Re: PHIL: Dynamic Optimism as a tool in logical reasoning

From: Menno Rubingh (
Date: Fri Jan 14 2000 - 10:15:08 MST

On Wed & Thu, 12 & 13 Jan 2000, Frank Prengel,, and Don
( wrote:

> Read Bartley's "Retreat to Commitment" . . .

> I would also recommend Radnitzky and Bartley's [...]

> I would add a reference to Deutsch, David: [...]

Okay, many thanks for the literature pointers. I've not succeeded so quickly
in getting hold of a copy of Bartley's "Retreat to Commitment", but I have
read some more Popper, and some stuff (by Popper and others) which comments on
Bartley's writings, and, yes, I *did* read, recently, Max More's essay on
Pancritical Rationalism.

It seems that your criticisms so far address the following two points:

   (1) In science it is never possible to say that something is True beyond
any doubt, nor to be really 100.00% certain of anything. Okay, I fully agree
with this. Keeping doubt going is essential in science (and probably also in
rational-optimistic living).

Popper, after having said that in science it is not possible to be 100.00%
sure of the ''truth'' of any theory, just replaces the words ''to believe in
(a theory)'' by ''having a preference for (that theory)'' and the word ''truth
(of a theory)'' by ''degree to which we have a preference for (that theory)''.
So let's just convene that whenever we use the word ''believe in'' or
''truth'' (or ''falsity''), that we take the fuzzy, non-dogmatic, un-sure,
'Popperian' versions of these concepts, okay ? I.e., calling a theory X
'true' does not say we cease having doubts about theory X or that we cease
being open to criticism regarding theory X, it only says that we express ''a
prefence for'' that theory.


(2) Also, you criticize by saying that the people/literature you reference shows that ''justificationalism'' is wrong and (more or less) outdated.

Popper has said that one should do science by ''criticizing'' instead of ''justifying'' theories.

Now, I think that it is too easy to be misled by words into reading more into those Popper statements than he probably meant there. I do think that Popper meant ''to criticize'' in a more positive, constructive sense than ''to show the un-truth of'' -- I think he meant that word more broadly, namely as ''thinking about a theory rationally and trying to tie that theory to things like proof, experimental experience or other trusted theories''.

All this does not mean that anyone has shown that 'falsifying' theories (showing reasons or proof which make us NOT prefer a theory) is to be preferred above 'justifying' theories (showing reasons or proof which make us prefer a theory).

Okay, Popper has said that it is not possible to prove any theory beyond ANY doubt, but that does not mean that it is therefore impossible to raise one's trust in the usefulness of a theory by using SUPPORTIVE proof, experience or reasoning. I think that the whole gist of what Popper is always trying to say is that this kind of 'justifying' a theory (i.e., directed not towards proving something beyond ANY doubt but towards showing why we might 'prefer' that theory even if unsure about its absolute Truth) is possible and is even indispensible.

I agree with you when you say that justificationalism in the sense of showing the absolute, 100.00% beyond-any-doubt Truth of a theory is nonsense; but I keep saying that justificationalism in the sense of showing grounds for which one might 'prefer' a theory (while always staying open for any criticism and while always reminding oneself that one can never be TOTALLY sure) is useful and indispensible.

The reason why I think that this latter kind of justificationalism is -- apart from possible and useful -- even indispensible is that (i.m.o.) to have progress it is not only necessary once in a while to junk theories that have proven to be useless, but also to acquire sometimes new theories or enhanced versions of older theories. That is, in order to advance forward, an degree of builing, of adding new things, is indispensible. Therefore, only un-preferring (falsifying) theories which have emerged is not enough; if one only un-prefers theories, then the contents of one's mind will show a decreasing amount of useful theories. In order to gain new useful theories (and each human starts out in life with a mind still containing no scientific theories), one must also pull oneself sometimes to the positive action of positively PREFERRING a theory.


None of the two above criticisms however is a very direct criticism of my point that any useful theory (that is, any 'true' theory) must necessarily always be a theory that complies with D.O.-ism. (In other words, if a theory does not yield POSITIVE, useful, insights and possibilities being capable of exploitation in a D.O. way, then we can immediately discard that theory as 'false'.)

Best regards, Menno (

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