Re: Popper's 'Scientific' Irrationalism

Lee Daniel Crocker (
Mon, 17 Mar 1997 11:20:00 -0800 (PST)

> "Popper stood all this on its head. In his philosophy of science, we
> find the curious thought that falsifiability, not verifiability, is the
> distinguishing mark of scientific theories; this means that, for Popper,
> one theory is better than another if it is more disprovable than the other.
> Popper was apparently fond of referring to 'the soaring edifice of
> science.' But in fact his philosophy of science robbed that edifice of its
> foundation. Refracted through the lens of Popper's theories, the history
> of modern science is transformed from a dazzling string of successes into a
> series of 'problems' or 'conjectures and refutations.' On the traditional
> view, scientific knowledge can be said to be *cumulative*: we know more
> now than we did in 1897, more then than in 1697. Popper's theory, demoting
> scientific laws to mere guesses, denies this: in one of his most famous
> phrases, he speaks of science as 'conjectural knowledge,' an oxymoronic gem
> that, as Stove remarks, makes as much sense as 'a drawn game which was won.'"

This is insufferable misinterpretation of Popper, and with no excuse given
other than Stove's own emotional discomfort with carefully reasoned ideas.
The "foundation" metaphor of science is empty rhetoric; Popper /expanded/
the grand edifice of science by refusing to tie its future to the failures
of imagination of those past. To strain the metaphor, Mr. Stove wants a
solid foundation, but refuses to allow science to build on land outside it,
or to tear it down when it is found inadequate, or to change our very
methods of building when better ones are found.

Mr. Stove seems uncomfortable with the obvious fact that expanding
knowledge implies expanding ignorance. We all experience this directly
in our lives; the more we learn, the more we realize how much more there
is that we haven't learned; the more capable our imaginations become of
seeing outside our earlier unwarranted naive certainty. Mr. Stove's
discomfort with "conjectural knowledge" is merely cowardice: he doesn't
want to admit that every act taken by every human being is a gamble on
the efficacy of what we call knowledge. He seems dismayed by that
rather than enlivened and freed. That's /his/ failure, not Popper's.

Lee Daniel Crocker <>