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Feyerabend's "Tyranny of Science"

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Posted

I've just seen here that a 'new' book by Paul Feyerabend - 'The Tyranny of Science' - has been published by Polity. Apparently written shortly before his death in 1994. Has the existence of the manuscript been generally known? Anyone here read this book? Any comments?

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Posted

I have a copy and will be working my way through it as soon as I've finished some other books. Here's an explanation of it's arrival from Eric Oberheim, the editor:

The Tyranny of Science is a book Feyerabend wrote on the basis of the Trentino Lectures, which were a series of 5, two hour evening lectures that were held over the course of a week in 1992 in Italy -- his last finished philosophy book.

The lectures were originally entitled "What is science? What is knowledge". They were published in Italian translation in (1996), and then later in German translation, (roughly "Ambiguity and Harmony" and "Conflict and Harmony" respectively).

Oberheim says it took so long to get this book finished because of other Feyerabend projects he was busy with.

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Posted

Thanks! I had a feeling you might know something about it. I was somehow suspicious that the publication of this book might be a symptom of the Feyerabend estate being thrashed for all its worth, but hopeful that the involvement of Polity Press would indicate otherwise. Thankfully, it seems it might indeed be a worthwhile addition to the Feyerabend canon and one I might even get round to reading some day.

I guess you have a mind to post some kind of review in due course?

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Posted

Yes, I was thinking of going through it in sections and trying to relate the arguments to his other work, rather than giving an overall impression. I'll post here for discussion but feel free to do so ahead of me!

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Posted

I have just received my copy of The Tyranny of Science. Thus far, I have only read the Editor's Introduction and the first three pages or so of the first chapter. I very much enjoyed the introduction. It notes how variegated were Feyerabend's addresses, and it gives good insight into just why many people would react negatively to his ideas:

The Tyranny of Science, p. viii Feyerabend meant so many different things to so many different people that it is difficult, if not impossible, to place him squarely in any tradition. Over an exceptionally dynamic career, he challenged many dogmas in philosophy and about science. His ideas and arguments are often ingenious and intriguing, but they are very hard to pin down. Indeed, a remarkable feature of Feyerabend's work is just how directly engaged he was with so many major developments in twentieth-century philosophy and the study of science; how he repeatedly reshaped his ideas at the forefront of current trends and changing interests.

The introduction gives a hint of how it is that this book might not be a good introduction to Feyerabend in light of the fact that there are so many currents to his thinking:

The Tyranny of Science, p. xi Just as Against Method is a collage of Feyerabend's early papers, The Tyranny of Science intertwines many themes from different phases in Feyerabend's philosophical development ... It is not a systematic investigation.

It is this very non-systematic quality that may well make Feyerabend seem relatively inaccessible to many people, but non-systematic here means anything except irrational or unreasoned.

Here are some passages from the introduction which I particularly like:

The Tyranny of Science, p. x ... 'the procedure leading to the adoption of a philosophical position cannot be proof ... but must be a decision on the basis of preferences ...'

Personally, I think it best to call this "decision on the basis of preferences" what it is: judgment.

The Tyranny of Science, p. x 'Philosophers have habitually judged the situation in a very different manner. For them, only one of the many existing positions was true and therefore, possible. This attitude, of course, considerably restricts the domain of responsible choice.'

Feyerabend's point about decisions in the name of truth which exclude (or fail to maintain adequate cognizance for) other possibilities is, of course, a problem that afflicts more than just philosophy and philosophers. It is a problem common to the great preponderance of human thinking, and it is even found within science.

The Tyranny of Science, p. x [Feyerabend] insisted that developing divergent points of view promotes progress better than sticking to just one perspective, no matter how successful it may seem.

This last sentence captures, or so I think, the essence of Feyerabend thinking. Anyone who is not in the least bit moved or made curious by that last sentence will likely not benefit at all from reading Feyerabend. And what a shame that would be.

Michael

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