Skip to main content

Comprehensively Critical Rationalism

  • J. W. N. Watkins (a1)

In his book The Retreat to Commitment Professor Bartley raised an important problem: can rationalism (meaning by this something that contrasts, not with empiricism, but with irrationalism) can rationalism be held in a rational way, that is, in a way that complies with its own requirements? Or is there bound to be something irrational in the rationalist's position?

Briefly, Hartley's answer was that an element of irrationalism is involved in extant versions of rationalism; however, Bartley proposed a new version of rationalism that can, he claimed, be held in a way that is rational according to its own account of rationality. Bartley called this ‘Comprehensively Critical Rationalism’. (Being a bit of a mouthful, this is often abbreviated to ‘CCR’, a practice I will follow.)

Hide All

1 Bartley W. W. III, The Retreat to Commitment, New York, 1962, ch. v.

2 Giedymin J., ‘A Generalization of the Refutability Postulate’, Studio Logica, 10, 1960.

3 Problems in the Philosophy of Science (ed. I Lakatos, A. Musgrave, 1968), p. 46 n.

4 See Popper K. R., Conjectures and Refutations, p. 327.

5 The Retreat to Commitment, p. 91. This objection was, of course, already well known. ‘So rationalism is necessarily far from comprehensive or self-contained. This has frequently been overlooked by rationalists who thus exposed themselves to a beating in their own field and by their own favourite weapon whenever an irrationalist took the trouble to turn it against them’ (Popper K. R., The Open Society, 4th ed., 1962, p. 231).

6 This is not a quotation; see Bartley , op. cit., ch. iv, § 1.

7 This is my precis of the following passage:

‘The new framework permits a rationalist to be characterized as one who holds all beliefs, including his most fundamental standards and his basic philosophical position itself, open to criticism; who never cuts off an argument by resorting to faith or irrational commitment to justify some belief that has been under severe critical fire. I shall call this conception comprehensively critical rationalism’ (Hartley , op. cit., p. 146, italics his).

8 Op. cit., p. 122.

9 Op. cit., p. 133.

10 ‘… the practice of critical argument can be criticized without paradox, contradiction, or any other logical difficulty’ (op. cit., p. 149).

11 Op. cit., p. 148, italics in the original.

12 Op. cit., ch. v, § 4.

13 See his discussion of what he calls ‘the check of the problem’ (op. cit., pp. 159–161); here, the critic raises such methodological questions about a proposed theory as: ‘Does it solve the problems it was intended to solve? Or does it merely shift the problem? Does it solve the problem better than competing views? Or does it create still worse difficulties?’ (p. 160).

14 Why ‘irrationalist’? Is anyone who ventures to criticise CCR an irrationalist?

15 Op. cit., p. 149.

16 Bartley W. W. III, ‘Rationality versus the Theory of Rationality’, The Critical Approach to Science and Philosophy, ed. Mario Bunge, 1964, pp. 27f.; and Philosophical Studies xii, 1–2, 0102 1961, pp. 89.

17 The Retreat to Commitment, p. 89.

18 This is essentially Popper's position in ch. 24 of The Open Society.

Recommend this journal

Email your librarian or administrator to recommend adding this journal to your organisation's collection.

  • ISSN: 0031-8191
  • EISSN: 1469-817X
  • URL: /core/journals/philosophy
Please enter your name
Please enter a valid email address
Who would you like to send this to? *


Full text views

Total number of HTML views: 0
Total number of PDF views: 6 *
Loading metrics...

Abstract views

Total abstract views: 139 *
Loading metrics...

* Views captured on Cambridge Core between September 2016 - 18th January 2018. This data will be updated every 24 hours.