Feyerabend PaulK.

Feyerabend PaulK.

(1924-94) Austrian-born philosopher of science who worked in the UK and US as well as in Europe.

Influenced by Wittgensteins later philosophy, his main work has involved a repudiation of the FALSIFICATIONISM of Karl POPPER. His best-known works are Against Method (1975) and Science in a Free Society (1978), in which he rejects the idea of a universal scientific method.

Like Thomas KUHN, between whose work and Feyerabend's there exist many affinities, the account of science which emerges is one which places great emphasis on science as a ‘flesh and blood activity’. and a socially located one, that cannot be understood in formalistic or simple rationalistic terms. To those ‘scientific rationalists’ (such as Popper and Imre Lakatos) who claim to have located a universal scientific method, Feyerabend's answer is that the only universal rule in science is that ‘anything goes’. One main reason why Feyerabend rejects falsificationism as a universal method is the INCOMMENSURABILITY of scientific terms and the THEORY-RELATIVITY, therefore, of the interpretation of any potentially refuting empirical data. Under these circumstances, Feyerabend's view is that ‘pluralism’ and a ‘proliferation of theories’ may often be the best policy, something that is not encouraged by falsificationism. A major part of Feyerabend's objective, especially in his later work, is to debunk the over-rationalist pretensions of modern science, its ‘church-like’ status in modern society, and the ‘rule of experts’ to which this often gives rise. His aim is to return scientific judgements to the public domain (an argument which he bases, in part, on J. S. MILL's On Liberty).

The frequent charge that Feyerabend's view of science involves ‘irrationalism’ is one that his polemical and iconoclastic postures have sometimes tended to encourage. However, Feyerabend is often deliberately deceptive on these matters, preparing traps for dogmatic rationalists to mislead them into more dogmatic expressions of their own position. His own general position, however, is clearly not intended to promote a philosophical relativism – since this is simply another form of philosophical dogmatism. Instead, like Kuhn, Feyerabend wishes to emphasize the way that science and knowledge generally depend on a variety of methods. In this context, while knowledge claims are sometimes relative to a particular scientific paradigm or particular FORMS OF LIFE (as in a simple society), on other occasions more general claims to ‘realism’ may also be mounted (in Feyerabend, 1981, he talks in these terms of ‘two argumentative chains’). Feyerabend's point, however, is that there exist no final rules of method, no single identifiable basis of rationality The rationalists are wrong to suggest otherwise, betraying their own claims to a ‘critical’ philosophy or to science. There is a similarity between Feyerabend's view and that of Richard Bernstein (1983) who has called for philosophical and sociological thinking on these matters to move ‘beyond objectivism or relativism’ (compare HABERMAS, with whom Feyerabend himself identifies continuities, but also differences).

Collins Dictionary of Sociology, 3rd ed. © HarperCollins Publishers 2000