I finished reading Killing Time recently, with an eye toward learning about Feyerabend's approach to the philosophy of science. A simple search on the Internet will provide a basic introduction, but it is always better to get information from as close to the original source as possible, so I am including a few quotes from the book below. Feyerabend places the scientific tradition on an equal plane with other traditions, including religious traditions. I think this is for several reasons: science is not objective, nor are its products always beneficial. If the scientific tradition is deposed as the ruling way of knowing, what we are left with is “epistemological anarchy”. Popularly conceived, anarchy means chaos, but here it is better understood as pluralism – no single tradition has a monopoly on knowledge, or truth. On the other hand, he would never say that scientific theories are not to be taken seriously. So what is there to gain from all this? In Feyerabend's words, “a little more freedom, a little more happiness, a little more light.” It will take a reading of his other books to gain more insight into how he reached his conclusions. For now, I appreciate being unbound by any ideology, free from guilt and free to understand my experience on terms of my own choosing.
A few weeks before he died, Feyerabend was told in the course of an interview "You have not created a positive philosophical system" to which he replied "You find positive things not in theories but in human relations. If somebody is happily married, has good children, this is a positive thing in life. It can't be put into concepts." Feyerabend thought that happiness, love, friendship, and the full development of human beings was the highest possible value.
Richard Dawkins will be visiting this summer to give a speech, and I would like to ask him his opinion of Feyerabend. I am sure he should find him agreeable, as Dawkins opens his book The God Delusion with a short story illustrating why it is unethical to indoctrinate impressionable youth in a particular religion without allowing them to make that decision for themselves. Feyerabend makes the same point, taking it one step further to include science among the list of ideologies susceptible to the same kind of religious fervor.
If atheism is the belief that there is no god, non-absolutism is the belief that there are no absolutes of any kind, which includes a belief that "a unified theory of the physical world simply does not exist" (Feyerabend, Farewell to Reason, 1987), "all methodologies have their limits" (Against Method, 1975). But who among us would dare to take non-absolutism to such extremes and confront the greatest aspiration of science, a TOE (theory of everything)? Until very recently, I probably wouldn't have, non-absolutism was to me an abstract concept, but Feyerabend shows it to be a historical reality. The positive message is that if science is an ideology like any other, then this does not diminish its evident importance, rather it raises the importance of the others.
The following quotes are from Killing Time:
“Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are all based on books, and nature, accordingly, was treated as a book written in a special and rather difficult language.”
“I think that many young people – say, between fifteen and seveenteen or, today, between seven and ten – have similarly unstable perceptions and views. They see the world in a special way, and yet the slightest pressure can make them see it differently. A good teacher respects this instability. Unfortunately, most educators use it “to teach the truth,” as they call the process of imparting their own puny ideas.”
“The world, including the world of science, is a complex and scattered entity that cannot be captured by theories and simple rules... Nor is there one way of knowing, science; there are many such ways, and before they were ruined by Western civilization they were effective in the sense that they kept people alive and made their existence comprehensible... Scientific institutions are not “objective”; neither they nor their products confront people like a rock, or a star. They often merge with other traditions, are affected by them, affect them in turn. Decisive scientific movements were inspired by philosophical and religious (or theological) sentiments. The material benefits of science are not at all obvious. There are great benefits, true. But there are also great disadvantages. And the role of the abstract entity “science” in the production of the benefits is anything but clear.”
“The treasures unearthed by science seem to have an additional advantage: being related to each other in lawful ways they can be manipulated or predicted by using the laws. But that makes them important only if the resulting scenario is pleasant to live in. The objection that the scenario is “real,” and that we must adapt to it no matter what, has no weight, for it is not the only one: there are many ways of thinking and living.” [emphasis mine]
[For a convincing contra position read this. Whatever could be said of him, Feyerabend stood primarily for the free exercise of intellect, unconstrained by dogma. This is why his message resonated with me; I feel like my thoughts are constraining me in crippling ways and that during the brief moments I feel liberated from them I am focused and very efficient in my choices and actions. I always want to be liberated from my concerns, worries, biases, etc. and live in the moment. Who doesn't? As I wrote in my last entry: "Everything is unique and special, each experience and person is fundamentally different from the next. I approach everything anew each time." Yes, I do concede that they can all be related to each other, but everything is unique. The fundamental uniqueness of personal experience (the term 'subjective consciousness' seems too sterile) lies at the core of humanity and all life. Here is how I can liberate myself from concerns (or even compulsive over analysis): I don't want to replace one thought with another thought, I want to remember that all thoughts have their limits. So why persist in pursuing them? It is a version of "this too shall pass", but I have modeled it on a quote from pg.32 of Feyerabend's Against Method. I just replaced the words "rules" and "methodologies" with "thoughts". There is no limit to the number of grand ideas one can have, but all grand ideas have their limits.]