In “The Popular Popper, The Guide to The Open Society and Its Enemies” (2013) Rafe Champion mentions Bryan Magee’s attendance at Popper’s 1958 address, titled “Back to the Pre-Socratics”, to the Aristotelian Society in London. Magee relates this in Chapter 11 of his “Confessions of a Philosopher” (1997). Magee was thrilled by the argument of unending critical feedback presented by Popper (before the publication of the English version of “The Logic of Scientific Discovery”) and he simply could not believe the ensuing discussion period in which questions from the audience ignored the revolutionary content and rather focussed on whether the essences of pre-Socratic philosophers had been properly represented by Popper.
I have found poignant illustration of this blindness in “Beyond the Outsider” (1965) by Colin Wilson. Wilson has been an eclectic writer on matters of the intellect and spirit, sometimes hitting interesting targets, but prone to being somewhat amorphous and, one might say, logically undisciplined. His big selling “The Outsider” was published in 1956. He is outside the professional philosophy establishment but his loose style still provides a mirror to some of the faults contained in certain schools.
Before progressing let us visit a Popper chronology:
Logik der Forschung 1934/5
The Open Society and its Enemies 1945
The Poverty of Historicism 1957
The Logic of Scientific Discovery 1959
Conjectures and Refutations 1963
Objective Knowledge 1972
Even if Wilson had not read any other Popper books, there might be enough of Popper’s views on science and metaphysics in “The Open Society and its Enemies” to prick his curiosity on substantive matters beyond criticisms of Plato, Hegel, Marx and Whitehead for instance.
Wilson says in his own discussion of Hegel (page 65) “What seems to be generally acknowledged – Karl Popper is one of the violently dissenting voices – is that in spite of his atrocious style, Hegel has a great deal more to say than most other philosophers of the nineteenth century.” He references Popper’s “Open Society and its Enemies” in the footnote and says briefly his view of Hegel is a “brilliant but unfair attack”.
That is the end of Popper for Wilson.
We are led in the fifth of seven chapters “The Changing Vision of Science” to consider what Wilson calls the Whitehead-Husserl revolution and thence to Maurice Merlau-Ponty and his “most significant book” “The Primacy of Perception” (1945) and the common enemy, Cartesian dualism which somehow is identified with “the scientific method”. I am not quite sure what this straw man scientific method is nor can I understand how perception can be primary, but returning to Chapter 2, page 75, Wilson out does himself by espousing scientism and I am not sure what else in the one sentence: “Descartes was almost certainly right in believing that nature will finally be fully explainable in terms of logic and science; but he was mistaken in assuming that the laws of the mind are the laws of logic and science.”
It gets much worse when he addresses meaning and Whitehead, science is seen as an attempt to see the world in terms of immediacy, and to reduce meaning to immediacy. Later he continues after looking further at Wittgenstein and Husserl, language was adulterated with preconceptions and fallacies and he has tried to show that the failure of existentialism was the failure to eliminate the preconceptions and fallacies – particularly the Cartesian fallacy. The final chapter concludes that the way forward lies through the development of language.
Wilson, for whom I have held some respect for his subject matter over the years, has shown in this meandering conclusion to the Outsider series the great pity that Popper’s critical rationalism has been so neglected.
It is a pity that The Popular Popper series was not available in the sixties.