IPT Book Reviews

Title: Realism and the Aim of Science  Positive Review
Author: Karl R. Popper
Publisher: Routledge 1992

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Sir Karl Popper appears to be primarily responsible for the demise of logical positivism as the dominant view of science.  He accomplished this displacement of the Vienna Circle where logical positivism reigned through the publication of Logik der Forschung (1934), his first published book.  This book, Realism and the Aim of Science, was written largely during the years 1951 to 1956, while the English translation of Logik der Forschung was being prepared. The English edition, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, was published in 1958.  Popper intended to correct, expand, and develop some of the ideas in his first book and completed a lengthy manuscript to the point of having galley proofs set.  At that point, he had several detachments of his retinas and was unable to see for a long period of time.  Consequently the book was not published although it circulated in galley proof form among his students and colleagues.  Although the book had been written more than 25 years ago, it was decided to publish it now in three volumes.  This is the first volume of the three.

After a preface on the non-existence of scientific method, the book has two parts of four and three chapters respectively.  Including the index, the book has 420 pages.  The first part is a development, extension, and defense of Popper's views on falsification as the determinant of what is scientific knowledge.  He is fighting to expunge subjectivism and idealism from any nook or cranny of scientific thought patterns.  He is intent upon overturning the myth of inductivism and advances his concepts of corroboration as the way to decide between scientific theories.  He offers material to show that he and Kuhn are not really far apart and that Kuhn's analysis of the history of science does not call into question the principle of falsification.  The second part presents his idea of a propensity interpretation of probability, from which to get a more objective interpretation of the probability calculus.


One of the basic puzzles readers of this journal have is the sharp and often hostile polarization between those who claim to be most concerned about abused children and those who claim to be concerned also about the rights of those accused.  At one time or another, each group tries to crawl under the mantle of science and claim that scientific data support their position.  To discriminate between these competing claims, the philosophy of science and the understanding of what science is and what is science becomes crucial.  Sir Karl Popper is then required reading.  To many nonscientists their naive, limited view of science means that science proves some things and disproves others.  This is no longer an accepted view of science, yet it pervades the courtroom and the legal system which has a vested interest in proving facticity.

The social sciences have a negative image in the justice system which often becomes impatient with the battle of the experts.  The jaundiced view of "junk science" and the frequent attempt to picture experts as "hired guns" is based on the limited, naive view of science as proving what is true.  Popper's presentation of falsification can straighten out some of the resultant confusion.  When any integrated system of thought cannot be falsified, that is, there is nothing that can count against it, it is not scientific.  When there is persuasive evidence against a concept or theory, it is reasonable to conclude that it is falsified and go on to look for a better theory or explanation.

Popper cannot be read easily by a nonphilosophically-oriented person.  However, he can be read with profit by those who think critically and who look for ways to think that increase accuracy of supposition.  This book can be read by moderately bright people who are concerned about straight thinking and want to do the best job they can at sorting through competing claims about scientific support.  I recommend, however, that this book be read together with The Logic of Scientific Discovery (Paperback Reprint edition) as a serious study project.

Reviewed by Ralph Underwager, Institute for Psychological Therapies, Northfield, Minnesota.

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