In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Karl Popper

  • Introduction
  • Key Primary Sources
  • Introductory Works & Collections
  • Multiauthor General Anthologies
  • Critical Rationalism
  • Social and Political Philosophy
  • Ancient Philosophy
  • Education
  • Biographical Interest

Philosophy Karl Popper
Darrell P. Rowbottom
  • LAST REVIEWED: 18 November 2022
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 April 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0394


Sir Karl Popper was one of the most prolific philosophers of the 20th century, and remains one of the most influential. His most significant academic contributions were in the philosophy of science, and he collaborated with several scientists. His social and political philosophy was largely responsible for his extra-academic fame, and has had more impact. Overall, his work was exceptionally broad. He also made contributions to ancient philosophy, epistemology, metaphysics, philosophy of biology, philosophy of education, philosophy of history, philosophy of mind (and psychology), philosophy of physics, and the foundations of probability theory (both mathematical and philosophical).

Key Primary Sources

The following are Popper’s key books in a variety of areas, in terms of quality and influence, although he published several more. The Logic of Scientific Discovery and Realism and the Aim of Science are his key works in the philosophy of science; the first is of higher quality, and is more direct. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge is more accessible, and provides an excellent introduction to Popper’s ideas in philosophy of science and political philosophy. The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism are his key works in political philosophy; the first is the more influential and important of the two. Objective Knowledge is Popper’s key publication on epistemology, while The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism, co-authored with John Eccles, is his most important contribution to the philosophy of mind. Finally, the translation of his earliest book, The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge, provides considerable insight into the basis of his thought (especially on science and knowledge). Perhaps the most obviously absent items, which readers should nevertheless be aware of, are two further volumes that form the postscript to The Logic of Scientific Discovery: these are The Open Universe and Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics.

  • Popper, Karl R. The Logic of Scientific Discovery. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Popper’s magnum opus. Published originally in 1934 (Tübingen, Germany: J.C.B. Mohr) and 1959 (New York: Basic Books, in English). Indispensable for appreciating his contribution to the philosophy of science, especially scientific method. Notable for its lack of any mention, in the original, that the aim of science is truth or “truthlikeness.” Later editions include several additions; comparing these is important to see how his thought developed.

  • Popper, Karl R. Realism and the Aim of Science. London: Routledge, 2002.

    The first part of the postscript to The Logic of Scientific Discovery, and the most significant for general philosophy of science; it was largely written in the ‘50s, and was distributed in manuscript form to many in Popper’s circle, although it was not published until the ‘80s. Deals with many previous criticisms of Popper’s philosophy of science, and focuses, in particular, on the realist aspect of his view. Originally published in 1983 (London: Hutchinson).

  • Popper, Karl R. Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Collection of Popper’s papers and lectures on the philosophy of science and political philosophy. Published originally in 1963 (London: Routledge). Secondary in scholarly importance to The Logic of Scientific Discovery and The Open Society and Its Enemies. Aimed at a broader audience. Reflects some changes in perspective (e.g., on the aim of science).

  • Popper, Karl R. The Open Society and Its Enemies. London: Routledge, 2011.

    Popper’s key contribution to social philosophy. Published originally in 1945. Primarily critiques the historicist views of Plato, Hegel, and Marx. A key idea is that the most open and free society is one structured to allow swift removal of bad rulers without violence. Also introduces epistemological ideas, such as critical rationalism.

  • Popper, Karl R. The Poverty of Historicism. London: Routledge, 2002.

    Discusses historicism in the philosophy of the social sciences and especially the status of historical laws. Published in book format in 1957, but originally in journal format in 1944–1945 (Economica).

  • Popper, Karl R. Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1979.

    Argues primarily that knowledge should be construed in an impersonal, storage-and-retrieval sense—that we may speak of the knowledge contained in a book, for example. An important consequence is that some knowledge may be false. Also introduces Popper’s metaphysical distinction between World 1 (physical), World 2 (mental), and World 3 (propositional). Published originally in 1972 (Oxford: Clarendon).

  • Popper, Karl R., and John C. Eccles. The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism. London: Routledge, 1984.

    Defends a form of dualism concerning the mind-body problem, based partly on brain science of the time. Published originally in 1977 (Dordrecht: Springer)

  • Popper, Karl R. The Two Fundamental Problems of the Theory of Knowledge. London: Routledge, 2008.

    A fascinating insight into Popper’s early perspective, as this work provided the basis for The Logic of Scientific Discovery. Difficult to read. Indispensable for those interested in the genesis of his thought. Published originally (in German) in 1979 (Tübingen: J.C.B. Mohr), but written 1930–1933.

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