Why advocate pancritical rationalism?

Document Type


Source Publication

Conference on Rethinking Popper

Publication Date



Department for Analytic Philosophy, Institute of Philosophy


Consider two individuals. One believes h dogmatically, and will never give it up. The other believes h just as strongly (i.e. has the same synchronic degree of belief), but is prepared to reconsider that belief in the light of criticism. Is the latter in a better position than the former? From an ordinary language point of view, it seems as if the advocate of (comprehensively) critical rationalism thinks so; and therefore also believes that the latter is ‘justified’ in believing h in a manner that the former is not. Why else recommend the critical attitude?

A possible answer is that the former individual is incapable of learning (in so far as h is concerned), whereas the latter clearly is so capable. But if we accept that one can learn something that is false, as (comprehensively) critical rationalists tend to, then this seems insufficient. Learning could lead one to false beliefs, rather than just true ones. It could also be fatal, rather than merely dangerous.

We endeavour to solve this problem. We argue that the advocate of critical rationalism may accept (but not be internally justified in accepting) that there is ‘justification’ in an externalist sense, specifically that certain procedures can track truth, and suggest that this recognition should inform practice; that one should try to determine which sources and methods are appropriate for various aspects of inquiry, and to what extent they are. We also point out that Popper seems to accept something similar, in one of his discussions concerning observation statements.

But if there is external justification, then why is a (comprehensively) critical rationalist better off than a dogmatist? We argue that the former enjoys better flexibility and adaptability, and is therefore in a superior position from an evolutionary perspective (ceteris paribus).

Recommended Citation

Rowbottom, D. P., & Bueno, O. (2007, September). Why advocate pancritical rationalism? Paper presented at the Conference on Rethinking Popper, Prague, Czech Republic. Abstract retrieved from http://old.flu.cas.cz/rethinkingpopper/abstractsl.html

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