If you extracted theories in connection with descriptions of things in the past, thereby producing historical explanations, would you not then expect these theories – in a general enough form - to be valid for things now and in the future and to be tested for example by Popper’s criterion of falsification?

Taking this view and viewing theories on a general level, is there any reason or justification to make this distinction i.e. between historical vs. other theories?

  • What does "extracted theories in connection with descriptions of things in the past" mean? Could you give examples of "historical" theories vs "other" theories? It is unclear what the distinction is or who is making it. – Conifold Sep 10 '19 at 17:41
  • Have you read Popper's "The Conspiracy of Society" @ www3.canyons.edu/faculty/marianaj/Popper.pdf ? Some of his claims are frankly bizarre. He admits that conspiracy exists, yet he doesn't think we should believe in conspiracy, because that suggests conspiracy somehow influences historical events (DUH). He also emphasizes that things almost never work out the way people intend. (He obviously never studied Machiavelli.) This may not address your question, but it's worth a look. I was researching "historicism" when I came across Popper's article and was frankly stunned. – David Blomstrom Sep 10 '19 at 20:06
  • @DavidBlomstrom He does not say that we should not believe in conspiracies, he says that conspiracy doesn't explain social events on a large scale, because it "hardly ever turns out in the way that is intended". Which is the case even when conspiracy theorists, like Lenin or Hitler, come to power. Why you find this bizarre is hard to understand, considering that this is also the gist of Marx's historical materialism (history is determined by economic forces, not by individual intentions), which Popper explicitly credits. And Marx was well versed in Machiavelli's (and Clausewitz's) realpolitik. – Conifold Sep 11 '19 at 4:29
  • Saying things never turn out as intended is utterly stupid. I think something like 40% of the murders in the U.S. are unsolved - and that's among common criminals. In government and the corporate sector, it's infinitely easier to pull off even bigger conspiracies. Machiavelli said conspiracy was a better option than open warfare - if you wanted to challenge a prince. If a prince wanted to conspire against a common citizen, it was game over. Popper's ideas are so scattered, it's hard to understand how he is still respected. He was a shill, similar to Noam Chomsky. – David Blomstrom Sep 11 '19 at 4:33
  • @DavidBlomstrom A "prince" conspires against a common citizen, but there are many "princes" and even more common citizens. Their designs drown in the sea of interlinked unintended consequences, and the large scale statistics, like your 40%, have more to do with social and economic conditions than with anybody's designs. "The capitalist is as much caught in the network of the social situation (or the ‘social system’) as is the worker... he is as unfree as the worker, and the results of his actions are largely unintended". The idea is Marx's, Popper does not even hide that he merely repeats it – Conifold Sep 11 '19 at 4:47


Inferring present and the future states or events from past states and events - the kind of activity you appear to have in mind in your opening sentences - is a form of induction. Popper on induction is a tangled topic but, to express a standard interpretation, Popper finds no proper use for induction in science :

[As an empiricist he] interpret[s] empiricism - 'the thesis that experiment alone can decide upon the truth or falsity of scientific statements' - as being satisfied by falsifiability alone, for 'the method of falsification presupposes no inductive inference. (Andrew J. Swann, 'Popper on Induction', The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, Vol. 39, No. 3 (Sep., 1988), pp. 367-373: 371.)

Falsifiability can be explained as follows. You can verify - find confirming instances of - a universal statement indefinitely but however many confirmations you find, unless you can enumerate the class concerned, you can never tell if there are instances you have not examined and which falsify - refute - the universal statement. Verification is useless to the extent that it fails to cover, in the typical scientific situation, the whole class of objects that fall under the universal statement. Falsification in contrast is very useful. One contrary instance, one object in the relevant class for which the universal statement fails, refutes the universal statement.

Induction has no place in science

". . . It is from universal statements in conjunction with initial conditions [GT: the situation in or to which the universal statement is applied for testing] that we deduce the singular statement, 'this thread will break'.

We call this statement a specific or singular prediction." (Popper, The Logic of Scientific Discovery, London, 1959, p. 60.)

.. . If the singular conclusions turn out to be acceptable, or verified, then the theory has, for the time being, passed its test: we have found no reason to discard it. But if . . . the conclusions have been falsified, then their falsification also falsifies the theory from which they were logically deduced." (op. cit., p. 33).

The mode of reasoning is entirely deductive. (K. K. Lee, 'Popper's Falsifiability and Darwin's Natural Selection', Philosophy, Vol. 44, No. 170 (Oct., 1969), pp. 291-302: 292.)

Science and history

Two points are relevant. The first is that concepts such as 'revolution', 'political change', 'dictatorship', 'democracy', 'populism' - the kind of descriptions I take it you are concerned with - are too imprecise and contestable to form the subjects of rigorous, falsifiable universal statements (or 'theories', as Popper also calls them).

The second point is one that Popper makes in the Intro to The Poverty of Historicism (1957) - a title that takes a nice dig at Marx's The Poverty of Philosophy (1847. Namely, that the future is impossible to predict in the form of universal statements because there will be unknowable future inventions the effects of which we are unable to take into account in formulating such statements. This is true now about the future, and it will be true of all future futures.

One might wonder on what basis, save that of induction, Marx can infer that since there have been unpredicable or at least unpredicted inventions in the past, there will also be such inventions in the future.

I have probably explained ideas such as falsifiability with which you are already perfectly familiar. I've included them just in case they are new to some members.

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