Popper's Philosophy of Science: Looking Ahead
Is Popper's philosophy alive or dead? If we make a judgment based on recent discussion in academic philosophy of science, he definitely seems to be fading. Popper is still seen as an important historical figure, a key part of the grand drama of 20th century thinking about science. He is associated with an outlook, a mindset, and a general picture of scientific work. His name has bequeathed us an adjective, "Popperian," that is well established. But the adjective is used for very general ideas that, according to most current philosophers, Popper did not develop convincingly. His detailed account is often seen as attractive on first impression, but full of holes that become bigger rather than smaller as discussion continues. The picture and the name remain, which is more than 1 most philosophers can hope for. But the name attaches more and more to a set of instincts and intuitions, less and less to views that are seeing ongoing philosophical development. Inside science itself, Popper's standing is quite different. He continues to be just about the only philosopher who can seize the imagination and command the loyalty of successful professional scientists. And he is popular within science not only for purposes of general commentary and public relations. Popper's philosophy is a resource drawn on by scientists in their internal debates about scientific matters. This has been especially marked in some parts of biology (Hull 1999). From the point of view of philosophers, this affection on the part of scientists may have an unflattering explanation. Popper offers a rather heroic view of the scientific character, featuring an appealing combination of creativity and hard-headedness. It is no surprise that scientists like to be described this way. It is no surprise that they prefer this picture to the one often (though inaccurately) associated with Hempel and Carnap – the scientist as a sort of logic-driven pattern-recognition machine. The same applies to the picture associated with Kuhn, who presents the normal scientist as a narrow-minded, indoctrinated member of a peculiar collective enterprise, an enterprise devoted to solving tiny puzzles most of the time but prone to occasional fits of crisis and chaos..
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