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Karl Popper - Science, Epistemology, & Political Theory


Melvyn Bragg and guests discuss Karl Popper, one of the most influential and important philosophers of the 20th century. Popper’s ideas about science and politics robustly challenged the accepted ideas of the day. He strongly resisted the prevailing empiricist consensus that scientific theories could be proved true, suggesting instead that theories can at best only survive our attempts to falsify them. Popper wrote: “The more we learn about the world and the deeper our learning, the more conscious, specific and articulate will be our knowledge of what we do not know, our knowledge of our ignorance”. He believed that even when a scientific principle had been successfully and repeatedly tested, it was not necessarily true. Instead, it had simply not been proven false yet. The criterion of falsifiability was taken to be the mark of science. This became known as the theory of falsification. It came from Popper’s recognition that the problem of induction, formulated first by Hume, cannot be solved. He called for a clear demarcation between good science, in which theories are constantly challenged, and what he called “pseudo sciences” which couldn’t be tested. His debunking of various ideologies led some to describe him as the “murderer of Freud and Marx”. He went on to apply his ideas to politics, advocating an Open Society. So how did Popper change our approach to the philosophy of science? How have scientists and philosophers made use of his ideas? And how are his theories viewed today? Are we any closer to proving scientific principles are “true”?

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