Karl Popper - Personal Life

Personal Life

Karl Popper was born in Vienna (then in Austria-Hungary) in 1902, to upper middle-class parents. All of Karl Popper's grandparents were Jewish, but the Popper family converted to Lutheranism before Karl was born, and so he received Lutheran baptism. They understood this as part of their cultural assimilation, not as an expression of devout belief. Karl's father Simon Siegmund Carl Popper was a lawyer from Bohemia and a doctor of law at the Vienna University, and mother Jenny Schiff was of Silesian and Hungarian descent. After establishing themselves in Vienna, the Poppers made a rapid social climb in Viennese society: Simon Siegmund Carl became a legal partner of Vienna's liberal mayor Raimond Grübl and, after his death in 1898, took over the firm (Karl received his middle name from the mayor). His father was a bibliophile who had 12,000–14,000 volumes in his personal library. Popper inherited both the library and the disposition from him.

Popper left school at the age of 16 and attended lectures in math, physics, philosophy, psychology and the history of music as a guest student at the University of Vienna. In 1919, Popper became attracted by Marxism and subsequently joined the Association of Socialist School Students. He also became a member of the Social Democratic Workers' Party of Austria, which was at that time a party that fully adopted the Marxist ideology. After the June 15, 1919 street battle in the Hörlgasse, when police shot eight of his unarmed party comrades, he became disillusioned by what he saw to be the pseudo-scientific historical materialism of Marx, abandoned the ideology, and remained a supporter of social liberalism throughout his life.

He worked in street construction for a short amount of time, but was unable to cope with the heavy labour. Continuing to attend university as a guest student, he started an apprenticeship as cabinetmaker, which he completed as a journeyman. He was dreaming at that time of starting a daycare facility for children, for which he assumed the ability to make furniture might be useful. After that he did voluntary service in one of psychoanalyst Alfred Adler's clinics for children. In 1922, he did his matura by way of a second chance education and finally joined the University as an ordinary student. He completed his examination as an elementary teacher in 1924 and started working at an after-school care club for socially endangered children. In 1925 he went to the newly founded Pädagogisches Institut and continued studying philosophy and psychology. Around that time he started dating Josephine Anna Henninger, later to become his wife.

In 1928, he earned a doctorate in psychology, under the supervision of Karl Bühler. His dissertation was entitled "Die Methodenfrage der Denkpsychologie" (The question of method in cognitive psychology). In 1929 he obtained the authorization to teach math and physics in secondary school, which he started doing. He married in 1930. Fearing the rise of Nazism and the threat of the Anschluss, he started to use the evenings and the nights to write his first book Die beiden Grundprobleme der Erkenntnistheorie. He needed to publish one in order to get some academic position in a country that was safe for people of Jewish descent. However, he ended up not publishing the two-volume work, but a condensed version of it with some new material, Logik der Forschung (The Logic of Scientific Discovery), in 1934. Here, he criticised psychologism, naturalism, inductionism, and logical positivism, and put forth his theory of potential falsifiability as the criterion demarcating science from non-science. In 1935 and 1936, he took unpaid leave to go to England for a study visit.

In 1937, Popper finally managed to get a position that allowed him to emigrate to New Zealand, where he became lecturer in philosophy at Canterbury University College of the New Zealand (at Christchurch). It was here that he wrote his influential work The Open Society and its Enemies. In 1946, after the Second World War, he moved to England to become reader in logic and scientific method at the London School of Economics. Three years later, he was appointed as professor of logic and scientific method at the University of London in 1949. Popper was president of the Aristotelian Society from 1958 to 1959. He retired from academic life in 1969, though he remained intellectually active for the rest of his life. In 1985, he returned to Austria to let his wife have her relatives around her during the last months of her life. She died in November that year. After the Ludwig Boltzmann Gesellschaft had failed to establish him as the director of a newly founded branch researching the philosophy of science, he went back again to the United Kingdom in 1986, settling in Kenley, Surrey.

Popper died of "complications of cancer, pneumonia and kidney failure" in Croydon at the age of 92 on 17 September 1994. He had been working continuously on his philosophy until two weeks before, when he suddenly fell terminally ill. After cremation, his ashes were taken to Vienna and buried at Lainzer cemetery adjacent to the ORF Centre, where his wife Josefine Anna Henninger had already been buried. Popper's estate is managed by his secretary and personal assistant Melitta Mew and her husband Raymond. Popper's manuscripts went to the Hoover institution, partly during his lifetime and partly as supplementary material after his death. Klagenfurt University possesses Popper's library including his precious bibliophilia, as well as hard copies of the original Hoover material and microfilms of the supplementary material. The remaining parts of the estate were mostly transferred to The Karl Popper Charitable Trust. In October 2008, Klagenfurt University acquired the copyrights from the estate.

Together with his wife, Popper chose not to have children, because of the circumstances of war in the early years of their marriage. Popper commented that this "was perhaps a cowardly but in a way a right decision".

Popper won many awards and honours in his field, including the Lippincott Award of the American Political Science Association, the Sonning Prize, the Otto Hahn Peace Medal of the United Nations Association of Germany in Berlin and fellowships in the Royal Society, British Academy, London School of Economics, King's College London, Darwin College, Cambridge, and Charles University, Prague. Austria awarded him the Grand Decoration for Services to the Republic of Austria in Gold. He received the Humanist Laureate Award from the International Academy of Humanism. He was knighted by Queen Elizabeth II in 1965, and was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society in 1976. He was invested with the Insignia of a Companion of Honour in 1982.

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