THE FEYERABEND WARS: towards pluralist peace

A few remarks on Massimo Pigliucci’s 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. He constantly indicated his allegiance to a wider, non-monist and non-abstract, conception of reason.

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. As to astrology itself, Feyerabend did not care for it as a worldview and there is no evidence that he based his life on astrological principles.

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. He actively opposed “post-modern” relativism.

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.

Autobiographically speaking, I did a lot of research on Feyerabend’s ideas from 1972 to 1980. In 1980, looking for ways to take my pluralism further I came to Paris and attended seminars by Deleuze, Lyotard, Foucault and Serres. I was impressed by the convergence of their ideas with Feyerabend’s. I managed to meet Lyotard and show him my work on Feyerabend. He was enthusiastic about Feyerabend and encouraged me in my research. Serres too confirmed the convergence of Feyerabend’s ideas with his own.

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 is not a purely negativistic thinker. His positive recommendations can best be seen in his discussion of the ideas emerging out 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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