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Feyerabend’s Epistemological Anarchism, Essay Example

Pages: 3

Words: 934

Essay

Introduction

Paul Feyerabend, the philosopher of science, is known for an approach to epistemology known as “epistemological anarchism.” This position entails an approach to science, in which standard rules of the scientific method are not to be accepted as dogma. In contrast, Feyerabend advocates a position of so-called “methodological pluralism”, whereby no limits are placed on methodological approaches beforehand. The reason for this, according to Feyerabend appears to be quite lucid and may be phrased as follows: the reason why there should be no such limits is because the very reason we perform scientific investigations is that there is something unknown, which we are attempting to discover; by stating that only one method in this investigation is correct, we are thereby presupposing more about this unknown object than we know. Therefore, we are committing a fundamental error in our approach.

The following essay thus is comprised of two parts: firstly, a more detailed description of Feyerabend’s position, and, secondly, an evaluative account of this philosopher’s basic argument.

Feyerabend’s basic thesis

The basis of the rejection for standard scientific methods is lucidly summarized in the opening of Feyerabend’s now classic work, Against Method: “The world which we want to explore is a largely unknown entity.” (12) In other words, any type of epistemological rules about how science should be carried out presupposes that we know that these rules are the correct rules with which to embark on our investigations. However, if the world, as Feyerabend states, is “largely unknown”, it therefore becomes illogical to from the outset exclude different types of methodology, since we do not have a rigorous grasp of the nature of the object of the investigation.,

By not taking the path of epistemological anarchism or pluralism, something fundamental about the world is being claimed to be known at the very outset of our investigations: namely, that the scientific method as it currently exists is capable of explaining this world, and should be adhered to. The problem with this, however, is the epistemological justification for the veracity of the claims made by scientific method, such as empiricism and positivism.

On the one hand, therefore, Feyerabend’s logic is based upon a connection between the epistemological and the ontological. If we take the ontological to mean the very structure of reality and the epistemological to mean the various theories of knowledge that are to explain this structure of reality to us, reducing the epistemological dimension to only the methods endorsed by science is presupposing too much about the ontological. There, is thus a gap between the ontological and the epistemological that scientific method cannot explain away.

On the other hand, however, Feyerabend’s logic is also based upon limitations to the epistemological itself. As he describes in Against Method, the history of science does not appear to be merely made up of following rules that are correct, but of radical inconsistencies on the epistemological level. For example, citing thec ase of Galileo, he writes “theories have become clear and ‘reasonable’ only after incoherent parts of them have been used for a long time.” (17) In other words, there are gaps and inconsistencies inherent to the epistemological itself, and these gaps cannot be merely reduced to rational or irrational aspects; this is because some type the irrational and even the incorrect can aid in our expositions.

Accordingly, Feyerabend does not appear to be a skeptic in regards to scientific method, but rather wants a more open methodology that incorporates diverse lines of thought.

 

Evaluating Feyerabend’s basic approach

Let us treat what we have described as Feyerabend’s argument based upon the split between the ontological and the epistemological. It appears wholly correct when Feyerabend states that it is ludicrous to exclude certain types of methodology at the outset of our investigations into reality, precisely because with this exclusion we are assuming that we know what this reality is. Therefore, our conclusions will be informed by these assumptions and will have the exact opposite result of what they set out to achieve: explaining an unknown reality.

At the same time, however, scientific methods have been built upon historical approaches. They are rooted in material practices and results. This seems to justify why mathematical calculation of moving bodies gives us more data than a painting of these same moving bodies: or rather, they give us different types of data about these same bodies. And in this case, it appears Feyerabend is absolutely correct: how can we limit ourselves beforehand in terms of methodology?

There is not only a gap between the epistemological and the ontological, but there is a gap within the epistemological itself. As Feyerabend notes, and the history of philosophy also shows, there are no justifications for the principle of sufficient reason, for example, There is a certain point where all our explanations break down: and these explanations also break down because we look at the problem from a certain perspective, namely, cause and effect relationships and observational-empirical processes. But are these the only ways to think about these problems?

This is the exact point Feyerabend is making. When we truly understand the limits of our knowledge of the world, we have to make the corresponding move to not limit what we consider to be knowledge. Perhaps in this inverse sense, then, our very knowledge of the world will increase. Feyerabend does not oppose the methods of standard science: he just requires that they become more conscious of their own limitations as well as alternative methods. This is the crux of Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism, and by demanding such high standards he apparently seems to be more rigorous than the philosophers of rationality themselves.

Works Cited

Feyerabend, Paul. Against Method. London: Verso, 1995.

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