FEYERABEND AS EDUCATOR

I explain in IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID? how, in the late 70s in Sydney, my philosophy department was dominated by the Althusserians and the Lacanians. My own speciality was philosophy of science, and I particularly admired the critique of dogmatic epistemologies contained in the Popperian and post-Popperian philosophies, especially in the epistemological anarchism of Paul Feyerabend.

I could not stand the new epistemological dogmatism and conformism that the prevailing Lacano-Althusserian synthesis brought. I became quite depressed, and came very close to dropping out. What helped me continue my studies was my deep reading of Feyerabend. This fidelity to Feyerabend allowed me to appreciate the ideas of Gilles Deleuze when I discovered his work, and to move to Paris to study his ideas.

On the relation between Feyerabend and Popper (and Kuhn), I hesitate a lot, as did Feyerabend himself. Sometimes I want to talk about Feyerabend’s ideas as if Popper had never existed. This would be justified, as Feyerabend himself claims that his basic ideas were obtained from other sources, before reading and meeting Popper.

Feyerabend sees Popper as double:

(1) as expressing some very satisfying, but not totally new, general ideas and perspectives on the absence of scientific method, and on the defence of realism tied to a notion of testability.These ideas are advanced as conjectures, rather than as foundational principles or dogmatic bases.

(2) as advancing some very specific, but not very satisfying, ideas no longer as conjectures, but as original inventions having a status of dogmas.

Feyerabend argues convincingly that the more interesting general ideas did not originate with Popper, but are to be found in the writings and the practice of philosopher-scientists, such as Ernst Mach, Albert Einstein, and Niels Bohr. Insofar as Popper develops his ideas in harmony with the pragmatic, flexible, historical approach espoused by these thinkers, Feyerabend is favourable. The rest is dross, that he disposes of in thoroughgoing critique.

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