Beyond underdeterminism: Popper, Kuhn, et al.


The common notion of realism is that scientific progress consists of an asymptotic approximation to the truth. The most influential concepts of how this approximation works have been put forward by Karl Popper und Thomas Kuhn. Popper is probably the science philosopher of the previous century best known to the general public, and the basics of his postulates are familiar to most practicing scientists1,2. Not generally known may perhaps be that he wrote his most influential work, Logik der Forschung, already in the mid 1930s, still living in Vienna, in German. Much better known and usually quoted is the English translation, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, that appeared about 25 years later, in 19593. Popper was trained as a physicist and his philosophy was much inspired by the then recent impact of Einstein’s special and general theories of relativity, which had appeared during the first decades of the 20th century4,5. Einstein’s theories represented scientific revolutions in that they unified and replaced prior theories on space, time, light, and motion, etc., theories that had seemed to be solid dogma for long periods of time. Einsteins’s theories not only impressed and convinced most of his colleagues, they became rapidly known in the public and had a pronounced revolutionary influence on the general perception of the world. Indeed, the history of theories in physics appears like a corroboration of the inductive rule of underdetermination: There is no logical reason to be sure that a highly successful theory will continue to be successful in the future.


Scientific Progress Scientific Revolution Normal Science Robust Knowledge Clonal Selection Theory 
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Chapter 3 References

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Further reading

  1. Popper KR (1963) Conjectures and Refutations. Routledge and Kegan Paul, LondonGoogle Scholar
  2. Popper KR (1968) Theories, Experience, and Probabilistic Intuitions. In: Lakatos (ed): The Problem of Inductive Logic. North-Holland, AmsterdamGoogle Scholar
  3. Popper KR (1970) Normal Science and its Dangers. In: Lakatos, Musgrave (eds): Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Cambridge University PressGoogle Scholar
  4. Popper KR (1972) Objective Knowledge. Oxford University PressGoogle Scholar
  5. Popper KR (1974) Autobiography. In: Schilpp (ed): The Philosophy of Karl Popper. Open Court, La SalleGoogle Scholar
  6. Stove DC (1978) Popper on Scientific Statements. Philosophy Vol. 53: 81–88CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Popper KR (1957) Philosophy of Science: a Personal Report. In: Mac (ed): British Philosophy in the Mid-Century. Allen and Unwin, LondonGoogle Scholar
  8. Kuhn TS (1977) The Essential Tension. University of Chicago PressGoogle Scholar
  9. Kuhn TS (1957) The Copernican Revolution: Planetary Astronomy in The Development of Western Thought. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, MassGoogle Scholar
  10. Kuhn TS (1959) Conservation of Energy as an Example of Simultaneous Discovery. In: Clagett M (ed): Critical Problems in the History of Science. Madison, WisGoogle Scholar
  11. Kuhn TS (1961) The Function of Measurement in Modern Physical Science. Isis 52: 162–193Google Scholar

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