Karl Popper’s 582-page Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge seemed a daunting read. It need not have done: the essays within are written in plain English and a lively style.

The central theme of the book is that our knowledge, our aims and our standards develop through trial and error: that is, by making conjectures and seeking their refutation.

I was glad I read the book knowing Popper had turned from the so-called “scientific socialism” of Marxism. In that context, it is much easier to understand why he sought to distinguish between science and pseudo-science and why his critique of the foundations of Marxism is so strident: he had escaped the intellectual traps and snares which led so many people to establish systems of oppression, misery and murder in the name of freedom, prosperity and universal brotherhood.

As I look at the 50 or so points I have flagged in his book, it is difficult to know where to begin when a busy day of correspondence lies before me. If you want to know why the Left seem comfortable with apparently contradictory statements, read his What is dialectic? Or why it is so dangerous to bar critical discussion in the field of climate science, read Science: Conjectures and Refutations and Truth, Rationality and the Growth of Scientific Knowledge. Why dogmatic political pursuit of a perfect world must lead to brutal conflict, see Utopia and Violence. And, for an accessible discussion of why the social sciences must and will always fail to make accurate historical predictions and why politics ought not to be based on this false assumption, Prediction and Prophesy in the Social Sciences.

Conjectures and Refutations is a magnificent book and I am sure I will return to write and speak about some of its themes when events make them relevant. Thoughtful people with time to reflect on what is happening in the world and the mistakes that have been made in the past would surely enjoy it.

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