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Facebook: I lettori di Domenico Losurdo

lunedì 28 novembre 2011

João Carlos Graça su Popper e il liberalismo contemporaneo

Dear professor Losurdo
Concerning the debate you have participated in, and in which concerns Karl Popper, the first thing that I think ought to be mentioned is the fact that his “falsificationist” or “refutationist” - as opposed to “confirmationist” - notion of science is indeed nothing but a rephrasing of the so-called “De Morgan laws” of logics. In fact, from true premises one may only extract true conclusions, but alas from false premises one may also extract true conclusions (or, in other terms, “False implies True” is itself a true relation).
For example, I may state that “Domenico Losurdo is a Milanese, therefore he is an Italian”, after which I confirm the true character of the conclusion and hence (wrongfully) infer for the truthfulness of the premise. Briefly expressed, one may never confirm whatever hypothesis it is. But is all lost in this shipwreck of philosophies? Not all, since at least I may “falsify” most ideas. As a matter of fact, from a complete set of true premises one never infers logically a false conclusion, and so by verifying the false character of conclusions one may conclude for the false character of assumptions. Take, for example: “Domenico Losurdo is a Parisian, therefore he is French”. In case I’m able to check that he is not French, I may therefore conclude that the premise is wrong. He may not be a Parisian.
To put it like Popper himself, logic is in general terms the set of rules of “transmission of truthfulness from premises to conclusions, and of transmission of falsity from conclusions to premises”. So, as you see, it’s clearly the basics of De Morgan’s laws enunciated as if they were a big novelty…
Now, once this is assumed, you get lots of other different problems associated. For example, as some unsuspected author (Paul Samuelson) has put it, “we dig holes in the ground in order to get to oil, certainly not in order to NOT to get to oil” (very much a metaphor of our days, so to speak… another one would probably be that pilots in UN’s “humanitarian missions” send missiles in order to kill people, not to NOT kill people…) In other terms, in “really existing science” researchers most of the times try to “confirm” something, some idea they’ve got in mind… and it’s quite natural they do so. Let’s recognize that we would all be nothing but a bunch of sick perverts in a putative Popperian world…
Once this is said, there are only “provisional” truths, things that have until now not been falsified by experience, and definitively false, wrong propositions, those that have already been falsified, and therefore must be abandoned. Officially, at least, that’s the story.
In fact, of course, Popper’s world is a complete fake and a tartufferie. It has to be so, otherwise it would be a loonies’ house. If we want to deal with things, and more so with ideas, we permanently try to “perfect” projects, separating what is good from what isn’t. We always avoid – and understandably so – “throwing the baby with the bath”. And that’s because if I have 100 premises, 99 true and 1 false, the conjunction of the 100 is itself a false proposition, and so I easily produce experiences that “falsify” it. However, of course in that case I avoid abandoning the entirety of the project, and therefore settle to discover the “bad apple” instead… It’s the normal thing to do! On the other hand, I may also have totally wrong assumptions that merely by chance are “confirmed” (wrongfully confirmed, that is) by experience, and therefore carry on doing my things, relaxed as usual, not knowing that I’m really “dancing over a volcano”…
Did we really need Herr Professor Popper to explain us all that? Well, in normal circumstances, definitely not! But then again, who says that academic circles work normally? Facing Popper, or opposing him, were people like Wittgenstein, for whom everything was relative and a matter of interpretations and of definitions… and Adorno, who definitely had something to be said in sociological terms, but maybe not quite an interesting story in strictly philosophical grounds. And so, Popper produced the appearance that he had indeed “won” some allegedly crucial debates...
In another, more literary tone, Popper’s “falsificationism” reminds me of a Portuguese poet and novel-writer that was largely his contemporary, José Régio, who has once famously written that “I don’t know whereby I’m going,/ I don’t know where I’m going to,/ But I know I’m not going thereby” (“Não sei por onde vou,/ Não sei para onde vou,/ Sei que não vou por aí!”, Cântico Negro, Black Canticle).
Definitely, there may be times in life in which one may actually feel this way, let’s recognize it. One is only capable of a “negative wisdom”, so to speak, not of a positive one. But that is obviously only provisional, since in practice we tend once and again to affirm some things at some point, not just to negate others… Ah, but we know that our wisdom is always provisional, and that we may indeed be “dancing over a volcano”? And so, what? With all conscience of our limitations, and of the provisional character of all assertions (including, presumably, this very conviction), where does that lead us?
Likely not that very far, let us recognize. And so, research must probably be made on the whys and the hows of so much talk about… well, about so few ideas. I remember having once read something about Popper being an extremely authoritarian character, some of his students even making jokes on the university and him as being “open society and its ONE TRUE enemy…”
But that’s surely not all the story. It has probably much more to do with the alleged anti-Hegelian and anti-Marxist aura, the talks on “totalitarianism” and things alike. Popper got promoted, basically, as a quite handy anti-Marxist philosopher of the day. Marxism is wrong, says Professor Popper? Well, what Marxism exactly? And, to be more precise, which one of its 100 propositions, or premises? Ah, but in this particular case Professor Popper definitely makes absolute question of throwing the baby? And he even guarantees that the problem with Marxism is it not making predictions, and therefore not being falsifiable? Well, for the sake of justice let me point out that Marxism at least was for some time guarantying that an economic crisis was coming, and that it crucially had to do with distribution problems, whereas free-marketer economics always postulated that “the market” was going to solve problems, or make them wither away. Doesn’t that deserve at least to be dully considered?
The question remaining, I suggest, is exactly the other, the opposite one. How come such grotesque theorization as, say, the so-called “rational expectations” economic theories – sophisticatedly grotesque, I recognize, Nobel laureate ones, indeed, and yet still all too obviously grotesque – get the credit that they get, both in academic and in journalistic-cum-political circles? Partly, of course, that’s because evolution of thought is a process in which “thought” is both the evaluator and the evaluated - which I think Popper would agree with, although it was not him who wrote that “the educator must himself be educated”…
On the other hand, evolution, biological evolution and even more so social and intellectual evolution, induce big problems with the notion that the “the fittest” are the real survivors… in any other than a strictly tautological sense, that is. Darwin would predict the emergence and the selection of more adapted forms, but being “more adapted” may of course mean lots of different things. The evolution of life corresponds to a tree, which recurrently bifurcates and produces irreversibility and qualitative differences, maybe incomparable ones. Were the dinosaurs more or less adapted than us? I surely don’t know, Popper would likely not know either, and probably the very question doesn’t make sense at all.
And so, and to sum up, all this emphasis on Popper’s philosophy allegedly having necessary political ramifications or corollaries… well, I dare suggest Popper probably ought to be interpreted mostly in psychoanalytical terms. He got the success that he got largely out of strictly political motives, that’s the true story. The imaginary one is that, from a logical point of view, what he wrote on “falsificationism” has a big political relevance. It really hasn’t. But reality projected itself in an inverted way in Popper’s mind, making him assume all of “open-society-versus-its-totalitarian-enemies” story telling…
Ah, but be as it may, in any case, even if you are officially very pro-Popper, you ought to at least remember that, as they put it: “friend of Plato, but even more friend of the truth”. And so, if one tells that for a regime being a democracy it doesn’t really matter who rules, but only how it is ruled… well, maybe it’s better to give him a tranquillizing pill… Indeed, the defenders of “enlightened despotism” consciously proclaimed that it was supposedly “Tout pour le peuple, rien par le peuple”. But it was precisely because of that motto that the others, the presumably proto-democratic ones, emphasized that the government of the people must not only be “for the people”, but also, and crucially, “by the people”. Of course, they had a very peculiar notion about who “the people” was, but that’s another story (a story that you, professor Losurdo, were kind enough to tell us all, and very well).
And finally, and as to Barack “Great White Hope” Obama, well, the undisputable success of Trimalchio doesn’t prove any very relevant thing against the thesis of Ancient Rome being a slave society, does it? And so, analogously, I dare say that if Obama’s story reveals anything, it’s first and foremost that the “one blood-drop rule” is still a very important thing in USA’s imaginary: as a matter of fact, by any other criterion, the first thing to be noticed is that Obama is NOT black! We don’t have to be white supremacists, much less in Dixieland’s version, have we? And so, isn’t it absurd to promote that as a supposedly relevant aspect in the evaluation of a society of more than 300 million human beings (all of them individuals)? You know what? I think Walter Benn Michaels told something much more important when he noticed (“Against Diversity”, New Left Review, 52, July-August 2008, pp. 33-36, site NLR: http://www.newleftreview.org/?view=2731) that, for a young black male living in Chicago these days, Berlin is indeed worth being called the “land of opportunity”. And when that is the case…
Saudações cordiais, Lisboa, 28 Nov 2011.

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