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Against Method: Outline of An Anarchistic…

Against Method: Outline of An Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge (1975)

by Paul Feyerabend

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Feyerabend intended this book as the initial salvo in what he and fellow philosopher of science Imre Lakatos had hoped to be an on-going exchange, until the latter's untimely death ended that possibility. What remains in Against Method reads as exactly that: a spirited argument directed at a spirited opponent. Lacking Lakatos's counter-arguments as balance, Feyerabend here reads as more provocative and idealistic than he may otherwise intend, and I believe this is important to realize before tackling his case.

Feyerabend's notoriety originates squarely in his controversial thoughts on science, which earned him the dubious title of "science's worst enemy". These positions are made explicit here, and those who take for granted the objectivity and certainty of science will find little comfort. Feyerabend's argument centers on the privileged position afforded to science in largely secular, modern nations, a position he considers unfounded and, taken to logical conclusion, dehumanizing. Science often attempts to punch above its weight, he argues, and this is not only misleading -- as "the scientific method" is itself a myth -- but politically dangerous as we are meant to give priority to science over other forms of inquiry given that science is "objective".

Against Method is a sustained attack on all of these premises, and Feyerabend's own "anarchistic" anything-goes, no-method methodology of scientific discovery. He clarifies in an early footnote that he is no political anarchist; his "anything goes" mantra is meant to apply to rational acquisition of knowledge, a position which he credits more to the surrealists of the Dada movement than to the Black Block.

I'm not entirely persuaded by his argument, at least certain facets of it, but I do largely agree with his position against any universal methodology of science. It seems clear to me that all attempts to "explain science" have, to date, been unsuccessful (usefulness of these accounts is up for debate of course but none are without problems). I also share his skepticism about the creep of science into public policy -- not because policy should not be guided by objectively-grounded facts, but exactly because there is no clear definition of "science". The messy range of fields we call "science" can achieve a degree of corroboration and acceptance that we can venture a tenuous claim of "certainty", but to claim that this applies to anything baring resemblance to this hazy ideal is, at best, rosy-eyed optimism. I believe Feyerabend is right to point out these limitations, and that we should all take a longer pause before we jump on board with ideas that are "established" by scientific research.

There are problems with Feyerabend's account, to be sure. As with so many works of philosophy the point is not to climb aboard with starry eyes, but to consider the arguments made and realize that perhaps there is something of use to take away and that perhaps your own certainties could stand further examination. In that respect, Against Method succeeds. ( )
1 vote chaosmogony | Apr 27, 2013 |
In praise of deviants - Also look at the Wisdom of Crowds and the Cult of the Amateur
  mdstarr | Sep 11, 2011 |
"Reality is Silly Putty." Paul Krassner ,1967 ( )
  quicksiva | Sep 29, 2010 |
Book Description: Verso Books; 1980. Cover slightly worn. Paperback, Ex-Library, with usual stamps markings, ,in good all-round condition, 339pages., 450grams
This review has been flagged by multiple users as abuse of the terms of service and is no longer displayed (show).
  Czrbr | Jun 7, 2010 |
Against Method by Paul Feyerabend (1993)
  leese | Nov 23, 2009 |
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Introduction:  Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise:  theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives.
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