Falsification or comparison, which is more suitable?


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Falsification or comparison, which is more suitable?

Karl Popper’s theory of criticism is that a theory can be falsified if it does not conform to the facts. I argue that this mode of criticism is satisfactory for some domains of knowledge but not for others.

Popper’s theory of criticism is adequate in matters of the natural sciences wherein knowledge deals only with monological and not multilogical concerns. Physics is a normal science, as defined by Thomas Kuhn, and a normal science is one in which the paradigm defines the boundaries and logic of the particular domain of knowledge under consideration.

An example might be the development of the atomic bomb. The scientists working on the bomb were confined strictly to the logic of physics; they did not, perhaps could not, accomplish their task if they were to consider matters of morality.

“Since social and political theories are unavoidably selective, partial and culturally conditioned, the only way to improve them is to force them to explain themselves, to articulate and justify their assumptions and choice of concepts, to defend their interpretations of facts and show why other interpretations are mistaken.”

Theories of physics are determined to be true or false by physical measurements: by weighing and/or measuring. Theories in the human sciences must be defended by narrative. The defense of Darwin’s theory of natural selection is such an example.

“Facts destroy a social or political theory not so much by falsifying it as by undermining its integrity and credibility, by making it incoherent…What one needs, therefore is not a boxing match…and the victory goes to the one who deals a knock-out blow…but a sympathetic and imaginative dialogue in which each contestant tries to learn from the rest.”

Social and political knowledge grows as a result of both criticism and sympathetic imagination through dialogical reasoning; thereby incorporating insight from an ever more sophisticated and broadening vision.

Quotes from Knowledge and Belief in Politics edited by Robert Benewick, R.N. Berki, and Bhikhu Parekh