Popper's three worlds

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Popper's three worlds is a way of looking at reality, described by the British philosopher Karl Popper in a lecture in 1978.[1] The concept involves three interacting worlds, called World 1, World 2 and World 3.[2]

Worlds 1, 2 and 3[edit]

Popper split the world into three categories:

  • World 1: the world of physical objects and events, including biological entities
  • World 2: the world of mental processes
  • World 3: our socially constructed collective world

The interaction of World 1 and World 2[edit]

The theory of interaction between World 1 and World 2 is an alternative theory to Cartesian dualism, which is based on the theory that the universe is composed of two essential substances: res cogitans and res extensa. Popperian cosmology rejects this essentialism, but maintains the common sense view that physical and mental states exist, and they interact.

World 3[edit]

Popper's World 3 contains the products of thought. This includes abstract objects such as scientific theories, stories, myths, tools, social institutions, and works of art.[2] World 3 is not to be conceived as a Platonic realm, because it is created by humans.[3]

The interaction of World 2 and World 3[edit]

The interaction of World 2 and World 3 is based on the theory that World 3 is partially autonomous. For example, the development of scientific theories in World 3 leads to unintended consequences, in that problems and contradictions are discovered by World 2. Another example is that the process of learning causes World 3 to change World 2.

The interaction of World 1 and World 3[edit]

Other entities are contained in World 3, such as feats of engineering and art. The World 3 objects, although they exist in World 1, are embodied and given extra meaning by World 3. For example, the intrinsic value of Hamlet as a World 3 object is embodied many times in World 1, the physical world. This idea would be something along the lines of a meta-object, or a form of being.

The interaction of World 1, World 2 and World 3[edit]

As a pluralist, laid out in his Tanner Lecture, Popper views interactions between all three worlds as a matter of course. This is similar to the linkages made by William Kirk between the 'phenomenal environment' of physical facts and social facts and decisions made in the 'behavioural environment'.[4][5] A discussion between Popper's three worlds and Kirk's views has been made by Bird[6] who also discusses the three worlds in relation to methodological implications for geography.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Three Worlds by Karl Popper - The Tanner Lecture on Human Values - Delivered by Karl Popper at The University of Michigan on April 7, 1978.
  2. ^ a b Heller, Michael. Philosophy in Science: An Historical Introduction. Springer, 2011, p. 118ff.
  3. ^ Ian Charles Jarvie, Karl Milford, David W. Miller (eds.), Karl Popper: Metaphysics and epistemology, Ashgate Publishing, 2006, p. 61: "the most important difference between platonism and Popper is the fact that World 3 is created by human beings..."
  4. ^ Kirk, William, 1963 Problems of geography, Geography,1963, 48, 4, p. 357-371
  5. ^ Kirk, William, 1989 'Historical geography and the concept of the behavioural environment' In The behavioural Environment, eds Boal, F.W and Livingstone, D.N. Ch 2, 18-30
  6. ^ Bird, J. H. 'Geography in three worlds: How Popper's system can help elucidate dichotomies and changes in the discipline' The Professional Geographer, 1985, 37, 4, 403-409
  7. ^ Bird, J. H. 'Methodological implications for geography from the philosophy of KR Popper' Scottish Geographical Magazine, 1975, 91, 3, 153-163.


  • Karl Popper, "Epistemology Without a Knowing Subject" (1967), published as chapter three in his book Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, Oxford University Press, 1972.
  • Karl Popper, Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972.
  • Karl Popper with John C. Eccles, The Self and Its Brain: An Argument for Interactionism, 1977.
  • Karl Popper, The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism, 1982.
  • Karl Popper, Knowledge and the Body-Mind Problem, 1994.

External links[edit]