Frankly, I am a bit puzzled. My latest posts on Popper generated some controversy among my readers.
The latest comment, by long-time reader Hedlund, replying to "Popper, Art and Science" is an example. Hedlund starts like this:
"The importance of falsification is widely recognized these days, and there's overlap between Popper's critical rationalism and a thoroughgoing realism.
"An adequate summary of Popper would not end at falsificationism. Also important is anti-justificationism;"
At a given moment, Hedlund adds:
"Feyerabend, in Against Method, gives examples of theories that were by all appearances falsified, yet still advanced our understanding (and in some cases were later vindicated)."And ends like this:
"I would argue that critical realism/dialectical materialism has the good aspects of Popper without the weaknesses."
My father told me the following folk tale when I was a kid.
A hungry traveler arrived to a poor village. Lacking money to buy anything from them, the villagers -- already destitute themselves -- wouldn't be able or willing to help him, he guessed.
What to do?
The traveler found a big pot. Without saying a word, he gathered some wood and started a fire. Next, he filled the pot with water and put it to heat over the fire; back into the creek, he got ostensibly busy examining stones.
"Tsk, tsk. Too light", he would mumble to himself, observing all sides of a big stone, before throwing it away.
Occasionally he would drop a stone into the pot, saying something like "You beauty".
After some time, a villager standing by, unable to resist the curiosity, asked: "What are you doing?"
"I'm selecting food stones. What does it look like?" answered the traveler, without stopping his search.
"To make me some stone soup", answered the traveler, pointing to the pot.
"Yeah. Haven't you ever tried?" asked the traveler.
"Nope. Is it any good?" asked the villager, himself hungry, his interest aroused.
"Delicious, and nourishing, too!" answered the traveler, enthusiastically. "Want to share with me when it's ready?"
"Sure. Thanks!" was the villager's excited answer.
"The only thing missing is some condiment. I've just run out...", said the traveler.
"No worries!" replied the villager. "I just happen to have some condiment left. To be honest, it's all I have left, too".
After a while, the pot was boiling, with its stones, plus condiments, potatoes and cabbage, bacon and garlic, a few onions and carrots, fava beans and even some wild herbs for good measure, all added by the villagers, after the traveler had told them what he was doing.
Everybody shared in the stone soup. And it was as nutritious and mouth-watering as the traveler promised.
As a child, perhaps I was already a bit too skeptical for my own good, but I remember wondering that perhaps the stones had nothing to do with that.
I'm pretty sure that, after removing everything questionable in Popper's philosophy of science (provided that's possible), adding additional safeguards to avoid arbitrary decisions -- as Hedlund proposes -- one's left with something as good as the stone soup with all the "optional" ingredients.
That's not my objection. Hedlund may have the recipe for a stone soup, and good and nourishing it may well be. One thing, however, it is not: it evidently is not Popper's soup. In this episode, Popper is the stone. One may call Hedlund's falsificationism and justificationism, but it is not Popper's falsificationism and justificationism. If you do what Hedlund advises, you can discard the name "Popper" as easily as you can discard the stones in the stone soup.
And, unlike me, Popperians may object to that. One would need to convince them to accept the changes, just like the traveler had to convince the villagers to provide the ingredients. That was easy in the story. It may be harder with Popperians.
This is my personal take and I might be mistaken, but for me the popularity of Popper's philosophy of science does not come from its goodness, but from the fact it enables its users to deny scientific status to those they don't like. It's a simple matter: fairly or not, you deny a hypothesis its falsifiability; or, once "falsified", you deny the opportunity to justify the falsification.
Is this ease of use that makes Popper's falsificationism useful to Popperians: it makes of them bouncers, judges. Take that away, and you may have unhappy villagers.
Or, well, like I said, that's my personal take. I'm no philosopher of science.