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Conjectures without refutations : Karl Popper's criticisms of Mannheim's sociology of knowledge Morrow, Raymond Allen

Abstract

The subject of this study is the criticisms advanced by the philosopher of science Karl Popper against the sociology of knowledge and philosophy of social science of Karl Mannheim. The thesis of this analysis is that Popper's arguments reveal a remarkable misunderstanding of Mannheim's position and that taking these misinterpretations into account reveals the more fundamental complementarity and convergence of their views. That these affinities have not been previously noted is linked to the specific circumstances of the interpretation and development of the work of Popper and Mannheim within the framework of post-World War II English-speaking philosophy and social research. That their interests and social philosophical positions converged despite incompatible neo-positivist and neo-idealist backgrounds is related to the trajectory of their careers as liberal intellectuals who fled to English-speaking democracies in response to the rise of Fascism in the 1930's. These arguments are followed by a textual analysis which attempts to show that: 1) Popper misinterprets the central concepts of the sociology of knowledge, erroneously stigmatizing it as "sociologism"; 2) that he thus fails to perceive the similarity of his own epistemology with that of Mannheim, falsely attributing to him an individualistic theory of knowledge; and 3) that his primary disagreement with Mannheim is not an antithetical theory of social science, or even philosophy of history, so much as a more pessimistic attitude toward the possibility of social knowledge as the basis for a non-coercive political consensus. As a consequence, he adopts a more restrictive "negative" conception of individual freedom. In conclusion, it is argued that Popper's failure to have realized these affinities and thus grasped the significance of the sociology of knowledge for the philosophy of social science calls into question the credibility of his "critical rationalism" in its present form.

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