Karl Popper was, without a doubt, one of the most eminent and influential philosophers of his day. His scientific philosophy on falsification and the demarcation criteria is considered revolutionary by many forms of science. Surprisingly, Popper’s claim on this subject has made a major contribution to many debates about the distinction between science and non-scientific theories. By doing so, he draws attention to the fact that scientific hypotheses have been branded with the concept of possible falsifiers. These theories assert that the claimed theories can be discovered to be false, and that if this is proven to be valid, the whole scientific theory will be falsified. He, however, explains that the non- scientific approaches do not possess any potentiality of falsification. Popper explains that there is no possibility of observation that serves to falsify these theoretical claims. Notably, his philosophical view had an extensive influence on the broader social context.
Falsification and Demarcation of Scientific and Non-Scientific Theories
Perhaps, Popper in his work significantly focused on explaining falsification and the problem of demarcation in scientific theories. Demarcation refers to the problem that arises when differentiating the scientific theories and those that are non-scientific while falsification refers to rejecting the stipulate ideas of a scientific theory due to new observations made that render the existing theory subject to verification. Popper drove at capturing the methodological or the logical distinctions that exist between the scientific disciplines like physics and non-scientific ones such as theoretical myths. Pooper thus defines falsebility as the inherent testability of any scientific hypothesis (Popper 3). Popper’s proposal that concern demarcation is subject to verifiable criteria of logical empiricists. According to him, the concept of falsebility holds that a “statement is cognitively meaningful if and only if” its principle is verifiable (Popper 7). In his view, he states that there is qualitative difference existing between philosophical metaphysics and science. For this reason, he rejects the verifiable criterion alluding that it counts for existential statements as scientific and thus falsifiable. Popper elucidates that the verifiability criterion is not meaningful as it cannot be verified itself (Grattan-Guinness 18). Hence, he does not emphasize the importance of empirical confirmation of scientific theories.
He supports his argument by stating that verification did not play a vital role in articulating a satisfying demarcation of theories. In fact, he goes ahead to propose that scientific theories are characterized by disagreeing with the accepted views of the universe due to previous theoretical commitments. In respect to this, he claims that the scientific theories are distinguished from non-scientific because the scientific theories make testable claims that future observations could reveal that it is false. Thus, he asserts that scientific theories depict to have amounted to the willingness of taking risks of being wrong in reference to the testable observation. His point of view holds that scientists repeatedly make direct attempts to falsify a given theory when under investigation. He recognizes that the scientific routines have always attributed the failure of previous experiments to some factors that fail to draw an inquiry into the concerns of future predictions. Popper claims that scientific theory of falsification could legitimately be saved through introducing an auxiliary hypothesis which follows the falsifiable predictions in new generations. In backing up his argument, he gives an example of the Newton mechanism where he stipulates that his laws were not falsified by the scientists because they introduced the auxiliary hypothesis. This stated that there existed another planet that influenced Uranus orbital activity. This was used to predict where the planet was located and eventually the predictions were successful because, in 1846, Neptune was discovered. Hence, the auxiliary hypothesis scientific method could be applied to other scientific theories to eliminate the problem of falsification. On the other hand, he stipulates that the ad hoc hypothesis is applicable to non-scientific cases and here, the theories are not subject to falsifiable predictions.
Besides, Popper’s argument introduces the concept of the basic statement. This refers to the empirical evidence used to decide if a certain theory is falsifiable. He uses the concept of a basic statement to indicate where it becomes appropriate to corroborate falsifying hypothesis. In his view, basic statements are claims ascertaining that observation “is occurring in a certain individual region of space and time” (Burke 27). Therefore, these statements should be singular and existential as well as have the ability to be testable by inter-subjective observations in determining the falsification of a theory. He goes further to explain that the facet of convention plays a vital role in shaping the choice of the basic statement. He contends that every testable theory stops at a given basic statement that people choose to accept. A failure to arrive at this decision means that the test does not lead at any specific point. He, therefore, concludes by noting that each basic statement needs the “consensus of the relevant scientific community” and its acceptance renders it a basic statement (Rescher et al. 29).
Still, the idea of induction in his reasoning denotes to be profoundly significant in explaining his notion of falsification. Popper mentions that two problems emanate from inductive reasoning including the psychological problem of induction as well as the logical reasoning. According to Popper, logical reasoning concerns the likelihood of justifying that belief is true or false using empirical evidence (Rescher et al. 29). He thus suggests that all the universal laws and theories will remain to be a matter of guesses, hypothesis, and conjectures (Popper 41). He notes that a fruitful predictions could be irrelevant in approving that a given law and the failed observation renders a theory falsified. This could not be true. Psychological problem alludes to the likelihood of reasonable individuals expecting that a given unobservable instance will obey similar general laws as painted by previous observations.
Undoubtedly, Poppers account on scientific methodology will remain to be under scrutiny due to its fundamental flaws evident from his reasoning. Notably, the emergence of alternative accounts of reasoning have vehemently questioned and objected the idea of falsification. A significant flaw in this theory is evident on the relationship between theory and observation. In an observation, the theoretical beliefs held by a person read to various report on the observation even if the phenomena is similar. In view of this, his postulation on basic statements suggests that Popper plainly creates problems when he argues against the falsification of theories. Also, according to him, an amicable solution is centered on the capability of the overall scientific society to arrive at a consensus on which counts to be a basic statement. Silva in her journal mentions that the remedy provided by Popper is less attractive as it tends to advocate for different reasoning which could inhibit people in reaching an agreement concerning which sentence is basic (Silva 18). Disagreement over basic sentences would thus effectively impede theories from being falsified even if there is an open need for this to happen. For this reason, the purported failure to differentiate the basic statement from a sentence that is empirically based impacts on his theory of demarcation heavily. This theory does hold that “scientific theories must allow for the deduction of basic sentences whose truth or falsity can be ascertained by appropriately located observers” (Burke 20). Evidently, if there are challenges encountered in categorizing basic sentences from the actual sentence, it makes his account of demarcation of science fail to hold.
Popper’s theory is also unsuccessful in giving an accurate picture of scientific practices due to its failure of prediction even when faced with situations where scientists are unable to identify testable hypothesis. The idea of falsification has a weakness arising from the problem of a logical solution. This arises when the observations and experiments give solid evidential results that render the scientific theory untrue. Scientific theories also consist of complex universal statements and not on single statements, and they are subject to predictions. This theory was also built on inadequate historical grounds. Some legitimate parts of science are not falsifiable such as the probabilistic and the existential statement. Thus, his generalization of the idea of falsification fails to fit the unfalsifiable scientific principles and creates problems. For example, the planet contains electrons and bacteria which are unfalsifiable and thus one cannot disprove them by observation. Also, another problem emanates from the idea of probability. Probability statements do not specify the amount of something, and thus cannot be falsified if no limit is put on a given possible number. The theory also fails to account for future expectations, and thus many scientists have ignored the idea of falsification. Popper failed to make a commitment to implausible thesis which indicates that the concepts that yield false prediction should be abandoned. For this reason, Popper’s proposal, these failures of prediction should have resulted in the abandonment of the theory.
Burke, T. E. The Philosophy Of Popper. Manchester, UK, Manchester University Press, 2005,.
Grattan-Guinness, I. “Karl Popper And The `The Problem Of Induction’: A Fresh Look At The Logic Of Testing Scientific Theories.” Erkenntnis, vol 60, no. 1, 2004, pp. 107-120. Springer Nature, doi:10.1023/b:erke.0000005129.82095.0d.
Popper, Karl R. Conjectures And Refutations. London, Routledge, 2002,.
Rescher, Nicholas et al. “The Logic Of Scientific Discovery..” Philosophy And Phenomenological Research, vol 21, no. 2, 1960, p. 266. JSTOR, doi:10.2307/2104331.
Silva, Adan John. “The Difficult Relationship Between Realism And Rationality In The Philosophy Of Karl Popper.” Synesis, vol 5, no. 2, 2013, pp. 1-11. Coimbra University Press, doi:10.14195/1984-6754_5-2_1.