How Popper's 'Three Worlds Theory' Resembles Moscovici's 'Social Representations Theory' But Why Moscovici's Social Psychology of Science Still Differs From Popper's Critical Approach

  • Peter Holtz Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien IWM (Knowledge Media Research Center) – Knowledge Construction Lab, Tübingen, Germany
Keywords: social representations, critical rationalism, three worlds theory, philosophy of science, psychology of science


This paper is to my best of knowledge the first to discuss similarities and differences

between Karl Popper’s ‘three worlds theory’ and Serge Moscovici’s ‘theory of social

representations’. Karl Popper maintained that to be subject to criticism, and hence to

falsification attempts and subsequent improvement, scientific theories must first be

formulated, disseminated, perceived, and understood by others. As a result, such a

theory becomes a partially autonomous object of world 3, the “world of products of the

human mind” in contrast to world 1, the “world of things”, and world 2, the “world of

mental states” (Popper, 1978, p. 144). Popper’s three worlds theory resembles

Moscovici’s social representations theory insofar as social representations / world 3

objects cannot be reduced to individual states of minds, are embedded in interactions

between people and objects, and are always rooted in previous representations /

knowledge. Hence, Popper – who was very skeptical of the usefulness of a ‘psychology 

of science’– did in fact employ elements of a ‘social’ social psychology of science in his

later works. Moscovici himself in turn may have failed to notice that to Popper science

does not take place within a separate ‘reified universe’ in his ‘Social Psychology of

Science’ (1993). Although to Popper science aims at increasing objectivity and

reification, it is still a part of the social world and the ‘consensual universe’.

Author Biography

Peter Holtz, Leibniz-Institut für Wissensmedien IWM (Knowledge Media Research Center) – Knowledge Construction Lab, Tübingen, Germany

PETER HOLTZ After holding post-doc positions at Linz (Austria), Jena (Germany) and at

Jacobs University Bremen (Germany), Peter Holtz is currently a researcher at the Leibniz-Institut

für Wissensmedien (Knowledge Media Research Center) in Tübingen, Germany. His research

focuses on the study of internet communities, psychological essentialism, political and religious

ideologies, public understanding of science, research on the ‘theory-practice-gap’, and the

philosophy of science.