Satisfies Justified True Belief

This essay discusses the issues that a Popperian hypothetico-deductivist may have with the views Alan Chalmers had presented in his book, What is this thing called Science? The excerpt provided in the assignment brief contains broad sweeping statements, e.g “Science is based on what we can see, hear and touch etc.”, which can easily be refuted by either rhetorical counterexample -We cannot touch or feel atoms and yet have various scientific accounts of them- or by refuting the premise, i.e the inductivist approach to science. I will be doing a mix of both by using a Popperian paradigm. I will then expand on the context and development of Popper’s ideas and conclude why science can be flexible with regards to it’s paradigm using the Justified True Belief definition of knowledge, and Gettier Cases.

“Scientific knowledge is reliable knowledge because it is objectively proven knowledge.”. The validity of this statement by an inductivist account would be to show the history of science, and how it developed our knowledge of the world. Science is why we have such vast developments, across technology, society, productivity/economy, etc. If that is the underlying argument, note that it is a truism -It states that science is proven because it has been. In attempt to establish the truth of science, it becomes self referencial. This is the general problem with inductivism -it does not tell us how “proven science” should be, but merely reflects on past observations to assert that it is. Consider the common “koala problem” where you observe X number of grey koalas to generalise that “All Koalas are grey” (2). Note that you can never truly know whether your generalisation is certain, because of iits self referential nature, i.e the certainty is defined as is (1, “Fallibilism” , pg 161). There are ways to increase confidence in this certainty for practical purposes (e.g increasing sample size, more variety of samples), but ultimately the fallacy holds.

Beyond that, the premise lies in the definition of “proven” and of “knowledge”. Popperians would first argue that to prove something is to make it certain, and certainty is unattainable inductively as mentioned above. Moreover, the only way to attain certainty is to criticise (3). Because inductivist certainty is limitless -you cannot tell when you have enough proof/observation to call it certain- the only alternative is to disprove, usually via deduction (1, pg 166-168). Disproving the hypothesis would, at the very least, inform us that it is the wrong way to approach the problem and thus is a good outcome, and a better outcome than not knowing anything at all via the inductive approach (3). Karl Popper concluded this after observing the “high risk” of Einstein’s theories as it contradicted the then paradigm of Newtonian laws and if falsified, would falsify the entire theory. He noted the stark contrast between this “high risk” hypothesis, and generalisations from psychoanalysis observations which even after being once falsified, could be moulded to seem truthful again via ad hoc hypothesis (4, “Backdrop to His Thought”). He saw the self referential nature of inductivism to dogmatise the hypothesis, further concluding that certainty is unattainable.

Knowledge can be defined as “Justified True Belief”, where it requires the components of evidence (justification), a relation to reality (truth), and the holder of knowledge must believe it (5, “Knowledge as Justified True Belief”). Inductivists wouldn’t necessarily have an issue with this definition, as observations count as evidence, but a Popperian may consider a Gettier case (5):

Jay sees a dog in a distant field (evidence in reality), thus they assume there is a dog in a field (belief). This satisfies Justified True Belief, or JTB. However, what Jay really saw was a sheep, and unbeknownst to Jay there is a dog in the field, but behind the hill on which the sheep stands and thus out of view. The conditions still remain true. There is a dog in the field (justification), it is real (true), and John believes he saw a dog on the field (belief).

Gettier cases are useful in portraying the limitations of knowledge that we as humans must adhere to, and more importantly -to the Popperian anyway- that observations can be flawed (5). Thus the Popperian would argue that we require constant, deductive testing of our hypothesis to ensure that we do not overlook anomalies.

However, do note that Gettier cases apply generally to all knowledge, inclusive of deductive knowledge. Throughout history there are instances of science where we did not know what we truly observed -be it deductive or inductive- until we had the technological means to do so. Ancient Grecian scholars postulated that if matter were cut down enough times, we could reach a particle that would be indivisible. This hypothesis has been criticised, analysed and sharpened over the years, but nonetheless, the advancements of Dalton, Bohr and so on careened off of the hypotheses made initially by the Greeks, limited by their contemporary scientific technologies. Justified True Beliefs are constantly being proven to be Justified False Beliefs, and to paraphrase Gettier, we are merely lucky that they are true (5).

In this sense, science is self proving, because the technologies we make further help us to disprove our past hypothesis and open new methods of observation, from which we draw further inference, model, and hypothesise (6). To paraphrase Gallileo, we cannot read the universe until we understand the language in which it is written (1, pg 155).

At the risk of being pedantic here, whether a Popperian might agree with Alan Chalmers statement is contingent on whether Chalmers was referring to scientific knowledge as “theory” and “hypothesis” specifically (as defined in reference 1, pg 150) or whether he was talking about the broader picture of science through the ages. If the latter, Popperians cannot disagree with the statement (sans “Science is based on… touch, etc”) as it is the hypothetico-inductive method that allowed science to be ever closer to actual proven knowledge (with the caveat that proven simply means “least uncertain”).

Of course, Popperians may say the hypothetico-deductive model itself isn’t certain, and that we’re waiting for it to be disproved and perhaps replaced. In which case, science doesn’t require a strict method of certainty, just the least uncertain one (6).