Happy birthday Karl!

Karl Popper was born July 28 1902, it was yesterday on our calendar but I only remembered when someone in the US put birthday greetings on the Facebook Critical Rationalism page. He was born in Vienna and went to NZ in 1937 for a working holiday which saved him from the fate of 16 of his relatives who disappeared in the Holocaust. He could have come to Sydney at the end of 1945 but preferred to go to the London School of Economics. As if to punish him for this rejection there is a strong and enduring anti-Popper sentiment among Australian philosophers.

He would be one of the first picks for my Classical Liberal team, I think of him as the Ron Barassi of modern liberals though not as good looking as Ron himself.

This is a great introduction to the man and his work by a critical admirer. For more.

UPDATE FROM THE UNI OF SYDNEY. The reading list for the Philosophy of Science uit this semester covers 12 contributors in the last 100 years but not Karl Popper.

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9 Responses to Happy birthday Karl!

  1. stackja

    Sydney Cats might ask Ron who?

  2. Rafe Champion

    Les Darcy?
    Don Bradman?

  3. Robbo

    It’s Ron Barassi not Rob. Go and stand in the corner Rafe.

  4. Rafe Champion

    Not my fault, it was my fingers, b and n are too close together on the keyboard.

  5. Some History

    He would be one of the first picks for my Classical Liberal team…

    Liberal team? Plopper?

    You do know that Plopper was a rabid, obnoxious antismoker that would’ve given [email protected] a run for his money? And this was in the days before secondary smoke had been manufactured into something more dangerous than a military-grade bio-weapon like, say, sarin gas.

    It came as somewhat of a shock that Popper, author of “The Open Society and Its Enemies”, defender of rationality, the hypothetico-deductive system, and falsifiability, was prone, like quite a few, to a petty dictator mentality….. to sink into a primitive part of mind where reason and sensibility are alien and where [negative] emotion reigns.

    Karl Popper was a rabid antismoking nut case…. a misocapnist/capnophobe. Richard Dawkins recounts an occasion where Popper demanded that no-one smoke at a particular function, not even outside because he would still be able to smell the smoke on them. And this was in the 1970s(?), before the current antismoking hysteria hit – about 20 years before SHS was declared as “harmful” and 30+ years before the term “thirdhand smoke” was conjured:
    “Strewn around the table were notepads and pencils, bottles of mineral water, sweets (ugh) and cigarettes galore. These last were more than usually unfortunate because Karl Popper had a famous distaste for cigarette smoke. On one occasion at a different conference he had risen from the floor to make a special request that nobody should be allowed to smoke……. it was a symptom of the regard in which the great philosopher was held that the chairman acceded to his request. Or almost. What he said was: ‘In deference to Sir Karl and out of respect for him, please would any delegate that wishes to smoke leave the hall and smoke outside’. Sir Karl rose again: ‘No, zat would not be good enough. When zey come back in, I can smell it on zeir bress’.
    So you can imagine the consternation raised by the tobacco largesse scattered over the conference table in our opulent Schloss. Every time the hand of a smoker strayed tablewards, a flunkey would come bustling over to clutch a sleeve and whisper, ‘No please, not to smoke, Sir Karl cannot stand it…. bitte schoen.”


    How would Popper defend his dictatorial stance? Had he ever considered an abnormality in the psychology of his misocapny/capnophobia? What would possess a person to demand in a public setting that because he/she doesn’t like “X” that “X” should therefore be forbidden? Popper had a distaste for tobacco smoke so no-one should be permitted to smoke – indoors or out. And rather than being met with a “Karl, get a grip. Put some of your philosophy into practice”, his neuroses and megalomania were appeased/accommodated, worse, in deference to his considerable work on protecting against human biases in the quest for knowledge. What!!!

  6. Rafe Champion

    Thanks Some History, fair comments. But get a grip! FFS he is selected for his intellectual contribution. You might as well suggest that Max Gawn should be dropped by the Demons because he missed a set shot after the siren against Geelong in Round One and cost the team four points. He gets picked because he can register 66 hitouts in a game, a truly Popperian performance, like writing The Open Society and Its Enemies in his spare time in Christchurch.

    A more substantial reason for challenging the selection is Popper’s weakness on economics but the same argument applies, he is not selected as an economist, he is picked because he wrote the most important work in the 20th century on the philosophy of science and also a devastating critique of Marx, in addition to his contribution on rationality, the institutional context of science and a few other things.

    Amusingly, in later years he would walk in his garden with his kiwi friend Colin Simkin who was almost a chain smoker and Simkin smoked as they walked.

  7. meher baba

    It’s extraordinary to read that Sydney Uni has dropped Karl from the reading list for the Philosophy of Science.

    I was taught Philosophy of Science in the 1970s by a bunch of avowed Althusserian Marxists, and Popper was front and centre in that course.

    So what’s going on?

    Perhaps there’s a concern that Karl didn’t have the correct views on transgender issues.

  8. Rafe Champion

    meher can you say a bit more about your experience in that course? Alan Chalmers came to Sydney as a kind of Popperian (for a little while he opened social conversations with the question “What is your problem?”).

    He had a flirtation with Althusser under the influence of some Marxist friends, the name Curthoys comes to mind but he eventually got over that. He wrote a very widely read and translated book What is This Thing Called Science? and he was my supervisor for the MSc that I did in the History and Philosophy of Science. A great guy and a great supervisor as well.

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