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9 of 13 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Could be improved with more attention to history and detail, September 18, 2012
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This review is from: Philosophy of Science: A Very Short Introduction (Paperback)
It appears from books like this that it is possible to spend an academic career in philosophy without meeting anyone who can provide a straight feed on the ideas of Karl Popper.

Under the heading "science and pseudo-science" Okasha introduced Popper's falsifiability criterion and he noted Popper's concerns with Freud's psychoanalytic theory and Marx's theory of history. Actually it was the devoted followers who were Popper's real concern because he accepted that there could be truth in psychoanalysis and he devoted hundreds of pages of analysis of Marx to sort out the helpful from the unhelpful elements.

In contrast to the true believers in psychoanalysis and Marxism, Einstein offered testable predictions, which inspired Popper's criterion. Okasha was critical of this "intuitively quite plausible" attempt at demarcation, on the ground that reputable scientists quite often persisted with theories in the face of adverse evidence. He instanced the defence of Newton's theory by the "ad hoc" postulation of an extra planet to explain irregularities in the movement of a known planet. The new planet was soon located, thus vindicating the theory. However this episode cannot be used to find fault with Popper because(1) Popper did not suggest that a hitherto successful theory should be thrown away lightly, indeed even a new theory should be allowed some time to show how it can be developed and (2) Popper drew a distinction between "saving" hypotheses that are not testable (bad) and those that are testable (ok) like the postulation of the extra planet.

We are told that "some philosophers regard Popper's criterion as overly simplistic" but that is not the case when people take account of (1) and (2) above. It is necessary to read Popper's books to find his position because books like this one provide an overly simplistic picture of Popper's criterion.

On the topic of Induction we find "In effect, scientists use inductive reasoning whenever they move from limited data to a more general conclusion, which they do all the time...Most philosophers think it's obvious that science relies heavily on inductive reasoning, indeed so obvious that it hardly needs arguing for. But, remarkably, this was denied by the philosopher Karl Popper, who claimed that scientists only need to use deductive inferences."

Not quite. As an advocate of the hypothetico-deductive method Popper talked about "conjectures and refutations", so we work with hypotheses (guesses) and we test them using deduction. Because there are several different kinds of "induction" it is important to check which kind Popper denied. He denied the validity of attempts to use "inductive logic" to assign a truth value or a probability to a theory on the basis of observation statements.

So far Popper's critique of inductive logic has not been effectively answered, although some people like to use the term to apply to (1) the process of forming a hypothesis or (2) the expectation that the world behaves in regular or consistent way. Popper denied (1), insisting that there is no "logic" for discovery, and he accepted (2) not as a form of induction but as a metaphysical theory about the nature of the universe (to behave in a consistent and regular manner, even if underlying regularities or patterns are hard to find). People talk about discovery algorithms and indeed you only need to search with google to find out how effective they can be. But that is a search for a discrete answer, not for the general principles and causal laws that attempt to describe the way the world works. Algorithms to find true scientific theories do not exist, although programs can no doubt be developed to mimic the function of making guesses or conjectures that are the raw materials of scientific progress. Still, like any other guesses, projections or whatever, they have to be subjected to the deductive logic of testing.

A lot of space is devoted to Kuhn and The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, "unquestionably the most influential work of philosophy of science in the last 50 years." Okasha correctly pointed out that this created a huge stir at a time when the movement of logical empiricism was decaying. However this impact had nothing to do with the merits of Kuhn's ideas because positivism and logical empiricism were intellectually dead in the water after Popper developed and published his ideas in the 1930s. Okasha wrote that the positivists paid little attention to the history of science but that did not apply to Popper who always urged the historical approach, for example in the Preface to the The Logic of Scientific Discovery (1959).

"Why did Kuhn's ideas cause such a storm?" One reason was the failure of positivism/empiricism to solve its problems: to find a theory of meaning that worked, and to make inductive logic credible. It was stale and boring. The thrill of its iconoclastic attack on all and any school of thought that did not use the correct scientific method was exhausted. Red-blooded students in the swinging sixties needed something more exciting and the concept of scientific revolutions was just the thing to capture the spirit of the age. In fact paradigm theory itself became boring when Kuhn recanted most of his early views.

There is some talk about Kuhn's "highly controversial philosophical theses" like the turn to history (anticipated by Popper) his insistence on the "theory-dependence of facts" (also anticipated by Popper) and his focus on the social context of science. Actually Popper anticipated that as well, in chapter 23 of The Open Society and its Enemies (1945). For a longer treatment see Jarvie on The Republic of Science: the Emergence of Popper's Social View of Science (Series in the Philosophy of Karl R.: Popper and Critical Rationalism) ... of Karl R.Popper & Critical Rationalism). [...]

Okasha suggested that Kuhn's ideas transformed the philosophy of science (for the better) because he drew attention to issues that the traditional philosophy of science ignored. That is simply not true in the case of Popper who anticipated Kuhn on all points that were helpful and valid.

More work is required to find out how and why so many books recycle a number of more or less standard mistakes about Popper's ideas.
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Initial post: Jul 5, 2014 9:36:45 AM PDT
excellent, intelligent commentary.
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