Philosophy Paul Feyerabend
by
John Preston
  • LAST REVIEWED: 08 October 2015
  • LAST MODIFIED: 24 July 2012
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0046

Introduction

Paul Feyerabend (b. 1924–d. 1994), whose productive career lasted forty-five years, wrote on a plethora of philosophical issues, although much of his work concerned the nature and role of science. He was no narrowly trained or narrowly focused academic, though. His time as a student was divided among the studies of singing, stage management, theater, Italian, harmony, piano, physics, mathematics, astronomy, history, and sociology. He became a student of philosophy only after having earned his doctorate in the subject. His career as a philosopher was an accident, and he did not always see himself as a philosopher. Indeed, Feyerabend seemed to hold the interest and opinion of those who were not professional philosophers in higher regard than those of his academic peers. Nevertheless, he forged for himself a reputation as an important philosopher of science, being very knowledgeable about a range of sciences and very keen to deflate what he saw as pompous, overinflated, or ill-informed estimations of the epistemic and social virtues of the sciences, whether expressed by professional philosophers or by others.

Early Works

Feyerabend’s doctoral dissertation (Feyerabend 1951) was under the influence of logical positivism. His first published papers (e.g., Feyerabend 1955) bear the influence of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations (Elizabeth Anscombe had allowed him to read her English translation while she was working on it; New York: Macmillan, 1953). This influence was quickly submerged, though, under that of the scientific “realism” that Feyerabend imbibed from Ludwig Boltzmann, Walter Hollitscher, Karl Popper, and others. From 1956 until about 1970 Feyerabend was mainly concerned with forging his own version of realism while at the same time trying to show that many of the scientific thinkers who interested him were antirealists, not because of some general philosophical commitment to “positivism” but because they had specific “physical arguments” against realistic interpretations of the leading physical theories of the day. Feyerabend 1956 is a defense of the idea that philosophy should be scientific rather than merely “analytic.”

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Zur Theorie der Basissätze.” PhD diss., University of Vienna, 1951.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feyerabend’s doctoral dissertation (On the theory of basic statements), which he himself described as consisting of notes he had taken while he was the student leader of the philosophical circle centered around Viktor Kraft (himself a survivor from the Vienna Circle of logical positivists).

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Wittgenstein’s Philosophical Investigations.” Philosophical Review 64.3 (1955): 449–483.

    DOI: 10.2307/2182211Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    States a philosophical theory of meaning that is supposedly attacked throughout Wittgenstein’s book, shows how it is criticized by Wittgenstein, and states Wittgenstein’s own position “without implying that Wittgenstein intended to develop a philosophical theory (he did not)” (p. 99).

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “A Note on the Paradox of Analysis.” Philosophical Studies 7.6 (1956): 92–96.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF02221761Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The usual solutions to the paradox of analysis assume that a difference of the triviality values of otherwise synonymous expressions indicates a difference of meaning. Feyerabend discusses two solutions that retain this assumption but urges that dropping it leads to “a very simple and satisfactory solution of the paradox” (p. 94).

    Find this resource:

Arguments for Realism

While the defense of “realism” became the theme of many of Feyerabend’s early papers, the exact nature of that realism is still disputed. In general, Feyerabend tried to show that antirealists had good “physical arguments” but poor philosophical arguments, and that their good arguments could be overcome by understanding realism as an invitation to develop theories that are inconsistent with observations and results of experiments. Feyerabend 1957, Feyerabend 1958b, and Feyerabend 1962 concern the application of realism to one specific theory, quantum mechanics. Feyerabend 1957 and Feyerabend 1958a are largely concerned with advancing the case for realism. The latter is perhaps his most important article during this period. Feyerabend 1958b argues that Niels Bohr’s Copenhagen interpretation of quantum mechanics does have its merits and therefore that realists have plenty of work to do to show the superiority of their view. Feyerabend 1964 effectively sums up this line of argument and points the way most clearly to Feyerabend’s theoretical pluralism.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “On the Quantum Theory of Measurement.” In Observation and Interpretation. Edited by Stephan Körner, 121–130. London: Butterworth, 1957.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aims to show the inadequacy of the existing quantum theory of measurement. Argues that it is possible to give an account of quantum mechanical measurement that involves nothing but the equations of motion and statements about the special properties of the systems involved.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “An Attempt at a Realistic Interpretation of Experience.” Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 58 (1958a): 143–170.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues against positivism, instrumentalism, and logical empiricism by showing that they involve an unacceptable “stability thesis,” according to which the meaning or interpretation of observation statements does not and should not depend upon the theories we hold. Proposes instead that sometimes we must “consider interpretations which don’t fit the phenomena and which clash with what is immediately given” (p. 169).

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Complementarity.” Supplementary Proceedings of the Aristotelian Society 32 (1958b): 75–104.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Those who conceive of light (and matter) as “something which is fundamentally a single and objective entity” (p. 78) must consider existing theories inadequate and search for a new conceptual scheme. Niels Bohr’s alternative point of view, however, is consistent and has led to important results in physics and so cannot be dismissed easily.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Problems of Microphysics.” In Frontiers of Science and Philosophy. Edited by Robert G. Colodny, 189–283. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Here one witnesses the development of an opposition to the Copenhagen interpretation (a kind of scientific realism inspired by David Bohm) that demands that its basic assumptions be given up and replaced by a very different philosophy. These revolutionaries have shown that there is not a single argument establishing that complementarity is the last word in matters microphysical.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Realism and Instrumentalism: Comments on the Logic of Factual Support.” In The Critical Approach to Science and Philosophy. Edited by Mario Bunge, 280–308. New York: Free Press, 1964.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the realist-instrumentalist dispute is no mere matter of words and that even though instrumentalists have good “physical” arguments for their view, realism should ultimately prevail. To endorse realism is to demand support for conjectures having no independent empirical support and being inconsistent with facts and well-confirmed theories, but this is an important desideratum for science.

    Find this resource:

Reconditioning Empiricism

Feyerabend was in the forefront of those “new” philosophers of science who reacted against logical empiricism. Feyerabend 1962 and Feyerabend 1963 along with Feyerabend 1965a are his major critiques of Carl Hempel and Ernest Nagel. Feyerabend 1965b is a defense against another kind of critic: other thinkers who subscribed to scientific realism, as he did, but to a version of a more traditional kind. In Feyerabend 1969 he tries to cut any remaining links to empiricism, while Feyerabend 1970 tries to take stock of the situation in the philosophy of science, which Feyerabend thought had seriously degenerated.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Explanation, Reduction, and Empiricism.” In Scientific Explanation, Space, and Time. Edited by Herbert Feigl and Grover Maxwell, 28–97. Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science 3. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1962.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that no formal account of reduction and explanation for general theories (as opposed to empirical generalizations) is possible. Neither Ernest Nagel’s theory of reduction nor Carl Hempel’s D-N model of explanation is in accordance with scientific practice or a reasonable empiricism. The idea that general theories can be incommensurable with one another is really introduced (not merely hinted at) in this paper.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “How to Be a Good Empiricist: A Plea for Tolerance in Matters Epistemological.” In Philosophy of Science: The Delaware Seminar. Vol. 2. Edited by Bernard Baumrin, 3–39. New York: Interscience, 1963.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Much-anthologized paper aiming to show that contemporary empiricism cannot encourage progress in science. Far from eliminating dogma and metaphysics and thereby encouraging progress, modern empiricism (unlike that of Galileo, Michael Faraday, and Albert Einstein) has found a new way of making them respectable: calling them “well-confirmed theories” and developing a method of confirmation in which experimental inquiry plays a large role.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Problems of Empiricism.” In Beyond the Edge of Certainty. Edited by Robert G. Colodny, 145–260. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1965a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Expands on “How to Be a Good Empiricist” (Feyerabend 1963) in arguing that the empiricist demand that science must be based on observation and experimentation is closely associated with an unacceptable theoretical monism and sketches a new, pluralistic version of empiricism from which the idea of empirical support has been eradicated.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Reply to Criticism: Comments on Smart, Sellars, and Putnam.” In In Honour of Philipp Frank. Edited by Robert S. Cohen and Marx W. Wartofsky, 223–261. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 2. New York: Humanities, 1965b.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feyerabend defends his “model for the acquisition of knowledge” against criticisms by J. J. C. Smart, Wilfrid Sellars, and Hilary Putnam. Endorses a strongly normative conception of epistemology and a “principle of proliferation”: invent and elaborate theories that are inconsistent with the accepted point of view, even if the latter is highly confirmed and accepted.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Science without Experience.” Journal of Philosophy 66.22 (1969): 791–794.

    DOI: 10.2307/2024369Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Questions whether experience can be regarded as a true source and foundation of knowledge. Experience is supposed to be involved in science at three points (in understanding theories, testing them, and communicating their results) but in fact is needed at none of them. Empiricism must therefore be transcended by a more comprehensive and more satisfactory kind of philosophy.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Philosophy of Science: A Subject with a Great Past.” In Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Vol. 5, Historical and Philosophical Perspectives of Science. Edited by Roger Steuwer, 172–183. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that, by reference to “simple, commonsensical and accepted” standards, philosophy of science has degenerated, and much recent activity within the discipline must be deemed a failure. Ernst Mach’s “philosophy,” though, is an exception, since it features a critique of the sciences of his time. Has been important in inspiring people to look beyond Mach’s reputation as an archpositivist.

    Find this resource:

Eliminative Materialism

Feyerabend shares, with W. V. O. Quine, the honor of having introduced into modern philosophy the idea that mental talk is only really an inadequate and unscientific theory, which can and should be replaced by a scientific account of neural phenomena. Feyerabend 1963 is the often-reprinted locus classicus.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Scientific Change, Edited by A. C. Crombie.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 15 (1964): 244–254.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Book review in which some of Feyerabend’s objections to an important early paper by Kuhn were first published. Identifies and critiques Kuhn’s separate arguments for a constitutive relation between mature science, “dogmatism,” and “theoretical monism.”

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Materialism and the Mind-Body Problem.” Review of Metaphysics 17 (1963): 49–67.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important early statement of “eliminative materialism” defending a materialist approach to mental phenomena against “linguistic” arguments and asserting the primacy of science over philosophy.

    Find this resource:

Against Thomas S. Kuhn

Feyerabend was in constant dialogue with his Berkeley colleague Thomas S. Kuhn while Kuhn was writing The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1970). The names of the two are often linked (in their parallel development of concepts of incommensurability, for example). But opposition was at least as prominent a feature of their intellectual relationship as agreement. Hoyningen-Huene 1995 reprints two letters in which Feyerabend protests about Kuhn’s views. The other two articles (Feyerrabend 1964 and Feyerabend 1970), which were published nearer the time, develop the objections mooted in these letters.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Consolations for the Specialist.” In Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965. Vol. 4, Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge. Edited by Imre Lakatos and Alan Musgrave, 197–230. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1970.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Takes issue both with Kuhn’s account of science and with the narrow-minded, antihumanitarian “general ideology” that formed the background to his thinking. Kuhn’s account of science is berated for being deliberately and ambiguously poised between the descriptive and the normative.

    Find this resource:

  • Hoyningen-Huene, Paul. “Two Letters of Paul Feyerabend to Thomas S. Kuhn on a Draft of The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 26.3 (1995): 353–387.

    DOI: 10.1016/0039-3681(95)00005-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Two important letters, written in 1960–1961, in which Feyerabend airs basic objections to the draft version of Thomas S. Kuhn’s book. Kuhn’s presentation of his ideas, his conflation of description and prescription, and his view that science proceeds best when scientists work on a single paradigm are all targets of Feyerabend’s critique.

    Find this resource:

Philosophy, Science, and Culture

Feyerabend was never merely a philosopher of science. His wide reading and knowledge of many fields, intellectual and otherwise, sometimes resulted in articles (like Feyerabend 1967 and Feyerabend 1968a) concerned with other aspects of culture. Feyerabend 1968b is one of his most prominent attempts to argue that the arts and the sciences share features that are at least as important as their differences, while Feyerabend 1970 warns that science will become positively inhuman if experts are allowed to control it.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “The Theatre as an Instrument of the Criticism of Ideologies: Notes on Ionesco.” Inquiry 10 (1967): 298–312.

    DOI: 10.1080/00201746708601496Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Argues that the arts have gone further in the criticism of customary modes of thought than have science or philosophy. Eugène Ionesco is an example, but he still believes in an unchangeable basis of humanity from which ideologies proceed. Freeing him from this assumption enables us to make full use of his contributions to a theater that is free of prejudice and fully critical.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Outline of a Pluralistic Theory of Knowledge and Action.” In Planning for Diversity and Choice. Edited by S. Anderson, 275–284. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1968a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    In the arts, proliferation is expected and encouraged, but contemporary philosophers and scientists think it important to limit the number of alternatives. The function of the artist is then supposed to be expressive. But is it possible to retain the freedom of artistic creation and yet to use it in the improvement of our knowledge? It is, via a pluralistic theory of knowledge and action.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Science, Freedom, and the Good Life.” Philosophical Forum 1 (1968b): 127–135.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Treats sciences and arts as different manifestations or subdisciplines of one comprehensive enterprise. Argues that it is both possible and beneficial to eliminate the obvious differences between them as they exist here and now.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Experts in a Free Society.” Critic 29 (1970): 58–69.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A polemical piece arguing that although science was and is advanced by dilettantes, experts are liable to bring it to a standstill and should not be allowed to control it.

    Find this resource:

Middle Period, Including Against Method

Feyerabend regarded Imre Lakatos’s “methodology of scientific research programmes” as the most promising attempt to move beyond Karl Popper’s philosophy of science while also taking notice of some of Thomas S. Kuhn’s reservations and positive ideas. Feyerabend’s work of the early 1970s was dominated by his attempts to respond to Lakatos’s methodology. When Lakatos died, though, Feyerabend lost his best sounding board, and most responses to his book Against Method (1975) from philosophers of science were strongly negative. As a result, Feyerabend seemed to distance himself from this community, espousing the kind of relativism that he must have known would reinforce such a distancing while at the same time continuing to broaden his work into general epistemology and social and political philosophy.

Debates with Imre Lakatos

Feyerabend’s first “book,” Against Method (Feyerabend 1975a), was prefigured by a long article of the same title that was published in a volume of Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science in 1970. He described the book as a “letter” to Imre Lakatos, the colleague with whom he had discussed its ideas. Feyerabend 1975b is an appreciation of Lakatos, but Feyerabend 1976 and Feyerabend 1978 are very critical of Lakatos’s philosophy of science. Feyerabend 1999 reprints their correspondence and other aspects of their long debate.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge. London: Verso, 1975a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feyerabend’s best-known work, an attempt to show that existing “rationalist” accounts of scientific method fail to take account of the thoroughly opportunistic (“anarchistic”) ways certain great scientists (the example here being Galileo) develop and support their theories. Very successful, the book is in its fourth edition.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Imre Lakatos.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 26.1 (1975b): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjps/26.1.1Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An appreciation of Feyerabend’s friend and former London School of Economics colleague, “the best philosopher of science of our strange and uncomfortable century” (p. 1), who died unexpectedly in February 1974. Prefigures quite a lot of Feyerabend’s last work (on Xenophanes, Aristotle, etc.). Attempts to evaluate Lakatos’s “methodology of scientific research programmes” (p. 2).

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “On the Critique of Scientific Reason.” In Method and Appraisal in the Physical Sciences: The Critical Background to Modern Science, 1800–1905. Edited by Colin Howson, 309–339. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1976.

    DOI: 10.1017/CBO9780511760013Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A long, considered evaluation of the “methodology of scientific research programmes” (p. 333) as handled not only by Lakatos but also by his followers (J. W. N. Watkins, Elie Zahar, Alan Musgrave, etc.). Challenges the objectivity of judgments to the effect that a particular research program is “progressive” or “degenerating.”

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “In Defence of Aristotle: Comments on the Condition of Content Increase.” In Progress and Rationality in Science. Edited by Gerald Radnitzky and Gunnar B. J. Andersson, 143–180. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1978.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-9866-7Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critical study of the idea that science is rational and makes progress because scientists introduce new theories, respecting the condition that they represent an increase in empirical content over the previous theory. Critical rationalists and Lakatos are the targets. An alternative proposal, credited here to J. S. Mill, that theories of rationality be evaluated by the consequences they have for the lives of those who adopt them is preferred.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. For and Against Method, including Lakatos’s Lectures on Scientific Method, and the Lakatos-Feyerabend Correspondence. Edited by Matteo Motterlini. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Volume featuring transcripts of Lakatos’s final lectures on scientific method (1973), Feyerabend’s initial response (“Theses on Anarchism”), and the correspondence between the two figures (1968–1974). Also includes helpful appendixes: short papers and letters by Feyerabend and Lakatos and biographical sketches by Matteo Motterlini.

    Find this resource:

The Relativist Phase

The late 1970s saw Feyerabend steering more closely toward the relativism that critics had already identified as his underlying view. Feyerabend 1980, Feyerabend 1978, Feyerabend 1987, and Feyerabend 1991 explicitly treat the issue of which kind(s) of relativism might be acceptable. Feyerabend 2009 is an important source for ideas published in English only in the later phases of Feyerabend’s work (such as Feyerabend 1984).

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Rationalism, Relativism, and Scientific Method.” Philosophy in Context: An Experiment in Teaching, supp., 6.1 (1977): 7–19.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Raises the questions of what it means to be rational and why being rational would be a good thing. Argues that science cannot itself play the role of a measure of rationality and that “there is not one rationality, there are many, and it is up to us to choose the one we like best” (p. 16). This relativism forces us to make choices.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Science in a Free Society. London: New Left, 1978.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feyerabend’s most reckless production, one even he came to wish he had not published. Parts 1 and 2 include essays defending views most commentators identified as relativist (although Feyerabend seems to have thought of himself as defending only “political” relativism––the idea that science should be under the democratic control of lay councils). Part 3, replies to reviews of Against Method, features Feyerabend at his most ill tempered.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Democracy, Elitism, and Scientific Method.” Inquiry 23.1 (1980): 3–18.

    DOI: 10.1080/00201748008601890Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The “political” relativism envisaged in Feyerabend 1978 is here expounded in detail as “democratic relativism,” the view that all traditions have equal rights and that the state should not take sides between traditions or political values.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Xenophanes: A Forerunner of Critical Rationalism?” In Rationality in Science and in Politics. Edited by Gunnar Andersson, 95–109. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 79. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1984.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-009-6254-5_6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Xenophanes was the first to distinguish between truth (supposedly single) and the multiplicity of human opinions. He not only assigned human knowledge to its proper place within culture, he also separated knowledge more clearly from nature and the rest of culture than before. His is the first theory of knowledge. However, although Xenophanes’s criticism of traditional gods is today accepted by everyone, it is not conclusive.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Farewell to Reason. London: Verso, 1987.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A strong collection of essays in which Feyerabend defends what he understands to be relativism, “a philosophy which undermines the very basis of Reason” (p. 12). The final chapter, “Farewell to Reason,” contrasts the philosophers’ concern with reason, deemed to be a disaster and to which we should bid farewell, with Feyerabend’s own concern—the quality of life of individuals.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Three Dialogues on Knowledge. Oxford: Blackwell, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Three loose dialogues between various fictional figures who start out studying Plato’s dialogue Theaetetus and come across the relativism of Protagoras there. The relativist’s “practical intentions” are outlined, as is Feyerabend’s ontology, in which “being” reacts to different traditions in different ways and thereby creates different kinds of things.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Naturphilosophie. Edited by Helmut Heit and Eric Oberheim. Frankfurt: Suhrkamp, 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Alongside Against Method, Feyerabend worked on a projected three-volume Naturphilosophie covering the period from the earliest Stone Age cave paintings to the 20th century. The focus is on the rise of rationalism in ancient Greece and the consequent separation of humans from nature.

    Find this resource:

Collections

There are three published volumes of Feyerabend’s Philosophical Papers (a fourth one is in production as of 2012). Feyerabend 1981a and Feyerabend 1981b were produced with his collaboration and input. Feyerabend 1999 collects some important papers that had not been previously anthologized.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Problems of Empiricism: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 2. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This second volume of his Philosophical Papers ranges more widely both in time and in content than the first volume, collecting together articles on various versions of empiricism and on Ludwig Wittgenstein, Thomas S. Kuhn, Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, and Larry Laudan originally published between 1955 and 1981. It also includes an introductory essay (pp. 1–33) featuring “observations on the decay of the philosophy of science” (p. 1).

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Realism, Rationalism, and Scientific Method: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 1. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1981b.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This first volume of Feyerabend’s Philosophical Papers collects together many of his most important articles on the issue of how to interpret scientific theories (positivism versus realism), on the mind-body problem, and on the quantum theory from 1957 to 1969. Each of its two “parts” has a useful introductory essay.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Knowledge, Science, and Relativism: Philosophical Papers. Vol. 3. Edited by John M. Preston. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    This third volume of Feyerabend’s Philosophical Papers features articles he published between 1960 and 1980 as well as a bibliography of his works by Eric Oberheim.

    Find this resource:

Later Works

Many of Feyerabend’s last works arose from his long-standing interest in Naturphilosophie. His study of the pre-Socratic thinkers in particular issued in important claims about the origins and developments of both science and philosophy. Feyerabend came to think that there had been a drastically and unjustifiably narrowing down of the preexisting intellectual abundance by the imposition of a very limited set of criteria for what counts as belief worthy. Philosophers could not take “credit” for this development, though, since they simply jumped on a bandwagon that was already on its way, propelled by social forces. His later works are very critical of “objectivism,” ontological monism, and scientism, but research into whether those works might supply a plausible alternative to existing views has only just begun. Feyerabend 1991a and his autobiography, Feyerabend 1995, present inter alia negative observations on recent philosophy of science. Feyerabend 1991b starts to develop a new metaphysics for scientific activity. Feyerabend 1999 and Feyerabend 2011 are the two most substantial works here, each of which tries to integrate a critique of philosophy as the enemy of abundance, an estimation of science itself, and Feyerabend’s new metaphysics for science.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Concluding Unphilosophical Conversation.” In Beyond Reason: Essays on the Philosophy of Paul Feyerabend. Edited by Gonzalo Munévar, 487–527. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1991a.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A rambling series of observations that touches on themes raised by contributors to the Festschrift in which it appears. Feyerabend tells of his early philosophical history and is scathing about Karl Popper but positive about John Stuart Mill, Michael Polanyi, and others. He declines to reply to the Festschrift’s papers, though. Its most important material is its clarification of where Feyerabend stands on the issue of relativism.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Nature as a Work of Art.” Common Knowledge 1 (1991b): 3–9.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Aims to show that “nature as described by our scientists is a work of art that is constantly being enlarged and rebuilt by them. In other words: our entire universe is an artifact, constructed by generations of scientist-artisans from a partly yielding, partly resisting material of unknown properties” (p. 3). Tries to specify a sense in which scientists create the objects they theorize about.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend. Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1995.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Feyerabend’s autobiography, a kind of journey back into his past to find roots. Chapters cover his childhood, his school years, the Anschluss, World War II, his time at the music academy in Weimar, his years at university in Vienna, his travels, his marriages, his early philosophical work in Vienna, and his academic engagements in London, Bristol, Berkeley, Berlin, Auckland, Brighton, and Zurich and at Yale University.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. Conquest of Abundance: A Tale of Abstraction versus the Richness of Being. Edited by Bert Terpstra. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1999.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first part of this book comprises the unfinished manuscript of Feyerabend’s last work. (Almost all of the articles collected in the second part have been previously published.) The main theme is the way abstractions have taken over our lives and in the course of historical time have reduced the original abundance that the world displays.

    Find this resource:

  • Feyerabend, Paul. The Tyranny of Science. Edited by Eric Oberheim. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 2011.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Lectures first delivered in 1992 to a general audience in which Feyerabend complains that a particular abstract, theoretical, “objectivist” kind of science now dominates our thinking, excluding more human modes of thought. Scientism, the belief that science has the answer to all meaningful questions, is also a target.

    Find this resource:

Commentaries

While Feyerabend’s work attracted a good deal of attention, it has not been subject to the same kind of detailed scrutiny as Thomas S. Kuhn’s. Early critics mainly accused him of playing “fast and loose” with the notion of meaning, of not having a properly worked-out account of observation, and of deploying a flawed argument for theoretical pluralism. Against Method provoked some detailed studies of Galileo as well as some defenses of (suitably moderate) claims about scientific method and of Imre Lakatos’s methodology of scientific research programs. Feyerabend’s relativism, even in its later form as “democratic relativism,” came in for a lot of criticism. Critical study of his later work is only really beginning, but there are some good accounts of most of his philosophy along with some significant collections of articles.

On Realism

Feyerabend’s version of realism is covered in most of the major monographs on his work, but Baertschi 1986 is a useful addition.

On Empiricism

Feyerabend’s critique of and attempt to recondition empiricism attracted quite a lot of attention. Butts 1966 is rightly skeptical about the whole idea of a “pragmatic” theory of observation. Hull 1972 is somewhat more positive. Putnam 1965 is a very critical assessment of Feyerabend’s take on the concept of meaning by a philosopher of science whose own views on meaning have been both far more influential than Feyerabend’s and almost diametrically opposed to them in import. Laymon 1977 defends a qualified version of Feyerabend’s argument for theoretical pluralism, but Worrall 1979 and Zahar 1982 are both strongly critical of that argument and seem to have taken critical opinion with them. Shapere 1966 is a general assessment of the “new” philosophy of science written at a critical point and by one who then seemed best placed to further develop that philosophy.

  • Butts, Robert E. “Feyerabend and the Pragmatic Theory of Observation.” Philosophy of Science 33.4 (1966): 383–393.

    DOI: 10.1086/288110Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important early critique of Feyerabend’s “pragmatic” (as opposed to semantic) account of observability.

    Find this resource:

  • Hull, Richard T. “Feyerabend’s Attack on Observation Sentences.” Synthese 23.4 (1972): 374–399.

    DOI: 10.1007/BF00636292Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critical study of Feyerabend’s account of observation, including a tentative defense of his view that even the most basic observation statements rely upon theories for their content but also including some reservations about Feyerabend’s views.

    Find this resource:

  • Laymon, Ronald. “Feyerabend, Brownian Motion, and the Hiddenness of Refuting Facts.” Philosophy of Science 44.2 (1977): 225–247.

    DOI: 10.1086/288740Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An attempt to evaluate Feyerabend’s basic argument for theoretical pluralism in its application to the case of Brownian motion. Laymon contends that although no alternative theory was necessary to refute phenomenological thermodynamics, successful alternative theories do afford inductive support to refuting experimental descriptions.

    Find this resource:

  • Putnam, Hilary. “How Not to Talk about Meaning.” In In Honor of Philipp Frank. Edited by R. S. Cohen and M. W. Wartofsky, 117–131. Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science 2. New York: Humanities, 1965.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critique of Feyerabend’s “Explanation, Reduction, and Empiricism” in reply to a paper by J. J. C. Smart. Smart had, by Putnam’s lights, praised as beauties of the US philosophical landscape what were in fact weeds, notably the account of meaning that Feyerabend had given in that paper.

    Find this resource:

  • Shapere, Dudley. “Meaning and Scientific Change.” In Mind and Cosmos: Essays in Contemporary Science and Philosophy. Edited by Robert G. Colodny, 41–85. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press, 1966.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A critical elucidation of certain strands in the “new philosophy of science” then emerging and thought of as attempts to identify fundamental presuppositions of scientific investigation. Thomas S. Kuhn and Feyerabend are the central figures considered.

    Find this resource:

  • Worrall, John. “Is the Empirical Content of a Theory Dependent on Its Rivals?” Acta Philosophical Fennica 30 (1979): 298–310.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very important critique of Feyerabend’s crucial argument for theoretical pluralism (according to which the use of a plurality of theories increases the empirical content of each).

    Find this resource:

  • Zahar, Elie. “Feyerabend on Observation and Empirical Content.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 33.4 (1982): 397–409.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjps/33.4.397Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A review of a German-language collection of Feyerabend’s papers (from 1958 to 1977) concentrating on two issues: whether we can find any “phenomenological” language whose observation statements are incorrigible and whether Feyerabend’s underlying argument for theoretical pluralism works.

    Find this resource:

On Against Method and the Debate with Lakatos

Against Method generated quite a literature. Some commentators took issue with its case study of Galileo, including Machamer 1973 and Chalmers 1986, which is nevertheless relatively sympathetic to Feyerabend’s overall aim. So too in its own way is Weimer 1980, which prefigures some more recent work on different versions of “rationalism.” Alan E. Musgrave’s two papers (Musgrave 1978 and Musgrave 1976) along with Worrall 1978 seek to defend Feyerabend’s main target, Imre Lakatos, against his critique. Probably the most critical productions are Laudan 1989 and Newton-Smith 1981, both of which defend modest versions of the idea that there is such a thing as the scientific method.

  • Chalmers, Alan F. “The Galileo That Feyerabend Missed: An Improved Case against Method.” In The Politics and Rhetoric of Scientific Method: Historical Studies. Edited by J. A. Schuster and R. R. Yeo, 1–31. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1986.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Begins with a critique of Feyerabend’s Galileo case study in Against Method but then goes on to argue that a better understanding of Galileo’s work will indeed destroy any claim that there could be a universal, ahistorical scientific method.

    Find this resource:

  • Laudan, Larry. “For Method; or, Against Feyerabend.” In An Intimate Relation: Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science Presented to Robert E. Butts on His 60th Birthday. Edited by J. R. Brown and J. Mittelstrass, 299–317. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very critical study of Feyerabend’s case against method identifying his arguments as a series of non sequiturs. Feyerabend’s basic argument for theoretical pluralism is also taken to task.

    Find this resource:

  • Machamer, Peter. “Feyerabend and Galileo: The Interaction of Theories and the Reinterpretation of Experience.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 4.1 (1973): 1–46.

    DOI: 10.1016/0039-3681(73)90022-8Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extended critical study of Feyerabend’s treatment of Galileo in his 1970 essay “Problems of Empiricism, II” in The Nature and Function of Scientific Theories (University of Pittsburgh Press, 1970). (Feyerabend replied to it in the following volume of the same journal.)

    Find this resource:

  • Musgrave, Alan E. “Method or Madness? Can the Methodology of Research Programmes Be Rescued from Epistemological Anarchism?” In Essays in Memory of Imre Lakatos. Edited by R. S. Cohen, P. K. Feyerabend, and M. Wartofsky, 457–491. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1976.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-010-1451-9Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A reply to Feyerabend’s paper “Consolations for the Specialist” defending scientific rationality (conceived of in the Lakatosian way as a matter of the rational development of scientific research programs) against Feyerabend’s critique.

    Find this resource:

  • Musgrave, Alan E. “How to Avoid Incommensurability.” Acta Philosophica Fennica 30 (1978): 337–346.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An examination of the consequences of the incommensurability thesis and of the arguments for it, arguing that it renders the notion of scientific progress obscure and that it leads to an idealist view of science. Treats alleged meaning changes as changes of theory.

    Find this resource:

  • Newton-Smith, William H. The Rationality of Science. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1981.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780203317211Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A survey of and contribution to the debate over the rationality of science covering Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Thomas S. Kuhn, Feyerabend, and the “strong programme” in the sociology of knowledge, concluding with a defense of a temperate rationalism and scientific realism.

    Find this resource:

  • Weimer, Walter B. “For and Against Method: Reflections on Feyerabend and the Foibles of Philosophy.” Pre/Text 1–2 (1980): 161–203.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Important evaluation of issues concerning scientific methodology from the perspective of research on spontaneous orders (following F. A. Hayek and others). Argues that Feyerabend was right to reject existing versions of rationalism but wrong to swing over to methodological “anarchism,” since thinking of science as a collection of spontaneous orders allows one to discern its true rationality.

    Find this resource:

  • Worrall, John. “Against Too Much Method (Review of P. K. Feyerabend, Against Method).” Erkenntnis 13 (1978): 279–295.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A very critical study of Against Method identifying various inconsistencies in Feyerabend’s views there on the assumption that the basis of those views is the idea that no statement has any epistemic superiority over any other.

    Find this resource:

On Feyerabend’s Relativist Phase

All four articles cited here identify Feyerabend as a relativist of some kind, and all four are critical of the kind of relativism in question. Davidson 1973, while not going deeply into Feyerabend’s work, is important because it presents a challenge to the basis of most versions of relativism. McEvoy 1975 is an assessment of Feyerabend’s work from a critical rationalist perspective. Yates 1984 takes on the version of relativism that Feyerabend was explicitly committed to, while Siegel 1989 is a critical assessment written by a leading critic of all forms of relativism.

On Feyerabend’s Last Work

Critical study of the final phase of Feyerabend’s work has only just begun in earnest. Preston 1998 tries to sum up some of its themes, interpreting this phase of his work as to some extent distinctive, while Munévar 2002 is keener to see Feyerabend’s work as a continuous tapestry.

  • Munévar, Gonzalo. “Conquering Feyerabend’s Conquest of Abundance.” Philosophy of Science 69.3 (2002): 519–535.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important study of Feyerabend’s last work arguing for its continuity with his previous thought and endorsing Feyerabend’s critique of realism but critiquing his apparent withdrawal from relativism.

    Find this resource:

  • Preston, John. “Science as Supermarket: ‘Post-Modern’ Themes in Paul Feyerabend’s Later Philosophy of Science.” Studies in History and Philosophy of Science 29.3 (1998): 425–447.

    DOI: 10.1016/S0039-3681(98)00015-6Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first attempt to survey Feyerabend’s later work (during the late 1980s and early 1990s) and to compare it with various versions of “postmodernism” prevalent in philosophy, including in the philosophy of science.

    Find this resource:

General Studies of Feyerabend’s Philosophy

There is only a handful of monographs on Feyerabend’s work, but all are worthwhile. Couvalis 1989 concentrates on a limited range of his papers. Preston 1997 tries to explain his central ideas but is also quite critical of much of his philosophy. Farrell 2003 and Oberheim 2006 both find his views more defensible. Preston 2009 is a general survey of Feyerabend’s output but includes biographical information.

  • Couvalis, George. Feyerabend’s Critique of Foundationalism. Aldershot, UK: Avebury, 1989.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    The first proper monograph on Feyerabend’s philosophy. Concentrates on his early papers, those concerning the interpretation of scientific theories, the meaning of scientific terms, and the proliferation of theories within science. Does a good job of piecing together Feyerabend’s arguments against “foundationalism” from papers spanning the period 1955–1975.

    Find this resource:

  • Farrell, Robert P. Feyerabend and Scientific Values: Tightrope-Walking Rationality. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 2003.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An explication of Feyerabend’s philosophy that generally supplies careful readings of Feyerabend that should give the lie to the way most of his critics represent his views. It does a good job of crediting Feyerabend with views that are plausible and worth defending, giving him a sensible alternative to the sort of “rationalism” that insists on trying to make sense of science in terms of context-independent methodological rules.

    Find this resource:

  • Oberheim, Eric. Feyerabend’s Philosophy. New York: de Gruyter, 2006.

    DOI: 10.1515/9783110891768Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A state-of-the-art, full-length treatment of Feyerabend’s philosophical thought by a serious scholar. Not cheap but a fascinating and well-informed account. Feyerabend, despite impressions to the contrary, emerges as having been a Kantian thinker all along.

    Find this resource:

  • Preston, John. Feyerabend: Philosophy, Science, and Society. Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1997.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An attempt to consider various central aspects of Feyerabend’s philosophy (up until the early 1980s) and their development.

    Find this resource:

  • Preston, John. “Paul Feyerabend.” In Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. 2009.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    Includes a brief chronology of Feyerabend’s life and work, a critical appraisal of the same, a bibliography of his work and the main secondary literature, and links to other related Internet resources.

    Find this resource:

Collections

There are as yet few collections of articles on Feyerabend’s work, but his early philosophy of science is covered in Suppe 1977. Munévar 1991 is an important Festschrift to which Feyerabend himself contributed, and Preston, et al. 2000 collects more recent papers.

  • Munévar, Gonzalo, ed. Beyond Reason: Essays on the Philosophy of Paul Feyerabend. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer, 1991.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An extensive collection of essays on Feyerabend’s philosophy (most of them deriving from an earlier, two-volume German-language collection). Features important papers by Paul Churchland, Cliff Hooker, Ian Hacking, Gonzalo Munévar, Noretta Koertge, Alan Musgrave, Frederick Suppe, John Worrall, Joseph Agassi, and others.

    Find this resource:

  • Preston, John, Gonzalo Munévar, and David Lamb, eds. The Worst Enemy of Science? Essays in Memory of Paul Feyerabend. New York: Oxford University Press, 2000.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    An important collection of essays by Feyerabend acolytes, critics, and scholars.

    Find this resource:

  • Suppe, Frederick, ed. The Structure of Scientific Theories. 2d ed. Proceedings of a symposium held in Urbana, Illinois, 26–29 March 1969. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1977.

    Save Citation »Export Citation »E-mail Citation »

    A large collection of articles deriving from a conference in 1969 and aiming to assess the state of play between the “received view” of scientific theories (as elaborated by the logical empiricists) and various new alternatives to it, among them Feyerabend’s.

    Find this resource:

back to top

Article

Up

Down