Popper coined the term critical rationalism to describe his philosophy. The term indicates his rejection of classical empiricism, and of the observationalist-inductivist account of science that had grown out of it. Popper argued strongly against the latter, holding that scientific theories are abstract in nature, and can be tested only indirectly, by reference to their implications. He also held that scientific theory, and human knowledge generally, is irreducibly conjectural or hypothetical, and is generated by the creative imagination in order to solve problems that have arisen in specific historico-cultural settings. Logically, no number of positive outcomes at the level of experimental testing can confirm a scientific theory, but a single counterexample is logically decisive: it shows the theory, from which the implication is derived, to be false. Popper's account of the logical asymmetry between verification and falsifiability lies at the heart of his philosophy of science. It also inspired him to take falsifiability as his criterion of demarcation between what is and is not genuinely scientific: a theory should be considered scientific if and only if it is falsifiable. This led him to attack the claims of both psychoanalysis and contemporary Marxism to scientific status, on the basis that the theories enshrined by them are not falsifiable. Popper also wrote extensively against the famous Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics. He strongly disagreed with Niels Bohr's instrumentalism and supported Albert Einstein's realist approach to scientific theories about the universe. Popper's falsifiability resembles Charles Peirce's fallibilism. In Of Clocks and Clouds (1966), Popper remarked that he wished he had known of Peirce's work earlier.
In All Life is Problem Solving, Popper sought to explain the apparent progress of scientific knowledge—how it is that our understanding of the universe seems to improve over time. This problem arises from his position that the truth content of our theories, even the best of them, cannot be verified by scientific testing, but can only be falsified. If so, then how is it that the growth of science appears to result in a growth in knowledge? In Popper's view, the advance of scientific knowledge is an evolutionary process characterised by his formula:
In response to a given problem situation (PS1), a number of competing conjectures, or tentative theories (TT), are systematically subjected to the most rigorous attempts at falsification possible. This process, error elimination (EE), performs a similar function for science that natural selection performs for biological evolution. Theories that better survive the process of refutation are not more true, but rather, more "fit"—in other words, more applicable to the problem situation at hand (PS1). Consequently, just as a species' "biological fit" does not predict continued survival, neither does rigorous testing protect a scientific theory from refutation in the future. Yet, as it appears that the engine of biological evolution has produced, over time, adaptive traits equipped to deal with more and more complex problems of survival, likewise, the evolution of theories through the scientific method may, in Popper's view, reflect a certain type of progress: toward more and more interesting problems (PS2). For Popper, it is in the interplay between the tentative theories (conjectures) and error elimination (refutation) that scientific knowledge advances toward greater and greater problems; in a process very much akin to the interplay between genetic variation and natural selection.
Where does "truth" fit into all this? As early as 1934 Popper wrote of the search for truth as "one of the strongest motives for scientific discovery." Still, he describes in Objective Knowledge (1972) early concerns about the much-criticised notion of truth as correspondence. Then came the semantic theory of truth formulated by the logician Alfred Tarski and published in 1933. Popper writes of learning in 1935 of the consequences of Tarski's theory, to his intense joy. The theory met critical objections to truth as correspondence and thereby rehabilitated it. The theory also seemed to Popper to support metaphysical realism and the regulative idea of a search for truth.
According to this theory, the conditions for the truth of a sentence as well as the sentences themselves are part of a metalanguage. So, for example, the sentence "Snow is white" is true if and only if snow is white. Although many philosophers have interpreted, and continue to interpret, Tarski's theory as a deflationary theory, Popper refers to it as a theory in which "is true" is replaced with "corresponds to the facts." He bases this interpretation on the fact that examples such as the one described above refer to two things: assertions and the facts to which they refer. He identifies Tarski's formulation of the truth conditions of sentences as the introduction of a "metalinguistic predicate" and distinguishes the following cases:
The first case belongs to the metalanguage whereas the second is more likely to belong to the object language. Hence, "it is true that" possesses the logical status of a redundancy. "Is true", on the other hand, is a predicate necessary for making general observations such as "John was telling the truth about Phillip."
Upon this basis, along with that of the logical content of assertions (where logical content is inversely proportional to probability), Popper went on to develop his important notion of verisimilitude or "truthlikeness".
The intuitive idea behind verisimilitude is that the assertions or hypotheses of scientific theories can be objectively measured with respect to the amount of truth and falsity that they imply. And, in this way, one theory can be evaluated as more or less true than another on a quantitative basis which, Popper emphasizes forcefully, has nothing to do with "subjective probabilities" or other merely "epistemic" considerations.
The simplest mathematical formulation that Popper gives of this concept can be found in the tenth chapter of Conjectures and Refutations.. Here he defines it as:
where Vs(a) is the verisimilitude of a, Ctv(a) is a measure of the content of truth of a, and CTf(a) is a measure of the content of the falsity of a.
Knowledge, for Popper, was objective, both in the sense that it is objectively true (or truthlike), and also in the sense that knowledge has an ontological status (i.e., knowledge as object) independent of the knowing subject (Objective Knowledge: An Evolutionary Approach, 1972). He proposed three worlds (see Popperian cosmology): World One, being the phenomenal world, or the world of direct experience; World Two, being the world of mind, or mental states, ideas, and perceptions; and World Three, being the body of human knowledge expressed in its manifold forms, or the products of the second world made manifest in the materials of the first world (i.e.–books, papers, paintings, symphonies, and all the products of the human mind). World Three, he argued, was the product of individual human beings in exactly the same sense that an animal path is the product of individual animals, and that, as such, has an existence and evolution independent of any individual knowing subjects. The influence of World Three, in his view, on the individual human mind (World Two) is at least as strong as the influence of World One. In other words, the knowledge held by a given individual mind owes at least as much to the total accumulated wealth of human knowledge, made manifest, as to the world of direct experience. As such, the growth of human knowledge could be said to be a function of the independent evolution of World Three (compare with Memetics). Many contemporary philosophers have not embraced Popper's Three World conjecture, due mostly, it seems, to its resemblance to Cartesian dualism.
"John called" is true.
"It is true that John called." Philosophy of Science
In The Open Society and Its Enemies and The Poverty of Historicism, Popper developed a critique of historicism and a defence of the 'Open Society' and liberal democracy. Historicism is the theory that history develops inexorably and necessarily according to knowable general laws towards a determinate end. Popper argued that this view is the principal theoretical presupposition underpinning most forms of authoritarianism and totalitarianism. He argued that historicism is founded upon mistaken assumptions regarding the nature of scientific law and prediction. Since the growth of human knowledge is a causal factor in the evolution of human history, and since "no society can predict, scientifically, its own future states of knowledge", it follows, he argued, that there can be no predictive science of human history. For Popper, metaphysical and historical indeterminism go hand in hand.
Among his contributions to philosophy is his attempt to answer the philosophical problem of induction. The problem, in basic terms, can be understood by example: just because the sun has risen every day for as long as anyone can remember, does not mean that there is any rational reason to believe it will rise tomorrow. There is no rational way to prove that a pattern will continue in the future just because it has in the past. Popper's reply is characteristic, and ties in with his criterion of falsifiability. He states that while there is no way to prove that the sun will come up, we can theorise that it will. If it does not come up, then it will be disproved, but since at this moment in time it seems to be consistent with our theory, the theory is not disproved.
This may be a true description of the pragmatic approach to theorizing adopted by the scientific method, but it does not in itself address the philosophical problem. As Stephen Hawking explains, "No matter how many times the results of experiments agree with some theory, you can never be sure that the next time the result will not contradict the theory." In essence, Popper addressed justification for belief that the sun will rise tomorrow, not justification for the fact that it will, which is the crux of the philosophical problem. Said another way, Popper addressed the psychological causes of our belief in the validity of induction without trying to provide logical reasons for it. In this way, he sidesteps the traditional problem of trying to justify induction as "proof."
Problem of Induction
By all accounts, Popper has played a vital role in establishing the philosophy of science as a vigorous, autonomous discipline within analytic philosophy, through his own prolific and influential works, and also through his influence on his own contemporaries and students. Popper founded in 1946 the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics and there lectured and influenced both Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend, two of the foremost philosophers of science in the next generation of philosophy of science. (Lakatos significantly modified Popper's position, and Feyerabend repudiated it entirely, but the work of both is deeply influenced by Popper and engaged with many of the problems that Popper set.)
While there is some dispute as to the matter of influence, Popper had a long-standing and close friendship with economist Friedrich Hayek, who was also brought to the London School of Economics from Vienna. Each found support and similarities in each other's work, citing each other often, though not without qualification. In a letter to Hayek in 1944, Popper stated, "I think I have learnt more from you than from any other living thinker, except perhaps Alfred Tarski." (See Hacohen, 2000). Popper dedicated his Conjectures and Refutations to Hayek. For his part, Hayek dedicated a collection of papers, Studies in Philosophy, Politics, and Economics, to Popper, and in 1982 said, "...ever since his Logik der Forschung first came out in 1934, I have been a complete adherent to his general theory of methodology." (See Weimer and Palermo, 1982).
Popper also had long and mutually influential friendships with art historian Ernst Gombrich, biologist Peter Medawar, and neuro-scientist John Carew Eccles.
Popper's influence, both through his work in philosophy of science and through his political philosophy, has also extended beyond the academy. Among Popper's students and advocates at the London School of Economics is the multibillionaire investor George Soros, who says his investment strategies are modelled on Popper's understanding of the advancement of knowledge through falsification. Among Soros's philanthropic foundations is the Open Society Institute, a think-tank named in honour of Popper's The Open Society and Its Enemies, which Soros founded to advance the Popperian defense of the open society against authoritarianism and totalitarianism.
Popperian philosophy also inspired the creation of Taking Children Seriously, a movement arguing that children and adults should try to resolve their differences without coercion.
Former Dutch politician Ayaan Hirsi Ali stated that her ideas of liberalism had been influenced by Popper's The Open Society and its Enemies.
The Quine-Duhem thesis argues that it's impossible to test a single hypothesis on its own, since each one comes as part of an environment of theories. Thus we can only say that the whole package of relevant theories has been collectively falsified, but cannot conclusively say which element of the package must be replaced. An example of this is given by the discovery of the planet Neptune: when the motion of Uranus was found not to match the predictions of Newton's laws, the theory "There are seven planets in the solar system" was rejected, and not Newton's laws themselves. Popper discussed this critique of naïve falsificationism in Chapters 3 & 4 of The Logic of Scientific Discovery. For Popper, theories are accepted or rejected via a sort of 'natural selection'. Theories that say more about the way things appear are to be preferred over those that do not; the more generally applicable a theory is, the greater its value. Thus Newton's laws, with their wide general application, are to be preferred over the much more specific "the solar system has seven planets".
Thomas Kuhn's influential book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions argued that scientists work in a series of paradigms, and found little evidence of scientists actually following a falsificationist methodology. Popper's student Imre Lakatos attempted to reconcile Kuhn's work with falsificationism by arguing that science progresses by the falsification of research programs rather than the more specific universal statements of naïve falsificationism. Another of Popper's students Paul Feyerabend ultimately rejected any prescriptive methodology, and argued that the only universal method characterizing scientific progress was anything goes.
Popper seems to have anticipated Kuhn's observations. In his collection Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (Harper & Row, 1963), Popper writes, "Science must begin with myths, and with the criticism of myths; neither with the collection of observations, nor with the invention of experiments, but with the critical discussion of myths, and of magical techniques and practices. The scientific tradition is distinguished from the pre-scientific tradition in having two layers. Like the latter, it passes on its theories; but it also passes on a critical attitude towards them. The theories are passed on, not as dogmas, but rather with the challenge to discuss them and improve upon them."
Another objection is that it is not always possible to demonstrate falsehood definitively, especially if one is using statistical criteria to evaluate a null hypothesis.
In 2004 philosopher and psychologist Michel ter Hark (Groningen, The Netherlands) published a book, called Popper, Otto Selz and the rise of evolutionary epistemology, in which he claimed that Popper took some of his ideas from his tutor, the German-Jewish psychologist Otto Selz. Selz himself never published his ideas, partly because of the rise of Nazism which forced him to quit his work in 1933, and the prohibition of referencing to Selz' work.
Liberalism in Austria
Contributions to liberal theory
Calculus of predispositions
Predispositioning Theory Bibliography
David Miller. Critical Rationalism: A Restatement and Defence. 1994.
David Miller (Ed.). Popper Selections.
John W. N. Watkins. Science and Skepticism. 1984.
Bartley, William Warren III. Unfathomed Knowledge, Unmeasured Wealth. La Salle, IL: Open Court Press 1990. A look at Popper and his influence by one of his students.
Edmonds, D., Eidinow, J. Wittgenstein's Poker. New York: Ecco 2001. A review of the origin of the conflict between Popper and Ludwig Wittgenstein, focused on events leading up to their volatile first encounter at 1946 Cambridge meeting.
Feyerabend, Paul Against Method. London: New Left Books, 1975. A polemical, iconoclastic book by a former colleague of Popper's. Vigorously critical of Popper's rationalist view of science.
Hacohen, M. Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902 – 1945. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2000.
Hickey, J. Thomas. History of the Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science Book V, Karl Popper And Falsificationist Criticism. www.philsci.com . 1995* Kadvany, John Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason. Durham and London: Duke University Press, 2001. ISBN 0-8223-2659-0. Explains how Imre Lakatos developed Popper's philosophy into a historicist and critical theory of scientific method.
Kuhn, Thomas S. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1962. Central to contemporary philosophy of science is the debate between the followers of Kuhn and Popper on the nature of scientific enquiry. This is the book in which Kuhn's views received their classical statement.
Levinson, Paul, ed. In Pursuit of Truth: Essays on the Philosophy of Karl Popper on the Occasion of his 80th Birthday. Atlantic Highlands, NJ: Humanities Press, 1982. A collection of essays on Popper's thought and legacy by a wide range of his followers. Includes an interview with Sir Ernst Gombrich.
Magee, Bryan. Popper. London: Fontana, 1977. An elegant introductory text. Very readable, albeit rather uncritical of its subject, by a former Member of Parliament.
Magee, Bryan. Confessions of a Philosopher, Weidenfeld and Nicolson, 1997. Magee's philosophical autobiography, with a chapter on his relations with Popper. More critical of Popper than in the previous reference.
Munz, Peter. Beyond Wittgenstein's Poker: New Light on Popper and Wittgenstein Aldershot, Hampshire, UK: Ashgate, 2004. ISBN 0-7546-4016-7. Written by the only living student of both Wittgenstein and Popper, an eyewitness to the famous "poker" incident described above (Edmunds & Eidinow). Attempts to synthesize and reconcile the differences between these two philosophers.
Notturno, Mark. On Popper. Wadsworth Philosophers Series. 2003. A very comprehensive book on Popper's philosophy by an accomplished Popperian.
O'Hear, Anthony. Karl Popper. London: Routledge, 1980. A critical account of Popper's thought, viewed from the perspective of contemporary analytic philosophy.
Radnitzky, Gerard, Bartley, W. W., III eds. Evolutionary Epistemology, Rationality, and the Sociology of Knowledge. La Salle, IL: Open Court Press 1987. ISBN 0-8126-9039-7. A strong collection of essays by Popper, Campbell, Munz, Flew, et al, on Popper's epistemology and critical rationalism. Includes a particularly vigorous answer to Rorty's criticisms.
Richmond, Sheldon. Aesthetic Criteria: Gombrich and the Philosophies of Science of Popper and Polanyi. Rodopi, Amsterdam/Atlanta, 1994, 152 pp. ISBN 90-5183-618-X.
Schilpp, Paul A., ed. The Philosophy of Karl Popper, 2 vols. La Salle, IL: Open Court Press, 1974. One of the better contributions to the Library of Living Philosophers series. Contains Popper's intellectual autobiography, a comprehensive range of critical essays, and Popper's responses to them.
Stokes, G. Popper: Philosophy, Politics and Scientific Method. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1998. A very comprehensive, balanced study, which focuses largely on the social and political side of Popper's thought.
Weimer, W., Palermo, D., eds. Cognition and the Symbolic Processes. Hillsdale, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. 1982. See Hayek's essay, "The Sensory Order after 25 Years", and "Discussion".