chapter  7
12 Pages

A whiff of Hegel in The Open Society?

ByJOHN WATKINS

Ernest Gellner’s letter of invitation to participants in the conference in Prague on the fiftieth anniversary of The Open Society and Its Enemies indicated various areas in which contributions would be welcome. I chose the parallel between the principles of the open society and of the scientific community as understood by Popper; this would be a welcome opportunity to make good an omission from my contribution, “The Unity of Popper’s Thought,” to the Schilpp volume on Popper. I had intended this to cover his moral, social and political thought; but that got squeezed out by the lengthening discussion of the relation between his conjecturalist epistemology and his indeterminist metaphysics. In Prague I would have an opportunity to discuss affinities between his negative, falsificationist methodology and his negative utilitarianism, and between his conjecturalist-cum-critical rationalism and his Periclean view of democracy (“Although only a few may originate a policy, we are all able to judge it”), and between his conception of scientific method and his rejection of utopian in favor of piecemeal social engineering. More generally, I would be investigating the parallel proclaimed by Gellner when he wrote that Popper’s “social ethic consists essentially of the commendation of the virtue of openness, which is the social equivalent of falsifiability – the holding of social principles without rigidity, in a spirit which is willing to learn, innovate, experiment, and change. Social and cognitive health are analogous, and the wider society is but the scientific community writ large” (Gellner 1974: 172).