for many reasons, not least the curious history of logical positivism, and the suggestion of the unseen Kantian strain in Popper's thinking, often not evident in the surface accounts. Recommended.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
A comprehensive study of a great philospher 18 Jun. 2002
By azphil - Published on
Format: Paperback
Malachi Hacohen as written a great biography that both covers the personal has well as the philosphical development of one of the 20th century's greatest minds. This is a big book in every sense of the word, big in ideas, big in scope. One of the by products of reading this book was to discover the immense impact that intellectuals from 1920's Austria and non germanic Central Europe had upon, not just philosphy, but also economic and political developments in the Anglo Saxon world. People such as Hayek, Drucker, Polyani, Tarski, Neurath, Mises and many more have had a profound effect upon the thinking of both the Right and the Left in the US and Britain. One of those books which one can honestly say the reader will be much wiser after finishing it.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
Hope and vision 18 Sept. 2003
By Luc REYNAERT - Published on
Format: Paperback
Prof. Hacohen gives us an eminent look at the personal, political and scientific antecedents of Karl Popper's main scientific and political publications.
His book is also an excellent and concise economical and social panorama of Austria in the first half of the 20th century.
It is a realistic portrait of Popper as an individual: irascible and arrogant, an eternal dissenter, intellectual loner, not without a certain persecution mania.
It shows clearly how Popper's main philosophical contributions, 'testing and falsification', came into being, as well as his political defense of 'The Open society'. It is all the more surprising how great the difficulties were to publish his books, although they constituted a crucial and fundamental philosophical breakthrough.
Although, for me, Popper is the greatest philosopher of the 20th century, some of his positions are flawed. He is a dualist (mind/body). His defence of Socrates is also much contested. The Dutch classicist G. Koolschijn pretends that Socrates was not a democrat. He was probably condemned for pleading against democracy in his teachings.
Particularly interesting is Popper's struggle with Heisenberg's Indeterminacy Principle, where he lost the battle with Heisenberg.
I also agree with the author's essential remark that 'socially disadvantaged groups do not have a fair chance of being heard, let alone prevailing, in the so-called democratic political process. Organized elites and corporate interest block, manipulate, and circumvent the channels ... a fairly egalitarian socioeconomic structure and public control of corporations are preconditions to effective democratic dialogue.' (p.543)
This book contains an excellent presentation of Wittgenstein's Tractatus and Popper's critique of it. It runs the defenders of Otto Neurath (Cartwright & Co) into the ground.
All in all, a fascinating book for those who are interested in modern philosophy and more particularly in Popper's work.
Newcomers should first read the works of Popper himself, or the excellent introduction by Bryan Magee in his small book 'Popper'.
3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
An important chapter of intellectual history 17 April 2003
By David Egan - Published on
Format: Paperback
There are two standard evaluations of Popper's importance. The first sees Popper as an important figure in the philosophy of science, one whose work is now passe, but whose influence cannot be denied. The other sees Popper as one of the great geniuses of the twentieth century, a polymath who gave us new paradigms of scientific and political thinking. This second view, while still the view of the minority, is gaining support in a new millennium where Popper is enjoying something of a renaissance. This is the view that has inspired both Bryan Magee and Antony Flew to pen histories of philosophy subtitled (surely not just for the sake of alliteration) "From Plato to Popper." And this is the view that inspires Malachi Haim Hacohen to give Popper a central place in what, despite its title, is an intellectual history of inter-war Vienna.
If Popper's importance has not been properly appreciated, suggests Hacohen, that is because we try to situate him in the Anglo-American tradition that appropriated him after the Second World War and in which he became famous. Instead, Hacohen traces the genealogy of Popper's philosophy through the currents of thought in inter-war Vienna, showing how they shaped Popper and how Popper responded to them within this context. We see how his principle of falsification evolved as a response to the logical positivism of the Vienna Circle, and how his critique of historicism and promulgation of the Open Society--though published in and appropriated by a Cold War West--were in fact inspired responses to the socio-political debates of 1930's Vienna.
Hacohen's primary aim is to give us a greater understanding, and hence a greater appreciation, of Popper's achievement. But in tracing inter-war Viennese culture more broadly, he also shows the extent to which that culture's set of concerns has shaped our own intellectual outlook thanks to the diaspora of Viennese intellectuals--many of them Jewish--in the face of the Nazi threat. The Vienna Circle influenced a generation of philosophers, Hayek has become a champion for libertarians, and Gombrich has changed the way we look at art. In all of these cases, but none more so than in philosophy, these thinkers have found success in England and America by adapting ideas born out of uniquely Viennese debates to contexts that these debates never reached.
Inevitably, our reception of these ideas on foreign shores distorted their intent. For instance, we tend to understand the Vienna Circle as Ayer understood it without appreciating how the tools and methods these philosophers developed were meant to settle the debates on the nature of science that had divided an earlier generation of Viennese thinkers, the likes of Boltzmann and Mach. Like the Vienna Circle, Popper is too often read as his English-speaking contemporaries interpreted him, and Hacohen's book gives us a rich sense of the problems and debates that shaped Popper's distinctive outlook. Hacohen has labored tirelessly in the archives, and while his preference for completeness and transparency of research over readability makes it a laborious slog, both the depth, breadth, and originality of Hacohen's scholarship is exceptional. He is more at home discussing the social sciences than the natural sciences, but he is more at home in both of these fields than most of us can ever expect to be.
The problem, then, is whether Popper is the central figure of the intellectual history of inter-war Vienna, which is how Hacohen portrays him, or if he is only one of a number of bright minds to emerge from that context, and neither the brightest nor the most influential. He was a marginal figure at that time, and his contemporaries in the Vienna Circle, though respectful, seemed not as convinced as he was that he had delivered the deathblow to logical positivism. The philosophical world more generally tends to give the role of death-dealer to Quine for his 1951 paper, "Two Dogmas of Empiricism." Hacohen might reply that we inflate Quine's importance to Popper's detriment because we come to logical positivism from an Anglo-American perspective, and that in failing to appreciate its original context, we fail to appreciate that Popper had buried logical positivism by 1934. There is some merit in this argument, and perhaps if Popper had arrived in London before 1946 and if the Logic of Scientific Discovery had been published in English before 1956, things would be different. But whether a result of historical mischance or of Popper's work not being as decisive as he thought, he has failed to have an impact on English-speaking philosophy that rivals the Vienna Circle. Or Quine, for that matter.
Hacohen makes an excellent case for the tremendous, and too-often unnoticed, influence of inter-war Vienna on post-war scholarship in the English-speaking world, but he is less convincing in situating Popper as the central figure of this influence. Popper certainly developed interesting and fertile responses to the problems of his intellectual milieu, but it seems a bit of an exaggeration to claim that he solved these problems, or even that his solutions are more compelling than those of any of his contemporaries. Hacohen does not simply state his allegiance to Popper baldly; he provides arguments, but these arguments are not likely to convince those of us who are not already Popperians.
Popper has never been fully embraced by the mainstream of Anglo-American philosophy, and this may be connected with his having been shaped by a different set of concerns than his English-speaking contemporaries. With these concerns in clearer focus, he still doesn't emerge as one of the great thinkers of the twentieth century, but Hacohen's effort to give him his due does shed valuable light on an interesting period. Though his emphasis on Popper's importance may be misplaced, Hacohen's book nonetheless makes for engaging intellectual history.
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