FEYERABEND AND STUPIDITY: the struggle against clichés

For me Feyerabend is very much a living option, and I place him in the forefront of contemporary Continental Philosophers (Badiou, Latour, Laruelle, Stiegler) who are all, each in his own way, pluralists. This is why I defended Feyerabend and Latour in the so-called « Pluralism Wars » of January last year, where a certain number of philosophical bloggers tried to refute Bruno Latour’s (and Feyerabend’s) pluralism as being mere sophomoric relativism. I argued that both were trying to avoid the anti-realism (or even idealism) associated with relativism while conserving its pluralist aspects, by proposing a form of « pluralist realism ».

However, this does not imply that I must « support » Feyerabend in every detail. On this point, I fully endorse the ideal of hermeneutic pluralism, and the corresponding need to avoid hagiographic partisanship, Feyerabend’s writings contain « sophomoric » aspects (I am grateful to Matteo Collodel for this observation), which cannot all be explained away in terms of the pragmatic context (Feyerabend’s tactics of provocation or use of ad hominem arguments). Indeed, some of these naivetés persist unchanged over a long period of time, traversing many contexts. At the same time, much of Feyerabend’s work is a reflection on « stupidity », his own and that of others, and on the necessity of producing a philosophy that actively combats both inner and outer stupidity, without ever being able to eradicate it entirely.

An interesting example can be found in the passage in KILLING TIME where Feyerabend states:

« I was curious about Karl Popper, who ran the philosophy seminar. I had skimmed through his Logik der Forschung and had formed a mental image: he would be tall, thin, serious, slow and deliberate in his speaking. He was the very opposite » (71).

I think this is typical of what I love in Feyerabend’s autobiography. He gives us at the same time a factual narrative (to be confirmed or infirmed by historiographical research) and a philosophical lesson. In this case he is commenting on the role of clichés in our thinking on how we can form an erroneous mental image based on a collective simplificatory stereotype (a « sophomoric » image). Feyerabend is quite open here about his sophomoric prejudices and their possible clash with experience. We all have sophomoric stereotypes and reactions, and one of Feyerabend’s goals as a philosopher was to weaken their hold and to diminish their number.

For a concise presentation of the theme of stupidity in relation to ontological pluralism, see my paper: IS ONTOLOGY MAKING US STUPID?

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