Popper’s World

John Maynard Smith

  • The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism by Karl Popper, edited by W.W. Bartley
    Hutchinson, 185 pp, £15.00, July 1982, ISBN 0 09 146180 4

Karl Popper is perhaps the only living philosopher of science who has had a substantial influence on the way scientists do what they do. I say ‘perhaps’ because the same claim might be made for Thomas Kuhn. However, Kuhn seems to me a perceptive sociologist of science, but a poor philosopher. Also, in so far as he has had an effect on the way scientists behave, it has been pernicious: to be a great scientist, according to Kuhn, you must do revolutionary science, and the best evidence that you are doing it is that you are so obscure and inconsistent in your statements as to be wholly incomprehensible to others. This does not make for good science. In contrast, Popper has encouraged us to speculate boldly, but to be fiercely critical; it is true that we usually manage the latter only for other people’s ideas, and not for our own, but since science is a social activity, that suffices.

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[*] The Postscript to the Logic of Scientific Discovery by Karl Popper, edited by W.W. Bartley. Vol. I: Realism and the Aim of Science (Hutchinson, 420 pp., £20, 21 March, 0 09 151450 9); Vol. II: The Open Universe: An Argument for Indeterminism; Vol. III: Quantum Theory and the Schism in Physics (Hutchinson, 229 pp., £15, 26 July 1982, 0 09 146170 7).