Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 14, Issue 4, pp 481-504

First online:

The Use and Abuse of Sir Karl Popper

  • David L. HullAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy, Northwestern University

Rent the article at a discount

Rent now

* Final gross prices may vary according to local VAT.

Get Access


Karl Popper has been one of the few philosophers of sciences who has influenced scientists. I evaluate Popper's influence on our understanding of evolutionary theory from his earliest publications to the present. Popper concluded that three sorts of statements in evolutionary biology are not genuine laws of nature. I take him to be right on this score. Popper's later distinction between evolutionary theory as a metaphysical research program and as a scientific theory led more than one scientist to misunderstand his position on evolutionary theory as a scientific theory. In his later work Popper also introduced what he took to be “improvements” of evolutionary theory. Thus far these improvements have had almost no influence on evolutionary biology. I conclude by examining the influence of Popper on the reception of cladistic analysis.

cladistics evolutionary theory Lamarckism metaphysical research programs operationalism Popper stage laws tautology testability