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Karl Popper and Falsificationism

Please review our Terms and Conditions of Use and check box below to share full-text version of article. Get access to the full version of this article. View access options below. You previously purchased this article through ReadCube. Institutional Login. Log in to Wiley Online Library. Purchase Instant Access. View Preview. Learn more Check out. Abstract In the s, Karl Popper wrote two large manuscripts on psychology that he never published. Citing Literature. Volume 40 , Issue 4 Autumn Fall Pages There is absolutely nothing we as humans know for sure.

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We cannot know if something is true, regardless of how accepted the idea is and how likely it seems to be. Furthermore, we cannot even prove if a statement or a theory is true at all. All we can do is tell if something is wrong and consequently falsify a theory if we have evidence that contradicts with the theory. Science and scientific progress in his view is therefore a process of continuously developing new theories and then trying to falsify them.

Karl Popper and Evolutionary Biology

That is all science can logically do Corvi , pp. He argues against the method of inductivism that he attributes to most of the historic philosophers of science from Aristotle to Francis Bacon, which very simplified claims that science consists of observing nature, then generalizing the observations to form patterns and a broader law and then confirming the law by lots of observations. The problem is that there is a conclusion from individual cases to a general rule, what is logically invalid.

This problem, called the problem of induction, was already brought up by David Hume with the example that men believe to know the natural law that the sun always rises in the morning by past experience. But this is not logically valid because there is absolutely no guarantee, that what we have experienced so far will continue in the future cf. Blaug , p. So we cannot know more than we know. Another famous example that Popper used himself is the one with the black swan. Even if someone has observed hundreds or thousands of swans, and they were all white, he or she cannot inductively conclude that all swans are white, because not all swans were observed.

But if someone observes one black swan, then we know for sure the theory that all swans are white must be wrong. Science should hence not try to confirm theories, but try to falsify theories and develop new ones and the main method should be deductive falsification and to question everything.

Therefore he denies any unquestionable dogma or the existence of any Archimedean point for science. Metaphysical assumption cannot be part of science. Nevertheless they can be useful by providing myths and dreams so scientists can create and develop new falsifiable theories.

As an example he mentions the speculative atomism which leads to an empirical-scientific atomic theory cf. Popper , p. Theories can be freely invented as long as they are falsifiable. According to Popper there is no methodically rational method for discovering theories but it is all trial and error.

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In an evolution-like selection process those theories prevail of which the refutation fails cf. When developing a theory the scientist should ideally explain how and with which observation the new theory can be refuted. For Popper this distinguishes the scientific area from the unscientific. He made falsifiability instead of verifiability the demarcation criterion for science. Every statement that is unfalsifiable is thus classified as unscientific cf.

Popper , pp. But as Mark Blaug mentioned, for Popper the borderline between science and non-science is not absolute. In this picture, the social sciences and most important for this work also economics are located somewhere in between. Blaug , pp. From this it follows that if the future holds any new discoveries or any new developments in the growth of our knowledge and given the fallible nature of the latter, it is inconceivable that it does not , then it is impossible for us to predict them now, and it is therefore impossible for us to predict the future development of human history now, given that the latter will, at least in part, be determined by the future growth of our knowledge.

Thus once again historicism collapses—the dream of a theoretical, predictive science of history is unrealisable, because it is an impossible dream. Accordingly, recognition that there are no such laws, and that unconditional predictions about future history are based, at best, upon nothing more substantial than the observation of contingent trends, shows that, from a purely theoretical as well as a practical point of view, large-scale social planning is indeed a recipe for disaster.

Philosophy and evolution. Comments on Michael Ruse: Karl Popper's philosophy of biology.

In summary, unconditional large-scale planning for the future is theoretically as well as practically misguided, because, again, part of what we are planning for is our future knowledge, and our future knowledge is not something which we can in principle now possess—we cannot adequately plan for unexpected advances in our future knowledge, or for the effects which such advances will have upon society as a whole.

The acceptance of historical indeterminism, then, as the only philosophy of history which is commensurate with a proper understanding of the nature of scientific knowledge, fatally undermines both historicism and holism. This part of his social philosophy was influenced by the economist Friedrich Hayek, who worked with him at the London School of Economics and who was a life-long friend.

This, of course, parallels precisely the critical testing of theories in scientific investigation.

For this reason, in a genuinely open society piecemeal social engineering goes hand-in-hand for Popper with negative utilitarianism the attempt to minimise the amount of misery, rather than, as with positive utilitarianism, the attempt to maximise the amount of happiness. The state, he holds, should concern itself with the task of progressively formulating and implementing policies designed to deal with the social problems which actually confront it, with the goal of eliminating human misery and suffering to the highest possible degree.

The positive task of increasing social and personal happiness, by contrast, can and should be left to individual citizens who may, of course, act collectively to this end , who, unlike the state, have at least a chance of achieving this goal, but who in a free society are rarely in a position to systematically subvert the rights of others in the pursuit of idealised objectives. Thus in the final analysis for Popper the activity of problem-solving is as definitive of our humanity at the level of social and political organisation as it is at the level of science, and it is this key insight which unifies and integrates the broad spectrum of his thought.

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While it cannot be said that Popper was a modest man, he took criticism of his theories very seriously, and spent much of his time in his later years trying to show that such criticisms were either based upon misunderstandings, or that his theories could, without loss of integrity, be made compatible with new and important insights.

The following is a summary of some of the main criticisms which he has had to address. Schilpp ed. Bartley III. Rather they are descriptions of what is observed as interpreted by the observer with reference to a determinate theoretical framework. He accordingly asserts that basic statements themselves are open-ended hypotheses: they have a certain causal relationship with experience, but they are not determined by experience, and they cannot be verified or confirmed by experience.

But how can this be known, if such basic statements cannot be verified by experience? Logic of Scientific Discovery , Popper himself is fond of citing, as an example of such a critical test, the resolution, by Adams and Leverrier, of the problem which the anomalous orbit of Uranus posed for nineteenth century astronomers. Both men independently came to the conclusion that, assuming Newtonian mechanics to be precisely correct, the observed divergence in the elliptical orbit of Uranus could be explained if the existence of a seventh, as yet unobserved outer planet was posited.

Yet Lakatos flatly denies that there are critical tests, in the Popperian sense, in science, and argues the point convincingly by turning the above example of an alleged critical test on its head. What, he asks, would have happened if Galle had not found the planet Neptune? Such theories are, it is now generally accepted, highly resistant to falsification. They are falsified, if at all, Lakatos argues, not by Popperian critical tests, but rather within the elaborate context of the research programmes associated with them gradually grinding to a halt, with the result that an ever-widening gap opens up between the facts to be explained, and the research programmes themselves Lakatos , passim.

The existence of such anomalies is not usually taken by the working scientist as an indication that the theory in question is false; on the contrary, he will usually, and necessarily, assume that the auxiliary hypotheses which are associated with the theory can be modified to incorporate, and explain, existing anomalies. Scientific laws are expressed by universal statements i.

Karl Popper on Knowledge & Certainty

In themselves they are not existential in nature. Since scientific laws are non-existential in nature, they logically cannot imply any basic statements, since the latter are explicitly existential. The question arises, then, as to how any basic statement can falsify a scientific law, given that basic statements are not deducible from scientific laws in themselves?

This reply is adequate only if it is true, as Popper assumes, that singular existential statements will always do the work of bridging the gap between a universal theory and a prediction. The working scientist, Putnam argues, always initially assumes that it is the latter, which shows not only that scientific laws are, contra Popper, highly resistant to falsification, but also why they are so highly resistant to falsification. Hence his final concern is to outline conditions which indicate when such modification is genuinely scientific, and when it is merely ad hoc.

It is now condemned as unscientific by Popper because the only rationale for the modifications which were made to the original theory was to ensure that it evaded falsification, and so such modifications were ad hoc , rather than scientific. This contention—though not at all implausible—has, to hostile eyes, a somewhat contrived air about it, and is unlikely to worry the convinced Marxist. Life 2.