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Against method: Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge

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Philoaophia VoL 6 No. 1 Pp. 165.191 March 19'76
AGAINST METHOD: OUTLINE OF AN ANARCHISTIC THEORY
OF KNOWLEDGE, by Paul K. Feyerabend, London: New Left
Books 1975, 339 pp.
JOSEPH AGASSI*
It is
common subterfuge
of those who
deceive
the gullible
with magic arts, or at least
who want to render such people credulous in general,
to appeal to the scientists' confession of their
ignorance.
Kant, Religion Within the Lirm'ts
of Reason Alone, Book two, final note,
italics
Kant's.
How do you read a book which extols lies? Do you at least
admire its author for his excessive honesty and take literally what
he says? Or do you consider him a mere con-man? Con-man, I am
afraid, is what our author thinks Galileo was, different words
though he uses (he does call Galileo a mountebank (p. 106n), to
wit, a charlatan, and he does mock at the advocates of full
truthfulness in preference to thrilling cheating; the choice between
these two might pose a serious difficulty, I must admit, except
that I find cheating such a bore). Our author quotes a license from
the Philosophers' Pope Himself, Immanuel Kant the First, no less,
a blank permission to knowingly use poor arguments in defense of
a good cause. And he expressed the - sincere? - wish to be
remembered (not as a Prussian philosopher failing at a game of
clowning by being too ~erious but) as a lightfooted charmer;
"flippant" is his word. He wants, of course, to charm Philosophy
-
Newton said she was a harsh mistress, you remember - and
make her reveal her charms. Though he cannot carry out his
design to the end, he declares some of his imitators might. This is
how he cons his readers; with false promises.
I confess all this is my bias. I confess I was incensed by the
disregard to Galileo's conscientious devotion, good faith, and high
"Paper read at the Mannheim philosophy Seminar in June 19"/5. I am grate-
ful to all its members, especially Helmut Spinner, for a very lively discussion.
165
JOSEPH AGASSI
standards (indeed his very creation of the high standard of no
mumbo-jumbo (opening-of his first Dialogue); no wonder Feyera-
bend cheats just here). Yet Feyerabend's cheap story of Galileo
has marvellous material and an excellent moral. Clearly, on this
Feyerabend is right: had Galileo tried to record and discuss all the
difficulties which Feyerabend mock-accuses him of having con-
cealed, he would remain impotent for ever. Does this mean, as
Feyerabend suggests, that Galileo worried about none of the diffi-
culties7 Is the choice only between the happy-go-hicky and the
no-go?
This the crux of the matter. Feyerabend is against all rules
and all regulations, against Law-and-order of any sort. Anything
goes, he says. He sounds super-revolutionary, in politics as well as
in methodology; he also practically equates the two and makes
Lenin the greatest methodologist of them all (p. 17n and else-
where). He means Herbert Marcuse, of course, but he says Lenin.
For my part, I wish to make my stand clear before the start of
this review. We, the true revolutionaries in matters scientific,
should beware of ultra-revolutionaries (Left-wing deviants, in
Lenin's jargon) no less than of compromisers (muddleheads and
right-wing deviants, in Lenin's jargon), because the very excessive
demands of the ultra-revolutionist can easily render the endeavour
quite impotent ;rod thus allow the status quo ante to stay quo
ante: ff the revolution means to bring back Voodoo - see below
- then perhaps the status quo is not so bad. Feyerabend only
plays the clown; he is not the clown; what he really is I cannot
say; he may just happen to be a defender of the Established Order.
Feyerabend is against all method and for as much and as
complete liberty as possible, he says. I shall later argue that this is
not the fact, but let us accept what he says as true for the time
being. He has predecessors in aesthetics (John Cage) and in politics
(Danny the Red), but scarcely in the philosophy of science. I say
scarcely, since he hints that he may have one, and he mentions
one. The hint concerns Ludwig Boltzmann, who has allegedly
anticipated Sir Karl Popper; and this anticipation is perhaps a
Good Thing perhaps a Bad Thing. I do not see how anyone can
decide the matter before Feyerabend himself makes up his mind
and decides whether his admiration or his loathing of Sir Karl
Popper have the upper hand. The predecessor mentioned is John
Stuart Mill. Lest this upset the reader, who is bound to be at least
remotely familiar with Mill's staunch defense of a method, indeed
of the inductive method itself, I should at once stress that all
inductivists are Bad Guys but Mill of On Liberty is decidedly a
Good Guy. And the reader may wonder, at least so it seems to
me, what does Feyerabend do with Mill's Logic while talking of
his On Liberty. Feyerabend hints: Logic is the fruit of Mill's own
166
CRITICAL STUDIES
labors, and
On Liberty
really belongs to the influence which
Harriet Taylor had on him. The hint, of course, will not do at all.
There is no reason to think that the lady every swayed his opinion
radically. Did Harriet convince him, one might ask, that inductiv-
ism is an error and intellectual anarchism is correct? What exactly
did he or she say on scientific method in this most remarkable and
first manifesto of anarchistic methodology and how come this was
overlooked?
The thesis of Mill's - or Harriet Taylor's, ff Feyerabend
would insist -
On Liberty
is bluntly declared in Chapter 1. It is
political: no interference is allowed except in self-protection. As
we shall see, Feyerabend's ideal is totalitarian China, and so he
obviously rejects this thesis. In Chapter 2 Mill or Taylor recom-
mends freedom of thought on the ground of fallibilism. This, to
continue the report, may be contested on the ground that one
opinion may be certain enough. Certain enough an opinion indeed
may be, admits Mill, but only because attempts at refuting it have
failed, whereas forbidding opposition may be the prevention of
tests and thus the weakening of the very ground for the certainty
that is used against the opposition. And he offers an example. "If
even the Newtonian philosophy were not permitted to be ques-
tioned, mankind could not feel as complete assurance of its truth
as they now do."
I do not quite know how to proceed. I feel that the above
quotation makes it amply clear that Mill's
On Liberty
was not so
very out of line with his
Logic,
yet I refuse to declare victory over
Feyerabend because I do myself feel that there is a difference, be
it even of a mere nuance, between these two books; and I feel
that the difference is precious. Query: could this difference be due
to the influence which Harriet had on Mill? Perhaps, but not
necessarily so. We have a complete parallel here with at least one
other - indeed many, but let me stick to one - great in ductivist
liberal, David Hume, who likewise showed no sensitivity to the
discrepancy between inductive authority and liberalism. Of Hume's
inductivism I need not say much. Suffice it if I remind the reader
that though he found induction unfounded, he refused to deny it
its authority even though this authority remained but the tyranny
of habit. Yet in his admirable essay "Of the Rise and Progress of
the Arts and Sciences" Hume expresses practically the same views
and sentiments as cited above from Mill's
On Liberty.
And, as we
all know, there was no Harriet Taylor in Hume's life.
But I still refuse to declare a victory. Fallibilism is not
enough. Perhaps the magic word is not fallibilism but proliferation.
Or, as Feyerabend says, anything goes; for, he says this is his
thesis. And though Hume's already mentioned essay praises prolife-
ration (as well as his "Of Civil Liberty" which, however, is only
167
JOSEPH AGASSI
economic and political and so not exactly on our topic, which is
methodology), we may wonder if this was not a mere aside with
him. But we have, just made to order, a better example, namely
that of William James, and one which has been elaborated enough
in Ralph Barton Perry's impressive life of James. For, Perry was
struck by the tragic quality of the conflict between James' strictest
inductivism and his ardent liberal plea for proliferation - much
more liberal than Hume or Mill, incidentally. And, as we all know,
there was no Harriet Taylor in William James's life either.
So much for Feyerabend's ascription of his world-shaking
thesis to the influence of Harriet Taylor. But I am not done yet
with Feyerabend's nonsense about John Stuart Mill. Feyerabend
does not even raise the question I have discussed, namely, how
come Mill, the severe author of
Logic,
the defender of law and
order, also wrote friendly anarchistic
On Liberty;
and so,
a for-
tiori,
he does not answer it; and so,
a fortiori,
he does not answer
it by ascribing the benefits of
On Liberty
to the influence of
Harriet Taylor. What he does is append a note (p. 48) to his claim
that the separations between history, philosophy, science and non-
scielace, all vanish, saying "An account and a truly humanitarian
defence of this position can be found in J.S. Mill's
On Liberty.
Popper's philosophy.., is but a pale reflection of Mill's." The
reader who is familiar with either author may gasp: neither ever
defended "this position", insisting as they did, each in his own
way, on the importance of demarcating science from superstition,
for example, quite contrary to our voodoo-enthusiastic author. But
our author proceeds in a mood indulgent towards Popper immedi-
ately after exposing the inferiority of his philosophy as compared
with Mill's: "We can understand its peculiarities when we consider
(a) the background of logical positivism" - here we may notice
for once that Feyerabend does not think Popper's is the very
worst twentieth century philosophy . "(b) the unrelenting puri-
tanism of its author (and most of his followers)" - I am gratified
to see in this volume a hint at the fact that I exist: but for the
word "most" just quoted I would have begun to doubt my own
existence; the reader, however, will be less sensitive to Feyera-
bend's near-oversight of my own existence than to Feyerabend's
near-oversight of Mill's puritanism which is quite legendary, of
course, but Feyerabend is prepared for him with the last conside-
ration - "and when [(c)] we remember the influence of Harriet
Taylor on Mill's life and his philosophy. There is no Harriet Taylor
in Popper's life." Really, I do not know ff this last sentence is a
censure of Lady Popper, whose hospitality he and I enjoyed
together more than once; it really may be nothing more than a
mere confession of failure on the part of our author who may feel
he could but did not free his erstwhile teacher of puritanism and
168
CRITICAL STUDIES
other constraints. "The.foregoing argument should have made it
clear", continues Feyerabend, "that I regard proliferation not just
as an 'external catalyst' of progress.., but as an essential part of
it."
So much in response to a few lines on page 48, where Mill's
hberalism is so forcefully praised; yet on page 47 I read, "nor is
political interference rejected", meaning the Chinese Communist
imposition of acupuncture on the modern hospitals in China.
Feyerabend speaks (p. 50) of "the revival of traditional medicine
in Communist China" and I shall do him the courtesy of assuming
that he does not know that in most of the vast Chinese country-
side traditional medicine never died and modern medicine was
hardly heard of and its practioners suffered from the Communist
take-over more than other portions of the population (being large-
ly foreign and/or missionary, of course).
If anything goes, then, of course tyranny goes too, and then
there is an end to anarchism. The author takes up the political
matter later on, and the reference to Chinese state intervention is
here a mere preparation. Here he studies the question intellectual-
ly: is there any idea which is passe? No, says he. And he quotes
Mary B. Hesse's criticism of his view. She says, she can hardly
imagine he would recommend the preference of Aristotle or of
Voodoo over modern science. The reader will forgive me if I skip
Aristotle. Voodoo, says Feyerabend, (p. 50), is Dr. Hesse's
piece
de resistance,
but "nobody knows it... Voodoo has a firm though
still not sufficiently understood material basis, and a study of its
manifestations can be used to enrich, and perhaps even to revise,
our knowledge of physiology." I do not know whether his treat-
ment of Hesse is cheaper than his treatment of Popper. She says,
he will not recommend Voodoo. He says, we know little of its
"material basis". This is a piece of Voodoo - see motto to this
essay. Feyerabend adds a footnote with a few references: two to
IAvi-Strauss who never advocated the return to Voodoo and who
has nothing to say of the "material basis" of Voodoo, except
perhaps in the sense that Voodoo does exist and does have a
material aspect and a social aspect and so on and so forth.
IAvi-Strauss, ot e course, concerns himself with the intellectual as-
pect of every social phenomenon, Voodoo included, but he never
declares "the science of the concrete", i.e. primitive thinking,
comparable to science and so he is no stick to beat Hesse with.
Our author's other three references are, indeed, to physiology, two
to Voodoo physiology, and one to one phenomenon called Voo-
doo death, even though not in the least peculiar to Voodoo. It is
the fact or alleged fact that a coupling of strong fear and deep
sense of despair may, and reportedly indeed once did, cause death.
How this relates to Hesse's criticism I cannot imagine.
169
JOSEPH AGASSI
I go back to On Liberty as Feyerabend advises his reader to
do in the end of the chapter at hand (Chapter 8). The pamphlet,
as I say, is political, not methodological. It only touches on
science when attacking the illiberal who uses science as a justifica-
tion of political oppression, and in this, to repeat, it belongs to a
long and venerable tradition - from Spinoza to Russell, I suppose,
but I should also mention Polanyi and Popper here. I wish to
quote one sentence from Mill. "As mankind improve, the number
of doctrines which are no longer disputed or doubted will be
constantly on the increase: and the well-being of mankind may
almost be measured by the number and gravity of the truths
which have reached the point of being uncontested." This seems
to me sufficient evidence that were Mill the judge between the
Feyerabends and the Hesses, then the Hesses would have the day
- as they still do. How Feyerabend can prefer this oldfashioned
inductivism (while siding with Voodoo!) over Popper's refutation-
ism would puzzle one, until one remembers that in Feyerabend's
view anything goes, including total anarchy and including dis-
guising an inductivist like Mill to make him look hostile to Hesse.
Anything goes, and now we go to pages 146-147, where we
find a note on Marx, Lenin, Trotsky, amd Mao. The note is too
hilarious for a full analysis, but let me mention something about
this most remarkable note. The note is appended to this text:
"Many of the conflicts and contradictions which occur in science
are due to this heterogeneity of the material, to this 'unevenness'
of the historical development, as a Marxist would say, and they
have no immediate theoretical significance." What is at stake here
is a plethora of topics and problems. Contradictions indeed occur
in science between new ideas and old ones, and something has got
to give. For an example Feyerabend mentions the fact that Coper-
nicanism conflicted with older views of inertia and Galileo had to
remedy the situation. Indeed, I find admirable his discussion of
what Kuhn calls, somewhat metaphorically, the Gestalt switch that
is a scientific revolution; Feyerabend does bring the switch so
much to life and he makes us admire Galileo's boldness all the
more. But why this pooh-pooh? Why has this "no immediate
theoretical significance"? Answer: In Marxism there are primary
processes and secondary ones that depend on them and are also at
times out of phase (i.e. secondary effects can precede their pri-
mary causes), yet without thereby refuting Marxism. This, of
course, is a cheap transition from contradiction between theories,
old and new, to the interplay between primary and secondary
processes in Marxist philosophy. Moreover, thesr primary and
secondary processes may be conflicts, and the word in Marxism
for conflicts is "contradictions;" in the text just quoted Feyera-
bend speaks of "the conflicts and contradictions which occur in
170
CRITICAL STUDIES
science" meaning contradictions proper; but just as some social
conflicts are of little theoretical concern for Marxists so some
contradictions are declared by Feyerabend to be of "no immediate
theoretical significance"; such as Galileo's worry about squaring
Copernicanism with inertia.
The note quotes Marx to say that he permits the material base
and the socio-cultural superstructure to be out of phase somewhat.
Trotsky is quoted to repeat this, Marx's Phase Law. Why quote
Trotsky though he adds nothing here? In order to let you that he
is a Good Guy or in order to show that a Good Guy says so? I do
not know. And "See also Lenin", who also endorsed Marx's Phase
Law, I presume, "concerning the fact that multiple causes of an
event may be out of phase and have an effect only when they
occur together." And see also, I should add, Descartes' remark to
the effect that two plus two equal four, and Danny the Red's
claim that fun is fun. The link between all this and Marx's Law
evades me. The European bourgoisie, quotes Feyerabend from
Lenin, are backward. Tu L tut. "But all young Asia grows a mighty
democratic movement, spreading and gaining in strength." In or
out of phase? When? "All young Asia"! Ban-zai! "For this very
interesting situation, which deserves to be exploited for the philo-
sophy of science," says unabashed Feyerabend, see Meyer on
Lenin and Althusser on Marx. I do not think that all the years of
my personal and professional contact with him and all my detailed
familiarity with his detailed writings, to boot, could prepare me
for the fact that in his books Althusser is a Good Guy rather than
a Bad Guy. Why? Where have I failed? "The philosophical back-
ground is splendidly explained in Mao Tse-Tung's essay
On Contra-
diction (...
especially section IV)." The "especially" is a gentle
coaxing to read the whole of the brilliant essay of the Philosopher
King - or should I say, the Poet Chairman? - which has nothing
to do with the discussion of things being in or out of phase.
Section IV, however, does. It says, - oh, yes! I am going to tell
you, and if you do not much care about it you are at liberty to
skip this paragraph, or the whole of this essay; I promise I shall
take no offence at all; feeling a slight obligation to tell you
something about Feyerabend's scholarship, I shall ruefully do it as
best as I know how, and please forgive my heavy-handedness -
there are major contradictions and minor ones, and these differ
from the essential and apparent ones. Thus, essential is the contra-
diction between capitalist and worker, but, say, under an imperial -
ist attack local forces may join and consequently the major contr-
adiction will be between colonizer and colonized. At each phase,
says Mao's Law, one conflict plays the leading role. I do not deny
that Mao's Law does not conflict with Marxism-Leninism; but it
does not follow from it; nor does it help us predict when which of
171
JOSEPH AGASSI
the existing contradictions will become major. Back to Mao, and
only one familiar with the very specific peculiarities of Chinese
Communist propaganda for internal consumption, especially of the
older days, will take this in his stride: there are contradictions,
says Mao, between little knowledge of Marx's texts and the much
knowledge of them which is to be achieved through much com-
mendable labor of love. And now comes, at last, Feyerabend's
point, Marx's Law. Some people think that the changeability of
phase between base and superstructure refutes dialectical material-
ism; but it refutes only mechanistic materialism. When we notice
what is principal in a conflict, says Mao, the problem vanishes.
What connects Marx's Phase Law with Mao's Law, Mao does not
tell. And this is how "the philosophical background is splendidly
explained." Let a thousand flowers bloom!
Feyerabend's thesis is, anything goes. His proof is easy: I say,
you must agree that I may be right or else you are a bloody
dogmatist; if you say I may be right, then, since all I say is,
Voodoo may be right, Voodoo may be right. (The possibly pos-
sible is possible, t ) And so you have conceded my point. On the
other hand, you may be wrong; hence you are. Q.E.D.
Check! What remains as a loose end in this splendid proof is
the bloody dogmatist. This is why politics must enter the picture,
I suppose. Even some of Feyerabend's best friends are bloody
dogmatists: This volume is dedicated to, and was planned to be
written in collaboration with, lmre Lakatos who was, alas! a
mafioso (p. 210) and a sheer terrorist (pp. 181, 200). Parenthetic-
ally, I really do not know whether this was meant as a compli-
ment or as censure; nor do I know whether Lakatos took this as a
censure, perhaps as a censure which made him decide, as he did,
to disengage: he loved to be called a terrorist, but strictly in
private: in public he greatly chafed when he was called names that
he did not think helped the cause. Anyway, as we have seen,
Chairman Mao's terror was not rejected. Is science dogmatic and
terroristic or not? Yes, says Feyerabend, and refers his readers to
Thomas S. Kuhn (p. 298). Does he like it? Is primitive thought
better? It seems that not: the same development as that which can
be seen in J. yon Neumann's bullying work on quantum mechan-
ics, we are told, explicitly, also occurs in Nupe sand divination and
other allegedly primitive modes of thought. Do not believe me:
read note 23 to chapter 5 on pages 64-65. See also pages 296-297.
And so, science is a dogmatic venture and its regulars are terror-
ized by the yon Neumanns. And I am glad to hear that the spell
von Neumann had cast on Feyerabend is broken. But Voodoo is a
dogmatic venture, too, I presume, where its regulars can even be
terrorised to Voodoo death, i.e. killed by psychological means, by
some Voodoo big chief. Where is the little guy to go? Two
172
CRITICAL STUDIES
answers. First, - or last: last two pages - anyone can go any-
where he likes, but no coercion, please! Second, and this is the
theme of the last chapter, when state and science collude there is
too much terror, but when the Chinese government forced science
to use acupuncture, there were excellent results (pp. 305-306).
Similarly, it is excellent to have both Catholicism and Protestant-
ism, and any one who does not like the former can leave and join
the latter "instead of ruining it by such inane changes as mass in
the vernacular" (p. 308, final paragraph of the book!). Become a
Protestant in Communist China? Not on your life! But this does
not matter. Feyerabend can live without Chinese Catholics or
Chinese Protestants. The limit to what even a Feyerabend can
tolerate is, however, Catholic mass in the vernacular, fiat-footed
rationalism (p. 277n), contemporary philosophy of science which
is "essentially unscientific and sterile since ahistorical" (p. 146n),
and so on. Not bad for "a dadaist [who] would not hurt a fly"
(p. 2In). On the whole, I must admit, the hate blasts are at times
a bit too much.
Perhaps the book should be dismissed as a bad joke. After all,
it both claims that you cannot understand anything separately and
explains things separately; it claims that two competing theories,
whether both scientific or one scientific, one not, are both in a
contradiction with each other and incommensurable; it claims that
no empirical evidence would have made Einstein change his views
without ever examining his repeated and persistent confessions of
empiricism; finally it is a book Against Method which says, on p.
252, "that the anthropological method is the correct method for
studying the structure of science (and, for that matter, of any
other form of life)" (meaning by "the anthropoligical method", if
anything at all, something akin to the classical British method,
long ago exploded by I.C. Jarvie).
Yet the book is provocative. It contains all that the author
can say in favor of non-scientific knowledge, it tries to criticize
much popular mythology about science and some practices that
should not occur. It is annoying but full of delights too. It looks
as if the author tries to be impish and get away with anything. I
confess my sympathy is with the author, and this review is simply
an expression of regret over the loss of an ally to the forces of
irresponsibility and irrationalism.
The book contains references and allusions to any kind of
field of study possible (within the limits of the author's field of
knowledge and erudition, of course, but the field is quite broad),
to all sorts of social sciences and artistic and historical events; but
there is no reference to Nazism, Fascism, or even to the Spanish
civil-war, not to mention racism. He does say that it is not the
state interference but the totalitarian state interference that was
173
JOSEPH AGASSI
objectionable in the case of Lysenko (p. 306). (He does not
explain how Communist China is different from Russia, but let
this ride.) And he does speak of one who advocates (enlightened)
self-interest as "a modern Frankenstein" (p. 188n). And he calls
Lakotos a law-and-order philosopher. But how can one say any-
thing goes without a single reference to theories of racial supre-
macy? Of course, Feyerabend may protest that he ,would not
hurt a fly"; but as he defends the Voodoo witches because they
bloody well would cause Voodoo death, why not defend, say, the
genteel racism of the learned Dr. Jensen, or of the sophisticated
Enoch Powell, or the witty antisemitism of crafty Wilhelm Busch?
Perhaps because antisemitism and racism may go too far and reach
Dachau and Buchenwald? But then anything goes only if it goes
not too far. And who can tell? The scientists? The Nupe sand
diviner? Paul K. Feyerabend? What a pity. What a real loss. The
only true cause, the cause of all liberty, including the liberty to
search for truth despite all silly rules and regulations, has lost a
brilliant champion and the cause of Voodoo has won a champion
for whom it has no use.
There is no doubt that Feyerabend still has the master's
touch. His Chapter l0 is a masterpiece. Partly it is so thanks to
Vasco Ronchi who evidently moved him greatly - in this case he
even breaks his own rule and makes a friendly and generous
acknowledgement (p. 125n). Yet the chapter goes far beyond
Ronchi - it also shows great erudition, clarity, and the absence of
teutonic humor. One page is particularly moving - p. 126, where
all the difficulties of telescopy, physical, psychological, and philo-
sophical, collude. "I still remember my disappointment when,
having a reflector with an alleged linear magnification of about
150, I found the moon was only about five times enlarged, and
situated quite close to the ocular (1937)." I find this confession
very moving, l do not know how old he was in 1937, but I know
he was still a minor when he joined the German army in World
War II; in 1937 Austria was no kind place for a lonely youth
whose scientific escapades met, one might imagine, with little or
no understanding for his disappointments - not evenfrom high-
school science teachers whose minds were elsewhere anyway. All
this might explain a lot of the feeling shown in the present expos6
of the view of science as pretty-pretty. I wonder if it is a mere
accident that the same page on which we have the confession is
also the (seemingly?) most erudite, including, as it does, reference
to a manuscript letter, in the Gregorian University in Rome, by
the very gentleman who received a telescope from Galileo and gave
it to Kepler. Also, the page contains a scathing attack on the
Jesuits who succumbed to Galileo too quickly - Galileo promised
magnification of about 30; but he could not provide even that
174
CRITICAL STUDIES
much - as well as an attack on the modern Catholic scholar who
approves of them. To endorse Galileo's observations as factual
only because of "their regularity and their intersubjectivity" is to
forget all about mirages and rainbows and microscopic sense illu-
sions and "the phenomena of witchcraft
(every
woman reported
an incubus to have an ice-cold member)". "Every
woman"?
"Every
woman"? Which witch reported an encounter with an
incubus and which did not? Even the regularity of rainbows made
them more real, and mirages likewise became more real when and
only when they became regular: we can now specify and repro-
duce the conditions under which rainbows or mirages occur. But
we could never do so with conditions under which a woman will
report an encounter with an incubus, let alone the fine details. Or
is this a teutonic private joke that I am missing?
I must grant that much: it is hard to ignore the nonsense and
center on the valuable material in this book. Yet valuable material
is there to enjoy and really benefit from. What a mess any
scientific situation really is when seen from close quarters is hard
to believe not only because of the pretty-pretty reports. I think
any study of selenology before and after the first moon landing,
any study made from close-quarters that is, will show even a
bigger mess; and will make us admire the venture all the more.
And Feyerabend suggests - or do I read too much into his text?
-
that a Gestalt-switch often occurs when the normal and the
anomalous switch places. I think this is true. My instance
(To-
wards an Historiography of Science,
p. 43) is very easy to state:
whereas for Stahl the normal combustion was of charcoal, which
almost left no ashes, for Lavoisier the normal was of metal, whose
ashes are heavier than the original metal; whereas the one was
troubled by the other's instance, the other was troubled by the
former's - and overcame his trouble! But Feyeraberrd's example -
end of chapter 12 - from Galileo is more intricate, interesting,
valuable. His conclusion that the great thinkers of the past were
right to conceal - if conceal is what they did - difficulties may
be a challenge; his recommendation that we go on doing so is just
absurd. But again I chafe instead of ending with a praise. I think I
should say that we are now mature enough to be able to try not
to sweep our difficulties under the carpet, and this will make us
more accomodating to young bright experimentors who come to
us with some obscure disappointments. This, I think, should ap-
peal to Feyerabend when he is in his friendly humanitarian mood.
The heart of the book is Galileo's a'stronomy. From then on it
is both mopping-up and redundancies, including the discussion
with Lakatos, which is less comprehensible than Lakatos himself,
and a defence of Chinese totalitarianism and more. Yet till the end
the volume contains nice rid-bits. 1 should mention one item more.
175
JOSEPH AGASSI
Chapter 17, which is quite remarkable, has no reference or
allusion to Galileo and studies perception theory and its appli-
cation to art appreciation, notices that much of one's picture of
the world, or rules of seeing, cannot be conscious except after a
long study, and that one of these rules is the rule of irrelevance
(p. 237). This sheds much light on Galileo's supposed acts of
deception and brings art and science much closer together than
hitherto owned. It should much delight Feyerabend himself, but
regrettably he does not make the connection.
Lest this might sound as if I too follow Lakatos and Feyera-
bend to Polanyi's fashionable reactionary camp, let me say this.
Not only do I deny what they all affirm, namely that science is a
church like any, or worse, or better; also I deny, this time with
Feyerabend, that there is such a thing as personal knowledge, or
that learning the visual language required for empirical science
renders scientific knowledge personal knowledge. For, personal
knowledge is supposedly that expert knowledge that artists cannot
articulate, yet they transmit it to apprentices; it is thus distinct
from the foreign language, dead or alive, which one can learn in
evening classes, by correspondence, etc. And, I suggest, visual
language, and even the language of art, and any other, need not be
so elitistic as. Polanyi or Kuhn or Lakatos suggests. But all this is
an aside, as is Feyerabend's attack on esotericism. Indeed, were he
of the opinion that Galileo could not explain his personal know-
ledge, he would hardly have been in position to call him a
mountebank. Yet, is Voodoo not esoteric?
In addition to quite a few interesting and uninteresting things
which do and do not fall into pattern, what does this book say?
That at times we all cheat, that we all say silly things now and
then, etc. True enough. That therefore even the stupidest liar may
say something worthwhile. True enough. So what? Should we all
listen to any stupid liar? Should we aim to be stupid liars? Should
we commend Voodoo? Should the U.S. Federal Government emu-
late the wise government of the Chinese People's Republic and
impose folk medicine on government hospitals and sponsor Voo-
doo sessions in Federal City University? Should State colleges and
Universities teach astrology? If Feyerabend says yes, he is a knave
and a fool. If he says no, then he repudiates much that makes this
book what it is. I do have the suspicion that he will waffle, that
he merely cons his reader into a cheap fantasy, where science and
Voodoo are both legit, and where all dreams come true, even
horror dreams, but all ends well.
What is my verdict? In my opinion for what it is worth, does
Foyerabend get away with murder? I think, yes. This is why I
wanted to review Against Method and this is why I have decided
to publish this review despite all my vacillations and misgivings
176
CRITICAL STUDIES
and dislike of his violence and vulgarity: I find enough in the
book deserving the reader's attention. Feyerabend hints he is not
going to continue on a similar venture. Perhaps he had to get so
much rubbish out of his system so as to be able to start afresh. I
hope he can now become the benign, flippant, exciting scholar
that he so much wants to be.
My very best wishes to him, then.
Boston University
Boston, Mass. 02215
USA
and
Tel Aviv University
Tel Aviv, Israel
APPENDIX
Editorial Remark: For the benefit of our readers and with
the
consent of Professor Agassi, whose review of Professor Feyera-
bend's book "Against Method" appears in the preceding pages,
Professor Feyerabend was asked to comment on that review.
The Feyerabend-Agassi correspondence, including comments
and replies, follows. - AK
Berkeley, July 15, 1975
Dear Joske,
There are three things which never fail to amaze me when
reading reviews of my book: the disregard for argument, the
violence of the reaction, the general impression I seem to make on
my readers, and especially on 'rationalists',
As I see it; my book is a longwinded and rather pedestrian
attempt to criticise certain ideas about science and rationality, to
reveal the idols behind the ideas, and to put them in their proper
place. Not being as blinded by slogans as my rationalist critics
seem to be I investigate, and I report the results of my investiga-
tion. My investigation is far from comprehensive. The most impor-
tant problem of the relation between reason and faith is not even
177
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From the 1970s onwards, Feyerabend argues against the freedom of science. This will seem strange to some, as his epistemological anarchism is often taken to suggest that scientists should be free of even the most basic and obvious norms of science. His argument against the freedom of science is heavily influenced by his case study of the interference of Chinese communists in mainland China during the 1950s wherein the government forced local universities to continue researching traditional Chinese medicine rather than Western medicine. Feyerabend claims this move was justifiable and, eventually, vindicated by the resulting research which was beneficial for locals and the West at large. The purpose of this paper is to provide a comprehensive overview and analysis on Feyerabend’s views on the freedom of science and his social commentary on US science funding policy that follows therefrom. This proves to be exceedingly difficult because Feyerabend’s writings on the subject are filled with gaps, unnoticed tensions, and cognitive dissonance. Still, I think Feyerabend’s scattered insights and the contradictions that emerge lead to an interesting microcosm of the issues contained in the freedom of science debate.
Chapter
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