See the Problem?

I wrote this as a quick comment on d’s blog, but then the post disappeared for some reason. Anyway, I thought I’d share here.

I once read a criticism of Popper where the author had difficulty understanding how refutations could be fallible. He said that to be genuinely testable and not just “testable,” it must be possible to determine whether an apparent falsifying test was actually true. In other words, there must be some infallible authority that we can use to determine whether empirical hypotheses have really been falsified, otherwise the test was, by implication, just a phony or counterfeit. The author then went on to explain how the absence of a solution to this problem made Popper’s program inconsistent. That is, an infallible authority is assumed to be required for logical consistency: this is not simply something one can opt out of and remain coherent.

In some respects, it was a great criticism, because it demonstrated how deep the assumptions of justificationism may go. I have encountered the same assumption elsewhere, normally implicit, that supplying justification is part of what it means to make a logically valid argument. My first logic textbook explicitly stated that the purpose of the premises in the valid argument were to justify the conclusion. In a very weak sense this may be so, but then “justify” is merely a synonym for “entails” or “implies” — words already being used by the author. The intuition appears to be that without justification, one has no right to assign truth to any of the premises and, therefore, no right to deduce the truth of any consequence. Since “{A} entails {}” is false, logic without justification is incoherent.

I am also reminded that, for justificationists, philosophical problems are not really related to our purposes or goals. For example, it has been some time since I read Russell’s Problems of Philosophy, but I seem to remember Russell just taking his aims and goals for granted. Problems are out there, as it were, like erupting volcanoes or approaching tidal waves: one simply cannot decide to make them go away. Thus Russell’s own problems, specific to a particular kind of empiricism, become problems of philosophy more generally. In this view, to resolve the problems of justificationism (or its empiricist variants) by deciding upon new ends for our investigations is to just be ignorant of the facts.

About Lee Kelly

Amateur philosopher
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5 Responses to See the Problem?

  1. d says:


    I checked through my comments on WordPress and could not find it posted, pending, or in the trash. I recommend that you post it again–since it is a good comment expressed in good language.

  2. Lee Kelly says:


    It appears that you took down your most recent post about empiricism.

  3. d says:


    Ah, that would explain why it did not show up. I decided that it needed serious work, and should not have been posted as of now. I apologize.

  4. Lee Kelly says:

    I thought it was pretty good for a blog post.

  5. d says:


    I would rather it be wicked awesome, but I’ll settle for just good.


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