I picked up Karl Popper’s The Poverty of Historicism earlier this week. He is arguing against those social scientists who see laws of progress in operation, those who, “Believe that their own advance has been made possible by the fact that we are now ‘living in a revolution’ which has so much accelerated the speed of our development that social change can now be directly experienced within a lifetime.” However, he adds, “Change has been discovered over and over again.” There is nothing new in this enthusiasm for modern times. “Since the days of Heraclitus, change has been discovered over and over again.”
The Poverty of Historicism
The Poverty of Historicism is very much a book of its own time (1957): it’s hard to imagine anyone today writing this, about the most important difference between the natural and the social sciences: “By this I mean the method of constructing a model on the assumption of complete rationality (and perhaps also on the assumption of the possession of complete information) on the part of all the individuals concerned.” Human beings, he says, are not perfectly rational, but they are more or less rational. “There are good reasons, not only for the belief that social science is less complicated than physics, but also for the belief that concrete social situations are in general less complicated than concrete physical situations.”
I don’t think he’d have many takers for that argument today. Progress?