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The Logic of Scientific Discovery [Hardcover]

Karl Popper
4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

March 29 2002 0415278430 978-0415278430 2
Described by the philosopher A.J. Ayer as a work of 'great originality and power', this book revolutionized contemporary thinking on science and knowledge. Ideas such as the now legendary doctrine of 'falsificationism' electrified the scientific community, influencing even working scientists, as well as post-war philosophy. This astonishing work ranks alongside The Open Society and Its Enemies as one of Popper's most enduring books and contains insights and arguments that demand to be read to this day.

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'One of the most important documents of the twentieth century.' – Peter Medawar, New Scientist

About the Author

Karl Popper (1902-94) Philosopher, born in Vienna. One of the most famous thinkers of the twentieth century. --This text refers to the Paperback edition.

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A scientist, whether theorist or experimenter, puts forward statements, or systems of statements, and tests them step by step. Read the first page
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Front Cover | Copyright | Table of Contents | Excerpt | Index
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10 of 10 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars old but still outstanding book Nov. 27 2002
By A Customer
Format:Hardcover
This is Popper's early masterpiece, which still deserves to be thoroughly read. Thesis of the book: theories are guesses which have no secure basis and can be at any time overthrown, but which must be able to stick out their necks and face experimental tests. If they pass the tests, this does not make them any more secure or reliable than they were before.
Its first chapter explains two fundamental problems which will be grappled with in the following chapters: the problem of induction and the problem of demarcation (between science and non-science). The solution to the first problem is straightforward: there is no such thing as induction. If you want to learn more on Popper's formulation and purported solution of this problem, you should read the whole book.

The second chapter gives some methodological rules which, though presented as conventions, are set down in order to combat "conventionalism", the attempt to regard theories as irrefutable, as true by convention.

The third chapter, a bit boring, is an analysis of causality, scientific explanation, the kinds of scientific concepts and the structure of theories (these are considered interpreted axiomatic systems).
The fourth chapter deals with the notion of falsifiability, something theories must have in order to be scientific according to Popper's criterion of demarcation. Falsifiability, as here defined, is (roughly) incompatibility with at least one singular statement reporting the existence of an observable event (the distinction between occurrences and events will be found here; it was previously drawn by Bertrand Russell, I may add).

The fifth chapter deals with these last kind of statements (basic statements): their form, their content and their role in science.
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4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Challaging and deep reading June 17 2004
Format:Paperback
First of all, I would like to say in my behalf that I'm no logic expert, and that I had to cut Popper's book in chapter 8 just to read an introduction to Logic before I continue further in my personal experience with Popper. This book is a classical one, I had just seen references to it before, so I decided to give it a try. Boy, I was so out of my territory I felt really confused at times, but finally manage to get through the technical issues. This was a hard reading book for me, but I don't regret the month I devote to it, all the effort was worth it. So, why do I gave it four stars then? Well, just because it was hard, sorry, I don't have a better argument, but it's true, if you don't poses a solid background in Logic this would be a hard reading. I'm not going to talk much about this book content since I don't like that much, and everybody seems to do that, there's even some really good reviews in this page that make a better job that the one I could. Finally I will like to say that if you are interested in the philosophy behind scientific work, this is a wonderful book.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  25 reviews
134 of 138 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars old but still outstanding book Nov. 27 2002
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is Popper's early masterpiece, which still deserves to be thoroughly read. Thesis of the book: theories are guesses which have no secure basis and can be at any time overthrown, but which must be able to stick out their necks and face experimental tests. If they pass the tests, this does not make them any more secure or reliable than they were before.
Its first chapter explains two fundamental problems which will be grappled with in the following chapters: the problem of induction and the problem of demarcation (between science and non-science). The solution to the first problem is straightforward: there is no such thing as induction. If you want to learn more on Popper's formulation and purported solution of this problem, you should read the whole book.

The second chapter gives some methodological rules which, though presented as conventions, are set down in order to combat "conventionalism", the attempt to regard theories as irrefutable, as true by convention.

The third chapter, a bit boring, is an analysis of causality, scientific explanation, the kinds of scientific concepts and the structure of theories (these are considered interpreted axiomatic systems).
The fourth chapter deals with the notion of falsifiability, something theories must have in order to be scientific according to Popper's criterion of demarcation. Falsifiability, as here defined, is (roughly) incompatibility with at least one singular statement reporting the existence of an observable event (the distinction between occurrences and events will be found here; it was previously drawn by Bertrand Russell, I may add).

The fifth chapter deals with these last kind of statements (basic statements): their form, their content and their role in science. These statements are in no sense justified by experience, says Popper, even if their acceptance is caused by experience; they are as risky as theories, although in scientific practice there is not (usually) much trouble in agreeing to accept or to reject them. It is a pity that Popper says that basic statements are accepted by a "free choice" or convention, because it is only after observing that the popperian Forscher will agree to accept a basic statement.

The sixth chapter tries to define comparative criteria of falsifiability. Given that all scientific theories have an infinity of observable consequences, how are we to compare their boldness = refutability = their sticking out their necks?

I am running out of words. The seventh chapter deals with the notion of simplicity. Popper's thesis here is: simplicity = boldness = falsifiability; a simple thesis, and a bold one.

The eighth chapter contains a deft and clear discussion of some methodological and mathematical problems of probability. I highly recommend it. It is after reading a chapter like these that you can realize how cheap and misleading the criticisms of Stove are to which some previous reviewers refered.

Chapter 9 contains a plea for objectivism in quantum physics, although it is rather out-dated. But the attack on Heisenberg's programme is still instructive.

The last chapter deals with "corroboration" of theories and includes an important critique of justificationist probabilism. One should read it together with Reichenbach's highly negative Erkenntnis review: "Über Induktion und Wahrscheinlichkeit: Bemerkungen zu K.Popper's Logik der Forschung".

The appendices are also worth reading, even if they tackle mainly with technical problems.

I think that no one has seen with greater clarity the problems and ambiguities of Popper's methodology as displayed in this book than his coleague-rival Imre Lakatos. Even if he is not half as gifted as Popper, and makes many mistakes as regards induction, his critique of popperian demarcation and rules of science is certainly worth reading.

On this book, one can also benefit and enjoy reading Neurath's indignant review of the 1934 edition: "Pseudo-Rationalismus der Falsifikation", and Grelling's review in "Theoria", 1937 (1).
22 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Very interesting Dec 24 2006
By Downtown Mr. Brown - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I have to ask myself, "What is the basis for my scientific knowledge?" On a daily basis, as I am a chemist. I have often been struck by arguments for "induction" as lacking credibility, because how can one argue of probabilities with an unknown sample size? Popper argues that a proposing scientific hypothesis is an inductive act, but it is a creative act not a logical one, but that scientific knowledge is dedective.

I agree with him. The nature of science is such that one must put for statements about how the world works and test them. A scientist should always try to find a way of proving himself or herself wrong. If the predictions of the test are shown to be false, then the hypothesis must be false. That is the basis of scientific knowledge. The rest, the best theories we have are just "working models" and we can never justify why they work. They're simply our best working models now.

I don't find Popper's argument disheartening. Popper points out that we don't have to justify our search for explanations of the world, because they may do us benefit (if we happened to live in a world with stable physical laws, for instance).

I think many scientists would fundamentally agree that the laws of nature can never really be proven. They can't, but they speak volumes about what is relevant to us as a species (which is why Popper's argument that "induction" is creative is so interesting). All Popper asks of a scientific hypothesis is that it can, in principle, be demonstrated false by experience.

This is by far one of the most interesting and (I feel) important books I've ever read.
15 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars From avant garde to rear guard Nov. 17 2005
By Thomas J. Hickey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Logic of Scientific Discovery is Popper's magnum opus, and is one of the most important works in twentieth-century philosophy of science. Its title notwithstanding the book is not about the processes for inventing new scientific theories; it is about the criticism of theories and the growth of scientific knowledge.

Eddington's solar eclipse observations in 1919 corroborating Einstein's theory of gravitation led Popper to conclude that when scientists test a theory, they aim to refute the theory rather than verify it. This falsificationist philosophy of scientific criticism is a central thesis of Popper's philosophy of science. Peirce had anticipated Popper's falsificationist thesis, but Popper drew implications that anticipated the contemporary pragmatist philosophy of language and science, even as he rejected pragmatism. His most important anticipation is his rejection of the naturalistic theory of meaning that is fundamental to positivism.

This rejection in turn implies rejecting ontological criteria for criticism in the testing of theories. Contrary to Kuhn, who said the prevailing paradigm functions as the criterion for scientific criticism, Popper maintained that the criteria for criticism are independent of the semantics and ontology of any theory or paradigm. In this sense Popper said that science is "subjectless".

Later, however, Popper compromised his rejection of ontological criteria with his ideas of "metaphysical research programmes" and "commonsense realism" in support of Einstein. He spent much of his career attempting to reconcile his philosophy with quantum theory, and as part of this attempt he developed his own distinctive particle-propensity interpretation of quantum theory and his own interpretation of probability for singular events. But the new string theory has since made this effort irrelevant.

Pragmatist philosophers looked to quantum physics as the paradigm of modern physics and touchstone for philosophy of science, as Popper had looked to Einstein's relativity theory. Thus by the 1970's Popper was cast as the defensive rear guard instead of the aggressive avant garde he had been in the 1930's.

For more of my commentary on Popper see my book, History of Twentieth-Century Philosophy of Science - or Google my com web site called philsci for free downloads, specifically BOOK V. See also my ebook Philosophy of Science: An Introduction.

Thomas J. Hickey
7 of 7 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars good brain exercise June 23 2010
By DaLaoHu - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Points to consider when reading this book:

First, it is a book about logic and not about science. It was written nearly 80 years ago in response to the questions raised when the mechanistic Newtonian universe was seemingly turned upside down by the introduction of quantum mechanics, and in particular this is a response to the propagation of Heisenberg's uncertainty principle. The question it addresses is: of what does our scientific knowledge logically consist? Note the key word, "logically."

Popper basically makes two arguments. One is that there is no inductive logic leading to scientific hypotheses. Again, note the word "logic." This does not mean that in formulating hypotheses scientists do not reason backwards from experience. Of course they do. We all know the famous examples of Newton's apple and Einstein's clock tower. What Popper means to point out is that there are no formal logical rules that govern such reasoning. In other words, there is nothing inherent in the apple that must of necessity lead to the laws of gravity, and nothing inherent in the clock tower that must of necessity lead to the theory of relativity. So why call it inductive logic? Better, argues Popper, to call it "psychologism." In other words, we don't really know what was going on in Newton's or Einstein's mind, but we do know that it was not formal logic.

His second argument is that scientific hypotheses can not be proved to be logically true. Again, note the word "logically." Logically, all we can do is falsify them, and that the wider the field of falsification is, the better they can be "corroborated." (Assuming, of course, that they are in fact not falsified). And that it is this "corroboration" that is the closest we can get to proof. In other words, a hypothesis can never be proved, only disproved, and that in the strictly logical sense, a hypothesis can never make a prediction about a singular occurrence, (much as we can not say that a six will necessarily show up on our first six rolls of the dice). Again, this does not mean that in the real world we do not or can not make scientific predictions. Indeed, if we did not, we would have no computers, no satellites, no automobiles, not much of anything really. It's just that in an infinite world, with an infinite number of occurrences, there is no way to logically - there's that magic word again - prove that in at least one case the scientific theories we use to underpin such technology will not fail.

Of course, Popper is a much deeper thinker than I am, and his arguments more profound, but that's the essence of it the way I see it, and so I guess it's up to you as to whether you are willing to read several hundred pages of this type of thinking. I was. If nothing else, it's good exercise for the brain.

Note: I just wanted to add that if you find yourself getting lost as you plow through this text -- I did myself more times than I care to admit -- don't give up but keep plodding ahead. Eventually you'll come back to familiar ground. And if all else fails, Popper does a very nice job of summing everything up in the final chapters.
7 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Popper's magnum opus Nov. 22 2006
By Greg - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
The Logic of Scientific Discovery is in my view Karl Popper's finest work. When I studied science I was amazed at the insight Popper had into the scientific method of inquiry, and I admired his refusal to accept intellectual garbage.

While Popper has come under strong attack from both scientists and philosophers for several shortcomings in his work, in my view Popper has framed one of the most important studies of scientific knowledge and how it is gained, and the difference between science and non-science.

I agree with Popper's argument that the key feature of scientific theories is that they are 'falsifiable.' By this Popper simply meant that a scientific theory, even if beautiful, can be shown wrong by empirical observation. While this account is no doubt oversimplified and leaves out the key social and historical dimensions to science (which thinkers such as Kuhn addressed later on), this principle remains central to science; as Feynman said, 'If it disagrees with experiment, it is wrong.' The fallibility of science in Popper's view was the key to its strength, in contrast to pseudo-sciences such as Marxism and Freudian psychology, which while containing elements of truth, set themselves up as infallible truths and glossed over things which contradicted the belief system.

Popper also wrote many other philosophical works, including an important study of the difference between democratic political societies and ones ruled by totalitarian ideaology. However, he rightly deserves fame as one of the most important 20th century philosophers of science.
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