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The Problem of the Empirical Basis

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  08 January 2010


In this paper I shall venture into an area with which I am not very familiar and in which I feel far from confident; namely into phenomenology. My main motive is not to get away from standard, boring, methodological questions like those of induction and demarcation; but the conviction that a phenomenological account of the empirical basis forms a necessary complement to Popper's falsificationism. According to the latter, a scientific theory is a synthetic and universal, hence unverifiable proposition. In fact, in order to be technologically useful, a scientific hypothesis must refer to future states-of-affairs; it ought therefore to remain unverified. But in order to be empirical, a theory must bear some kind of relation to factual statements. According to Popper, such a relation can only be one of potential conflict. Thus a theory T will be termed scientific if and only if T is logically incompatible with a so-called basic statement b, where b is both empirically verifiable and empirically falsifiable. (We shall see that neither the verifiability nor the falsifiability of b was meant, by Popper, in any literal sense.) In other words: T is scientific if it entails ¬b; where b, hence also ¬b, is an empirically decidable proposition.

Copyright © The Royal Institute of Philosophy and the contributors 1995

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