The Critical Rationalist Translation Guide

In past posts, I’ve been building my argument around why Word Essentialism is always a rational mistake under Popperian epistemology. Popper himself explained this. I then did a series of posts giving an extended example of why arguing over definitions may stop the search for truth but will never enhance the search for truth. (Part 1, Part 2)

The one phrase that all Critical Rationalists seem to never have a problem with is the idea of something being “proved.” Brett Hall explains at length that to a Popperian the word “proved” does not mean “proven beyond doubt” but instead means something more like “follows from theory.”

The beauty of Brett Hall accepting this usage of the word ‘proved’ is that it now matches how most people (even non-Popperians) use the term most of the time anyhow.

Mat McGann in this tweet suggested building a similar Critical Rationalist dictionary of common phrases and how a Critical Rationalist might understand them. Here is my attempt at it:

I’m certain this is correctI’m certain enough for practical purposes
I’m seeking an ideal solution that is optimalI’m seeking the best solution that is most optimal out of the currently known options.
We learn from experience.Experience provides us opportunities to allow us to test and refine our theories and conjecture new ones due to problems we encounter.
I trust in evidence-based medicineI prefer medication that has been through random controlled trials and that made problematic the alternative theories that the positive effects came from the placebo effect or the body’s natural healing.
Using inductive reasoning, I can tell you the probability that Joe Biden will win the election.Using statistics, I can tell you the probability that Joe Biden will win the election.
I let the evidence speak for itselfI am offering an observation that I believe will make all known competing theories problematic.
This is settled scienceThis is a theory that has no known competitors.
I’m justified in my belief because this theory has been verifiedThis theory has no known competitors and through a critical test, the next best alternative was made problematic.
The facts show itThere are certain observations that make all known competitors problematic.
I believe…I hold…
This observation suggests this theory is correctThis observation leaves all competing theories we know of problematic.
I let the evidence speak for itselfI am choosing between theories based on the one that requires the fewest ad hoc explanations (i.e. has the fewest problems.)
The weight of the evidence suggests…Known observations make all known competing theories problematic by comparison.
The Critical Rationalist Translation Guide

Picking Your Words Carefully

However, Dennis and Scott pointed out to me that just because the above phrases can be understood within a Critical Rationalist framework, that doesn’t mean they are your best choice of words. Saying something like “The facts show…” does have a more authoritarian and inductivist connotation to it compared to “The reason that…”

This brings up an interesting point about Word Essentialism. Word Essentialism Arguments, as a philosophical error, applies primarily to other people, not to yourself. Correcting other people’s use of a word derails the conversation by going meta and more often than not you’ll be the one that is wrong because words do not have precise, non-contextual meanings that never shift over time. That is why correcting someone’s use of a word is always a bad argument.

But choosing your words carefully isn’t wrong. You can and should pick words that make your meaning as clear as possible and that may well mean picking words with less connotation towards bad philosophies. That may well mean avoiding all the above phrases when you’re striving for clarity.

2 Replies to “The Critical Rationalist Translation Guide”

  1. I agree with your clarification about the meaning of words we use in arguments. Often, persons like me who is not trained in philosophy find that understanding the jargon of philosophers’ discussion requires communication to and fro and many times it is observed that much effort is wasted simply to get the meaning in user’s mind correctly.
    The clarifications you have given are very close to the usage of our general conversation, where the assertive statements are used mostly to mean most probably with the assumption that the listener understands that and there is no need to explicitly adding these words.
    But I also understand the need to define the concepts to avoid misunderstandings as in science.

    1. For what it’s worth, I’m not trained in philosophy either. I don’t even, in general, consider myself interested in philosphy (other than Popper, of course.) I find talking to philosophers frustrating because they use weird terms and expect everyone else to follow their usage. So, yeah, I agree with you here.

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