Sir Karl Popper's Falsifiability Claim


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Sir Karl Popper's Falsifiability Claim

Popper's claim that "the criterion of the scientific status of a theory is its falsifiability" (Klemke, 1988) may be viewed as an observation of, rather than a complete departure from, earlier criteria for science. Klemke states in his introduction to part one (p. 16) that defining science (or the scientific method) has traditionally consisted of utilizing seven criteria that must be met in a specific order. Criteria number (5) and (6) refer to deduction rather than induction, and will negate criterion (4) if not met. Specifically, if one is unable to "deduce other statements from these", or one is unable to "verify those statements by further observations", it is not science. Therefore, the difference between Popper's claim and earlier theories of what constitutes science may be in definition.

Popper himself states (Klemke, 1988, p.27) that observations are interpretations relative to the theory one wishes to support (or refute). One must define one's terms so that the theory itself is clear and open to rebuttal or verification. Perhaps the conflict between the earlier criteria for science and Popper's criterion is one of clarity, not theory.

Although traditional theory on what science consists of is viewed as inductive, it appears that at least some of the criteria are, in fact, deductive. Criterion (5) explicitly refers to deduction, and criterion (6) refers to verification of said deduction(s). It would seem that Popper's conflict with accepted theory may be relative to traditional criteria (1)- "making observations as accurate and definite as possible." If one approaches the criteria for science previously regarded to be inductive as deductive (since it is not science without all seven criteria being met), perhaps Popper's own claim (that in order to be scientific a claim must be falsifiable) is a test of the previous theory.

Accordingly, if one approaches Popper's claim as an attempt to falsify the previous theory of the criteria for science, one may address his theory somewhat differently. In Popper's own words (Klemke, p.27), " ... we may reject a law or theory on the basis of new evidence without necessarily discarding the old evidence which originally led us to accept it.". Popper rejects induction as the method of science and offers an alternative method - deduction. Using Popper's falsifiability criterion, the common theory of science as inductive has been rebutted. Popper's observation and testing of induction as a criterion for science has suggested a new criterion.

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However, using Popper's standards, all acceptance of theory is tentative only. As such, we need to test falsifiability as the criterion for the demarcation between science and non-science.

It appears that Popper is correct in his analysis, logic demands that something which is not refutable can only be corroborated. Therefore, theories which refer to such concepts ( e.g. the existance of God ) are not scientific. If there is no possibility that the theory can be tested by observation and evaluated for truth, one cannot prove anything. Although Popper makes little of the truth-falsity dichotomy; if something cannot be found to be false neither can it be found to be true, one must accept it on faith alone. As Feigl states in Klemke (p.430), intersubjective testability as a requirement for 'doing science' eliminates knowledge claims that cannot be tested for truth- if something is not testable for truth it is not testable for falsity and is not science. Moreover, although the requirement that something be true is not the same as the requirement that something be empirically testable, what we think of as 'science' implies that when conclusions are reached by testing they are true within the limits of our present understanding.

Popper's falsifiability claim is therefore a necessary condition for science, but is it sufficient? In looking back at the traditional view of what constitutes the criteria for science, one finds both induction and deduction. If we accept Popper's claim and use his own explanation of his observation of the traditional view of science, we may need to add some criteria. Feigl (Klemke p. 431) adds such criterion as "definition and precision" to the requirements. Had the traditional view's criteria been more clearly defined ( as both inductive and deductive), perhaps Popper would be less combative in his approach. Science is a process of clarification. Popper, in making falsifiability the only criterion for science, failed to retain the first criterion of the traditional view- "making observations as accurate and definite as possible". Had he followed his own premise that we need not discard all of the old evidence that led to an incorrect conclusion, he might have added a criterion of precise definition of terms.


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