## Origin of the idea that something can't be proved, only disproved

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Does anyone know if the idea that something can't be proved, only disproved has a specific origin? I often hear it and would like to make a reference to it in a term paper I'm writing. Is it from the null hypothesis?

I also take it that it applies to pretty much any belief, whether it's an untested hypothesis or a theory that has undergone a lot of scrutiny as to establish itself as fact, like evolution.

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Does anyone know if the idea that something can't be proved, only disproved has a specific origin?

It was brought to prominence in modern philosophy of science by Karl Popper, who proposed falsificationism. (I cannot recommend the latter wikipedia entry though.)

I also take it that it applies to pretty much any belief, whether it's an untested hypothesis or a theory that has undergone a lot of scrutiny as to establish itself as fact, like evolution.

It doesn't apply to every belief, but only to beliefs in the form of universally quantified statements, such as All As are X. According to Popper, real scientific hypotheses were exactly of this type. It obviously does not apply to beliefs in the form of singular existential statements, which can be verified.

Take a look at a nice blog entry about Karl Popper's typology of statements for a more detailed overview.

Lastly, Popper's idea that singular evidence has no bearing on the probability of a scientific hypothesis (known as corroboration) has been mostly rejected in today's philosophy of science. In actual science singular evidence has some kind of effect on the probability that the hypothesis is true or at least on our belief that the hypothesis is true (known as confirmation). Different applications of Bayesian accounts of confirmation are at the center of discussion in order to account for the rational structure of induction.

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It comes from Popper's work on falsification.

Popper's idea is supposed to apply to all inductive knowledge. For what it's worth, most philosophers of science (as opposed, maybe, to scientists with an interest in philosophy) take Popper's views on confirmation to be wrong.

Can´t agree on that. Sure it is accepted that the alternative he offers, namely his falsificationism, brings up some other problems, but still his criticism of induction and verificationism works pretty well. – Lukas – 2012-11-06T18:38:49.767

This is misleading: inductive (read, empirical) knowledge. "A table exists at place z at time t" constitutes empirical knowledge, but is certainly not inductive. Popper's critique applies to universally quantified statements only (which were, according to him, the only scientific hypotheses proper). – DBK – 2012-11-06T18:51:33.400

@DBK it was intended as an answer to the second part of the question. But yeah, I might be misleading. Thanks – Schiphol – 2012-11-06T20:33:20.700