Difference between Popper's and Carnap's Positions

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Reply Mon 2 Nov, 2009 01:36 pm
So the problem I'm working on in my Philosophy of Science class is concerned with the limitations of the orthodox view of said philosophy. I know that Popper on one side and the Vienna School on the other created the positions dominant in contemporary Philo. Sci.--so I've been investigating Karl Popper's Conjectures and Refutations and Carnap's Logical Structure of the World (whose title, I think, is rather pompous). It seems to me that the difference between Popper and Carnap really comes down to: what is a theory?

Popper's position is that a theory is basically that a theory is a hypothesis that's accepted because it explains the facts until a newer, better explanation comes along. He calls it falsifiability, that is, a theory's never really proved true, just accepted on the basis of the lack of anything better.

Carnap's position is that a theory is a mode of explaining the world, and that each time a test is performed that confirms to the theory's predictions, said theory is verified or shown to hold true; when a theory is superseded, it's because the new theory better explains the world about us.

It seems to me that these two positions are looking at the same idea from two different perspectives. Falsificationism is a type of pessimism: you can't verify something; you can only accept it until better evidence comes along. Verificationism is a type of optimism: each theory explains the world and each superseding theory explains the world better than its precedent(s). But either way, a theory is a explanation of the world that can be based on older theories and be itself the root of future ones. Conjectures and Refutations is designed to show this progression--especially the example from the dots used in the earliest geometric proofs of exponents to Descartes' metaphysical and the Victorians' chemical atomism, on to Planck and Heisenberg and Feynmann's post-atomic QM. On the other hand, Carnap only devotes an entire chapter to the question in his Aufbau, and it's demonstrated in entirely metaphysical terms: Popper's exposition is designed to be more scientific than Carnap's.

Could I then make my conjecture that Popper and Carnap are really looking at the same thing from two different perspectives? And furthermore that both perspectives face the same problem--the disunifying nature of modern science, the greater dependence on probability that QM and chaos force for us?
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 10:35 am
I agree that Popper and Carnap's views are much more similar than they want to admit, especially if you look at some of the most influential Philosophers of Science in the later half of the 20th Century such as Kuhn and Feyerabend.

There are several key differences between Popper's and Carnap's Philosophy of Science. One of the crucial ones is about the problem of demarcation between metaphysics and Science. The early Carnap wanted to deem any thing that didnt pass the principle of Verification as meaningless, but rather Popper saw his theory of falisfication as being able to draw a line between metaphysics and Science and he noted that many successful scientific theorys were orginally metaphysical speculations. (Think of the Greek atomists)

They also envisaged a very different role for Philosophy. For example Popper was a metaphysical realist, but having such a debate was utterly absurd to Carnap as it was not empircally verified. Another example of where they had diverging opinons on the role of Philosophy is whether there are genuine Philosophical problems, Popper maintained there where while Carnap disagreed and thought one of the main roles of Philosophy was providing definitions in use. (A view he later abandoned, as he realised Scientists were much better equipped to perform this role)

Carnaps verification saw each new observation which verified a hypothesis as increasing the probability of the hypothesis as being true. Scientific hypothesis are held tentatively with each further observation increasing the likelihood of a hypothesis being true.

Popper's theory of falsification lead him to be an exponent of 'Corrobration' with empirically testing only providing a report on a theorys past success. As being an exponent of inductive scepticism, the premises of an inductive arguement give no reason for believeing its conclusion. This leaves Popper a real problem as its not clear how science should preceed with results of experiments providing only a report on its previous success. For Popper a theory becomes more corrobrated the more the theory has survived servere testing (Severe testing being tests which the theory has a low probability of passing). Though I believe Popper is still left with the pratical problem of induction.

hammersklavier;101315 wrote:

Popper's exposition is designed to be more scientific than Carnap's.

Though to me it is not at all clear that Science actually works through a process of falisfication. With something like Hempel's hypothetico-deductive method along with taking social constraints into account providing a much better description of how science works.

hammersklavier;101315 wrote:

Could I then make my conjecture that Popper and Carnap are really looking at the same thing from two different perspectives?

You could certainly make the conjecture that Popper's and Carnap's viewpoints are much closer than each of them would admit to. Espicially with the concentration placed on subjectivism and science in the late 20th century by the likes of Kuhn and Feyerabend.
Reply Tue 3 Nov, 2009 01:53 pm
Thanks for your help! I had almost completely overlooked their opposite views on metaphysics, so that, too, has to be mentioned. Demonstrating that Carnap's and Popper's viewpoints are essentially identical, then, I guess is Part I of my paper (disregarding the metaphysics, since they have no part to play in...) while Part II is an application of that theory to what's revealed in the emergence work we're doing in the second half of semester, i.e., how QM, chaos, and emergence undermine the empirical-structuralist view Carnap and Popper share.

I'm also interested in learning more about the other authors you mentioned.
Reply Wed 4 Nov, 2009 03:23 pm
Popper was primarily concerned with the philosophy of science. What is a scientific statement or question and his primary answer was "falsifiability". Popper understood metaphysical questions to be of importance, value and interest they just were not scientific questions.

Carnap more of the Vienna Circle, logical positivism, linguistic analysis school, considered any statement which could not be verified to be meaningless. Under this scheme metaphysical questions would be meaningless and a "silly waste of time".

I would say in the realm of metaphysics their views were opposite and incompatible.
In the realm of science the distinction between falsifiablity and verification are also pretty substantial. Experiemental results which conform to particular theories predictions are verifications but a theory can be undone or falsified by a single result.

The famous "all swans are white" versus "some swans are black".

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