Quote for Today from Paul Feyerabend

Feyerabend’s book, “Against Method” stands as a critical look at science, and how we “know.”  As part of the domain “philosophy of Science” he stands as one of the interesting challengers to what we think we know, categorized often as an “anarchist.”  While the political scientist in me as a rule stops listening when I hear someone is an “anarchist” the use of the word in this case carries far different baggage.  That said, here’s the quote from his introduction, page 2:

“But if scientific achievements can be judged only after the event and if there is no abstract way of ensuring success beforehand, then there exists no special way of weighting scientific promises either–scientists are not better off than anybody else in these matters, they only know more details.  This means that the public can participate in the discussion without disturbing existing roads to success (there are no such roads).  In cases where the scientists’ work affects the public it even should participate:  first, because it is a concerned party (many scientific decisions affect public life); secondly, because such participation is the best scientific education the public can get–a full democratization of science (which includes the protection of minorities such as scientists) is not in conflict with science.  It is in conflict with a philosophy, often called “Rationalism,” that uses a frozen image of science to terrorize people unfamiliar with its practice.”  (emphasis his)

If you can take a few moments, read through this a few times, and think through what it is saying.

  • The role of the public in Science, as many view the “public” as being too poorly educated as to be able to fully grasp science (Some have heatedly called the recent political era the “era of anti-intellectualism”)
  • Perhaps think about it in the context of the discussions concerning stem cell research and the “promises” made by scientists concerning the cures that will come.
  • Consider the discussions about the origins of man in the context of his point of the “philosophy … called ‘Rationalism'” and what appeals are made to authority on the various sides.

How do you view science and the nature of discovery?

2 thoughts on “Quote for Today from Paul Feyerabend

  • Steve Swartz

    Great topic . . . great intro.

    Two quick thoughts:

    1. “Science” has no special claim to assigning “values” to “outcomes;” scientists do, however, have a special role in determining “facts” and “truth.”

    2. The “Public” has no special claim to determining “facts” and “truth;” they are, however, the oonly legitimate source of assinging “values” to “outcomes.”


    Scientists should stick to science in their roles as scientists. They should, for example, address the issue of “Is Global Warming happening; if so, why; and by how much; and what are the ‘factual’ consequences of the warming.”

    They should remain silent on whether Global Warming is Good or Bad.

    The public should declare the Goodness or Badness of the warming and its effects.

    When “scientists” begin applying “vlaues” to their efforts, really twisted things begin to happen.*


    *like “we think global warming is bad, so we will take ice mass measurements only where the ice is decreasing.” When politics and science conflate, Reallly Bad Things become possible.

  • Steve Swartz

    Forgot to add*:

    The problem occurs when research is publicly funded. The “People” give money to the “Scientists” based on what they value.

    Scientists, of course, will “Ride for the Brand!”

    That’s why there is no funding to study ice mass increases, yet in the places where the ice mass is decreasing the biggest problem is finding a parking space . . .

    *Michael Crichton had this epiphany late in life.

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