Snap, Crackle, Popper — It's

Snap, Crackle, Popper — It's bizarre that glass-eating mercenary independent scholar, Rafe Champion, suggests that I am a “true believer” for not developing a critical preference for Popperianism. I'm tempted to say, “Right back at ya, buddy.” I grew up philsophically among Ayn Rand devotees, and I sense a similarity in conviction among the Randians and Popperians like Rafe. I'm sure Rafe can appreciate that Popper's epistemology just makes very little sense to me, and that I don't consider his counterarguments “effective”.
Indeed, I am at a loss to understand how a “critical preference” for some proposition P over some proposition Q, is anything but the belief that P is more probable relative to one's evidence than Q. What other basis for a rational preference is there? If P is more “corroborated”, then I need to have it explained how one can assign ordinal rankings of corroboration that do not correspond even roughly to degrees of probability. Corroboration is supposed to be a historical measure of experimental survival. Popper claims that it is rational to prefer the hypothesis that is more corroborated. But why should this preference be rational unless it is in fact the case that theories that have survived a lot of experimental tests are more likely to be true than theories that haven't.
Anyway, I think I'm done beating on Popper, at least on the pages of The Fly Bottle. I understand that this kind of topic drives off a lot of readers. However, I do think this kind of issue is important, both for its own sake and for its implications. I am convinced that post-modern epistemologies are driven by politics. When it was shown by reason and evidence that communism is both ineffective and deadly, the folks on the far left had a choice: either give up communism or give up reason and evidence. The PoMos chose the latter. Of course, PoMo epistemology supports libertarianism just as easily as it supports Marxism, yet notice the overwhelming absence of libertarian postmodernists. When you've got reason and evidence on your side, like libertarians, you've got very little motivation to throw them away. Anyway, my point is that it is not only important to argue for libertarianism against the anti-reason PoMo left and the anti-reason Mystic right, but it is also important to make the case for reason itself as the proper basis for the political argument. If you can get folks to accept the proper standards of reason and evidence, you're already way ahead in the argument with postmodernists and mystics. My practical problem with Popperianism is that I don't think it really sets up intelligible standards of reason and evidence from which to argue against the dark forces of the left and right.

Author: Will Wilkinson

Vice President for Research at the Niskanen Center