The quest of the Vienna Circle in the early twentieth century was to develop a new scientific view of the world by combining philosophical and natural scientific questions. On its fringe was Karl Popper – a critical-rationalist who developed a concept of falsification in order to solve the problem of induction and to demarcate science from pseudo-science. This essay aims to explain what falsificationism is by analyzing its criterion, methodology and structure as an alternative to the scientific method of induction, by looking at its advantages and disadvantages as a scientific theory and by arguing that the seemingly conclusiveness of falsification doesn’t rule out induction in real science.
The criterion of falsification came as Popper was figuring out the demarcation line of science and pseudo-science. What constitutes science? How to proof a theory and thereby come closer to the truth? Popper’s account offers a logical aspect of falsification by providing a criterion for hypothesis to count as scientific and a methodological aspect of falsification which considers the behaviour and practice of scientists. Falsificationism is a critical method that applies to theories by searching for, eliminating and learning from errors. First a hypothesis is being established, then experiments are being conducted for testing and finally it either stands the test or not and has to be abandoned. Thus, a necessary condition for a hypothesis being scientific is being testable and falsifiable. It is important for theories to be within a narrow field of research, in order to determine premises, conclusions and any deviations (such as Einstein’s theory of relativity). The more precisely a theory is formulated, the more falsifiable it becomes.
Falsification provides a good guideline by nurturing a mindset of critical reasoning, severe testing and providing a set procedure of measuring. In real science you’ve got to get some results otherwise all your work would have been fruitless. A true falsificationist would never reach any piece of knowledge, just temporary hypotheses that haven’t been refuted yet. Why doing science then? Where is the end of falsifying in science? According to Duhem, a hypothesis is never isolated and thus the question arises what it is exactly that has been refuted. The underdetermination problem shows that falsification is not conclusive in its rigidity.
Popper’s goal is to find a reliable method of knowledge purely by deduction. Does he succeed? Popper abjures induction which makes knowledge impossible to be obtained scientifically. Having a positive test result (confirmed prediction), doesn’t mean that the hypothesis is more probable (induction), just that it hasn’t been refuted yet. How can refutation be purely deductive and not also inductive? Some kind of induction must be accepted by scientists when they base predictions on the best corroborated theory. It can be argued that Popper’s falsificationism rests on an inductive assumption, on inference from past successes.
Popper put the focus on features of good science as a process of critical thinking. In contrast to Popper’s thinking, falsification involves induction and thus, science involves both deduction and induction.