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Karl Popper (1902—1994) philosopher





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piecemeal engineering

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In The Poverty of Historicism (1957), the philosopher Sir Karl Popper criticized historicist (notably communist and fascist) attempts to foretell the future, and argued that the holistic social experiments based on these theories were doomed to failure, because the course of human history is strongly influenced by the growth of knowledge, and we cannot (rationally or scientifically) predict the future growth of scientific knowledge. Rather, by analogy with the central role of piecemeal experiments in the sciences, he argues that the only form of social engineering that can be rationally justified is one which is small-scale, incremental, and continuously amended in the light of experience. The crucial point about this approach is that it is based on trial and error rather than a prior historicist vision; or, as Popper puts it, ‘we make progress if, and only if, we are prepared to learn from our mistakes: to recognize our errors and to utilize them critically instead of persevering in them dogmatically’. Piecemeal social engineering is, therefore, nothing less than the introduction of (Popper's conception of) scientific methods into planning and politics.

Subjects: Social sciencesSociology

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