Last time I looked to find a middle ground in philosophy of science, between Francis Bacon’s historically untenable inductivism and Paul Feyerabend’s irrationalism. I noted then that I think Karl Popper, Thomas Kuhn and Imre Lakatos all attempt to stake out a position somewhere in this ground, with varying degrees of sucess. I turn to them now.
Karl Popper rightly acknowledges the scientific importance of fallibilism and uncertainty: science is powerful not because its conclusions can be proved right, but because it can acknowledge when they are proved wrong. Popper notes that science in practice advances more by falsification than by induction: the role of empirical data is not to ground generalizations, but rather to disconfirm them. One can legitimately formulate a theory in abstraction that says all swans must be white; the important thing is that one reject it when one observes a black swan.
But Popper’s critique of inductivism does not go far enough. Continue reading