In order to falsify a hypothesis, an observation must be compared to some statement of fact that would be true if the hypothesis were true. The unspoken assumption seems to be that the observation, the statement, or both represent an objective reality.

If the two contradict each other, it is impossible for both to be objectively real. Such a case would say that “A and not-A” is true, and would violate the principle that a thing cannot be and not be at the same time. Thus, something has been falsified; either the observation or the hypothesis is wrong.

Both contradictory statements could be false in relation to the real situation, but that possibility still assumes that some objective reality exists.

So does the idea of falsification assume the existence of an objective reality?

  • 2
    In positivist theories observation is "sense data", "protocol sentences" or something to this effect. Even Quine, who criticized the idea of independent observation language from holist perspective, had "observation sentences", which are admitted to be theory laden and culturally conditioned, but less so than outright theoretical claims. So no, one does not need any objective reality to use falsification, it is compatible with full anti-realism of appearances a la Kant or cultural relativism a la Feyerabend. Popper was a realist, but even to him observation reports are mere hypotheses. – Conifold Feb 15 '18 at 20:44
  • 2
    Every reasonable account of science must assume that science is "knowledge of something". – Mauro ALLEGRANZA Feb 16 '18 at 7:02
  • @Mauro ALLEGRANZA But there can be all kinds of views what knowledge is, and on the nature of things. In this example, it is crucial to recognise the limitations on our knowledge of objective reality. The greatest power of science has been not in finding knowledge, but in opening ourselves to recognition of how much we don't know. Through accepting knowledge is only ever tentative, models and descriptions always have limitations, we have been able to lift a corner of the curtain in front of the vast unknowns around. A shift in the nature of knowledge is the cornerstone of science – CriglCragl Feb 16 '18 at 19:20

According to Julian Barbour Discovery of Dynamics, Aristotle disguised between an objective and 'potential' reality. I've put the latter in quotes as I don't recall the term for it.

In potential reality, contradictions are obtainable. In objective reality, not so, and the classical laws of logic obtain.

It seems to me that for hypotheses to be falsifiable they must be about objective reality where we can distinguish between p & not p objectively.

That there is something in this is shown in QM where it is possible for both p and not p to hold. For example, the spin of an electron can be potentially up and down. Yet in actuality, when we come to measure it, we only find it is either up or down and not both. We can only measure an objective reality, we can however infer a potential reality of which we cannot make direct hypotheses because we don't have direct access to it.

Heisenberg found these notions of Aristotle important enough to acknowledge it in writing, referring to potentia and actualite. It's important to note - as Barbour does - that Aristotle used these concepts in his theory of motion, which was developed in in an effort to solve Zenos paradox. And what is QM, but like every theory in physics, a theory of motion.


All science implies the existence of a mind independent reality towards which science marches inexorably on (unless you are a social constructivist - god forbid !).

Your Answer

By clicking "Post Your Answer", you acknowledge that you have read our updated terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy, and that your continued use of the website is subject to these policies.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.