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I just got this in my spambucket:

Karl Popper's Assault on Science

By Bo Dragsdahl

Karl Popper was a minor philosopher, but a major transmitter of Kantian skepticism into the culture. Posing as an exponent of scientific method, he promoted a philosophy whose key tenets are that induction is a myth, that scientific theories are at root arbitrary constructs and that the absence of falsification—rather than positive evidence—is the standard for adopting scientific conclusions. These ideas have inspired an onslaught on science in today's academia, with philosophers claiming that scientific facts are products of the social interaction among scientists and that scientific knowledge represents a Western prejudice. In this course Bo Dragsdahl covers Popper's basic ideas and identifies their roots in Kant.

Five hours, 36 min.

CD set: $69.95

Tape set: $59.95

I'm a little disturbed by this. I've read quite a bit of Popper's writing, and I've never known him to claim "that scientific facts are products of the social interaction among scientists." (That was an idea which is attributed to Kuhn, and even in Kuhn's case, it's really a distortion by those who followed after him. What he said was that paradigm shifts are akin to political upheavals. I've never read where Sir Karl said any such thing.)

Claiming that he says that "induction is a myth" is taking a word out of context, I believe. Popper's account of what he called "abduction" is identical to the back-and-forth empirical/logical brand of thinking that Peikoff and Rand label "induction." When he said "induction," he was responding to anti-science anti-realist rationalists who viewed deduction as the only valid form of reasoning. Looking at it etymologically, "abduction" is a better term. Deduction: applying the properties of the set to individual cases. Induction: applying the properties of individual cases to the set. Abduction: finding which possible properties of the set would make the individual cases seem reasonable. He made a good case that humans actually do abduction most of the time - deduction is really only for special cases. "Induction" is an ambiguous term in many contexts. He claimed that the "deductivists" were beating up a straw man. He let them have the word, and created a new one to express what he really meant.

With the concept of abduction tying theory to reality, Popper points out that scientific theories are specifically not arbitrary.

The point about the "absence of falsification" also seems like a mischaracterization. Popper said that, in order for a theory to be considered "science," it must be, in theory, falsifiable. For example, Marxism started out making risky predictions, and at that time, could have been called science. When the predictions didn't come true, and Marxists invented a new angle in the theory to account for every possible circumstance, it stopped being science and started being Astrology. He never attacked positive evidence - he merely stated that positive evidence for something which cannot logically be disproven is not meaningful. For example, take this theory:

According to Marxism/Leninism, the workers will overthrow the bourgoisie, unless there is an Imperialist force.

The workers did not overthrow the bourgoisie.

Therefor, there is an Imperialist force.

Therefor, Marxism/Leninism is correct.

Clearly, that doesn't hold water. No matter WHAT happened, the Marxist would say, "AHA! This PROVES it!"

Karl Popper, as far as I've seen, was an adamant realist, pro-reason, and one of the best philosophers of science ever.

I'd like to know:

Has anyone seen/heard this lecture?

Have you read any of Popper's works?

Have you read any of Kuhn's works?

What is your opinion of Popper? Am I in error about him?

What is your opinion of Kuhn?

What is your opinion of the lecture? Worth $60?

I realize that I may be reading too much into the advert. After all, the best way to sell stuff to objectivists is to claim "So-and-so made society break, and we'll show you why," and the ARB is in the business of selling lectures. But I'm really wondering if it's worth shelling out $60-$70 just to find out that Dragsdahl has mischaracterized a philosopher I respect, and heaped upon him abuse and criticism that should be directed at others in his field.

Isaac

http://isaac.beigetower.org

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I just got this in my spambucket:

I'm a little disturbed by this. I've read quite a bit of Popper's writing, and I've never known him to claim "that scientific facts are products of the social interaction among scientists."

Please read what is written more carefully. The words you quote were not attributed to Popper. The claim was made that Popper's ideas inspired "an onslaught on science in today's academia," and the idea you quote is offerred as one among others that "in today's academia ... philosphers claim[ing]."

That Popper inspired an onslaught on science which inspired various philosophers in today's academia to voice other ideas, is entirely different from what you attribute to Dragsdahl.

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Ah, good point, Stephen.

Nevertheless, that seems really weak as an objection to Popper. If I say "A", and that "inspires" other philosophers to say "not A", then you can't really say that I'm responsible for the "not A" attitudes, can you? That'd be like crediting Marx with the rise of Capitalism.

Isaac

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Nevertheless, that seems really weak as an objection to Popper.

First, just to keep context, the issue that Isaac is contesting was an indirect criticism leveled against Popper, preceded by several direct criticisms of a rather substantial nature. (By "indirect" here I mean the sense implied in the Draghsdal quote: an onslaught against science by today's academic philosophers inspired by Popper.)

Second, I would suggest to Isaac that before he complain about what he considers to be a "weak ... objection," that he first familiarize himself with 20th century philosophy of science. Three quick points.

(1) Though Popper was critical of Kuhn (and, vice versa), in fact, Kuhn's philosophy owes much to Popper.

(2) It was one of Popper's students, Imre Lakatos, who struggled to resolve Popper's flasification with Kuhn's ideas.

(3) It was another of Popper's strudents, Paul Feyerabend, who took some of the worst of Popper and brought some of it to its (il)logical conclusion of divorcing theory from scientific method.

For a decent introduction to this see David Stove's[**] "Popper and After: Four Modern Irrationalists," Pergamon Press, 1982, reprinted as "Scientific Irrationalism: Origins of a Postmodern Cult," Transaction Publishers, 2001, or also reprinted as "Anything Goes: Origins of the Cult of Scientific Irrationalism," Macleay Press, 1998.

[**]Stove is mainly a commonsensical empiricist who is against a lot of the same things that Objectivists are against, i.e., anti-leftist, anti-Platonist, etc. But, like many of our intellectual allies he is much better in critiquing what he is against rather than in offering what he is for.

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A man who says

there is no such thing as a logical method of having new ideas...

is no friend of reason. His theory of ideas boils down to "inspirations" we know not whence they come. It is only the subsequent process of verification through non-falsification that is logical, he said. This is not just a slap to the face of reason, it is cutting its throat.

[Ed. Note] Added qualification that Popper's view of verification is not logical in the proper sense.

Edited by Bowzer

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I attended the lectures, which were quite good. He addresses many of the points you raise, and he's very well-read in Popper.

As far as what I've read of Popper's, only some of the Logic of Scientific Discovery and "Falsificationism", so I'm far from an expert. I've also read Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions.

My opinion of Popper is that he is wrong. He fundamentally misunderstands the nature of consciousness as a "blank slate" in need of evidence and content from the world to operate. He replaces a positive (evidence) for a negative (falsification). So he gets thinking completely backwards.

The fact that he is concerned with distinguishing science from pseudo-science doesn't help here. Pseudo-science is arbitrary and so there is something to the claim that it can't be falsified. But it's a non-essential characteristic of arbitrary knowledge: the essential feature is that it is not based on reality. I don't think Popper gets this.

It's worth noting that KP called his approach "critical rationalism."

At any rate, I think the lecture is certainly worth the money if these are issues you are interested in.

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I've read Lakatos and Feyerabend. I agree with your assessment of them. I didn't realize that they were Popper's students. (I've always found the theories much more interesting than the soap operas.)

Of course, a good teacher can have bad students, and vice versa. It doesn't justify crediting Popper with unleashing Kantianism into the philosophy of science.

Lastly, of course Kuhn's work was heavily influenced by Popper's. I think it'd be hard to find a single philosopher of science who wasn't influenced by Sir Karl in some way. I mean, the guy made a lot of really good points. (I think that his only major failing, if there is one, is that he focused too heavily on the "testing new theories" aspect of science, and sort of ignored the "filling in the blanks" part. The human genome project, for example, made no risky predictions, but it was certainly science. Granted, filling in the blanks is much less sexy :) )

Isaac

http://isaac.beigetower.org

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I'll dig up my philosophy texts when I get home tonite, and point out some articles.

If you read his stuff on abduction, I don't think that anyone would be able to say that he wasn't putting reality first. Falsification is just the last step in a long process, and he makes that pretty clear. According to Popper, if the process ends in falsification, then it's science, and if not, then it's not. Personally, I'm not sure that's true, as fact-finding (while less exciting) is still valid and useful science.

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His point was that, whether you get your ideas from reading tea leaves or studying the evidence - if they come to you in the laboratory or in the bathroom - that's not relevant. What is relevant is that your theory holds water and makes risky predictions.

I should have known better. Forget I asked.

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It doesn't justify crediting Popper with unleashing Kantianism into the philosophy of science.

First, I would appreciate you sharpening up your quoting and attribution skills. You seem to continually attribute to others views which they have not expressed, a fault which seems to run rampant with some here. The actual Dragsdahl quote stated that Popper was "a major transmitter of Kantian skepticism," which is certainly different from your "unleashing Kantianism into the philosophy of science." Please pay attention to differences such as these.

Now, as to the Dragsdahl claim: Frankly, for someone as critical as you have been about Dragsdahl's characterization of Popper, you exhibit profound ignorance of well-established fact in the philosophy of science. This fact in regard to skepticism is virtually undisputed, by ally and foe alike. I will not waste any further time justifying this. Do your own research. Preferably, next time, before your criticize others.

But, regardless, even as to the claim which you wrongfully attributed to Dragsdahl, that claim is, nevertheless, entirely right. If you study the philosophy of science at all, there are a multitude of ways in which Popper "unleashed Kantianism into the philosophy of science." Popper was a conduit. If I had to identify the three most insidious Kantian influences on modern science, I would be hard-pressed not to put this one first, here explicitly voiced by Popper.

"If I were allowed to give some sort of modernized reconstruction, or re-interpretation of Kant ... I should say that Kant showed that the metaphysical principle of reasonableness or self-evidence does not lead unambiguously to one and only one result, to one and only one theory. Rather, it is always possible to argue, with similar apparent reasonableness, in favour of a number of different theories, and even of opposite theories."

-- Karl R. Popper, "What is Dialectic?," Mind, Vol. 49, No. 196, pp. 403-426, 1940.

It doesn't get much worse than that.

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  I mean, the guy [Popper] made a lot of really good points.

Name one of major significance.

And please, not an essay. A sentence or two will suffice. Be sure to provide a specific citation to Popper's actual writings, not just your interpretation of such.

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Isaac,

I owe you a reply in another discussion, & you'll get it soon.

I took a class on philosophy of science last semester, and we spent a good deal of time on both Popper and Kuhn. If you're interested, I might be able to dig up references to where Kuhn does take a social-subjectivist view of science. But you'll find other places where he contradicts that. He wasn't at all consistent on that issue, and I think when he was pressed on it he tended to back off from the social constructionist view.

You wrote:

Popper's account of what he called "abduction" is identical to the back-and-forth empirical/logical brand of thinking that Peikoff and Rand label "induction."

Not at all, but I can sort of see why you'd think that. Popper did oppose the deduction-fetishists, and that's good; but he did it in a disastrous way. According to Popper, we basically have to start out assuming that anything is possible. Evidence, then, is just a way of eliminating possibilities. We observe that this dog has two ears, and that eliminates any theories which imply that he has three. It's in this sense that his theory is properly abduction rather than induction; it's the removal of possibilities, rather than a process from arbitrary to possible to probable to certain, as in the Objectivist form of induction.

Now, this leaves Popper with a problem. Where do the hypotheses come from to begin with? Here he just resorts to "inspiration"; hypotheses are reached through some revelatory, non-rational process. In effect, they just pop into your head magically, and then you go out and test them through falsification.

This is why, incidentally, Popper rejected the idea that a theory could ever actually correspond to reality. (Or at least, that it could ever be known to.) On his view, one just gets "closer to the truth" as more possibilities are eliminated. But since there's no limit in principle to how many possibilities there are, by his definition, it's really a process of seeking after a non-existent end. For Popper, you can get closer to the truth, but you can never reach it.

Incidentally, Popper never actually gave a good account of what he meant by "closer to the truth", and it's one of the things that should tip you off to a big problem in his theory. How is one theory closer to the truth than another? Does it subsume more true implications and less false? If that's true, how are they balanced against each other, given that theories can have different numbers of implications? Is it that it excludes more false implications and less true implications? And how could any of these definitions possibly work, given his view of truth itself?

I haven't heard Dragsdahl's lectures, but they sound accurate from the description you provided. His three essentials are right.

1. Induction is a myth. Popper not only claims that it couldn't work, he claims it's not actually what scientists do.

2. Scientific theories are at root arbitrary constructs. Hypotheses pop up out of nowhere; there is no rational process for arriving at theories, only for eliminating theories.

3. The absence of falsification—rather than positive evidence—is the standard for adopting scientific conclusions. Since hypotheses arise arbitrarily for Popper, a given item (or set of items) of evidence can support a practically unlimited number of theories. So positive evidence won't get you anywhere. No matter how much evidence you accumulate, somebody could come up with some floating abstraction that explains it all, and (again, according to Popper) there would be no way to support one over the other.

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It's in this sense that his theory is properly abduction rather than induction; it's the removal of possibilities, rather than a process from arbitrary to possible to probable to certain, as in the Objectivist form of induction.

Matt,

Thanks for your informative "Popper in a nutshell" post. One minor quibble: I'm not sure it is correct to say that the Objectivist form of induction starts with the arbitrary. After all, the arbitrary is that for which no evidence is presented, so there is no way it can serve as the starting point for induction.

-Bill Jerdee

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Oh no, I don't mean that at all. I was worried about that when I wrote it, but I wanted to emphasize that the default position for a proposition is not "possible" -- it's "arbitrary". Then when you have some evidence it becomes possible, and you go from there. So you might think of it this way: if there's a scale of evidence on which "possible", "probable", etc. are positions, "arbitrary" is the zero point. But induction doesn't start until you've gotten past the zero point.

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Karl Popper's Assault on Science

By Bo Dragsdahl

Karl Popper was a minor philosopher, but a major transmitter of Kantian skepticism into the culture. Posing as an exponent of scientific method, he promoted a philosophy whose key tenets are that induction is a myth, that scientific theories are at root arbitrary constructs and that the absence of falsification—rather than positive evidence—is the standard for adopting scientific conclusions. These ideas have inspired an onslaught on science in today's academia, with philosophers claiming that scientific facts are products of the social interaction among scientists and that scientific knowledge represents a Western prejudice. In this course Bo Dragsdahl covers Popper's basic ideas and identifies their roots in Kant.

Five hours, 36 min.

CD set: $69.95

Tape set: $59.95

I just finished listening to this course. I recommend it very highly, not just as a discussion of Karl Popper's ideas, but as the best exercise in what Ayn Rand called "philosophical detection" that I have come across in a long time. One thing that makes it interesting is that Dragsdahl avowedly is, like Ayn Rand (and Karl Popper), *not* a scientist, and so his discussion is exclusively and ruthlessly *epistemological*.

Dragsdahl begins his course by describing Karl Popper's theories in the terms used by popular expositions: people believed the earth was flat, now they think it is round; they believed in Newton's theories, now they believe in Einstein's theories, etc. Scientific theories are constantly being "falsified", and this falsification must be the essence of scientific method, this constant process of falsification. The aim of this segment of Dragsdahl's presentation is to make Popper plausible, because, as he says, "even some Objectivists" are taken in by the Popper line. Yet Dragsdahl deliberately ignores Popper's fig leaves, only mentioning in passing the latter's protestations of admiration for science.

The only criticism I have of this part of the lectures is that Dragsdahl does not stress one major carrot used by Popperians to ensnare admirers of science: the use of the "falsification" doctrine as a weapon against Marxists, Freudians, and other "pseudo-scientists". But it is brought up during the question period on the last day, and by then Dragsdahl has given us the context to properly evaluate this aspect of Popper's doctrine.

After dressing up his subject in plausible colors, Dragsdahl unsheathes his philosophic instruments, and inquires into Popper's stance on epistemological issues. How does man gain knowledge of reality? Through the senses? Through induction? What about concepts, context, and the hierarchy of knowledge? Most central to the lectures is the issue: what is the proper *standard* of knowledge?

Then, over the next few lectures, Dragsdahl shows how Popper's premises determine his philosophy of science, and those of his students: Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend. He also shows the origins of Poper's ideas in late eighteenth-centrury and early nineteenth-century German philosophy, by reference to Popper's own statements.

As an example of Dragsdahl's intellectual marksmanship (I quote from memory): "So, Popper concludes, we learn from our mistakes. This seems logical enough ... but you have to take him *literally*. He is saying that we learn from our *mistakes*, and not from reality." The summary comments are chillingly brief: "Popper is willing to grant that people *may* have seen the Loch Ness monster, but induction - is a myth."

The fact that in the end we see the true face of Karl Popper - one that radically different from the popular veneer - is, for me, only a secondary gain from these lectures. They are, more importantly, an excellent example of how to unmask premises (both in others and in oneself), and how to *read* philosophy.

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Minor historical note:

Peikoff, in his 1967 NBI course on epistemology, condemned the falsification criterion as the work of satan, just as Dragsdahl apparently does. The following year The Objectivist serialized an article by Robert Efron in which he blithely took the notion for granted and used it to build a case against psychological reductionism or materialism.

Without having gone so deeply into the issue as some here have, I don't have a problem with falsification. Rand observed that a term which can mean anything has no real meaning at all. To say that a claim that can be true in all circumstances isn't fully and usefully true looks to me like a fitting companion piece and just as valuable an observation.

This leads to the objection What do you do with logical axioms? Aren't they both true and unfalsifiable? I think that you can give this a principled, non-hinky answer.

People get into various confusions when they treat existence, being, the universe and the like as if it were a particular entity, merely because the names for it behave grammatically like the names of particular entities. If existence is a single thing then, like all such objects, it has a beginning in time (before which it wasn't), a boundary in space (beyond which it isn't) and, most notoriously, a cause whose actions brought it about. Once you see the special nature of "existence" and its synonyms, these problems go away.

So, along this line, axioms are statements about existence itself, about being qua being in the classic phrase. What goes for statements about particulars (e.g. that they have to be falsifiable in order to be informative and usefully true) does not thereby go for axioms.

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