Schlick And Popper Essay, Research Paper
The Search for Truth
What is metaphysics? The question itself is a study in the answer, as to question the meaning of truth is to compare and contrast it to all that we perceive from our senses as real. The principle of verifiability was at the core of Logical Positivism, the movement that sought to apply logic and the methodology of the empirical sciences to all fields of thought. It states that a theory, or more generally a sentence, that is not at least capable of empirical verification is meaningless. For positivists, the given, which can be based primarily upon appearances, is a single, one-dimensional and positive object. There is no elaboration or variation on how the given is interpreted, it simply is. As Schlick tells us (from the positivist outlook), Only the given is real. This obviously presents contradictions if one is attempting to explain something outside the sphere of what is perceived to be the given. If there is an existence of an external world, then how can the problem be resolved without looking beyond what is known of the given? This is metaphysical idealism, where the philosopher feels he can speak to only that which is given to him — a kind of solipsistic thought where nothing can be assumed that is not known.
Schlick attempts to make clear the claims of scientific inquiry in relation to metaphysics — scientists who state hypotheses without being able to back up their claims with hard facts present a logical impossibility. Facts that cannot be verified — that is, those that are accepted merely because there is a scientific principle that stands behind them, are logically meaningless. To be logically meaningless, or more simply, unthinkable , should have no place in the scientific community, as all scientific thinking should be able to cite not just principles, but the reasons for the effect. Observation, altering the given state — these things should be taken into consideration when attempting verification, but to assume that the realm of the given would not be touched for whatever hypothesis has been stated makes no sense. All scientific statements need to be tested for truth and adapted to particular situations, in order to completely and logically verify whatever scientific facts are presented.
Schlick points to Einstein s concept of time, which is nothing more than a statement on spatially separated events — events that occur either simultaneously or directly after other events. To do this, one must explain what is meant by the statement that events can occur simultaneously, and this can only be done by demonstrating how it can be verified. The problem comes with the realization that the verification cannot be shown without establishing the meaning. One excludes the other — a statement only has meaning if it can be verified; yet it cannot be verified if one cannot explain what it means.
The meaning of one scientific statement, therefore, cannot be defined by a single verification. It has to include other circumstances or sensations in order for the meaning and verification to break out of the above circle. The claims become meaningless as soon as one cannot support the existence of being without giving examples of what it is that one supposes it to be. Schlick gives the example of looking at two pieces of green paper. Once he has decided that the two papers are the same color, that statement has been verified; this is the given. But if the papers are shown to another person, the circumstances change. Even though the second person may agree that, yes, the papers are both green, there is no way of knowing how he perceives that green. Shades and hues of colors appear differently to different eyes; the quality of the experience cannot be accurately judged. No two individuals experience exactly the same sensations. It is logically impossible to verify the true meaning of specific data, as each person who observes it will perceive it in just slightly a different way than another. This does not mean that the data or the scientific statements are false. It just concludes that there is no logical means to verify exact meaning on the same experience of two (or more) separate people.
Karl Popper threw another twist into this idea of verification. He tends to scoff at Hume s idea of induction, which suggests that it is logical to assume that something will happen based solely on the fact that it has happened before (e.g., the sun rising each morning; the robins returning each Spring). Popper finds this to be irrational, as there are always external forces which can affect any given, and to assume that none of those will have any relation to the given is illogical. Popper feels that the better test of whether a statement has any validity (truth or falsity) is in raising further questions beyond those that are relative to experience. Popper attacked verification by arguing that universal propositions, such as the law of gravity, can never be definitely verified. Cumulative evidence and repeated experiments merely increase the probability that a proposition is true. Theories, he feels, are merely educated guesses; nothing is exact, nothing is definite, because everything, even proven experience, is relative to external circumstances and the induction of new data. Popper therefore proposed falsification as a more useful criterion than verification. Only if a theory can be disproved can it be considered scientifically meaningful, and it is the unsuccessful efforts to disprove it that give it ever more validity.
From a logical point of view, there is a balance and a correlation between verification and falsification by experience. There is a logical distinction between statements which have been proven false, and those which have not. Logically, it only means there need to be further tests; more questions asked; one needs to move beyond known experience in order to reach a logical conclusion.
Falsification of theories can lead to true meaning in a statement in much the same way as verification of its truth. Rather than verifying what is known to be true (the sun comes up each morning), and using this as the key point for proving the truth of a statement, falsification addresses the problem by assuming a new theory will succeed where its predecessor failed. As well as succeeding where the proceeding refuted theory failed. If this is not accomplished (the sun rises at 3 p.m. — obviously false), then verification becomes easier and more obvious. Of course, Popper might have suggested that even this does not definitely prove or disprove a certain theory that is held to be true. Because of the external forces, there is the probability that when it is 3 p.m., the sun is indeed rising somewhere else.
In all cases, the number of possibilities to consider for verification of an idea is infinite. One can ever be certain that every single possibility has been factored into any given. Therefore, nothing can be logically assumed to be entirely true, rather, the applicable theories help to define it. It should also be understood that falsification has its limits. Nothing can guarantee that for every idea that has been found to be false, there will be discovered a better succeeding idea. Popper insists there is no way one can be assured that progress can be made toward better theories. His main objective in the testing of any theory is to simply get closer to the truth. Even if no theory can be shown to be absolutely true.
Popper sees metaphysics in a vastly different light than did Schlick, and sees no place for it in true scientific inquiry. While Schlick remained adamant that his theories of verification were the true test — a statement could only be true if its principles could be verified — Popper saw this as metaphysical garble. After all, verification was vulnerable to the charge that the principle itself was unverifiable. For Schlick, the line of demarcation between science and metaphysics (pseudo-science) was blurry. Scientific theories must, by their very definition, have some empirical data to support what is known to be true. Meaning, therefore, was existent only when the verification could be established.
Popper was less enthralled with metaphysics. Once he established his solutions for the principle of induction — that there is no need to rely on theories or principles because there will always be more data and information on which to base the solution — his own line of demarcation between science and pseudo-science was firmly established. Theories, he said, were all nothing more than hypotheses, subject to refining and re-defining; subject to being overthrown in favor of a better successor.
This was not to say there was no need to continue a search for truth, simply because it was apparent that the search would be never-ending. There was a justification in the very act of searching; justification for the hypotheses was not necessary. One would never know which guess came closest to achieving the true meaning of a statement without testing that guess. All knowledge being hypothetical, Popper rejects the idea of Hume, who suggests that there is sufficient reason not to believe a certain statement, if there is no sufficient reason for believing it. Schlick would no doubt agree with this, in that the statement would have to be defined before he could assess its value in the first place. But Popper took a more critical approach. Schlick s theory on true meaning was totally unacceptable to him from a logical standpoint. Science was to be considered a testable proposition, as theories were meant to be challenged because they were always changing. He did not totally discount metaphysics, although that in itself was not the road he would have chosen to take. Metaphysics was, for Popper, merely the stepping stone for formulating those testable propositions ; the beginning of the journey for true meaning. The only way to come close to defining the true meaning of a statement is to test, ask further questions and use both falsification and verification as a means to get closer to (not, ultimately, find) the truth.