Popper claims that falsifiability is a criterion of science (but not of meaningfulness). Scanning the original 1935 text (Logik der Forschung) it seems to me that he just refers to "Wissenschaft". Does he actually mean what English calls "Science" or the broader German sense in which the humanities and social sciences are "Geisteswissenschaften" and what we call Sciences (without a modifier) are "Naturwissenschaften"? In the English version (Logic of Scientific Discovery, 1955 or so) Popper just refers to "Science". In the German original he very occasionally does mention specifically Naturwissenschaften and sometimes modifies "wissenschaftlich" e.g. "empirisch-wissenschaftlich", but it is not clear to me whether he thinks of the demarcation criterion as applicable to all kinds of science or only to natural science.

PS I described the question as semantics of the criterion - but actually I see that it is really about the semantics of the objects to which the criterion is to be applied.

2 Answers 2


Popper did accept social sciences as sciences proper, and even was more positive on them than many natural scientists. Here is from Cibangu's Karl Popper and the Social Sciences:"Popper understood the social sciences as sciences in the full sense of the word, a position that attempts to refute the widespread idea that the social sciences represent a weak form of science. Discussions of the scientific status of the social sciences (their methods, theories, and laws) are usually impaired by the common misunderstandings that authors entertain about physics and its laws." The difference is, according to Popper, that "physical laws, or the “laws of nature”, are valid anywhere and always; for the physical world is ruled by a system of physical uniformities invariable throughout space and time. Sociological laws, however, or the laws of social life, differ in different places and periods... The method of the social sciences, like that of the natural sciences, consists in trying out tentative solutions to those problems from which our investigations start. Solutions are proposed and criticized. If a proposed solution is not open to objective criticism, then it is excluded as unscientific."

See also explicit discussion of demarcation for social sciences, and its relation to his "open society", in chapter IV of Ratheesh's dissertation Karl Popper's Falsification and its implication in Social Science.

  • Since posting the question, I found a bit more information in Malachi Haim Hacohen's "Karl Popper: The Formative Years, 1902-1945". Hacohen suggests that Popper was not initially much interested in the Social Sciences, but became concerned with them in the later 1930s because of the failure of Austrian socialism and democracy, and began to think that his demarcation criterion showed where Marxism had led Austrian socialists astray and opened the door to the extreme right. Jun 19, 2015 at 11:45
  • @ Conifold starts his answer "Contrary to what one might expect from Popper's negative position on the evolution theory". I am not clear what is intended here. Is it an allusion to Popper's idea (in "Objective Knowledge") that knowledge evolves by trial and error or is it a reference to something that Popper has said about Evolution as such? In either case I do not understand why it is contrary to his recognising social sciences as sciences. Jun 19, 2015 at 13:28
  • @JulianNewman Is it difficult to imagine, because Popper thought the social science ( is supposed to ) advance step by step = through test and test, even if Popper discards dialectics ( historical ), can you see Popper ended up to propose the improvement of Society in terms of the infinity?? What does it differenciate from the evolutionary theory????
    – user13955
    Jun 20, 2015 at 9:37
  • @KentaroTomono I'm sorry but I don't quite follow your point. I suppose that Popper recognised that society will not exist for an infinitely long time (after all, the planet on which its members live will not exist forever) but that is not to say that there is a known finite limit to social improvement. Having said that, the issue of being scientific in the sense of being falsifiable is surely quite distinct from the issue of whether there are knowable limits to social improvement. There again, social improvement is itself rather a contestable notion. Evolution too is not improvement! Jun 20, 2015 at 19:59
  • @JulianNewman I am sorry to say, then I can not catch your point from my side either clearly.........................................You are saying the Evolution is not an -- improvement --, then how would you call it otherwise then? Adaptation? What is the difference between the improvement and the adaptation? Isn't it the same thing after all Popper propose, am I wrong here?????????????
    – user13955
    Jun 21, 2015 at 17:49

I agree that from The Logic of Scientific Discovery it is difficult to link Popper's demarcation criterion to the distinction between natural and social sciences. However, in Conjectures and Refutations Popper famously gives three examples of pseudo-science: Marx's theory of history, Freud's psychoanalysis and Adler's individual psychology. All these three examples belong to the social sciences. Also, Popper contrasts them with Einstein's general relativity theory, as a positive example of genuine science. All this clearly implies that, according to that essay of Popper's, the social sciences are to be judged by the same criterion of demarcation as the natural sciences.

  • Yes, I am sorry I forgot why one I read in English ( since long time ago ) but sill I agree with you. Let me add 1. Thank you for your nice answer.
    – user13955
    Jun 23, 2015 at 5:35

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