[Previous] Critical Preferences and Strong Arguments | Home | [Next] Weak Theory Example

Using False Theories

C&R by Popper p 306
we are, in many cases, quite well served by theories which are known to be false.
This is a mistake! Consider a theory of motion, say, which we'll call T. We know T is false, but it's also a good approximation to the truth in common and well defined circumstances.

We do not use theory T. We use theory U which consists of what I said in the first paragraph: that theory T is an approximation, and useful in certain circumstances. Theory U contains in it theory T, but also some other ideas including the refutation of T. Theory U is a way of approximating motion in certain circumstances, it's useful, and it's not known to be false. Theory U is just plain better.

If we can't create a true variant of T or any other false theory, like we did with U, then T is not actually useful at all. Refuted theories can only be useful via non-refuted theories that make reference to them, not on their own.

Elliot Temple on March 8, 2010

Comments (2)

I wonder if its not just that we are using an approximation, but that in limited circumstances, a *false* theory might have more truth than the theory we haven't determined yet to be false.

The world is round is true. The world is flat is false. But in our ordinary experience, perhaps more truth can be derived from the false theory than the true one, so in those circumstance we prefer it.

Is that possible?

Matt D. at 6:06 PM on March 8, 2010 | #1976
"The world is round, and in various circumstances this can be misleading and pretending the world is flat can work pretty well" trumps them both. It's the true theory + addenda about possible errors and their solution. (Note: in real life to do anything useful we'd want a more detailed theory than what I typed in here. It'd say when the true theory is misleading, why, and more specifically what to do about it.)

Any refuted theory T is strictly inferior to a non-refuted theory which has 3 parts:

1) says T is refuted due to argument X
2) contains T
3) explains the circumstances in which T has some uses.

Elliot at 6:18 PM on March 8, 2010 | #1977

What do you think?

(This is a free speech zone!)