The Philosophical Musings of Paul Feyerbend

Paul Feyerabend can be considered somewhat of an iconoclast in terms of his philosophical approach to science. This is somewhat ironic considering the common notion that a man of science would be more akin to following the tenants of science as opposed to venturing into uncharted theoretical philosophical territory. This has led to some considering him a mad-man of science. But, is this really an accurate assessment of Feyerabend Actually, it is not a proper assessment of the man, his philosophical theories, and his approach to science.

In reality, the Feyerabend approach to science and philosophy is far more realistic than most people are aware of. Namely, much of science is theoretical in nature until it is proven. As such, the odd theories surrounding certain scientific principles later turn out to be completely accurate. So, the notion that some theories are outlandish may not always be accurate because the theories may turn out to be completely accurate and based in fact.

The reason that some may look towards Feyerabend as being a classic oddball of sorts derives from comments and statements he makes along the lines of it being a good thing that scientists may be creative because one never knows where a solution may come from. Again, to some, this would be an outrageous statement. In some ways, it is a sincerely outrageous statement. In other ways, it can be a statement that makes perfect sense. Ultimately, the accuracy of such an assessment will revolve around the scientific theory in question. In some instances, such creativity can lead to a deeper and greater understanding of the scientific concept in question. In other instances, such a theory could prove to be outrageously off base.

For many, such an assessment on the part of Feyerabend is simply undisciplined. His assessment may be considered so errant that it lacks logic. This is one of the reasons why be may be (erroneously) referred to as a proverbial madman. However, such an assessment is a harsh one because Feyerabend is not committing to a complete theory of undisciplined thought.

In many ways, you could argue that Feyerabend is simply stating one needs an open mind towards the potential outcomes of scientific theories and hypotheses. However, it is also important to point out there needs to be a clear commitment to logic and primal scientific concepts in order for such a seemingly disoriented approach to scientific study.

In other words, there are certain scientific proofs that are undeniable. Probably the most basic and simple example of this would be that what goes up, must come down. Theories that would state what goes up, never comes down would be along the lines of cranks. Such a statement and assessment is so far off the mark, it is not creative. It is devoid of all logic and is essentially worth dismissing on all levels.

However, if someone were to say, What goes up will not come down if it can alter rules of gravity then you are making both a creative and accurate assessment. The problem here is that altering the rules of gravity is not exactly an easy venture. However, there have been common ways in which gravity can be circumvented.

One could easily say there is some creativity in such an assessment. Others may find such an assessment absurd. However, it is well worth pointing out that many of the great and historic inventions of science were once considered absurd at one point. As we all realize, the notion that the earth was round was initially considered an absurdist comment. Yet, it has proven to be accurate and valid.

But, it would be intellectually dishonest to say that all absurd sentiments are fine. Many crank scientific theories have emerged over the years and they were proven to be false and have been dismissed. Such theories do not reflect creativity. They represent pseudo-logical theories that are decidedly not helpful to science in any way.

Feyerabend can be blamed for promoting such pseudo-logical notions and this can be considered somewhat unfair. He does not endorse a pseudo-logical assessment of scientific theories. He simply mentions that one should have an open mind towards creativity. Such creativity can be considered a positive thing as it allows scientists to perpetually look towards ways in which they can further progress scientific study from a number of perspectives.

It would seem there were times when Feyerabend has almost goading the scientific community and his peers with more obtuse statements. Such statements often provide the root understanding why it is that he made such assessments. In many instances, it would seem he was putting forth thoughts in which one could pontificate on. This presents a surface level absurdity that underlies a more realist perspective. An example of this can be viewed in an examination of one of Feyerabends better known quotes.

One of the more oft repeated of Feyerabends Quotes is Everywhere science is enriched by unscientific methods and unscientific results, ... the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. This could easily be considered one of his more outlandish claims because it flies in the face of what is commonly considered good scientific theory.
This reason for this is that Feyerabend is asserting the notion that there is not much difference between a scientific theory and one that is decidedly unscientific. On the surface, it would seen that he is essentially stating the differences between something as scientific as organic chemistry is no different than something as decidedly unscientific as alchemy.

Again, this may seem to be the approach taken when one looks at things from the more superficial perspective. A closer examination of such a quote reveals a more profound thought process at work. First, beyond the mere words that Feyerabend puts forth with his statement, there is a notion that one needs to explore all different perspectives prior to arriving at any specific conclusions about a particular subject. Part of the reason for this is that what may be considered illogical or heretical at one point in history may prove to be true at another. This can be a conclusion arrived at after careful study and advancements in the theories. Case in point alchemy may have been utterly absurd at one point in history, but much of the study into alchemy led many to move onto more serious and less mystical studies about chemistry and chemical compounds.

So, the pseudo-logical theories of alchemy eventually opened the door to more serious and legitimate studies in the sciences. In a strange way, that can somewhat vindicate the false premises of alchemy from a transitional perspective. Upon looking at such developments from this perspective, the duality of Feyerabends statements become somewhat more understandable and, possibly, vindicated to a degree.
Now, this is not to give any and all false sciences a form of validity. Nor is it even to promote the notion one should agree with all assessments made by Feyerabend. Rather, it simply means one needs to be open-minded in ones approach to the analysis of scientific theory. Exploring all theories from various perspectives is necessary to gain reliable insight into it.

In some ways, the validity of Feyerabends thinking derives from the concept of thinking outside the proverbial box in a number of ways. A criticism of this approach is that it undermines the proper way to explore the sciences. Some are not fond of the more outlandish statements because they can move serious scholars away from the realm of legitimacy and into a virtual comical approach to the theories. Humor, however, is not Feyerabends intent. Rather, he is looking towards promoting rational concepts in regards to how one thinks about science via the irrational. In many ways, an exploration of the irrational leads one to deduce what is rational. Consider that that hidden charm of Feyerabends theoretical and philosophical approach.

Feyerabend truly was a unique and novel thinker as far as scientific theory and philosophy are concerned. While many of his musings seem absurd, there is much realism, value, and validity to them. The key is being willing to explore them with a non-biased perspective. Those that follow such an approach will be certainly surprised to discover how much original value there is to his seemingly off the proverbial wall opinions.


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