Ohio State University
School of Music
Karl Popper and Falsificationism
Notes by Ben Koen
April 3, 2000
Popper, Karl. (1934/1959).
The Logic of
English translation, New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959.
Magee, Bryan. (1985).
Philosophy and the Real World.
La Salle: Open Court Publishing Company.
It is not truisms which science unveils.
Rather, it is part of the
greatness and the beauty of science that we can learn, through our own
critical investigations, that the world is utterly different from what we
ever imagined--until our imagination was fired by the refutation of our
earlier theories (Popper: 431).
The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for
it is not his possession of knowledge,
of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent
and recklessly critical quest for truth.
Problem of Induction
Popper opposes the view that "the empirical sciences can be characterized
by the fact that they use inductive methods."
He states that the
problem of induction which allows
universal statements (conclusions, claims, or truths often in the form of
hypotheses or theories) to proceed from
particular statements--which are simply
observations or "accounts of the results of...experiments"
Hence, "no matter how many instances of white swans we
may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that
all swans are white" (P: 27).
Moreover, the singular observation of one black swan allows the statement
"not all swans are white."
Thus, "empirical generalizations, though
not verifiable, are falsifiable.
This means that scientific laws are testable in spite of being unprovable:
they can be tested by systematic attempts to refute them...[and] in logic...a
scientific law is conclusively falsifiable although it is not conclusively verifiable"
Falsification and the Criterion of Demarcation
Popper claims that falsification
is the essential criterion of
demarcation to distinguish science (empirical science)
as opposed to the inductionist's verifiability
demands that every scientific statement be
"capable of being tested" (P:48).
His philosophy requires that "it must be possible for an empirical scientific
system to be refuted by experience"
(i.e., testing) and states that it is unimportant if a
statement is true or false as long as it meets the criterion of
Induction claims that science's role is to prove `truth' (or rather establish
by positive statements based on experience/observation and it does not
require that a statement be falsifiable.
Hence the statement "It will rain or not rain here
tomorrow" is not empirical, and "It will rain here tomorrow"
is empirical since it can be refuted as where the former cannot (P: 41).
Popper clearly denies the accusations that his
classification of non-science (or metaphysics) means that such ideas or
subjects are unimportant, meaningless, or non-sense.
He states that
such concepts outside of science simply are not science but are often the
impetus or essential ingredient to encourage the scientific
(driven by the criterion of demarcation).
Epistemology is "the logic of scientific discovery" whose methodological
rules can be seen as the rules to the game entitled "The Logic of
Scientific Discovery" (P: 49/53).
The game of science is, in principle, without end.
He who decides one day that scientific statements do not call for
any further test, and that they can be regarded as finally verified,
retires from the game.
"Once a hypothesis has been proposed and tested, and has proved
its mettle, it may not be allowed to drop out without a `good reason'
...A good reason could be...the replacement of the hypothesis by another
which is better testable; or the falsification of one of the consequences
of the hypothesis" (P:54)