Tag Archive: falsification

Vorläufer des Falsifikationsprinzips

Das Falsifikationsprinzip wurde erstmals von Karl Popper ausgesprochen. Erstmals? Alle philosophischen Ideen ha­ben Vorläufer. In unserem Falle ist der Oxforder Gelehrte Robert Grosseteste (etwa 1168-1253) ein besonders interes­santes Beispiel. Nach Losee war er der erste mittelalterliche Denker, der die logischen und methodologischen Pro­bleme von Induktion, Verifikation und Falsifikation systematisch untersuchte. (Bei Popper wird er, soweit ich sehe, nir­gends erwähnt. Aber Kopernikus erwähnt seinen wichtigsten Vorgänger, Aristarch, ja auch nicht.) Grosseteste benutzte und empfahl die Methode der Falsifikation, um mit Hilfe des modus tollens von einer Gruppe konkurrierender Hypo­thesen alle bis auf eine zu eliminieren. Die wesentliche Asymmetrie zwischen Verifizierbarkeit und Falsifizierbarkeit scheint er jedoch nicht er­kannt zu haben. [117]

Real understanding

He who knows only his own side of the case, knows little of that. His reasons may be good, and no one may have been able to refute them. But if he is equally unable to refute the reasons on the opposite side; if he does not so much as know what they are, he has no ground for preferring either opinion. The rational position for him would be suspension of judgment, and unless he contents himself with that, he is either led by authority, or adopts, like the generality of the world, the side to which he feels most inclination. Nor is it enough that he should hear the arguments of adversaries from his own teachers, presented as they state them, and accompanied by what they offer as refutations. That is not the way to do justice to the arguments, or bring them into real contact with his own mind. He must be able to hear them from persons who actually believe them; who defend them in earnest, and do their very utmost for them. He must know them in their most plausible and persuasive form; he must feel the whole force of the difficulty which the true view of the subject has to encounter and dispose of; else he will never really possess himself of the portion of truth which meets and removes that difficulty. Ninety-nine in a hundred of what are called educated men are in this condition; even of those who can argue fluently for their opinions. Their conclusion may be true, but it might be false for anything they know: they have never thrown themselves into the mental position of those who think differently from them, and con­sidered what such persons may have to say; and consequently they do not, in any proper sense of the word, know the doctrine which they themselves profess. They do not know those parts of it which explain and justify the remainder; the considerations which show that a fact which seemingly conflicts with another is reconcilable with it, or that, of two apparently strong reasons, one and not the other ought to be preferred. All that part of the truth which turns the scale, and decides the judgment of a completely informed mind, they are strangers to; nor is it ever really known, but to those who have attended equally and impartially to both sides, and endeavoured to see the reasons of both in the strongest light. So essential is this discipline to a real understanding of moral and human subjects, that if opponents of all impor­tant truths do not exist, it is indispensable to imagine them, and supply them with the strongest arguments which the most skilful devil’s advocate can conjure up. [ch. II, 47-8]

Why that other theory cannot be the true one

But on every subject on which difference of opinion is possible, the truth depends on a balance to be struck between two sets of conflicting reasons. Even in natural philosophy, there is always some other explanation possible of the same facts; some geocentric theory instead of heliocentric, some phlogiston instead of oxygen; and it has to be shown why that other theory cannot be the true one: and until this is shown, and until we know how it is shown, we do not under­stand the grounds of our opinion. But when we turn to subjects infinitely more complicated, to morals, religion, politics, social relations, and the business of life, three-fourths of the arguments for every disputed opinion consist in dispelling the appearances which favour some opinion different from it. [ch. II, 46-7]

As important a service as a human being can render

To discover to the world something which deeply concerns it, and of which it was previously ignorant; to prove to it that it had been mistaken on some vital point of temporal or spiritual interest, is as important a service as a human being can render to his fellow-creatures […]. [ch. II, 36]

Kant’s improvement on Hume

Thus Kant’s reply to Hume came near to being right; for the distinction between an a priori valid expectation and one which is both genetically and logically prior to observation, but not a priori valid, is really somewhat subtle. But Kant proved too much. In trying to show how knowledge is possible, he proposed a theory which had the unavoidable consequence that our quest for knowledge must necessarily succeed, which is clearly mistaken. When Kant said, ‘Our intellect does not draw its laws from nature but imposes its laws upon nature’, he was right. But in thinking that these laws are necessarily true, or that we necessarily succeed in imposing them upon nature, he was wrong. Nature very often resists quite successfully, forcing us to discard our laws as refuted; but if we live we may try again. [63]

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]

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]

Falsificationism, 1850s style

Why is it, then, that there is on the whole a preponderance among mankind of rational opinions and rational conduct? If there really is this preponderance—which there must be, unless human affairs are, and have always been, in an almost desperate state—it is owing to a quality of the human mind, the source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being, namely, that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of rectifying his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted. Wrong opinions and practices gradually yield to fact and argument: but facts and arguments, to produce any effect on the mind, must be brought before it. Very few facts are able to tell their own story, without comments to bring out their meaning. The whole strength and value, then, of human judgment, depending on the one property, that it can be set right when it is wrong, reliance can be placed on it only when the means of setting it right are kept constantly at hand. In the case of any person whose judgment is really deserving of confidence, how has it become so? Because he has kept his mind open to criticism of his opinions and conduct. Because it has been his practice to listen to all that could be said against him; to profit by as much of it as was just, and expound to himself, and upon occasion to others, the fallacy of what was fallacious. Because he has felt, that the only way in which a human being can make some approach to knowing the whole of a subject, is by hearing what can be said about it by persons of every variety of opinion, and studying all modes in which it can be looked at by every character of mind. No wise man ever acquired his wisdom in any mode but this; nor is it in the nature of human intellect to become wise in any other manner. The steady habit of correcting and completing his own opinion by collating it with those of others, so far from causing doubt and hesitation in carrying it into practice, is the only stable foundation for a just reliance on it: for, being cognisant of all that can, at least obviously, be said against him, and having taken up his position against all gainsayers—knowing that he has sought for objections and difficulties, instead of avoiding them, and has shut out no light which can be thrown upon the subject from any quarter—he has a right to think his judgment better than that of any person, or any multitude, who have not gone through a similar process. [ch. II, 27]

Explanation as the antidote to extremism

The challenge in an election season that largely takes place in the form of 30-second advertisements and fire-up-the-base rallies is that rarely is anybody — candidate or voter — asked to explain his or her positions. American politi­cal discourse, in short, is not discourse at all.

So what can be done to turn it into one? The answer implied by our research is not that we should all become policy wonks. Instead, we voters need to be more mindful that issues are complicated and challenge ourselves to break down the policy proposals on both sides into their component parts. We have to then imagine how these ideas would work in the real world — and then make a choice: to either moderate our positions on policies we don’t really understand, as research suggests we will, or try to improve our understanding. Either way, discourse would then be based on infor­mation, not illusion. […]

Strong opinion and vigorous debate are key parts of democracy and the foundation to American culture. Yet most people would agree that it is not productive to have a strong opinion about an issue that one doesn’t really understand. We have a problem in American politics: an illusion of knowledge that leads to extremism. We can start to fix it by ac­knowledging that we know a lot less than we think.

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