Science Criticism / Science Education

No truth for science, just the quest

In Karl Popper’s seminal book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, the Austrian philosopher of science makes the case for deductive logic in the scientific enterprise. It is a challenging read, but I want to leave you with his last three paragraphs, which are more accessible and a beauty to read.

Translation by the author with assistance from Dr. Julius Freed and Lan Freed.

“The old scientific ideal of episteme–of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge–has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever. It may indeed be corroborated, but every corroboration is relative to other statements which, again, are tentative. Only in our subjective experiences of conviction, in our subjective faith, can we be ‘absolutely certain’.

“With the idol of certainty (including that of degrees of imperfect certainty or probability) there falls one of the defences of obscurantism which bar the way of scientific advance. For the worship of this idol hampers not only the boldness of our questions, but also the rigour and the integrity of our tests. The wrong view of science betrays itself in the craving to be right; for it is not his possession of knowledge, of irrefutable truth, that makes the man of science, but his persistent and recklessly critical quest for truth.

“Has our attitude, then, to be one of resignation? Have we to say that science can fulfil only its biological task; that it can, at best, merely prove its mettle in practical applications which may corroborate it? Are its intellectual problems insoluble? I do not think so. Science never pursues the illusory aim of making its answers final, or even probably. Its advance is, rather, towards an infinite yet attainable aim: that of ever discovering new, deeper, and more general problems, and of subjecting our ever tentative answers to ever renewed and ever more rigorous tests.”

 

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