Review Of "Truth, Hope, And Power: The Thought Of Karl Popper" By D. E. Williams

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Karl Popper's reputation as a philosopher of science far exceeds his reputation as a political thinker, although both The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) and The Poverty of Historicism (1957) caused considerable commotion when they first appeared because they seemed to be distortions of Popper's targets. In this excellent book, Williams traces Popper's social and political thought to the troubled Vienna of his youth; his acceptance of Enlightenment ideals and of Kant's transcendental philosophy in particular; and his lifelong commitment to conserve the intellectual foundations of political liberalism against assorted forms of "irrationalism" (romanticism, communalism, traditionalism), "holism" or "collectivism" (Plato, Hegel, Marx, socialists), and relativism (sociology of knowledge). Williams's highly readable, fair, and sympathetic account is not uncritical. He shows that Popper's allegiance to Kant's fact/value dichotomy underlies philosophical difficulties of his views and that his moral revulsion of both World Wars (and the irrational enthusiasm between them) blinded him to the subtlety--sometimes even the central theses--of those who were the object of his polemical attacks. Through his exploration of these flaws, Williams shows, perhaps unintentionally, that Popper's immediate impact was far greater than his lasting influence as a seminal political thinker will be. Although there are other studies of Popper as a philosopher of science, this is the first full-length treatment of Sir Karl as a political thinker: it will be hard to surpass in terms of familiarity with primary and secondary literature, faithfulness to Popper's intentions, or judicious criticism. Highly recommended for upper-division undergraduates, graduate students, and faculty.


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