Popper and Unification

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The unificationist account of explanation and the notion of ad hoc-ness as posited by Popper are very similar concepts, but there is a nuance between the two that is worth explaining. Although both notions seem to show why we choose certain explanatory theories over others, they differ in that the model of unification shows us what type of theory we should accept, while Popper’s notion of ad hoc-ness shows us what type of theory to reject. Together, these concepts help us better understand the explanatory model of unification which leads us to a better understanding of why we are inclined to accept certain scientific theories over others. In this paper, I will attempt to show that falsifying theories based on Popper’s ad hoc-ness criteria strengthens the idea of unification by giving people a more specific way of eliminating competing scientific theories in search of the most unified one. First, I will briefly describe the unificationist account of explanation, then I will explain the idea of ad hoc-ness as laid out by Popper, and finally I will show how ad hoc-ness can be used to strengthen the account of unification by means of increasing its objectivity and by providing simpler explanations.

To begin, the concept of unification is essentially the idea that scientific explanations should provide a unified account of a range of different phenomena. In other words, the best theories are those that can explain the most phenomena in the simplest way. This is why in the history of scientific explanation, we preferred Newton’s theory of motion over the more specific theories of Kepler and Galileo that preceded it. Because Newton’s theory was able to “unify” the observational data of his predecessors, as well as explain other...

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...ave to accept unless unification is further revised. Because as it stands, Popper’s idea of a new theory replacing the old is that it “corrects the old theory, so that it actually contradicts the old theory.” (Popper, p.16) This contradiction is what causes the winner-take-all problem because the lower explanation has been trumped by the general explanation which eliminates the lower theories ability to be explanatory.

In closing, Popper’s notion of ad hoc-ness is a nuanced idea that gives the unification model more objectivity and helps to give it more support. By giving us the criteria to determine how to reject theories, Popper’s notion of ad hoc-ness allows us to further understand an otherwise intuitive model. Although the notion of ad hoc explanations isn’t the silver bullet for the unification model, it helps to complement it and give it more depth.
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