Cover image for Karl Popper, the formative years, 1902-1945 : politics and philosophy in interwar Vienna
Karl Popper, the formative years, 1902-1945 : politics and philosophy in interwar Vienna
Hacohen, Malachi Haim, 1957-
Publication Information:
Cambridge, U.K. ; New York : Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Physical Description:
xiii, 610 pages ; 24 cm
Format :


Call Number
Material Type
Home Location
Central Library B1649.P64 H33 2000 Adult Non-Fiction Central Closed Stacks

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Karl Popper (1902-1994) is one of this century's most influential philosophers, but his life in fin-de sicle and interwar Vienna, and his exile in New Zealand during World War II, have so far remained shrouded in mystery. This intellectual 2001 biography recovers the legacy of the young Popper; the progressive, cosmopolitan, Viennese socialist who combated fascism, revolutionized the philosophy of science, and envisioned the Open Society. Malachi Hacohen delves into his archives (as well as the archives of his colleagues) and draws a compelling portrait of the philosopher, the assimilated Jewish intelligentsia, and the vanished culture of Red Vienna, which was decimated by Nazism. Hacohen's adventurous biography restores Popper's works to their original Central European contexts and, at the same time, shows that they have urgent messages for contemporary politics and philosophy.

Reviews 3

Publisher's Weekly Review

This intellectual biography examines the early life of one of the 20th century's most influential philosophers. Born in Vienna, Popper (1902-1994) grew up among educated, middle-class Jews who, despite their efforts at assimilation (Popper's father was Lutheran by conversion), still suffered prejudice. Though Nazism would eventually force him out of Europe, Popper spent the interwar years in Austria, developing the foundations of both his character and his soon-to-be-influential ideas. Like most of his countrymen, he believed that Jews' high public profile in the arts, sciences and professions contributed to anti-Semitism; he eschewed all religious practice, condemned Zionism and established a "life-long pattern" as "eternal dissenter and intellectual loner." In the mid-1930s he fled to a university in New Zealand; later, he secured a prestigious post at the London School of Economics. But Hacohen, an Israeli-born historian (Duke University), doesn't just map out the biographical details of Popper's early life. He combines them with critical readings of the philosopher's most important writings from these yearsÄThe Open Society and Its Enemies, The Logic of Scientific DiscoveryÄto argue against a contemporary academic trend. "Popper," Hacohen asserts, struggled with " `poststructuralist' dilemmas" (like the notion that language both describes and invents the world) but crafted different solutions to these questions than today's scholars do. And Popper's contributions along these lines have been forgotten, in part, Hacohen suggests, because scholars have ignored the first half of his career. By remedying this oversight, Hacohen also "recommend[s Popper's] solutions as against poststructuralist ones." While much of Hacohen's book is accessible to analysts of language and philosophers of science, its rich evocation of the turbulent yet vital interwar Vienna should win this formidable book a wider readership. (Sept.) (c) Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved

Library Journal Review

Karl Popper is famous for his thesis that scientific theories are never confirmed yet can always be falsified and for his blistering attacks on ideologies that lead to tyranny. The two positions form a passionate defense of the individual against bureaucracy. The lone individual, Popper argued, can overturn a powerful scientific theory with a single negative example, while most political ideologies, including those of Marx and Hegel, are empty and incapable of confirmation or falsification. Without such theories, people must come together to make their own futures. Cold warriors welcomed Popper, though he never intended to justify egocentric individualism. This book explores his youthful Viennese socialism and his disillusionment with those who passively fell victim to Nazism because they assumed history would work in their favor. A Jew who battled against Israeli "tribal nationalism" and a conscientious thinker sometimes exploited by an unscrupulous Far Right, Popper, who settled in England, was always an odd man out. Hacohen (intellectual history, Duke Univ.) here draws on previously unexplored archives. His story is exciting and his scholarship meticulous, but ponderous prose will confine his book to academic libraries.DLeslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa, Ont. (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

To a distinguished list of biographies of philosophers--Ray Monk's Ludwig Wittgenstein (CH, Mar'91) and Bertrand Russell (2001, 2000), Michael Ignatieff's Isaiah Berlin (1998), and Ben Rogers's A.J. Ayer (1999)--must now be added this superbly researched supplement to Popper's own Unended Quest: An Intellectual Autobiography (1976). Hacohen (history, Duke Univ.) convincingly argues that Popper imposed the telos of his mature philosophy on his intellectual development. Situating Popper in the middle of the intellectual, moral, and political debates of Vienna at the turn of the century through the interwar years makes clear his lifelong commitment to assimilationist, "enlightenment" humanistic values. A bit too appreciative of Popper's enormously influential The Open Society and Its Enemies, which was used polemically as a Cold War essay against communism, Hacohen underemphasizes that few scholars think Popper's account of Plato and Hegel is either fair or accurate. Hacohen rightly appreciates Popper's groundbreaking The Logic of Scientific Discovery (German, 1935; English 1959). Popper died in 1994, but Hacohen lets a long epilogue suffice for nearly half his life. A second volume would round out Popper's unequivocal move into metaphysics and his difficult relations with his disciples. Still, this fine biography adds enormously to the understanding of an influential thinker. Belongs in every library. H. Oberdiek; Swarthmore College

Table of Contents

1 Progressive philosophy and the politics of Jewish assimilation in Late Imperial Vienna
2 The Great War, the Austrian Revolution, and communism
3 The early 1920s: school reform, socialism, and cosmopolitanism
4 The pedagogic institute and the psychology of knowledge, 1925-28
5 The philosophical breakthrough, 1929-32
6 The Logic of Scientific Discovery and the philosophical revolution
7 Red Vienna, the 'Jewish Question', and emigration, 1936-37
8 Social science in exile, 1938-39
9 The Open Society, 1940-42
10 The rebirth of liberalism in science and politics, 1943-45

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