Popper lectures on line

In 1945 Karl Popper left Christchurch and moved to the London School of Economics where he became the Professor of  Logic and Scientific Method.

His main course was Introduction to Scientific Method and he delivered a series of fifteen lectures on this topic for a decade or so through the 1950s. Mark Notturno became the editor of Popper’s work and one of his tasks was to convert the transcripts of the lectures into a publishable form. The recordings included questions and answers, and the usual false starts and half sentences of the spoken  word, so the idea was to create an “ideal type” of each lecture, drawing on the best parts of the ten copies that were available for each lecture.

As described in the Introduction, the publication stalled but it is now possible to read the first three lectures on line.  Introduction with links to the lectures.

The first lecture on Values began with a welcome from Popper who warned the students.  “I am getting old…my English is deteriorating with age…I am getting more and more inclined to ramble…and I am not a good lecturer either”.

In fact he was a captivating lecturer, speaking without notes, inviting and responding to interjections, inserting asides about his projects and references to significant developments events in science at the time. That was all edited out unless it related specifically to the content of the lecture.

On the function of lectures he said “Lectures are sometimes enjoyable, sometimes boring, but always, in a certain sense, unimportant. The important thing is the work that you are doing yourself.”

On the real aim of a university education.  “I believe that someone is well-educated only if he realizes in great detail how little he knows. And I think that this is really very important. I think that a man who has the feeling that he knows a lot is somehow badly educated. Yes, one can know a lot…but the main point, at least with regard to pure knowledge, is  to recognize the many open problems that lurk in all the knowledge that we have achieved. Without that l would say that you are not really educated…And the more we know and the more our knowledge grows, the more modest we should become about all those things that we don’t know.”

Thanks to Mark Notturno!

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11 Responses to Popper lectures on line

  1. Bruce Caithness says:


    It is fantastic that Mark Notturno has released the edited transcripts.

    Here is a link to a timeline I put together of Karl’s publications, along with publication dates in other colours of writers who mangled or opposed his message to various degrees.


  2. Frank Lovell says:

    Wow — what a delightful resource! MUCH appreciated, THANKS Rafe, Bruce, and of course, Mark!! I hope the day fast approaches when we can quote from those lectures.

  3. Bruce Caithness says:

    Thanks Frank. In putting together the timeline chart it became evident to me that Imre Lakatos was intimate with Popper’s formulation in the fifties of Metaphysical Research Programmes. Lakatos then took a head start with the publication of his Scientific Research Programmes. If Karl was not so concerned with logical rigour he could have printed volumes of Postscript material before his critics created a mythological scale distortion of his viewpoints. It is amazing that Karl had so much material sitting around before William Bartley helped him publish the Postscript volumes in the eighties. It is hard to criticize a thinker for hiding his light under a bushel.

  4. A seam of gold. Many thanks to Rafe Champion and Mark Notturno. How fantastic to see this material; the voice of Popper shines through in the text. I think the executors were sadly misguided when they pulled the plug on this earlier, especially as Mark Notturno did such an excellent job on editing the Emory lectures (Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem). I hope we’ll see the full set available soon.

  5. Michael Kennedy says:

    Somebody has to say it, and I am sorry to strike a dissenting note. But these ”constructions”a re not ”Popper lectures”. They give a dew glimpses of Popper’s real lectures. But they are concoctions made from different lectures at different times, drastically edited, and cobbled together in such a way as to give the impression that Sir Karl Popper was prone to successive repetitrion. They also contain improvisations which are totally unrepresentative of Popper. I would draw your attention to the last sentence of the lecture 3 where Popper is alleged to have said:

    And all of this other stuff is like whether you drink whisky or

    This sentence could not possibly have been uttered by Popper. It is not only nonsensical but is voiced in a kind of slang which Popper would not have used or even known about.

    As a former student of Popper I can confirm that he seldom, if ever, used the words ‘don’t’ or ‘can’t. I recall that he always said – and quite emphatically – ‘do not’ and ‘can not’. Popper spoke with a thick Austrian accent which was quite difficult to understand, and which would be much more difficult to hear on a recording and without him being present.

    These constructed and distorted “lectures” can only damage Popper’s reputation, and although I favour free speech I feel that they should be withdrawn from the blog. I have tried to email Mark Notturno but have not had a reply.

  6. Hi Michael Kennedy, hi all,

    as an editor of some of Popper’s works in German language I edited the German version of “Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem” (as Mark Notturno did in 1994). It was published in Tuebingen (Mohr Siebeck) 2012.

    For my work I used the recordings (Hoover Archive’s mp3 made from audio tapes) and the written manuscript from which Popper read his lectures. – Mark Notturno used transcriptions from the tapes made in the 70ties.

    In our e-mail correspondence Mark Notturno maintained Popper had not read from a manuscript and he knew nothing about the recorded tapes. As for the manuscripts he called me a liar. As for the tapes he asked me to send him those tapes (a little late, in 2011).

    Popper had a thick Austrian accent. The transcriptor(s) of the 1970s had no chance, they mixed up words like “world” and “work” (see engl. edition p. 44), “genes” and “genus” (p. 57), “world and word” (p. 119: 5 times).
    Notturno did not detect this completely senseless distortions of the text. What was he thinking, when he edited “the genes use the various species” instead of “genus” (p. 57). This would have anticipated Dawkins egoistic genes in 1969 when Popper delivered that lecture.

    As far as I know all of Popper’s copyrights are with University of Klagenfurt (Austria) since long, and Notturno has not got any copyrights.

    I therefore completely agree with your comments and your proposal.

  7. Bruce Caithness says:


    I am not qualified to comment on Michael and your comments above.

    I do like your biographical page on Karl Raimund Popper, a great concise reference.


    “1961 Start of the so-called “Positivismusstreit” (debate about positivism) between Theodor W. Adorno and Popper at the ‘Soziologentag’ in Tübingen (Germany). However, they did not argue but seemed to be quite in agreement. Popper developed a methodology for the social sciences. Adorno didn’t call Popper a positivist.

    But a few years later, Adorno obviously had changed his mind which was to be seen in his long introduction to a book about the so called “Positivismusstreit”. Adorno added fuel to a fire provoked by the dispute between Hans Albert and Jürgen Habermas, inventor of the “Positivismusvorwurf” against Popper, the accusation of being a positivist. The controversy became an endless topic for academic seminars and conferences and a much noted philophical slogan. Needless to say that the point of disagreement was not positivism (belief in the truth of given things), but the purpose of values in science. Normally, the public is quick in forgetting who is right and who is wrong and tends to take sensation for reputation. Therefore not Hans Albert but Jürgen Habermas became the darling of the journals.

    Before completely fading away, the debate was started anew in 1965 at the Conference on Philosophy of Science in London (see Lakatos/Musgrave, Criticism and Growth of Knowledge, Cambridge University Press 1970). This was just another attempt to push the critical rationalists into positions they were not claiming in order to beat them devastatingly. Thomas S. Kuhn criticised Popper’s way of describing the increase of progress in science (cf. “Logic of Scientific Discovery”) as follows: Popper’s rational description would contradict the history of science; no sensible scientist would reject a theory after falsification. In most cases no criterion of progress could be established because old and new theories were incommensurable.

    Paul Feyerabend strengthened these considerations by declaring science, mythology and fairy tales as incommensurable, yet equivalent descriptions of the world. The public in those days adored such statements. Both philosophers met with great approval, thus becoming the fathers of postmodernism. This new kind of relativism welcomes all alternatives and is so far quite in agreement with Popper’s rationalism. However, combined with the claims of incommensurability and equivalence relativism always results in indecision.”

  8. Michael Kennedy says:

    Hi Hans, Bruce and all
    I would like to say a little bit more about these reconstructed and clumsily edited lectures. Aside from the ramblings and repetitions, they do contain a certain amount of genuine Popper. There is the rather tedious logic of induction in Lecture 2 with its less than clear account of the method of coumter-example. The attack on probabilism in Lecture 3 needs to be re-ordered to be coherent. And Rafe gave an excellent account of Lecture 1 which tells us a lot about Popper’s personality and scholarship. I have re-edited these three lectures for my own purposes and for a possible discussion with my philosopher friends. And I do think that someone should be asked to re-edit and publish all of these famous lectures. But it needs to be done with the help of somebody who knew them well.

    Hans’ revelations about the mistakes in ‘Knowldge and the Body-Mind Problem’ should be enough to persuade Routledge to publish a new and revised edition. The excerpt from Hans’ article on Popper shows up Kuhn as misunderstanding the significance of a falsifying instance. He seemed to think that Popper wanted an immediate consignment to the bonfire, whereas Popper would accept the retention of a falsified theory until a better theory was discovered. If it is right to assume that most theories have anomalies attached to them, then Kuhn’s interpretation would imply the destruction of most scientific knowledge.

  9. I apologize for having been so taciturn. I am absorbed with further editions of Popper’s works. It is hard work, and because of that I feel I should say more about the two ways of editing a book, especially as for Popper’s “Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem” (Routledge 1994, reprint 2000).

    If you read this:
    p. 143, Notturno: “…what is published here is an extensive revision of what I found”
    p. 144, Notturno: “…Sir Karl Popper has approved them as his own, I see no reason to indicate them here”.
    p. iv, Popper: “I have extensively revised the lectures as they were given” (p. iv)
    What do you think is written by Popper and what by Notturno?
    Do readers have no right to know?

    Can you imagine that this “I have extensively revised the lectures as they were given” in the first paragraph of “Author’s Note, 1993”, signed by the 92 years aged philosopher with “K. R. P., Kenley, 1993”, was not written 1993 but decades before Notturno soared into Popper’s life?

    In this time (in the 1970ties) the main work of the editorial work was done. Also half of this “Author’s Note, 1993” was written already in the 1970ties (see Hoover Archive OAC, Popper Papers 1928-1987, Box 102, folder 8, page 48.) Do readers not have the right to know?

    Can you imagine that the publisher never showed any interest to send a scientist editor to the archives to have a look into the typed manuscript Popper read from in 1969? Or to listen to the tapes of those Kenan lectures? Or to look into the last revisions Popper made in the proofs sent to him by Routledge?

    Unfortunately Popper died after having corrected only 30 pages of the proofs. Do you think any responsible editor or publisher shall ignore Popper’s many corrections? Is this great publishing we expect from publishers like Routledge (now Taylor&Francis)? Perhaps one of them will read this text and will after 20 years be ready to produce a new responsible edition of this great philosopher. For the present the reader’s choice is only:

    Karl Amadeus Poppurno: “Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem” (Routledge 1994, reprint 2000) or:

    Karl Raimund Popper “Wissen und das Leib-Seele-Problem”, vol 12 of “Karl R. Popper, Gesammelte Werke in deutscher Sprache”, Tuebingen (Mohr Siebeck) 2012; with 25 pages editorial remarks and 37 pages analysis of 40 further works of Popper’s, concerning his world 3 (partly unpublished, archived in the Hoover Inst. Archive). This book contains the German translations of “Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem” and “The Self and Its Brain”.

    Unfortunately this book is written in German. Unfortunately? After all it is the language of Martin Luther, Immanuel Kant, and Albert Einstein. But as it is, you might have got no choice. On the other hand you have the right to know. To know what is written by Popper and what is ‘revised stuff’. Whose lectures do you want to read: Popper or Poppurno?


  10. Jort Maas says:

    That is fascinating! Has anything been published in the meantime? I would love to read a version of his lectures.

  11. Rafe says:

    Jort you can find a summary of the lectures, posted here last year.


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