[lit-ideas] Re: Popper's 'System'
- From: "Donal McEvoy" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> (Redacted sender "donalmcevoyuk" for DMARC)
- To: "lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <lit-ideas@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
- Date: Sat, 30 Sep 2017 11:15:49 +0000 (UTC)
Butwhat about Popper. Popper is best known as a philosopher of science –
Maxwellhas just published a new book about him, published by UCL --.>
Thephilosophy of science is a key area for Popper, but it is not his
narrowconcern - and he brings a much wider perspective to bear even in
tacklingissues within the field we might call 'philosophy of science'.
It's better, I think, to regard Popper as a theorist of knowledge
(or'epistemologist' if we are not against big words here): his focus on science
isbecause science is, as he argues, the most developed and most rational of
humanknowledge and because, as he explains, the workings of scientific
knowledge areeasier to understand and analyse than those of non-scientific
knowledge.This non-scientific knowledge includes many of our everyday
'beliefs',including our untested 'common sense' beliefs (which, remember, at
one time included thewidespread belief that radioactive substances would
enhance ourhealth, as would smoking).
Ihave previously posted to the list a pdf copy of Popper's "The Logic
ofScientific Discovery" ['_LdF_' for short, from its German title"Logik der
Forschung"] . Everyone willing can read it. Despite itsflaws, it is one of the
great masterpieces of philosophy, representing arevolutionary breakthrough in
how we should understand the "logic" ofscience and of human knowledge
generally. It is brilliantly written but verycompressed (having been ruthlessly
edited down for publication from a muchlonger work), and of course it faces the
difficulty faced by many greatphilosophical works (e.g. Hume's "Treatise") that
it may be read byan audience not open and engaged enough to grasp the import of
what it says.
Itis striking that very little knowledge of actual science is needed
tounderstand _LdF_. The central arguments in _LdF_ are based on "logic"- when
applied by way of analysis to different types of statement found inscience.
Those statements are analysed in terms of their logical character andlogical
inter-relations. So, for example, Popper explains the difference inlogical
character between a univeral generalisation of the form "All swansare white"
and a "basic" or test statement such as "Here isa white swan", and also the
role of "initial conditions". Thisforms only a small part of the book, though
it contains the key ideas that arecarried forward into its later sections.
Infact, much of the book is taken up with problems of probability - as
Poppertrys (not entirely successfully, but probably on the right lines) to show
howthe "logic" between scientific statements can be applied in caseswhere the
statement under test is a probability statement rather than anunrestricted
universal generalisation (i.e. to explain the "logic" oftesting where the
statement under test is "Most swans are white" [i.e. "Where there is a swan, it
is probably white"]), where anon-white swan is no longer a straightforward
falsifier of the probabilisticstatement "Most swans are white".
Whatis only made explicit in Popper's later work, e.g. about how some knowledge
is"objective" with a World 3 status (and so knowledge is not to beidentified
with "justified true belief"), may nevertheless beintegrated into _LdF_ and
even read as implicit in _LdF_.
LikewisePopper's later work develops themes that are central to understanding
correctlyhis account of the "logic" of science in _LdF_ - especially his
laterexplicit defence of "indeterminism" ["The OpenUniverse"], of "realism"
["Realism and the Aim ofScience"] and of objective probabilities ["Quantum
Theory and theSchism in Physics"] (where probabilities reflect real or
actualdispositional states of a probabilistic reality, and are not merely
reflectionsof shortcomings or incompleteness in our knowledge of
It should be understood that there are therefore many 'systems of thought' that
Popper opposes - especially the most systematic of all, "determinism". There
are many ways in which Popper's 'System' is against systemmatized explanation.
For example, Popper opposes the view that there is any systematic method for
producing correct knowledge - instead he views more correct knowledge as
evolving from less correct knowledge in a process of correction that is only as
systematic, at the human scientific level, as we make it. It has to be said
that Popper's theory of knowledge would be overthrown if we found a systematic
way to produce or generate correct knowledge (as opposed to a systematic way to
correct (already generated) knowledge by criticism and testing).
Amongthe central achievements of Popper's framework is that it provides a
solution to the schismthat arises in Hume, between Hume's form of empiricism
and the rationality ofknowledge: in Popper, we have a perspective that accepts
Hume's logical attackon induction in its entirety (indeed takes that attack
further than Hume did),yet provides a way in which knowledge - especially
science - can be rational.In this Popperian perspective, all knowledge is
conjectural (and lacksinductive justification or any form of infallible
justification) but knowledgemay be rationally accepted, despite this, because
it withstands rational orcritical evaluation better than any known alternative.
Of course, this meansthat the rational acceptance of any item of knowledge is
always conjectural,fallible and pro tem. One of the great achievements of this
perspectiveis that it leads us (perhaps slowly) to grasp that the
traditionalpreoccupation with finding infallible, justified, non-conjectural
knowledge isa wild goose chase based on a whole series of fundamental mistakes.
Popperdid work on objective knowledge and the philosophy of mind, and the
Whatbecomes apparent (from a fuller study) is that Popper's theory of
knowledgegoes much wider and deeper than even the above sketch might suggest -
it providesa framework (albeit incomplete) for understanding not only all human
knowledge but also all humanexperience, and not just all human experience but
all animal knowledge andexperience. In this framework, knowledge emerges with
lifeand nearly all life processes are forms of knowledge process following a
schema of problem-solving.
Whatmost distinguishes human knowledge from animal and plant knowledge is that
itsprocesses have transcended the W1 'knowledge systems' of animal and
plantevolution, and even the W2 systems found in higher animals, sothat humans
have (uniquely in Popper's view) access to "objective knowledge" in itsWorld 3
sense. This access is central to the rapid acceleration of humanknowledge as
opposed to animal and plant knowledge (which remain rooted incomparatively
primitive* W1-W2 feedback systems subject to "naturalselection", rather than
conscious critical selection from among W3 alternative theories).
*'Primitive' is not to suggest these systems may not attain great
sophistication and complexity: the W1 aspects of the human brain attained great
sophistication and complexity prior to the human brain producing "knowledge" in
its objective sense. But they are primitive in the sense that they are
critically 'blind' systems, that only succeed relative to the winnowing effects
of natural selection.
From: "dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx" <dmarc-noreply@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Saturday, 30 September 2017, 2:24
Subject: [lit-ideas] Re: Grice's System
“Flanagan and Allen” wasa double-act. And then there’s Gopper and Price.
McEvoy was taking upHelm’s challenge – After all, Helm had tried to avoid the
‘System’ -- _sic_ incapitals – after engaging in philosophy with the oeuvre of
Gadamer and Witters(recall Austin, “Some like Witters, but Moore’s MY man.”).
McEvoy takes up Popper: “Both the early andlater Wittgenstein offer an
integrated viewpoint,” McEvoy notes, “and so doesPopper throughout his work.”
But did Flanagan andAllen (or Allen and Flanagan, as I prefer) follow a
method? Allen was the ‘straightman’ – so he possibly did follow a method.
Flanagan is the author of “My crazylife,” where he indulges in one of Holden
Caulfield’s favourite adjectives,when he refers to the ‘Phoney War.’ – which
wasn’t phony for Salinger. “Popper,” to re-phraseMcEvoy above, “offers an
integrated [i.e. systematic] viewpoint throughout hiswork.” This post is to
expandon Grice: “Philosophy, like virtue, is entire.” There is an implicature
tothat, which Grice makes explicit: “Or, in other words, there is only
oneproblem to philosophy; namely, all of them.” I wonder if this appliesto
Allen and Flanagan, or Gopper and Price. The fact that Grice SAYS these
twothings (“Philosophy, like virtue, is entire,” “There is only one problem
inphilosophy; namely: all of them.”) does not mean he FOLLOWED SUIT. I love
theungrammaticality of his “There is only one problem to philosophy, namely:
allof them.” – The ungrammaticality triggers an interesting implicature. But
what about Popper.Popper is best known as a philosopher of science – Maxwell
has just published anew book about him, published by UCL --. Popper did work on
objective knowledgeand the philosophy of mind, and the philosophy of ideas. So
we can say he is ‘systematic’and a ‘methodist’. But would he agree with Grice
that ‘philosophy, like virtue,is entire.” Grice is being,jocularly,
Aristotelian. I don’t believe ALL Grecian philosophers thought thatvirtue is
entire (‘arete’ is okay for ‘virtue,’ but what is Greek for
‘entire’?“Holistic”? “Virtus,” for the Romans, was a bit of a sexist thing –
vir-tus, --cognate with virility, so we can forget that choice of a noun by
Grice. But isGrice right that there is only one problem to philosophy, namely:
all of them?Popper might see this as unrefutable. If Mr. X is a philosopher, by
definition,whatever Mr. X regards as ‘philosophical’ BECOMES so. Grice used
to reminiscethat everytime he was introduced at some Philosophy Department,
with “Mr.Poodle, our man in eighteenth-century Continental aesthetics,” there
was anUNWANTED ‘implication’, and thus NOT necessarily an implicature, which
are intendedby their utterers, by definition, that Mr. Poodle was not good
ATeighteenth-century Continental aesthetics. Grice was against ‘expert
systems,’as it were! But I wonder if Popper was, too! Perhaps there
areGriceian ways to be methodic and systematic, and there are Popperian ways
forsame. In which case, the double act should become an interesting ‘song
anddance’ routine. Or not, of course. Cheers, Speranza
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