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on 19 January 2013
This long book originated in 1932 as an exposition of Popper's views on:
1. Hume's problem of induction (i.e. how can scientific laws which are universal be justified by experimental results which are finite in number?);
2. The demarcation between science and metaphysics.
Although accepted for publication, the two sections of the book were so long that the publishers insisted on drastic cutting. This was eventually done by Popper's uncle and the published text was called Logik der Forschung (eventually translated into English as The Logic of Scientific Discovery).
Now at last The Two Fundamental Problems has been published in English translation and provides a fascinating glimpse into Popper's ideas.
This book is not for beginners. Although clearly written (a hallmark of Popper's style) it is long and detailed and very closely argued. The first part of the book is complete. It deals with problem 1 and includes a section (about 13 pages) which Popper later rejected. This is made clear in the text. The second part, dealing with problem 2, is not complete and consists of about 100 pages of fragments.
An understanding of Kant's arguments in the Critique of Pure Reason is helpful in following this book. Popper is concerned to show that synthetic statements cannot be justified in an a priori fashion. Only analytic statements can be a priori true. So, the universal laws of science cannot be justified, nor can they be shown to have a high level of probability. Much of part 1 of this book is an attack on Kant, the positivists and conventionalism. Popper sees conventionalism as an attempt to make theories true by definition. This means that inconvenient empirical results have to be explained by ad hoc additions to the theories. This was later developed by Popper into his critique of Marxism, a system which was initially testable but subsequently (to avoid refutation) expanded by numerous ad hoc additions. A criticism of Wittgenstein (of the Tractatus) and the logical positivists is also decisive.
There is too much in the book to analyse fully here but for anyone familiar with Popper's work this is a must-read.
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