Popper’s Theory of Epistemology

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Popper’s theory of epistemology: 

a perpetual falsifiable journey towards truth

Edip Yuksel
www.19.org

Though Popper did not believe in the possibility of attaining the ultimate truth, he was not a skeptic. To him, we can expand our understanding and grow our knowledge. He suggested an idiosyncratic criterion to distinguish scientific knowledge from other source of knowledge: FALSIFIABILITY. A scientific hypothesis must provide a logical possibility to be refuted by a probable true observation statement. Therefore, according to Popper, falsifiability is a required characteristic for a scientific theory. Science evolves by shedding its falsified theories. Popper’s falsification model is similar to the notion of “natural selection”. The best theory survives.

 

He suggested two qualities as a virtue of good scientific theory:

    1. A good (useful, not necessarily true!) theory is a great challenger. It is intrinsically open to all kind of examinations. The broader the range of the claim the better is the theory, since wide-ranging claims are highly falsifiable. The life-span of the theory against the attack of falsificationists is not relevant for determining its quality.
    2. A good theory is clear and precise. It does not hide behind vague expressions, or it does not act as a double-dealer. Indeed, the less a theory shows this quality the less information it provides.

Falsificationism encourages all kind of speculative theories, as long as they are stated clearly and precisely. The inadequate or the unfitting ones will be tossed away by examinations. A scientific theory can never be said that it is true, but it can be said that it is closer to the truth than its predecessors.  Confirmation is not considered as a valid method, any observational statement whether be singular or general, cannot be true, but may be better than previous ones. Falsificationists do not accept general or singular “laws”. Here is a dramatic example: According to Popper, the statement, “Planets rotate around the sun” still should be considered ” a surviving theory” waiting to be falsified.

Let’s evaluate the following examples according to Popper’s theory of epistemology:

  • Whoever smokes over 17 cigarettes per day, will die within 7 days. (A good theory).
  • All the philosophy instructors in UA are male. (A good theory, but not better than the previous example)
  • Most of the philosophy instructors in UA are crazy. (A bad theory, “most” and “crazy are vague, thus, difficult to falsify it)
  • Speed of light is about 300,000 km/sec. (A good theory)
  • Speed of light is 299,000 km/sec. (A good theory, better than the previous one)
  • The existence of ghosts is a probability bouncing between one out of googoplex to hundred percent. (A bad theory; vague and non-falsifiable)
  • If you have faith in me without any doubt in your heart, you won’t have any problem. (A bad theory; vague and non-falsifiable).
  • English is better than French. (A bad theory; vague and non-falsifiable)

AND

  • Popper’s theory of falsification is better than Inductivism. (A bad theory; vague and non-falsifiable!).

 

PS: This paper was written in 1992-1993 while studying philosophy at the University of Arizona