FEYERABEND AGAINST SCHOOL PHILOSOPHY

Feyerabend uses most often a dialogical method, although he used to complain that this was often a one-sided dialogue. This was because many of the his philosophical reviewers were what he called “illiterate” or “stupid”, that is to say their arguments exemplified a dogmatic and decontextualised image of thought conjugated with a disindividuated academic professionalism.

Fortunately, not all his dialogues were so one-sided. In his encounters with interlocutors Feyerabend tends to function like a zen master, trying to get people to change their attitude, to get them to “sense chaos” where they perceive “an orderly arrangement of well behaved things and processes” (cf. his LAST LETTER).

A very instructive example of this approach can be seen in Feyerabend’s correspondence on military intelligence networks with Isaac Ben-Israel, over a 2 year period stretching from September 1988 to October 1990.

Though Feyerabend mainly refers to the philosophy of science, which was his domain of specialisation for many long years, he gives sporadic indications that his remarks have a more general scope, and that they apply to to all “school philosophies”, not just to recent epistemology and philosophy of science. So it is possible to find sketched out an overview of Feyerabend’s ideas on ontology in this epistolary dialogue.

Feyerabend begins with general considerations of academic or “school” philosophy as a useless detour and a hindrance to thought, comparing it unfavourably to a more “naive” unacademic critical approach (Feyerabed’s first letter, L1: p5-6)? He goes on to consider in a little more detail what an unacademic critical philosophy would look like (L2: p11-14), proceeds to plead for the “non-demarcation” of the sciences and the arts-humanities” and for the need to see epistemology and ontology as parts of politics (L3: p21-23).

This discussion culminates in L4- 5 (p31-33) with a sketch of Feyerabend’s own views on ontology. This is an amazing document, as the dialogue takes Feyerabend into a domain that he has not discussed before (intelligence networks) and permits him to give a concise yet progressive exposition of his later ideas, while conserving their “fruitful imprecision”.

Feyerabend tells us that ontological critique, or the detour through ontology, is strictly unnecessary, and that a more open and less technical approach is possible. He discusses various figurations of that unacademic approach: the educated layman, discoverers and generals, certain Kenyan tribes, a lawyer interrogating experts, the Homeric worldview, his own minimalist ontology. The advantages he cites of such an unacademic approach are:

1) ability to “work in partly closed surroundings” where there is a “flow of information in some direction, not in others” (p5)

2) action that is sufficiently complex to “fit in” to the complexity of our practices (p11) and of the real world (p12)

3) ability to work without a fixed “theoretical framework”, to “work outside well-defined frames” (p22), to break up frameworks and to rearrange the pieces as the circumstances demand, to not be limited by the “undue constraints” inherent to any particular framework (p13)

4) ability to work not just outside the traditional prejudices of a particular domain (p5) but outside the boundaries between domains, such as the putative boundary between the arts and the sciences (p21)

5) an awareness of the political origins and consequences of seemingly apolitical academic subjects: ontology “without politics is incomplete and arbitrary” (p22).

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