Wednesday, August 10, 2005

Yep, More Falsificationism

Reading Brand Blanchard's Reason and Analysis, I've realized that the core problem with Popper's philosophy of science is that it is merely the negative image of positivism. Positivism held that scientific statements had to be verifiable. Popper saw that, per positivist strictures, that would never occur. He suggested that instead they need only be falsifiable. But falsification is only the flip side of verification -- if I falsify a, I verify ~a. And, per Popper, verification is impossible! I can never verify the result R that supposedly falsifies theory T. Only whim can lead me to decide that I should believe R and cease believing T.

Falsificationists typically answer, "Well, you have no reason to doubt R." That won't work, because:
1) Per Popper, I certainly do have such a reason: There is 0 probability that any of my current theories are true. (Given an infinity of possible theories, what are the odds I've hit on the correct one?)
2) I have no reason to doubt T except R, so the choice to stick with one is arbitrary.
3) Repeated demonstrations of R are irrelevant on Popper's own terms -- that would imply a degree of verification!

OK, I promise to stop obsessing about Popper!


  1. Nothing posted to blog B is every verifiable,
    therefore all readers R should just stop
    reading blog B.

  2. Thanks goodness this is blog C!

  3. Anonymous8:18 PM

    In both your articles on induction and falsification and on this post you have completely misunderstood the difference between truth and certainty. A preference for one theory over another is not taken on a whim in an abritrary fashion, it is taken as the most corroborated theory ie the theory which has withstood testing. I have read many of your articles on economics and libertarianism for quite a while now and on just about everything i'm in agreement with you but your views here on Popper are so wide of the mark. I am sorry to say but i question whether you have even read any of Poppers books for you misunderstand much.

  4. Dear anonymous,

    Yes, I'm familiar with Popper's idea of "corroboration." The point being made is that either:
    1) It's verification parading under another name; or
    2) It's nothing.

    (I think it's 1), by the way, and that Popper had accepted the inductivist framework but could just never bring himself to admit it.)

    Can you point out where the logic in my post is wrong?

  5. You ask why if R falsifies T, we should prefer R to T, given that we cannot verify R.

    I suggest the answer is that if we reject R, then we must also reject the entire background framework of conjectured knowledge that is implicit in the statement "R is true". There is of course an enormous amount of such conjectural knowledge that underlies any experimental result. No such problem arises in rejecting T. Hence it is rational to prefer R to T.

    Or to put it another way, all things being equal it is rational to prefer the theory that does not entail rejecting virtually the entire corpus of scientific knowledge, to the one that does.

  6. Julius, I absolutely agree. And the reasoning by which you arrived at that conclusion is inductive reasoning -- we have lots of confirmation of R, so we choose it over T. And that's precisely what Popper can't do!

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