Favorite Reads: Karl Popper, “The Open Society”

Favorite Reads: Karl Popper, “The Open Society”

Fifth in a series of favorite reads on human nature, society and information technology.

When Karl Popper made the case in 1943 for guiding human society in an open manner with modest ‘piecemeal’ social engineering replacing grand ‘oracular philosophy’, his arguments foreshadowed a battle waged over how to develop software systems. Popper reminded us of a much older question: Should aristocracies make decisions on behalf of the general populace, or could the populace be trusted to judge and decide on the best course of action? In the software realm, ‘oracular’ interests favored specification-driven methodologies while ‘piecemeal’ advocates argued for an iterative prototyping approach.

Centuries passed before democratic institutions could establish their efficacy in the eyes of the world. But only a few decades were required to confirm the viability and enhanced quality of software systems developed iteratively in an open manner. The parallels between Popper’s prescriptions for humanity and the ideas espoused by the open source software movement beg for a careful study of both.


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