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Popper attempts to explain why science is granted authority because of its rationality by outlining a method that is specific to science. The crux of Popper’s theory is his claim that what distinguishes science from pseudo-science is its ability to be falsified. A theory is falsifiable if it can be proven as incorrect- it has nothing to do with whether it is true or not. For example, the conjecture that dolphins can fly is falsifiable because there are tests and experiments we can perform to determine whether this is correct. Furthermore, the broader the scope and the more precise a theory is, the more falsifiable, and therefore better, it is. The claim that ‘all metals conduct electricity’ is more falsifiable than the claim ‘copper conducts electricity’ because there is evidence that would refute the former that would not refute the latter.
Popper then includes the importance of falsifiability in his method which he uses to solve the problem of induction. The problem with an inductive inference is that the premises do not entail the conclusion; hence, the argument is invalid. An example of an inductive argument is:
It is logically possible for the conclusion of this argument to be false even though its premises are true. Popper sees the that induction is epistemically precarious but argues that it is not a problem for science as science only uses deductive reasoning. His idea of a science is the following:
According to Popper, there is no problem of induction as deduction is the prevailing scientific theory. He claims that science tells us the way the world isn’t, so we can implicitly depict how the world is.
This seems to have the consequence that according to Popper it is equally rational to act on an untested and thus unfalsified theory as a well tested but unfalsified theory. But this is absurd. (Study question: Can you come up with an untested and thus unfalsified theory that it would be absurd to act on?)
We might save Popper’s account from absurdity by claiming that the more corroborated a theory is the more we should trust it. But then we would need to take corroboration to tell us about the future performance of the theory. So we would re-introduce induction into Popper’s account.
A slightly more subtle point: induction is involved in Popper’s account of a novel test. The prediction that light would bend round massive objects like the sun was novel in 1919 (see brief history of astronomy handout) but, of course for contemporary scientists that prediction is not novel at all. What counts as a novel prediction then is dependent upon a scientists background knowledge, what he expects to happen. But these kind of expectations must be based on inductive reasoning.
But abandon what? Many different theoretical assumptions are involved in generating the prediction. Eg. The theory itself; assumptions about the initial conditions, whether other objects affect the orbits of the planets; the theory of our telescope, whether the light reflected from the planet is affected by the Earth’s atmosphere, etc.
So no amount of evidence can ever show that a theory is false. The theory can always be protected from falsification by blaming one of the other assumptions made in generating the prediction.
More practically, Popper’s methodology gives the scientist no guidance about which theoretical idea to revise. Didn’t abandon falsified theory of how the universe moves.
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