24 June 2008

The Logic of Scientific Discovery - Karl Popper

logic.of.scientific.discoveryReview by Greg Nyquist

This is the book where Popper first introduced his famous "solution" to the problem of induction. Originally publish in German in 1934, this version is Popper's own English translation undertaken in the 1950s. It should go without saying that the book is a classic in philosophic epistemology--perhaps the most important such work to appear since Hume's "An Enquiry Concerning Human Understanding." Popper argues that scientific theories can never be proven, merely tested and corroborated. Scientific inquiry is distinguished from all other types of investigation by its testability, or, as Popper put, by the falsifiability of its theories. Unfalsifiable theories are unscientific precisely because they cannot be tested.

Popper has always been known for his straightforward, lucid writing style. There are no books on epistemology that are as easy to read and understand than Popper's. Nonetheless, of all Popper's books, "Logic of Scientific Discovery" is easily the most difficult. I don't know whether it is because it was his first book or because it was originally written in German or because of all the technical problems in probability and quantum theory that are dealt within its pages. Whatever the reason, this book, despite its tremendous importance, cannot be recommended to those seeking an introduction to Popper's thinking (and Popper, whether you agree with his conclusions or not, is well worth getting to know). For those who merely want a rough overview of Popper's opinions, perhaps the best book is "Popper Selections," edited by David Miller. For those eager for more depth, I would recommend "Realism and the Aim of Science." Popper no where makes a better case for his epistemological views than in this eminently readable book. Further elaborations of Popper's views can be read in "Conjectures and Refutations" and "Objective Knowledge."

Popper has been severely attacked by philosophers who are offended by his bold fallibilism and anti-dogmatism. No philosopher attacked Popper more strenuously than David Stove. Stove's criticisms are interesting, but they are not as conclusive as one disparaging critic has suggested. Stove makes three main arguments against Popper: (1) Popper theories are bad because they lead to the epistemological relativism of Kuhn, Lakatos, and Feyerabend; (2) Popper's dismissal of induction is contrary to common sense and is therefore "irrational"; and (3) Popper's argument on behalf of "conjectural knowledge" is fallacious because the phrase "conjectural knowledge" is a contradiction in terms. All three of these arguments are logically fallacious. The first commits the fallacy of "argument ad consequentiam," which tries to refute the truth of a doctrine by associating it to its (alleged) consequences. This is, in a way, a sort of guilt by association argument. The second argument simply assumes the very point at issue. No where in his book on Popper does Stove attempt to prove that induction is rational. He simply assumes it is and denounces Popper on the basis of this gratuitous assumption. The last argument is merely verbal and proves only that Popper has violated common linguistic usage. But why should we assume that linguistic usage must always be philosophically right? Stove also makes a great fuss about Popper's assertion that a "falsifiability" is preferable to "irrefutability." Stove assumes that this is palpably absurd. How can a theory that is falsifiable possibly be better than one that is irrefutable? But Stove appears to have missed the whole point of Popper's theory. Falsifiability merely means "testability." Irrefutable, on the other hand, means simply "untestable." When looked at in this line, Popper's theory no longer seems so absurd. In fact, it is merely a great leap forward in the fight against dogmatism and close-mindedness.

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2 comments:

canakant said...

The Logic of Scientific discovery adlı kitapta yazılan şifre yanlış. Düzeltir misiniz?

(28. kitap)

Anonymous said...

Şifre doğru. Sorunsuz çalışıyor. Kitap için teşekkürler.