Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Social Work Method: Karl Popper "Justified," Induction (Justification) Falsified-A Response to Eileen Munro

Academic journal article Journal of Social Work Education

Social Work Method: Karl Popper "Justified," Induction (Justification) Falsified-A Response to Eileen Munro

Article excerpt

EILEEN MUNRO'S ESSAY on the Winter 2001 Point/Counterpoint between Bruce Thyer and myself on the role of theory in the research of social work practice is welcomed. She makes many constructive comments, most of which either expand on individual points of agreement between Thyer and myself or selectively support some elements of our differing positions, and makes some arguments for the legitimacy of "intuitive reasoning" in social work practice. Finally and most importantly, she uses the oft-preferred approach of social work, consensus seeking, in an attempt to reconcile two alternate approaches, in this instance two irreconcilable logical procedures, induction and deduction.

I will concentrate on her discussion of Popper and the criticisms she seems to believe are telling of his approach. Munro (2002) asserts that these issues, which she labels "somewhat abstruse philosophical matters" (p. 461) are difficult to attend to in an article and therefore will only discuss their impact on social work, not their substance. I believe that just because something is regarded as difficult does not mean it is impossible. This particular state of affairs together with the fact that Professor Munro relies on these "matters" to drive her argument obligates me to address them because if they are in error their "practical implications for social work" (p. 461) may be as well.

Like many other academics who have discussed Popper in social work (e.g. Heineman-Pieper, Tyson, & Heineman-Pieper, 2002; Tyson, 1995), Munro appears to "rely" in an "inductive" fashion on secondary interpretations of Popper's views (in this case his philosophical critics) to declare Popper wrong, rather than testing the alleged decisive criticisms by attending closely to Popper's actual writings. She uses his direct words only twice in her essay. Munro (2002) states that "[f]or most scientists and philosophers of science, induction is seen as necessary and the implication of Hume's argument is that the products of induction--scientific theories--are fallible" (p. 466).

I believe along with Popper, regardless of the claims of certain "authorities" in science and the philosophy of science, that the result of Hume's argument instead is to eliminate induction, naive or sophisticated, as a possible logical method. The Popperian argument claims that formal inductive reasoning as articulated by Francis Bacon for instance (for a description see Gomory, 2001a, p. 30), not the vague lay notion of reasoning from the particular to the general, cannot humanly be done. First, no theory-free observations are ever possible, both for physiological and logical reasons, and second, reasoning from the particular to the general never can give us reliable, correct knowledge because we have no way of knowing if some time in the future counterexamples to our current "very reliable" knowledge will not arise, making ephemeral all that seemed so reliable, substantial, and valid. So, theory permeates and always must precede "observation," making scientific investigation a deductive procedure. Inductive reasoning is a myth. I argued that point earlier (Gomory, 2001a, pp. 28-34). If Munro disagrees with that analysis it would have been important to present the counter argument, which she does not do.

In describing Popper's fallibilism (critical rationalism), she suggests that "in this enterprise [to eliminate induction], he is attempting to prescribe not describe science since scientists themselves do talk of theories being more or less probable, of being supported by the evidence" (Munro, 2002, p. 466). She errs. What Munro is really describing is how some scientists talk about what they believe they are doing when they are doing science, not how science in fact grows (the actual method by which new and better explanations are arrived at). Popper, in presenting his method of critical testing through trial and error elimination of falsified results, is offering his hypothesis of what method is logically and empirically better at arriving at scientific explanations and is not referring to the perceived opinions of experts about that process. …

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