Philosophical theories are refuted by argument, not empirical tests

From the archives: The original post was posted on 11th October, 1995

I had written:

“Coercion can have that effect. One of the common responses to coercion is to lose interest – to no longer care – about the thing one previously cared about but was coerced out of or whatever.”

Poster 1 wrote:

“Sarah, this is what I mean by your “theory” not being falsifiable. To you it may be a metaphysical extrapolation from other theories, but to me it is a theory about children’s psychology”

Poster 2 wrote:

“I don’t agree with Dave’s position, but I do agree that Popper’s falsifiability idea won’t support the development of a notion that coercion is bad. Only induction can demonstrate that kind of notion.”

Pssst! Popper’s idea about falsifiability only applies to scientific theories, not to theories which, by virtue of their philosophical (metaphysical) nature, are not testable. Educational theory, which is what we are talking about here, is philosophy, not science, and if the theory that coercion diminishes creativity were empirically testable, it would not be educational theory.

Popper (and Hayek, BTW) has written extensively on this scientism of the “social sciences” (which ought to be called “human philosophies” or something) and he is positively scathing about the idea that everything should be testable. The theory that coercion diminishes creativity is just as falsifiable as Popper’s epistemological ideas – it isn’t, in other words. And a good thing too.

Psychology a science? What a joke. The only bits of pychology that could possibly be considered scientific are the boring bits. Think about it. Coercion diminishes creativity. Is there any way you could test this? There is no point demanding testability of an educational theory. What one can do with philosophical theories, is refute them by argument. Empirical testing is just one of a number of types of intersubjective criticism, and the vast majority of all criticism is by argument, even in science. Most scientific theories are refuted before they even get to the stage of empirical testing.

In order to refute philosophical arguments, one has to argue, not present empirical “evidence”.

“I agree, sort of – the sentiment is reasonable, but I don’t think these kinds of notions can be supported with only a premise of falsifiability.”

Just as well they don’t have to be! See above.

Sarah Fitz-Claridge, 1995, ‘Philosophical theories are refuted by argument, not empirical tests ’,

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