Rationalists question the rationalist approach

Some remarks on critical rationalism as a political philosophy

Yoshihisa HAGIWARA

1. Fundamentals of the political philosophy of critical rationalism
Hans Albert described Critical Rationalism with the following three components which, it seems to him, "have not been affected by the discussion so far". (1)

1)CONSISTENT FALLIBILISM, "who emphasizes the fundamental fallibility of man with regard to all possible problems, that is, relates to the whole of human practice".

2) METHODICAL RATIONALISM, "which involves a principle of critical examination and takes into account the role of constructive and critical imagination in problem-solving behavior".

3)CRITICAL REALISM, "who envisages the possibility of a knowledge of reality, even if it is fallible, and thus orientates himself on the regulative idea of ​​truth and who, moreover, for all areas of human practice this interpretation of the feasibility problem - and thus the role of knowledge of all kinds - accepted".

This characterization, although it seems very correct to me, is so general and abstract that it is difficult to imagine what Critical Rationalism looks like in concrete terms. This generality and abstraction originates primarily from the strongly methodological character of Critical Rationalism. As a result, it actually has very few substantive provisions. It merely represents a "framework program", "a 'mere' formalism, a canon of rules, a method or an attitude", as Willy Hochkeppel, himself an enthusiastic supporter of critical rationalism, writes. (2)
According to Albert, this framework program applies to all human practice. So Popper sees no essential difference between natural and social sciences: "The method of the social sciences as well as that of the natural sciences consists in trying out attempts at solutions to their problems - the problems from which they arise. Solutions are suggested and criticized. If an attempt at a solution is not accessible to objective criticism, it is for that very reason excluded as unscientific, even if only temporarily ". (3)

Popper goes on to say: "If it is open to objective criticism, then we try to refute it; because all criticism consists of attempts to refute it. If one attempt at a solution is refuted by our criticism - we try another. If it stands up to the criticism , then we accept it for the time being; and above all we accept it as worthy of further discussion and criticism. The method of science, then, is that of tentative solution (or idea) controlled by the sharpest criticism critical training in the trial and error method ". (4)

As for politics, Popper says: "What is characteristic is the connection between my epistemology and my philosophy of science and my political philosophy. The main thesis of my first book 'The Logic of Research' can be formulated as follows: We can learn from our mistakes. .. . It is a thesis of my philosophy of science that something special is added in science, namely the conscious critical attempt to falsify our theories ... It is characteristic of my political philosophy (it is very simple) that one does the same in politics should do ". (5)

Beyond the well-known falsification principle of the sciences, Popper draws the socio-political consequences of piecemeal social technology. "Piecemeal social engineering" is the name of a problem-solving behavior that regards social institutions within society as attempts at problem-solving. The classic question of political philosophy, "who should rule", no longer plays a role for Critical Rationalism, because it is wrongly posed according to it. Rather, we should ask how we can organize political institutions to minimize the damage caused by bad or incompetent rule.

Popper regards the policy of striving for the summum bonum as utopian and rejects it. Instead, one must fight the most urgent evils of society, i.e. the rational policy must always be a policy of step-by-step reforms that aim not at the realization of any ideal situation, but at the elimination of an evil, a social injustice.

Because of this political conception, Popper is often referred to as a "negative utilitarian". But Popper also has something that he knows how to preserve in a positive way: his two main socio-philosophical works 'The misery of historicism' and 'The open society and its enemies' express Popper's ideal of the "open society", where the liberal democratic society opposes dictatorial ones , totalitarian rule is defended. In this respect, I believe that the "freedom fighter" Popper would not shy away from being called an "idealist", although he strongly attacks the "German" idealism of Hegelian descent.

Albert also sees politics in a similar way to Popper and demands that the method of science must also be the method of politics. However, there is the problem of bridging knowledge and decision, between theory and practice, which Albert wants to solve with the help of so-called bridging principles. Two bridging principles seem to be central to Albert: The first relates to feasibility and is called: "Should implies ability". (6) The second is the "congruence postulate", which indicates the correspondence between the cognitive domain and the normative domain. (7) In addition, one can also count another principle among the bridging principles. It is the principle of the impossibility of a theoretical and social vacuum, and thus turns against all monism. This pluralistic principle emphasizes the necessity of a constant search for alternative theoretical conceptions. (8) A conception that tries to build an "ideal" society from scratch without taking into account circumstances such as tradition, culture or history is, for example, based on this principle alone unacceptable.

In summary, Critical Rationalism has the following components as a methodical program of rational politics:

1) Politics should only be pursued through gradual social reform and everyone involved should be willing to compromise, since all political opinions and decisions are fallible. The dogmatization of previous politics is reprehensible for the same reason. (CONSISTENT FALLIBILISM)

2) Social conflicts should be understood as problems to be solved and solved as non-violently as possible through rational-critical discussion. Pluralism, disagreement, fantasy always looking for alternatives or openness to any criticism are components of rational politics. The prerequisites for the realization of rational politics are institutional enabling and safeguarding of all these components. (METHODICAL RATIONALISM)

3) One should always keep an eye on their feasibility in politics. Utopian radicalism, be it holistic or revolutionary, is reprehensible. (CRITICAL REALISM)

In addition to such rather formal considerations, Popper also makes substantive statements about political priorities:

a) The freedom of the individual must be maximized as far as possible. (political liberalism)

b) Elimination of the most pressing societal evils must be a priority. (negative utilitarianism)

c) It is the task of politics to help the suffering and not to support the rich; the economically weak should be protected from exploitation. (political and economic justice demand)

d) The use of force should be avoided as far as possible. (Pacifism)

In the following part I would like to comment on this political conception of Critical Rationalism, structured according to some problem areas.

2. Science and politics (or theory and practice)
As mentioned above, according to Albert, there is no area of ​​human life for Critical Rationalism where his problem-solving method of critical examination is not applicable. However, many critics point out that this method is not so easily applicable in many areas, e.g. in politics.

The political concept of Critical Rationalism seems to such critics rather unrealistic, because the scientific ideal of "getting closer to the truth" does not play an important role in most discussions of social practice. Rather, politics is mainly about balancing and asserting interests. Seen in this way, "free criticism" does not have the same function in social affairs, where it is not about finding the truth but about asserting interests, as it does in science.

A typical critic with such a view is e.g. Fritz Rahmeyer. He maintains that "the transfer of the critical method to the field of political practice is not generally possible. ... In the political field, different behavioral criteria apply than in the academic world. The rational argument based on knowledge has less importance here, it often has to go behind withdraw from the interest-colored arguments of the political actors, especially the associations. Politics is at least as much a struggle for power - and interests as a search for new and better solutions to problems. "(9)

Rahmeyer also takes up Albert's claim to create a connection between logic and politics. For Albert politics takes on the character of rational social experimentation and rational discussion between proponents of different views. Rahmeyer criticizes this experimental policy as follows: "Neither the implementation of short-term political programs nor, above all, the improvement and further development of the existing economic and social order correspond in practice to the experimental policy method developed problem-solving patterns and institutional regulation and try to evade them from critical examination and the search for alternatives. "(10) For Rahmeyer, the transfer of the critical method to the field of political practice is unreal, because it neither describes the political will-building and decision-making process nor explains its results. (11) He also opposes the argument that experimental politics should be understood as a norm or ideal, since it is not appeals to reason that are decisive, but rather the respective interests.

Helmut Spinner, a former assistant to Albert, also claims that the transfer of the critical-rational principle to everyday life is by no means as rational as it is suggested. "As a draft of a way of life, the program of critical rationalism seems to be less recommendable. A way of life oriented towards justification thinking could, at least in individual cases, turn out to be more rational (and more humane!)."

Even if the above-mentioned criticism by Rahmeyer or von Spinner seems realistic and plausible at first glance, I would like to present a few counter-arguments here:

As already mentioned, Hans Albert applied the method of critical examination to all human practice. According to Albert, it is the “outline of a way of life, of a social practice.” (13) By this Albert meant that there are actually many more cognitive elements in life that can serve as the basis of everyday life, value judgment and evaluation than you usually think. Value judgments or decisions do not belong entirely to the arbitrary, emotional realm. Politics is not always rational, but it can be designed rationally, and as long as it is designed rationally, it is much easier to control this policy vis-à-vis those in power than a policy that is based on purely emotional principles. Incidentally, if one looks at the history of ideas, politics of the latter kind has often turned out to be a mere cover for totalitarian, dictatorial rule.

We have seen that the political conception of Critical Rationalism is not primarily about certain political goals, which become obsolete or irrelevant over time, but about a method that gives politics a rational character. In this sense, such a rational method has nothing to do with actual (empirical) activities or the human psyche. To a certain extent, one can understand this method in analogy to logic. Logic in and of itself should not be viewed as "unrealistic" or "superfluous" just because in reality people do not always and not entirely logically think or behave logically.

From a methodological point of view, a method, be it critical-rational, be it arbitrary-emotional, can be neither false nor true. There are only successful and failed methods. And in order to judge this, one needs criteria with which one can weigh the success and failure of a method. In other words: it is not enough if one only wanted to see social orders, institutional precautions and political measures as solutions to problems which in principle themselves have "hypotheses" character, because it is precisely a matter of refuting, revising and proving such "hypotheses" . Rather, criteria are necessary for the validation of political "hypotheses". However, these cannot be inferred from reality, but must first be established through critical value discussions. "In order to assess their comparative performance (i.e. the performance of the political> hypotheses <... dV) and their relative validity, one needs not only appropriate knowledge - i.e. certain results of scientific research - but also certain value aspects, which themselves again critical analysis on the basis of factual insights can be made accessible ". (15)

It is true that we can only find a few concrete, detailed points of value in the political conception of Critical Rationalism. Maximization of individual freedom, priority of the elimination of the most pressing social evils, political and economic justice claims or the omission of the use of force - one can at least recognize such criteria in Popper's ideas. However, they may not be sufficient for weighing up various political problem solutions, which is why we have to work out further value aspects. In addition, they should by no means be dogmatized, because there are cases in which one has to restrict individual freedom in the interests of social justice. So a constantly new value discussion on a factual basis is necessary. It is even a prerequisite for rational politics. Without it, the political philosophy of critical rationalism seems to me to lead to a rationality that becomes an end in itself; in other words: to total technocracy, the "steel-hard housing of bondage".

3. Problem of "piecemeal social technology"
a) What is social technology?

Like any other technology, social technology is a completely purposeful and rational process that transforms something theoretical into a technological system. Like theories, it does not contain any practical imperative per se, no recommendations, but only informative statements. The problem of the political revolution, for example, can be a socio-technological question insofar as one can transform an informative, law-like statement, such as the statement 'there is always an interest that is directly connected with the political situation', into the following technological statement: ' It is impossible to carry out political reform without harming interests'.
A technology does not contain any normative premises. But that does not mean that it is free from interests or value considerations. As I said, a technology is a purposeful system, and as such it always presupposes its "purpose". However, this does not lead to a violation of the principle of "freedom from values". It is indeed necessary for a technology to at least hypothetically construct a "desired" state as a possibility for action, but this state does not have to have anything to do with actual wishes. "It would also be sufficient, for example, that under certain circumstances a situation could arise in which one wishes to bring about or prevent certain effects". (16)
This only clarifies that the technology itself is a system that is open to value judgments. However, it is no longer free of value judgments when this technology is put into practice, because such an implementation requires a decision - a decision both about the political purpose and the means. This decision itself belongs to the realm of value judgment. In turn, science can help make such decisions easier if means and ends are made objects of scientific research. In reality, the means to an end relates not only to that stated end, but also to many other social realities.Therefore, such scientific research has the task of calculating in advance what other consequences besides the intended purpose may occur if a means of realization is used. If undesirable consequences would arise from this, one would have to re-examine not only the means but also the original end itself and, if necessary, replace it with another. In short: a purpose can also be rationally criticized and replaced, although it cannot be justified. The above procedure should by no means be omitted when designing a technological concept. This applies not only because otherwise the whole system becomes an expression of pure end-means thinking, and also not because the decision would otherwise be delivered to irrationalism, but above all for the following reason: "Very many, if not even those Most of the evils of social life are nothing more than unintentional, difficult to foresee and therefore not easily controllable consequences of institutional regulations - for example with sufficient goodwill ". (17)

This social-scientific activity of purpose analysis and criticism can make our decision easier, but it cannot replace it. Anyone who expects science to make the right decisions in all of us and automatically improve our quality of life is not only utopian but also uncreative. Pure science "does not tell us that we should realize any of the possible possibilities, so it does not dictate our decision. ... The necessities of action always go beyond what knowledge can provide us" ( 18)
If one now looks at the social technology actually operated, the tendency cannot be overlooked that the information for such decisions is monopolized exclusively by the technocratic power elites and their specialist advisers, while social scientists are always asking about the possible usefulness of their research in communication with political decision-makers only put ex-post.

It is true that most people are laypeople when it comes to complicated political and economic questions and that only a few specialists are competent. But if one wants to enforce 'rationality' in the sense of efficiency or consistency here, one must say goodbye to democracy, because a 'rational' political system in the sense of following a consistent guideline can only be a completely dictatorial system. This is where the social scientists become particularly important as 'mediators': on the one hand, at least in addition to their own research, they must try to give an ex-ante orientation on current political issues instead of ex-post consideration. On the other hand, they have the task of making complex social problems understandable for everyone and of illuminating the public consciousness. In short: to enlighten.

b) Why social technology should be "gradual"

Since Popper sees the principle of problem-solving, the 'trial and error' method, in all human and animal behavior, even of amoeba, it can be useful to differentiate between different types of problems. (19)

1) In everyday life one always has an idea of ​​what the environment or the outside world should be like. This notion is usually distant from reality. Ernst Topitsch rightly sees the attempt to alleviate the pressure of reality as a cause of the formation of illusions. (20) However, it cannot be denied that it is precisely the discrepancy between reality and the ideal that makes social events conscious as "problems". Otherwise "poverty, illiteracy, political oppression and legal uncertainty" (21) would never appear as a "problem". The subject of such problem awareness is the environment or reality; and the solution is judged to be right or wrong according to the actor's imagination. However, there is the real danger of ideologizing - it is not the idea, but the reality that is wrong!

2) A "problem" can also arise independently of reality, e.g. if you want to build a consistent logical system. As long as this system is vague or not yet perfect, you have to add missing parts to make the whole thing perfect. This task is also a "problem". The yardstick by which the answer to this problem is measured is the consistency of the entire theoretical system.
(theoretical science)

3) If, for example, one examines the structure of society and wants an explanation (theory in the broader sense) about it, a "problem" can also arise if the "theory" is subjected to refutation by objective criticism or a new discovery. The criterion according to which a solution is evaluated should be the correspondence of the theory with the facts.
(empirical science)

4) A "problem" is also posed in exams at the university or at school. A problem in this sense arises when certain parts of a logical system, a theory or a knowledge system remain "hidden" from certain people and the disclosure of the correct parts is required. Such a problem can rightly be described as a "puzzle" or "quiz". The criterion is of course the correspondence of the answer with the hidden parts.
(Puzzle or so-called "normal science")

Now one can say, as it were, that Popper's conception of science concentrates mainly on the 2nd and 3rd types, whereas Kuhn's on the 2nd and 4th types. But what is normally perceived as "political problems" is nothing other than the first case.
Even if the problems to be solved are different, the structure of a problem-solving science in the sense of the first type remains the same as that of a theoretical science, since the theoretical system has nothing to do with the type and nature of the problem. "Serious practical problems" (such as the problem of poverty, etc.), so Popper writes, "were important starting points for social science research. But these practical problems lead to reflection, to theoretical and thus to theoretical problems". (22) (emphasis added by d V.) The difference that characterizes both types of science can only lie in the "interest in knowledge", ie in the area of ​​heuristics or the context of discovery. In other words: the difference is not in the method, but only in the motive of the respective researcher.

Even if the "motive" of the individual scientist is secondary to the "substantive context", i.e. for the process of scientific research, the sociological investigations of the research motive and problem awareness of the "scientiffic community" as something "extra-scientific" must not be ignored. With regard to social technology, we have pointed out the danger that the ethical and responsible political task of social science will spontaneously be abandoned if the identity of individual scientists is reduced to that of a "homo scientificus" in the name of the "impartiality of science". Such irresponsible neglect has nothing to do with the ideal of objectivity in science.

Be that as it may, with regard to the formal structure there is no difference between explanatory and practice-oriented sciences: "The logical basic scheme of every explanation consists in a logical, deductive inference, the premises of which consist of the theory and the initial conditions and which is the conclusion . "(23) In the case of social technology that we are discussing here, the initial conditions are the complex facts of the actually existing society and the explicandum is the desired state. Thus, the following procedure would be absolutely necessary for the conception of a problem-solving science:

a) the determination of what the desired state is.

b) the establishment of the laws that can describe the desired state as a value of the variables of the explicandum.

c) the determination of the concrete facts (conditions) which correspond to the value of the explicand of b) and

d) the investigation of the possibilities of establishing these conditions of c).

However, if one wants to design a social-technological concept using this method, some difficulties arise that are specific to the entire social sciences. Quite apart from the fact that we have too few, all too imprecise social science laws at our disposal, it hardly needs to be mentioned that we absolutely need a public critical discussion in order to determine the "desired" state and to find consensus on it. The greatest difficulty with this conception is probably, as already indicated above, that the success criterion of the actual refutation is not the correspondence with the facts, but the correspondence with the desired state conceived at the beginning. If the idea of ​​such a "desired" state promises something too ideal or vague, one may even have to accept a shift in parousia. That would be nothing more than the ideologization of social technology, which Popper rejects as "utopian social technology" and which Topitsch warns of again and again. And we also know: the road to hell is paved with good intentions. In order to avoid such ideologization, one should understand by the "desired" state not the realization of any noble ideal, but the elimination of the respective social evil. In addition, a solution that initially seems optimal can always have unexpected, unpredictable side effects in a specific application. "You can only bring something like scientific method into politics if you start from the assumption that there can be no political action that does not have disadvantages, undesirable consequences. Look for these mistakes, they find them show them, analyze them and learn from them - that is the task of the scientific politician and the political scientist. "(24) The difference between" piecemeal social technology "and" utopian "social technology does not seem to me primarily in the size of the social change lie how often it is misunderstood.

Popper once formulated the schema of scientific growth as follows:

P 1 -> VT -> FE -> P 2
P: problem
VT: preliminary theory
FE: error elimination

In social technology, this scheme should look a little different:
Ü 1 -> VL -> ÜE -> Ü 2
Exercise 1: an evil to be eliminated,
VL: preliminary solution hypothesis,
ÜE: the application of the hypothesis (elimination of evil) and
Exercise 2: the appearance of a new problem as an unexpected effect.

c) Limits of piecemeal social technology, p> Popper's political conception of piecemeal social technology is sharply attacked by several critics. First of all, one can mention the accusation of conservatism against Critical Rationalism. According to Rahmeyer, for example, piecemeal social technology requires the following prerequisites: 1) the more or less satisfactory results of the previous policy, 2) the continuity of the problems to be solved, 3) the continuity of the instruments available for problem solving. This means that piecemeal social technology is only capable of reactive, routine politics and necessarily promotes the social status quo. (25)

Such criticism seems to me to have missed the core of Popper's conception, because piecework technology presupposes dissatisfaction with the previous policy, which makes the previous solution known as a "problem to be solved" and makes an alternative solution appear necessary. "A certain continuity" is just another expression for the fact that one has to take into account the feasibility of politics. I have repeatedly emphasized that social technology does not mean technocracy and should not offer a ruling minority a means of domination.

In connection with the accusation of conservatism, other critics point to the lack of structural analysis in the policy conception of critical rationalism. Peter Clever writes: "Since the piecemeal social technician asks less about the structural requirements of a concrete social maladministration and therefore hardly takes any measures to change it ... he may only cure the symptom he still strengthens them ... "(26) To illustrate his argument, one perhaps only needs to imagine medical treatment methods. Medication can suppress a symptom such as a fever without eliminating the cause of the fever. This will cause the fever to reappear as soon as the medication is stopped. Treatment with drugs that eliminate the cause of the disease that provokes the fever is more effective. Once that is done, no medication is required at all. In this respect, incrementalism is a bad therapy.

This criticism does not seem to me to be entirely inaccurate, since it is often reported, especially today, that a number of political problems not only in developing countries of the Third World but also in modern industrial societies are no longer like scientific problems based on the trial and error method can be solved. If this is the case, "then a more comprehensive social technology is required for important problem areas than social technology for individual problems". (27)

A piecemeal social technician can certainly not be a "great" doctor because he knows that he is not well informed about the more precise relationships between cause and effect in social events, knows that he has no panacea, and because he prefers a " bad doctor "wants to remain as a healer who tries to heal society through miracles.

The limit of piecemeal social technology is perhaps the limit of scientific politics. It is just one of many methods of politics. the same applies to democracy. It is certainly not always the best, shortest route to a better world. Collective reason is fallible as is the reason of the individual. Nonetheless, before we abandon ourselves entirely to political adventure and irrationalism, we should think about the consequences of anti-rational and anti-democratic movements in history.

1) Hans Albert, Critical Reason and Human Practice. Stuttgart 1977, pp. 26f .: as well as H. Albert, treatise on critical reason. 3rd edition Tübingen 1975. pp. 183f.
2) Willy Hochkeppel, Critical Rationalism as Alternative. In: K. Kaltenbrunner (Ed.), Plea for Reason. Freiburg / Basel / Vienna 1974 p. 87.
3) Karl R. Popper, Logic of the Social Sciences. in Th. W. Adorno, H. Albert et al., The Positivism Controversy in German Sociology, 6th edition, Tübingen 1978. pp. 105f.
4) Ibid.
5) Conversation with Karl Popper. in: G. Lührs / T. Sarrazin / F. Spreer / M. Tietzel (ed.), Theory and politics from a critical-rational point of view. Berlin / Bonn 1978. p. 17.
6) H. Albert, Treatise on Critical Reason. P.76.
7) Cf. ibid., p. 77.
8) Cf. ibid., p. 52.
9) Fritz Rahmeyer, Critique of the Political Concept of Critical Rationalism. in: G. Lührs / T. Sarrazin / F. Spreer / M. Tietzel (Ed.), Critical Rationalism and Social Democracy II. Berlin / Bonn-Bad Godesberg 1976. P. 278. Cf. also Lothar F. Neumann, treatise on some inadequacies of 'Critical Rationalism'. in the same volume, especially p. 83 f.
10) Rahmeyer, loc. Cit., P. 276.
11) Rahmeyer, loc. Cit., P. 278.
12) Helmut Spinner, pluralism as a cognitive model. Frankfurt 1974. pp. 275f. See also Albert's statement on this in: Treatise on Critical Reason. P. 201.
13) H. Albert, Treatise on Critical Reason. P. 41.
14) Cf. Karl R. Popper, The Rationality Principle. (1967) in: D. Miller (ed.), Popper Selection. Princeton University Press 1985. p. 357 pp.
15) H. Albert, education and control. Hamburg 1976. p. 20. see also: Ders., Konstruktions undkritik, Hamburg 1975. p. 166.
16) H. Albert, education and control. P. 178.
17) H. Albert, education and control. P. 23.
18) H. Albert, Treatise on Critical Reason. P. 66.
19) T.D. Weldon makes a distinction between "puzzle" and "difficulty" in what is commonly called "problem". He sees the task of technology in solving "puzzles". On the other hand, according to him, "difficulties" cannot be "solved", but only overcome, reduced, avoided or ignored. See T.D. Weldon: Critique of Political Language. Neuwied 1962. p. 96ff.
20) Cf. including Ernst Topitsch, Knowledge and Illusion. Basic structures of our worldview. Hamburg 1979. p. 11 ff.
21) Cf. K. R. Popper, Logic of the Social Sciences. In: loc. Cit. P. 105.
22) Ibid.
23) Ibid. P. 118.
24) K.R. Popper, The misery of historicism. 5th edition, Tübingen 1979. p.70.
25) See F. Rahmeyer, op. Cit., P. 286 ff.; Also L. Neumann, op. Cit., P. 89 f.
26) P. Clever, Critical Rationalism and Conservatism. In: G Lührs, et al. (Ed.), Critical Rationalism and Social Democracy II. P. 360 f.
27) L. Neumann, op. Cit., P. 88.

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