Why Almost Everyone Misunderstands The Problem(s) of Demarcation


There are a number of philosophic myths that are passed down through the generations. Many of these myths are, upon further examination, not just wrong in their depiction of philosophical positions, but so wrong that their criticisms are far off the mark, and any attempt at reading a primary text would reveal the error. And yet, these myths continue to be perpetuated amongst the philosophical community. In this talk, I address one of these cases: the widespread failure by English-speaking philosophers of science to correctly describe the problem(s) and criteria of demarcation that were set out by Sir Karl Popper. Whether or not philosophers of science accept Popper’s criteria, we should accurately characterise them, rather than do battle with figments of our imagination. In the first part of the talk, I cover the extent and number of misunderstandings of some fairly elementary points that are widely-repeated in the literature. These misunderstandings include a misreading of the number of demarcation criteria provided, the subject to be demarcated, the purpose of demarcation criteria, the scope of what is to be demarcated, and whether some objections, such as the Duhem thesis, accurately target these criteria. I then cover two likely explanations for the prevalence of these errors: Popper’s 1959 book, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, is a poor translation of his 19345 book, Logik der Forshung: he failed to signpost technical terminology, and employed similar-sounding names for different criteria.

University of Manchester Philosophy PhD Research Seminar
Manchester, United Kingdom