Marx and Engels: Communism - Philosophy Pages
Annotated Bibliography « bengunnyumm
These beliefs lead to what Popper calls ‘The HistoricistDoctrine of the Social Sciences’, the views (a) that theprincipal task of the social sciences is to make predictions about thesocial and political development of man, and (b) that the task ofpolitics, once the key predictions have been made, is, in Marx’swords, to lessen the ‘birth pangs’ of future social andpolitical developments. Popper thinks that this view of the socialsciences is both theoretically misconceived (in the sense of beingbased upon a view of natural science and its methodology which istotally wrong), and socially dangerous, as it leads inevitably tototalitarianism and authoritarianism—to centralised governmentalcontrol of the individual and the attempted imposition of large-scalesocial planning. Against this Popper strongly advances the view thatany human social grouping is no more (or less) than the sum of itsindividual members, that what happens in history is the (largelyunplanned and unforeseeable) result of the actions of suchindividuals, and that large scale social planning to an antecedentlyconceived blueprint is inherently misconceived—and inevitablydisastrous—precisely because human actions have consequenceswhich cannot be foreseen. Popper, then, is an historical indeterminist, insofar as he holds that history does not evolvein accordance with intrinsic laws or principles, that in the absenceof such laws and principles unconditional prediction in the socialsciences is an impossibility, and that there is no such thing ashistorical necessity.
Borough of Manhattan Community College
This argument is one of the strongest that has ever been broughtagainst historicism, cutting, as it does, right to the heart of one ofits main theoretical presuppositions. However, it is not Popper’s onlyargument against it. An additional mistake which he detects inhistoricism is the failure of the historicist to distinguish betweenscientific laws and trends, which is also frequentlyaccompanied by a simple logical fallacy. The fallacy is that ofinferring from the fact that our understanding of any (past)historical event—such as, for example, the FrenchRevolution—is in direct proportion to our knowledge of theantecedent conditions which led to that event, that knowledge of allthe antecedent conditions of some future event is possible, and thatsuch knowledge would make that future event precisely predictable. Forthe truth is that the number of factors which predate and lead to theoccurrence of any event, past, present, or future, is indefinitelylarge, and therefore knowledge of all of these factors is impossible,even in principle. What gives rise to the fallacy is the manner inwhich the historian (necessarily) selectively isolates a finite numberof the antecedent conditions of some past event as being of particularimportance, which are then somewhat misleadingly termed ‘thecauses’ of that event, when in fact what this means is that theyare the specific conditions which a particular historian or group ofhistorians take to be more relevant than any other of theindefinitely large number of such conditions (for this reason, mosthistorical debates range over the question as to whether theconditions thus specified are the right ones). While thiskind of selectivity may be justifiable in relation to the treatment ofany past event, it has no basis whatsoever in relation to thefuture—if we now select, as Marx did, the ‘relevant’antecedent conditions for some future event, the likelihood is that wewill select wrongly.