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Popper's paradoxical pursuit of natural philosophy

Maxwell, N; (2016) Popper's paradoxical pursuit of natural philosophy. In: Shearmur, J and Stokes, G, (eds.) The Cambridge Companion to Popper. (pp. 170-207). Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, UK. Green open access

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Abstract

Unlike almost all other philosophers of science, Karl Popper sought to contribute to natural philosophy or cosmology – a synthesis of science and philosophy. I consider his contributions to the philosophy of science and quantum theory in this light. There is, however, a paradox. Popper’s most famous contribution – his principle of demarcation – in driving a wedge between science and metaphysics, serves to undermine the very thing he professes to love: natural philosophy. I argue that Popper’s philosophy of science is, in this respect, defective. Science cannot proceed without making highly problematic metaphysical assumptions concerning the comprehensibility and knowability of the universe. Precisely because these assumptions are problematic, rigour requires that they be subjected to sustained critical scrutiny, as an integral part of science itself. Popper’s principle of demarcation must be rejected. Metaphysics and philosophy of science become a vital part of science. Natural philosophy is reborn. A solution to the problem of what it means to say a theory is unified is proposed, a problem Popper failed to solve. In The Logic of Scientific Discovery, Popper made important contributions to the interpretation of quantum theory, especially in connection with Heisenberg's uncertainty relations. Popper's advocacy of natural philosophy has important implications for education.

Type: Book chapter
Title: Popper's paradoxical pursuit of natural philosophy
ISBN-13: 9780521672429
Open access status: An open access version is available from UCL Discovery
Publisher version: http://www.cambridge.org/us/academic/subjects/phil...
Language: English
Additional information: This material has been published in "The Cambridge Companion to Popper", edited by Jeremy Shearmur and Geoffrey Stokes. This version is free to view and download for personal use only. Not for re-distribution, re-sale or use in derivative works. Copyright © 2016.
Keywords: Karl Popper, Natural philosophy, Cosmology, Philosophy of science, Metaphysics, Theoretical unification, Aim-oriented empiricism, Quantum theory
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL BEAMS > Faculty of Maths and Physical Sciences > Dept of Science and Technology Studies
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1478295
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