[FOM] Falsify Platonism?

Director CPFS director at cpfs.res.in
Sat May 1 08:50:11 EDT 2010

Oran Magal's exposition of Popper's philosophy, makes clear the 
'demarcation' problem addressed by Popper. The examples given by Magal 
concern the science/pseudoscience distinction. However, the separation 
between science and pseudoscience is overshadowed by the distinction between 
science and metaphysics. Darwinian evolutionary theory was considered by 
Popper as a 'metaphysical research programme' rather than as a scientific 
theory (or pseudoscience for that matter). Philosophy or metaphysics were 
not proscribed terms for Popper. They were in some sense higher-level 
languages or metalanguages which involved comparative analyses of scientific 
theories and were not in themselves science. The laws of nature are not 
nature, but a description of nature at what may be called a 'higher' level. 
That 'higher' level is akin to the Platonic world, which Popper himself 
chose to call World III, on par with the World I of matter and II of mental 
states. Hence it is decidedly odd to use Popper as an authority to brand 
Platonism as non-falsiable and hence a 'pseudoscience'.

Ranjit Nair
director at cpfs.res.in

----- Original Message ----- 
From: "Oran Magal" <oran.magal at gmail.com>
To: "Foundations of Mathematics" <fom at cs.nyu.edu>
Sent: Friday, April 30, 2010 5:15 PM
Subject: Re: [FOM] Falsify Platonism?

> Dear Lucas, everyone,
>> I started this thread with a rather innocent remark at
>> the end of question. I would like to make a few remarkts.
>> First of all, with 'falsify' I referred to science philosopher
>> Karl Popper. The idea is that if there is no potential that
>> a scientific theory can be falsified, you may question
>> whether the theory means something. With this one can
>> criticize the theory of the 'existence of God', since the
>> followers of that theory do not give a way to falsify
>> that theory. [...]
> I think this is at once too narrow and too strong as a summary of
> Popper's doctrine. For one thing, falsifiability was proposed as the
> mark of a _scientific_ theory; the question of God's existence, or
> that of the truth of any other traditional metaphysical question
> (freedom of will, realism v. nominalism with regard to properties,
> etc.) are not normally thought of as scientific questions. You may
> want to say only scientific questions are genuinely meaningful; that
> road has been taken more than once before. But this is a further,
> quite strong claim, beyond Popper's doctrine (which you cite)
> regarding the demarcation of scientific theories from
> pseudo-scientific ones. (Popper's most famous examples of the latter
> were astrology, psychoanalysis and Marxist dialectic materialism, I
> believe.)
>> Considering the fact that the group of experts on FOM, could
>> not agree what could potentially falsify Platonism, I conclude,
>> based on the philosophy of Karl Popper, that Platonism does
>> not have much meaning.
> I don't count myself an expert, but I do have two comments on this.
> First, continuing my previous comment, one needs to consider
> 'falsification' more broadly if one wishes to apply it to the question
> of realism regarding mathematics ("Platonism"). For example: "If a
> metaphysical claim is to be meaningful, it must be formulated in such
> a way that it would be possible to offer an argument that refutes it."
> - I'm not advancing this position myself, just trying to reconstruct
> what I think you're getting at. If this is so far more or less ok, I
> would offer the following: there are arguments such that, if one finds
> them compelling, would cast doubt on a robust realist ("Platonist")
> view of mathematics. This is about as strong as you can expect
> 'falsification' to be in metaphysics; decisive arguments that end a
> centuries-long metaphysical debate once and for all are quite rare
> animals.
> I hope this was helpful.
> Oran Magal
> McGill Univ.
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