Tag: deduction

What argument can do

No argument can force us to accept the truth of any belief. But a valid deductive argument can force us to choose be­tween the truth of its conclusion on the one hand and the falsity of its premises on the other. [10]

The logic of discovering our errors

If the purpose of an argument is to prove its conclusion, then it is difficult to see the point of falsifiability. For deductive arguments cannot prove their conclusions any more than inductive ones can.

But if the purpose of the argument is to force us to choose, then the point of falsifiability becomes clear.

Deductive arguments force us to question, and to reexamine, and, ultimately, to deny their premises if we want to deny their conclusions. Inductive arguments simply do not.

This the real meaning of Popper’s Logic of Scientific Discovery—and it is the reason, perhaps, why so many readers have misunderstood its title and its intent. The logic of discovery is not the logic of discovering theories, and it is not the logic of discovering that they are true.

Neither deduction nor induction can serve as a logic for that.

The logic of discovery is the logic of discovering our errors. We simply cannot deny the conclusion of a deductive argu­ment without discovering that we were in error about its premises. Modus tollens can help us to do this if we use it to set problems for our theories. But while inductive arguments may persuade or induce us to believe things, they cannot help us discover that we are in error about their premises. [113-4]

Understanding a theory’s underlying problems

Or take as an example Bohr’s theory (1913) of the hydrogen atom. This theory was describing a model, and was there­fore intuitive and visualizable. Yet it was also very perplexing. Not because of any intuitive difficulty, but because it assumed, contrary to Maxwell’s and Lorentz’s theory and to well-known experimental effects, that a periodically moving electron, a moving electric charge, need not always create a disturbance of the eletromagnetic field, and so need not always send out electromagnetic waves. This difficulty is a logical one – a clash with other theories. And no one can be said to understand Bohr’s theory who does not understand this difficulty and the reasons why Bohr boldly accepted it, thus departing in a revolutionary way from earlier and well-established theories.

But the only way to understand Bohr’s reasons is to understand his problem – the problem of combining Rutherford’s atom model with a theory of emission and absorption of light, and thus with Einstein’s photon theory, and with the dis­creteness of atomic spectra. The understanding of Bohr’s theory does not lie in visualizing it intuitively but in gaining familiarity with the problems it tries to solve, and in the appreciation of both the explanatory power of the solution and the fact, that the new difficulty that it creates constitutes an entirely new problem of great fertility.

The question whether or not a theory or a conjecture is more or less satisfactory or, if you like prima facie acceptable as a solution of the problem which it sets out to solve is largely a question of purely deductive logic. It is a matter of getting acquainted with the logical conclusions which may be drawn from the theory, and of judging whether or not these con­clusions (a) yield the desired solution and (b) yield undesirable by-products – for example some insoluble paradox, some absurdity. [102]

The logic of scientific methodology

According to the view that will be put forward here, the method of critically testing theories, and selecting them ac­cording to the results of tests, always proceeds on the following lines. From a new idea, put up tentatively, and not yet justified in any way—an anticipation, a hypothesis, a theoretical system, or what you will—conclusions are drawn by means of logical deduction. These conclusions are then compared with one another and with other relevant state­ments, so as to find what logical relations (such as equivalence, derivability, compatiblity, or incompatibility) exist be­tween them.

We may if we like distinguish four different lines along which the testing of a theory could be carried out. First there is the logical comparison of the conclusions among themselves, by which the internal consistency of the system is tested. Secondly, there is the investigation of the logical form of the theory, with the object of determining whether it has the character of an empirical or scientific theory, or whether it is, for example, tautological. Thirdly, there is the comparison with other theories, chiefly with the aim of determining whether the theory would constitute a scientific advance should it survive our various tests. And finally, there is the testing of the theory by way of empirical applications of the conclusions which can be derived from it.

The purpose of this last kind of test is to find out how far the new consequences of the theory—whatever may be new in what it asserts—stand up to the demands of practice, whether raised by purely scientific experiments, or by practical technological applications. Here too the procedure of testing turns out to be deductive. With the help of other state­ments, previously accepted, certain singular statements—which we may call ‘predictions’—are deduced from the theory; especially predictions that are easily testable or applicable. From among these statements, those are selected which are not derivable from the current theory, and more especially those which the current theory contradicts. Next we seek a decision as regards these (and other) derived statements by comparing them with the results of practical applications and experiments. If this decision is positive, that is, if the singular conclusions turn out to be acceptable, or verified, then the theory has, for the time being, passed its test: we have found no reason to discard it. But if the decision is negative, or in other words, if the conclusions have been falsified, then their falsification also falsifies the theory from which they were logically deduced.

It should be noticed that a positive decision can only temporarily support the theory, for subsequent negative decisions may always overthrow it. So long as [the] theory withstands detailed and severe tests and is not superseded by another theory in the course of scientific progress, we may say that it has ‘proved its mettle’ or that it is ‘corroborated’ by past experience.

Nothing resembling inductive logic appears in the procedure here outlined. I never assume that we can argue from the truth of singular statements to the truth of theories. I never assume that by force of ‘verified’ conclusions, theories can be established as ‘true’, or even as merely ‘probable’. [9-10]

Valid deductive reasoning

Ein gültiges deduktives Argument garantiert nur:

a) den Transfer des positiven Wahrheitswertes – der Wahrheit – von der Prämissen-Menge auf die Konklusion; und damit auch:
b) den Rücktransfer des negativen Wahrheitswertes – der Falschheit – von der Konklusion auf die Prämissen-Menge. [14]

Science: deductive testing

Whatever may be our eventual answer to the question of the empirical basis, one thing must be clear: if we adhere to our demand that scientific statements must be objective, then those statements which belong to the empirical basis of science must also be objective, i.e. inter-subjectively testable. Yet inter-subjective testability always implies that, from the statements which are to be tested, other testable statements can be deduced. Thus if the basic statements in their turn are to be inter-subjectively testable, there can be no ultimate statements in science: there can be no statements in science which cannot be tested, and therefore none which cannot in principle be refuted, by falsifying some of the conclusions which can be deduced from them.

We thus arrive at the following view. Systems of theories are tested by deducing from them statements of a lesser level of universality. These statements in their turn, since they are to be inter-subjectively testable, must be testable in like manner — and so ad infinitum.

It might be thought that this view leads to an infinite regress, and that it is therefore untenable. In section 1, when criticizing induction, I raised the objection that it may lead to an infinite regress; and it might well appear to the reader now that the very same objection can be urged against that procedure of deductive testing which I myself advocate. However, this is not so. The deductive method of testing cannot establish or justify the statements which are being tested; nor is it intended to do so. Thus there is no danger of an infinite regress. But it must be admitted that the situation to which I have drawn attention — testability ad infinitum and the absence of ultimate statements which are not in need of tests — does create a problem. For, clearly, tests cannot in fact be carried on ad infinitum: sooner or later we have to stop. Without discussing this problem here in detail, I only wish to point out that the fact that the tests cannot go on for ever does not clash with my demand that every scientific statement must be testable. For I do not demand that every scientific statement must have in fact been tested before it is accepted. I only demand that every such statement must be capable of being tested; or in other words, I refuse to accept the view that there are statements in science which we have, resignedly, to accept as true merely because it does not seem possible, for logical reasons, to test them. [25-6]

Consistency is paramount

A consistent system … divides the set of all possible statements into two: those which it contradicts and those with which it is compatible. (Among the latter are the conclusions which can be derived from it.) This is why consistency is the most general requirement for a system, whether empirical or non-empirical, if it is to be of any use at all.

Besides being consistent, an empirical system should satisfy a further condition: it must be falsifiable. The two condi­tions are to a large extent analogous. Statements which do not satisfy the condition of consistency fail to differentiate between any two statements within the totality of all possible statements. Statements which do not satisfy the condition of falsifiability fail to differentiate between any two statements within the totality of all possible empirical basic state­ments. [72-3]

Critical control over our scientific debates

Deductive arguments force us to choose betweeen the truth of their conclusions and the falsity of (one or more) of their premises. Inductive arguments do not. This, in and of itself, does not show that anything is true or false. But if an argument is deductively valid, then we simply cannot, without contradicting ourselves, deny its conclusion unless we also deny (one or more of) its premises. In this way, deductive arguments enable us to exercise critical control over our scientific debates. [105]

The asymmetry between verifiability and falsifiability

Again, the attempt might be made to turn against me my own criticism of the inductivist criterion of demarcation; for it might seem that objections can be raised against falsifiability as a criterion of demarcation similar to those which I my­self raised against verifiability.

This attack would not disturb me. My proposal is based upon an asymmetry between verifiability and falsifiability; an asymmetry which results from the logical form of universal statements. For these are never derivable from singular statements, but can be contradicted by singular statements. Consequently it is possible by means of purely deductive inferences (with the help of the modus tollens of classical logic) to argue from the truth of singular statements to the falsity of universal statements. Such an argument to the falsity of universal statements is the only strictly deductive kind of inference that proceeds, as it were, in the ‘inductive direction’; that is, from singular to univeral statements. [19]

Science: more or less likely

It is not unscientific to make a guess, although many people who are not in science think it is. Some years ago I had a conversation with a layman about flying saucers—because I am scientific I know all about flying saucers! I said “I don’t think there are flying saucers”. So my antagonist said, “Is it impossible that there are flying saucers? Can you prove that it’s impossible?” “No”, I said, “I can’t prove it’s impossible. It’s just very unlikely”. At that he said, “You are very un­scientific. If you can’t prove it impossible then how can you say that it’s unlikely?” But that is the way that is scientific. It is scientific only to say what is more likely and what less likely, and not to be proving all the time the possible and im­possible. [165-6]