Science in Modern World
- Pages: 9
- Word count: 2102
- Category: Science
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At the sight of the “image of science”, what immediately comes to mind is a regimented pattern of thought/process of attaining knowledge but Paul Feyerabend, an Austrian-born philosopher of science presents one of the most thought provoking accounts of science in contemporary times in his “anarchism” which has seriously challenged the supposed rational image of science.
Fundamentally, Feyerabend believes that the whole notion of a methodology of science is illusive, arguing that science is essentially an archaistic enterprise. Therefore, “theoretical anarchism” according to Feyerabend, is a more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and order alternative. In any case, we shall see later that Feyerabend upheld this view only as a means to argue for a more viable and pragmatic philosophy of science. In doing this, we shall assume the following steps:
* Brief History of Feyerabend
* The Meaning of Anarchism
* The Principles of “Anything Goes”
* Epistemological Anarchism
* The Views of Some Scholars
* Critique of Feyerabend
Brief History of Feyerabend
Paul Feyerabend (b.1924, d.1994), having studied science at the University of Vienna, moved into philosophy for his doctoral thesis, made a name for himself both as an expositor and (later) as a critic of Karl Popper’s ‘critical rationalism’, and went on to become one of this century’s most famous philosophers of science. An imaginative maverick, he became a critic of philosophy of science itself, particularly of ‘rationalist’ attempts to lay down or discover rules of scientific method.
The Meaning of Anarchism
Anarchism is a derivative of the Greek word “anarchos” which means “without government”. It is opposed to all forms of government and its primary claim is that individual freedom should be absolute. A hard core anarchist would be therefore, uphold that the highest attainment of humanity is the freedom of the individual to express himself unhindered by any form of repression or control from without. Thus, one of the ideals of political anarchism is the assumption that the perfection of humanity will not be attained until all forms of government are abolished, and each individual is left absolutely free.
The 19th century French writer Pierre Joseph Proudhom who is generally regarded as the father of philosophic anarchism has upheld, for instance, that anarchism excludes authority from society. The obvious implication of this standpoint is that anarchism, if applied in the strict sense of it, sets up extreme individualism. And this is why anarchism as a political theory portends some negative tendencies. Hence, when Feyerabend thought of applying anarchism in philosophy of science, he carefully distanced himself from its negative aspects. That was why he stated that “….anarchism is certainly excellent medicine for epistemology and for the philosophy of science.
The Principle of “Anything Goes”
A proper way to get an initial foothold of Paul Feyerabend’s position is to answer the question. What is Feyerabend against? What is he for? Why is he for the one and against the other? Basically, Feyerabend is opposed to Methodism in science and philosophy. This involves the idea of a method that contains firm, unchanging, and absolutely binding principles for conducting the business of science and philosophy. The idea that science can, and should be run according to fixed universal rules: the law-and-order view of science, among other methodical discourses. Here, the rules of Methodism are conceived as universal, fixed and prescriptive.
Feyerabend claims that none of the methodologies of science has lived up to expectation. Specifically, he argues that none of them is compatible with the history of Physics. He avers that all methodologies of science have not provided adequate rules for the guidance of scientific activities. According to him, all scientific methodologies have their limitations and the only rule that really holds is “anything goes”.
For him, given the fact that the future of science with regards to development is unpredictable and given the fact of the complexity of any realistic situation in science, it will be implausible to ask a rational scientist to adopt this theory because it receives most induction support from accepted facts (inductivism) and rejects that theory because it is incompatible with Basic statements or generally accepted facts.
To quote Feyerabend at some length: “The idea that science can, and should be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious. It is unrealistic, for it takes for simple a view of the talents of man and of the circumstances which encourage or cause their development. And it is pernicious for the attempt to enforce the rules is bound to increase our professional qualification at the expense of our humanity. In addition, the idea is detrimental to science, for if neglects the complex physical and historical conditions which influence scientific change”.
Given the complexity of any realistic situation within science and the unpredictability of the future as far as the development of a science is concerned, it is unreasonable to hope for a methodology that dictates that, given some situation, a rational scientist must adopt theory A, reject theory B or prefer theory A to B. Rules such as “adopt that theory which receives most inductive support from accepted facts and reject theories that are incompatible with generally accepted facts are incompatible with those episodes in science that are commonly regarded as constituting its most progressive phases.
In other words, he is denying the existence of just unique method for carrying out scientific research. Rather, he believes that science proceeds by many methods and he goes on to argue that all the methods also have their limitations. Hence, his preference for “anarchistic methodology and a corresponding anarchists science”.
And it was on this account that Feyerand criticized the idea of an abstract theory of scientific method or rationality which has universal application. He contends that such a view of standards of rationality in terms of universal procedural rules of scientific method was a habit that was started by the Viena circle and continued by critical rationalists. Feyerabend believes that a scientist is not a child who needs “papa methodology and mama rationality” to give him security and direction.
This is because the scientist himself is the inventor not only of laws and theories, but also of entire world views. Hence in a reply to some of his critics who accused him of encouraging a tradition of scientific practice that does uphold standards, Feyerabend writes: “I argue that all rule have their limits and that there is no comprehensive ‘rationality’, I do not argue that we should proceed without rules and standards. I also argue for a contextual account but again the contextual rules, they are to supplement them”.
Feyerabend refused to be regarded as a serious minded anarchist because, according him, he does not show the lines of the naïve anarchists who asserts that: a. Both absolute and context dependent rules have their limits, and infer b. That all rules and standards are worthless and should be given up.
In essence, the ideal situation which Feyerabend prefers for the practice of science is that which accommodates the view that there should be a plurality of methods and a multiplicity of world views and standards of rationality. And in such an ideal case the scientists would be at liberty to exercise their curiosity and free their imaginations from the garb of fixed procedural rule that might not fit new situations and new experiences that our study of nature might reveal. In effect, Feyerabend only applied anarchism as a means to an end.
The message of epistemological anarchism is to restore to both the creative scientists and the general public freedom of decision in matters of knowledge particularly, science is not a specially privilege candidate of knowledge: epistemologically or methodologically “anything goes”. To Feyerabend, however, anarchism should be applied to epistemology and the philosophy of science only as medicine to cure the problems that hinder the growth of scientific knowledge.
And one of such problems is the attempt to impose fixed standards of procedural rules or criteria of rationality that may end up hindering the creative ingenuity of the scientists, especially when they are confronted by new experiences which the secrets and complexities of nature are likely to present. The following aims at convincing as that “anarchism” is an excellent medicine for epistemology and for the philosophy of science.
History is full of accidents and conjectures and curious juxtapositions of events and it demonstrates to us the complexity of human change and the unpredictable character of the ultimate consequences of any given act or decision of men. We must be awake to the fact that the stereotype, procedures and systems applied by methodologists cannot fully account for the mass of interactions. Thus, it is very candid then that success lies in the hands of an opportunist, who is not tied down to any particular method of philosophy, but utilizes any procedure at hand, to achieve his aims.
Intelligent thoughtful observers have therefore drawn the following relevant conclusions stated by Lenin. First, that in order to fulfill its task, the revolutionary class (i.e. the class of those who wants to change either a part of society such as science, or society as a whole), must be able to master all forms or aspects of social activity without exception (it must be able to understand and to apply not only one particular methodology, but any methodology, and any variation thereof it can imagine). Secondly, it must be ready to pass from one to another in the quickest and most unexpected manner.
The Views of Some Scholars
Occasionally, the laws of scientific method by a particular writer are even integrated into anarchism itself. “Anarchism is a world concept based upon a mechanical explanation of all phenomenons” writes Kropotkin. Its method of investigation is that of the exact natural sciences: the method of induction and deduction”. It is not clear, writes a modern radical professor at Columba: that scientific research demands and absolute freedom of speech and debate. Rather the evidence suggests that certain kinds of un-freedom place no obstacle in the way of science.
Critique of Feyerabend
Dr. Uduigwomen argues that the contrast of science with myth and voodoo is not justified since myth and voodoo do not have a prescribe methodology like science and secondly, they do not focus on our challenging problems of the contemporary time.
Nonetheless, this critique is faulty, because if really introspected, voodoo and magic have their methodologies which may not operate like the sciences and if these areas are given much concentration they may be of help in the contemporary world, an instance is the case of “African Science”. Furthermore, in a society when everything goes there is an inclination to relativism and this will cause pandemonium in the society. In addition, Udwigwomen argue that considering the errors in Feyerabend position, we may agree that he is not serious. He seems irrational in most of his postulations.
It has always been argued by the critics of Feyerabend that his anarchistic theory of science threatens the widely acclaimed rational image of science. This is because it attempts to introduce such ideas as the plurality of methodologies, diversity of world views and criteria of rationality.
In effect, Feyerabend’s version of anarchism has only to do with methodological plurality that gives the scientists liberty, to apply any world view or method of inquiry that is suitable to his context of scientific research. This shout for liberalism as Feyerabend states is not just a fact of history of science. It is both reasonable and absolutely necessary for the growth of knowledge. In essence, scientific progress and the growth of knowledge are the primary concern and motive behind Paul Feyerabend’s methodological anarchism.
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