Episode 38

#38 (C&R Series, Ch. 2) - Wittgenstein vs Popper


March 8th, 2022

1 hr 3 mins 45 secs

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About this Episode

We cover the spicy showdown between the two of the world's most headstrong philosophers: Ludwig Wittgenstein and Karl Popper. In a dingy Cambridge classroom Wittgenstein once threatened Popper with a fireplace poker. What led to the disagreement? In this episode, we continue with the Conjectures and Refutations series by analyzing Chapter 2: The Nature of Philosophical Problems And Their Roots In Science, where Popper outlines his agreements and disagreements with Mr. Ludwig Wittgenstein.

We discuss:

  • Are there philosophical problems?
  • Why are scientific disciplines divided as they are?
  • How much of philosophy is meaningless pseudo-babble? (Hint: Not none)
  • Wittgenstein's background and feud between him and Popper
  • Wittgenstein 1 and 2 (pre and post Tractatus)
  • The danger of philosophical inbreeding
  • Two of Popper's examples of philosophical problems: 1. Plato and the Crisis in Early Greek Atomism 2. Immanuel Kant's Problem of Knowledge.
  • Musica universalis
  • The Problem of Change
  • How is knowledge possible?


My first thesis is that every philosophy, and especially every philosophical ‘school’, is liable to degenerate in such a way that its problems become practically indistinguishable from pseudo-problems, and its cant, accordingly, practically indistinguishable from meaningless babble. This, I shall try to show, is a consequence of philosophical inbreeding. The degeneration of philosophical schools in its turn is the consequence of the mistaken belief that one can philosophize without having been compelled to philosophize by problems which arise outside philosophy—in mathematics, for example, or in cosmology, or in politics, or in religion, or in social life. In other words my first thesis is this. Genuine philosophical problems are always rooted in urgent problems outside philosophy, and they die if these roots decay.

C&R p.95

His question, we now know, or believe we know, should have been: ‘How are successful conjectures possible?’ And our answer, in the spirit of his Copernican Revolution, might, I suggest, be something like this: Because, as you said, we are not passive receptors of sense data, but active organisms. Because we react to our environment not always merely instinctively, but sometimes consciously and freely. Because we can invent myths, stories, theories; because we have a thirst for explanation, an insatiable curiosity, a wish to know. Because we not only invent stories and theories, but try them out and see whether they work and how they work. Because by a great effort, by trying hard and making many mistakes, we may sometimes, if we are lucky, succeed in hitting upon a story, an explanation, which ‘saves the phenomena’; perhaps by making up a myth about ‘invisibles’, such as atoms or gravitational forces, which explain the visible. Because knowledge is an adventure of ideas.

C&R p.128

If you were to threaten us with a common household object, what would it be? Tell us at incrementspodcast@gmail.com, or on twitter: @VadenMasrani, @BennyChugg, @IncrementsPod.

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