Month: April 2013

Popper on changing the world

If I were to give a simple formula or recipe for distinguishing between what I consider to be admissible plans for social reform and inadmissible Utopian blueprints, I might say:

Work for the elimination of concrete evils rather than for the realization of abstract goods. Do not aim at establishing happiness by political means. Rather aim at the elimination of concrete miseries. Or, in more practical terms: fight for the elimination of poverty by direct means‐‐for example, by making sure that everybody has a minimum income. Or fight against epidemics and disease by erecting hospitals and schools of medicine. Fight illiteracy as you fight criminality. But do all this by direct means. Choose what you consider the most urgent evil of the society in which you live, and try patiently to convince people that we can get rid of it.

But do not try to realize these aims indirectly by designing and working for a distant ideal of a society which is wholly good. However deeply you may feel indebted to its inspiring vision, do not think that you are obliged to work for its realization, or that it is your mission to open the eyes of others to its beauty. Do not allow your dreams of a beautiful world to lure you away from the claims of men who suffer here and now. Our fellow men have a claim to our help; no generation must be sacrificed for the sake of future generations, for the sake of an ideal of happiness that may never be realized. In brief, it is my thesis that human misery is the most urgent problem of a rational public policy and that happiness is not such a problem. The attainment of happiness should be left to our private endeavours.

It is a fact, and not a very strange fact, that it is not so very difficult to reach agreement by discussion on what are the most intolerable evils of our society, and on what are the most urgent social reforms. Such an agreement can be reached much more easily than an agreement concerning some ideal form of social life. For the evils are with us here and now. They can be experienced, and are being experienced every day, by many people who have been and are being made miserable by poverty, unemployment, national oppression, war and disease. Those of us who do not suffer from these miseries meet every day others who can describe them to us. This is what makes the evils concrete. This is why we can get somewhere in arguing about them; why we can profit here from the attitude of reasonableness. We can learn by listening to concrete claims, by patiently trying to assess them as impartially as we can, and by considering ways of meeting them without creating worse evils.

Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, p. 361

Review: The Seven Laws of Teaching

The Seven Laws of Teaching
The Seven Laws of Teaching by John Milton Gregory

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

This book is an excellent introduction to teaching and learning for parents, students, and teachers. Gregory makes the entire process of education simple and gives numerous practical tips and techniques throughout. I cannot recommend this book enough for any parent, student, and/or teacher as well as anyone else who is interested in not only in improving educational institutions but in developing a culture of education and becoming a lifelong learner him or herself. This book is one of the most clear, practical, and accurate books I have yet read on the subject.

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Review: Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge

Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge
Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge by Karl R. Popper

My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This book is a classic of twentieth century epistemology and the philosophy of science and must-read for anyone interested in those subjects. I also recommend this book for anyone interested in the development of knowledge as well as social justice within a democratic setting. Popper’s thesis is that the truth of any given matter is not obvious due to the limitations of human perception and reasoning and that, with this in mind, we should approach the process of observing and understanding the world around us in a spirit of tolerance, open-mindedness, and perpetual questioning. This book is difficult in parts and assumes a great deal of prior experience with logic as a philosophical discipline as well as with the philosophy of science. It is, however, well worth the challenge even for those who are new to these subjects.

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Schizophrenia and Eastern religions

A Buddhist Zen master who lives in Tokyo wishes to fly to Kyoto on a private plane. When he arrives at the airport, he is offered two planes: one that is faster but aeronautically questionable, and one that is slower but aeronautically sound. He is informed by the airport authorities that the faster plane violates some of the basic principles of aeronautical mechanics, and the slower plane does not.

The aeronautical or technological deficiencies of the faster plane represent underlying mistakes in physics. The Zen master, in his teaching, asks his disciples questions the right answers to which require them to embrace contradictions. To do so is the path to wisdom about reality, which has contradictions at its core. But the Zen master does t waver from upholding this teaching about reality while, at the same time, he chooses the slower, aeronautically sounder and safer plane because it accords with a technology and a physics that makes correct judgments about a physical world that abhors contradictions.

If there is scientific truth in technology and physics, then the unity of the truth should require the Zen master to acknowledge that his choice of the slower but safer plane means that he repudiates his Zen doctrine about the wisdom of embracing contradictions.

He does not do so and remains schizophrenic, with the truth of Zen doctrine and the truth of technology and physics in logic-tight compartments. On what grounds or for what reasons does he do this if not for the psychological comfort derived from keeping the incompatible “truths” in logic-tight compartments? Can it be that the Zen master has a different meaning for the word “truth” when he persists in regarding the Zen doctrine as true even though it would appear to be irreconcilable with the truth of technology and physics he has accepted in choosing the slower plane? Can it be that this persistence in retaining the Zen doctrine does not derive from its being “true” in the logical sense of truth, but rather in a sense of “true” that identifies it with being psychological “useful” or “therapeutic”?

In other words, Zen Buddhism as a religion is believed by this Zen master because of its psychological usefulness in producing in its believers a state of peace or harmony. In my judgment, this view of the matter doe snot reduce or remove the schizophrenia of Zen Buddhism.

Mortimer J. Adler, Truth in Religion, pp. 75-6

Skeptical of humanism

Is the solution simply to invoke the human factor? Humanisms too are subject to rapid change. What remains of Renaissance humanism after man’s great disillusionment through a series of humiliations? The first came when Copernicus showed that Man’s earth was not the centre of the universe; the second when Marx showed how dependent man is on inhuman social conditions; the third when Darwin described man’s origin from the subhuman world; and the fourth was Freud’s explanation of man’s intellectual consciousness as rooted in the instinctive unconscious. … That is to say nothing of fascism and Nazism … fascinated by Nietzsche’s superman … which cost mankind an unparalleled destruction of human values and millions of human lives. In view of this situation, after so many disappointments, a certain scepticism in regard to humanism is understandable.

Hans Küng, On Being a Christian