Popper Symposium featuring Notturno on Hayek

There will be a Popper Symposium in Pennsylvania, September 16-18, 2014.

The twentieth anniversary of Karl Popper’s death (September 17, 1994) provides a fitting occasion to reflect on Popper’s contributions to many fields of inquiry …

A session of the symposium will be devoted to the recent work of Dr. Mark Notturno regarding differences between Popper and Hayek …

The symposium will take place on the campus of Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pennsylvania …

Here is the link:
http://www.h-net.org/announce/show.cgi?ID=214975

This should be interesting. I’ve alway thought there is a lot of possible synergy to be generated between the ideas of Hayek and Popper via their methodological individualism, their theories of knowledge, their institutional approach toward society, and their interest in extended orders.

A good example of this might be Larry Boland’s paper that explores the limits of equilibrium models starting with comments by Hayek and supplementing them with Popper’s ideas about the growth of knowledge:
Equilibrium process vs. equilibrium attainment (pdf).

However, it seems that the Notturno aspect of this symposium will mainly be focused on arguing Hayek had “propensities toward scientism and economism.” There will also be criticism presented of Hayek’s ideas as far as they concern democracy and the rule of law.

If you are interested in attending the symposium, there is still time to submit a paper. Please follow the link and check out the details.

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More Thoughts on Critical Preference

Karl Popper held that the effort of reaching a preference of one theory against others is the key to escaping the trap of the logical error of induction. This position is not a late appendage but is clearly stated for the English-speaking world in “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (1959), the translated version of “Logik der Forschung” (1934). In Paul Arthur Schilpp’s “Philosophy of Karl Popper” (1974) Volume 2 Popper replies to his critics and gives credit for the fine-tuning of his comments to his associate David Miller. On Page 52 of his own book “Critical Rationalism a Restatement and Defence” (1994), Miller states: “There are no such things as good reasons; that is, sufficient or even partly sufficient favourable (or positive) reasons for accepting a hypothesis rather than rejecting it, or for rejecting it rather than accepting it, or for implementing a policy, or for not doing so”. Miller seems to be addressing reasons that are not critical preferences.

Thomas Stearn Eliot’s much quoted paragraph from “Four Quartets”, “Little Gidding” (1942), echoes my experience when reading Popper:
“We shall not cease from exploration
And the end of all our exploring
Will be to arrive where we started
And know the place for the first time.”

The quest for certainty in 20th and now 21st century philosophy is unfortunately given an epistemic significance that fills volume after volume but leads to no escape from Hume’s problem of induction nor Kant’s problem of demarcation. Relegating Popper to footnotes or comfortable low rungs in textbook chapter organization does not help this quest and, even worse, the strawman naive-falsificationist legend of Popper actually hinders it.

The extract, below, from “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” highlights Popper’s understanding of the problem of the empirical basis in that acceptance of evidence (basic statements) is the result of human decisions, agreements. Science is a human activity, indeed a communal activity. What decides the fate of a theory is decisions not on aesthetic considerations such as how simple (Occam’s Razor) the theory is worded but decisions on what basic statements are to be accepted for attempted rebuttal of theories. The value of simplicity is to improve testability. One must also differentiate between existential trends e.g. statistical samples of events and so-called probability of hypotheses. Popper rejects the latter.
In the 1963 essay “Models Instruments and Truth”, included in the anthology”The Myth of the Framework” (1994) Popper is critical of the ridiculous phrase “truth is relative”. This phrase confuses the choice we make relative to competing theories’ perceived closeness to truth with TRUTH, unsullied by our opinions and efforts. No matter how well we test our theories they may still not be fair reflections of reality.

In the “The Logic of Scientific Discovery” (1959 orig., ninth impression July 1977, Hutchinson & Co, London), Page 108 – Section 30, “Theory and Experiment” Popper states:

“It may now be possible for us to answer the question: How and why do we accept one theory in preference to others?

The preference is certainly not due to anything like an experiential justification of the statements composing the theory; it is not due to a logical reduction of the theory to experience. We choose the theory which best holds its own in competition with other theories; the one which, by natural selection, proves itself the fittest to survive. This will be the one which not only has hitherto stood up to the severest tests, but the one which is also testable in the most rigorous way. A theory is a tool which we test by applying it, and which we judge as to its fitness by the results of its applications.

From a logical point of view, the testing of a theory depends upon basic statements whose acceptance or rejection, in its turn, depends upon our decisions. Thus it is decisions which settle the fate of theories. To this extent my answer to the question, ‘how do we select a theory?’ resembles that given by the conventionalist; and like him I say that this choice is in part determined by considerations of utility. But in spite of this, there is a vast difference between my views and his. For I hold that what characterizes the empirical method is just this: that the convention or decision does not immediately determine our acceptance of universal statements but that, on the contrary, it enters into our acceptance of the singular statements – that is, the basic statements.

For the conventionalist, the acceptance of universal statements is governed by his principle of simplicity: he selects that system which is the simplest. I, by contrast, propose that the first thing to be taken into account should be the severity of tests. (There is a close connection between what I call ‘simplicity’ and the severity of tests; yet my idea of simplicity differs widely from that of the conventionalist; see section 46.) And I hold that what ultimately decides the fate of a theory is the result of a test, i.e. an agreement about basic statements. With the conventionalist I hold that the choice of any particular theory is an act, a practical matter. But for me the choice is decisively influenced by the application of the theory and the acceptance of the basic statements in connection with this application; whereas for the conventionalist, aesthetic motives are decisive.
Thus I differ from the conventionalist in holding that the statements decided by agreement are not universal but singular. And I differ from the positivist in holding that basic statements are not justifiable by our immediate experiences, but are, from the logical point of view, accepted by an act, by a free decision. (From the psychological point of view this may perhaps be a purposeful and well-adapted reaction.)”

For those interested, some further references in his works can be found as follows:

“After the Open Society” (2008), page 10 “Optimist,Pessimist and Pragmatist Views of Scientific Knowledge” (1963)

“The Myth of the Framework” (1994), Models, Instruments and Truth (orig 1963)

“Conjectures and Refutations” (1963), Page 235 – Chapter 10 Truth, Rationality, and the Growth of Knowledge, XIII
Page 248 – XXII

“Objective Knowledge” (1972)
Page 20 – Chapter 1. Conjectural Knowledge, Section 8 Corroboration: The Merits of Improbability

“Realism and the Aim of Science” (1983)
Page 65 – Chapter 1 Induction, Section 4 A Family of Four Problems III
page 71 Chapter 1 Induction, Section 4 A Family of Four Problems VI

“Unended Quest” (1974), standalone printing. Unended Quest is the autobiography included in the two volume Schilpp “The Philosophy of Karl Popper”

P. A. Schilpp, “The Philosophy of Karl Popper” (1974)
Page 1024 + Replies to My Critics -Section 14 The Psychological and Pragmatic Problems of Induction

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Misreading Popper is up

At last the ms has become an ebook.  Misreading Popper.

Popper made an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science and he made a significant mark in several other fields as well, including political philosophy and the theory of rationality. Consequently the main lines of his work should be familiar to all educated people. This is clearly not the case. Ideas matter and the neglect and misunderstanding of Popper’s ideas contribute to the political, social and economic travails of our time.

The commentary on Karl Popper indicates that it is possible to spend a career in many philosophy schools without picking up a straight feed on his ideas. Misreading and misrepresentation of Popper’s work appears to be the norm in the academic literature and in introductory books on philosophy for students and the public.

Of course many of his views are strongly contested but the contest need to be conducted in relation to what he actually wrote because effective criticism has to be based on understanding of the work. It is unfortunate that this needs to be said in a community of scholars, especially since the rise of analytical philosophy was supposed to herald a new dawn of accuracy and precision in philosophical thinking.

The following are examples of very basic errors which turn up regularly in the commentary on Popper, even by scholars of established reputation.

Popper’s demarcation criterion was in competition with the verification principle to establish the boundary between sense and nonsense.

Popper did not take account of the theory-dependence of observations (the Duhem problem).

Science would have come to a halt of scientists took Popper’s ideas seriously.

Popper’s program was derailed by the failure of his formal definition of verisimilitude.

One of the purposes of this book is to challenge students to read Popper’s books to check whether the teachers and commentators are giving a fair and accurate account of his ideas.

I will not publicize to the world at large until friends have a chance to look and find residual typos and other errors which can be fixed before less friendly readers have a go it at.

Please use the comments to report anything you find, including passages that you think are not clear.

Enjoy!

 

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The Minimum Requirement for an Adequate Critique of Popper

Looking through the misreadings of Popper that are collected in my forthcoming book, the following thoughts occurred about the work required for a good critique. Whether not commentators agree with Popper’s views, if they write about him  they need to read  all of his (relevant) his  books that are or were in print up to the time their manuscript was  completed. Of course academics should have read his journal articles before they appeared in collections.

That means:

  1. Taking account of his work on the logic of testing  as an alternative to the logical positivists/empiricists program of attempted verification which morphed into the quest for “critieria of cognitive meaningfulness” and vindication of inductive probabilities.

2.  Recognizing the challenge that he issued to the quest for justified beliefs by shifting from justification to critical preference and from beliefs to consideration of objective, intersubjective or public scientific knowledge. This move or “turn” from knowledge as justified true belief, to conjectural knowledge needs to acknowledged and tested for its fertility,  its problem-solving power and its capacity to help scientists and other practical people.

3. Describing the “social” or “rules of the game turn” (Jarvie, 2001), which can be seen as a parallel to the later Wittgenstein, and contrast what Popper and Wittgenstein achieved after having that insight.

Random thoughts to develop the “rules” approach.

Rules of democracy, violence, rules not orders, rules of equalitarian justice, the rules of method

Proposals in the context of the protective state in lieu of the contract or historical purpose approach to social organization.

See what this does for scientific practice, rationality, and politics.

If you don’t agree with his ideas then you need to provide criticisms that were not anticipated and answered in The Logic of Scientific Discovery – for example regarding the need for conventions in scientific practice, the problematic nature of adverse evidence, the case for persisting with problematic theories in case they can be improved or otherwise revived.

New criticisms of Popper’s ideas are welcome but recycling refuted criticisms suggests a need for more reading and is unhelpful for students.

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Popper’s view of neo-Darwinian evolutionary theory

HELP WANTED AGAIN.

In Unended Quest  Popper questioned the scientific status of evolutionary theory which he regarded as a metaphysical research program.

Some time later he changed his mind and agreed that aspects of evolutionary theory can be tested and hence it is truly scientific. There was something about this on Wik but I can’t find it.

Can someone point me to the Wik piece or any other source that verifies Popper’s change of mind?

UPDATE Sept 2014.

Can someone point me to the Wik piece or any other source that reports or documents Popper’s change of mind?

 

 

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Persisting with a refuted theory

Popper was prepared to allow a little dogmatism to persist with a theory that appeared to be in trouble with anomalies.

Bartley wrote that this did not need to be described in terms of dogmatism, instead we would just accept that the theory was problematic due to the adverse evidence and  we could keep working on it in case the issue could be resolved. The point is to acknowledge the problem.

Actually Popper had that based covered in his interview with Bryan Magee in Modern British Philosophy,  Secker and Warburg, 1971

Magee: What happens if we can’t find a satisfactory successor to the refuted predecessor-theory?

Popper: Then we would, of course, continue to use the old refuted theory until a better theory was found; but we should use it with the knowledge that there was something wrong with it. There would be an open problem, and we should know in advance the minimum conditions which a new theory would have to meet in order to be regarded as an interesting solution to this open problem.

page 72

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Help wanted

Can someone recall the source of this Popperism?

I suggest that much confusion is due to the tendency of attributing to Science (with a capital S) a kind of omniscience and I suggest that this theological view of science ought to be replaced by a more humanistic view, by the realization that science is the work of ordinary humans, groping their way in the dark.

 

 

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Conclusion of Misreading Popper

Frank has put me under pressure to finish my book, so I have made the concluding chapter very short so I can get done this weekend (more realistically, this week).

The  book starts with a run through Popper’s progress, the themes and the common or standard errors, then lists a few dozen prime examples. Then the Conclusion.

CONCLUSION: GOING FORWARD

What can be said  about the literature in the philosophy of science and the place of Popper and the Popperians in it?  The misreading of Popper indicates that serious readers need to check the primary texts to form their own opinion of contested ideas. No interpretation can be taken on trust. Reading the primary Popper texts is no small task, given the density of The Logic of Scientific Discovery, the cryptic style of The Poverty of Historicism, the sheer bulk of The Open Society and its Enemies, the challenging technical material on probability and physics in the Postscript. My contribution is a series of guides to Popper’s major works but of course I don’t expect my interpretation of Popper to be accepted uncritically.

It remains to be seen how willing the writers will be to revise their ideas about Popper and it also remains to be seen whether their readers and students will go to the primary texts to check. Time will tell!

It looks as though Popper’s reputation has been a victim of fashion rather than effective criticism. This is a serious matter because it is not a healthy indicator of a strong academic and intellectual culture if fashion overwhelms critical thinking. Something is amiss in “the house of intellect”, as Barzun suggested in a book of that name (Barzun, 1957). For Barzun’s running commentary on education in the United States, see Champion (2013).

Moving Forward

Popper’s ideas can be revived if they resonate with other intellectual currents. His theory of conjectural knowledge gains support from Being Wrong: Adventures in the Margin of Error by Kathryn Schulz and Ignorance: How it Drives Science by Stuart Firestein. There is also a great potential for synergy between Popper’s themes and Philip Kitcher’s mission to revitalize  philosophy by drawing on the work of Peirce and Dewey (Kitcher, Prelude to Pragmatism: Toward a Reconstruction of Philosophy, Oxford University Press, 2012).  The synergy is not obvious, as I discovered from participating in the Peirce and Dewey email discussion groups, however I am optimistic about the prospects for the future in view of the trajectory of Kitcher’s work as he moved from the “Legend” of positivism/empiricism to pursue a research program that aligns with Popper’s at most points.  There is the potential for critical and creative dialogue.

Retrieving the Creative and Liberating Aspects of Popperism

Popper made his reputation as a critic, which is not surprising in view of his insistence on the critical approach. It might help to point out the creative function of criticism because.

Criticism and testing are not just  therapeutic or housecleaning activities because effective criticism (and tests) identify new problems. This is creative because problems can be seen as the growing points of science, or at least they create contexts where science can grow.

In the language of biology, you can think of new problems like new niches in the ecosystem. They can be colonised by competing theories  and they provide a challenge for new  theories to be invented.

Popper on Discovering(Good)  New Ideas

In the literature there are frequent references to the demarcation between the context of discovery and the context of justification (or testing) and it is generally agreed that Popper had nothing much to say about discovery. In fact he had views on the topic but the references are thinly spread in his work. One is in the Preface to Realism and the Aim of Science  “On the Non-Existence of  Scientific Method”.

“To conclude, I think there is only one way to do science: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and fall in love with it; to get married to it, and to live with it happily, till death do ye part – unless you should meet another and even more fascinating problem…(and) even if you obtain a solution, you may then discover, to your delight, the existence of a whole family of enchanting though perhaps difficult problem children”.

Another is the third lecture in his course,  on Problems.

My advice is to devote your mind to your problem—to think about it, to read about it, and to see what other people have thought about it. Read the history of your subject and see how other people have tried to solve your problem. And then study the solutions they have offered!

But I wouldn’t say that it is a method that will lead to greater success. None of these methods, in my opinion, can be regarded as more promising than any of the others. The real answer, which is hardly a method at all, is to have as many ideas as you possibly can, and to be as critical about your ideas as you possibly can.

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Popper on creativity and scientific discovery

As I reach the end of my booklet Misreading Popper the thought occurs that some kind of constructive and forward-looking conclusion is required, in addition to challenging the philosophers to read Popper more carefully.

So I want to say that  the misreading of Popper has two aspects. The most obvious is the hint that all is not well in the  house of  Philosophy. That is a serious matter and the second is equally important: people have been denied access to the creative, liberating and inspirational aspect of Popperism, the critical approach and critical  rationalism.

Criticism is not just a therapeutic or housecleaning activity to identify errors and inconsistencies. It has a creative function to  generate new problems, issues and spaces for new ideas which function as the growing points of science and other creative activities, including technology, the arts and public policy.

In the literature there are frequent references to the demarcation between the context of discovery and the context of justification (or testing) and it is generally agreed that Popper had nothing much to say about discovery. In fact he had very important views on the topic but the references are sparse. One is in the Preface to Realism and the Aim of Science  “On the Non-Existence of  Scientific Method”.

“To conclude, I think there is only one way to do science: to meet a problem, to see its beauty and fall in love with it; to get married to it, and to live with it happily, till death do ye part – unless you should meet another and even more fascinating problem…(and) even if you obtain a solution, you may then discover, to your delight, the existence of a whole family of enchanting though perhaps difficult problem children”.

Another is the third lecture in his course,  on Problems.

My advice is to devote your mind to your problem—to think about it, to read about it, and to see what other people have thought about it. Read the history of your subject and see how other people have tried to solve your problem. And then study the solutions they have offered! I think that all of this is better than black coffee or whisky.

But I wouldn’t say that it is a method that will lead to greater success. None of these methods, in my opinion, can be regarded as more promising than any of the others. The real answer, which is hardly a method at all, is to have as many ideas as you possibly can, and to be as critical about your ideas as you possibly can.

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Goodman’s grue emeralds and the “new riddle of induction”

The grue emerald problem surely ranks with the Gettier problem as a red herring of the first order, generated by the misguided quest for confirmation, like Hempel’s paradox of the ravens. The paradox of the ravens means that the existence of a non-black non-raven like a white shoe or a green lizard gets to increase the likelihood that all ravens are black.

I raise this because Rosenberg had a couple of pages on this problem immediately before his Popper paragraphs.

Consider the general hypothesis that all emeralds are green (actually I would have thought that was part of the definition of an emerald, you would advance general hypotheses to explain why the optical properties of a certain kind of stone produce a green colour).

Nelson Goodman invented the term ‘grue’ to which means “green at time t and t is before 2100 AD or it is blue at t then t is after 2100 AD“.

The implication is that after 2010 the cloudless sky will be blue or grue and emeralds will be blue as well.

Testing the  colour of emeralds we find that all the instances which are green support the theory that they are green up to 2100 and grue (blue) after that date. Rosenberg wrote:

We could restate the problem as one about falsification too. Since every attempt to falsify “All emeralds are green” has failed, it has also failed to falsify “All emeralds are grue”. Both hypotheses have withstood the same battery of scientific tests.

Everyone accepts that this is an absurd outcome but the problem is to explain why. What is wrong with grue? To an outsider it looks like a silly philosophers game.  Rosenberg wrote

“For our problem is to show why “All emeralds are grue is not a well-supported law, even though it has the same number of supporting instances as “all emeralds are green”. ”

He advises that this remains an unsolved problem in the theory of confirmation. In the years since 1946 various solutions have been offered but none has triumphed.

“But  the inquiry has resulted in a far greater understanding of the dimensions of scientific confirmation than the logical positivists or their empiricist predecessors [did he mean successors?] recognized. One thing all philosophers of science agree on is that the new riddle shows how complicated the notion of confirmation turns out to be, even in the simple case s of generalizations about things we can observe” (120)

It is very fortunate that  scientists can get along without a working theory of confirmation! Maybe they don’t even need one!!

Well here is my contribution:  “Emeralds are green” is not a  law, it is an empirical regularity based on the laws of optics and the crystal structure of emeralds. Similarly it is not a law that the sun rises in the morning and sets in the evening, that is a regularity that we observe over most of the earth (but not all) due to the laws of mechanics and the structure of the solar system.

The laws of scientific interest in relation to the colour of jewels are the laws of optics. Speculation about grueness amount to a conjecture that the laws of optics (or the structure of emeralds) will change at 2100. A conjecture about something that happens after 2100 cannot be tested before 2100. So if we care about grueness, without having any scientific reason to be interested, we will just have to wait until 2100 and see what happens.

I think Bartley made the point that theories are interesting in relation to the problems that they solve. Speculation about grue emeralds was never related to any problem of scientific interest. So what was the point? What is the point of confirmation? We can live with conjectural knowledge provided it is tested well enough for engineering purposes and as long as people come up with better theories from time to time so we know we are  making progress. That looks ok to me.

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