• Pelle
    26
    In the field of epistemology, there are three special actors who will never cease to influence: Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Karl Popper. Each brought their respective doctrines; subjectivist scientism (crassly put), epistemic anarchism and falsificationist realism. These epistemological concepts all painted science in a different light and came in turn to fight bloody battles in the court of ideas for many years to come.

    So let’s emulate this battle in the comments. Who do you think has the right idea of what science is? I personally hold Popper highest, I’ll present my arguments as we go along. However, I’d be happy to be convinced of otherwise!
  • fdrake
    1.7k
    None, Lakatos. :razz:
  • Banno
    4.2k
    feyerabend wins. But if you want to know why, you will have to tell me what Popper and Kuhn And Lakatos said.
  • Maw
    1.1k
    Haven't read Kuhn but Feyerabend eviscerated Popper.
  • Inis
    170
    In the field of epistemology, there are three special actors who will never cease to influence: Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend and Karl Popper. Each brought their respective doctrines; subjectivist scientism (crassly put), epistemic anarchism and falsificationist realism. These epistemological concepts all painted science in a different light and came in turn to fight bloody battles in the court of ideas for many years to come.Pelle

    I wince a little when Popper is called a "falsificationist ". Not because he was not a falsificationist, but because falsificationism is so often misrepresented as naive falsificationism. Popper did after all, in LSD, explain that logical falsification of a scientific theory is impossible. He was however, certainly a "Critical Rationalist" of which "fallibilism" is a central tenet.

    What were Popper's main achievements in epistemology? Wasn't he first to elucidate the scientific method? He rehabilitated metaphysics from the Logical Positivists, gave us the criterion of demarcation, and solved the problem of induction. Plenty of other achievements, I'm sure, but I would need to consult a book to compile the list.

    It might be worth mentioning that Popper was heavily involved in the intellectual circle that developed the Modern Evolutionary Synthesis, where his epistemology and how genetics works are strikingly similar.

    Partly because of the above associations, several Nobel Prize winners in the fields of biology and medicine credit their discoveries to following Popper's method. His ideas have also been central in discoveries in physics and computing. I'm not sure the other epistemologists mentioned could make a similar claim. Also Popper's ideas still seem quite active, in the sense that there appears to have been some progress recently.

    One thing is for sure, Popper must be the most misrepresented and most misunderstood philosopher of the 20th century.
  • Terrapin Station
    6k
    Who do you think has the right idea of what science is/ ought to be?Pelle

    "Ought to be" can take a hike as far as I'm concerned.

    Aside from that, I'd say "all of the above in many important respects." And part of the reason that it's all of the above is that science is really a bunch of people doing a bunch of different things, where they're not clones of each other.
  • Moliere
    1.5k


    The problem with Popper isn't that he influenced some people to think differently. That is what good philosophy does, and while I disagree with Popper I certainly think he is a good philosopher -- that is, he is worth reading.

    On one angle I suppose I feel frustrated with Popper not because of Popper, but because of Pop-Popper. "Falsification" is a quick and easy word which pop-science writers latch onto without context and use as a kind of universal criterion for scientific knowledge, which is just not the case.

    But that is more the result of just not reading Popper, and doesn't have much to do with Popper himself.

    More philosophically -- the problem with Popper is the scope of his claims, and the prescriptive nature of his project. He's making a normative project for scientists, and doing so not just for a few scientists who feel inspired but for scientific knowledge as a whole. And while Popper's method gets at some aspects of scientific thought, it does not meet the burden it sets for itself -- and yet still demands that science should be performed in accordance with his particular epistemological concerns.

    Feyerabend demonstrates this by placing Popper's method alongside Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems -- an example which surely everyone would agree is properly scientific, and even good science, yet does not follow Popper's method. So either Galileo is wrong about how to do science, or Popper has overstated the scope to which his method applies. (at least, if we agree with Feyerabend's analysis, of course -- we could set out to save Popper by trying to reframe Galileo in Popperian terms. But I'm fairly well convinced by the arguments in Against Method)
  • fdrake
    1.7k


    I can give a rough picture of his account, though it will be lacking on detail.

    Scientific progress is often characterised as an interlinking between theory; which generates propositions about the world; and experiment; which tests those propositions. This basic picture is correct.

    Testing, as Popperian falsification is typically characterised in the following way: a proposition about the world is posited, an experiment either refutes or is consistent with that proposition. But this does not describe the activities of reasoning that science consists of very well at all. Consider the cases of the discovery of Neptune and the precession of Mercury.

    In Neptune's case, Newtonian mechanics was applied to the orbital behaviour of another planet, Uranus, and it was found not to describe it very well. At this point, other astronomers posited the existence of another planet whose gravitational effects fixed those predictions; the planet who fixed those predictions was discovered where it was predicted to be, and Newtonian mechanics was vindicated.

    In Mercury's case, Newtonian mechanics was applied to Mercury, and it was found that there was a deviation from the predictions. Scientists were reluctant to put Newtonian mechanics in the bin since it had been so successful, and instead posited that the astronomical measurements which established the deviation from the theory instead were in error. More precise measurements came along and vindicated that Mercury's orbit was not exactly predicted by Newtonian mechanics. Eddington's question to Einsten, then, made Einstein (and his wife!) go through all the tensor calculus required to predict the orbit of Mercury with his theory, and it was found to match the astronomical measurements. In this case, then, Newtonian mechanics was found to be wrong, and Einstein's theory supplanted it in some relevant sense.

    What these cases show is the role of auxiliary hypotheses and hard cores in the process of scientific reason. We have a 'hard core' of a theory, which is constituted by its necessary commitments, and we have a belt of 'auxiliary hypotheses' surrounding that hard core which provide the interface of that hard core with experiment. The hard core in the Newtonian case was (roughly) the three laws and their associated calculus, especially Newtonian gravitation - and auxiliary hypotheses were observations, calculations and predictions about the motion of bodies; especially planets and their orbits. In the both cases, an auxiliary hypothesis was posited to protect Newton's theory of gravitation from refutation. In the case of Uranus' orbital measurements, this was that there was another planet which accounted for the deviation. In the case of Mercury's orbital measurements, this was that the measurements were of poor quality.

    Let's pause at this point to highlight something important. Newtonian mechanics and Einsteinian mechanics required extra assumptions to interface with the real world; these were measurements of mass, orbital position and so on; the theories themselves made no specific predictions about the real world without having these other auxiliary hypotheses to provide grist to their mills.

    Back to the account, we're now in a position to distinguish Lakatos from Popper in terms of falsification. There are two big differences.

    Firstly, Lakatos characterises falsification as operative not on singular propositions, but on series of propositions. Such a series might be 'The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Uranus' orbit' or 'The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Mercury's orbit', and when falsification strikes (when 'Nature shouts "No!" as he puts it), it does not act on a specific proposition, but on the composites "The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Uranus' orbit'. The composites are treated in the sense of logical conjunction, so when we falsify "The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Uranus' orbit', we de Morgan's law it up and negate a single set of conjuncts. In the Uranus+Neptune case, the negation operated on the existence of relevant celestial bodies, in the Mercury case, the negation first was thought to operate on the measurements of Mercury's orbit then when they were shown as good, it operated on the hard core of Newtonian gravitation.

    The habits of scientists, then, are when Nature shouts no, they prefer to reject an auxiliary hypotheses and posit a new one rather than reject some part of the hard core. This is what makes the hard core 'hard' - it is refutation resistant in the practice of scientists - whereas the auxiliary hypotheses are the easier candidates for refutation.

    The second difference from Popperian falsification is that the rejection entailed by Nature shouting 'No!' is weakened. We don't reject Newtonian mechanics entirely just because it fails to model the orbit of Mercury, we rather constrain its application to a domain of relevance, and this is done adaptively with respect to theoretical and experimental demarcations. So we actually maintain belief in falsified propositions by continuing to use the theories, though with a restricted domain of relevance.

    This emphasis on sequences of theories means that Lakatos thinks science does not consist of a linked series of singular propositions subject to experimental refutation, it instead consists of a transforming sequence of hard-cores and auxiliary hypotheses over time, and temporally demarcated hard-core + auxiliary hypotheses composites are termed 'research programs'. It is research programs which are the active unit of science, not propositions and their falsifications; for it is research programs which modify theories, make predictions, reject propositions, and change hard-cores.

    This, then, gives an account of scientific revolution; rejecting a hard core, as in the case of Mercury, yields a novel research programme, Einsteinian mechanics. But in distinction to Feyeraband, these research programs are not incommensurable; they do not differ in terms of a conceptual scheme; they can differ in scope of application; and scientific inquiry admits research programmes that, strictly speaking, have contradictory hard cores. Simply because research programmes have a native context of application in which that hard core makes sense.

    The relationship between hard cores and auxiliary hypotheses also gives a vantage point from which to view the demarcation problem; what is the difference between pseudoscience and science? Lakatos treats this as a condition of scientific practice; as a property of a research programme; rather than simply turning on the falsifiability of propositions. He also gives a practical account of what it means to treat a hard core as non-falsifiable.

    As seen with the Mercury example, scientists can adjoin an auxiliary hypothesis to block rejection of the hard core. If a research programme routinely does this, when their research consists mostly of positing auxiliary hypotheses to protect their hard core, that research programme is called degenerate. When they are not degenerate; when science is progressing through the research programme; they are called progressive. The science/pseudoscience distinction is then transformed to the progressive/degenerate distinction, and from the relationships of singular propositions to falsification to the relationship of research programmes to their propensity for non-rejection of the hard core through the perpetual creation of ad-hoc auxiliary hypotheses. Freudian psychology and Marxism have this character for Lakatos as they do for Popper, though for much different reasons which we have discussed.
  • Inis
    170
    More philosophically -- the problem with Popper is the scope of his claims, and the prescriptive nature of his project. He's making a normative project for scientists, and doing so not just for a few scientists who feel inspired but for scientific knowledge as a whole. And while Popper's method gets at some aspects of scientific thought, it does not meet the burden it sets for itself -- and yet still demands that science should be performed in accordance with his particular epistemological concerns.Moliere

    What sort of prescriptive things do you not like? The requirement to be open to criticism, and to subject one's ideas to the harshest of tests? How a bout the requirement to not appeal to any authority, or that a scientific theory must yield testable statements about reality?

    There are more subtle requirements, like given the choice of two theories, one should choose the one with higher empirical content, because it will be more falsifiable. Also, that falsification is itself subject to error (we are fallibilists after all) so any such decision must be regarded as tentative, so theories and their criticisms are never completely discarded.

    Of course, this is only a superficial account, but these ideas seem rather good to me.

    Complaining about the Scientific Method is like complaining about Evolution.

    Feyerabend demonstrates this by placing Popper's method alongside Galileo's Dialogue Concerning the Two Chief World Systems -- an example which surely everyone would agree is properly scientific, and even good science, yet does not follow Popper's method. So either Galileo is wrong about how to do science, or Popper has overstated the scope to which his method applies. (at least, if we agree with Feyerabend's analysis, of course -- we could set out to save Popper by trying to reframe Galileo in Popperian terms. But I'm fairly well convinced by the arguments in Against Method)Moliere

    As is common in most misunderstandings of Popper and the Scientific Method, is the misconception that Popper provides rules for solving problems or constructing theories. He does not, because there is no such thing. Popper's Scientific Method deals solely with how we must treat and criticise theories, not how we come by them.
  • Moliere
    1.5k
    What sort of prescriptive things do you not like? The requirement to be open to criticism, and to subject one's ideas to the harshest of tests? How a bout the requirement to not appeal to any authority, or that a scientific theory must yield testable statements about reality?Inis

    All of the above! Things should certainly be immune to criticism, and easy tests are far superior. Authority should reign supreme, and testable statements about reality are bunk.

    :D

    Actually, I am hesitant about "Must yield testable statements about reality", though I am responding with sarcasm here.

    More seriously: generally speaking, I don't feel keen on prescriptive theories of science at all -- that science should fit a philosopher's conception of knowledge for his particular concerns about knowledge is just too a priori for me. I prefer a more historical, and therefore empirical, approach to understanding the beast called science.

    There are more subtle requirements, like given the choice of two theories, one should choose the one with higher empirical content, because it will be more falsifiable.Inis

    Feyarebend uses this requirement with respect to Galileo. If you haven't read Feyerabend then I'd really recommend it. He was, after all, heavily influenced by Popper. He knew what he was talking about.

    Of course, this is only a superficial account, but these ideas seem rather good to me.Inis

    They do! The only problem is that they do not resemble how science is actually done in a universal sense.
  • Inis
    170
    Firstly, Lakatos characterises falsification as operative not on singular propositions, but on series of propositions. Such a series might be 'The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Uranus' orbit' or 'The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Mercury's orbit', and when falsification strikes (when 'Nature shouts "No!" as he puts it), it does not act on a specific proposition, but on the composites "The laws of Newtonian mechanics + observations about Uranus' orbit'.fdrake

    Popper confronts and solve the Duhem-Quine Thesis in "Logic of Scientific Discovery".

    The second difference from Popperian falsification is that the rejection entailed by Nature shouting 'No!' is weakened. We don't reject Newtonian mechanics entirely just because it fails to model the orbit of Mercury, we rather constrain its application to a domain of relevance, and this is done adaptively with respect to theoretical and experimental demarcations.fdrake

    According to Popper, falsification of any theory is logically impossible.
  • fdrake
    1.7k
    Popper confronts and solve the Duhem-Quine Thesis in "Logic of Scientific Discovery".Inis

    According to Popper, falsification of any theory is logically impossible.Inis

    Ok!
  • Inis
    170
    They do! The only problem is that they do not resemble how science is actually done in a universal sense.Moliere

    It's exactly how all new theories are treated in Science. There is no other way to the truth.
  • Inis
    170
    Ok!fdrake

    It's literally in the book, and I would provide an exact quote but there is a 4 year old sleeping in the room where the book is. Look it up!
  • fdrake
    1.7k


    I'll wait on you providing the reference later, then.
  • Inis
    170
    I'll wait on you providing the reference later, then.fdrake

    I tell you what, in the absence of a block function on this forum, please never interact with me again, and I will pay you the same courtesy.

    LSD section 19: "...the theoretical systems of the natural sciences are not verifiable, but I assert that they are not falsifiable either.

    LSD section 6: "...it is still impossible, for various reasons, that any theoretical system should ever be conclusively falsified.
  • Pelle
    26
    completely agree. The biological aspects of Popper's writing is what I found the most interesting. There's seems to be a lot of people that think he's a status quo shill with no radical ideas, but it's just not true.
  • Pelle
    26
    modern science does follow Popper's ideas to some extent. The critical discussion around science today is exactly as Popper described: people trying to falsify eachother's theories.
  • Pelle
    26
    The problem with Feyerabend is that his doctrine is heuristically destructive. If we were to apply his ideas to how we conduct ourselves, how could we ever know anything? Feyerabend provides no principle to differentiate between science and pseudoscience which possibly throws us into a fruitless limbo of anti-knowledge.
  • fdrake
    1.7k


    Thanks for the reference. Please notice that I attributed to Popper the idea that falsification obtains of singular propositions rather than scientific theories. And explicitly contrasted that to Lakatos. Falsification works as a demarcation criterion, but in practice things are different, we don't throw the baby out with the bath water. Lakatos starts from not throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and attempts a descriptive account of science from there.
  • Moliere
    1.5k
    To some extent -- sure. But not a universal prescription for all science. That's why I was saying that Popper's problems are one of scope and prescription.
  • Moliere
    1.5k
    how could we ever know anything?Pelle

    I don't think that Feyerabend is quite so anti-knowledge as you're putting it. Rather, his stance is one that emphasizes a multiplicity of ways of knowing, rather than having some arch-method by which we can designate good from bad knowledge. His epistemic anarchy or dada-ism has more to do with a hesitation to generate a general theory of science or knowledge as a whole than it does in being against knowledge.

    What he undermines is not knowledge, but universality or hierarchy of knowledges where there is a queen of all knowledge. The phrase "anything goes" is one which describes his universal theory of knowledge -- or, in a way, is just a way of saying there is no universal theory of knowledge or a queen of knowledge.

    But that doesn't mean we know nothing.
  • Inis
    170
    completely agree. The biological aspects of Popper's writing is what I found the most interesting. There's seems to be a lot of people that think he's a status quo shill with no radical ideas, but it's just not true.Pelle

    Couldn't be further from the truth.

    Popper will be underestimated for a thousand years.
  • Pelle
    26
    I realize that his intent was to multiply knowledge by multiplying metod, but his unwillingness to outline what science is is a huge issue. If Feyerabend's ideas were to be applied to the scientific enterprise, things with merely heuristical (if even that) use would appear a lot more in the academies like Marxist Science, Creation Science and Astrology.
  • SophistiCat
    649
    modern science does follow Popper's ideas to some extent. The critical discussion around science today is exactly as Popper described: people trying to falsify eachother's theories.Pelle

    This is a banality.

    The ideas that are popularly credited to Popper have been around since Bacon. What is right about Popper's prescriptions isn't new or radical at all.
  • Inis
    170
    modern science does follow Popper's ideas to some extent. The critical discussion around science today is exactly as Popper described: people trying to falsify eachother's theories.Pelle

    I'm not so sure this is an accurate characterisation of science, or quite captures Popper's central ideas. Let's not forget that Freudian psychoanalysis still exists, as does the Copenhagen interpretation. Also, the Sokal affair, and the more recent Sokal-Squared debacle in the Social "sciences".

    I suspect Popper might have some advice for String theorists too. His method is much more iterative, focusing on identifying specific problems that need to be solved, rather than the all-or-nothing grand-plan approach of their research program. Ironically, the earliest developments in String theory came about by focusing on specific problems.

    It is interesting to note, that the floundering efforts to unify physics may be rescued by an avowed Popperian. See the recent papers by Chiara Marletto
    https://arxiv.org/search/quant-ph?searchtype=author&query=Marletto%2C+C

    Popper's account of science is much more akin to the struggle to find good realist accounts of what exists in reality, how it behaves, and why it does so.
  • Moliere
    1.5k
    I realize that his intent was to multiply knowledge by multiplying metodPelle

    Hrmm? I don't think I said anything about intent, or that he was multiplying knowledge -- only that his approach isn't anti-knowledge, but rather against some over-arching methodology which characterizes science universally. Something like Popper's project, in fact, as that's exactly who he's responding to.

    , but his unwillingness to outline what science is is a huge issue.

    What if there is no specific set of criteria that captures all science? Wouldn't it be more honest to not describe it if that were the case?

    If Feyerabend's ideas were to be applied to the scientific enterprise, things with merely heuristical (if even that) use would appear a lot more in the academies like Marxist Science, Creation Science and Astrology.Pelle

    I guess the response here is -- so what? If someone wants to run a research program on Marxist Science, Creation Science, and Astrology, who cares? I can tell you the specific reasons why I don't believe in this or that set of beliefs. But there's no reason to have an over-arching theory of knowledge to safeguard the sanctity of academia. I can respond in kind to any sort of research program or argument.

    Creation science, for instance, can be best characterized by William Dembski, I think. I can go through his paper and I understand the argument and I understand why I disagree with it, rather than simply say "well, he's a creationist, and so it is not scientific, and so it is unworthy of academia, and so it is bad" -- putting him to the side without ever engaging him. I don't really care if he has a research program. What harm could possibly come from it?

    As far as I'm concerned science is about having fun exploring questions and answers. Once you lose that then it's just another day job with a little bit more math thrown in.
  • Inis
    170
    What if there is no specific set of criteria that captures all science? Wouldn't it be more honest to not describe it if that were the case?Moliere

    There is: The Criterion of Demarcation.

    I guess the response here is -- so what? If someone wants to run a research program on Marxist Science, Creation Science, and Astrology, who cares? I can tell you the specific reasons why I don't believe in this or that set of beliefs. But there's no reason to have an over-arching theory of knowledge to safeguard the sanctity of academia. I can respond in kind to any sort of research program or argument.Moliere

    This would be against the Scientific Method, and ruled out by the criterion of demarcation.
  • Pelle
    26
    well, along as universities are publicly funded I don't want my taxes to go to something that will ultimately lacks usefullness. Science is about solving problems, but Marxism nor Creationism solve problems: they merely provide explanations taken directly from their ideological framework (which is essentially a set of conclusions). Basically, their work festers in confirmation bias, which I think would be dangerous for academia and civilization as whole.
  • Inis
    170
    Science is about solving problems, but Marxism nor Creationism solve problems: they merely provide explanations taken directly from their ideological framework (which is essentially a set of conclusions).Pelle

    And as a true Popperian you reject authoritative sources of knowledge, certainty, and anything that claims to beyond criticism.
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