Manual Feyerabend: Philosophy, Science and Society (Key Contemporary Thinkers)

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Sri Lanka. Taiwan, ROC. Thought cannot now be viewed as a mechanical function of given objects as in empiricism ; nor can the activity of creative subjects be regarded as endowing the world with things as in idealism ; nor is any combination of the two possible. In short, it becomes necessary to distinguish clearly between the unchanging real objects that exist outside the scientific process and the changing cognitive objects that are produced within science as a function of scientific practice. Let me call the former intransitive and the latter transitive objects; the theoretical space in which to talk about them will accordingly become the intransitive and transitive dimensions respectively of the philosophy of science.

Philosophy of Science 10 - Against Method 1

I now want to put forward the following theses: Any adequate account of science depends upon the explicit recognition of the necessity for both, and the non-identity of the objects of, the intransitive and transitive dimensions. The history of philosophy is, on the other hand, characterized by persistent attempts to reduce one to the other.

These attempts are necessarily unsuccessful so that they result merely in the generation of an implicit or disguised ontology in the intransitive dimension or sociology in the transitive one. But the attempt to do so secures the dominance in philosophy of an empiricist ontology and an individualist sociology; and it is in this attempt and its results that the ideological value of classical philosophy lies.

An adequate account of science depends, by contrast, upon the development of an explicit non-empiricist ontology and a non-individualist conception of scientific activity or sociology, in the special sense of the word I am using here. Thus it may be the need expressed for certain foundations for knowledge that results in the establishment of the implicit empiricist ontology—a process covered by the collapse of the concept of an intransitive dimension in the philosophy of science that is, by the denial of the need for an ontology.

In response to the question posed by scepticism, knowledge is restricted to what is known for certain; it is then shown, in a phenomenalistic analysis of perception, that what is known in perception is certain; only perception gives knowledge of things principle of empiricism ; hence knowledge must be of what is given in perception.

Feyerabend then chose Popper as his supervisor instead, and went to study at the London School of Economics in In his autobiography, Feyerabend explains that during this time, he was influenced by Popper: "I had fallen for [Popper's ideas]". After that, Feyerabend returned to Vienna and was involved in various projects; a translation of Karl Popper's Open Society and its Enemies , hunting down manuscripts Popper had left in Vienna, a report on the development of the humanities in Austria , and several articles for an encyclopedia.

In , Feyerabend received his first academic appointment at the University of Bristol , where he gave lectures about the philosophy of science. During this time, he developed a critical view of science, which he later described as ' anarchistic ' or ' dadaistic ' to illustrate his rejection of the dogmatic use of rules, a position incompatible with the contemporary rationalistic culture in the philosophy of science.

Popper, Imre Lakatos with whom he planned to write a dialogue volume in which Lakatos would defend a rationalist view of science and Feyerabend would attack it. This planned joint publication was put to an end by Lakatos's sudden death in Against Method became a famous criticism of current philosophical views of science and provoked many reactions. In his autobiography, he reveals that the energy in his writings came at great cost to himself:. The depression stayed with me for over a year; it was like an animal, a well-defined, spatially localizable thing.

I would wake up, open my eyes, listen — Is it here or isn't? No sign of it. Perhaps it's asleep.

Perhaps it will leave me alone today. Carefully, very carefully, I get out of bed. All is quiet. I go to the kitchen, start breakfast.

Feyerabend and Bachelard: Two Philosophies of Science

Not a sound. I eat and watch the guests. Slowly the food fills my stomach and gives me strength. Now a quick excursion to the bathroom, and out for my morning walk — and here she is, my faithful depression: "Did you think you could leave without me? Following visiting professorships or their equivalent at University College London , Berlin , and Yale , he taught at the University of Auckland , New Zealand in and , always returning to California. He later enjoyed alternating between posts at ETH Zurich and Berkeley through the s but left Berkeley for good in October , first to Italy , then finally to Zurich.

After his retirement in , Feyerabend continued to publish frequent papers and worked on his autobiography. After a short period of suffering from a brain tumor , he died in at the Genolier Clinic, overlooking Lake Geneva, Switzerland. In his books Against Method and Science in a Free Society Feyerabend defended the idea that there are no methodological rules which are always used by scientists. He objected to any single prescriptive scientific method on the grounds that any such method would limit the activities of scientists, and hence restrict scientific progress.

In his view, science would benefit most from a "dose" of theoretical anarchism. He also thought that theoretical anarchism was desirable because it was more humanitarian than other systems of organization, by not imposing rigid rules on scientists. For is it not possible that science as we know it today, or a "search for the truth" in the style of traditional philosophy, will create a monster?

1. A Brief Chronology of Feyerabend's Life and Work

Is it not possible that an objective approach that frowns upon personal connections between the entities examined will harm people, turn them into miserable, unfriendly, self-righteous mechanisms without charm or humour? Against Method. Feyerabend's position was originally seen as radical in the philosophy of science, because it implies that philosophy can neither succeed in providing a general description of science, nor in devising a method for differentiating products of science from non-scientific entities like myths. Feyerabend's position also implies that philosophical guidelines should be ignored by scientists, if they are to aim for progress.

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To support his position that methodological rules generally do not contribute to scientific success, Feyerabend provides counterexamples to the claim that good science operates according to a certain fixed method. He took some examples of episodes in science that are generally regarded as indisputable instances of progress e. Moreover, he claimed that applying such rules in these historical situations would actually have prevented scientific revolution. One of the criteria for evaluating scientific theories that Feyerabend attacks is the consistency criterion. He points out that to insist that new theories be consistent with old theories gives an unreasonable advantage to the older theory.

He makes the logical point that being compatible with a defunct older theory does not increase the validity or truth of a new theory over an alternative covering the same content. That is, if one had to choose between two theories of equal explanatory power, to choose the one that is compatible with an older, falsified theory is to make an aesthetic , rather than a rational choice. The familiarity of such a theory might also make it more appealing to scientists, since they will not have to disregard as many cherished prejudices.

Hence, that theory can be said to have "an unfair advantage". Feyerabend was also critical of falsificationism. He argued that no interesting theory is ever consistent with all the relevant facts. Feyerabend uses several examples, but " renormalization " in quantum mechanics provides an example of his intentionally provocative style: "This procedure consists in crossing out the results of certain calculations and replacing them by a description of what is actually observed.

Feyerabend, Paul 1924-1994

Thus one admits, implicitly, that the theory is in trouble while formulating it in a manner suggesting that a new principle has been discovered" Against Method. Feyerabend is not advocating that scientists do not make use of renormalization or other ad hoc methods. Instead, he is arguing that such methods are essential to the progress of science for several reasons.

One of these reasons is that progress in science is uneven. For instance, in the time of Galileo , optical theory could not account for phenomena that were observed by means of telescopes. So, astronomers who used telescopic observation had to use ad hoc rules until they could justify their assumptions by means of optical theory.

Feyerabend was critical of any guideline that aimed to judge the quality of scientific theories by comparing them to known facts. He thought that previous theory might influence natural interpretations of observed phenomena. Scientists necessarily make implicit assumptions when comparing scientific theories to facts that they observe.

Such assumptions need to be changed in order to make the new theory compatible with observations. The main example of the influence of natural interpretations that Feyerabend provided was the tower argument. The tower argument was one of the main objections against the theory of a moving earth.


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Aristotelians assumed that the fact that a stone which is dropped from a tower lands directly beneath it shows that the earth is stationary. They thought that, if the earth moved while the stone was falling, the stone would have been "left behind". Objects would fall diagonally instead of vertically. Since this does not happen, Aristotelians thought that it was evident that the earth did not move. If one uses ancient theories of impulse and relative motion, the Copernican theory indeed appears to be falsified by the fact that objects fall vertically on earth.

John Preston

This observation required a new interpretation to make it compatible with Copernican theory. Galileo was able to make such a change about the nature of impulse and relative motion. Before such theories were articulated, Galileo had to make use of ad hoc methods and proceed counterinductively. So, "ad hoc" hypotheses actually have a positive function: they temporarily make a new theory compatible with facts until the theory to be defended can be supported by other theories. Feyerabend commented on the Galileo affair as follows:.

The church at the time of Galileo was much more faithful to reason than Galileo himself, and also took into consideration the ethical and social consequences of Galileo's doctrine. Its verdict against Galileo was rational and just, and revisionism can be legitimized solely for motives of political opportunism. Together these remarks sanction the introduction of theories that are inconsistent with well-established facts.