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Vienna: Hayek and Popper.
By Peter Landry
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Into the little black portable CD player, I snap a silver disc. A little positioning, the push of a button, and what should I hear, through my miniature ear phone gear, Die Fledermaus Overture; brought to me through the marvelous magic of Mantovani. The CD is entitled "A Night in Vienna." Oh! Lord it is wonderful: the CD that is, through I dare say Vienna, too, must be wonderful.

Vienna calls up images of the Danube; little streets, obscure squares, and bewitching courtyards; of cafés and Habsburgian palaces. Vienna is the home of the State Opera House, the Viennese Boys Choir; and was the home of such musical composers as: Strauss, Mozart, Liszt, Haydn, Brahms, Beethoven, and Schubert. (It is interesting to note that Beethoven came to Vienna not so much because of the Viennese people, -- he thought them a "worthless" lot -- he went there because of the "huge musical public as well as rich patrons" he went there because of the musical market.2) Vienna has been, in addition, the birth place of brilliant thinkers; including two, which I am bound to tell you about: Friedrich A. Hayek (1900-92) and Sir Karl Popper (1902-93).

Professor Hayek was born in Vienna, and became the director of the Austrian Institute for Economic Research during the years 1927 through to 1931. He taught at London (Tooke professor of Economic Science, 1931-50), University of Chicago to 1962 and from there to University of Freiburg up until 1969. Professor Hayek, in 1974, was awarded the Nobel prize in Economics. Now, while I have a lot more of Hayek's writings yet to get through, I have read: The Road to Serfdom (1944), University of Chicago Press, 1976; and The Fatal Conceit, The Errors of Socialism (1988), London: Routledge, 1990.

Professor Popper was also born in Vienna. While early on he espoused left wing politics, he swung around in the thirties and found himself at variance with the prevailing philosophical thought, logical positivism. Popper "refuted the long-established Baconian principles of scientific method and argued that testing hypotheses by selective experimentation rather than proof was the essence of scientific induction. For Popper, to be scientific, a theory must in principle be falsifiable, not verifiable in the logical positive sense, and this criterion marks off a genuine science, such as physics, from what he calls the 'pseudo-sciences', such as Marxian economics and Freudian psychology which instead of challenging falsification impose a rigid finality from the outset." (Chambers Biographical Dictionary, Cambridge University Press, 1990, often referred to in these papers, simply as Chambers.) From 1937-1945 Popper taught philosophy at the University of New Zealand. In 1946, he came to England, however, his theories continued to be unacceptable to the establishment. Neither Oxford, nor Cambridge, wanted him as a professor, eventually, though, Popper did became Professor of Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics (spent 23 years there); he was knighted in 1965. Incidentally, Popper was quite clear in what he considered the role of philosophy to be: "a necessary activity because we, all of us, take a great number of things for granted, and many of these assumptions are of a philosophical character; we act on them in private life, in politics, in our work, and in every other sphere of our lives -- but while some of these assumptions are no doubt true, it is likely, that more are false and some are harmful. So the critical examination of our presuppositions -- which is a philosophical activity -- is morally as well as intellectually important." (See Popper, by Bryan Magee, London: Fontana/Collins, 1973.) Professor Popper's most popular work is The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945) Princeton University Press, 1971.

Now, if you followed the above Chambers quote on Popper, then I advise, you should not waste your time with these pages, but, rather you should get out the works of Hayek and Popper and start in to do some serious reading. But, you may be better advised to do some ground work first. That is one of the purposes of the Pages of blupete (www.blupete.com). Do not be bamboozled by expressions such as logical positivism, Baconian principles, scientific method, Marxian economics, Freudian psychology, and, on and on. To be bamboozled by these terms and other terms is to be bamboozled by people who will take over your life, -- if they have not done so already (likely they have, though you may not yet realize it, certainly the effects of bamboozlement are mightily present all around us). To get to the bottom of things will take some work; it will most certainly require a review of the works of the classical philosophers (in this classification, I include the classical economists and the classical political theorists).

Well, might I say for myself, that I have completed such a philosophic review -- or rather I am in the latter stages of such a review -- and so, let me give to you my tenative conclusions (for me, all conclusions are tenative): few of the philosophers and economists, that I have read, or of whom I have read, have got it right (my standard is Hayek and Popper): some are close; but an awful lot of them have got it very, very wrong. Now, I think you might know, by now, that we have some very serious social problems about us; and, I suggest, these problems have been brought on by people in positions of power: -- political people and their advisors. These advisors mainly come from the professional classes of a country: such as lawyers, educators and broadcasters. Many, if not about all of these people in positions of power, have either adopted the wrong philosophy; or, which is worse, have no philosophy at all. These people in positions of power have brought on, -- the whole wide world over -- some very, very serious social problems, problems for which, they are to blame, -- for we have given them power and they have made us poor, both in property, and in spirit. Hear me out; you have an obligation to yourself, and thus to society, to think straight. And how does one know whether one is thinking straight; and, if not thinking straight, then, how does one learn how to think straight. It is to philosophy to which we must turn for the answers.

For more click on Popper and Hayek.

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NOTES:

1 Peter Landry is a lawyer and has been, for 25 years, in private practice in the City of Dartmouth. He invites correspondence on the topic and may be contacted at P.O. Box 1200, Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, B2Y 4B8, or at peteblu@blupete.com.

2 See Paul Johnson's The Birth of the Modern, (New York: Harper Collins, 1991).


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Peter Landry