[Summer School]

Three Lectures for the Summer School for Theory of Knowledge, Warsaw Madralin, 16-31 August, 1997. [For later additions and related materials, see: http://www.indiana.edu/~koertge]

 

 

I. POPPER AND THE SCIENCE WARS

by Noretta Koertge

 

Introduction

 

In a Sunday newspaper magazine article by Bryan Magee published on the occasion of Popper's receiving of the Sonning Prize in Copenhagen, there appears a picture captioned: " Two of the so-called 'Popperian Knights': Sir John Eccles and Sir Ernst Gombrich in Popper's garden in Penn, Buckinghamshire". Certainly Popper generated an unusual number of testimonials from Nobel Prize winners, scientists, cabinet ministers and others of international repute, including George Soros under whose auspices this summer school is taking place! Yet it may surprise you to learn that Popper's famous Demarcation Principle which he uses to distinguish science from pseudo-science is literally the "law of the land" in the United States! In 1981 the Arkansas state legislature enacted an act mandating that "Public schools within this State shall give balanced treatment to creation-science and evolution-science". ("Creationism in Schools: The Decision in McLean versus the Arkansas Board of Education". Science 215 (1982) pp. 934-943), p. 934. ) The American Civil Liberties Union contended that the act was unconstitutional because the First Amendment to the US Constitution forbids the "establishment" of religion. Calling as witnesses both distinguished biologists (Ayala,Gould) and philosophers of biology (Mayer, Ruse), they argued that creation-science was NOT science but was religion. And in 1982 they won their case in the Federal District Court located in Little Rock, Arkansas.

 

Here is part of Judge Overton's argument for his conclusion that "'creation science' is simply not science":

"...the essential characteristics of science are:

(1) It is guided by natural law;

(2) It has to be explanatory by reference to natural law;

(3) It is testable against the empirical world;

(4) Its conclusions are tentative, i.e., are not necessarily the final word; and

(5) It is falsifiable. (Ruse and other science witnesses)." (p. 938)

Michael Ruse has remarked in describing his participation in the trial that he had never before been a Popperian enthusiast, but when searching for a clear, simple way to explain why "creation science" should not be presented in biology classes at all (not even as an out-of-date theory such as Ptolemaic astronomy) the old falsifiability criterion sure came in handy!

 

There are many other Popperian dicta that often come to mind in committee meetings or cocktail conversations:

*His doctrine of "negative utilitarianism": we should try to minimize pain, not maximize happiness (in part because it is so much easier to find out what hurts people than what will make them happy).

*His substitution of "piece-meal social engineering" for utopian planning, again for largely methodological reasons - it is easier to diagnose cause and effect when we make small, controlled changes.

*His insistence that to criticize an idea does not ipso facto imply any sort of criticism of the proponent of that view. (If anything, it is a compliment to a thinker to find their views interesting enough to deserve comment! ) One is not obligated to justify one's claims. However, one is obligated to formulate views in as clear and bold a manner as possible in order to facilitate criticism.

 

So as a sloganeer Popper seems to be a very effective philosopher. But I immediately want to raise two worrisome points. Is his philosophy deep and detailed enough to be serviceable in those applied contexts where one is looking for guides to policy? And are his slogans always good rules of thumb?

 

First, a couple of observations regarding the Arkansas trial. Afterwards, Michael Ruse related some of his anxieties about the viability of the Popperian line he was taking. What if someone on the other side happened upon some of Popper's remarks about the unfalsifiability of Darwinian theory? In Popper's intellectual autobiography in the Popper Schilpp volume there is an entire section entitled "Darwinism as Metaphysics" which includes the potentially damning admission that "...Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory but a metaphysical research programme (p. 134). (For a discussion of this issue, see Michael Ruse, Darwinism Defended: A Guide to the Evolution Controversies and various essays in Michael Ruse, ed., But Is It Science? The Philosophical Question in the Creation/Evolution Controversy.). What if some creationist showed that at least parts of their system were falsifiable.! Does not creation science rule out the discovery of a fossil of an "intermediate" species between the apes and man? Conversely, what if the creationists claimed that Kuhn (or Lakatos or Laudan) should be taken as an authority on the nature of science instead of Popper. Couldn't they then argue that creation science was just an alternative paradigm, or possibly pre-paradigm due to the reluctance of the dogmatic scientific community to fund their research? Certainly they had a fixed core of beliefs and yes, those core beliefs were religious in origin. But where the beliefs came from was a matter of the context of discovery and should now be considered irrelevant to the merits of the program. (After all, the suggestion that Copericus was inspired by sun worship or light metaphysics is irrelevant to the merits of his astronomy.) And as Kuhn et al. had amply demonstrated, the most revered theoretical systems also have a metaphysical "hard core" that is certainly not open to simple, direct empirical refutation. (For further development of this line of argument see Larry Laudan, "Science at the Bar: Causes for Concern". Science, 17 (1982): 16-19. This essay is reprinted in Ruse, ed., But Is It Science?)

 

And sure enough, when in 1986 the Supreme Court considered the constitutionality of a similar act passed in Louisiana the case was much harder to win because the creationists now had a much more sophisticated picture of what science was really like. One commentator thinks that the case was won on political, not philosophical, grounds thanks in large part to an amicus curiae brief filed by a large group of Nobel Prize winners (Michael Shermer, Why People Believe Weird Things, p. 172). The Popperian slogan about falsifiability as the hallmark of science, although initially appealing, became less rhetorically persuasive as time and discussion went on.

 

My main concern today are cases of a slightly different form. I want to examine the extent to which certain central tenets of the intellectual movements variously called postmodernism, social construtivism and/or cultural critiques of science can be viewed as part of the unintended consequences of Popper's philosophy. I will then ask whether a more sophisticated reading of Popper can be part of the "cure" for these intellectual malaises of our time.

 

1. The "Science Wars"

 

The most dramatic way to introduce these issues is by reference to the so-called "Science Wars" and the Sokal hoax. The media coverage of these events is now spreading from the US through GB into Western Europe. In the United States, there have been on-going discussions in all of the imtellectual magazines and the popular magazine Newsweek (April 21, 1997, pp. 54-56) had a feature article on the Science Wars. The May 22nd issue of Nature has a 5 page "briefing" on the Wars in which they remark that similar issues are caousing intense discussions in Great Britain. There were articles on the Sokal affair in Le Monde and Die Zeit and a Lexis-Nexus search turned up several articles written in languages other than English.

 

What are the issues in the Science Wars and what do they have to do with Popper? Both questions turn out to be very difficult to answer so let me start with an overview and then try to provide more detail. The basic chronology is fairly clear and non-controversial. Since the mid-sixties there has been growing interest in what in the English-speaking world is known as STS (Science, Technology and Society Studies) and SSK (Sociology of Scientific Knowledge). As the names suggest the people producing this work often were trained as sociologists, social historians or political scientists. (For an insider's history of this movement see the essay by David Edge in Handbook of STS, Sage, 1995 edited by Shelia Jasanoff.) Beginning in the seventies, there were a growing number of feminist critiques of science and technology; many of these writers had backgrounds in the philosophy or the social sciences. More recently there has developed a less easily characterized approach called Science and Culture Studies or Cultural Studies Critiques of Science or Postmodernist Science Studies. Many of these writers have been influenced by French philosophers and theories of literary criticism.

 

All along there were many piece-meal attempts to criticize the accounts of science generated by these various groups, but without much success, in part perhaps because there was widespread sympathy with the progressive political rhetoric that accompanied these writings. Who wants to be cast as an opponent of making science more democratic, more "female-friendly", more socially responsible? Who is not concerned about nuclear safety, ecological disaster, and the unholy mixture of technophilia and consumerism that seems to dominate our value system? Yet far from becoming more sophisticated the accounts of science generated by these groups grew increasingly radical, so much so that even one of the most enthusiastic supports of STS, Steve Fuller (editor of Social Epistemology)

admits that the other shoe was bound to drop. Scientists in particular were bound to object. (Forthcoming essay in Beyond the Science Wars.)

 

And drop it did when, in 1994, Paul Gross and Norman Levitt published their much discussed response to the new accounts of science, Higher Superstition: The Academic Left and its Quarrels with Science (Johns Hopkins). The impact of this book (which is still selling so well in hard cover that JH Press has not issued it in paperback) stems from a variety of factors. It drew together and showed the common themes running through materials produced by radical ecologists, students of popular culture, constructivists, deconstructionists, Marxists of every stripe, all flavors of feminism, sociologists, historians, philosophers. They produced incisive and detailed criticisms of representative examples of each strain of science commentary. They argued that although science itself might not be much harmed (at least in the short run) by these gross misrepresentations of the aim, practice, and achievements of science, it certainly bode ill for those people who had little first hand knowledge of either the content or workings of science (which in the USA includes most college graduates). Their style was polemical but they also produced documentation for an array of radical science studies claims that were self-evidently silly or demonstrably false.Their book made it easy for scientists or other "friends of science and reason", as we might call them, to educate themselves on some of the tenets that were rapidly becoming the new orthodoxy in the Humanities and softer Social Sciences.

 

Higher Superstition also served as a wake-up call to those historians and philosophers of science who did not endorse the methodological and/or political agendas that prevailed in STS. And in a symposium at the 1996 meeting of the AAAS sponsored by the HPS section, the message came ouloud and clear that historians, philosophers and sociologists of scienchad a special responsibility both to expose the bad scholarship and weak arguments being made in the name of science studies and to let scientists and the public know that not all humanists who comment on science are part of the STS research program.

 

Stung by the combination of polemics and scholarship in Higher Superstition, the editors of Social Text, a cultural studies journal published by Duke University Press, declared that hostilities and suspicion had escalated into academic warfare and they invited contributions to a special issue called "The Science Wars". Alan Sokal, a physicist at NYU who had become increasingly concerned about the combination of scientific ignorance, literary pretension, and moral arrogance that gains approval within the various genres of science studies, conducted his now famous "experiment". He submitted a carefully crafted satire of postmodern excesses, meticulously quoting the big names in the new science studies, including the editors and other contributors to the journal. His essay quoted with approval interpretations of modern physics drawn from their writings that were both ludicrous and indisputably false . As he predicted, the editors liked the parts they could understand, failed to consult a referee on the physics, and published the Trojan horse paper. Sokal immediately revealed the hoax in Lingua Franca, whereupon Stanley Fish defended the editors and accused Sokal of subverting the academic virtue of trust, and there ensued a torrent of newspaper editorials, articles, and internet discussions which is still going strong a year later.

 

Once again I must stress the heterogeneity of views of those who are perpetrating this critique of science. (Just two indications of the conflicts within the "anti-science" camp: Hilary Rose's paper in the now notorious issue of Social Text is entitled "My Enemy's Enemy Is --Only Perhaps--My Friend". Also the concluding chapter of the new SSK textbook, Scientific Knowledge: A Sociological Analysis, by Barry Barnes, David Bloor, and John Henry, tried to differentiate the naturalistic approach of the Edinburgh school from what they consider to be an unfortunate idealist strain in many other sociologists who talk about science, e.g. Harry Collins.)

 

Now what, you may well be wondering, has this got to do with Popper? Let me first provide some hints of an answer and then raise the question in a slightly different form. In the 5 page section in Nature called "Briefing on the Science Wars" referred to above, there appears a photograph of Sir Karl accompanied by a report based on an interview with Steve Shapin:

[Shapin] suggests that part of the reason for the hostility towards the Edinburgh school lies in the way that it deliberately set out to provide a critique of a rationalist philosophy of science --the idea that scientific practice follows a set of established and accepted rules--as expressed by philosophers such as Karl Popper and Imre Lakatos.

 

"If our fundamental philosophical position was anti-anything, it was anti-rationalist philosophy, not anti-science," says Shapin. "I find it very odd that the scientists who are upset are those that are hitching their wagon to impoverished and unsustainable philosophies. Why do they see criticism of Popper as criticism of science?" (Nature 387, 22 May 1997, p. 334)

 

One may immediately wonder why the SSK folks associated Popper with an algorithmic approach to scientific methodology, but it is clear that this strain of Science Studies defines itself as being in opposition to Popper. (At the 4S meeting in New Orleans in 1994 there was a student skit involving the ghosts of Popper and Kuhn. It invoked some negative comment because Popper had just recently died. However, the skit was almost surely written before his death.)

 

(Digression: The relationship between the new science studies and Kuhn is profoundly ambivalent. On the one hand, Kuhn certainly lays the ground work for a social epistemology. However in a little known paper delivered on the occasion of receiving the Bernal Prize Kuhn sharply dissociates himself from recent developments in sociology of science:

The developments just sketched were, I think, unequivocally fruitful. The scientific enterprise is not autonomous. Though socio-economic interests are not the only means through which society impinges on science , they are surely the main ones, and they had previously been too little studied. Sociology of science made a major contribution by focussing upon them, and that focus remained appropriate while sociology of science remained externalist, concerned primarily with the effects of the larger society on science and eschewing the internalist's concern with science as knowledge. But the belated emergence during the past two decades of an internal sociology of science, one that takes scientific communities and their products as the objects of sociological scrutiny, has shifted sociological concerns without altering the model used to pursue them. Interests remain the dominant factor that practioners of the new field employ in explanations, and the interests they deploy remain predominantly socio-economic. TO ME THE RESULT OFTEN SEEMS DISASTER [emphasis added].

 

Almost by definition, resort to the term "interest" has excluded the special cognitive interests inculcated by scientific training and required, as an ingredient in explanations, by any sociology that claims to absorb or displace the traditional concerns of internalist studies. We shall not, in my view, account at all for scientific knowledge without recognizing the determining role in scientific practice of just such special interests: love of truth (fear of the unknown, if one prefers; fascination with puzzle solving (compulsion to exhibit special skills); repudiation of the past (obsession with the law of the excluded middle); and others of the sort. While internal sociology of science continues to ape external in excluding considerations like these, the gap between the concerns of Structure and those of the social study of science will continue vast, and my enterprise will have failed in its central purpose...., (pp. 29-30.) "Reflections on Receiving the John Desmond Bernal Award". 4S Review 1:4 (1983), pp. 26-30.

Like many a disgruntled parent Kuhn was not pleased with his progeny.)

 

2. Popper as a Resource for Postmodernism?

 

I will not pursue further the question of the extent to which Popper was a direct historical influential on the individuals now doing postmodernist/constructivist science studies. Instead I want to perform a thought experiment. What if a Martian who had read writings from partisans from each side of the "Science Wars" as well as Popperian philosophy were asked which side could more cogently cite Popper as a ally? Leaving the actual historico-sociological context aside, from a World-3 perspective where does Popper belong? This hypothetical exercise will hopefully help us better understand both the strengths and weaknesses

(or incompletenesses) of Popper's theory of science. Or it might even point

the way to a dialectical ascent above the present controversies!

 

There is an old proverb to the effect that even the Devil can quote Scripture for his own purposes. So just as we saw above that the Creationists could have cited Popper for their project, let us now ask what solace constructivists/postmodernists might extract from Popper's writings. Here is a laundry list of items:

 

*According to Popper's theory of "basic statements", the choice of which observation reports are to count as potential falsifiers is a conventional one that requires at least a temporary consensus within the scientific community. (Sounds a lot like saying facts are "socially constructed"!)

*The concepts that are used to frame observation statements come from theories. What counts as a "basic" statement is not determined by perceptual accessibility but by what at the time is not considered to be questionable. So an assertion about a gamma ray's trajectory or the flux of neutrinos in today's historical context would count as "basic" whereas earlier it would not have. (The empirical "base" of science is context dependent.)

*According to Popper, knowledge is NOT true, justified belief. What we call scientific knowledge is typically not true (Popper says most of our theories are false) and it is certainly not justified (Popper speaks of "conjectural knowledge" and knowledge without foundations). Rather knowledge is whatt has survived critical scrutiny in a particular socio historical context. (Sounds a lot like saying knowledge is culturally relative!) Furthermore a knowledge claim need not reside in any one's mind (i.e., in World-2). Rather knowledge is embodied in World-3 texts where W-3 is construed in such a broad way that it includes birds' nests [Reference]. (A little reminiscent, n'est-ce pas, of postmodernist talk about everything being text.) The items in W-3 are all our own creations - even the favorites entities of Platonists, such as numbers and geometrical objects, are constructed by humans to solve a problem.

*Furthermore, Popper refuses to provide any sort of theory of meaning. (My colleague, Alberto Coffa, had a favorite aphorism: "For Wittgenstein meaning is use; for Popper meaning is useless!") Therefore, we can only make conjectures about what a claim means; often claims, particularly in mathematics and advanced science, have unforeseen consequences, so when we first start working with new theories we literally don't know what we're talking about! (Almost sounds like the Reader Response theory of literary criticism whereby each reader invents the meaning of a text.)

*The whole process of scientific inquiry is driven by what we find interesting and by what we find problematic. (The construction of science, in another words, is contingent on the interests of the community, be it the scientific community or society at large.) Popper speaks of how a hungry animal sees its surroundings differently from one that is frightened. Likewise, what we observe depends on what problem we are trying to solve, be it a practical problem or a theoretical one. A very important theoretical problem arises when our expectations are violated. But what we expect depends on our "background knowledge". (So one might say that the direction of science at any moment is contingent on the interests and cultural belief system of those members of society connected with the scientific process.)

*Not only are basic statements selected by means of conventional choices, the conclusions we draw about theories involve choices. If a theory clashes with an observation report we are then faced with a Duhemian problem situation: Should we revise the theory, query the truth of initial conditions or withdraw our tentative acceptance of the observation report? Popper tells us our decision should not be ad hoc but that appraisal is not cut-and-dried either. On the other hand, when an observation report supports a theory then it "corroborates" the theory, but Popper denies that this is a form of inductive support. All it seems to mean is that for practical purposes we may decide to act as if the theory were true, but such a decision must also include a consideration of the costs and benefits of being wrong. (In other words, it sounds like what we accept as true - or close to the truth - depends on our goals and interests.)

*Science is not accumulative; our best theories, e.g. Newton's can be show to be false; even mathematical truths/proofs can be revised (c.f. Lakatos' "Proofs and Refutations"); science is fallible through and through; nothing can be justified - there are no absolute truths that we can claim to know. Science is a communal affair which involves friendly-hostile competition and what is taken to be knowledge at any point in time depends on the state of the critical discussion in that local historical context. (As the SSK folks might put it, since scientific claims cannot be justified, their epistemic status is a matter of local, contingent, consensual decisions and conventions.)

 

3. Popper as Anathema to the Postmodernists

 

Why, you may well ask, is Popper (whom David Stove included in his book on the Four Irrationalist Philosophers) not adopted as a patron saint by postmodernists and social constructivists? Is it simply because he is seen as a political reactionary based on his critique of Marx and his approval of Austrian economics? I expect that political considerations do enter in, but let us also look at the ammunition Popper provides to the critics of postmodernist/constructivist accounts of science.

* Although Popper's theory of knowledge is vague enough to offer some comfort to the pomo-cons, his staunch realism and theory of truth stands in clear opposition to their approach. For Popper, the existence of objects in W-1 (the natural world) is completely independent of our beliefs about them (W-2). These beliefs in turn are expressed using concepts we have created, but which now have an autonomous existence in W-3. Although the three worlds interact, they are ontologically distinct. To speak of the social construction of gravity or dinosaurs, as some are wont to do, is just a sloppy conflation of linguistic items and entities in the natural world. (Social institutions are obviously socially constructed in a way that dinosaurs are not, but they also exist - in lectures Popper used to remark that a No Exit sign in the London Underground had as big an effect on pedestrian behavior as a wooden barrier.)

 

*Popper's philosophy of social science incorporates the doctrine of methodological individualism. The actions of individuals are to be understood using situational logic and the Rationality Principle which says that people act appropriately to their situations as they perceive them. But although the behavior of people can be explained, it cannot be predicted, primarily because human situations are never closed as are physical systems (which can sometimes be described as closed for all practical purposes). Because of the ability of individuals to invent new solutions to the problems they are confronting, discover new methods for obtaining their goals, and subject old goals and methods to critical scrutiny, their actions are radically underdetermined by both their culture and their social situation. (Many social constructivists sound as if they were, and are sometimes accused of being, cultural determinists.)

 

*Popper is also unsympathetic with the idea common amongst many multiculturalists that our language and culture places serious restrictions on what it is possible to think (not just on what we are most likely to think). (Cf. the so-called Sapir-Whorf thesis.) In "The Myth of the Framework" Popper claims not only that fruitful dialogue is possible between people holding incommensurable worldviews but also that we learn more when we interact with people with radically different points of view. (He even claims that disputants need not agree on anything and yet learn from a conversation!) The low import Popper assigns to cultural boundaries is in marked contrast to those who would place great importance on the cultural differences amongst various ethnic sub cultures even within America and would argue for local, autonomous ethnosciences instead of deliberately fostering the clashes between differing accounts of the world which Popper considers to be occasions on which much learning can take place.

 

*Postmodernist commentators place a great deal of emphasis on the rhetorical aspects of scientific discourse. Feminist critiques of science focus especially on the gendered metaphors that pervade supposedly "objective" scientific texts. And recently historians of science have paid much attention to questions of "authorship" - how the writer positions himself with respect to patrons and other members of the intended audience. Popper, however, specifically denigrates the signalling and "expressive" functions of language. For the growth of knowledge what is important are the descriptive and argumentative aspects of language. In World-3 are problems, tentative solutions, criticisms of those solutions, etc. (Who said what to whom using which metaphors is not part of the main story line in the development of science although it may become relevant if we want to understand, to cite Popper's own example, why Galileo espoused a theory of tides that was inconsistent with his own dynamics. Here, he says, we have to clearly distinguish between Galileo's objective problem situation and his subjective problem situation.)

 

*In both science and philosophy the overriding purpose of language is to foster inquiry by stating problems and conjectures clearly in order that they may be subjected to criticism and by presenting the logical connections between propositions carefully in order to root out inconsistencies. As his debates with Adorno demonstrate, for Popper obscure prose is a mortal sin. This immediately puts him at loggerheads with many postmodernist writers. Furthermore, Popper believes intellectual honesty requires writers to pulically announce changes in their positions and to explain what criticisms prompted those changes. This also puts him at odds with those who would cover up or rationalize subtle shifts in the doctrines they espouse or present radiaclly different emphases according to the audience they are addressing. As anyone who has tried to give a precis of many of the pomo-cons authors has discovered, it is often extremely hard to pin them down.

 

*The most difficult to describe feature of Popper's philosophy but the one that differentiates him most markedly from the new critiques of science is the emphasis on what I will call a "critical attitude". For example, in his essay on the Myth of the Framework in which he is so optimistic about the possibilities of learning from cultural clashes he rather blithely alludes to: ".... some attitudes which may indeed be preconditions for a discussion, such as a wish to get to, or nearer to, the truth, and a willingness to share problems or to understand the aims and the problems of somebody else"[my emphasis]. (Popper, The Myth of the Framework, p. 35) For many pomo-cons, however, the goal of getting near to the truth may seem an impossible or impractical one. Others would claim that the aim of getting a more just society should always take precedence over truth-seeking.

 

4. A Popper-Brokered Peace?

 

Since there are aspects of Popper's philosophy that resonate witheach of the camps that constitute the "Science Wars" what are the prospects of using Popper as the starting point for a peace initiative?

Given the strong moral component of the disputes it is perhaps fitting to note that Popper might well have a few words of Schimpfen for both sides. In his paper "The Moral Responsibility of the Scientist" Popper exhorts scientists to broaden their moral concerns. The social task of the scientist is to produce new knowledge about the world and, as a consequence, the scientist has a special obligation not to fabricate data or to otherwise impede the growth of knowledge, just as physicians have a special duty to heal, not harm. Scientists readily accept these responsibilities but have often argued that since it is not their specific function to worry about how that knowledge should be applied (they are not experts in technology assessment or public policy), they have no moral responsibilities in these areas above and beyond those of the ordinary citizen. Here Popper disagrees. Using the concept of sagesse oblige he argues that anyone who is in an epistemically advantaged position has the duty to think about the possible harms that could accrue from new discoveries. (However, he does not at all imply that scientists are the only ones who should have a standing in debates about science policy.) Scientists cannot use the "purity" of their inquiry (which may well be genuine) to cop out on the great social dilemmas that often accompany scientific inquiry. (And indeed the Human Genome Project has built into its budget funds to subsidize discussions of just that kind of concern.)

 

For the pomo-con commentators on science, there are other Popperian imperatives that seem appropriate. In his lectures Popper often made a big deal out of the distinction between studying an essay - really reading it and trying to understand as sympathetically as possible the author's problem situation before criticizing his or her theses - and the more common activity of skipping and skimming through a work. Some of the new critics of science pride themselves on not understanding the content of the science they subject to sociological analysis. (Some aggressively defend their ignorance on the grounds that it makes them somehow more objective - in order to understand the science they would have to study science so long that they might become indoctrinated with scientific values. Thus Andrew Ross dedicates a book to all the science teachers he never had and without whom the book would not have been possible [Strange Weather: Culture, Science and Technology in an Age of Limits].) Popper also encouraged a sort of principle of charity when interpreting works. He said, for example, that one might sometimes even need to strengthen a position before criticizing it. (I am not claiming, however, that Popper always followed this good advice!) I have mentioned before his insistence on clear expression and openness to criticism, qualities that some postmodernists explicitly repudiate.

 

Although Popper did not write systematically on philosophy of education, there are scattered remarks in his writings suggesting reforms in science education which might be acceptable to many participants in the "Science Wars" debates. Popper's rather perplexing claim that one cannot really understand a theory without knowing what problem it was designed to solve invites teachers to place scientific results within an historical context, which in some cases might well include social factors. Popper's stress on the importance of criticism, in particular his praise for the custom developed amongst the pre-Socratics of students' criticizing the views of their teachers, would mitigate against the rigidity of traditional science education that Kuhn compared to religious indoctrination. However, Popper's insistence that one has to thoroughly understand a theory in its scientific context before one can cogently criticize it would mitigate against the sort of loose, politically inspired "critiques" that "progressive" educators today often cultivate.

 

Much of the motivation of contemporary Science Studies appears to grow out of concerns with public policy re science and especially technology. Again one can find useful dicta in Popper's writings on social and political philosophy. His claim that the question is not so much WHO should rule but how can we best provide avenues so that people may criticize their rulers and turf them out when necessary, his recognition of the importance of maximizing information transfer in a society, his preference for having decisions made locally where knowledge of the local situation can have maximum impact -- much of the spirit of Popper's social philosophy should be quite congenial to many environmentalists and Science-for-the People types (although it would not fit in well with those of a more Marxist bent who are looking for extensive state control based on utopian blue-prints).

 

So far, I have suggested how the general tone or flavor of Popper's general philosophy might move the "Science Wars" debates in more fruitful directions but I have made little reference to Popper's detailed theory of scientific methodology. What is the relevance of Popper's theory of Demarcation, Conjectures and Refutations, Corroboration, Verisimilitude, Objective Knowledge, etc.? It is precisely these issues that I wish to explore in my next two lectures, but let me give you a preview of where those discussions will lead. In my next lecture, I will argue that Popper's account of scientific inquiry as a problem-solving process can serve as a framework for the discussion of many issues relating to the sociology of science and the proper (and improper) influence of social interests and ideology on science. I am quite convinced that Popper's account is much more congenial to such an enterprise than either logical positivism/empiricism, Kuhnian paradigms, or the Edinburgh Sociology of Scientific Knowledge program. So to the extent that the "Science Wars" are about the relevance of social values to scientific inquiry, I think Popper's philosophy will at least provide us with a scaffolding in which we can start to clarify issues and sort out the pros and cons of various proposals.

 

But although the pomo-con commentators on science often talk about the importance of sociological analysis, their deepest challenge is on the epistemological level. What insight can a Popperian approach provide to the skepticism and relativism that is so central to the pomo-cons and such anathema to their science-and-reason opponents? Can we extract from Popper a theory of knowledge, not just a methodology for criticizing what we take to be knowledge? Here I am, frankly, less sanguine. But what I will do in my third lecture is to argue that Popper's informal concept of Verisimilitude is more promising than the formal criticisms of attempts to explicate that notion would suggest. Critics such as Miller and Tichy have shown that Popper's formal proposals run into all of the difficulties of Carnap's c-function approach to confirmation. Nevertheless, I think there is much to be learned from this idea and I'll try to explain why in my last lecture.

[Summer School]