The Logic of Scientific Discovery

By Karl R. Popper | Go to book overview

CHAPTER III
THEORIES

THE empirical sciences are systems of theories. The logic of scientific knowledge can therefore be described as a theory of theories.

Scientific theories are universal statements. Like all linguistic representations they are systems of signs or symbols. Thus I do not think it is helpful to express the difference between universal theories and singular statements by saying that the latter are 'concrete' whereas theories are merely symbolic formulae or symbolic schemata; for exactly the same may be said of even the most 'concrete' statements.*1

Theories are nets cast to catch what we call 'the world': to rationalize, to explain, and to master it. We endeavour to make the mesh ever finer and freer.


12. Causality, Explanation, and the Deduction of Predictions.

To give a causal explanation of an event means to deduce a statement which describes it, using as premises of the deduction one or more universal laws, together with certain singular statements, the initial conditions. For example, we can say that we have given a causal

____________________
*1
This is a critical allusion to a view which I later described as 'instrumentalism' and which was represented in Vienna by Mach, Wittgenstein, and Schlick (cf. notes *4 and 7 to section 4, and note 5 to section 27). It is the view that a theory is nothing but a tool or an instrument for prediction. I have analysed and criticized it in my papers "'A Note on Berkeley as a Precursor of Mach'", Brit. Journ. Philos. Science 6, 1953, pp. 26 ff.; "'Three Views Concerning Human Knowledge'", in Contemporary British Philosophy iii, 1956, edited by H. D. Lewis, pp. 355 ff.; and more fully in my Postscript, sections *11 to *15 and *19 to *26. My point of view is, briefly, that our ordinary language is full of theories; that observation is always observation in the light of theories; and that it is only the inductivist prejudice which leads people to think that there could be a phenomenal language, free of theories, and distinguishable from a 'theoretical language'; and lastly, that the theorist is interested in explanation as such, that is to say, in testable explanatory theories: applications and predictions interest him only for theoretical reasons--because they may be used as tests of theories.

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