Against Method – Paul Feyerabend

Against Method : Outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge
(Analytical Table of Contents and Concluding Chapter)

From Against Method (1975)

“Thus 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 favour of a certain ideology, or who have accepted it without having ever examined its advantages and its limits. And as the accepting and rejecting of ideologies should be left to the individual it follows that the separation of state and church must be supplemented by the separation of state and science, that most recent, most aggressive, and most dogmatic religious institution. Such a separation may be our only chance to achieve a humanity we are capable of, but have never fully realised.”
“Such a study reveals that, while some scientists may proceed as described, the great majority follow a different path. Scepticism is at a minimum; it is directed against the view of the opposition and against minor ramifications of one’s own basic ideas, never against the basic ideas themselves. Attacking the basic ideas evokes taboo reactions which are no weaker than are the taboo reactions in so-called “primitive societies.” Basic beliefs are protected by this reaction as well as by secondary elaborations, as we have seen, and whatever fails to fit into the established category system or is said to be incompatible with this system is either viewed as something quite horrifying or, more frequently, it is simply declared to be non-existent. Nor is science prepared to make ‘a theoretical pluralism the foundation of research. Newton reigned for more than 150 years, Einstein briefly introduced a more liberal point of view only to be succeeded by the Copenhagen Interpretation. The similarities between science and myth are indeed astonishing.”
“But the fields are even more closely related. The massive dogmatism I have described is not just a fact, it has also a most important function. Science would be impossible without it.” ‘Primitive’ thinkers showed greater insight into the nature of knowledge than their ‘enlightened’ philosophical rivals. It is, therefore, necessary to re-examine our attitude towards myth, religion, magic, witchcraft and towards all those ideas which rationalists would like to see forever removed from the surface of the earth (without having so much as looked at them – a typical taboo reaction).

There is another reason why such a re-examination is urgently required. The rise of modern science coincides with the suppression of non-Western tribes by Western invaders. The tribes are not only physically suppressed, they also lose their intellectual independence and are forced to adopt the bloodthirsty religion of brotherly love – Christianity. The most intelligent members get an extra bonus: they are introduced into the mysteries of Western Rationalism and its peak – Western Science. Occasionally this leads to an almost unbearable tension with tradition (Haiti). In most cases the tradition disappears without the trace of an argument, one simply becomes a slave both in body and in mind. Today this development is gradually reversed – with great reluctance, to be sure, but it is reversed. Freedom is regained, old traditions are rediscovered, both among the minorities in Western countries and among large populations in non-Western continents. But science still reigns supreme. It reigns supreme because its practitioners are unable to understand, and unwilling to condone, different ideologies, because they have the power to enforce their wishes, and because they use this power, just as their ancestors used their power to force Christianity on the peoples they encountered during their conquests. Thus, while an American can now choose the religion he likes, he is still not permitted to demand that his children learn magic rather than science at school. There is a separation between state and church, there is no separation between state and science.

And yet science has no greater authority than any other form of life. Its aims are certainly not more important than are the aims that guide the lives in a religious community or in a tribe that is united by a myth. At any rate, they have no business restricting the lives, the thoughts, the education of the members of a free society where everyone should have a chance to make up his own mind and to live in accordance with the social beliefs he finds most acceptable. The separation between state and church must therefore be complemented by the separation between state and science.

We need not fear that such a separation will lead to a breakdown of technology. There will always be people who prefer being scientists to being the masters of their fate and who gladly submit to the meanest kind of (intellectual and institutional) slavery provided they are paid well and provided also there are some people around who examine their work and sing their praise. Greece developed and progressed because it could rely on the services of unwilling slaves. We shall develop and progress with the help of the numerous willing slaves in universities and laboratories who provide us with pills, gas, electricity, atom bombs, frozen dinners and, occasionally, with a few interesting fairy-tales. We shall treat these slaves well, we shall even listen to them, for they have occasionally some interesting stories to tell, but we shall not permit them to impose their ideology on our children in the guise of ‘progressive’ theories of education. We shall not permit them to teach the fancies of science as if they were the only factual statements in existence. This separation of science and state may be our only chance to overcome the hectic barbarism of our scientific-technical age and to achieve a humanity we are capable of, but have never fully realised. ”
“Ideally, the modern state is ideologically neutral. Religion, myth, prejudices do have an influence, but only in a roundabout way, through the medium of politically influential parties. Ideological principles may enter the governmental structure, but only via a majority vote, and after a lengthy discussion of possible consequences. In our schools the main religions are taught as historical phenomena. They are taught as parts of the truth only if the parents insist on a more direct mode of instruction. It is up to them to decide about the religious education of their children. The financial support of ideologies does not exceed the financial support granted to parties and to private groups. State and ideology, state and church, state and myth, are carefully separated.

State and science, however, work closely to-ether. Immense sums are spent on the improvement of scientific ideas. Bastard subjects such as the philosophy of science which have not a single discovery to their credit profit from the boom of the sciences. Even human relations are dealt with in a scientific manner, as is shown by education programmes, proposals for prison reform, army training, and so on. Almost all scientific subjects are compulsory subjects in our schools. While the parents of a six-year-old child can decide to have him instructed in the rudiments of Protestantism, or in the rudiments of the Jewish faith, or to omit religious instruction altogether, they do not have a similar freedom in the case of the sciences. Physics, astronomy, history must be learned. They cannot be replaced by magic, astrology, or by a study of legends.”
“Finally, the manner in which we accept or reject scientific ideas is radically different from democratic decision procedures. We accept scientific laws and scientific facts, we teach them in our schools, we make them the basis of important political decisions, but without ever having subjected them to a vote. Scientists do not subject them to a vote – or at least this is what they say – and laymen certainly do not subject them to a vote. Concrete proposals are occasionally discussed, and a vote is suggested. But the procedure is not extended to general theories and scientific facts. Modern society is ‘Copernican’ not because Copernicanism has been put on a ballot, subjected to a democratic debate and then voted in with a simple majority; it is ‘Copernican’ because the scientists are Copernicans and because one accepts their cosmology as uncritically as one once accepted the cosmology of bishops and cardinals.”
“Evans-Pritchard, Lévi-Strauss and others have recognised that ‘Western Thought’, far from being a lonely peak of human development, is troubled by problems not found in other ideologies – but they exclude science from their relativisation of all forms of thought. Even for them science is a neutral structure containing positive knowledge that is independent of culture, ideology, prejudice.

The reason for this special treatment of science is, of course, our little fairy-tale: if science has found a method that turns ideologically contaminated ideas into true and useful theories, then it is indeed not mere ideology, but an objective measure of all ideologies. It is then not subjected to the demand for a separation between state and ideology. But the fairy-tale is false, as we have seen. There is no special method that guarantees success or makes it probable. Scientists do not solve problems because they possess a magic wand – methodology, or a theory of rationality – but because they have studied a problem for a long time, because they know the situation fairly well, because they are not too dumb (though that is rather doubtful nowadays when almost anyone can become a scientist), and because the excesses of one scientific school are almost always balanced by the excesses of some other school. (Besides, scientists only rarely solve their problems, they make lots of mistakes, and many of their solutions are quite useless.) Basically there. is hardly any difference between the process that leads to the announcement of a new scientific law and the process preceding passage of a new law in society: one informs either all citizens or those immediately concerned, one collects ‘facts’ and prejudices, one discusses the matter, and one finally votes. But while a democracy makes some effort to explain the process so that everyone can understand it, scientists either conceal it, or bend it, to make it fit their sectarian interests.”
“[…] We see: facts alone are not strong enough for making us accept, or reject, scientific theories, the range they leave to thought is too wide; logic and methodology eliminate too much, they are too narrow. In between these two extremes lies the ever-changing domain of human ideas and wishes. And a more detailed analysis of successful moves in the game of science (‘successful’ from the point of view of the scientists themselves) shows indeed that there is a wide range of freedom that demands a multiplicity of ideas and permits the application of democratic procedures (ballot-discussion-vote) but that is actually closed by power politics and propaganda. This is where the fairy-tale of a special method assumes its decisive function. It conceals the freedom of decision which creative scientists and the general public have even inside the most rigid and the most advanced parts of science by a recitation of ‘objective’ criteria and it thus protects the big-shots (Nobel Prize winners; heads of laboratories, of organisations such as the AMA, of special schools; ‘educators’; etc.) from the masses (laymen; experts in non-scientific fields; experts in other fields of science): only those citizens count who were subjected to the pressures of scientific institutions (they have undergone a long process of education), who succumbed to these pressures (they have passed their examinations), and who are now firmly convinced of the truth of the fairy-tale. This is how scientists have deceived themselves and everyone else about their business, but without any real disadvantage: they have more money, more authority, more sex appeal than they deserve, and the most stupid procedures and the most laughable results in their domain are surrounded with an aura of excellence. It is time to cut them down in size, and to give them a more modest position in society.”
“And those who do not like to see the state meddling in scientific matters should remember the sizeable chauvinism of science: for most scientists the slogan ‘freedom for science’ means the freedom to indoctrinate not only those who have joined them, but the rest of society as well. Of course – not every mixture of scientific and non-scientific elements is successful (example: Lysenko). But science is not always successful either. If mixtures are to be avoided because they occasionally misfire, then pure science (if there is such a thing) must be avoided as well. (It is not the interference of the state that is objectionable in the Lysenko case, but the totalitarian interference that kills the opponent instead of letting him go his own way.)”
“At all times man approached his surroundings with wide open senses and a fertile intelligence, at all times he made incredible discoveries, at all times we can learn from his ideas.”
“How often is science improved, and turned into new directions by non-scientific influences! it is up to us, it is up to the citizens of a free society to either accept the chauvinism of science without contradiction or to overcome it by the counterforce of public action. Public action was used against science by the Communists in China in the fifties, and it was again used,, under very different circumstances, by some opponents of evolution in California in the seventies. Let us follow their example and let us free society from the strangling hold of an ideologically petrified science just as our ancestors freed us from the strangling hold of the One True Religion!”
” A mature citizen is not a man who has been instructed in a special ideology, such as Puritanism, or critical rationalism, and who now carries this ideology with him like a mental tumour, a mature citizen is a person who has learned how to make up his mind and who has then decided in favour of what he thinks suits him best. He is a person who has a certain mental toughness (he does not fall for the first ideological street singer he happens to meet) and who is therefore able consciously to choose the business that seems to be most attractive to him rather than being swallowed by it. To prepare himself for his choice he will study the major ideologies as historical phenomena, he will study science as a historical phenomenon and not as the one and only sensible way of approaching a problem. He will study it together with other fairy-tales such as the myths of ‘primitive’ societies so that he has the information needed for arriving at a free decision. An essential part of a general education of this kind is acquaintance with the most outstanding propagandists in all fields, so that the pupil can build up his resistance against all propaganda, including the propaganda called ‘argument’. It is only after such a hardening procedure that he will be called upon to make up his mind on the issue rationalism-irrationalism, science-myth, science-religion, and so on. His decision in favour of science – assuming he chooses science – will then be much more ‘rational’ than any decision in favour of science is today. At any rate – science and the schools will be just as carefully separated as religion and the schools are separated today. Scientists will of course participate in governmental decisions, for everyone participates in such decisions. But they will not be given overriding authority. It is the vote of everyone concerned that decides fundamental issues such as the teaching methods used, or the truth of basic beliefs such as the theory of evolution, or the quantum theory, and not the authority of big-shots hiding behind a non-existing methodology. There is no need to fear that such a way of arranging society will lead to undesirable results. Science itself uses the method of ballot, discussion, vote, though without a clear grasp of its mechanism, and in a heavily biased way. But the rationality of our beliefs will certainly be considerably increased.”



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