Philosophy and science

A question was put to me yesterday in a session on Philosophy and Policy of Higher Education about the universality of Popperian positivism (a position I think I was unconsciously and unintentionally promoting). The discussion subsequently led me to read Paul Feyerabend. So far I have only dipped my toe in through this very accessible (and online) extract from Against Method, one of his seminal works (Feyerabend 1975).

I find much in this refreshing, particularly the idea of an anarchist epistemology of “anything goes”. I think this aligns comfortably with Barthes’ bricolage. But, there is also much that I want to think more carefully about, as there seems to be a sort of absolute relativism of belief implied, which might accord equal validity to all perspectives. That might be a radical postmodernism in action but it makes me question whether I would be happy for my children to be taught creationism as a theory of equal validity to say, Stephen Jay Gould’s or even Dawkins’ Darwinism.

I do not find in this extract any essential rejection of the test of falsifiability. Quite the opposite, it seems a glorious revelling in the essentially falsifiable nature of all good theories.

The fact that science is I would suggest, frequently appropriated by bullies, suggests that there is power in the method and is a manifestation of the persistent assertion of ideology over theory to serve various elite interests. But many scientists are not bullies, do not buy into the complicity of the common-sense/state/industry/science nexus, and some actively resist it (see for example Scientists for Global Responsibility, Mike the Mad Biologist, and Carl Hart).

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