Some Remarks on Paul Feyerabend’s Philosophy: The Tyranny of Science in Perspective
This paper studies the perception of Paul Feyerabend on scientific method via Feyerabend’s book The Tyranny of Science, and also tries to show his antagonism against it. Therefore, a critique of Feyerabend’s arguments about science, scientific knowledge and scientific method will be offered while making an analysis of the book. This paper has no claim to be scientific and can be taken as a popular science article, however, considerations are only made after a critical thinking process. In the first part of the article, some personal opinions will be shared, and a critical analysis of the book will be given in the following parts. Importance of the Feyerabend’s book lies in its huge impact on philosophy of science. The Tyranny of Science is a pioneering work in the field and might be taken as a major criticism directed to positivism therefore special attention should be paid to Feyerabend and his works.
Science begins with criticisms. There are two main attitudes towards criticism, first and most common of these two is, if possible, to restrain criticism. This is something you can easily do if you have authority; father restrains a child; teacher restrains students. Second of these is to use criticism to oppress and/or humiliate someone. Both shares the same meaning; to make self-praise and to disparage someone. If this is the case, there would be no objective reality but persons. Societies, in which criticism is considered dangerous and taken as a matter of persons,are doomed to remain uncivilized since environment of criticism is the only key to progress. In those societies, there is a tyranny of feudal bonds and belonging to the medieval ages where there were only gods, lords, and obedience to them. If a society or a person is claiming to be modern, criticism and tolerance are the sine qua non conditions. So, just as you go to a doctor when your leg is broken instead of getting mad to your leg, criticism should be and must be understood and internalized in the same manner. Here, I would like to raise two questions; 1) What is the aim of criticism? 2) How should criticisms be constructed;do they have to be constructive? Now, I will offer brief answers to both questions.
Firstly, the aim of criticism is certainly not humiliating someone or making self-praise, but to get nearer to the truth, to the objective reality in which science is the key. This aim is not something one can achieve by him/herself; all humankind, therefore, should engage in this process. Secondly, criticism can be realized either in a constructive way or in a destructive way. The constructive way should be preferred in most cases as those are helpful to improve its target, however, if there is an attack to our only way to get nearer to the truth, one may think to held destructive criticism and would be right to do that. Just as intolerance should not be tolerated, attempts to reduce and to degrade science should be considered as an open threat directed to science and should be eradicated completely.
2. Science and Its Enemies
Here, a taxonomy seems useful as there are two typologies; subscribers of science and enemies of science. The former group believes in science that it is the most reliable, objective, neutral source of knowledge and that it is the best possible way of thinking in reaching the truth. However, the latter group believes in dogmas and even considers them in the same class with scientific knowledge,Feyerabend is only one of them. Below, a brief passage taken from his book can be seen;
‘’Science is much closer to myth than a scientific philosophy is prepared to admit. It is one of the many forms of thought that have been developed by man, and not necessarily the best. It is conspicuous, noisy, and impudent, but it is inherently superior only for those who have already decided in favor of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without ever having examined its advantages and its limits.’’
As one can see, Feyerabend defines a proximity between science and myths. So, it is necessary to ask that what kind of a myth requires to be proven, to be falsifiable before their narrations. Simply, none of them. Science, however,proves what it argues and is open to be falsified so that there can be no proximity between science and myths; these are two different poles. This is just one way of refuting the argument that science is closer to myths more than any type of knowledge. Feyerabend goes further and claiming that science is not necessarily the best form of thought. One might easily justify why science is the necessarily best form of thought, as the question asked above did it for Feyerabend’s first claim. However, one might also justify why those quoted sentences necessarily belong to apopulist. What Feyerabend tells, in fact, is utter ignorance. What Feyerabend imagines about science has no real relation with science. Feyerabend, as it is seen above, argues that science is inherently superior for those who have already decided in favor of a certain ideology. This fails directly from falsifiability requirement of scientific knowledge. If a thought system tells you that you can only make refutable statements so that one may falsify your statement and science can progress, it thus prevents you from being ‘’in favor of a certain ideology’’ since being in favor of a certain ideology entails you to believe a closed system of thought which does not exist at all in scientific knowledge.Feyerabend’s another attempt to damage science lies in his analogy between science and religion. Science, according to him, is imposed on people as ‘’One True Religion!’’ It is again another instance which does not make any sense and is contradictory to the essence of science. Feyerabend whether consciously or unconsciously ignores the main features of science such as its dogma-free structure. A dogma can be defined as, ‘’ a fixed, especiallyreligious, belief or set of beliefs that people are expected to accept without any doubts.”The quasi similarity between science and religion consequently does not exist at all as religions are full of dogmas with unknown authors. Feyerabend offers dozens of large-scale examples to support his theses in his book The Tyranny of Science, however, those examples are neither valid or nor sound. In the first place, the method he uses which is induction to make conclusions is itself invalid and does not necessarily justify what he says. In the second place, in order to make a serious criticism of science, one should attach significance to scientific methods, otherwise, what one did would be nothing more than bee buzzing.
The Poverty of Feyerabend
‘’It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of a fixed theory of rationality, rests on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings. To those who look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent upon impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts, their craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision, ‘objectivity’, ‘truth’, it will become clear that there is only one principle that can be defended under all circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is the principle: anything goes.’’
A metaphor would ease to make further explanations. Imagine a person shooting in an area full of people with a machine gun, would you really mind what does the shooter think? By no means. Conversely, most of the people would blacklist him/her by giving it a name, say, terrorism. So, if you are a terrorist; what you think, what you aim does not really matter. How many of us are giving a possibility for a terrorist to be right? How many people would accept a massive crime against innocent people? For both, the answer is very few of us. Now, a manipulation in questions would strengthen the bond between the metaphor and Feyerabend. Assume a road that is used by a group of people in order to bring some truths which will ensure life for the rest of people to make sense. Would anyone accept the destruction of the road? If and only if s/he is a reactionary and/or does not want to learn truths. Here, Feyerabend, with a machine gun, is attacking science. Feyerabend wants people to destroy the road of science which is its methodology. Feyerabend argues that people are free to choose their beliefs so that they are not obliged to the truths coming from the road, and says, anything goes. One might think that Feyerabend offers more freedom, gives spaces for other types of beliefs, however, these are all façade. What Feyerabend really offers, in fact, is to send people to a marsh by leaving the road. This kind of postmodernist approaches harm science and may result in very bad situations. For instance, recently in Turkey, two people discussed whether drinking the urine of camel is healthy or not.According to Feyerabend, the religion suggests drinking urine of camel is healthy produces knowledge and the value of that knowledge is not necessarily lower than scientific knowledge.This is an obvious insult and a big mistake as it might encourage people to do so. Science is restricted by the laws of nature, if Feyerabend wants to test the difference between science and non-science and the limits of his freedom, a cliché but beneficial example can be given;Feyerabend may jump from the edge of a tower and see that he just has amount of time to understand the limits of his freedom. Anything goes is neither a principle nor freedom,it is normlessness,it is the absolute poverty of Feyerabend.
3. One Tyrant
The Tyranny of Scienceis written based upon four public lectures named ‘’What is knowledge? What is science?’’ given by Paul Feyerabend in Trento University. This book, however, is inadequate to understand the thought of Feyerabend. Nevertheless, it is a book that provides traces of his approach. In fact, Feyerabend never answers the questions addressed in the name of the lectures. So, it is impossible to have an idea what science is and what knowledge is through reading the book. Conversely, it is possible to have an idea what science is not and what knowledge is not. So, what these are not, Feyerabend argues, is given depiction by these. According to Feyerabend, the thesis of the book, if needed, can be summarized briefly as follows, science unrightly prevails a tyranny. Again, it is hardly appropriate to say that the book has a clear thesis. On one hand, there are four headings in the book, in all of them, there are examples explaining the conflict that science is in. On the other hand, there are no alternatives or solutions offered, furthermore, providing some examples to confirm your claim does not necessarily proves what you claim. If a universal claim about science can be raised by grounding it to some examples, the claim would not be that science has a conflicting nature, instead, it would be that science has a harmonic nature. If you are able to find hundreds of conflicts, you are also free to find millions of existing harmonies. Science is not more conflictive than it is harmonious. To turn back to the vague thesis of the book, unfortunately, it seems that there is no tyranny of science. In most of the societies, there are still habits, dogmas of medieval, feudal ages. Hence the belief in science that it has hegemony over other fields such as religion, art, and literature is itself a myth. Therefore, what Feyerabend does is empty talk.
Bertrand Russell, in his The Philosophy of Logical Atomism, puts a paradox called The Barber Paradox as follows; the barber is the one who shaves all those, and those only, who do not shave themselves. Whether the barber shaves him/herself or not is the question that causes the paradox, as s/he only shaves those who do not shave themselves. This, in fact, makes it clear that there is a need for another barber. Paradoxically, as another barber is needed to shave the barber, an insurmountable tyrant is needed to end tyranny itself. There should be one tyrant that will end tyranny and that should be the tyrant: science.
Name: The Tyranny of Science
Publisher:Polity Press / 2011
FEYERABEND, Paul. 2011. The Tyranny of Science. Cambridge: Polity Press.
Paul Feyerabend, The Tyranny of Science, (Cambridge: Polity Press, 2011), 47.
Cambridge Dictionary, Dogma, Accessed November 13, 2019. https://dictionary.cambridge.org/dictionary/english/dogma