virus: Anti-Virian book

Joel Bradford Klammer (
Sat, 20 Apr 96 14:10:20 MDT

It is called _Against Method_ by Paul Feyerabend. I admit that I
have only perused it, being too busy with school. In a more
responsible frame of mind, I'd make sure I'd thoroughly grokked
it before tossing it out there. But I figure: why allow such a
stricture to delay what appears to be an excellent and enriching

Here are some of provocative quotations, which are backed up elsewhere
in the book with arguments from historical example:

" can show the following: given any rule, however 'fundamental'
or 'rational', there are always circumstances when it is advisable
not only to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite. For example,
there are circumstances when it is advisable to introduce, elaborate,
and defend _ad hoc_ hypotheses, or hypotheses which contradict
well-established and generally accepted experimental results, or
hypotheses whose content is smaller than the content of the existing
and empirically adequate alternative, or self-inconsistent hypotheses,
and so on."

"Considerations such as these are usually criticisized by the childish
remark that a contradiction 'entails' everything. But contradictions
do not 'entail' anything unless people use them in certain ways. And
people will use them as entailing everything only if they accept some
rather simple-minded rules of derivation. Scientists proposing
theories with logical faults and obtaining interesting results with
their help (for example: the results of the early forms of calculus;
of a geometry where lines consist of points, planes of lines and
volumes of planes; the predictions of the older quantum theory and of
early forms of the quantum theory of radiation - and so on) evidently
proceed according to different rules. The criticism therefore falls
back on its authors unless it can be shown that a logically
decontaminated science has better results. Such a demonstration is

"theories become clear and 'reasonable' only _after_ incoherent parts
of them have been used for a long time. Such unreasonable,
nonsensical, unmethodical foreplay thus turns out to be an unavoidable
precondition of clarity and of empirical success".

"the idea of a fixed method, or a fixed theory of rationality, rests
on too naive a view of man and his social surroundings. To those who
look at the rich material provided by history, and who are not intent
on impoverishing it in order to please their lower instincts, their
craving for intellectual security in the form of clarity, precision,
'objectivity', 'truth', it will become clear that there is only one
principle that can be defended under _all_ circumstances and in all
stages of human development. It is the principle: _anything goes_".

"a strict principle of falsification...would wipe out science as we
know it and would never have permitted it to start."

And, just to make his own underlying motivations clear:

"The point of view underlying this book is not the result of a
well-planned train of thought but of arguments prompted by accidental
encounters. Anger at the wanton destruction of cultural achievements
from which we all could have learned, at the conceited assurance with
which some intellectuals interfere with the lives of people, and
contempt for the treacly phrases they use to embellish their misdeeds
was and still is the motive force behind my work."

Food for thought.