[hist-analytic] Clarity Is Not Enough

Danny Frederick danny.frederick at tiscali.co.uk
Sat Feb 21 11:02:01 EST 2009


Hi Roger,

I can understand your bafflement, but the explanation is really quite
simple.

When Popper first came to England in 1935, he attended a meeting of the
Aristotelian Society at which Bertrand Russell presented a paper on
empiricism. Popper made several contributions to the discussion which were
greeted with gracious laughter and applause. The audience thought he was
being witty when, in fact, he was in deadly earnest. When it became clear to
the audience that he was being serious, they mistakenly thought he was
waging an attack on science, when he was actually trying to champion it. The
problem is that Popper rejects the authoritarian, or 'justificationist,'
presuppositions of the Western philosophical tradition, proposing instead a
critical or fallibilist approach. But unless that 'paradigm change' is made
clear, people interpret him in terms of justificationism and thus
MISinterpret him as a relativist or a nihilist. (See the first thirty pages
of chapter 1 of Popper's 'Realism and the Aim of Science;' also, W W
Bartley's 'The Retreat to Commitment.')

So, to be brief:

1.	when I talk of 'knowledge' I mean fallible knowledge, i.e., stuff
that may be false, but stuff that is an improvement on what we had before;

2.	the growth of knowledge means replacing old theories with better
ones, so it depends upon criticism;

3.	consensus is thus a sign of stagnation, the death of knowledge;

4.	there are plenty of disagreements in mathematics (fortunately),
between formalists, intuitionists, etc., as well as over particular
theorems, proofs or methods of proof, such as Gentzen's transfinite
induction;

5.	I agree that there is much greater rigour in mathematics than in
philosophy and also that rigour has its advantages, but given that there can
be no absolute proof of consistency, we never know whether or not some new
paradox will turn up, necessitating an overhaul of the whole structure and
leading to the rejection of propositions previously accepted as indubitable
(it has happened before!);

6.	of course, I think this is less likely than that contemporary
philosophical wisdom will be overturned.

Do you still find me puzzling?

Danny




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