I will be defending Paul Feyerabend in this paper. I will argue that Peter Godfrey-Smith does not represent Feyerabend charitably or accurately. Godfrey-Smith believes that Feyerabend’s deep conviction was that “science is an aspect of human creativity.” That is partially correct, but Feyerabend was much more concerned with human well-being¬ and against domination and dogmatism. He was also concerned with Western Scientific Imperialism.
I will be referencing a number of articles in this paper. How to Defend Society Against Science, Against Method, Theory and Reality, and On Liberty (to a lesser extent), will be my main background materials. Some mention of Lakatos and Kuhn will also be present. I would like to introduce a bit of each of these, before diving into Feyerabend arguments, because I think they provide an important framework for understanding Feyerabend.
Feyerabend was writing as a contemporary of Kuhn. Kuhn used a historical perspective to evaluate scientific progress, and came to the conclusion that science goes through “normal” periods and “revolutions.” “Paradigm shifts” are what happens during the culmination of a scientific revolution, and these shifts are inevitable. Kuhn is stating that there cannot be one scientific method to be held above others, due to the fact that there is incommensurability between paradigms. Many critics took this as an implication that science is not rational. Kuhn denied this, but Feyerabend went full-tilt with it.
In How to Defend Society Against Science, Feyerabend states that we should not think of science as special, and that it does not deserve the status that it currently enjoys. Science often hurts society, and we ought to be cautious when we engage in it. The most cautious we can be is to be open to everything. “Anything Goes.” This seems ridiculous at first glance, but I believe that Feyerabend was on to something.
Godfrey-Smith acknowledges that Feyerabend is difficult to parse. Feyerabend himself says that he ought not to be taken seriously at all times. This is in line with his belief that no one ought to take themselves too seriously (scientists included). One must also remember that Against Method was originally designed to be part of a larger book, but Feyerabend’s friend, Lakatos, died before he could write the other half. This half was to be “For Method” and included Lakatos’ research programmes. This is important because Feyerabend was a big fan of rhetoric and playfulness. It is likely safe to assume that some of Feyerabend’s claims were intentionally inflated so as to allow an interesting “back and forth” between the two.
I would like to preemptively deflect any criticism of Feyerabend as a man who was either “some postmodernist” that is against science, or that he did not know what he was talking about when it came to science. Feyerabend was initially interested in Quantum Mechanics, and even wrote articles on it dating back to 1954. His dislike for method came later.