Popper and Xenophanes

Philosophy 89 (1):113-133 (2014)

Karl Popper identified Xenophanes of Colophon as the originator of the method of conjectures and refutations. This essay explores this claim, and the methods of both philosophers. Disparagement of Xenophanes has been misguided. Xenophanes, a critical rationalist and realist, pioneered philosophy of religion and epistemology, but his method was not confined to falsificationism, and appears compatible with inductivism and abductionism. The method employed by Popper in interpreting Herodotus in support of his conjectures about Xenophanes is typical of the multiple-strand reasoning characteristic of the humanities, and is as much inductivist or abductionist as refutationist. Popper’s theories about Xenophanes are convincing; but even if Popperians would claim that Popper’s refutationism largely fits the natural sciences, his application of it to history is implausible, and conflicts with own practice. An appendix reflects on Popper’s interest in cultured refugees.
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DOI 10.1017/s0031819113000703
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