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Trevor Spelman

Dr. Kraemer
Philosophy Of Science
24 January 2016
Criticism of Popper
Todays reading deals yet again with the paradigm shifting work of the philosopher Sir
Karl Popper. Peter Godfrey Smith provides a general account of Poppers scientific philosophy
highlighting key aspects such as the falsifiability of claims and then continues to offer two
primary points of criticism. First, Smith calls into question whether or not falsifiability is truly an
effective way to distinguish scientific ideas from nonscientific ones. Second, Smith unhinges
Poppers process of confirmation, questioning whether Poppers attempt to describe rational
theory choice is successful.
Smith explains that the error in Poppers commitment to falsifiability stems from his
oversimplification of such a process. For Popper, theories form generalizations in which some
phenomena are precluded from occurring in concordance with this prediction. Smith explains
that this is not as simple as it sounds because in order to test a theory, one must rely on
observation, which in turn relies on sensory faculties, which cannot always be trusted. Thus,
instead of a process of hard, objective scientific acceptance or rejection of an idea, the validity of
such an idea is left to the decision made by the scientific community pertaining to whether the
methods of testing are deemed passable or untrustworthy.
Smith continues in his analysis to object to Poppers method of confirmation. Popper
believed that science should act in a manner of making claims, and trying to falsify them;
however, once a claim has been falsified, according to Popper, there is no reason that you should

have any more faith in said theorys predictive capacity than you did prior to testing. All that is
now known is that that specific testing procedure did not falsify the claim. Based upon this
aspect of Poppers theory, Smith challenges Poppers method of confirmation by assuming his
position and then questioning whether there is any legitimate reason to select a theory that has
worked before in the past versus a theory that has never been tested. To illustrate this confound
in Poppers thinking Smith draws upon the example of workers building a bridge. According to
Poppers philosophy, these workers should have no real inclination to utilize structural plans that
have been shown to work in the past versus a completely novel plan that has never been tested
because both plans have never been falsified. Although this poses a problem to Poppers analysis
of how exposure works, the basic idea is still valuable to the field of science.
While Smith does have his criticisms for Poppers scientific philosophy, he maintains that
Poppers general contributions to the field are invaluable. While Poppers original intentions
were to posit a system for distinguishing scientific theories from unscientific theories, in
actuality he established a system of handling ideas in ways that are either scientific or
unscientific. Poppers work catalyzed a paradigm shift in the way we think about science.
Although criticisms of his philosophy cannot be answered easily, his overall contributions have
critically enhanced sciences capacity for progress and discovery.