Tag: demarcation

Seeking transcendental truth

What differentiates science is that it seeks transcendental truth while denying that it possesses it. [230]

Distinctly social

What Popper argued is that a problem classically treated as logical (the demarcation of science) is insoluble in that form. Yet science does seem distinctive, i.e. demarcatable. The solution to its distinctness is found in its institutionalised rules of inquiry. These rules can be circumvented without violating any rules of logic. In the choice or decision not to circumvent them we find the hallmark of science. Such choice is not individual but social: it is constitutive of and depen­dent upon institutions. Moreover, being institutions, the rules of science are not like rules of inference: discoveries about the properties of logical systems. Institutional rules can be assessed against given aims, such as fruitfulness, and be discussed and modified. Science and its distinctiveness are open to modification. [83]

A social demarcation of science

What characterises science on this view is a social decision to allow the world to correct our ideas, and collateral decisions to eschew attempts to insulate those ideas from inconsistency and counter-example. Those decisions are implemented socially in institutions that entrench rules of procedure or method. Thus and only thus is a demarcation established between folk wisdom, social and political opinions and the like, all equally institutional, and science. The difference is not in the results – the claims about the world that issue from time to time from actors in the institutions. Indeed, these may at times look (misleadingly) similar. It lies in the methods by which work proceeds, where method here is construed not simply as a bunch of methodological rules, which is how it is usually presented, but as the deliberate choice and tailoring of methodological rules to specified aims. The choice is institution-building rather than personal. Science is to be identified with an institutionalised aim or set of aims, together with the institutional rules and practices that have been devised to foster pursuit of these aims. These rules serve specifiable purposes and are subject to revision depending upon whether they accomplish such purposes. (Yet Popper did not discuss the reform of scientific institutions, even though he sometimes deplored what science had become (Popper 1972).) It is these rules that enable science to pursue the goals of being objective, realistic, in touch with experience, explanatory, progressive, and causal. Obedience to these rules is what makes the institutions of science different from other social institutions, including those of pseudo-science, magic, logic, and mathematics. It is not doctrines, ideas, or sentences that are scien­tific or non-scientific; it is certain institutionalised ways of handling doctrines, ideas, and sentences that are scientific or non-scientific. The outcome of this effort is not guaranteed truths, but hypotheses that stand at the end of a chain of conjecture and refutatìon. The main result of the investigation is that we have a deeper and more humbling sense of the underlying problems than that with which we started. [20]

Faites vos jeux

Popper discovered that in purely logical or methodological terms the problem of demarcation was insoluble. Yet the distinctiveness of science as intellectual activity was an undeniable (social) fact. It followed that the problem of demar­cation was misformulated and needed to be recast. Only by taking account of the fact that there were inescapable choices involved in methodology, choices that structured the social institution(s) of science, was Popper able to get around the fundamental logical impasse. [13]