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The Poverty of Historicism (Routledge Classics) Hardcover – 21 Feb 2002


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 176 pages
  • Publisher: Routledge; 2 edition (21 Feb. 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0415278457
  • ISBN-13: 978-0415278454
  • Product Dimensions: 19.8 x 13 x 1.8 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (9 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 4,803,506 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"On its publication in 1957, The Poverty of Historicism was hailed by Arthur Koestler as 'probably the only book published this year which will outlive the century.' 'Karl Popper was a philosopher of uncommon originality, clarity and depth, and his range was exceptional.' - The Times 'One of the most influential thinkers of the 20th century.' - The Daily Telegraph 'Popper's work is of far greater than mere academic value; it has an immediate and manifest bearing on the political decisions everyone has to make.' - The Listener 'This is one of the three or four most important books of the methodology of the social sciences to appear since the war.' - New Statesman

About the Author

Karl Popper (1902-94). Philosopher, born in Vienna. One of the most influential and controversial thinkers of the twentieth century. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER on 23 May 2010
Format: Paperback
In this book, Karl Popper explains his vision on the course of history, on historical determinism, and on the theories of Descartes, Poincaré and Duhem.

The course of history
For K. Popper, evolution in history is never dominated by theories, although they may exert some influence, at the same time many other less rational or even completely irrational factors are at work.

Historicism (Engels, Marx, Spencer, J.S. Mill, K. Mannheim)
Historicism is that part of social sciences which considers historical predictions as its main objective. It pretends that this goal can be achieved if we discover the 'laws' or 'trends' that underlie historical developments.
Karl Popper rejects this approach for the following reasons: the course of human history depends heavily on the increase of human knowledge. We can not rationally or scientifically predict this increase. So, we can not determine the future course of history. Developing a theoretical history which is the equivalent of theoretical physics, is impossible.

Descartes, Poincaré, Duhem, essentialism
For Descartes, the principles and premises of deductive systems must be certain ('clear and distinct'). For K. Popper, these principles are only provisory, are only hypotheses. Popper does not agree either with Poincaré and Duhem, for which some systems may not be subjected to empirical tests. A world of universals (essentialism) doesn't exist, only a world of real objects (nominalism).

Popper's proposition of piecemeal adjustments (not revolutions) in the social sphere has been heavily criticized. One critic even asked how a HIV plague can be attacked by piecemeal interventions.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful By A reader on 25 July 2010
Format: Paperback
As usual, Popper talks about real science (research with falsifiable hypotheses) and pseudo-science (brainwashing). The field of history is a perfect place to discuss science as writing history is a political process. Very nice companion piece to Kuhn's "Structure of scientific revolutions".
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By RR Waller TOP 500 REVIEWER on 3 Sept. 2011
Format: Hardcover
Sir Karl Raimund Popper,(1902 - 1994) a philosopher and a professor at the London School of Economics, was regarded by many as one of the leading philosophers of the twentieth century. He regarded philosophy as an essentially practical activity and a recent selection of his work published after his death was entitled "All Life is Problem Solving".

The book dates back to 1935; considering the rapidly developing and expanding social sciences, their methods, purposes and approaches at a time when there seemed to be an intention to utilise the methods of the more successful sciences, he proposed the view that any belief or attempt to predict human destiny from historical or any other rational or scientific methods was mere superstition.

In the Preface to the 1957 edition, his position became much clearer as he refuted historicism completely: "I have shown that, for strictly logical reasons, it is impossible for us to predict the future course of history".

Although in some ways it may be dated, it is a challenging philosophical text, interesting, not only because of its content but its philosophical approach.
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2 of 3 people found the following review helpful By Andrew Dalby VINE VOICE on 11 Feb. 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
In "The Poverty of Historicism" he argues why the social sciences and in particular history cannot apply the scientific method. He argues that there is no fundamental consistency that means that we apply the lessons of the past, experiences, to predict the future as we can with science.

He is correct that there is a barrier to what we can know about what we will know in the future. He is also correct to introduce a type of pragmatic historicism to allow some theory of history to be found. He is also right to warn against historicist theories that promise some final goal, the final cause of Plato, such as Marxism.

Where it is flawed is believing that science does not share some of the same problems. Science is also often unable to find causation despite a huge amount of evidence that leaves us only seeing correlations. We see the pattern but we do not know what causes it. So science needs sometimes to use his pragmatic historicism as well.

So it is an excellent book with some excellent arguments and essential for all social scientists to see the limits of their subjects. But scientists should read it carefully as he is too optimistic about the success of science.
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13 of 19 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 5 Aug. 2003
Format: Paperback
The Poverty of Historicism argues against historicism - the idea that it is possible to predict human history, that is commonly held by theories such as Marxism, Nazism and Plato's political philosophy. Popper argues that instead of relying on the idea that history is going to sweep us all along and the only thing we can do is to ease transitions between 'historical periods' with large scale social engineering we should engage with problems using peicemeal social engineering, amking small chages to the way things work. So, for example, the best way to deal with shortages of a particular kind of food is to contact people, buy the foodstuff concerned and set up a shop, a bad way to deal with it is to try to set up a command economy under the charge of the all-powerful Party. This is all explained much more clearly by Popper - buy it and read it.
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