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Some Bibliography

Popper, K.R. (1935) Logik der Forschung (The Logic of Research) , Vienna: Springer; trans. The Logic
of Scientific Discovery, London: Hutchinson, 1959. (Crisp and incisive statement of his classic ideas on
philosophy of science and of epistemology. The English translation contains additional material, as
explained in 3.)
Popper, K.R. (1945) The Open Society and Its Enemies, London: Routledge. (A critical introduction to
the philosophy of history and of politics that takes Plato, Hegel and Marx to task for their antidemocratic and anti-critical tendencies.)
Popper, K.R. (1947a) New Foundations for Logic, Mind 56: 193235, with corrections in (1948) 57:
6970. (A system of natural deduction.)
Popper, K.R. (1947b) Logic Without Assumptions, Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society, 48: 251
92. (Investigates the notion of deducibility and the foundations of logic in language.)
Popper, K.R. (1957) The Poverty of Historicism, London: Routledge. (States and rebuts the arguments
for belief in inexorable laws of human destiny.)
Popper, K.R. (1962) Conjectures and Refutations, London: Routledge. (A wide-ranging collection of
essays from the period 194062, including several that have become classics.)
Popper, K.R. (1972) Objective Knowledge, Oxford: Clarendon Press. (A collection of essays from 1948
72, many being extensions of and alterations to his original philosophy of science and epistemology.)
Popper, K.R. (1983a) Realism and the Aim of Science, London: Hutchinson. (Long commentary on
many of the issues originally discussed in The Logic of Scientific Discovery and their reception; part I of
the Postscript.)
Popper, K.R. (1990) A World of Propensities, Bristol: Thoemmes. (The propensity interpretation of
probability statements developed as a full-blown metaphysics.)
Popper, K.R. (1992) In Search of a Better World, London: Routledge. (Speeches and address to
general audiences.)
Schilpp, P.A. (ed.) (1974) The Philosophy of Karl Popper, La Salle, IL: Open Court. (Two volumes,
containing Poppers intellectual autobiography, 33 critical essays and Replies to My Critics, as well as
a complete bibliography up 1973.)

Karl Popper
Falsification, not induction

The Problem of Demarcation

One central theme of Poppers work was the problem of demarcation,


that is, of telling the difference between science and non-science.
Unlike the Vienna circle, who sought to reject what wasnt science as
(in some sense) meaningless, Poppers position was more modest:
Science was a game which required that in some specifiable
circumstances we reject a given scientific theory; other sorts of theory
could perfectly well be meaningful, but they are not scientific.
At first this was a logical feature of the theory a scientific theory must
have implications for observation, and when our observations show
those implications are false, we can reject the theory.
Popper objected to inductivist views (according to which a scientific
theory had to be supported by observations) for two reasons:
First, he argued that it was too easy to find evidence supporting a given theory.
(Here he used examples from Freudian psychology, Marxist theory and other
places.)
Second, he argued that Humes critique of induction showed that we simply
could not actually support (i.e. give good evidence for) a general claim using
evidence from particular cases.

Modus Tollens and Modus


Moron
1. If T then O
2. Not O
3. Therefore, not T.
Vs.
1. If T then O
2. O
3. Therefore, T.
(The polite, official label for the second
argument form is affirming the
consequent)

Impressive, but
Poppers influence on scientists own views of their work has
been considerable perhaps even greater than T.S. Kuhns
influence.
His presentation of science as grounded in the ongoing testing
of our theories and always open to the possibility that they will
be refuted at the next test, resonates strongly with them.
Philosophically, his rejection of induction allowed him to avoid
the difficulties the logical empiricists struggled with in their
attempts to understand confirmation.
But the rejection of induction also leaves a major gap in his
understanding of science we dont simply regard science as a
kind of intellectual game: we use the results of science to
guide our practice when we are engaged in pursuing our ends.
But without some account of induction, Poppers position
provides no account of how or why we should prefer to act in
ways our present well-tested but still-standing theories imply
will be successful.

Difficulties
Popper was extremely persistent and stubborn as
well as very demanding of the students who worked
with him.
His work certainly did evolve but he never budged
on any of his fundamental views, including
especially the complete rejection of induction.
He did attempt to capture some sense of progress
for science in terms of accounts of the truth-content
and question-content of theories, but these notions
were always untenable, and did nothing to resolve
the lack of any commitment to induction.
He did some influential work on probability theory,
in which conditional probabilities (rather than
absolute probabilities) were taken as primitive.

A puzzle about induction

There is something odd about Humes (and Poppers) critique of


induction and its relation to the modest attitudes of scientists
towards even their most successful theories.
On one hand, it is clear that (for example) despite its many brilliant
successes, Newtonian physics has turned out to be false.
The history of such failures shows scientists should doubt that their
present theories are true.
But their modesty is not a form of Humean skepticism where a
theory fits a large collection of well-established facts, we dont
expect similar observations to undermine the theory later on.
The observations scientists are afraid of i.e. the ones they suspect
may lead to trouble for their presently held theories, are
observations of new kinds of facts: observations of events at higher
energies, or on smaller scales, or of new phenomena.
But a Humean has no more reason to expect new phenomena to give
trouble than she has to expect entirely familiar sorts of cases to give
troublein either case, its only induction that supports our present
theory, and Hume and Popper both reject induction as invalid
(though Hume thought, wisely, that it was also indispensable).

Further considerations
On the other hand, it may well be
induction that leads us to suspect theories
are more likely to go wrong when we apply
them to new kinds of phenomena, or new
extremes of parameter values.
Still, pure inductive skepticism like
Poppers draws no line here induction is
invalid, periodnot OK when applied to
familiar cases and dubious when extended
beyond them.

Fallibilism
Accepting that our theories may well turn
out to be wrong seems reasonable.
In fact, scientists can sometimes even
predict, based on their theory, the sorts of
circumstances in which its likely to fail (cf.
recent reviews of the LHC and its likely
results for the standard model in particle
physics).
But fallibilism does not imply that we have
no grounds for accepting our present
theories it only implies that we suspect they
may not turn out to be completely true.

Truth and other targets


There is something odd about thinking in terms of truth here,
as well.
The methods of science (as Popper rightly saw) continually
expose theories to further tests even a theory that is perfectly
reliable in the range of applications weve already tried can turn
out to be false because it fails in some new application.
Perhaps, given the actual record of science, it would be wiser to
say that the goal of science is to achieve greater and greater
reliability and precision in our descriptions and explanations.
In some sense this actually brings us back to the idea of truth,
but in a more reserved way: Perfect reliability and precision is
both something we dont ever expect to actually achieve, and
extremely close to what we would expect (even demand) from a
theory we would regard as true. Of course we would also
expect maximal power (i.e. we would favour a theory that would
constrain our observations more tightly, assuming equal
pecision and reliability) before we would be tempted to speak of
truth, the whole truth, and

Searching for Truth in all the


wrong places.
Poppers skepticism about induction leaves
us with little grounds for confidence about
making progress in science
Assuming everything works without a hitch
as we falsify theories, we may be right in
rejecting one theory after another, but
Were left with no sense of progress towards
the truth (no reason to suspect that our
theories are anything more than falsehoods
not yet exposed).

Conjecture and Refutation


The pattern of scientific work on this account is
very simple and repetitive:
1. A scientific conjecture is made.
2. Scientists try to refute it.

The second step is repeated until it succeeds.


While Popper acknowledges that we can respond
to a failed test by modifying our theory, or even
by modifying some assumptions that were made
about the test, he is uncomfortable with this sort
of defensive strategy to Popper this looks ad
hoc. Theory construction by means of empirical
guidance doesnt take the sort of risk that
Popper thinks a good theory should.

Norms and games

For Popper these are rules that somehow constitute the game of
science.
We can do other things (make ad hoc adjustments to our theories or
auxiliary hypotheses as new evidence accumulates) but that is
playing another game.
The surviving theories, at any given time, are no more likely to be
right than any other theory not yet refuted by the evidence we have.
We have no reason even to suppose that the most basic, reliable
phenomena should continue to respect the regularities we have
observed in them (this is Humes skepticism about induction, which
Popper endorses).
But scientists are very confident about their ability to reliably
produce certain phenomena and the success of their current theories
at explaining themeven if they are fallibilists about those theories
when applied to new phenomena and observations.
Our division of phenomena into kinds is largely a practical matterthe use of certain kinds of apparatus, making certain kinds of
measurements, etc.

Competition and selection

Its tempting to draw an analogy between what Popper describes


and evolution.
Falsification of a theory would be something like extinction.
Continued work on an unfalsified theory would be like the
continuation of a species over time.
But note how much richer the evolutionary picture is.
Evolution is (as Darwin defined it) descent with modification.
Nothing in such a view rules out modification of a theory in the
course of trying to make it fit the phenomena.
Extinction can still occur, if no suitable modifications arise.
In science, modifications that are purely ad hoc rarely succeed over
the longer term.
Further, in evolution many species that are not optimally adapted to
their environment can still persist for some time.
In particular, in the absence of superior competition work may well
continue on a theory even after scientists are convinced that it is
wrong after all, the work may well focus further investigation on
issues that will help with the development of a new theory.

From logic to psychology

For Popper, as for the positivists, the aim of philosophy of science was to lay out
how science should be done, and the criteria for this notion would be
fundamentally logical they would turn on the logical relations between a
scientific theory and observations.
But the Duhem/Quine problem led him to turn this logical line into a
psychological one: the scientist is someone who would not avoid falsification by
blaming auxiliaries she would place her theory in the harshest environment
possible, and blame her theory if the results dont fit. Here the psychology of
decision making replaces the logic of theory and evidence
This means that scientist actually risks rejecting a true theory (if she retains a
false auxiliary or even a false observations and consequently regards the theory
as falsified).
The last shred of logical progress (a steady accumulation of falsified theories) in
Poppers game of science is lost here.
Further, the demarcation Popper had sought becomes problematic too. Popper
can still draw a logical line, if he can specify which theories would be falsified by
some possible observations but the users of these theories could still defend
them, in principle, by shifting the blame elsewhere.
Godfrey-Smith also emphasizes a problem for probabalistic theories (such as
classical thermodynamics) if all they tell us is that certain observations are
very improbable, then strictly speaking they arent really falsifiable! Again, the
psychology rather than the logic of science becomes central here.

The problem of induction


comes home to roost

Godfrey Smith suggests a question Popper cannot credibly answer:


Suppose we are building a bridge, and we have two theories we might
employ to guide our work.
One theory has been tested in many cases, and passed all the tests.
Another has yet to be tested, but (trivially) has passed every test weve
ever put it to.
Which should we use?
There is something odd about this example, though: such a new theory,
to be relevant, has to cover a lot of the same ground as the old successful
theory and in order not to be falsified, it must succeed on those tests.
(But theres a worse example in the wings for Popper.)
After all, without induction, success thus far gives us no reason to
suppose the theory will succeed in a further application.
And without induction, failure in some cases gives us no reason to
suppose the theory will not succeed in a further application. (Such a
theory could not be true, but it could still be a reliable guide to future
results!)
Of course if we can specify a finite range of theories within which we can
show the truth to lie, then we can proceed by elimination in a quasiPopperian way.

Taking risks
Even with all these reservations, Godfrey-Smith thinks
Popper was onto something worthwhile:
The idea that scientific theories must take risks they
must have enough empirical content (even as
qualified by Duhem and Quine) that they really could
be shown (or at least justifiably accepted to have been
shown) false.
But this focuses more attention on how a theory is
deployed, and how its users respond to difficulties,
than on the logic of the theory itself. We can proceed
scientifically, if we treat the theory as subject to
empirical correction and even refutation. Or we can
proceed non-scientifically, by isolating and sheltering
the theory from any and all empirical threats. These
choices are even open to Freudians and Marxists.

Precambrian Rabbits
A standard one-line answer to the question,
what would refute evolution.
Of course it would take very careful work to
establish such an astounding result.
But there are many other tests evolution has
passed and continues to pass (the in-principle
independent tree-structures of taxonomy,
biochemistry, development and the fossil record
continue to match up, for example). Applying
new tests to these trees has led to many new
results and much refinement of our views on the
course of evolutionbut they have always fit
within the narrow range of results acceptable for
evolution.

Sir Karl: 1902-1994