"Conjectures and Refutations"

"Conjectures and Refutations"

Friday, January 13, 2017

A note on methodology and one very popular 'fake' conjecture

"I can therefore gladly admit that falsificationists like myself much prefer an attempt to solve an interesting problem by a bold conjecture, even (and especially) if it soon turns out to be false, to any recital of a sequence of irrelevant truisms" (Karl Popper)

I will try, as far as possible, to draw from contemporary events for our pool of faux wisdoms. Sometimes old philosophical chestnuts will be introduced, but more often than not issues with a more contemporary flavor.

I have provided in the blog's sidebar some few good places (such as Reuters and Wikipedia widgets)  to locate, research and reformulate issues of the day (which are legion!), mostly for my own benefit but hoping also readers will access them as aids to their replies.

Let's take the hotly contested American presidential election as an example and see if presumed illegitimacy of a Trump win (taken here as a growing anti-GOP uprising) has earned the right to be called a reasonable 'conjecture'.

The outline of the case is clear and can be stated as a very general categorical proposition of the traditional type (using Popper's own notation):

A is b
C is d
All e are f
A is g

Now the same proposition translated into subject-predicate statements will look something like this:

Donald J. Trump is the president-elect of the United States
Mike Pence, the vice president-elect, ran as Trump's presidential running mate
All lawfully elected presidential and vice-presidential candidates  will be sworn into office on January 20th, 2017

Donald J. Trump and Mike Pence will be sworn into office on January 20th, 2017

The statements of the proposition can be seen as logical and not empirical content: in other words, conclusion follows consistently from well-formed premises whereas the claim of individual statements to conform to the facts (in this case, of the 2016 presidential campaign cycle) can be subject to 'tests' and therefore can call logical content into question. The more 'tests' such as these can be envisaged the stronger the proposition put forward. Attempting to delegitimize the 2016 presidential race will always take the critics into the arena of the less comfortable and less probable.

Is it not straightforwardly clear enough to Trump's enemies that (in form alone) the fight for the White House has been both legitimately contested and won? Do not the statements of the argument contain (in Popper's words) great explanatory power precisely because in contemporary America many things (such as ballot tampering, Electoral College defects, Russian interference) may act as empirical evidence to the contrary? Does not the logical form alone, and precisely because its strongest physical features have been tested and criticized rather extensively already, make it true though improbable?

Does not, in other words, the proposition's high degree of refutability (as media outlets and a great deal of liberal 'wisdom' daily reveal to us) just make it seem the most highly informative truth there is? In the end, we believe in a Trump presidency because it is improbable to think otherwise, that is, until the proposition that claims to correspond to the facts of the presidential race is subject to better tests.

By all accounts, Donald J. Trump will be the legitimate 45th President of the United States.

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