Karl Popper - Philosophy and Learning
Karl Popper (1902-94)
Austrian-born British philosopher (pictured right) who fled from the Nazis and from 1949 was a professor at the
University of London.
His most famous book
The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934).
What did he say about learning?
1. Knowledge is never certain
Scientific theories are true until they are proved to be false.
This is Popper’s “falsification principle” and was based upon the “principle
of verifiability” of the Vienna Circle, led by Moritz Schlick (pictured right).
Popper said that we:
- create theories to explain the world around us.
- replace them with better ones,.when they prove invalid and impractical.
For example, people thought that Newton’s (pictured right) ideas about physics
would always be true but Einstein’s
(pictured right below) Theory of Relativity disproved some of them.
“Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify
it, or to refute it”, Popper said.
2. Encourage dissent
People learn and improve by openly challenging existing knowledge and ideas.
This is why Popper supported an “open society” that actively encourages:
- criticism of policy makers.
- tolerance of other people’s views.
- open discussion of all relevant facts.
3. Continuous learning is essential
Because our knowledge is limited, the more we learn, the more we become aware of our
- we (and society) must learn and improve
- science must be in a state of “permanent revolution”, constantly replacing obsolete
ideas with better ones.
4. Personal responsibility
Only you can make yourself happy and knowledgeable.
But governments can help you do so by removing social evils like:
5. Knowledge makes people powerful
People in power fiercely protect the knowledge, which made them powerful.
Instead knowledge and learning should be given to everyone, so they are better able to force
policy makers to improve.
Knowledge must liberate people not control them.
6. “Three worlds”
There are “three worlds” that are vital to learning:
- products of those ideas (e.g. books).
Key quotes on
Every genuine test of a theory is an attempt to falsify it, or to refute
The more we learn about the world and the deeper our learning, the more conscious,specific and articulate will
be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance.
Key quote on knowledge
True ignorance is not the absence of knowledge, but the refusal to acquire it.
Key quotes on
Science must begin with myths and with the criticism of myths.
Science is one of the very few human activities – perhaps the only one – in which errors are systematically
criticized and fairly often, in time, corrected.