Re: feyerabend who?

John Wilkins (
Fri, 28 Jul 1995 11:27:38 +1000

In article <3upm05$>, Alex Duncan
<> wrote:

: Back to Feyerabend -- I think the idealistic model of how science is
: SUPPOSED to work is something we all get over after a few years in the
: field. Based on your quick synopsis (thank you), it sounds to me like
: Feyerabend has conflated hypothesis generation with hypothesis testing.
: Is my impression accurate?

It's been a while, but...

PK Feyerabend (henceforth PKF) was a pretty sophisticated
post-falsificationist (ie, post-Popperian) who recognised that there were
innumerable sources of hypotheses and no clear definition of a universal
testing algorithm. This led him to oppose the science-nonscience absolute
distinction. He also argued that notions of scientific progress were
flawed because theories were incommensurable (incommensurability was
originally PKF's, not Kuhn's) and could not therefore be compared against
some independent arbitration scale.

PKF tended to rhetorical flourish, and was a great sloganeer -- "anything
goes" being among the more memorable. He objected to hegemony of dominant
theories, for partly valid reasons, and wanted to empower (it's such a
horrible word, and not PKF's AFAICR) scientists to select from any source
and use any testing method they wanted. This is close enough to the
historical record to be a serious position to take -- it's known as
methodological anarchism.

PKF's views fail to account for the cohesion and coherence that develops
amongst a discipline, for the actual progress that occurs and when and why
it does (although he'd take a relativistic position openly and unashamedly
and say "whose progress?" here), and for the structures both social and
intellectual that have arisen.

In his context, he was being a bit of a Kierkegaard, that is, he was
attempting to leaven the dominant phil of sci that Popper and the
positivists had set up as Received Wisdom. His argument was a dialectic
with his mate Imre Lakatos, who developed the idea of research programmes
to replace Kuhn's paradigms.

PKF is easy to parody and hard to follow, but is not a loony. As it
happens, he was also wrong, but it took better scholars than I to show
that. RIP PKF (he died last year).

John "Chris" Wilkins, Assoc. Prof. of Recent Runes, Uni of Ediacara
(Also: Head of Communication Services, Walter and Eliza Hall Institute)
What the Gospels actually said was: don't kill anyone until you are absolutely sure they aren't well connected - Vonnegurt, Slaughterhouse 5