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The rationalist tradition and the problem of induction: Karl Popper's rejection of epistemological optimism

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journal contribution
posted on 11.08.2014, 13:18 authored by Phil ParvinPhil Parvin
This article evaluates Karl Popper's contribution to analytic philosophy, and outlines some of the contradictions in his work which make it difficult to locate in any particular tradition. In particular, the article investigates Popper's own claims to be a member of the rationalist tradition. Although Popper described himself as a member of this tradition, his definition of it diverged quite radically from that offered by other supporters of rationalism, like, for example, Mach, Carnap, and the logical positivists of the Vienna Circle. The reason for this was that the rationalist tradition, if it were to remain coherent and relevant, needed to overcome the dilemma posed by Hume’s problem of induction. Popper believed that this problem rendered conventional understandings of rationalism, science, and inductive reasoning incoherent. This article suggests that Popper's principal contribution to modern philosophy was to reconfigure the rationalist tradition in such a way as to circumvent the problem of induction while preserving the rationalist commitment to reason, rational debate, and objective knowledge. Popper's reconfiguration of the epistemological bases of the rationalist tradition challenged dominant understandings of rationalist and analytic philosophy, and may be appropriately understood as part of a wider move among philosophers like Quine and Putnam to challenge conventional understandings of analytic philosophy, and of what philosophy itself could and could not achieve. It also informed a vision of social and political life (and of the social and political sciences) as rooted in principles of freedom, equality, and rational debate, but which cannot be fit within the traditional ideological landscape.

History

School

  • Social Sciences

Department

  • Politics and International Studies

Published in

HISTORY OF EUROPEAN IDEAS

Volume

37

Issue

3

Pages

257 - 266 (10)

Citation

PARVIN, P., 2011. The rationalist tradition and the problem of induction: Karl Popper's rejection of epistemological optimism. History of European Ideas, 37 (3), pp. 257-266.

Publisher

© Elsevier

Version

AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publication date

2011

Notes

NOTICE: this is the author’s version of a work that was accepted for publication in History of European Ideas. Changes resulting from the publishing process, such as peer review, editing, corrections, structural formatting, and other quality control mechanisms may not be reflected in this document. Changes may have been made to this work since it was submitted for publication. A definitive version was subsequently published in History of European Ideas, 37 (3), pp. 257-266, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.histeuroideas.2010.10.005.

ISSN

0191-6599

eISSN

1873-541X

Language

en