William Bartley’s pancritical rationalism

Masoud Mohammadi Alamuti


I have suggested that the lack of a non-justificational epistemology showing how a philosophical claim can be evaluated as true does not allow Popper to base his critical rationalism on argument. Instead, Popper takes a justificational mm: since uncritical rationalism is unable to be justified by argument or experience, the only remaining option is for the critical rationalist to defend his position by a moral choice in favour of reason rather than irrationalism, a logical result of uncritical rationalism.

The focus of inquiry in this chapter is upon William Bartley’s pancritical rationalism as his critique of Popper's irrational faith in reason has special importance for my attempt in this book to integrate the philosophy of critical rationalism into the theory of society. Not only does Bartley criticize Popper for defining critical rationalism as a moral attitude, but he also speaks of critical rationalism as a theory of rationality. A theory of rationality allows critical rationalism to define reason as a faculty which is able to understand its function and let the actor govern his own behaviour. This chapter proceeds in three sections. Section I reviews Bartley's epistemology to show the basis on which he establishes his critique of Popper’s critical rationalism and his own offer of pancritical rationalism. In Section II, Bartley’s theory of rationality is presented, while Section III reflects my critique of Bartley's pancritical rationalism.

Section I: Bartley’s non-justificationist epistemology

Bartley uses the idea of a non-justificational concept of criticism to introduce a theory of critical rationalism. To this end, he begins with a critique of what Popper calls uncritical rationalism "according to which comprehensive justification was a necessary’ condition of rationality” (Bartley 1984b: 238). Bartley’s novel idea is that uncritical rationalism rests on the incorrect epistemological premise that a belief that can be justified is considered as true. This untenable premise makes comprehensive or uncritical rationalism an untenable position. However, Bartleydoes not aim to reach the same result as Popper, namely that it is the untenability of uncritical rationalism that leads the critical rationalist to defend his identity with an irrational faith in reason. Bartley attempts to suggest his theory of critical rationalism by finding a solution for the problem of the rationalist’s identity. Bartley argues that, after discovering the existence of non-justificational criticism, he realized the impossibility and superfluity of the sort of justification demanded by uncritical rationalism. Bartley then argues that the non-justificational ability to criticize is a sufficient condition for rationality to make being a rationalist possible. In brief, Bartley applies the notion of non-justificational criticism to offer his theory of pancritical rationalism as a solution to the problem of the rationalist's identity.

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