Noretta Koertge (Partial draft, dating from around 1988)
DEWEY AND POPPER ON PROBLEMS AND HOW TO EVALUATE THEM
Knowledge grows out of problems, be it a) communal scientific knowledge (new for all of us), or b) the individual child's knowledge (new for the child). This has been stressed by Dewey and Popper and those influenced by them. Recent examples: R. Swartz, ed., Knowledge and Fallibilism: Essays on Improving Education (1980); L. Laudan, Progress and Its Problems: Towards a Theory of Scientific Growth (1977).
A lot has been written about Dewey's and Popper's theories of inquiry, i.e., theories of problem-solving. Much less attention has been paid to what each means by problem. Almost entirely neglected is the problem of the evaluation of problems. Scientists routinely judge some research questions to be more theoretically interesting than others. What factors go into such a judgment? Educators encourage children to ask important questions. What makes a question important, not trivial, silly or boring? And important to whom?
In Part A, I look both at what Dewey says about the structure of problems and at the examples he gives. Ditto for Popper. In Part B, I propose a framework for the analysis and evaluation of problems. In Part C, I discuss various philosophical views about which types of problems are of most importance in science and ditto for education in Part D.
Inevitably, this investigation runs head-on into the perennial philosophical uncertainties about the logic of discovery and induction in science and the problem of paternalism vs. responsibility in education. Nevertheless, I think we make some progress by raising a new question and by viewing these old difficulties in a new context.