Misreading Popper

Another tempting morsel in the Popular Popper series, a collection of misreadings to demonstrate the lamentable standard of scholarship in philosophy.

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.

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3 Responses to Misreading Popper

  1. cohenite

    An interesting example of the demarcation problem is AGW. AGW is provable in 2 areas; firstly in the laboratory where such luminaries as Tyndall and Arrhenius proved CO2 is photoluminescent; that is capable of having energy of certain wavelengths transferred to it. However in the real world the heat trapping properties of CO2 are irrelevant due to the dominance of water as a climate shaping factor.

    Secondly AGW is verified in the models which assume CO2 is dominant over water; as a result the predictions of the models have been continually confounded by reality.

  2. Helen

    And tremendous value, in the days of kindle books costing almost as much as a paperback, and thus the only advantage other than not having to cart a library trolley around with one, is to have it now, this gem is both instant and affordable!

  3. .

    I thought what shot this whole thing down was there was observations of the earth radiating excess heat like a black body…as well as Svensmark’s successful cloud experiments.

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