Popper Scholarship

In critical rationalism, popper, toulman, van fraassen on 16/07/2011 at 11:18 pm

The biggest problems in critical rationalism, expressed as broadly as possible:

  1. too many are engaging in exegesis on, and history of, Popper’s thought.
  2. too few are progressively advancing critical rationalism.

The same could be said of most schools, and I do not intend to target anyone directly. That said, the work of historians of science and philosophy is invaluable, giving unseen insights into brilliant minds; however, Popper should only be valued because he, like many before him, paved the way for others. Of course, 1 is often not a problem, for younger generations often have had little understanding of the full implications of critical rationalism, and good historical scholarship can only help. That said, all things being equal, 1 is not as important as 2 in the long run, for critical rationalism will stagnate without constant criticism and revision in light of that criticism.

What can be done to advance critical rationalism? It is still in a savage state.

There is, after Bartley, comprehensively critical rationalism, which drops support entirely. We only have ‘good reasons’ for the rejection of theories, never their endorsement. This is a case-study of solely broadening of critical rationalism.

Hattiangadi, Andersson, and Feyerabend did away with any sort of methodological principles in scientific and everyday life, and their criticism of methodological rules ought to be reconsidered. A variation of their position may in time be integrated into critical rationalism for the better. Hattiangadi and Feyerabend, then claim all problems are contradictions in our knowledge. Such a claim is problematic, of course. If correct, this reduces critical rationalism’s content by way of eliminating weak genes–subtraction–from the critical rationalism gene pool.

Work done in the sociology of science, may provide specific methodological rules that work only insofar as they survive criticism, which would be a case of pure addition.

Piaget’s genetic epistemology and Lakatos’s work on scientific research programs expands critical rationalism in some respects, but it amounts to little more than mutations or facets on critical rationalism with helpful characteristics that may be integrated.

I think van Fraassen’s work on constructive empiricism works well in tandem with critical rationalism, although constructive empiricism is still caught in its own problems relating to belief and stances. Critical rationalism fixes these problems. Stephen Toulman’s work in argumentation theory, which has accepted aspects of critical rationalism, also has valuable pieces critical rationalism can incorporate. Constructive empiricism and argumentation theory, then, are cases of possible cross-pollination.

What else are we missing that could broaden, remove, add, integrate, or cross-pollinate with CR?


  1. It is very hard to know what critical rationalists are doing in the absence of a “house journa'” and the kind of infrastructure that gives shape and continuity to a movement.

    A few years ago I set up a list of Popper or CR resources to provide a record of work planned, work in progress and work published but the task has languished and the last time I circulated my (not very large) email list I think nothing came back!

    This is how it stands after the last update, it is really time to make an effort to keep it going.


    • Rafe,

      Excellent point. A CR journal with high admissions standards, a good editor, and and frequent submissions would be a boon; however, it looks like we’re caught in a temporary Catch-22: in order to publish top-notch papers, more submissions are necessary, which requires more philosophers familiar with CR. And how does one get philosophers familiar with CR? A top-notch journal would be one of the best steps any small group of individuals can attempt.

      Should the journal then accept non-academic journals? Then it does not gain as much prestige as it would with content written by academics.

      As an aside, out of all the sites for CR I’ve seen on the Internet, The Rathouse is my personal favorite on CR. As a consequence, I’ve learned of a few CR-sympathetic/compatible authors. Thanks.

  2. d,

    Talking of Popper scholarship, I hope you didn’t forget about me!

    • Lee,

      No, I did not. I’ll send it tomorrow morning/afternoon. I spent today working with a friend on a spec script and lost track of time.

      It doesn’t help that the afternoon was doing little more than watching the U.S. woman’s soccer team lose to Japan at the local coffee shop.

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