48 of 51 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2000
This book is probably the best ever written on epistemology. Here Popper presents his theory of three worlds, one of which is the world of intelligibles, of ideas in the objective sense, which are Popper's candidates for knowledge without a knowing subject, or what he calls knowledge in the objective sense. Thus the term 'objective' in the title is intended by Popper to emphasize an analogy with physical objects; it is not intended in the more common sense of meaning 'unbiased' or 'unprejudiced' or anything like that (nor does Popper's philosophy have anything in common with Ayn Rand's so-called objectivist epistemology).
The book is subtitled 'An Evolutionary Approach'. Popper sees the evolution of knowledge as continuous with biological evolution: "From the amoeba to Einstein, the growth of knowledge is always the same: we try to solve our problems, and to obtain, by a process of elimination, something approaching adequacy in our tentative solution." In Popper's view, the evolution of knowledge is not merely analogous with biological evolution; rather, it is an extension of biological evolution: it is basically the same, continuous process, from the biological evolution of the amoeba to the most sophisticated theories of science.
The first chapter in the book contains Popper's most extensive discussion of the problem of induction. Popper's interest in this problem dates back to the earliest days of his career. His conclusion is, I think, totally convincing: there is no process of induction, and the sorts of things imagined by so many academic philosophers are just fantasies and misconceptions. Science gets along perfectly well without any inductive logic, as Popper explains.
The final chapters represent some of Popper's most mature philosophy. He offers a realist view of logic, physics, and history. He discuses in perfectly lucid terms the aim of science and the problem of rationality. The appendix, entitled "The Bucket and the Searchlight: Two Theories of Knowledge", is a brilliant climax in which many threads of the otherwise independent chapters are brought together.
If you want to understand Popper's epistemology, this is the book to read. It is the testament of a great mind and a great man, a philosopher who, in my view, will be seen in coming decades and centuries as perhaps the greatest of the 20th century.
53 of 57 people found the following review helpful
on November 21, 1998
(4 and a half stars)
In this book, Karl Popper developed his 'Evolutionary Epistemology', in which he proposed that our ideas and theories evolve and our knowledge 'grows'. In order to advance his case, he introduced some strange ideas, such as versillimitude (the idea that there are a certain number of possible propositions out there, and you can measure the value of a proposition relative to the total number of propositions in 'proposition-space') and his 'three worlds' (the real world, the subjective world, and the world of things that are written down and artifacts in general).
Regardless of defects in the specific arguments, his general approach was quite rich in insights and possibilities, and his notion of evolutionary epistemology in particular deserves to be taken up and further developed today in a sociocultural evolutionary context. In fact, the existing literature on evlutionary epistemology is mostly from the point of view of strict analogy with biological evolution (variation, survival of the fittest, etc) rather than evolution of ideas in a socio-cultural context. This has its place, but leaves interesting and important work to be done.
The book is a collection of papers, so there is some repetition, and sometimes you need to read another paper in the book before you really 'get' what he was saying in another paper. Some of the papers are fairly heavy going for the non-philosopher or someone who hasn't read at that sort of level of academic literature, so be warned, but if you skim to the good bits or persevere there is a lot of value in this - and a lot of ideas that are half formed, leaving you with the challenging and exciting task of redeveloping them.
Much food for thought.
If you just want an intro to Popper, and in particular to falsification, his logic of scientific discovery might be a better first stop.
You might also want to check out Lakatos, Feyerabend, and Kuhn if you want to get an overview of the seminal figures in the philosophy of science. Since then, a lot of the interesting work has been in the sociology of science, asking questions like to what extent the cultural attitudes and preconceptions of scientific groups shape the way science is done and what gets called science. 'Science in Context' by Barry Barnes and David Edge is a recent work giving the flavour of some of these developments. Some of the names in this field are Bruno Latour ('Laboratory Life : The Construction of Scientific Facts') and Richard Whitley, who has also done some interesting work on the sociology of economics.
27 of 29 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2001
When an undergraduate in college, I was mainly exposed to so called "Continental" philosophy which seems to have a tendency, to say the least, toward bosh, and to analytic philosophy which seems to have a tendency, to say the least, toward triviality, plus, since it was a Catholic college, selections from Plato, Aristotle, and medieval metaphysicians.
I could not really acclimate myself with these doctrines. It is in a sense unfortunate that I found an alternative outside my formal schooling. With Popper I found someone who is readable--I think that any intelligent general reader can understand him--original, and with an outlook congruent with natural science.
He is known for his ideas on scientific method--that science does not really "prove" theories, but creates conjectures which have rich empirical content and withstand falsification. With ideas like this, decades ago, he attacked doctrines like Marxism, and psycho-analysis. Demolishing the claims of these doctrines may seem to be no big deal today, but decades ago they were major tools of our intellecutal elites.
This book covers old ground such as his views on science but also, it seems to me, breaks new ground. A new contribution is his theory of the Three Worlds, which I think is fruitful. He also deals with the question of free will, which I sense is the weakest part of his book.
Popper distinguishes three realms or 'worlds.' World1 is the world of physical objects; World2 is the world of our subjective beliefs, thoughts, feelings; World3 is what he calls an objective world of knowledge, the objective contents of thought--the knowledge contained in books, musuems, libraries, etc.
Popper holds that most philosophers considered the object of epistemology--the theory of knowledge--to be World2. Popper argues that this is misguided. He thinks it is, to use his words, "irrelevant." The proper object for epistemology is World3. We should concern ourselves not with justifying our subjective beliefs but with objective theories--their contents, the arguments supporting them, etc.
A theory of knowledge based on World3 has some interesting ramifications. It is immune from modern relativistic attacks (this is my personal view). World2 epistemology has premises, both implicit and explicit, that make it vulnerable to relativistic attacks. World3 epistemology, instead, proceeds with the GROWTH of knowledge. Another interesting feature of World3 is that, even though it is man-made, it is autonomous. If humanity were to disappear, World3 will still be "outthere". World3 is created by individuals with certain goals, but the contents of World3 seem to have a life of its own(and this is very metaphorical). It can be used by others in different ways, it leads to new problems and solutions not considered before, etc.
Popper also deals with the problem of understanding in the humanities. There are some who hold that there is a difference between understanding in the natural sciences and understanding in the human sciences--that in fields like history, psychology, sociology, one has to understand by a method which seems to me to be something like a mystical intuitive grasp of the thoughts of another. Popper thinks that this is old hat. The method to, say, reconstruct a damaged ancient text is fundamentally no different from understanding regularities in nature.
Popper died not too long before the advent of the world wide web. It seems to me that Popper's ideas on the three worlds are very applicable to the world wide web. The World Wide Web would fall under the category of World3. It has an ever expanding content of knowledge, of conjectures, of arguments and discussion. Being a part of World3, it is human made, but the world wide web has a certain autonomy. A road built on the web by one person for one thing can be used in different ways by different people.
19 of 22 people found the following review helpful
To those who've not read Popper before, I highly reccomend that you statrt now- and with this book. To those who have experienced these pages first-hand, you understand why Popper and the theories herein are so important.
As short-windedly as possible, I'd like to say how I came to read him. I had forayed into philosophy through Ayn Rand who managed to convince me- as she does so many readerss- that philosophy is a chasm between soft relativism and hard objectivism. Either one believes in absolute truth and reasons 100% ability to grasp it, she wrote, or that truth is a chimera and as such, reality is mutable. I believed her. Later though, I grew restless. Truth is out there, I supposed, but how can we guarantee that our beliefs are and will always be correct? Grudgingly, I read Popper and it all made sense.
Most are familiar with Poppers theories on demarcation and epistemology but this book goes into great detail on both in clear, enjoyable language. Truth, Popper tells us, is absolute. It is certainty that creates the dilemma. Since experience has shown us that objective reality exists, science works but does not take us the full way. Theories are superceded and what once seemed true may not tomorrow. So the ultimmate test of a theory should not be whether it can be VERIFIED- if we look for supporting evidence of a pretty good yet minorly false theory, we'll probably find it- but whehter the theory can be FALSIFIED- if we look for evidence against a pretty good yet minorly false theory, it's easier, quicker and beter to find IT. What does this mean? Reality exists, otherwise why do science- it's just our CERTAINTY of any belief that will prove elusive. This book, in its small yet powerful essays, explains, examines and defends this theory of an evolutionary approach to knowledge (i.e., science.) Popper is not Foucoult; his intention is not to destroy science but to enhance it.
If you're like me, in awe of Popper's theories, perplexed as to why more people aren't and would like to read others who give similar views, one can do no better than C.S. Pierce and John Dewey. Especially Dewey's "Quest for Certainty" which underlines the experimental process of knowledge and breaks down the false dualism of knowledge and action. Also, Michael Polanyi and Thomas Kuhn (don't believe what Kuhn's critics, even Popper himself, says about him) have similar approaches. for a contemporaary Popperian style, read Susan Haack's "Manifesto of a Passionate Moderate." Not to dissuade you from reading this first as this is the starting points, the other books are enhancements. Fall in love with science!
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 4, 2007
This collection of short essays by a Jew in refuge from Hitler's Nazism is among the most influential works this Gentile has ever read. I wonder why it is not equally valued by the Zionists?
Popper's principal theories are summarized in this excellent compendium, save his political and pseudo-scientific discourses. Popper is eminently accessible, one of the most lucid and articulate philosophers since Aristotle, superseding even Hume and Russell. But for all his accessibility, he is still a major challenge, not because he's difficult to read, but because he's turned Marx, Freud, historicism, psychologism, sociology, etc., and the pseudo-sciences on their heads.
Yet, for his radical insights, he still remains controversial -- largely because he accepts "Hume's Problem of Induction" for what it truly is: A major problem for those disciplines dependent on it. Not unlike Darwin, whom Popper fully embraces and models many of his insights, seeing the world through Popper's lens is both liberating -- and difficult for many individuals who are steeped in essentialism and mythology. Popper is unopposed to those individuals, he simply operates on a much more rigorous plane of intelligibility.
This work would NOT be the work to start Popper with, although it is clear and concise in every respect. I recommend David Miller's "Popper Selections" for several reasons. First, the "chunks" in Miller's edition are much smaller and easier to digest than these compendious writings. Second, Miller's edition is broader is scope and function and gives the reader a broader sense of how revolutionary and yet radical Popper is. Third, Miller's work introduces these same subjects in smaller portions so that the dazzling mind of Popper is fully on display.
Once that task is accomplished, this book refines, elaborates, and develops more concretely the epistemological concerns which are the bedrock of all Popper's works, and why he represents such critical risks to the metaphysicians practicing their voodoo.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 17, 2006
Many reviewers have already put down a lot of information and advice on this book which I agree with and endorse. Karl Popper = brilliant philosopher of science, and his epistemology is pretty provocative. This book is about that epistemology.
I just wanted to point out, though, that Popper did not originate the idea of "Three Worlds" as most of the reviewers here seem to assert. He picked it up from Frege and ran with it. If you want the astounding arguments and proofs for the existence of said "Three Worlds," read "On Sense and Reference" and "Thought" by Frege--you can probably find both articles for free, online. If not, pick up virtually any anthology of analytic philosophy--they should be in there.
34 of 46 people found the following review helpful
In a recent article on the relation between natural philosophy and quantum chromodynamics (the physical theory of the strong nuclear interaction), Frank Wilcek, a well-recognized researcher in elementary particle physics, included the following entertaining passage:
A man walks into a bar, takes a seat on the next-to-last stool, and spends the evening chatting up the empty stool next to him, being charming and flirtatious, as if there were a beautiful women in that empty seat. The next night, same story. And the next night, same story again. Finally the bartender can't take it any more. She asks, "Why do you keep talking to that empty stool as if there were a beautiful woman in it?".
The man answers, "I am a philosopher. Hume taught us that it's logically possible that a beautiful woman will suddenly materialize on that stool, and no one has ever refuted him. If one does appear, then obviously I'll seem very clever indeed, and I'll have the inside track with her."
"That's ridiculous", says the bartender, who happens to be a physicist. "Plenty of very attractive women come to this bar all the time. You're reasonably presentable, and extremely articulate; if you applied your charm on one of them, you might succeed".
"I thought about trying that," he replies, "but I couldn't prove it would work."
I included this passage in this review not to ridicule the work of David Hume but to emphasize that his philosophy of science is in no way troubling. The author of this book though spent most of his professional life attempting to refute the views of Hume and then justify the practice of science "objectively". In the first few paragraphs of this book, the author sounds bitter about the lack of recognition for his work on "the problem of induction", which he felt Hume had shown to have devastating consequences on the "truth" of science. The search for an objective, rational "foundation" of science has occupied the time of this author and many others, who hold to the idea that scientific knowledge needs such a foundation and the Humean challenge must be answered. To those readers who agree with the author in this regard, this book would be of interest. To those who do not, this book could possibly be read as an exercise in mental gymnastics. There are some places in the book where issues are raised that are important in fields such as artificial intelligence, but as a whole the book is typical of 20th century philosophy of science: it holds as axiomatic that scientific knowledge needs an underlying foundation.
Since I personally do not believe the David Hume has to be answered at all, a review of the author's arguments against Hume would be misplaced. Having read Hume's works in detail, and having walked away from them puzzled as to why they are considered so "formidable" or "devastating", my interest in this book was purely subjective: that of gaining insight as to why many philosophers of science are so deeply troubled by Hume's philosophy and other science skeptics. Finishing the book still left my questions unanswered in this regard, and judging by a perusal of the literature on the philosophy of science, Humean skepticism is still considered the "thing to answer". Scientific truth is still held in doubt to a large degree, and debates on it in the social and political realm usually take place in the context of religion or why creationism should be taught in the public schools.
But science needs no foundation. The game of philosophy should now be what consequences science has for philosophy. What theories of truth, of ethics, of knowledge, are possible for philosophy because of science? If this book were rewritten to reflect this attitude, its content would be very different, possibly more elaborate in its views. The avenues that science opens up in ethics, epistemology, and ontology are rich in information theory, mathematics, logic, and many other areas. Scientific and technological advances are exploding at an unprecedented rate, and no Humean challenge or backlash can stop it.....thankfully.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on February 17, 2010
In these important essays, Karl Popper discusses Hume's problem (induction), Tarski's philosophical achievements, Wittgenstein's language problem, his three worlds and all sorts of `isms'.
Hume noted that, however great the number of repetitions, man cannot justify the reasoning that an experience will lead again to the same outcome (no induction). But, why do reasonable people believe it? Out of `custom or habit', without which man would hardly survive.
Popper's solution for the problem is `deduction'. People function within a theoretical framework and should continue to do so as long as the framework has not been falsified or improved.
Tarski's philosophical importance is immense.
He demonstrated that truth is simply correspondence with the facts.
Moreover, he showed that any language contains descriptions of facts and a meta-language which contains statements about these facts. He solved, thereby, the liar's paradox.
For Wittgenstein, a proposition is a picture of reality. More, it is impossible to discuss the relationship between language and reality, because language cannot be discussed by language.
As Ray Monk explained in his brilliant book about Wittgenstein, language was not the centre of Wittgenstein's preoccupations, but ethics. Language was only a useful tool in order to speak clearly about ethical problems.
For Karl Popper, our universe is composed by three worlds: the physical world, the world of our mental experiences and an objective world (our actual knowledge written down in books, on hard disks, on visual displays ...)
But, as W. Van Orman Quine astutely remarked: why do we need world 2? It is the same as world 1. Popper rejected categorically physicalism.
Popper lambastes rightly the megalomania of many philosophers who cover their `incompetence' in obscure, would-be highbrow sentences and abstractions.
All philosophic texts should be written in simple, lucid and easily comprehensible language, as used in these texts.
This book is a must read for all those interested in the (philosophical) world we live in.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on September 4, 2011
Popper is a famous science philosopher. He thinks (and writes) about how human knowledge grows.
In this book, Popper describes his famous 3 worlds:
- The first world is the world of physical objects or of physical states.
- The second world is the world of subjects, of mental states. Knowledge, in the sense of "I know" belongs to this world.
- The third world is the world of objective theories and objective problems and critical arguments. Scientific knowledge belongs to this world.
Some quotes from the book:
- I believe that Einstein was wrong in trying to hold fast to determinism.
- Einstein's theory taught us to look at Newton's as a mere hypothesis (or conjecture)
- There is knowledge in the subjective sense (consisting of dispositions and expectations)
- There is knowledge in the objective sense (consisting of linguistically formulated expectations submitted to critical discussions)
- Repetition has no power whatsoever as an argument, although it dominates our cognitive life or our understanding
- What has to be given up is the quest for justification that a theory is true. All theories are hypotheses. All may be overthrown
- Our starting point is common sense, our great instrument for progress is criticism
- Nothing is direct or immediate in our experience. It's all decoding, or interpretation.
- The difference between an amoeba and Einstein is that, although both make use of the method of trial and error elimination, the amoeba dislikes erring while Einstein is intrigued by it
- The tremendous biological advance of the invention of a descriptive and argumentative language can now be seen more precisely than before: the linguistic formulation of theories allows us to criticize and to eliminate them without eliminating the race which carries them.
Unnecessary to say, this book is no easy read. It explores ideas on a high level of abstraction and it refers to (and partly builds on) the ideas of many other, bright minds (Hegel, Kant, Plato, Hume, Einstein to name but a few).
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on August 21, 2009
Popper displays here his so called "third philosophy", that goes around the world 1, world 2 and world 3. This is not a very popular topic in Popper scholarship, in part because it is his late philosophy and it is not constructed under a systematic manner as the other two were (The Logic of Scientific Discovery and The Open Society).
Still, much than a mature and finished philosophy is a programmatic start up. You will find isolated papers, conferences that Popper offered in his last years, more or less happily ensembled by the editor. But there is much more in the rear that it would seem at a first glance. The impact on deep consideration of the influences between the different worlds and, especially, between the world 3 and the other two, is something that still has not been done.
Only 9 years ago, for instance, the Peruvian guru De Soto published an interesting book, The Mistery of the Capital, where he stresses that poverty is mainly caused not because poors in the world do not have assets; but instead because these assets are not "visible" to the international markets because they do not have appropriate titles of property universally accepted. In popperian terminology: because their assets only exist in the world 1 and world 2, but not in world 3.
World 3 is still a promised land to be discovered. Poppers work is an adequate beginning if you want to change the situation.