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Joseph Agassi

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Joseph Agassi

Joseph Agassi, 2007

Joseph Agassi (born in Jerusalem on May 7, 1927) is an Israeli academic with contributions in logic, scientific method, and philosophy. He studied under Karl Popper and taught at the London School of Economics. He later taught at the University of Hong Kong, the University of Illinois, Boston University, and York University in Canada. He had dual appointments in the last positions with Tel Aviv University.

He has been married to Judith Buber AgassiMartin Buber's granddaughter – since 1949. Together they had two children, Aaron, and Tirzah, who died of cancer in March 2008. They currently live in Herzliya, Israel. Tirzah´s name, when she was a child, was often used by Popper in his dictum "Write it for Tirzah!" to explain his view that everyone has the duty to write in a clearly and easily understandable language.


Agassi’s prime interest is in science, metaphysics, and politics. He takes it that philosophy is nothing if not rationalist. For over fifty years he studied the rationality of science, metaphysics, and democratic politics.

An advocate of Popper’s philosophy with variations, Agassi ignores many of the problems that concern some philosophers of science, chiefly that of theory choice. The problems of the philosophy of technology engage him, including the problem of choosing scientific theories and ideas worthy of application and implementation.

Political philosophy

Agassi suggests, in line with Popper’s political philosophy, that all schools of thought have thus far neglected the one major practical problem of ethics, namely moral brakes: when should one apply them? We know this much: the more decent people are, the sooner they are ready to put their brakes on. For example, Agassi observes that the German nation lost its moral brakes as soon as its Nazi rulers showed their hand.

According to Agassi, democracy is so outstanding that, no matter what the agenda is, it is still best. He developed further the methodology of critical rationalism which he adopted from Popper. According to him, critical rationalism gives the possibility to rationalists to account for checks and balances and democracy within their rationalism. Bootstrapping is the expression he coined for the approach to problems with the methodology of critical rationalism: Solutions are offered and then improved upon according to the results obtained as a never ending process. He acknowledges that even democracy is not immune to errors, and that it may even lead to its own destruction as it happened in 1933 in Germany. Nevertheless, says Agassi, democracy has a fair chance for success; in particular, in global politics due to its quick recovery procedure for confronting mistakes that find their way into the agenda of democratic institutions.

Global politics

Agassi has written widely on global politics and on the methodology to implement global politics. His methodology is consistently procedural, without having requests for systematic procedures. His demands from those that design global politics are minimalist: small methodological changes may lead to large scale achievements. Agassi also proposes to bring global problems to public agendas for discussions in different forums, in particular in workshops where discussions are held with an agreed upon agenda: the agenda, says Agassi should be discussed and set by the participants prior to the discussion.

Books in English

  • Towards an Historiography of Science, History and Theory, Beiheft 2, 1963; facsimile reprint, Middletown: Wesleyan University Press, 1967.
  • The Continuing Revolution: A History of Physics From The Greeks to Einstein, New York: McGraw Hill, 1968.
  • Faraday as a Natural Philosopher, Chicago, Chicago University Press, 1971.
  • Science in Flux, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, Dordrecht, Reidel, 28, 1975.
  • (with Yehuda Fried) Paranoia: A Study in Diagnosis, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 50, 1976.
  • Towards a Rational Philosophical Anthropology, The Hague: Martinus Nijhoff, 1977.
  • Science and Society: Studies in the Sociology of Science, Boston Studies, 65, 1981.
  • (with Yehuda Fried) Psychiatry as Medicine, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1983.
  • Technology: Philosophical and Social Aspects, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1985.
  • The Gentle Art of Philosophical Polemics: Selected Reviews and Comments, LaSalle IL: Open Court, 1988.
  • (with Nathaniel Laor) Diagnosis: Philosophical and Medical Perspectives, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990.
  • The Siblinghood of Humanity: Introduction to Philosophy, Delmar NY: Caravan Press, 1990, 1991.
  • Radiation Theory and the Quantum Revolution, Basel: Birkhäuser, 1993.
  • A Philosopher's Apprentice: In Karl Popper's Workshop, Series in the Philosophy of Karl R. Popper and Critical Rationalism, Amsterdam and Atlanta GA: Editions Rodopi, 1993. Second edition, 2008. Contents
  • Liberal Nationalism for Israel: Towards an Israeli National Identity, Jerusalem and New York: Gefen. Translation from the Hebrew book of 1984.
  • Science and Culture, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 231, 2003.
  • (with I. C. Jarvie) A Critical Rationalist Aesthetics, Series in the Philosophy of Karl R. Popper and Critical Rationalism, Amsterdam: Rodopi, 2008.
  • (with Abraham Meidan) Philosophy from a Skeptical Perspective, NY and Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2008.
  • Science and Its History: A Reassessment of the Historiography of Science, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 253, 2008. (This includes a corrected reprint of Towards an Historiography of Science, History and Theory)

Books in Hebrew

1. Letters to My Sister Concerning Contemporary Philosophy, Omer: Sarah Batz, 1976 1977. New enlarged edition, Tel-Aviv, Yedioth Aharonoth Books and Chemed Books, 2000.

2. (with Dov Rappel) Philosophy of Education: A Philosophical Dialogue, Israeli Ministry of Defense, 1979.

3. Between Faith and Nationality: Towards an Israeli National Identity, Tel-Aviv: Papirus, Tel-Aviv University, 1984. Second Edition, Revised and enlarged, 1993. English translation, 1999.

4. (with Moshe Berent, and Judith Buber Agassi), Israeli National Awareness, Discussion Paper No. 11–88, 1988. Sapir Center for Development, Tel-Aviv University.

5. Albert Einstein: Unity and Diversity, Israeli Ministry of Defense, 1989, 1994, and 2000.

6. The Philosophy of Technology, Israeli Ministry of Defense, 1990.

7. J. A., Judith Buber Agassi and Moshe Berent, Who is an Israeli? Rehovot: Kivunim, 1991. A variant of the Discussion Paper.

8. The History of Modern Philosophy from Bacon to Kant (1600–1800): An Introduction. Tel-Aviv: Ramot, Tel-Aviv University, 1993 and reprints.

9. An Introduction to Modern Philosophy, Israeli Ministry of Defense, 1996.

10. (With Yeshayahu Leibowitz) Chemi Ben-Noon, editor, Conversations Concerning the hilosophy of Science, Israeli Ministry of Defense, 1996.

11. (With Yeshayahu Leibowitz) Chemi Ben-Noon, editor, The Limits of Reason: Thought, Science and Religion; Yeshayahu Leibowitz and Joseph Agassi in Conversation, Jerusalem: Keter, 1997.

Books in Italian

1. Scienza, metodolgia e societá, edited by Michael Segre, Roma: Luiss Edizioni, 2000. 186 pp.

2. Michael Segre, Accademia e società, Conversazioni con Joseph Agassi, Rubbatino Editore, 2004, 129 pages.

3. Joseph Agassi, La filosofia e l’individuo – Come un filosofo della scienza vede la vita, Di Renzo Editore, Roma, 2005

Books edited

1. Psychiatric Diagnosis: Proceedings of an International Interdisciplinary Interschool Symposium, Bielefeld Universität, 1978, Philadelphia: Balaban Intl. Science Service, 1981. 184 pp.

2. (With Robert S. Cohen), Scientific Philosophy Today: Essays in Honor of Mario Bunge, Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science, 67, 1982. 503 pp.

3. (With I. C. Jarvie), Rationality: The Critical View, Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1987. xi+462 pp.

4. Hebrew Translation of Karl Popper’s The Open Society and Its Enemies, Jerusalem, Shalem Publications, forthcoming, 2005.

Online papers

  • A Note on Smith's Term "Naturalism" [1]
  • Anthropomorphism in Science [2]
  • Brainwashing [3]
  • Bye Bye Weber [4]
  • Can Adults Become Genuinely Bilingual? [5]
  • Causality and Medicine [6]
  • Deception: A View from the Rationalist Perspective [7]
  • Deconstructing Post-Modernism: Gellner and Crocodile Dundee [8]
  • Dissertation without tears [9]
  • Halakha and Agada [10]
  • Israeli Judaism [11]
  • Jacob Katz on Jewish Social History [12]
  • Karl Popper [13]
  • Leibniz's Place in the History of Physics [14]
  • Let a Thousand Flowers Bloom: Popper's Popular Critics [15]
  • Liberal Forensic Medicine [16]
  • Liberal Nationalism for Israel [17]
  • Liberal Nationalism (Chapters from the book in Russian) nationalism.pdf
  • Movies Seen Many Times [18]
  • Neo-Classical Economics as 18th Century Theory of Man [19]
  • One Palestine [20]
  • On the Limits of Scientific Explanation: Hempel and Evans-Pritchard [21]
  • On the open grave of Hillel Kook [22]
  • Prescriptions for Responsible Psychiatry [23]
  • Quanta in Context [24]
  • Rights and Reason [25]
  • Science Education Without Pressure [26]
  • Scientific Literacy [27]
  • Summary of AFOS Workshop, 1994 [28]
  • Tautology and Testability in Economics [29]
  • Technology: Philosophical and Social Aspects [30] The Gro
  • Brundtland Report (1987) Or, The Logic of Awesome Decisions [31]
  • The Heuristic Bent [32]
  • The Interface of Philosophy and Physics [33]
  • The Ivory Tower and the Seat of Power [34]
  • The Lakatosian Revolution [35]
  • The Last Refuge of the Scoundrel [36]
  • The Novelty of Chomsky's Theories [37]
  • Theoretical Bias in Evidence: a Historical Sketch [38]
  • The Philosophy of Science Today [39]
  • The Role of the Philosopher among the Scientists: Nuisance or Necessity? [40]
  • The Theory and Practice of the Welfare State [41]
  • To Save Verisimilitude [42]
  • Training to Survive the Hazard Called Education [43]
  • Variations on the Liar's Paradox [44]
  • Verisimilitude [45]
  • Who Discovered Boyle's Law? [46]

External links

  • Home page
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