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K. R. Popper: Karl Raimund Popper (1902 – 1994) was an Austrian-born British philosopher, academic, and social commentator. He is considered one of the most influential philosophers of science of the 20th century. Major works are The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1934), The Open Society and Its Enemies (1945), Conjectures and Refutations (1963).
Annotation: The above characterizations of concepts are neither definitions nor exhausting presentations of problems related to them. Instead, they are intended to give a short introduction to the contributions below. – Lexicon of Arguments.

Author Concept Summary/Quotes Sources

Terence Ball on Popper - Dictionary of Arguments

Gaus I 21
Popper/interpretation of Hegel/Ball: It may be instructive to revisit Popper’s Open Society to show how sincerely held present-day concerns can inform – or misinform – our interpretation of ‘classic’ works in political theory. Let us choose from the preceding rogues’ gallery a single example for closer examination: Hegel’s remark in Philosophy of Right that ‘what is rational is actual and what is actual is rational’ (1952: 10)(1).
>Philosophy of law/Hegel
Popper quotes Hegel’s remark in English translation and then glosses it as follows: ‘Hegel maintain[s] that everything that is reasonable must be real, and everything that is real must be reasonable.’ Thus Hegel holds that ‘everything that is now real or actual exists by necessity, and must be reasonable as well as good. (Particularly good is … the existing Prussian state)’ (Popper(2).
The Prussian state of Hegel’s time was an authoritarian police state that practised censorship, arbitrary arrest and imprisonment without due process of law. That state was real; therefore, in Hegel’s view, that state was rational or reasonable and thus good. In this way, Popper claims, Hegel gave his philosophical blessing to the Prussian prototype of the modern totalitarian state, and so must himself be accounted a ‘totalitarian’ thinker and apologist. Hegel is, in short, an ‘enemy’ of the ‘open society’.
BallVsPopper: But is Hegel guilty as charged? The short answer is no. Let us see why. Here is Hegel’s own statement in the original German: ‘Was vernünftig ist, das ist wirklich; und was wirklich ist, das ist vernünftig.’ The closest English equivalent is: ‘What is rational is actual; and what is actual is rational.’ Note that wirklich is translated not as ‘real’ but as ‘actual’. In everyday German, as in English, there is
Gaus I 22
ordinarily no sharp distinction between ‘real’ and ‘actual’. Popper (whose first language was German) fails to note that Hegel was writing not in ordinary non-technical German but in a technical-philosophical idiom. He draws and maintains a sharp distinction between wirklich (actual) and reell (real). In Hegel’s philosophical nomenclature an acorn (for example) is real; but it is not actual until its potential is fully actualized, that is, when it becomes a full-grown oak. In other words, Hegel uses wirklich to mean ‘fully actualized’; he contrasts ‘actual’, not with unreal, but with ‘potential’. Thus Hegel’s (in)famous statement means something like, ‘What is rational is that which fully actualizes its potential; and that which fully actualizes its potential is rational.’
Hermeneutics/BallVsPopper: There is a larger hermeneutical lesson to be learned from Popper’s (and many others’) misreading of Hegel (and Plato, Rousseau, and other theorists). First, it is important to place statements in their proper context – conceptual-philosophical or otherwise. In this instance that means taking note of how Hegel uses an apparently ordinary term in a non-ordinary or technical way. Second, one should beware of any interpreter who, like Popper, has a preset thesis that he then ‘proves’ by selectively quoting and stitching together statements taken out of their textual and linguistic context – a penchant Popper shares, ironically, with the Marxists he so detests.
>G.W.F. Hegel, >K. Popper, >Translation, >Citations,
>Indeterminacy, >Marxism, >Ideology, >Totalitarianism,
>Misinformation, >Actuality, >Reality.

1. Hegel, G. W. F. (1952 [1820]) Philosophy of Right, trans. T. M. Knox. Oxford: Oxford University Press. .
2. Popper, Karl R. (1963 [1945]) The Open Society and Its Enemies, 4th edn. New York: Harper and Row. II, 41

Ball, Terence. 2004. „History and the Interpretation of Texts“. In: Gaus, Gerald F. 2004. Handbook of Political Theory. SAGE Publications.

Explanation of symbols: Roman numerals indicate the source, arabic numerals indicate the page number. The corresponding books are indicated on the right hand side. ((s)…): Comment by the sender of the contribution. Translations: Dictionary of Arguments
The note [Concept/Author], [Author1]Vs[Author2] or [Author]Vs[term] resp. "problem:"/"solution:", "old:"/"new:" and "thesis:" is an addition from the Dictionary of Arguments. If a German edition is specified, the page numbers refer to this edition.
Ball, Terence
Gaus I
Gerald F. Gaus
Chandran Kukathas
Handbook of Political Theory London 2004

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