Popper’s critique of both historicism and holism is balanced, on thepositive side, by his affirmation of the ideals of individualism andmarket economics and his strong defence of the open society—theview, again, that a society is equivalent to the sum of its members,that the actions of the members of society serve to fashion and toshape it, and that the social consequences of intentional actions arevery often, and very largely, unintentional. This part of his socialphilosophy was influenced by the economist Friedrich Hayek, who workedwith him at the London School of Economics and who was a life-longfriend. Popper advocated what he (rather unfortunately) terms‘piecemeal social engineering’ as the central mechanismfor social planning—for in utilising this mechanism intentionalactions are directed to the achievement of one specific goal at atime, which makes it possible to monitor the situation to determinewhether adverse unintended effects of intentional actions occur, inorder to correct and readjust when this proves necessary. This, ofcourse, parallels precisely the critical testing of theories inscientific investigation. This approach to social planning (which isexplicitly based upon the premise that we do not, because we cannot,know what the future will be like) encourages attempts to put rightwhat is problematic in society—generally-acknowledged socialills—rather than attempts to impose some preconceived idea ofthe ‘good’ upon society as a whole. For this reason, in agenuinely open society piecemeal social engineering goes hand-in-handfor Popper with negative utilitarianism (the attempt tominimise the amount of misery, rather than, as with positiveutilitarianism, the attempt to maximise the amount of happiness). Thestate, he holds, should concern itself with the task of progressivelyformulating and implementing policies designed to deal with the socialproblems which actually confront it, with the goal of eliminatinghuman misery and suffering to the highest possible degree. Thepositive task of increasing social and personal happiness, bycontrast, can and should be left to individual citizens (whomay, of course, act collectively to this end), who, unlike the state,have at least a chance of achieving this goal, but who in a freesociety are rarely in a position to systematically subvert the rightsof others in the pursuit of idealised objectives. Thus in the finalanalysis for Popper the activity of problem-solving is as definitiveof our humanity at the level of social and political organisation asit is at the level of science, and it is this key insight whichunifies and integrates the broad spectrum of his thought.


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