Monday, May 16, 2011

Paul Feyerabend: Against Method

The modern cult of science has enshrined the "scientific method" as their foundational principle, in much the same way that Christians look to Jesus on the cross, and all that it implies for them.

But method supremacy over subjective thinking which emphasizes context and meaning is a tragic mistake, and one which was the central target of the critique of modern science offered by philosopher Paul Feyerabend.

People interested in moving forward into the 21st century, and new knowledge and discoveries, should acquaint themselves with Feyerabend's work - in particular, his classic treatise Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge.

An excerpt:
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? 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? "Is it not possible," asks Kierkegaard, "that my activity as an objective [or critico-rational] observer of nature will weaken my strength as a human being?" I suspect the answer to many of these questions is affirmative and I believe that a reform of the sciences that makes them more anarchic and more subjective (in Kierkegaard's sense) is urgently needed.
Feyerabend called for a separation of state and science, in much the same way that we have long had a separation of state and religion in the West. In doing so, he is spot on. The institutionalization of science, and the resulting rigidity of thought, has done much to impede what should have been even greater progress for humanity by now, in the same way that the institutionalization of spirituality and faith throughout human history has led to rigidity in belief, and a lack of knowledge.

Feyerabend wasn't "anti-science" - far from it. He was an articulate, thoughtful and passionate voice calling out for a revitalization and reform of science, in a way that would be accessible to everyone, and that would recognize the strengths of science, and its limitations. It is a science that will no longer just speak to people; rather, it will be of the people, and in doing so encourage greater and more widespread knowledge.
The way towards this aim is clear. A science that insists on possessing the only correct method and the only acceptable results is ideology and must be separated from the state, and especially from the process of education. One may teach it, but only to those who have decided to make this particular superstition their own. On the other hand, a science that has dropped such totalitarian pretensions is no longer independent and self-contained, and it can be taught in many different combinations (myth and modern cosmology might be one such combination)... Scientists will of course participate in governmental decisions, for everyone participates in such decisions. But they will not be given overriding authority. It is the vote of everyone concerned that decides fundamental issues such as the teaching methods used, or the truth of basic beliefs such as the theory of evolution, or the quantum theory, and not the authority of big-shots hiding behind a non-existing methodology. There is no need to fear that such a way of arranging society will lead to undesirable results. Science itself uses the method of ballot, discussion, vote, though without a clear grasp of its mechanism, and in a heavily biased way. But the rationality of our beliefs will certainly be considerably increased.
You can find a short excerpt from Feyerabend's Against Method here.

We ignore his wisdom, particularly his central thesis that science is not one thing but rather many, at our peril.

Paul Kimball


Justin R. said...

Very interesting, thanks.

Cj said...

Fascinating. Thanks

cmp said...

Yes, thanks for posting this.