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Karl Popper - The Formative Years, 1902-1945: Politics and Philosophy in Interwar Vienna [Paperback]

Malachi Haim Hacohen
4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 4 2002 0521890551 978-0521890557 1
This intellectual biography recovers the legacy of Karl Popper (1902-1994), the progressive, cosmopolitan, Viennese socialist who combated fascism, revolutionized the philosophy of science, and envisioned the Open Society. Malachi Hacohen draws a compelling portrait of the philosopher, the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia, and the vanished culture of Red Vienna, which was decimated by Nazism. Seeking to rescue Popper from his postwar conservative and anticommunist reputation, Hacohen restores his works to their original Central European contexts and, at the same time, shows that they have urgent messages for contemporary politics and philosophy.

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From Publishers Weekly

This intellectual biography examines the early life of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers. Born in Vienna, Popper (1902-1994) grew up among educated, middle-class Jews who, despite their efforts at assimilation (Popper's father was Lutheran by conversion), still suffered prejudice. Though Nazism would eventually force him out of Europe, Popper spent the interwar years in Austria, developing the foundations of both his character and his soon-to-be-influential ideas. Like most of his countrymen, he believed that Jews' high public profile in the arts, sciences and professions contributed to anti-Semitism; he eschewed all religious practice, condemned Zionism and established a "life-long pattern" as "eternal dissenter and intellectual loner." In the mid-1930s he fled to a university in New Zealand; later, he secured a prestigious post at the London School of Economics. But Hacohen, an Israeli-born historian (Duke University), doesn't just map out the biographical details of Popper's early life. He combines them with critical readings of the philosopher's most important writings from these yearsAThe Open Society and Its Enemies, The Logic of Scientific DiscoveryAto argue against a contemporary academic trend. "Popper," Hacohen asserts, struggled with " 'poststructuralist' dilemmas" (like the notion that language both describes and invents the world) but crafted different solutions to these questions than today's scholars do. And Popper's contributions along these lines have been forgotten, in part, Hacohen suggests, because scholars have ignored the first half of his career. By remedying this oversight, Hacohen also "recommend[s Popper's] solutions as against poststructuralist ones." While much of Hacohen's book is accessible to analysts of language and philosophers of science, its rich evocation of the turbulent yet vital interwar Vienna should win this formidable book a wider readership. (Sept.)
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

From Library Journal

Karl Popper is famous for his thesis that scientific theories are never confirmed yet can always be falsified and for his blistering attacks on ideologies that lead to tyranny. The two positions form a passionate defense of the individual against bureaucracy. The lone individual, Popper argued, can overturn a powerful scientific theory with a single negative example, while most political ideologies, including those of Marx and Hegel, are empty and incapable of confirmation or falsification. Without such theories, people must come together to make their own futures. Cold warriors welcomed Popper, though he never intended to justify egocentric individualism. This book explores his youthful Viennese socialism and his disillusionment with those who passively fell victim to Nazism because they assumed history would work in their favor. A Jew who battled against Israeli "tribal nationalism" and a conscientious thinker sometimes exploited by an unscrupulous Far Right, Popper, who settled in England, was always an odd man out. Hacohen (intellectual history, Duke Univ.) here draws on previously unexplored archives. His story is exciting and his scholarship meticulous, but ponderous prose will confine his book to academic libraries.DLeslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Ont.
Copyright 2000 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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First Sentence
"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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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index | Back Cover
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5.0 out of 5 stars Hope and vision Sept. 18 2003
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.
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3.0 out of 5 stars An important chapter of intellectual history April 16 2003
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.
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5.0 out of 5 stars Battle of Britain in the world of ideas Feb. 12 2002
Format:Hardcover
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".
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