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Science in a Free Society by Paul Feyerabend
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Science in a Free Society (edition 1978)

by Paul Feyerabend

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1402154,449 (3.38)1
No study in the philosophy of science created such controversy in the seventies as Paul Feyerabend's Against Method. In this work, Feyerabend reviews that controversy, and extends his critique beyond the problem of scientific rules and methods, to the social function and direction of science today. In the first part of the book, he launches a sustained and irreverent attack on the prestige of science in the West. The lofty authority of the "expert" claimed by scientists is, he argues, incompatible with any genuine democracy, and often merely serves to conceal entrenched prejudices and divided opinions with the scientific community itself. Feyerabend insists that these can and should be subjected to the arbitration of the lay population, whose closes interests they constantly affect--as struggles over atomic energy programs so powerfully attest. Calling for far greater diversity in the content of education to facilitate democratic decisions over such issues, Feyerabend recounts the origin and development of his own ideas--successively engaged by Brecht, Ehrenhaft, Popper, Mill and Lakatos--in a spirited intellectual self-portrait. Science in a Free Society is a striking intervention into one of the most topical debates in contemporary culture and politics.… (more)
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Title:Science in a Free Society
Authors:Paul Feyerabend
Info:NLB (1978), Hardcover, 224 pages
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Science in a Free Society by Paul Feyerabend

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Like his Against Method, Paul Feyerabend’s Science in a Free Society “has one aim: to remove obstacles intellectuals and specialists create for traditions different from their own and to prepare the removal of the specialists (scientists) themselves from the life centres of society” (pg. 7). He argues, “A free society is a society in which all traditions have equal rights and equal access to the centes of power (this differs from the customary definition where individuals have equal rights of access to positions defined by a special tradition – the tradition of Western Science and Rationalism)" (pg. 9). Feyerabend proposes to answer both what science is and what is so great about it (pg. 73).
Feyerabend writes, “In a free society there is room for many strange beliefs, doctrines, institutions. But the assumption of the inherent superiority of science has moved beyond science and has become an article of faith for almost everyone. Moreover, science is no longer a particular institution; it is now part of the basic fabric of democracy just as the Church was once part of the basic fabric of society” (pg. 77). Furthermore, “There is nothing in science or in any other ideology that makes them inherently liberating. Ideologies can deteriorate and become dogmatic religions (example: Marxism). They start deteriorating when they become successful, they turn into dogma the moment opposition is crushed: their triumph is their downfall. The development of science in the 19th and 20th centuries and especially after the Second World War is a good example. The very same enterprise that once gave man the ideas and the strength to free himself from the fears and the prejudices of a tyrannical religion now turns him into a slave of its interests” (pg. 75).
He continues, “There is hardly any difference between the members of a ‘primitive’ tribe who defend their laws because they are the laws of their gods, or of their ancestors and who spread these laws in the name of the tribe and a rationalist who appeals to ‘objective’ standards, except that the former know what they are doing while the latter does not” (pg. 82). Even when there is agreement, “Unanimity is often the result of a political decision: dissenters are suppressed, or remain silent to preserve the reputation of science as a source of trustworthy and almost infallible knowledge. On other occasions unanimity is the result of shared prejudices: positions are taken without detailed examination of the matter under review and are infused with the same authority that proceeds from detailed research” (pg. 88). In this way, “Every piece of knowledge contains valuable ingredients side by side with ideas that prevent the discovery of new things” (pg. 89).
He allows, “It is true that science has made marvelous contributions to our understanding of the world and that this understanding has led to even more marvelous practical achievements. It is also true that most rivals of science have by now either disappeared, or have been changed so that a conflict with science (and therefore the possibility of results that differ from the results of science) no longer arises” (pg. 101). Despite this conclusion, “This does not mean that the beaten rivals are without merit and that they have ceased to be capable of making a contribution to our knowledge, it only means that they have temporarily run out of steam. They may return and cause the defeat of their defeaters” (pg. 101). More to the point, “If science is praised because of its achievements, then myth must be praised a hundred times more fervently because its achievements were incomparable greater. The inventors of myth started culture while rationalists and scientists just changed it, and not always for the better” (pg. 104-105).
Feyerabend concludes, “A person trying to solve a problem whether in science or elsewhere must be given complete freedom and cannot be restricted by any demands, norms, however plausible they may seem to the logician or the philosopher who has thought them out in the privacy of his study. Norms and demands must be checked by research, not by appeal to theories of rationality” (pg. 117). ( )
  DarthDeverell | Sep 11, 2017 |
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No study in the philosophy of science created such controversy in the seventies as Paul Feyerabend's Against Method. In this work, Feyerabend reviews that controversy, and extends his critique beyond the problem of scientific rules and methods, to the social function and direction of science today. In the first part of the book, he launches a sustained and irreverent attack on the prestige of science in the West. The lofty authority of the "expert" claimed by scientists is, he argues, incompatible with any genuine democracy, and often merely serves to conceal entrenched prejudices and divided opinions with the scientific community itself. Feyerabend insists that these can and should be subjected to the arbitration of the lay population, whose closes interests they constantly affect--as struggles over atomic energy programs so powerfully attest. Calling for far greater diversity in the content of education to facilitate democratic decisions over such issues, Feyerabend recounts the origin and development of his own ideas--successively engaged by Brecht, Ehrenhaft, Popper, Mill and Lakatos--in a spirited intellectual self-portrait. Science in a Free Society is a striking intervention into one of the most topical debates in contemporary culture and politics.

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