The only way to learn
Keywords:Logic, Hume, Popper, Darwin, Evolutionist Epistemology, Skepticism, Empirism, experience
It is often held that, although Hume was right about the logical invalidity of induction, nonetheless we do learn by induction. Logically speaking our theories may be hypotheses, or conjectures, but psychologically they are generalizations that are suggested by, and even grounded in, our experience. Hume himself believed this. In opposition to this commonsense view of how we learn, Karl Popper maintained that induction is as psychologically bankrupt as it is logically bankrupt. Our knowledge is not based on experience. It consists of unsubstantiated conjectures, which experience may be called upon to refute. The growth of knowledge is not a process of instruction by the environment, but a Darwinian process of ‘blind variation and selective retention’. This topic can of course be treated empirically — though not by me. In this lecture I wish to examine some of Popper’s logical arguments against the possibility of induction as the way we learn, and to the conclusion that the method of trial and error is unavoidable. I shall, in particular, look at his claim that there is close kinship between Darwinism, both organic and philosophical, and what is called ‘situational logic’. It is my purpose to defend the view that, although highly indeterministic, evolutionary factors play a greater role in intellectual and cultural growth than it is now fashionable to admit. Evolution is not exclusively a matter of survival and reproduction.
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