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Paul Karl Feyerabend (1924 – 1994)


Philosopher of science, professor of philosophy at the University of California, Berkeley, who became famous for his purportedly anarchistic view of science, his bitingly critical prose on the prevailing scientific philosophies, and his rejection of the existence of universal methodological rules.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
I want to defend society and its inhabitants from all ideologies, science included. All ideologies must be seen in perspective. One must not take them too seriously. One must read them like fairy-tales which have lots of interesting things to say but which also contain wicked lies, or like ethical prescriptions which may be useful rules of thumb but which are deadly when followed to the letter.
Feyerabend quotes
Even bold and revolutionary thinkers bow to the judgment of science. Kropotkin wants to break up all existing institutions, but he does not touch science. Ibsen goes very far in his critique of bourgeois society, but he retains science as a measure of truth. Levi Strauss has made us realize that Western thought is not the lonely peak of human achievement it was once thought to be, but he and his followers exclude science from their relativization of ideologies. Marx and Engels were convinced that science would aid the workers in their quest for mental and social liberation.
Feyerabend
'Truth', written 'in capital letters', is an orphan in this world, without power and influence... ['Reason'] cannot stand diverging opinions - it calls them 'lies'; it puts itself 'above' the real lives of human beings, demanding, in a way characteristic of all totalitarian ideologies, the right to rebuild the world from the height of 'what it should be', i.e. in accordance with its own 'invincible' precepts. It refuses to recognize the many ideas, actions, feelings, laws, institutions, racial features which separate one nation (culture, civilization) from another... The reason of ordinary people trying to create a better and safer world for themselves and their children (which is reason with a small 'r' and not Reason 'written in capital letters') has very little in common with these ignorant dreams of domination.




Feyerabend Paul Karl quotes
The purpose of education, so one would think, is to introduce the young into life,and that means: into the society where they are born and into the physical universe that surrounds the society. The method of education often consists in the teaching of some basic myth. The myth is available in various versions. More advanced versions may be taught by initiation rites which firmly implant them into the mind. Knowing the myth, the grown-up can explain almost everything (or else he can turn to experts for more detailed information). He is the master of Nature and of Society. He understands them both and he knows how to interact with them. However, he is not the master of the myth that guides his understanding.
Feyerabend Paul Karl
Is it not a fact that a learned physician is better equipped to diagnose and to cure an illness than a layman or the medicine-man of a primitive society? Is it not a fact that epidemics and dangerous individual diseases have disappeared only with the beginning of modern medicine? Must we not admit that technology has made tremendous advances since the rise of modern science? And are not the moon-shots a most and undeniable proof of its excellence? These are some of the questions which are thrown at the impudent wretch who dares to criticize the special positions of the sciences. The questions reach their polemical aim only if one assumes that the results of science which no one will deny have arisen without any help from non-scientific elements, and that they cannot be improved by an admixture of such elements either. "Unscientific" procedures such as the herbal lore of witches and cunning men, the astronomy of mystics, the treatment of the ill in primitive societies are totally without merit. Science alone gives us a useful astronomy, an effective medicine, a trustworthy technology. One must also assume that science owes its success to the correct method and not merely to a lucky accident. It was not a fortunate cosmological guess that led to progress, but the correct and cosmologically neutral handling of data. These are the assumptions we must make to give the questions the polemical force they are supposed to have. Not a single one of them stands up to closer examination.
Paul Karl Feyerabend quotes
A free society is a society in which all traditions have equal rights and equal access to the centers of power. A tradition receives these rights not because the importance the cash value, as it were) it has for outsiders but because it gives meaning to the lives of those who participate in it.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
Science is not sacrosanct. The mere fact that it exists, is admired, has results is not sufficient for making it a measure of excellence. Modern science arose from global objections against earlier views and rationalism itself, the idea that there are general rules and standards for conducting our affairs, affairs of knowledge included, arose from global objections to common sense.
Feyerabend Paul Karl quotes
[Responding to criticism from Dr. Hesse] Voodoo, Dr Hesse's piece de risistance', is case in point. Nobody knows it, everybody uses it as a paradigm of backwardness and confusion. And yet Voodoo has a firm though still not sufficiently understood material basis, and a study of its manifestations can be used to enrich, and perhaps even revise, our knowledge of physiology.
Feyerabend
The members of the Japanese enlightenment of the early 1870's , Fukuzawa among them, now reasoned as follows: Japan can keep its independence only if it becomes stronger. It can become stronger only with the help of science. It will use science effectively only if it does not just practice science but also believes in the underlying ideology. To many traditional Japanese this ideology-the scientific worldview- was barbaric. But, so the followers of Fukuzawa argued, it was necessary to adopt barbaric ways, to regard them as advanced, to introduce the whole of Western civilization in order to survive. Having been thus prepared, Japanese scientists soon branched out as their Western colleagues had done before and falsified the uniform ideology that had started the development. The lesson I draw from this sequence of events is that a uniform 'scientific view of the world' may be useful for people doing science... However, it is a disaster for outsiders(philosophers, fly-by-night mystics, prophets of a new age, the (educated public"), who, being undisturbed by the complexities of research, are liable to fall for the most simpleminded and most vapid tale.
Feyerabend Paul Karl
Naive falsificationism takes it for granted that the laws of nature are manifest an not hidden beneath disturbances of considerable magnitude. Empiricism takes it for granted that sense experience is a better mirror of the world than pure thought. Praise of argument takes it for granted that the artifices of Reason give better results than the unchecked play of our emotions. Such assumptions may be perfectly plausible and even true. Still, one should occasionally put them to a test. Putting them to a test means that we stop using the methodology associated with them, start doing science in a different way and see what happens.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory or 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 for 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.




Paul Karl Feyerabend quotes
One can show the following: given any rule, however "fundamental" or "necessary" for science, there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
Early Chinese thinkers had taken variety at face value. They had favored diversification and collected anomalies instead of trying to explain them away.
Feyerabend quotes
The attitude of the Church was not as dogmatic as is often assumed. Interpretations of Bible passages had been revised in the light of scientific research before. Everyone regarded the earth as spherical and as freely floating in space though the Bible tells a different story.
Feyerabend Paul Karl
The material which a scientist actually has at his disposal, his laws, his experimental results, his mathematical techniques, his epistemological prejudices, his attitude towards the absurd consequences of the theories which he accepts, is indeterminate in many ways, ambiguous, and never fully separated from the historical background. This material is always contaminated by principles which he does not know and which, if known, would be extremely hard to test.
Feyerabend Paul Karl quotes
Humane science must be adapted to the requirements of a balanced and rewarding life.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
There is no "scientific worldview" just as there is no uniform enterprise "science"- except in the minds of metaphysicians, school masters, and scientists blinded by the achievements of their own particular niche... There is no objective principle that could direct us away from the supermarket "religion" or the supermarket "art" toward the more modern, and much more expensive supermarket "science." Besides, the search for such guidance would be in conflict with the idea of individual responsibility which allegedly is an important ingredient of a "rational" or scientific age.
Paul Karl Feyerabend quotes
When Western civilization invaded the Near and Far East and what is now called the Third World it imposed its own ideas of a proper environment and a rewarding life. Doing this, it disrupted the delicate patterns of adaptation and created problems that had not existed before.
Paul Karl Feyerabend
The ideas survived and they can now be 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. To express it differently: Copernicanism and other "rational" views exist today only because reason was overruled at some time in their past. (The opposite is also true: witchcraft and other "irrational" views had ceased to be influential only because reason was overruled at some time in their past.)
Feyerabend Paul Karl
Many "educated citizens" take it for granted that reality is what scientists say it is and that other opinions may be recorded, but need not be taken seriously. But science offers not one story, it offers many; the stories clash and their relation to a story-independent "reality" is as problematic as the relation of the Homeric epics to an alleged "Homeric world."


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