LINGUIST List 13.1348

Tue May 14 2002

Disc: Falsifiability vs. Usefulness

Editor for this issue: Karen Milligan <karenlinguistlist.org>


Directory

  1. Farzad Sharifian, Re: 13.1334, Disc: Falsifiability vs. Usefulness
  2. Ahmad R. Lotfi, RE: 13130:Disc. Falsifiability vs. usefulness
  3. Denis Bouchard, Falsifiability & Usefulness

Message 1: Re: 13.1334, Disc: Falsifiability vs. Usefulness

Date: Tue, 14 May 2002 09:49:41 +0800
From: Farzad Sharifian <f.sharifiancowan.edu.au>
Subject: Re: 13.1334, Disc: Falsifiability vs. Usefulness




I've seen the arguments but they have not been cogent enough. Popper's
demarcation criterion has worked very well in a lot of cases. And
above all, Popper's ideas largely influenced the way a lot of us now
think about science and scientific method.

What has happened is that when some scholars have made their theories
immune by making them non-falsifiable, then the community of
scientists have not taken those theories seriously anymore. Even if
"one simply finds no (or few, if Gale is correct) examples of
falsifiability playing a role in acknowledged advances in science",
which is definitely an oversimplification, still it doesn't harm the
LOGIC.

"Fuzzy logic" was for a number of decades a laughing stock before it
was taken seriously and applied to so many fields. Yes, during those
decades there was no example of fuzzy logic playing a role in
acknowledged advances in science, so does it mean that it was wrong?
Of course you might say it was not "useful" and yes it became useful
later on. What is absolutely useless at some stage may become quite
useful at some other stages.


Lastly, I wonder if this idea of 'usefulness' is really a novel
advancement in epistemology or just turning to layman terminology for
solving philosophical issues.


Regards
Farzad Sharifian, PhD
Center for Applied Language and Literacy Research
Edith Cowan University
Western Australia



Dan Everett wrote:

> Sharifian thinks that the problem I am having with falsifiability is
> because I have failed to see that Popper is concerned about 'empirical
> sciences' and the 'logic of scientific discovery'. In fact, I have
> already explained in previous postings why I think that dividing off
> the 'empirical sciences' from nonempirical work is not possible in
> Popper's framework (as Lakatos, inter alia, has argued at length). And
> as for the logic of scientific discovery, one simply finds no (or few,
> if Gale is correct) examples of falsifiability playing a role in
> acknowledged advances in science. So either science progresses
> illogically, or falsifiability is not part of its logic.
>
>


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Message 2: RE: 13130:Disc. Falsifiability vs. usefulness

Date: Mon, 13 May 2002 19:48:40 -0700 (PDT)
From: Ahmad R. Lotfi <arlotfiyahoo.com>
Subject: RE: 13130:Disc. Falsifiability vs. usefulness

Dan Everett wrote:

"[I]n the history of science ... cases where anyone ever claimed
to have had a theory falsified are so rare as to be aberrations
... . Therefore, we cannot merely invent hypothetical examples
to support falsifiability."

Firstly, Everett systematically confuses theories (which are
"remembered" well in history) with theoretical statements (which
are not necessarily that well-documented in the history of
sciences). A theoretical statement may be a mere hypothesis
expressed in the form of a strict universal statement in an
undergraduate thesis that says "All Xs are Y", e.g.
"Second-language learners still have access to Universal Grammar
(as specified in generative linguistics) in their acquisition of
a second language". We've got too many of these statements
falsified in our daily academic lives. If they're not documented
well in the history, it is not a point against falsifiability at
all. It just shows something about our historians' (good) taste.

Secondly, it's like saying "in the history of wars in the 20th
century, the use of nuclear weapons has been very rare.
Therefore, nuclear weapons play just a marginal role in our
international conflicts these days." As a matter of fact, we
don't hear many nuclear explosions in our wars simply because
we'are usually aware (thanks to God!)of the great danger of
playing with them. Similarly, in the history of science, the
examples of falsifying THEORIES are rare because the scientist
is usually conscious of the threat. As a result, it is usually
our hypotheses (still theoretical statements in nature) that are
falsified and rejected, sometimes before their very conception.
This usually makes our theories either "useful" (to me, working
in solving our scientific problems) or "immune to
falsifiability". The latter will be sooner or later shelved in a
dusty corner of the history of science as "useless" though never
truly rejected.

Regards,

Ahmad R. Lotfi


Ahmad R. Lotfi, Ph. D
Department of the English Language,
Azad University at Khorasgan Esfahan, IRAN.
Mail: arlotfiyahoo.com
http://www.geocities.com/arlotfi/lotfipage.html
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Message 3: Falsifiability & Usefulness

Date: Tue, 14 May 2002 08:56:40 +0000
From: Denis Bouchard <bouchard.denisuqam.ca>
Subject: Falsifiability & Usefulness

Dan Everett says that many linguists talk about falsifiability, but
that the notion of usefulness may be better suited for linguistic
research. In fact, isn't this just talk, and
don't linguists generally present what is the most useful
descriptive tool they have come up with? Moreover, isn't
this usefulness an impediment to the progress of linguist theory? For
example, suppose you assume a universal basic order
Specifier-Head-Complement (SHC) and you show that with SHC plus a
certain set of theoretical tools ST, you can derive all the possible
surface orders for all constructions in all languages, and rule out
all the ungrammatical orders. Then certainly you would say that SHC is
useful. Now someone comes along and shows that by assuming the basic
order Complement-Head-Specifier instead of SHC, and with exactly the
same set of tools ST, it is just as possible to derive the correct
surface order properties. Someone also shows that you can actually
obtain the same result by assuming ANY basic order plus ST. Has the
status of SHC changed with respect to usefulness? No, SHC is just as
useful as it was. In addition, someone shows that with SHC and ST,
for any language L, it is just as possible to derive anti-L, i.e., all
the grammatical sentences of anti-L are the ungrammatical sentences of
L, and the ungrammatical sentences of anti-L are the grammatical
sentences of L. SHC is still as useful as it was: SHC plus ST can
still describe the surface orders of all languages. In terms of
usefulness, nothing is wrong with this state of affairs. But can our
understanding of language improve significantly if we rely a lot on
usefulness in this way?

Denis Bouchard
Universite du Quebec a Montreal
		
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