*  ESSAY *

Jenny Teichman and Katherine Evans, Philosophy: A Beginner's Guide, (second edition), Blackwell, Oxford, 1995. First edition 1991.

The book was written for a general readership and university freshers, aiming to present the major topics in self-contained chapters without using technical jargon.

The major topics are metaphysics, ethics, political philosophy, the philosophy of science, logic and philosophy and life.THE METHODS OF SCIENCE  p 161

Theories of Inferences: Hempel and Popper p 163

"Scientific method is more than observation and experiment. Scientists formulate theories which are intended to explain experimental results...But how do we get from observations to theory? And how are theories used in science?"

"Carl Hempel gave an account of how scientists operate which is quite well known and which was widely accepted until quite recently. Hempel said that science was based on the hyopothetico-deductive method. What this means is that scientists are supposed to begin by making and recording observations: next, they formulate a hypothetical covering law; third, this hypothetical law is then used as a premise in a deductive argument".

They note that this leaves out unobservables, also it does not work well to explain individual human actions.

p 164  "Karl Popper is perhaps the most famous philosopher of science in this century. His account of scientific reasoning may aptly be called the falsification theory".

"Popper holds that scientists formulate 'highly falsifiable' theories which they then test...scientists can be said to spend much of their time trying to show that their theories are false [until all but one have been falsified]...There are some objections to Popper's account. One is that it is not possible to test each and every theory [that people might invent]...Next, Popper cannot really explain why exactly it is that some theories are rejected as obviously false and not worth testing at all...A third problem is that the falsification theory seems to rule out from science too much that scientists themselves want to keep in...Popper's account on the face of it implies that as soon as a scientist makes one or two observations which do not fit into current theory then the theory will be abandonned as false".

That is a very thin account of the work of someone they describe as (perhaps) the most famous philosopher of science of this century. On the basis of that critique you would have to wonder why he achieved such fame!

p 165 Kuhn and Feberabend

"Popper wrote his magnum opus Die Logik der Forschung in 1934 and it was translated into English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery in 1958. Since then Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend decided that the best way to find out about the nature of scientific method is not to philosophize in one's study but rather to observe and record the activities of real scientists past and present".

p 166 "Kuhn also has some comments to make about his predecessors in the field. He claims that Hempel, Popper et al misdescribe what scientists actually do. He says that these distinguished philosophers of science have been taken in and hoodwinked by the authors of students' textbooks...[they] have described not the real  methodology of science, but fictional states of affairs existing only in the pages of textbooks given to science students. However he argues that the textbooks have to be as they are. The distortions between their covers are necessary for the training of young scientists, whose minds have to be closed off to theories that are not productive at the moment."

Moving on to Feyerabend "His main claim is that scientists have no special methodology, hence the title of his best-known book Against Method. Science has anarchistic features, and it has no rules of procedure which are used in all cases".

The implication is that Popper and others of his  ilk should have got out and found out more about science as it is practiced (just in case this helps with the logic of scientific investigation). If the authors had got out of their studies to a bookshop or a library they would have found that Popper has studied a great deal of the history of science from the pre-Socratics to modern quantum physics. He engaged in debates extending over decades with major figures such as Schrodinger and Bohr. As a student of education he did some time in Buhler's psychological labratory. In New Zealand he was a constantly in touch with John Eccles while Eccles was doing the experimental work that won a Nobel. He was also closely associated with a number of scientists of lesser note including a soil chemist who passed on the word about Popper to a friend in Melbourne who passed on the message to one of his students, Keith Barley, who was my thesis supervisor in my Ag Science postgrad work. And so on.

It is interesting that this is the second edition of the book. Does this mean that the authors had no colleagues, friends or students who knew enough to help them to make a better fist of Popper's ideas?

In the section on political philosophy there is nothing at all about Popper although they report in a small biographical note that Popper wrote a major work in political philosophy. They wrote several pages on Marxism, including the Frankfurt school and so it would have been appropriate to write a para or two about Popper's critique of left and right utopianism that underpinned the murderous dictatorships of the twentieth century.