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Friday, July 18, 2008

Falsification "Falsified"

"Every established proposition of science enters into the current premises of science and affects the scientist's decision to accept an observation as a fact or to disregard it as probably unsound... this material (I present) refutes the widely held view that scientists necessarily abandon a scientific proposition if a new observation conflicts with it."

-- Michael Polanyi, Science, Faith, and Society

Folks, "Popperian" "falsificationsism" has been "falsified" by the works of Polanyi, Toulmin, Lakatos, Kuhn, and many others. It is currently only embraced by amateurs in the philosophy of science who are unwilling to engage with the extensive literature refuting Popper's views. My libertarian friends who continue to endorse this well-refuted understanding of science risk discrediting libertarianism by unnecessarily linking it to antiquated views.

8 comments:

  1. I think you and I already do a pretty good job discrediting libertarianism, Gene.

    What's funny is that my efforts to defend Popper from your merciless criticism is basically an admission that you are right. I.e. I am saying, "Sure, Popper's description is not literally correct, but there's so much value in it that I think we can still learn from his views."

    I.e. I am like the defender of a scientific theory who is confronted with an experiment that doesn't fit. I don't just throw the theory out and start from scratch, I try to salvage it.

    But, of course, by doing this I am falling under Kuhn's description of science, not Popper's.

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  2. In my experience, those who pay homage to falsificationism are often just drawing on the one good piece of that bad philosophy, which is that the plausibility of claims concerning how the world is or will be or is likely to be cannot be independent of observed states of the world.

    E.g. claims like "Anything could happen...or not." are equally plausible no matter the state of the world, and generally don't say much about the world although they purport to. Claims like "X is more likly to happen than Y" are far more plausible in the case of X than in the case of Y.

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  3. Bob, first of all, I acknowledge that Popper was a brilliant man who made a bold attempt at solving the "demarcation problem" -- distinguishing science from, say, astrology -- but ultimately came up short. At LSE, the two philosophers of science most referenced were Popper and Hempel -- recognized as geniuses who nevertheless did not devise adequate solutions to the problem with which they were grappling.

    Secondly, please be assured that posts like this one are not directed at your modest admiration of Popper, but more at my libertarian friends in England, where there is a sort of Popper cult still surviving. Yes, I accept the fact that there are valauble insights in Popper's writings, and that he was a genius. But his basic system does not stand up to critical scrutiny, and there are those who still refuse to admit that.

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  4. Oh OK, thanks for the clarification. I didn't think you necessarily had me in mind--does everyone else think about me as much as I do?--but we've grappled on this many times.

    Now that you mention it, David Harper at NYU was a super Popperian. I can only imagine what people over in England must have been like!

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