THE FEYERABEND WARS: towards pluralist peace

A few remarks on Massimo Pigliucci’s new contribution to the discussion of Feyerabend’s pluralism. I agree with many of Pigliucci’s ideas but I wish to indicate a few points where I differ.

Feyerabend was not “anti-rationalist”, he was against scientistic methodological reason and more generally against abstract (or Platonistic) accounts of rationality.

On the question of pluralism: Feyerabend admits to having elaborated and defended a pluralist methodology in the sixties, but adds that he later rejected it as too abstract. In fact Feyerabend “pluralised” his own pluralism, turning it into a heuristic meta-attitude rather than a doctrine of method or of rationality.

Feyerabend’s defence of astrology is a reaction to an authoritarian dismissal. His aim is not to advocate in favour of astrology but to criticise a caricatural scientism’s attitude towards a caricature of astrology.

Feyerabend repeatedly said that his anarchism (or “pluralised” pluralism) was meant to make things more difficult for research, not easier. Whatever plasticity his pluralism led to was compensated by the need to confront the resistance of the real.

Nevertheless Feyerabend admits to having himself fallen into the trap of relativism on several occasions. He makes clear that he rejects epistemological relativism in the name of realism.

Note: I have detailed different phases in Feyerabend’s pluralism here.

I think Pigliucci’s reference to the “science wars” connection is a mistake. Feyerabend was a rationalist and a realist, not the anti-science caricature that the science warriors set up.

I have no idea who the “post-modern philosophers” that Feyerabend is associated with are supposed to be. I myself read Feyerabend in relation to Lyotard, Deleuze, Foucault, Serres, Latour and Stiegler – all pluralists and realists. Lyotard published a book THE POSTMODERN CONDITION in 1979 but his sophisticated idea of postmodernism is not what is usually meant when “postmodern” is used as a scare-word. He was by no means anti-science, nor are any of the other philosophers I mention.

Feyerabend’s positive recommendation can best be seen in his discussion of Wolfgang Pauli’s correspondence with Carl Jung in his search for a new “worldview” that would incorporate scientific and psychological “areas” of reality in a wider synthesis.

 

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