Sociology and Utopia: Some Reflections on the Social Philosophy of Karl Popper


Since Weber, scientific sociology has aspired to be value-free. Since Marx and Mosca, political sociology has added the aspiration to expose and denounce utopian thought. Sociology has become the sworn enemy of ideology and utopia. The problem is, the two aspirations seem to be incompatible. How can one denounce utopian thought without making value judgments?

People Referenced
  • "Yet Popper does not believe that sociology should be value-free. He believes that a commitment to scientific sociology, far from debarring us from making value judgments about utopian thought, requires us to denounce it." (20)
  • "I believe his [Popper's] doctrine to be both important and false and shall set forth my reasons in the rest of this paper." (20)
  • "The second exception to the preference for reason over violence derives from what Popper calls the paradox of tolerance. One cannot reason with those who reject reason. One may be forced into intolerance of those who reject tolerance, in order to preserve the institution of tolerance." (28)
  • There is a problem thinking "in terms of a simple dichotomy between the tolerant and the intolerant, the good and the wicked." (29)
  • "In other words, the restraint he advocates in dealing with the intolerant is based on a conviction of the rightness of liberalism, not on self-criticism." (29)
  • "The second, more obvious, way in which Popper's rationalism might be considered utopian is its attribution of so much political power to reason." (30)
  • "For, if all the great emphasis on the value of reason throughout his political writings amounts to no more than that we should use violence only where reason fails, then almost nobody would disagree." (31)
  • "Reason is not the sole alternative to violence, because there are other political techniques-such as non-violent direct action." (30)
  • "His [Popper's] positivistic philosophy tells him that value judgments are 'meaningless' or 'purely subjective' or, at best, 'unscientific'. How then can he defend the value of intellectual freedom necessary for the survival of his work ?" (32)