Friday, August 22, 2014

Human Knowledge, Reliability and Fallibilism by Mariano Artigas

In doing some research on my next post I came across an essay by  Mariano Artigas.  Although not intended as such, it is an eye opener to the various ways contrarians have been able to misrepresent Popperian philosophy with their disingenuously contorted "necessary and sufficient falsifiable hypothesis statements" argument.

I am reposting the following essay complete and unaltered {except for adding paragraph #s, some line breaks and highlights} and hope some will find it informative and helpful in their own educational process.

For a look at Mariano Artigas' larger body of work regarding Popper visit:

The Ethical Roots of Karl Popper's Epistemology 

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ 

This article appears at the website of the 
University of Navarra Group of Research on Science, Reason and Faith (CRYF)

Reposted under authority of CreativeCommons license NC-ND3.0 
along with much thanks to the University of Navarra.

"Human Knowledge, Reliability and Fallibilism"

by Mariano Artigas 
Napoli, 1992

¶1  One of the main subjects that we must face when we consider the image of man in our scientific age is the value of human knowledge which, in its turn, appears to be strongly dependent on our evaluation of empirical science. In this context, questions about the reliability of science occupy a central place. Jürgen Habermas has written that if we were to reconstruct the philosophical discussion of modern times as a judicial process, the only question that should be decided would be this: how can we obtain reliable knowledge? [Habermas 1968, p. 11].

¶2  It is well known that fallibilism is one of the main ideas of the Popperian philosophy and that it implies the negation of any kind of reliability.
That fallibilism is widely widespread in contemporary philosophy can be exemplified by the following words of an "interested bystander" introduced by John Worral in a fictitious epistemological dialogue: "Everyone nowadays is, I take it, a fallibilist". However, fallibilism is a not too easy concept, as can be grasped if we examine the problems involved in the full quotation of Worral's interested bystander: "Everyone nowadays is, I take it, a fallibilist about scientific theories : by this I mean not a fallibilist in principle (this position seems to be dictated by logic alone) but a fallibilist in practice -the history of science clearly shows that even the most successful high level theories may eventually be rejected (even if they do standardly 'live on' as 'limiting cases')" [Worral 1989, p. 268]. These statements require non-trivial qualifications about what the rejection of a theory means, as Worral himself remarks, and they involve not only logical arguments but also some difficult epistemological and historical issues.

¶3  I will try to analyse what kind of problems fallibilism attempts to solve, what kinds of difficulties it meets because of its rejection of reliability, and how these difficulties can be overcome.

1. Fallibilism and the Growth of Knowledge

¶4  When applied to knowledge, the term "fallibilism" obviously expresses the fact that our knowledge is not perfect. TheCollins Cobuild Dictionary (London 1987) explains the meaning of the term "fallible" in this way: "if you say that someone is fallible, you mean that their judgement or knowledge is not perfect and they may make mistakes. If you say that something is fallible, you mean that it is not perfect and it may be wrong". The adjective "fallible" may be applied to the knowers or to the methods they use or to their statements. The three aspects can be found in the Popperian literature on the subject, and this introduces no little difficulty.

¶5  Nevertheless, it would be unfair to concentrate the discussion around the meaning of the terms, since Popper always stresses that we should avoid this kind of question and that the main point is always to realize what kind of problem we want to solve (I agree with this). Which is then the problem that Popper wants to solve when he speaks about fallibilism?

¶6  The answer is not difficult. Doubtless, the central problem of Popper's epistemology is the growth of knowledge. Besides, Popper's approach to this problem is also quite clear; he basically says that, in order to evaluate any cognitive claim, what really matters is our attitude towards it: if one tries to establish it by using positive reasons, one will adopt ajustificationist approach which must face strong difficulties from the point of view of logic and will be misleading from the point of view of history and general philosophy. In this way, fallibilism is closely related to falsificationismcritical rationalism and conjecturalism, which are the views opposed to verificationismjustificationism and dogmatism.

¶7  This is why fallibilism is used by Popper to label the kind of philosopher one is. One central text on this subject is that of chapter 10 of Conjectures and Refutations, where Popper distinguishes two main groups of philosophers. The first is the group of "the verificationists or the justificationist philosophers of knowledge (or of belief)", and the second is the group of "the falsificationists or fallibilists or critical philosophers of knowledge (or of conjectures)". Popper describes his own position in the following terms:
"the falsificationists or fallibilists say, roughly speaking, that what cannot (at present) in principle be overthrown by criticism is (at present) unworthy of being seriously considered;  
while what can in principle be so overthrown and yet resists all our critical efforts to do so may quite possibly be false, but is at any rate not unworthy of being seriously considered and perhaps even of being believed - though only tentatively..... 
Falsificationists (the group of fallibilists to which I belong) believe - as most irrationalists also believe - that they have discovered logical arguments which show that the programme of the first group cannot be carried out: that we can never give positive reasons which justify the belief that a theory is true....." [Popper 1963, p. 228].
¶8  So far, fallibilism is not an entire theory of knowledge.
It is a metholodogical proposal in order to correctly evaluate knowledge claims.

This proposal is closely related to falsificationism, and therefore to the logical impossibility of establishing the truth of any theory through the positive corroboration of its consequences. As a methodological caveat, fallibilism is a healthy advice.

The troubles begin when fallibilism is expanded into an entire epistemology, as this involves two extrapolations. The first consists of extrapolating a methodological attitude as if it were a full description of the scientific procedure. The second consists of extrapolating this image of science into an entire theory of human knowledge. I will briefly consider both issues now.

¶9  With respect to the first issue, scientific method can hardly be described mainly in negative terms. Eugene Freeman and Henryk Skolimowski have regretted "that the methodologies of both Peirce and Popper should be called by so inapt a term as 'fallibilism'", because this term suggests "the human propensity to make mistakes" and usually means "liable to err" or "liable to be erroneous or inaccurate"; 

in this sense, "the term is singularly inapt, almost to the point of caricature, as a name for the method of science", 

because "this misses the main point about what science is doing when it is making its mistakes - and that is, not that it makes them, but that (a) it recognizes them, and (b) it eliminates them, and (c) it advances beyond them, and thus, asymptotically, gets closer and closer to the truth". 

Freeman and Skolimowski suggest that "a much happier designation for identifying the methodology of both Peirce and Popper is found in Popper's inspired phrase, 'conjectures and refutations', which comes much closer to capturing the essence of Scientific Method" [Freeman-Skolimowski 1974, pp. 514-515].

¶10  To recognize and to eliminate errors imply positive capacities and achievements that should be reflected in any theory of scientific method. Of course, Popper's methodology includes this, but then we may conclude that fallibilism is not an adequate label for it. Nevertheless, I think that there is more, because actually we obtain true knowledge and we know that we obtain it. A complete clarification of this problem depends on our ideas about certitude.

¶11  With respect to the second issue, although Popper obviously distinguishes ordinary, scientific and philosophical knowledge, he claims nevertheless that
"scientific knowledge can be more easily studied than common-sense knowledge. For it is common-sense knowledge writ large, as it were. Its very problems are enlargements of the problems of common-sense knowledge. For example, it replaces the Humean problem of 'reasonable belief' by the problem of the reasons for accepting or rejecting scientific theories" [Popper 1935, p. 22].
¶12  I disagree with this. I do not deny that empirical science and ordinary knowledge share some important methodological features, nor I deny that the method of conjectures and refutations is widely applied in ordinary life.

However, I think that ordinary knowledge includes some capacities which are used by science as presuppositions and constitute necessary conditions for the very existence and progress of the scientific enterprise; such are, among others, the capacity for self-reflection and the sense of evidence (a term rarely used in fallibilist contexts), which are presupposed by the argumentative capacity.

There is a feedback of scientific progress in these presuppositions: it retro-justifies and enlarges them, and sometimes it corrects them. Therefore, we can use the method and achievements of empirical science in order to know better how ordinary knowledge works, but I think that it would be a mistake to forget those special characteristics that ordinary knowledge possesses and that are related to the very basis of all our knowledge.

¶13  That fallibilism tends to conflate into an entire theory of knowledge can be seen by analyzing the 1961 Addendum to Popper's Open Society, especially sections 4-9. I will note only several points which seem to have a particular relevance. There Popper writes:
"By 'fallibilism' I mean here the view, or the acceptance of the fact, that we may err, and that the quest for certainty (or even the quest for high probability) is a mistaken quest. 
But this does not imply that the quest for truth is mistaken. 
On the contrary, the idea of error implies that of truth as the standard of which we may fall short. It implies that, though we may seek for truth, and though we may even find truth (as I believe we do in very many cases), we can never be quite certain that we have found it. 
There is always a possibility of error; though in the case of some logical and mathematical proofs, this possibility may be considered slight. But fallibilism need in no way give rise to any sceptical or relativistic conclusions. 
This will become clear if we consider that all the known historical examples of human fallibility -including all the known examples of miscarriage of justice- are examples of the advance of our knowledge. Every discovery of a mistake constitutes a real advance in our knowledge..... Thus we can learn from our mistakes. This fundamental insight is, indeed, the basis of all epistemology and methodology....." [Popper 1961, pp. 375-376].
¶14  It is easy to see that Popper's fallibilism includes a general evaluation of human knowledge, some specific methodological remarks and a lot of historical interpretations. I think that these elements are not balanced and that this is partly due to the polemical context in which fallibilism was born and developed and to presuppositions that largely depend on this context.

2. The Presuppositions of Fallibilism

¶15  Indeed, Popperian epistemology can only be fully understood when confronted with inductivism, verificationism and scepticism. Popper correctly remarks on the difficulties that these positions must face, and shows the relations that exist between them and some general aspects of the theory of human knowledge. Popper's arguments are mainly directed to clarify the problem of demarcation between science and pseudo-science, which means, in the Popperian context, the problem of rationality :
"But, unlike irrationalists, we falsificationists believe that we have also discovered a way to realize the old ideal of distinguishing rational science from various forms of superstition..... 
We hold that this ideal can be realized, very simply, by recognizing that the rationality of science lies not in its habit of appealing to empirical evidence in support of its dogmas -astrologers do so too- but solely in the critical approach..... For us, therefore, science has nothing to do with the quest for certainty or probability or reliability. 
We are not interested in establishing scientific theories as secure, or certain, or probable. Conscious of our fallibility we are only interested in criticizing them and testing them, hoping to find out where they are mistaken; of learning from our mistakes; and, if we are lucky, of proceeding to better theories" [Popper 1963, pp. 228-229; italics mine].
¶16  I wonder whether it is necessary to deny any kind of certainty or reliability in order to clarify these problems. I rather think that, in that way, we replace the old misunderstandings by more refined views that, nevertheless, do not correspond to the real achievements of science.

¶17  Perhaps the fallibilist account is too much dependent on the classical rationalist view. It reacts against it, but nevertheless accepts the equation between legitimate certitude and a perfect and absolute certitude obtained as a mere consequence of logically linear arguments. Like an iceberg which only occasionally can be directly seen, the idea of aperfect and absolute knowledge is the target against which are directed the attacks of fallibilism. Already in his earlier works Popper concludes that:
"The old scientific ideal of episteme -of absolutely certain, demonstrable knowledge- has proved to be an idol. The demand for scientific objectivity makes it inevitable that every scientific statement must remain tentative for ever" [Popper 1935, p. 280; italics mine].
¶18  This idea is always latent, and some times is made explicit, in Popper's works. For instance, the entry "fallibility" in the Index of Subjects of The Self and Its Brain contains a unique reference to a chapter entitled "Conjectural versus Ultimate Explanation", where Popper opposes his conjectural method to the essentialist method which would seek for ultimateexplanations. According to Popper, an ultimate explanation " is neither in need nor capable of any further explanation. By contrast, any conjectural explanation can give rise to a new problem". Ultimate explanations would also be infallible[Popper 1977, pp. 172]. (Incidentally, I feel that the reference there contained to Aristotle's scientific ideal in the Posterior Analytics, repeated also several times by Hans Albert in the same sense [Albert 1984, pp. 19-30 and 37; 1987, p. 69], would deserve a more careful consideration.)

¶19  Explaining the main lines of the Popperian-inspired evolutionary epistemology, Gerhard Vollmer puts the same idea in this way:
"An absolute justification of human knowledge is not possible. Every such attempt to pull ourselves out of the swamp of uncertainty leads to a threefold impasse, namely: either in a circle -which is logically faulty; or in an infinite regress -which is practically impossible; or to an arbitrary suspension of the postulate of justification -which leads to dogmatism. This treble alternative of dead ends was aptly called the 'Münchhausen trilemma' by Hans Albert" [Vollmer 1987, p. 174].
¶20  The Münchhausen trilemma [Albert 1968, I.2; 1987, p. 69] has been examined in a clearly Popperian context by William Warren Bartley III, under a slightly different form and name (Fries's Trilemma). He said that it is not a true trilemma and that there are many other possibilities [Bartley 1962, pp. 211-216]. In my opinion, what the Albert-Vollmer formulation of the trilemma shows is only that the problem about the foundations of knowledge is conceived as if any knowledge claim should be based on logically linear proofs. I feel that things are much more complicated, and that this also implies a reexamination of the role played by the asymmetry between verification and falsification, which is one of the central points in the defence of fallibilism.

¶21  Vollmer argues that "It is not the goal of epistemology to give absolute justifications for claims to knowledge and truth". He adds that
"If we had such knowledge, true, reliable, universal, objective knowledge, epistemologists might feel the obligation to explain how such is possible. But so far, nobody has exhibited a single piece of perfect knowledge. Thus, there is nothing to explain; the problem simply does not exist" [Vollmer 1987, p.175; italics mine].
¶22  Following this argument, Vollmer uses the classical example of Newton's theory, and continues his insistence in opposing perfect and absolute knowledge to fallible knowledge:
"But is Newton's theory absolutely true? No!.....we even know that it is actually false..... 
Concerning objectivity, we are much better off, now. Our knowledge -uncertain, imperfect, conjectural, preliminary, fallible as it may be- finally has a chance, at least, to be objective, to be true for the real world as it is. 
Perfect knowledge about nothing, or imperfect knowledge about the real world -what do we prefer? Of course, there is no choice (Newton's theory is, in fact, false); but if there were a choice, would we not choose the second alternative?" [Vollmer 1987, p. 176; italics mine in the case of "absolutely" and "perfect"].
¶23  Fallibilism excludes any form of certitude and concludes the hypothetical character of all empirical knowledge. But it should be noted that there are different kinds and degrees of knowledge, truth, certitude and theoretical constructs : we can think, for instance, about empirical laws, general principles, models of spatial structures, phenomenological theories. It would be unfair to label all these constructs as hypothetical in the same way. I am sure that fallibilists know well these elementary distinctions. I wonder nevertheless whether they sometimes forget them.

¶24  Fallibilism emphasizes that absolute and perfect knowledge is beyond our reach. I agree with this. But we cannot conclude from this that any kind of certitude is beyond our reach.

3. The Consequences of Fallibilism

¶25  The complexity of fallibilism appears in all its integrality when we consider the unavoidable problem about its scope: is it possible to extend the fallibilist thesis so that includes fallibilism itself? It was Bartley who proposed an affirmative answer and called it comprehensively critical rationalism first and pan-criticism later. According to Bartley:
"Although the problem of the limits of rationality can, I think, eventually be solved only within the context of a Popperian-style fallibilism, Popper's own explicit first attempt to solve the problem is inadequate, is as fideistic as Ayer's and Putnam's, and seems to operate within a justificationist context foreign to the dominant themes of his own thought".
¶26  Bartley explains that in 1960 he discussed these matters with Popper, who introduced some changes in chapter 24 and "a polemical addendum on relativism" in The Open Society and Its Enemies, and also changes in other works. Bartley continues saying that:
"Despite these alterations, Popper's earlier fideistic approach has been corrected only in a patchwork manner, dropping some of the old notions, but retaining the old terminology -'critical rationalism', for instance- and the old slogans. This results in a confused situation" [Bartley 1962, pp. 104-105].
¶27  Indeed, Bartley refers to a text of chapter 24 of The Open Society, where Popper says:
"Although an uncritical and comprehensive rationalism is logically untenable, and although a comprehensive irrationalism is logically tenable, this is no reason why we should adopt the latter. For there are other tenable attitudes, notably that of critical rationalism which recognizes the fact that the fundamental rationalist attitude results from an (at least tentative) act of faith -from faith in reason. Accordingly, our choice is open. We may choose some form of irrationalism, even some radical or comprehensive form. But we are also free to choose a critical form of rationalism, one which frankly admits its origin in an irrational decision (and which, to that extent, admits a certain priority of irrationalism). The choice before us is not simply an intellectual affair, or a matter of taste. It is a moral decision....." [Popper 1945, ed. 1977, vol. 2, pp. 231-232].
¶28  The discussion on this topic is a difficult one, as exemplified in several papers collected in Radnitzky-Bartley [1987]. Vollmer poses the problem in these terms:
"Evolutionary epistemology is inseparably connected with hypothetical realism. This is a modest form of critical realism. Its main tenets are: All knowledge is hypothetical, i.e., conjectural, fallible, preliminary..... According to this position all knowledge is hypothetical, i.e., uncertain. This claim is itself part of a theory, hence of knowledge. It must therefore apply to itself. But this must lead -it is said- to a contradiction" [Vollmer 1987, p. 188].
¶29  Vollmer's answer points out first that hypothetical realism claims all synthetic statements to be hypothetical, and continues:
"Now this statement is itself either analytic or synthetic..... It is, however, not evident whether it is analytic or not..... Let's suppose, then, our statement 'all synthetic statements are hypothetical' to be itself synthetic. Then it should be true for itself, hence self-applicable. It then claims to be itself, qua synthetic, also hypothetical, that is, false or true-and-unprovable. In particular, it might be false: There could exist, as was mentioned above, provable synthetic statements. Should they exist, then the main thesis of hypothetical realism would be false. But this does not -despite all self-reference- lead to any contradiction. According to hypothetical realism it is of the very essence of synthetic statements to be possibly false. Our statement could not be provable, however. For, assuming it to be provable, it would becomefalse, hence unprovable again. The assumption that it is unprovable does not, on the other hand, lead to a contradiction. For, this is precisely what it asserts for itself" [Vollmer 1987, p. 189].
¶30  I must confess that I do not consider this kind of problem to be too important, and I suppose that Vollmer would agree. What I consider important is that the statement "All knowledge is hypothetical" is, in my opinion, simply false, unless we accept some rationalist epistemological standards which I do not share. We do not have absolute and perfect knowledge. Nevertheless, we can obtain a knowledge that is contextual and partial but, at the same time, authentically true.

¶31  With respect to the anthropological and social consequences of fallibilism, I share many views which are included in the ideal of the Popperian open society, but I wonder whether their foundation on fallibilism is adequate. I also think that evolutionary epistemology can stimulate the study of some interesting issues, but I think that it does not provide a real solution to the main problems about human knowledge; for instance, to say that our knowledge corresponds to reality because it is the product of a selective process [Vollmer 1975, pp. 102-106], can hardly be considered as a real explanation of our capacities. As a consequence of the limits of fallibilism at the epistemological level, we will obtain a too narrow image of man and society if we only use to study them the standards presupposed and implied by fallibilism.

¶32  I think that fallibilism would be a more veridical account if purified from its polemical implications. After all, what fallibilism stresses is the limits of our knowledge, and it would be natural to recognize that it is not an all-pervasive thesis but a limited view about some particular problems.

4. Reliability and Fallibilism

¶33  Fallibilism denies that we can reach reliable knowledge. I will try to show that we can accept that empirical science provides us with reliable knowledge and we can even explain this in some way.

¶34  The term "reliable" is applied to something that offers guarantees in order to achieve some goal. It can be applied to empirical science in two ways.

The first refers to the means used in order to achieve the goals of science, i. e. to the scientific methods and constructs, and may be labelled as internal reliability.

The second refers to science as a human enterprise which coexists with other enterprises such as ordinary knowledge and philosophy, and leads to a comparative evaluation of empirical science with respect to other human activities; it may be labelled as external or comparative reliability. Although the two meanings are different, they are nevertheless closely related with one another.

¶35  Without committing ourselves to specific views, we can safely suppose that the general goal of empirical science is to obtain a knowledge of nature that can be submitted to empirical control. The requirement of empirical control is a necessary condition for the acceptability of theoretical constructs, and it can be fulfilled in a great variety of ways. In any case, it imposes severe constraints upon scientific constructs : they must be constructed in such a way that, at least, they may be logically connected with other constructs that ultimately may be linked with the results of repeatable experiments.

¶36  Therefore, the construction of scientific concepts must include, from its very beginning, empirical aspects related to experiments, so that, in this sense, the context of discovery plays an important role in the evaluation of scientific constructs. Even if we admit that the psychological aspects of discovery may be irrelevant for this evaluation, the process of construction includes establishing an entire set of definitions that must be used in the subsequent work. Science implies creativity and interpretation at every stage. The scientist can never be substituted by an impersonal device, except for standard works.

¶37  The constructivist dimensions of science are all-pervasive. Scientific constructs are evaluated by applying them to particular problem-situations and this involves creative planning and interpretation. Empirical science is a hermeneutic enterprise in all its aspects. There are objective standards, but they are never free of interpretation. It is always possible to reinterpret them.

Nevertheless, if we are fortunate, sometimes we can obtain rigorous proofs concerning our constructs, so that it is possible to attribute to them a truth that will always be contextual and therefore partial, because of the constructive and interpretative elements mentioned, but will also be authentic, as it reflects in some way aspects of the real natural order.

¶38  The possibility of attributing truth to our constructs must face the logical difficulty raised by the characteristics of the hypothetical-deductive method which, by its very structure, does not allow us to infer the truth of the premises using the truth of their logical consequences.

However, even if we admit that we can never obtain demonstrations that are perfect from a logical point of view, we should realize that, in many cases, it is possible to use criteria that, although not totally conclusive, are nevertheless sufficiently strong. These are especially explanatory and predictive power, the precision of both explanations and predictions, mutual support and the convergence of independent proofs.

Of course, the application of these criteria leads to different degrees of reliability according to the types of constructs: the situations will be different when we consider experimental laws, general principles, spatial structures or phenomenological theories, for instance.

¶39  These views provide an explanation of the main features of the reliability of science, which can be summarized in the four following:  intersubjectivityempirical testabilitypredictability and progress
We have no guarantee that we will succeed in our attempts to explain nature, but if we use the scientific approach of construction and control and we are lucky, then it is easily understandable why we will obtain a kind of knowledge which will possess those characteristics. I have developed elsewhere my views about this subject [Artigas 1988 and 1989], which are closely related to theobjectualist realism developed by Evandro Agazzi [Agazzi 1969, 1978, 1985 and 1988].

¶40  We can also use these views to explain the relations between the scientific approach and the approaches used by other human enterprises. It is understandable that if we consider those aspects of our human existence which cannot be submitted to empirical control, we will not obtain the special kind of reliability which is characteristic of empirical science. But this has nothing to do with scientism. On the contrary, it is possible to show that there are some conditions of possibility of the scientific enterprise that correspond to philosophical insights.

¶41  In particular, empirical science presupposes an ontological realism, i. e. the existence of nature as a hierarchy of causally interrelated levels whose entities possess a dynamism which is independent of our intervention and displays itself according to patterns. Science also presupposes a gnoseological realism, i. e. our capacity to know natural patterns, and also our capacity to evaluate the truth of our constructs, which implies the capacity for self-reflection and the sense of evidence. These presuppositions are not thematically studied by empirical science, but it uses them at least in an implicit way and, furthermore, scientific progress retro-justifies them, enlarges them and makes them more accurate. There is a feedback of science upon these presuppositions, that correspond to a realist philosophy that goes hand in hand with empirical science [Artigas 1992 a].

¶42  Therefore, there is no opposition, but mutual complementarity, between empirical science and a realist philosophy. Scientism is an untenable thesis because empirical science, which would be the paradigm of any reliable knowledge according to scientism, is based on presuppositions which have their own validity. Scientific naturalism is an untenable thesis, because it attributes to a particular approach, very efficient indeed, an absolute character which it does not really possess. There is no opposition between scientific knowledge and claims about metaphysical dimensions that refer not only to the problem of transcendence and to the spiritual characteristics of man, but also to merely natural entities [Artigas 1991]; in fact, as already noted, science presupposes the existence of a natural dynamism whose explanation points towards dimensions which are not captured by the scientific method and that may be aptly understood as ontological and metaphysical dimensions [Artigas 1992 b].

¶43  I think that these views are compatible with some central fallibilist ideas, provided fallibilism is not understood in a too rigid way and is not inflated into an entire epistemology. I will conclude with a concrete example that shows what I mean. According to Bartley,
"Ordinary fallibilism asserts that certainty cannot be achieved, and that anything that we may say, even anything which may have been incorporated into science, may be wrong. 
Ordinary fallibilism is also often suffused with the sense that much of what we have already discovered only touches the surface, and that many new things remain to be learnt about ourselves and the universe in which we live, things going far beyond our existing knowledge. I am a fallibilist in this ordinary sense" [Bartley 1989, p. 207].
¶44  About this quasi-definition of fallibilism, I would introduce four qualifications. 

(a) Its validity is restricted to a total and absolute certainty that would correspond to perfect knowledge in an absolute sense; 

(b) Although any empirical statement has a limited validity, we can speak about truth in a concrete way, i. e. we can ascertain the contextual and partial, but nevertheless authentic truth of many empirical statements; 

(c) The validity of claims about truth depends on our goals, so that we can often reach a degree of certainty that is sufficient for our purposes; 

(d) Although empirical science shares many logical features with ordinary knowledge and other cognitive claims, assertions about truth and certainty should always be interpreted according to the different goals and the corresponding standards of every human enterprise.

¶45  I feel that these qualifications can be accepted even by the most orthodox fallibilists. I think that fallibilism would be a more veridical account if purified from some of its polemical implications. Gerard Radnitzky has proposed some helpful clarifications in this respect [Radnitzky 1987, pp. 84-86], which are in line with my reflections. After all, we have co-authored a paper on the reliability of science [Agazzi-Artigas-Radnitzky 1986], and I have found our common work easy.

Another interesting source discussing the philosophical doctrine of "Fallibilism on a 101 level:

Bibliography for "Human Knowledge, Reliability and Fallibilism"

Agazzi, E. [1969] Temi e problemi di filosofia della fisica, Manfredi, Milano. 2nd ed., Abete, Roma, 1974.
Agazzi, E. [1978] "Eine Deutung der wissenschaftlichen Objectivität", Allgemeine Zeitschrift für Philosophie, 3, pp. 20-47.
Agazzi, E. [1985] "Commensurability, Incommensurability and Cumulativity in Scientific Knowledge", Erkenntnis, 22, pp. 51-77.
Agazzi, E. [1988] "L'objectivité scientifique", in: E. Agazzi, ed., L'objectivité dans les différentes sciences, Éditions Universitaires Fribourg/Suisse, Fribourg, pp. 13-25.
Agazzi, E. - Artigas, M. - Radnitzky, G. [1986] "La fiabilidad de la ciencia", Investigación y Ciencia ( Scientific American), n. 122, pp. 66-74.
Albert, H. [1968] Traktat über kritische Vernunft, J. C. B. Mohr (Paul Siebeck), Tübingen. 3th ed., 1975.
Albert, H. [1984] "Transcendental Realism and Rational Heuristics: Critical Rationalism and the Problem of Method", in: G. Andersson, ed., Rationality in Science and Politics, Reidel, Dordrecht, pp. 29-46.
Albert, H. [1987], "Science and the Search for Truth", in: J. Agassi - I. C. Jarvie, eds., Rationality: The Critical View, Nijhoff, Dordrecht, pp. 69-82.
Artigas, M. [1988] "Objectivité et fiabilité dans la science", in: E. Agazzi, ed., L ' objectivité dans les différentes sciences, Éditions Universitaires Fribourg/Suisse, Fribourg 1988, pp. 41-54.
Artigas, M. [1989] Filosofía de la ciencia experimental, Eunsa, Pamplona.
Artigas, M. [1991] "Science and Transcendence", in: E. Agazzi, ed., Science and Sagesse, Éditions Universitaires Fribourg/Suisse, Fribourg, pp. 87-101.
Artigas, M. [1992 a] "Three Levels of Interaction between Science and Philosophy", in: C. Dilworth, ed., Intelligibility in Science, Rodopi, Amsterdam, pp. 123-145.
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