Episode 59

#59 (C&R, Chap 8) - On the Status of Science and Metaphysics (Plus reflections on the Brett Hall blog exchange)


December 22nd, 2023

1 hr 26 mins 24 secs

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About this Episode

Back to the C&R series baby! Feels goooooood. Need some bar-room explanations for why induction is impossible? We gotchu. Need some historical background on where your boy Isaac got his ideas? We gotchu. Need to know how to refute the irrefutable? Gotchu there too homie, because today we're diving into Conjectures and Refutations, Chapter 8: On the Status of Science and Metaphysics.

Oh, and we also discuss, in admittedly frustrated tones, the failed blog exchange between Brett Hall and Vaden on prediction and Austrianism. If you want the full listening experience, we suggest reading both posts before hearing our kvetching:

Hold on to your hats for this one listeners, because she starts off rather spicy.

We discuss

  • Why Kant believed in the truth of Newtonian mechanics
  • Newton and his assertion that he arrived at his theory via induction
  • Why this isn't true and is logically impossible
  • Was Copernicus influenced by Platonic ideals?
  • How Kepler came up with the idea of elliptical orbits
  • Why finite observations are always compatible with infinitely many theories
  • Kant's paradox and his solution
  • Popper's updated solution to Kant's paradox
  • The irrefutability of philosophical theories
  • How can we say that irrefutable theories are false?
  • Annnnnd perhaps a few cheap shots here and there about Austrian Economics as well. # References
  • Some background history on Copernicus and why Ben thinks Popper is wrong


Listening to this statement you may well wonder how I can possibly hold a theory to be false and irrefutable at one and the same time—I who claim to be a rationalist. For how can a rationalist say of a theory that it is false and irrefutable? Is he not bound, as a rationalist, to refute a theory before he asserts that it is false? And conversely, is he not bound to admit that if a theory is irrefutable, it is true?

Now if we look upon a theory as a proposed solution to a set of problems, then the theory immediately lends itself to critical discussion—even if it is non-empirical and irrefutable. For we can now ask questions such as, Does it solve the problem? Does it solve it better than other theories? Has it perhaps merely shifted the problem? Is the solution simple? Is it fruitful? Does it perhaps contradict other philosophical theories needed for solving other problems?

Because, as you [Kant] said, we are not passive receptors of sense data, but active organisms. Because we react to our environment not always merely instinctively, but sometimes con- sciously and freely. Because we can invent myths, stories, theories; because we have a thirst for explanation, an insatiable curiosity, a wish to know. Because we not only invent stories and theories, but try them out and see whether they work and how they work. Because by a great effort, by trying hard and making many mistakes, we may sometimes, if we are lucky, succeed in hitting upon a story, an explanation, which ‘saves the phenomena’; perhaps by making up a myth about ‘invisibles’, such as atoms or gravitational forces, which explain the visible. Because knowledge is an adventure of ideas. These ideas, it is true, are produced by us, and not by the world around us; they are not merely the traces of repeated sensations or stimuli or what not; here you were right. But we are more active and free than even you believed; for similar observations or similar environmental situations do not, as your theory implied, produce similar explanations in different men. Nor is the fact that we create our theories, and that we attempt to impose them upon the world, an explanation of their success, as you believed. For the overwhelming majority of our theories, of our freely invented ideas, are unsuccessful; they do not stand up to searching tests, and are discarded as falsified by experience. Only a very few of them succeed, for a time, in the competitive struggle for survival.
C&R Chapter 2


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