Home Forum Community CasP RG v. 1.00: Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method (Open Jan 01, 2023). Reply To: CasP RG v. 1.00: Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method (Open Jan 01, 2023).

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    For various reasons, I am working through Against Method slower than I initially hoped. I want to introduce to the conversation another interpretation. More than Kuhn’s The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, Feyerabend places strong emphasis on the role of individuals — in this case, for their ability to be anarchists in the history of science (the book’s reference to Dadaists is better, in my opinion, as Feyerabend seems uninterested in thinking about the political meaning of anarchism).

    Kuhn’s model of scientific revolution is, well, structural. The cycles of scientific revolution more-or-less continue happily along if all of the individuals are dogmatically single-minded, fulfilling Planck’s aphorism about the progression of science through funerals. This is an oversimplification of Kuhn, but the reason there is some truth to my simplification is because Kuhn often thinks of the scientific community. Normal science has paradigms, which are these concept-definition-example hybrids that unite a scientific community in general agreement. Crises in normal science are often raised and addressed by extremely creative individuals, but Kuhn cares less about the methods to discovering crises, and more about the ways crises, once found, grow to become blemishes that a theory cannot erase without more and more addendum. Kuhn’s revolutions thus have a common structural element to them: new scientists are no less single-minded than their supervisors, but they arrive to their disciplines at points in time when there are already accumulations of crises in the air.

    Feyerabend clearly likes John Stuart Mill, especially for the latter’s idealization of the freedoms of opinion under liberalism. This like of Mill produces some interesting arguments in Against Method. One of them involves conceptualizing counter-induction as an individual act. Sometimes it appears counter-induction is some permanent layer of scientific activity in its messy reality. Other times Feyerabend presents counter-induction as an imperative that scientists must act on to do good science. In the form of an imperative, counter-induction should be practiced but people could very well behave otherwise. I think that in disagreement with Kuhn, Feyerabend thinks it is entirely possible for groups of scientists to successfully freeze scientific progress. As Feyerabend keeps pointing out: scientific theories are, in reality, able to live long lives with mistakes and ad hoc rationalizations; so what prevents groups of scientists from becoming content with what they have created?

    To what extent does counter-induction need to be a conscious act? During certain periods of history, Feyerabend might care less about whether someone is consciously affirming counter-induction as a liberal principle; but from his standpoint in the 20th century, there are political overtones to his focus on counter-induction. Feyerabend keeps using the footnotes of Against Method to, as I interpret it, decry the lack of open-mindedness in the scientific methods of modern education; too many people are, as he puts it, naive falsificationists. Consequently, counter-induction becomes a call to action, which will be what better scientific practice to grows from.

    But what does an open-ended, consciously anarchistic science look like institutionally? Taken to an extreme (like Feyerabend’s interesting response to hypothetical study of Voodoo in a scientific discipline), are we to have physics departments that accept and nurture all sorts wild ideas within its own walls?

    • This reply was modified 1 month, 1 week ago by jmc.