How to Defend Society Against Science

May 12, 2021. PDF. Twitter.

#References omitted in the below text can be found in the PDF.#

Paul Feyerabend (1924–94) was a philosopher of science, who became known for espousing a most unorthodox view of science: namely, that science is just a human activity like so many others, subject to the failings and foibles of human nature. And accordingly, Feyerabend thought of the so-called “scientific method” as one approach, among so many others, rather than as the one and only approach to scientific research. In fact, he famously defended the (kind of) principle that, in the pursuit of knowledge, anything goes: both rationality and the scientific method, and their opposites, as well as anything in between, can be used—and indeed, according to Feyerabend, have been used—to successfully advance our knowledge.

He purported to show that this was indeed the case even in one of the most rigorous of sciences, viz. physics, in his book Against Method, first published in 1975. Three years later, Feyerabend published another book—Science in a Free Society—where he extended his critique to encompass not just the rules and methods of science, but also its proper role in a democratic society.

Before having written either of those books, but with most of the ideas that would fill them already ripe, he gave the talk that is here transcribed, from the next section onwards. For a variety of reasons, as of late, I having been perusing Feyerabend’s books at a higher frequency than normal, and after having found about this talk of his, I did the same to its transcription. However, I could only find poor quality PDFs, with poor formatting, a bunch of spelling and grammar errors, typos, bold and/or italic emphasis that made no sense, and so on. And so, out of my own self-interest (so I would have a proper document to read), I decided to create a proper transcription. To be able to provide an accurate bibliographic reference, I searched for the locus of original publication, and only then discovered a PDF document clipped from the original journal, Radical Philosophy. It also contained some errors, though far less than the transcriptions I had found thus far. So I was able to correct most errors, though in some places I chose to keep faithful to the original—this is indicated in footnotes. That clipped PDF also contained some cute images, that were absent from all other versions of this article that I could find. Hence, I also added them here. Have fun reading!