Karl Popper and the Call for Academic Discipline

10 Pages Posted: 4 Jun 2015

See all articles by Jeffrey Ray

Jeffrey Ray

Swiss Management Center (SMC) University; University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC)

Date Written: October 29, 2011


Karl Popper was a philosopher that criticized traditional views of how knowledge was purported to support scientific and philosophical hypotheses. This paper analyzes the influence Popper had on how knowledge is used to support science.

With respect to the formation of theories, the traditional view is observations are the basis of hypotheses that form rules that can be extended past the observations and original experimental constraints and assumptions. This approach causes several problems. The problem of demarcation concerns our inability to draw the line between statements of science and those that are pseudo-scientific, or religious in nature. There is no clear point where science ends and conjecture starts, so how do we know how much reverence to give particular theories? The problem of induction asserts that universal laws are based on specific assumptions, but yet are extrapolated out through an induction process to cover circumstances not originally observed. The assumption that the law applies to new, unobserved circumstances is a risky one and must be supported by new assumptions not verified by the original observations.

Researchers still view scientific hypotheses as theories that are proven out by observations during controlled experiments. Popper, however, flipped this view around and argued that any theory was simply a hypothesis that had not yet been disproved. Science is said to be a struggle between competing theories. Every imperfect theory is thought of as a representation of reality that became preeminent by surviving the scrutiny of scientists as they experiment and observe the real world. Rigorous testing eliminates weaker theories, leaving the strong theories to survive. The longer theories survive, the more they are scrutinized and refined to accommodate new findings. Thus, researchers submit their hypothesis to severe testing to expose any flaws in the underlying theory.

Although ideas certainly flow from observations, Popper makes a convincing argument that the observations can never be a basis for validating theories due to the problems of demarcation and induction. After some analysis, this paper adopts his contention that a theory cannot be verified through testing, but rather, the test results merely indicate that a theory has not been dis-proven and should be provisionally retained as the best available theory until it is eventually falsified.

Keywords: academic discipline, problem of induction, problem of demarcation, induction, demarcation, theories, hypothesis, hypotheses, conjectures and refutations, observations, experiments

JEL Classification: A10, A20, B15, B31, C90, D81, D83, N01, N12

Suggested Citation

Ray, Jeffrey, Karl Popper and the Call for Academic Discipline (October 29, 2011). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=2107590 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.2107590

Jeffrey Ray (Contact Author)

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