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Go to the Index of 120 Philosophers Squared

Karl Popper (1902 – 1994) Austro-British philosopher of of empirical falsification and critical rationalism. In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

Karl Popper

Karl Popper, philosopher


Quotations from Karl Popper from – WikiQuote, The Open Society and Its Enemies, Vol. 1: The Spell of Plato,


No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude.

All things living are in search of a better world.

The war of ideas is a Greek invention. It is one of the most important inventions ever made. Indeed, the possibility of fighting with with words and ideas instead of fighting with swords is the very basis of our civilization, and especially of all its legal and parliamentary institutions.

Unlimited tolerance must lead to the disappearance of tolerance. If we extend unlimited tolerance even to those who are intolerant, if we are not prepared to defend a tolerant society against the onslaught of the intolerant, then the tolerant will be destroyed, and tolerance with them. – In this formulation, I do not imply, for instance, that we should always suppress the utterance of intolerant philosophies; as long as we can counter them by rational argument and keep them in check by public opinion, suppression would certainly be most unwise. But we should claim the right to suppress them if necessary even by force; for it may easily turn out that they are not prepared to meet us on the level of rational argument, but begin by denouncing all argument; they may forbid their followers to listen to rational argument, because it is deceptive, and teach them to answer arguments by the use of their fists or pistols. We should therefore claim, in the name of tolerance, the right not to tolerate the intolerant. We should claim that any movement preaching intolerance places itself outside the law, and we should consider incitement to intolerance and persecution as criminal, in the same way as we should consider incitement to murder, or to kidnapping, or to the revival of the slave trade, as criminal

Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.

True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.

In science, we often learn from our mistakes.

In so far as a scientific statement speaks about reality, it must be falsifiable: and in so far as it is not falsifiable, it does not speak about reality.

The critical examination of our presuppositions — which is a philosophical activity — is morally as well as intellectually important.

All things living are in search of a better world.

Nothing could be better than living a modest, simple, and free life in an egalitarian society. It took some time before I recognized this as no more than a beautiful dream; that freedom is more important than equality; that the attempt to realize equality endangers freedom; and that, if freedom is lost, there will not even be equality among the unfree.

We must plan for freedom, and not only for security, if for no other reason than only freedom can make security more secure.

The secret of intellectual excellence is the spirit of criticism; it is intellectual independence. And this leads to difficulties which must prove insurmountable for any kind of authoritarianism.

Never can an authority admit that the intellectually courageous, i.e. those who dare to defy his authority, may be the most valuable type.

If, however, you accept the Christian ethics not because you are commanded to do so but because of your conviction that it is the right decision to take, then it is you who have decided.

It is complete nihilism to propose laying down arms in a world where atom bombs are around. It is very simple: there is no way of achieving [maintaining] peace other than with weapons. [Leviathan]

Those who promise us paradise on earth never produced anything but a hell.

We do not choose political freedom because it promises us this or that. We choose it because it makes possible the only dignified form of human coexistence, the only form in which we can be fully responsible for ourselves.

There is an almost universal tendency, perhaps an inborn tendency, to suspect the good faith of a man who holds opinions that differ from our own opinions. … It obviously endangers the freedom and the objectivity of our discussion if we attack a person instead of attacking an opinion or, more precisely, a theory.

The present position of English philosophy – my point of departure – originates, I believe, in the late Professor Ludwig Wittgenstein’s doctrine that there are none; that all genuine problems are scientific problems; that the alleged propositions or theories of philosophy are pseudo-propositions or pseudo-theories;

Our aim as scientists is objective truth; more truth, more interesting truth, more intelligible truth. We cannot reasonably aim at certainty. Once we realize that human knowledge is fallible, we realize also that we can never be completely certain that we have not made a mistake.

All knowledge is human; that it is mixed with our errors, our prejudices, our dreams, and our hopes; that all we can do is to grope for truth even though it be beyond our reach.

We must guard against belief.

No matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.

Whenever a theory appears to you as the only possible one, take this as a sign that you have neither understood the theory nor the problem which it was intended to solve.

Observation is always selective. It needs a chosen object, a definite task, an interest, a point of view, a problem.

Always remember that it is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood: there will always be some who misunderstand you.

Since we can never know anything for sure, it is simply not worth searching for certainty; but it is well worth searching for truth; and we do this chiefly by searching for mistakes, so that we have to correct them.

The true Enlightenment thinker, the true rationalist, never wants to talk anyone into anything. No, he does not even want to convince; all the time he is aware that he may be wrong. Above all, he values the intellectual independence of others too highly to want to convince them in important matters. He would much rather invite contradiction, preferably in the form of rational and disciplined criticism. He seeks not to convince but to arouse — to challenge others to form free opinions.

Critical discussion can give us the maturity to see an idea from more and more sides and to make a correct judgment of it.

The principle that the fight against avoidable misery should be a recognized aim of public policy, while the increase of happiness should be left, in the main, to private initiative.

We are social creatures to the inmost center of our being. The notion that one can begin anything at all from scratch, free from the past, or indebted to others, could not conceivably be more wrong.

It springs rather from my conviction that, if our civilization is to survive, we must break with the habit of deference to great men. Great men may make great mistakes; and as the book tries to show, some of the greatest leaders of the past supported the perennial attack on freedom and reason. Their influence, too rarely challenged, continues to mislead those on whose defense civilization depends, and to divide them.

It is the longing of uncounted unknown men to free themselves and their minds from the tutelage of authority and prejudice. It is their attempt to build up an open society which rejects the absolute authority to preserve, to develop, and to establish traditions, old or new, that measure up to their standards of freedom, of humaneness, and of rational criticism.

But I hold that he who teaches that not reason but love should rule opens up the way for those who rule by hate.

The more we learn about the world, and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, clear, and well-defined will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance. The main source of our ignorance lies in the fact that our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.

If we thus admit that there is no authority beyond the reach of criticism to be found within the whole province of our knowledge, however far it may have penetrated into the unknown, then we can retain, without danger, the idea that truth is beyond human authority.
Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths.

Science may be described as the art of systematic over-simplification — the art of discerning what we may with advantage omit.

If we are uncritical we shall always find what we want: we shall look for, and find, confirmations, and we shall look away from, and not see, whatever might be dangerous to our pet theories. In this way it is only too easy to obtain what appears to be overwhelming evidence in favor of a theory which, if approached critically, would have been refuted.

I could not think of any human behavior which could not be interpreted in terms of either theory. It was precisely this fact — that they always fitted, that they were always confirmed — which in the eyes of their admirers constituted the strongest argument in favor of these theories. It began to dawn on me that this apparent strength was in fact their weakness.

Mass murder in the name of an idea, a doctrine, a theory, a religion — that is all our doing, our invention: the invention of the intellectuals.

The belief in a political Utopia is especially dangerous. This is possibly connected with the fact that the search for a better world, like the investigation of our environment, is (if I am correct) one of the oldest and most important of all the instincts.

I appeal to the philosophers of all countries to unite and never again mention Heidegger or talk to another philosopher who defends Heidegger. This man was a devil. I mean, he behaved like a devil to his beloved teacher, and he has a devilish influence on Germany. … One has to read Heidegger in the original to see what a swindler he was.


COMMENTS on Karl Popper

No rational argument will have a rational effect on a man who does not want to adopt a rational attitude. Truth is inevitably from a point of view, and the universe of ideas, although finite, as it is based in a limited number of physical brains, is as vast in number as the points in the available physical universe. All of those points of view based on true facts are legitimate, but in addition to these potential ones there are a vastly larger number of artificial points of view which are based on non-legitimate, fake facts. Each fake-fact can generate its own universe of false points of view and these can be compounded with more fake-facts in a process without limit. Thus, although truth may be limited to a vast number of legitimate viewpoints, falsehood is unlimited and may be infinitely numerous falsities multiplied by their own infinities.

Our knowledge can only be finite, while our ignorance must necessarily be infinite.

Functional truth versus proven falsity is the best we can expect, because there may potentially exist some tiny detail which doesn’t fit our conception of truth and that detail can make our truth less than absolute truth and therefore not an unblemished truth. Once the blemish is seen it becomes near impossible to see the vast field of tested truth behind it.

If an interlocutor is not willing to abandon an idea which has easily proven false points of fact, or imaginary false points of view, that are essential to his argument then our personal question must become, how are we to relate to that person? Even a rock lying in the road is perfectly obedient to the laws of nature, but a man who doesn’t observe those laws and makes up his own fantasy world is living outside the universe that has been provided to him. He is an outlaw because of his insanity of observation and beliefs. He must be treated as insane, or a criminal or an advertising executive.

Appealing to his [Einstein’s] way of expressing himself in theological terms, I said: If God had wanted to put everything into the universe from the beginning, He would have created a universe without change, without organisms and evolution, and without man and man’s experience of change. But he seems to have thought that a live universe with events unexpected even by Himself would be more interesting than a dead one.

The universe exists independent of us, and if our bodily mass were instantly converted into light energy, the universe would continue identical to before as if nothing unusual had happened. The function of the universe for us humans is to provide us with the materials for us to exist and use for our maintenance. After we humans developed culture, language, more culture and consciousness of our personal being the universe evolved into a new role for us, and that is to be interesting.

–Without modern evolved brains and culture the universe would still exist, but it wouldn’t be interesting.

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