Feyerabend wanted us to « regard any clear and definite arrangement with suspicion ». Thus any attempt to put a simple label on his philosophy is bound to run into difficulties thrown up by the various expositions of his ideas that show not so much an evolution as a continuous variation on a background of ambiguities. Feyerabend often claimed that his views did not amount to a « philosophy », which would have been only another cartesian arrangement, a new « obfuscation ». Yet there is a stylistic coherence in his pronouncements and interventions, that can be grouped together in the ambiguous assemblage called « pluralism ».
One of the major ambiguities in Feyerabend’s pluralism is the complementarity between pluralism as a model and pluralism as a meta-model. In his early philosophy Feyerabend developed a pluralist methodology in the sense of a unitary model that applied to both the arts and the sciences and that included normative prescriptions such as to multiply alternatives (principle of proliferation). He recounts how various encounters led him to see that the concrete practice of scientific research and artistic creation could not be constrained by such abstract prescriptions. Pluralism then came to figure as a meta-model allowing us the freedom to follow and to combine or disrupt methods in an augmented field of non-normative potential prescriptions.
This complementarity of pluralism as model and as meta-model can be seen in Feyerabend’s treatment of Homeric polytheism and of Biblical exitential hermeneutics as both possible worldviews/forms of life and as meta-models indicating a type of attitude to all models that respects their plurality. Feyerabend describes Homer’s cosmology as that of an open world composed of events and processes in additive juxtaposition that occasionally coalesce to form aggregates and assemblages (the similarity to Deleuze and Guattari’s cosmology is obvious). This is what Feyerabend calls « cosmology A ». Its meta version is to be seen in Mach’s philosphy:
« There is a great similarity between this view and Mach’s cosmology except that the elements of the archaic world are recognizable physical and mental shapes and events while Mach’s elements are more abstract, they are as yet unkown aims of research, not its object. »
This Homeric cosmology (cosmology A) was virtually wiped out by the advent of a new cosmology (cosmology B) that finds exemplary expression in what Feyerabend calls « Platonism ». Here objects are no longer seen as additive multiplicities but as unitary essences underlying multiple appearances. Universal laws and abstract arguments come to be privileged and the notion of human identity is transformed. Whereas before a human being was an aggregate of the same type as the other aggregates of the world, containing no unified central « I », now in cosmolgy B human interiority is set of against the external objective world, and contains special internal « mental » events.
Feyerabend’s second meta-model is taken from the Biblical cosmology and seems to be in contradiction with the Homeric model. He does not give it a name, but by analogy we can call it « cosmology Z ». The key difference with cosmology A is that cosmology Z allows for a multiplicity of apparent, or rather « manifest » realities, but at the same time keeps to the possibility that « events conceal or hint at a hidden and perhaps inaccessible world ». All is dark, ambiguous, enigmatic, open to multiple interpretations. Feyerabend once again conceives this as an acceptable form of life, a possible model. But it is the meta version that occupies him in the later part of his life, in his evocation of an ineffable ultimate reality giving rise to a plurality of manifest realities. (Note: very little has been written on this side of Feyerabend’s philosophy. I can only recommend the excellent article and presentation of Ian Kidd on Feyerabend’s use of Pseudo-Denys and his exposition of what I am calling cosmology Z as meta-model).
Although the Homeric cosmology (cosmology A) and the Biblical cosmology (cosmology Z) are in many ways different, they share a common enemy: the hegemonic monist abstract « platonic » cosmology (cosmology B). Both give us useful suggestions for imroving our knowledge and enriching our lives in a pluralist context. Yet in Feyerbend’s thought they do not coalesce into a unified position, they are not convergent but remain complementary perspectives in Bohr’s sense, as each strictly excludes the other but both are necessary.