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Against Method (Fourth Edition) by Paul…

Against Method (Fourth Edition) (original 1975; edition 2010)

by Paul Feyerabend, Ian Hacking (Introduction)

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Title:Against Method (Fourth Edition)
Authors:Paul Feyerabend
Other authors:Ian Hacking (Introduction)
Info:Verso (2010), Edition: Fourth Edition, Paperback, 336 pages
Collections:Your library, printbooks
Tags:owned, read, substantially and meaningfully altered my thoughts

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


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Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
In Against Method, Paul Feyerabend argues, “Science must be protected from ideologies; and societies, especially democratic societies, must be protected from science” (pg. vii). He continues, “In a democracy scientific institutions, research programmes, and suggestions must therefore be subjected to public control, there must be a separation of state and science just as there is a separation between state and religious institutions, and science should be taught as one view among many and not as the one and only road to truth and reality” (pg. vii). His ultimate point is, “The events, procedures and results that constitute the sciences have no common structure, there are no elements that occur in every scientific investigation but are missing elsewhere” (pg. 1).
Looking at the big picture, Feyerabend writes, “It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory of rationality, rests on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings. To those who look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent on impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts, their craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision, ‘objectivity,’ ‘truth,’ it will become clear that there is only one principle that can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes” (pg. 18-19). Furthermore, “Science gives us theories of great beauty and sophistication. Modern science has developed mathematical structures which exceed anything that has existed so far in coherence generality and empirical success. But in order to achieve this miracle all the existing troubles had to be pushed into the relation between theory and fact, and had to be concealed, by ad hoc hypotheses, ad hoc approximation and other procedures” (pg. 49).
In this way, “There are situations when our most liberal judgements [sic] and our most liberal rules would have eliminated a point of view which we regard today as essential for science, and would not have permitted it to prevail – and such situations occur quite frequently. The ideas survived and they now are said to be in agreement with reason. They survived because prejudice, passion, conceit, errors, sheer pigheadedness, in short because all the elements that characterize the context of discovery, opposed the dictates of reason and because these irrational elements were permitted to have their way” (pg. 116). He cautions, “Neither logic nor experience can limit speculation and that outstanding researchers often transgressed widely accepted limits” (pg. 124). Furthermore, “Wherever we look, whatever examples we consider, we see that the principles of critical rationalism (take falsifications seriously; increase content; avoid ad hoc hypotheses; ‘be honest’ – whatever that means; and so on) and, a fortiori, the principles of logical empiricism (be precise; base your theories on measurements; avoid vague and untestable ideas; and so on), though practised in special areas, give an inadequate account of the past development of science as a whole and are liable to hinder it in the future” (pg. 157).
Feyerabend concludes, “Science is only one of the many instruments people invented to cope with their surroundings. It is not the only one, it is not infallible and it has become too powerful, too pushy, and too dangerous to be left on its own” (pg. 160). Additionally, “Science is not sacrosanct. There mere fact that it exists, is admired, has results is not sufficient for making it a measure of excellence” (pg. 124). Finally, “The cultures that call forth a certain reality and these realities themselves are never well defined. Cultures change, they interact with other cultures and the indefiniteness resulting therefrom is reflected in their worlds. This is what makes intercultural understanding and scientific change possible: potentially every culture is all cultures” (pg. 272). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Sep 11, 2017 |
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 |
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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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Nel suo attacco contro il metodo, Feyerabend si schiera contro la filosofia della scienza che, pur non avendo al suo attivo una sola scoperta importante, beneficia del boom della scienza e della posizione di potere da essa acquisita, pretendendo addirittura di imporle i canoni e le norme cui uniformarsi: Per progredire, la scienza ha bisogno della liberta' piu' assoluta; in questo senso e un'impresa essenzialmente anarchica, non riconoscendo alcun vincolo alla sua attivita', ne alcuna autorita' al di sopra di se, neppure la ragione. Le regole che i filosofi della scienza sono venuti astraendo dalla sua attivita' hanno creato entita' fittizie che non hanno piu nulla in comune con il concreto procedere della ricerca. Lo studio della storia della scienza dimostra che l'applicazione delle norme inventate dagli epistemologi avrebbe inibito e reso impossibile lo sviluppo scientifico: l'esempio di Galileo e della sua lotta a favore del copernicanesimo dimostra che in tale fase cruciale della storia della scienza hanno avuto un'importanza determinante qualita' non certo genuinamente "scientifiche", come la fantasia, l'astuzia, la retorica e la propaganda, e che la scienza non avrebbe potuto progredire se in varie circostanze la ragione non fosse stata ridotta al silenzio. In polemica con Popper e Lakatos, per Feyerabend il progresso intellettuale richiede che inventivita' e creativita' non vengano inibite ma possano svilupparsi e manifestarsi senza freni.
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