Karl Popper was "opposed to induction when it came to science", in the words of one of his reviewers, because

Induction concerns itself entirely with justification – with establishing theories and keeping them in place – even though it is clear that inductive justification never entails their truth.

I understand why "inductive justification never entails their truth". But, in what way does induction concern itself "entirely with justification", as opposed to refutation or falsification — specifically "with establishing theories and keeping them in place", as opposed to replacing or improving theories.

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    See Knowledge as Justified True Belief : "According to evidentialism, what makes a belief justified in this sense is the possession of evidence." Thus, we may say that induction is a way to "measure" the evidence supporting a belief. Feb 16, 2017 at 14:19
  • Belief cab be linked to Probability and this in turn to Induction and Confirmation. Feb 16, 2017 at 14:24
  • @MauroALLEGRANZA: Can you elaborate that into an answer that specifically responds to the question of how induction concerns itself "entirely with justification"?
    – orome
    Feb 16, 2017 at 21:52
  • It's worth pointing out that induction works with deduction and abduction. Feb 18, 2017 at 15:12
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    Generally when one uses the construction '[quote] in the words of one of his reviewers [link]' one expects the link to back up the quote; this link points to a page in an archive lacking any substantive information; could you provide a link to the actual review? Feb 18, 2017 at 15:19

4 Answers 4


Popper wasn't interested in reducing science to a pseudo-scientific or even pseudo-philosophical philosophising; first he notes:

It is a fact that purely metaphysical ideas—and therefore philosophical ideas—have been of the greatest importance for cosmology. From Thales to Einstein, from ancient atomism to Descartes’s speculation about matter, from the speculations of Gilbert and Newton and Leibniz and Boscovic about forces to those of Faraday and Einstein about fields of forces, metaphysical ideas have shown the way.

It follows from this that he is dismissive about reducing science to a kind of linguistic analysis or pseudo-mathematical languages:

I turn first to those whose chosen method is the construction of artificial models of the language of science...In my opinion, this group of philosophers gets the worst of both worlds. By their method of constructing miniature model languages they miss the most exciting problems of the theory of knowledge—those connected with its advancement [emphasis added]. For the intricacy of the outfit bears no relation to its effectiveness, and practically no scientific theory of any interest can be expressed in these vast systems of minutiae. These model languages have no bearing on either science or common sense.

He also adds:

My view may be expressed by saying that every discovery contains ‘an irrational element’, or ‘a creative intuition’, in Bergson’s sense. In a similar way Einstein speaks of the ‘search for those highly universal laws . . . from which a picture of the world can be obtained by pure deduction. There is no logical path’, he says, ‘leading to these . . . laws. They can only be reached by intuition, based upon something like an intellectual love (‘Einfühlung’) of the objects of experience.’

To turn to the specific concern in your question (as far I can make myself understand it): Induction by itself is of no import in science; it tends to fit in an schema of induction-deduction and abduction; where the confirmation of a deduction by scientific experiment by abduction then gives increased confidence for the original induction (we could call this the virtuous triangle, to coin a phrase).

This applies to even mathematics or physics in a mathematical form (such as theoretical physics); where we take the deductions as clarifying the already existant mathematical landscape.

For example: try a special case of what induction might imply - abstraction and generalisation; this is a common technique in mathematics and theoretical physics; for example to formulate electromagnetism as an abelian Yang-Mills theory and to generalise to non-abelian Yang-Mills theories; it turns out that certain of these cover the strong and weak force.

Are Generalisations falsifiable? As generalisations they are not - they are true; but they might be trivial or irrelevant; it takes a certain amount of understanding of the shape of mathematics and physics to discover a rewarding generalisation.

note: extracts taken from Poppers Logic of Scientific Discovery


"But, in what way does induction concern itself 'entirely with justification', as opposed to refutation or falsification". that's easy, inductive reasoning is positive. how would you go about providing an inductive argument for refutation or falsification? you do not use inductive reasoning to show a proposition is false. you either provide a counter-example or you demonstrate a flaw in (deductive) reasoning.


Inductivism claims that a process called induction can help scientists invent theories and show they are true or probably true or good or something like that. There is no mention of refuting theories. So induction is not supposed to be a means of refuting theories and replacing them with better ideas. As Popper explained, no such process exists.


Karl Popper was "opposed to induction when it came to science"

To be precise, Popper was opposed to the view which equates the scientific method with inductive reasoning:

According to a widely accepted view — to be opposed in this book — the empirical sciences can be characterized by the fact that they use ‘inductive methods’, as they are called. According to this view, the logic of scientific discovery would be identical with inductive logic, i.e. with the logical analysis of these inductive methods. (From "The Logic of Scientific Discovery")

As for Notturno's comment in question:

Induction concerns itself entirely with justification

...this is a poetic phrasing (anthropomorphizing) as induction does not (read: cannot) "concern itself" with anything.

Without a subscription to philpapers.org and short of the funds for Mark Amadeus Notturno's book it might be helpful if you could provide some further context for his description of Popper's thought on induction? That said, the following quote from this review of Notturno's book might shed some light on the meaning regarding Notturno's comment that "induction concerns itself entirely with justification":

Notturno argues that the great failure of inductivists and institutionalists comes from the subjective justification: ‘they feel rational and hence justified, in believing that what they do, and because they infer from this that what they believe must be justified too’ (p. 88)

You might also find Notturno's "Popper And Hayek: On Democracy And Open Society" informs your reading of his meaning.

As for what Popper is aiming at, from his "Logic of Scientific Discovery" regarding induction and justification:

...it is far from obvious, from a logical point of view, that we are justified in inferring universal statements from singular ones, no matter how numerous; for any conclusion drawn in this way may always turn out to be false: no matter how many instances of white swans we may have observed, this does not justify the conclusion that all swans are white.
      The question whether inductive inferences are justified, or under what conditions, is known as the problem of induction.
      The problem of induction may also be formulated as the question of the validity or the truth of universal statements which are based on experience, such as the hypotheses and theoretical systems of the empirical sciences. For many people believe that the truth of these universal statements is ‘known by experience’; yet it is clear that an account of an experience—of an observation or the result of an experiment—can in the first place be only a singular statement and not a universal one.

For an example, from Popper's "Conjectures and Refutations":

      I found that those of my friends who were admirers of Marx, Freud, and Adler, were impressed by a number of points common to these theories, and especially by their apparent explanatory power. These theories appeared to be able to explain practically everything that happened within the fields to which they referred. The study of any of them seemed to have the effect of an intellectual conversion or revelation, opening your eyes to a new truth hidden from those not yet initiated. Once your eyes were thus opened you saw confirming instances everywhere: the world was full of verifications of the theory. Whatever happened always confirmed it. Thus its truth appeared manifest; and unbelievers were clearly people who did not want to see the manifest truth; who refused to see it, either because it was against their class interest, or because of their repressions which were still 'un-analysed' and crying aloud for treatment.
      The most characteristic element in this situation seemed to me the incessant stream of confirmations, of observations which 'verified' the theories in question; and this point was constantly emphasized by their adherents. A Marxist could not open a newspaper without finding on every page confirming evidence for his interpretation of history; not only in the news, but also in its presentation--which revealed the class bias of the paper--and especially of course in what the paper did not say. The Freudian analysts emphasized that their theories were constantly verified by their 'clinical observations'. As for Adler, I was much impressed by a personal experience. Once, in 1919, I reported to him a case which to me did not seem particularly Adlerian, but which he found no difficulty in analysing in terms of his theory of inferiority feelings, although he had not even seen the child. Slightly shocked, I asked him how he could be so sure. 'Because of my thousandfold experience,' he replied; whereupon I could not help saying: 'And with this new case, I suppose, your experience has become thousand-and-one- fold.'

Falsifiability is a criterion for the demarcation of epistemic claims such as hypotheses, as opposed to pseudo-scientific claims which may be based upon observation or observationally verifiable, yet not falsifiable, e.g. "he looks unhappy" or "a giant white gorilla lives in the Himalayas". The problem with induction is logical, as in what kind of inferences may be drawn justifiably from falsifiable statements.

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    String theory is physics whether one agrees with it or not; it's certainly not falsifiable in the usual sense of being amenable to scientific experiment simply because the energies required to directly probe such small distances are well out of reach now and for the forseeable future; it might be potentially falsifiable, but even that is conjectural... Feb 18, 2017 at 14:35
  • @MoziburUllah, the question at hand regards Mark Amadeus Notturno comments about Karl Popper and is not a solicitation for agreement or disagreement with Popper's arguments put forth in The Logic of Scientific Discovery.
    – MmmHmm
    Feb 18, 2017 at 16:37

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