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Conjectures and Refutations: The Growth of Scientific Knowledge (1963)

af Karl R. Popper

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922322,613 (4.1)10
Conjectures and Refutations is one of Karl Popper's most wide-ranging and popular works, notable not only for its acute insight into the way scientific knowledge grows, but also for applying those insights to politics and to history. It provides one of the clearest and most accessible statements of the fundamental idea that guided his work: not only our knowledge, but our aims and our standards, grow through an unending process of trial and error.… (mere)
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Cogent, direct, not generous.

Perhaps in contrast with his reputation, Popper is a quick read. I believe this speaks to his legibility, which is very "Debate Club" in the sense that he will state the contention, show his proof, and conclude with a summary statement. If you know what he is trying to do, you can often fill in the second and third parts yourself (with or without the mathematical approach). Perhaps due to the thoroughness of Popper's earlier work, significant portions of Conjectures and Refutations are almost completely redundant - though he belabors the point more extensively for those who weren't able to "get it" the first time. To not run through old ruts, we will focus on the Refutations, which are responses to more concrete questions.

The crux of the Popper-ian philosophical argument is "hooking the leg," so-to-speak, meaning he is trying to demonstrate an association between an opponent's position and a (fatal) pejorative. (Very much like debate-team argumentation: "So you're a 'deontologist' let me start reading my block.") Once Popper's opponent is demonstrated to be an "inductivist" or a "positivist" or a "meta-physicist" he is subsequently refuted by the connection to a "contradiction" or a "negation" which completes the refutation. The tough part, therefore, is not the second part of the argument, which is thoroughly demonstrated, but the first step of associating an opponent's arguments with the thinking one has already demonstrated to be fallacious. Unfortunately, the Refutation requires an oppositional dialectic which frequently runs counter to Popper's previously stated principle of generosity. (In The Logic of Scientific Discovery, one is instructed only to make assumptions favorable to the opponent (such as the favorable assumptions used to construct the Carnot engine for the demonstration of the laws of thermodynamics).)

On Prediction and Refutation
If scientific theories are only valid insofar as they can be used to make predictions (per Popper) and can be disproven by an inappropriate prediction, this can (un-generously) be used as refutation of "Dialectal Materialism" on the basis of a survey of History. Yet the generous interpretation which allows us to understand western economics as a description of economic forces not necessarily refuted by predictions of certain economists and the most recent economic disaster, would also be applicable to dialectical materialism as a theory of forces of capital and labor at play in a given situation, and the analysis of these forces would be a testable outcome upon which predictions could be made, and which Popper, in good faith, cannot refute from the armchair a priori without further testing. (Popper's efforts against the Heisenberg uncertainty principle have been similarly unsuccessful.) And though it may come to pass that dialectical materialism is refuted as a theory, Popper would be "right, but for the wrong reasons," which, by his own standard, is not worth anything at all.

On Contradiction
A certain lack of generosity characterizes the description of every contradiction as a philosophical failure which "therefore permits anything." For someone so well-versed in the pre-Socratics, and author of an extensive treatise on Plato, Popper writes as if he has never encountered the aporetic dialogues, nor any of the "philosophical problems" which have characterized the history of philosophy since. The resolution of philosophical problems into soluble "contradictions" and "nonsense statements" would surely dissolve the apparent problems at hand, though they would merely saturate the transcendent analytic theory in occult form. A more generous interpretation would not stride past difficulty so easily.

On Utopia
Popper has particularly harsh words for those who, he states, wish to construct a "utopia," and therefore want to destroy society. It appears the term, "utopia," is a not-very-generous pejorative which the author is using to distance himself from a certain school of thought. The irony being that, by Popper's own metric, the testing of theories requires more and more precise measurements. The physicist constructs the particle collider to examine the properties of matter - why shouldn't the sociologist construct the sociological particle collider to test their hypothesis. The reason against this is the cryptogenic moral code which underlies the author's critique, though Popper, not (intentionally) a moral philosopher, avoids elaboration. The Revolution is refuted by two assertions: First, "The current system is pretty good," and, second, "No other system is possible." (i.e. the Revolution will eventually produce the same system we have now and will go no further.) Popper may or may not be correct, but it has been demonstrated (by experiment) that his axiomatic faith has produced some risible blunders. From Popper's A History of Our Time (1956):

"[Regarding the United States, Canada, England, and New Zealand] we have, in fact, something approaching classless societies."

"Aggressive war has become almost a moral impossibility. [...] Thus as far as the free world is concerned, war has been conquered."

"The truth is that the idea of India’s freedom was born in Great Britain; [...] And those Britishers who provided Lenin and Mr Krushchev with their moral ammunition were closely connected, or even identical, with those Britishers who gave India the idea of freedom."

To what extent is Popper's academic ascent due to graduate students for whom the opportunity to grade ten lines of "philosophical arithmetic" rather than ten pages on Hegel is already Utopia? ( )
  Joe.Olipo | Jun 4, 2023 |
> Babelio : https://www.babelio.com/livres/Popper-Conjectures-et-refutations/183859
> Nuit blanche, No. 23, Mai–Juin 1986, p. 52 : https://id.erudit.org/iderudit/20504ac

> Arnaud André-Jean. Karl R. Popper, Conjectures et réfutations. La croissance du savoir scientifique, trad. M.I. et M.B. de Launay, 1985.
In: Droit et société, n°4, 1986. pp. 464-465. … ; (en ligne),
URL : https://www.persee.fr/doc/dreso_0769-3362_1986_num_4_1_1528_t1_0464_0000_2

> Carozza Jean-Michel, Delcaillau Bernard. Conjectures et réfutations [note critique]
Réponse à la note de Monsieur le Professeur Calvet
.
In: Géomorphologie : relief, processus, environnement, Octobre-décembre, vol. 6, n°4. pp. 272-274. … ; (en ligne),
URL : https://www.persee.fr/doc/morfo_1266-5304_2000_num_6_4_1072 ( )
  Joop-le-philosophe | Feb 12, 2021 |
Conjectures and Refutations (Routledge Classics) by Karl R. Popper (2002)
  leese | Nov 23, 2009 |
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The essays and lectures of which this book is composed are variations upon one very simple theme—the thesis that we can learn from our mistakes.
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Conjectures and Refutations is one of Karl Popper's most wide-ranging and popular works, notable not only for its acute insight into the way scientific knowledge grows, but also for applying those insights to politics and to history. It provides one of the clearest and most accessible statements of the fundamental idea that guided his work: not only our knowledge, but our aims and our standards, grow through an unending process of trial and error.

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