The death of Jean-Paul Sartre in 1980 coincided with the end of a certain introspective philosophy, mainly preoccupied with the citizen’s historical place and moral obligations in a secular, industrialised Western society. Succeeding generations continued to see philosophy as an intellectual weapon to be used in new struggles such as feminist and gay rights movements. Sartre, himself, was fully aware that his legacy was precarious as new historical ‘situations’ would inevitably generate new attitudes and new schools of thought. Sartrean existentialism was, indeed, a transient moment in the history of philosophy but its central concept of absolute moral responsibility can still be applied to contemporary ethical issues regarding, for instance, euthanasia or sustainable development.
However, contemporary philosophy is no longer universal enough to offer solutions in areas better understood today by specialists than by general practitioners of say, Utilitarian Ethics. In other words, no present day Plato nor Marx is providing us with an all-encompassing theory of what a ‘better’ society should or would be like. No philosopher actually enjoys such a reputation for his knowledge or enlightened wisdom that his works could be the template for a new vision of politics or the ground foundations of a global scientific theory.
When Karl Popper criticised Plato and Marx for undermining and jeopardising the ‘Open Society’ , he was, at the same time, paving the way for a most ambitious philosophy of knowledge, away from the received dogmas perpetuated by the self-satisfied pillars of academia. Exiled in New Zealand during the Second World War, Popper systematically questioned the very foundations of Politics, Economics and Science. As an interdisciplinary thinker, he refused to endorse one particular school of thought, preferring instead to forego absolute scientific truth for a more realistic and flexible definition and regarding putative truths as equally worthy of critical investigation as buttressed existing grand (but ‘falsifiable’) theories.
Popper’s proposed definition of three possible worlds opens up the realm of epistemology and widens the possibilities of future human experience: World One being the physical, external world, World Two, the psychological and intellectual states of the subject and World Three, the knowledge intuited or ‘created’ by a subject prepared to criticise and reassess his beliefs and theories in a dialectical, evolutionary process. In his nomadic search for practical truths Karl Popper may be the very much-needed type of open-minded thinker in a technological world characterised by constant innovations and exponential complexity.