Tuesday, January 5, 2021

Short Summary: Conjectures and Refutations by Karl Popper

In his major work “Conjectures and Refutations” philosopher Karl Popper seeks to distinguish between science and virtual science - between an empirical method and a method that uses observations and experiments, but does not meet scientific criteria. For Popper theories such as Marxism, individual psychology, and psychoanalysis impersonate the sciences, but have more in common with primitive myths than with science. These theories are descriptive and their believers have easily found corroborations for them. According to Popper, any case can be interpreted according to these theories and hence their weakness. He compares them to Einstein's theory of relativity. Every form of human behavior, so every behavior validates them. Einstein's predictions involved risk - if the observation proves that the phenomenon does not exist, then the theory is unfounded. This is in contrast to the previous three theories, which are consistent with every form of human behavior, so that every behavior validates them.

Popper arrives at a number of conclusions:

  • ·       Confirmations can be obtained for almost any theory, if only one seeks such.
  • ·       Valid confirmation is only confirmation of a forecast that involves risk.
  • ·       A good scientific theory is one that forbids the occurrence of certain things.
  • ·       A theory that no event can refute is not scientific.
  • ·       A real test of a theory is an attempt to disprove or contradict it.
  • ·       Confirmatory evidence is only that obtained in an unsuccessful attempt to disprove the theory.
  • ·       Adding an ad-hoc reinterpretation to a theory in order to succeed in confirming it destroys its scientific status.

For Popper the criterion for determining the scientific status of a theory is the possibility of contradicting or refuting or examining it. This criterion comes to separate the claims of the empirical sciences from the other claims = the "delimitation problem" - whose solution is the key to solving most of the fundamental problems of philosophy as a science.

The "Induction Problem": According to Hume There is no possibility of inferring theories or providing them with a rational justification from observations. This is because observations give an idea only of what is actually observed. Based on what appears to us to be imagination, is allowed to affect us.


Recurrence cannot be absolute, but cases with similarities to each other. Hence - cold recurrence from a certain point of view. Hence - there must always be a point of view first and only after a recurrence. That is - not similar events but similar interpretations.

Popper argues that scientific theories are not the essence of observations but inventions - hypotheses that must be put to the test and rejected if they do not fit the observations.

Observation is a selective matter, task-dependent, interest-based, point of view. Objects can be classified and they become similar or different as needed.

Every living thing has innate expectations but they may be misguided. One of them is the tendency to look for regularity. The tendency to look for regularity leads to dogmatic thinking and behavior, to search for regularities even when they are not. Experience and maturity may produce a careful and critical and not necessarily dogmatic approach. The dogmatic approach is related to the attempt to verify laws and patterns by attempting to blame them, even to the point of ignoring rebuttals.The critical approach is willing to examine them and even contradict them. Hence - critical approach = scientific approach. Dogmatic approach = imaginary scientific approach. The critical approach is directed against dogmatic beliefs.

Hence, science must begin with a critique of myths. Theories are applied not as examples, but with the challenge of discussing and improving them. It is an approach of insight, rational. The most rational procedure for explaining phenomena is trial and error - hypothesis and refutation. The most competent theory is arrived at by refuting less qualified theories.


From Popper's conclusions in Conjectures and Refutations:

  • ·       Induction - Inference based on many observations, is a myth.
  • ·       Science works through hypotheses and rushes to draw conclusions.
  • ·       Observations and repeated attempts are used as a test for hypotheses, attempts to refute them.
  • ·       The need for a delimitation criterion, which only the inductive method can provide, reinforces the erroneous belief in induction.
  • ·       The perception of such an inductive method, as the principle of possibility of verification, means poor delimitation.
  • ·       Induction gives theories only a degree of reasonableness and uncertainty.


The logical problem of induction stems from (a) The discovery of a day that a law cannot be justified by ignition or experiment, (b) From the fact that science proposes and uses rules. (C) The principle of empiricism according to which only observation or experiment can confirm or reject claims.

According to Popper, there is no conflict between these principles - science accepts a law or theory as a temporary acceptance only, for experience. They can be rejected on the basis of new evidence without necessarily abandoning the previous evidence that motivated us to accept the theory or law in the first place. According to Hume - it is not possible to prove a theory from observation arguments, but it can be refuted.

Why is it likely that undisguised claims are preferable to hidden claims? - because un-refuted theories can still be true.


Three problems:

  • ·       The demarcation problem — how to distinguish between science and magic.
  • ·       The problem of the rationality of the scientific process and the place of observation in this process.
  • ·       The problem of rationality arises when we accept theories for scientific and practical purposes.


Scientists, Popper concludes “Conjectures and Refutations, are looking for theories that are costly and unreasonable. But the only thing they can do is to seek to confirm and not to verify.

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