falsifiability fetish was Re: anti-depressants

bill fancher fancher at pacbell.net
Wed Aug 30 13:09:39 PDT 2000

on 8/30/00 11:41 AM, JKSCHW at aol.com at JKSCHW at aol.com wrote:

> Sure. the basic problem is pointed out by Quine, not in the context of
> falsifiability per se, that any theory can be held true by making suitable
> adjustments elsewhere. (This in Two Problems of Empiricism).
Is that the same as Two Dogmas of Empricism? Don't have (either?) article handy, but what sort of "adjustments" would we make to enable us to entertain a "Newtonian mechanics" with the laws F = ma and F = 2ma? (Perhaps you have overstated Quines claim?)

> Thus, no theory is falsifiable in the sense that the early Popper hoped
> strictly scientific theories might be. Popper recognized this by the time of
> Conjectures and Refutations, and his greatest disciple, Imre Lakatos, worked
> up a complex theory about "progressive" and "degenerating" research programmes
> to preserve the spirit of falsifiability within the framework of the Quinean
> insight. the idea is that the latter sort keep coming up with failures that
> have to be explained away rather than successes that extend the range and
> scope of the theory, and at some point only cranks believe it. Lakatos, a
> Hungarian emigre, cited Marxism as the prime example of a degenerating
> research program.
> --jks (formerly a philosopher of science, or couldn't you tell)
> << >>Is there any good critique of the falsifiability fetish? I suspect it's
> questionable, but I can't put my finger on why.
> Doug

But Doug knew all this from reading _Fashionable Nonsense_, which he condemned here sometime back.

Just to refresh our memory, Sokal and Bricmont discuss falsifiability on pp. 61-69. Briefly, their objections to Popper are 1) falsifiability doesn't go far enough, we need (inductive) methods of arriving at truth as well as (deductive) methods of arriving at falsity, 2) falsifiability doesn't get us to falsification as directly as it might at first seem to, since we can't test a proposition in isolotion (Quine). We are forced instead to test a web of propositions and any of them could, in principle, be the rotten apple.

I recommend falsifiability as a handy bullshit detector which may be profitably employed by the non-professional. Use with caution around open flame. (This is more or less where Sokal and Bricmont end up.)



"As if giving grounds did not come to an end sometime. But the end is not an ungrounded proposition, it is an ungrounded way of acting." Ludwig Wittgenstein

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