[1975] Against method

  title={Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge},
  author={Feyerabend, P.},

In openlibrary.

My highlights: https://ia600501.us.archive.org/14/items/elopio-kindle-highlights/Against_Method_Outline_of_an_Anarchistic_Theory_of%20-%20Notebook.html

“Facts” come from negotiations between different parties and the final product - the published report - is influenced by physical events, dataprocessors, compromises, exhaustion, lack of money, national pride and so on.

The imposition of “rational” or “scientific” procedures, though occasionally beneficial (removal of some parasites and infectious diseases), can lead to serious material and spiritual problems.

The events, procedures and results that constitute the sciences have no common structure. Procedures that paid off in the past may create havoc when imposed on the future. The moves that advance it and the standards that define what counts as an advance are not always known to the movers.

The success of “science” cannot be used as an argument for treating as yet unsolved problems in a standardized way. “Non- scientific” procedures cannot be pushed aside by argument.

“Rationalism”, that uses a frozen image of science to terrorize people unfamiliar with its practice.

There can be many different kinds of science.

Western science now reigns supreme all over the globe; however, the reason was not insight in its “inherent rationality” but power play. Western science so far has created the most efficient instruments of death.

The only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes. There is no idea, however ancient and absurd, that is not capable of improving our knowledge.

The first telescopic observations of the sky are indistinct, indeterminate, contradictory and in conflict with what everyone can see with his unaided eyes. Copernicanism and other essential ingredients of modern science survived only because reason was frequently overruled in their past.

Science is neither a single tradition, nor the best tradition there is, except for people who have become accustomed to its presence, its benefits and its disadvantages.

The revolutionary class [i.e. the class of those who want to change either a part of society such as science, or society as a whole] must be able to master all forms or aspects of social activity without exception [it must be able to understand, and to apply, not only one particular methodology, but any methodology, and any variation thereof it can imagine].

The attempt to increase liberty, to lead a full and rewarding life, and the corresponding attempt to discover the secrets of nature and of man, entails, therefore, the rejection of all universal standards and of all rigid traditions.

The passion gives rise to specific behaviour which in tum creates the circumstances and the ideas necessary for analysing and explaining the process, for making it “rational”.

Try to improve rather than discard the views that have failed in the competition. Each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth that is part of the collection forcing the others into greater articulation and all of them contributing, via this process of competition, to the development of our consciousness.

How can we analyse the terms in which we habitually express our most simple and straightforward observations, and reveal their presuppositions? We cannot discover it from the inside. We need a dream world in order to discover the features of the real world we think we inhabit.

The consistency condition which demands that new hypotheses agree with accepted theories is unreasonable because it preserves the older theory, and not the better theory.

When a new view is proposed it faces a hostile audience and excellent reasons are needed to gain for it an even moderately fair hearing. The reasons are produced, but they are often disregarded or laughed out of court, and unhappiness is the fate of the bold inventors. But new generations, being interested in new things, become curious; they consider the reasons, pursue them further and groups of researchers initiate detailed studies. The studies may lead to surprising successes (they also raise lots of difficulties).

There comes then a moment when the theory is no longer an esoteric discussion topic for advanced seminars and conferences, but enters the public domain. There are introductory texts, popularizations; examination questions start dealing with problems to be solved in its terms. Scientists from distant fields and philosophers, trying to show off, drop a hint here and there, and this often quite uninformed desire to be on the right side is taken as a further sign of the importance of the theory.

Any view and any practice that has been around for some time has achievements. Whose achievements are better or more important and this question cannot be answered for there are no realistic alternatives to provide a point of comparison.

Theories are abandoned and superseded by more fashionable accounts long before they have had an opportunity to show their virtues.

Ancient doctrines and ‘primitive’ myths appear strange and nonsensical only because the information they contain is either not known, or is distorted by philologists or anthropologists unfamiliar with the simplest physical, medical or astronomical knowledge. A great country with great traditions is subjected to Western domination and is exploited in the customary way. A new generation recognizes or thinks it recognizes the material and intellectual superiority of the West and traces it back to science. Science is imported, taught, and pushes aside all traditional elements. Scientific chauvinism triumphs: “What is compatible with science should live, what is not compatible with science, should die”

The demand to admit only those theories which are consistent with the available and accepted facts again leaves us without any theory.

Methodological rules speak of “theories”, “observations” and “experimental results” as if these were well- defined objects whose properties are easy to evaluate and which are understood in the same way by all scientists.

The new natural interpretations constitute a new and highly abstract observation language. They are introduced and concealed so that one fails to notice the change that has taken place (method of anamnesis).

Galileo uses propaganda. He uses psychological tricks in addition to whatever intellectual reasons he has to offer. Galileo wants to persuade us that no change has taken place, that the second conceptual system is already universally known, even though it is not universally used. We have the impression that this readiness was in us all the time, although it took some effort to make it conscious.

The first telescopic observations of the sky are indistinct, indeterminate, contradictory and in conflict with what everyone can see with his unaided eyes. The practice of telescopic observation and acquaintance with the new telescopic reports changed not only what was seen through the telescope, but also what was seen with the naked eye.

Science is a complex and heterogeneous historical process which contains vague and incoherent anticipations of future ideologies side by side with highly sophisticated theoretical systems and ancient and petrified forms of thought.

It is advisable to let one’s inclinations go against reason in any circumstances, for it makes life less constrained and science may profit from it. Our chances to progress may be obstructed by our desire to be rational.

Today most researchers gain a reputation, a salary and a pension by being associated with a university and/ or a research laboratory. This involves certain conditions such as an ability to work in teams, a willingness to subordinate one’s ideas to those of a team leader, a harmony between one’s ways of doing science and those of the rest of the profession, a certain style, a way of presenting the evidence - and so on.

Neither the rules, nor the principles, nor even the facts are sacrosanct. We may therefore change them, create new facts and new grammatical rules, and see what happens once these rules are available and have become familiar.

The trial of Galileo was one of many trials. It had no special features except perhaps that Galileo was treated rather mildly, despite his lies and attempts at deception. The Inquisition started to examine the matter. Experts (qualificatores) were ordered to give an opinion about two statements which contained a more or less correct account of the Copernican doctrine. On the first point the experts declared the doctrine to be “foolish and absurd in philosophy” or, to use modern terms, they declared it to be unscientific. On the second point, the social (ethical) implications, the experts declared the Copernican doctrine to be “formally heretical”. Scripture is an important boundary condition of human existence and, therefore, of research. Church was not ready to change just because somebody had produced some vague guesses. It wanted proof— scientific proof in scientific matters.

Galileo was advised to teach Copernicus as a hypothesis; he was forbidden to teach it as a truth.

I believe that a reform of the sciences that makes them more anarchic and more subjective (in Kierkegaard’s sense) is urgently needed.

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.

Scientific results and the scientific ethos (if there is such a thing) are simply too thin a foundation for a life worth living.

Special problems arise with foundations that distribute money and want to do this in a just and reasonable way. Justice seems to demand that the allocation of funds be carried out on the basis of standards which do not change from one applicant to the next and which reflect the intellectual situation in the fields to be supported.

Separation of state and science. 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.

I recommend to put science in its place as an interesting but by no means exclusive form of knowledge that has many advantages but also many drawbacks:

The inventor of a new worldview (and the philosopher of science who tries to understand his procedure) must be able to talk nonsense until the amount of nonsense created by him and his friends is big enough to give sense to all its parts.

Madness turns into sanity provided it is sufficiently rich and sufficiently regular to function as the basis of a new worldview.

They can keep science; they can keep reason; they cannot keep both.

We don’t know the region, we cannot say what will work in it. To advance we must either enter the region, or start making conjectures about it. We enter the region by articulating unusual intellectual, social, emotional tendencies, no matter how strange they may seem when viewed through the spectacles of established theories or standards.

Scientists keep complaining about the scientific illiteracy of the general public and that by the “general public” they mean the Western middle class, not Bolivian peasants (for example), we have to conclude that the popularity of science is a very doubtful matter indeed.

What about practical advantages? The answer is that “science” sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t. Some sciences (economic theory, for example) are in a pretty sorry shape. Others are sufficiently mobile to tum disaster into triumph.

When Western Civilization invaded what is now called the Third World it imposed its own ideas of a proper environment and a rewarding life. Equality meant that the members of different races and cultures now had the wonderful chance to participate in the white man’s manias, they had the chance to participate in his science, his technology, his medicine, his politics.

It is conceited to assume that one has solutions for people whose lives one does not share and whose problems one does not know.