Posts Tagged ‘falsificationism’


In empiricism, induction, justificationism on 19/07/2011 at 6:49 am

There is endless conjecture, and certainty is not to be counted upon (Kant, Critique of Pure Reason)

Some people treat evidence as something that accumulates over time, like sap from a tree. Once enough evidence is collected, you need only synthesize it into syrup, and then you’ve proved your point. “I have X amount of evidence for Y, therefore you ought to believe Y, otherwise you are behaving irrationally.” So the story goes.

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Determining the Truth

In critical rationalism, experiments, fallibilism, holism, justificationism, popper, quine, skepticism, underdetermination on 08/07/2011 at 1:13 pm

I go to a wedding and I miss a gigantic explosion in the blogosphere over Sir Harold Kroto’s Nobel Laureate lecture. Eh, I’ve missed worse things.

Andrew Brown at The Guardian has an adequate–but far from complete–drubbing of Kroto’s proto-positivist claim that “Science is the only philosophical construct we have to determine TRUTH with any degree of reliability.”

PZ Myers disagrees with Brown, but I’m not surprised. After reading him for a few years, he comes off as a genuine na├»ve Popperian, saying “If someone were to say something truly false and giggleworthy, like for instance, “all cats are black,” what I’d do is go out and find a Siamese and a white Persian and wave them in his face. Isn’t that obvious?” After Quine, it isn’t so obvious anymore. Isn’t that obvious? PZ is a scientist, and scientists aren’t often paid to think about epistemology, so I won’t hold it against him. Only through a critical discussion can we come to an agreement, tentative though it may be, about things like the color of cats–and yet this agreement is forever provisional. If someone were to point out this distinction in private, PZ would probably temper his initial statement, but headlines sell papers.

Kroto, Myers, and Brown all come off thinking that science is directed at establishing claims–I am apparently the odd man out when I concede that, rather than lifting up other traditions to science’s level, science does not have the epistemic privilege Kroto and PZ think: there is no way to reliably determine the truth.

That said, we can choose to prefer science over other ‘ways of knowing’ for the same reason we can choose to prefer a theory that has survived criticism over one that has not: while its past success at solving our problems provide no ‘good reasons’ for favoring science, the failures of alternative ‘ways of knowing’ are sufficient to provisionally adopt what remains.