Feyerabend and the anarchist theory of knowledge

amets 1456130739544 ametsen atzetik nabil hegan | 2010-01-15 05:32

- Paul Feyerabend (1924 – 1994)

- As he worked with Popper in the London School of Economics he was positively influenced by him in his first period: he thought epistemology isn't about describing science but about how science should function.

- Later in his career, by 60's, he was moving towards epistemological anarchy, what was mainly exposed in his most famous work, Against Method, published in 1975.

- According to Feyerabend, no method in the history of science has been successful, since none of them has lead, indeed, scientific activity.

- Besides, there is no way science to be understandable by means of some methodological rules, in the context of historical complexity.
- For example, rules such as adopting the most widely accepted theory or denying theories that are incompatible with generally accepted facts wouldn't have done possible most important scientific changes in history to happen.

- His critique is meant for rule giving methodologies, which means, methodologies that try to guide scientist work: scientists should not be obliged by any rule, so, in that sense “anything goes”.
- This is the only rule that doesn't constrain imagination and creativity, and therefore, the appearance of new hypothesis and theories: principle of proliferation.

In words of Godfrey Smith “Feyerabend's deepest conviction was that science is an aspect of human creativity”, thus, we could maybe understand it as a kind of art, another attempt to fill the gap between desire and ordinary communication.

- While for most philosophers Kuhn was a dangerous irrationalist, for Feyerabend was the contrary: he was maybe the only one on interpreting his intentions properly, as he meant to give a solid ground for science to be understood as a completely rational and logical epistemological process.

Of course Feyerabend saw his philosophy “as encouraging the worst trends in twentieth century science towards professionalization, narrow-mindedness, and exclusion of unorthodox ideas”.

- This defence of individual creativity and imagination leaded him to criticize also Kuhn's idea of paradigm. For him paradigms haven't got such a big control in normal science, since individual's creativity always prevails over scientific standards.

- Anyway, regarding to Kuhn we must say that not everything is disagreement; another important aspect of Feyerabend's analysis of science lays on incommensurability, which is similar to Kuhn's conception of this idea.
- Two (or more) rival theories are incommensurable if they are so extremely different that there is no way to compare them logically; the basis and concepts on those theories don't coincide, so they will be incommensurable.

- Nevertheless, there are, indeed, another ways to compare those theories, for example, confronting each one to a concrete situation and checking which one is the most valid in this case. However this would only let us choose between both in that unique situation.
- Ptolomeo's astronomical theory is still valid inside its own limits: we use it in our calendars, and although it has some maladjustments it's still useful.

- But if we have to choose the criteria to compare rival theories, we have the same problem: we just can't decide which criteria is better, it will depend, of course, in the context. Incommensurability leads, in the end, to a necessarily subjective aspect of science.

- So, again, “anything goes”. Feyerabend pointed out that many philosophers gave to science privileged status over other epistemological methods, without any argument; they understood science as the paradigm of rationality.
- But, continuing in this path of incommensurability, Feyerabend claims there's no decisive argument to believe in such status of science.

- Thus, Against Method denies the possibility of a method which will explain history of science and that makes possible to give preference to science opposite to other forms of knowledge.
- By this argument, Feyerabend defends the “humanitarian attitude”, based on Stuart Mill's concept of liberty.

- So, the institutionalization of science is incompatible with the “human attitude”. According to him, science should be studied as another historical fact, similar to fairy tales and myths, so that everyone will have enough information to reach a free decision.

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