In duhem, holism, popper on 19/06/2011 at 12:39 pm

These are all notes I’ve had lying around for some time. Thought they deserved some fresh air after reading this article, especially this part:

What all this means, in practical terms, is that the best way to encourage (or to have) new ideas isn’t to fetishise the “spark of genius”, to retreat to a mountain cabin in order to “be creative”, or to blabber interminably about “blue-sky”, “out-of-the-box” thinking. Rather, it’s to expand the range of your possible next moves – the perimeter of your potential – by exposing yourself to as much serendipity, as much argument and conversation, as many rival and related ideas as possible; to borrow, to repurpose, to recombine. This is one way of explaining the creativity generated by cities, by Europe’s 17th-century coffee-houses, and by the internet. Good ideas happen in networks; in one rather brain-bending sense, you could even say that “good ideas are networks”. Or as Johnson also puts it: “Chance favours the connected mind.”

In his later years Popper generalized his proposal of falsifiability as demarcating science from pseudoscience: proposals can be assessed qua solutions to problems. Does the proposal solve the problem (rather than shift the problem), and how does it compare to other solutions?

Popper’s response to the Duhem problem (something I’ve covered previously) was that it is acceptable to modify our theories provided that scientists do not diminish the content of the theory. Lakatos’s key idea – which Popper adopted – was that one can adopt a generalized principle for non-empirical ideas. We may ask of a philosophical idea how exactly has it been modified in the face of difficulties.

What all this meant for Popper was that once the positivistic ghost of whether metaphysical theories could be assessed as fruitful freed philosophy so that it could be concerned with cosmology, as providing an explanatory picture of the world, and of our place in it. Philosophical activity is then shifted from dealing with puzzles to attempts to develop and assess competing cosmological views that attempt to explain our place in the world. It is an ever-changing dialogue where we come to understand the world: the aspects that go beneath the surface, the aspects that call into question the unquestioned life. This included the limited cosmology dealing with human interaction — ethical and social problems.

Furthermore, this meant that the philosophical and scientific mindset were united under a particular style of communication: rather than uncritically accepting the giants of philosophy/science, the philosopher/scientist’s role is to critically evaluate these assumptions. These criticisms could range from the most concrete (the proposal contradicts an existential state of affairs) to the most abstract (the proposal is dealing with a pseudo-problem).

Since philosophy and science are now dealing with different aspects of cosmological problems, philosophy and science become continuous, in the sense that science is the empirical end of philosophy. To put it in a different way, philosophical problems can be addressed in much the same manner as scientific problems: inter-subjective criticism. Science involves ongoing debates between different views of the world, offering pictures or models of what the world is like. Science itself, while distinguished from philosophy by the possibility of a posteriori testing, nonetheless takes place in a philosophical setting.


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