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Lewis and Popper on historicism

The man. The myth.

Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby postodave » 10 Nov 2004, 14:29

I was just wondering if anyone else had noticed the similarities between Lewis's criticism of historicism and the late Sir. Karl Popper's. Popper's is to be found in 'The Poverty of Historicism' and also in volume 2 of 'The Open Society and its Enemies'. Popper like Lewis was a critic of logical positivism, indeed he was known by them as 'the official opposition' He argues that scientific prediction of the future, as in Marxism is impossible because the future depends on things which have not yet been discovered; hence it is open, and society needas to be open, to allow it to unfold. Lewis focuses more on the mythical aspects of historicism, but it surely can't be a coincidence that they both use the word in the same way. Could Lewis have read Popper?
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Popper on history (and Christianity)

Postby boink1 » 05 Nov 2008, 02:23

Now the typical intellectual of the time would have been VERY distainful of Christianity. I cannot tell if Lewis might have influence Popper, but this quote is an interesting tidbit, nonetheless.

"I do not deny that it is as justifiable to interpret history from a Christian point of view as it is to interpret it from any other point of view ; and it should certainly be emphasized, for example, how much of our Western aims and ends, humanitarianism, freedom, equality, we owe to the influence of Christianity. (...) What matters to Christianity is not the historical deeds of the powerful Roman conquerors but (to use a phrase of Kierkegaard's) what a few fisherman gave the world."
(Karl Popper The Open Society and it's Enemies.1945, v.2 : pp. 258-259)
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Postby postodave » 05 Nov 2008, 23:08

Lewis's Historicism was published in 1950
Popper's Poverty of Historicism was published in 1957 and Popper is credit with establishing the use of the word to mean determinism
Karl Popper gave the term “histori-
cism” a meaning, which has not been generally
accepted, as a theory of historical predictability and
determinism in contrast with the usual meaning of the
term which denotes the opposite, individuality, spon-
taneity, and the avoidance of generalizations.


From Dictionary of Historicism at http://etext.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv2-52
But that is exactly the sense in which Lewis uses it 7 years earlier.
Popper is not Christian but he objects to the idea that religious claims are meaningless. In fact there had been a revival of Christianity among intellectuals in the forties; at that time they would be taken more seriously than they were 20 years later. For example I learned recently that Anthony Flew regularly attended the socratic club. I think the reason philosophers tended not to accept Lewis was not so much his faith as his attempts to popularise it and the fact that he was not really a professional philosopher.
In his own field of literature he was hugely respected. When Kingsley Amis meets him he is overwhelmed by humility and respect.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Postby rusmeister » 06 Nov 2008, 04:43

postodave wrote:Lewis's Historicism was published in 1950
Popper's Poverty of Historicism was published in 1957 and Popper is credit with establishing the use of the word to mean determinism
Karl Popper gave the term “histori-
cism” a meaning, which has not been generally
accepted, as a theory of historical predictability and
determinism in contrast with the usual meaning of the
term which denotes the opposite, individuality, spon-
taneity, and the avoidance of generalizations.


From Dictionary of Historicism at http://etext.virginia.edu/cgi-local/DHI/dhi.cgi?id=dv2-52
But that is exactly the sense in which Lewis uses it 7 years earlier.
Popper is not Christian but he objects to the idea that religious claims are meaningless. In fact there had been a revival of Christianity among intellectuals in the forties; at that time they would be taken more seriously than they were 20 years later. For example I learned recently that Anthony Flew regularly attended the socratic club. I think the reason philosophers tended not to accept Lewis was not so much his faith as his attempts to popularise it and the fact that he was not really a professional philosopher.
In his own field of literature he was hugely respected. When Kingsley Amis meets him he is overwhelmed by humility and respect.


My objections are increasingly to the very idea of professional philosophers - something which is the business of all men. Those "professionals" are formed through a specific education which teaches a bias against religion, especially Christianity, from the outset. I have on my desk one of the more respected textbooks in philosophy departments for Philosophy 101 (Philosophy: an introduction" by Randall and Buchler) which establishes the basic terms and understandings on which they teach further. The trouble is, the text from the outset assumes that religion is (necessarily) not true and defines interpretations from a naturalist-humanist point of view. No wonder they don't accept Lewis - he strikes at the root of their false professional philosophy on which they build their lives.

As an afterthought, what does "Ph.D." mean? :wink:
"Eh? Two views? There are a dozen views about everything until you know the answer. Then there's never more than one."
Bill "The Blizzard" Hingest - That Hideous Strength
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Postby moogdroog » 10 Nov 2008, 11:31

rusmeister wrote: As an afterthought, what does "Ph.D." mean?


Director of Phrenology? :toothy-grin:
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby boink1 » 29 Mar 2009, 21:27

Popper is not Christian but he objects to the idea that religious claims are meaningless. In fact there had been a revival of Christianity among intellectuals in the forties; at that time they would be taken more seriously than they were 20 years later. For example I learned recently that Anthony Flew regularly attended the socratic club. I think the reason philosophers tended not to accept Lewis was not so much his faith as his attempts to popularise it and the fact that he was not really a professional philosopher.


Though some academics might be prejudiced against "non-professional" philosophers, I get the impression this would not have been Popper's own view as he said:

All men and all women are philosophers. If they are not conscious of having philosophical problems, they have, at any rate, philosophical prejudices. Most of these are theories which they take for granted : they have absorbed them from their intellectual environment or from tradition. Since few of these theories are consciously held, they are prejudices in the sense that they are held without critical examination, even though they may be of great importance for the practical actions of people, and for their whole life. (pp. 137-138)

POPPER, Karl R. (1977) How I see Philosophy. pp. 125-173 dans Philosophers on Their Own Work. Féd. Internationale des Sociétés de philosophie Peter Lang Berne 251 p.
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby Menippus » 13 Apr 2010, 04:50

The comments about the dating here are not quite right. While Popper's Poverty of Historicism was published as a book for the first time in 1957, the book collects together articles which were published in the journal Economica, in 1944 and 1945.
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby cyranorox » 14 Apr 2010, 19:56

Is that the Popper who waived a poker game with Wittegenstein? and derived the principle of not threatening opponents with andirony?
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby postodave » 14 Apr 2010, 22:05

Very witty.
Have you been reading Wittgenstein's Poker?
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby cyranorox » 11 May 2010, 20:26

No, dodging it.
Apocatastasis Now!
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby postodave » 11 May 2010, 21:23

It's an interesting read. Two of the greatest twentieth century philosophers meet and get in a row over philosophy and then cannot agree over what happened when they met.
So I drew my sword and got ready
But the lamb ran away with the crown
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby cyranorox » 12 May 2010, 21:00

dodging Wittgenstein's poker, not "Wittgenstein's Poker".
Apocatastasis Now!
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Re: Lewis and Popper on historicism

Postby postodave » 12 May 2010, 22:13

According to Popper Wittgenstein waved the poker at him angrily. Wittgenstein says that never happened. Then Wittgenstein said there was no such thing as a moral law and challenged Popper to give him one. Popper replied, 'Not to threaten visiting speakers with pokers.' And round about then Wittgenstein walked off. So one of them at least was telling a story not strictly true.

Incidentally this comment:
The comments about the dating here are not quite right. While Popper's Poverty of Historicism was published as a book for the first time in 1957, the book collects together articles which were published in the journal Economica, in 1944 and 1945.

settles the original question Lewis therefore could have been influenced by Popper and almost certainly was either directly or indirectly.

On the matter of Lewis not being a professional. He had indeed qualified in philosophy but did not keep up to date. As we know from the Anscombe debate he was unable to respond the the post Wittgenstein developments. By the fifties he was starting to sound dated not because of his Christianity but because he still reasoned like a former Hegelian idealist. But perhaps he could see value in some of Popper's ideas which are far more solid and traditional than anything Wittgenstein was doing.
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But the lamb ran away with the crown
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