The Falsification Principle and Voting

“Among philosophers, Karl Popper (1902-1994) is best known for his contributions to the philosophy of science and epistemology. Most of his published work addressed philosophical problems in the natural sciences, especially physics; and Popper himself acknowledged that his primary interest was nature and not politics. However, his political thought has arguably had as great an impact as has his philosophy of science. This is certainly the case outside of the academy.  Among the educated general public, Popper is best known for his critique of totalitarianism and his defense of freedom, individualism, democracy and an “open society.” His political thought resides squarely within the camp of Enlightenment rationalism and humanism. He was a dogged opponent of totalitarianism, nationalism, fascism, romanticism, collectivism, and other kinds of (in Popper’s view) reactionary and irrational ideas.”

I’ve read Popper for years – mostly within the academy.  Applying his thoughts to democratic elections and the two-party system is something that makes more sense now.  The political world became more significant after I retired from the world of academic research. 

There’s a series written at that applies Popper’s philosophy of science to voting, political systems and candidate selection.  I didn’t have the advantage of reading Popper when I took the undergrad philosophy of science class at Bozo.  It was taught by the Philosophy department and stressed Kant – as an older, self-directed student, I found myself extracting the philosophy of science from scientists (often physicists) and not from philosophers.  I like Karl Popper – and his view on falsification has dominated my own research.

The linked article describes how, since Plato, the wrong question dominated: “How do we get the best people in power?”  The deductive paragraph is: “Again, the problem was buried inside of the question, and not the answer. Until Popper, people had understood the term knowledge to mean ‘that which you can know for certain’ or ‘how it is that we can be sure about something’. It wasn’t just the wrong emphasis, but it was also claiming access to something that was never available to us. The idea of proving something to be true is a mistake in itself, all we can ever do is prove something to be wrong through a process of conjecture and refutation – guesswork (ideally educated), and then the testing of those guesses through criticism. The ideas that survive this ordeal are never accepted as true, but simply not discarded as false. No truth is ever so undeniable that it cannot be questioned. And so instead of certainty, all we can ever hope for is improvement – the replacement of bad ideas, with less bad ideas, and so on.”

It shows the lack of understanding in the phrase “Trust the science.”  That isn’t how science works.  And Popper’s view moved that into voting.  I’ve known people who voted straight party line, and could make an argument for it.  My father explained that you need to vote for the best man.  If we work his idea into Popper’s Falsification Theory, you just keep voting for the best man until he pans out short weight and you have to vote against him.

Karl Popper’s Falsification Principle is a method of telling science from non-science. If a theory is to be considered scientific it must be able to be tested and conceivably proven false.

The next step is in the linked article:  “Instead of asking ‘who should rule?’, we should only be asking ‘how do we best remove bad leaders without violence?’ It is a political theory built on the understanding of how knowledge develops through constant flaws, missteps and error; and that there is no such thing as an obvious truth. Just as it is wrong to pursue certainty in knowledge, it is also wrong to pursue utopia in politics – or utopian leaders. As Popper quickly recognized, the source of all tyranny comes from the idea that the truth is manifest. “

“Any viable political system needs two simple qualities: 1. The ability to highlight errors as quickly as possible, and 2. The most efficient mechanism for removing bad leaders and changing bad policies once they have been recognised as such. More than anything, the goal here is the minimisation of harm. Democracy matters, and is a superior political system to theocracy, aristocracy, communism or anarchy (which Popper had a slight sympathy for in its attempts to escape the control of the state), only because it matches most neatly with these criteria.”

Logically, the best – by no means ideal – is an elected two party system.  It isn’t necessarily good – I recall the presidential choices of 2016, when I had to select between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, based on my knowledge of the two.  At least I was certain that one bad candidate wouldn’t win.  Picture our neighbors to the North – last year, Trudeau won 157 seats in parliament – and needed 170 to rule.  Instead of peacefully accepting the voter mandate, he got two minor parties to join with him and keep ruling Canada.  Multi-party systems are almost as bad as single party systems when it comes to removing poor leaders.

The best thing about the two party system is how well it works to vote the bastards out.

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