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Having reviewed over 1100 books on this blog, I have now written one myself. Motherdarling is a story about a search for a missing Will which reveals long-hidden family secrets. It is available on Kindle through Amazon. Read it and find out whether this critic can write. I live in Canterbury, England. I lived for more than thirty years in Bedford. Having retired from teaching; I became a research student at the University of Bedfordshire researching into Liminality. I achieved my PhD in 2019. I am now properly retired. I love reading! I enjoy in particular fiction (mostly great and classic fiction although I also enjoy whodunnits), biography, history and smart thinking. Follow me on twitter: @daja57

Wednesday, 28 September 2016

"Science in a Free Society" by Paul Feyerabend

Feyerabend's thesis is that rationalism has too firm a grip on society and that the best medicine is a little anarchy.

He defines rationalism as "a secularized form of the belief in the power of the word of God." (p 20) which believes itself to be "'objective' and tradition-independent" but he suggests that although modern society bases itself on science "as uncritically as one once accepted the cosmology of bishops." (p 74) it is just another tradition fighting for itself in a world of alternative traditions. No tradition, he asserts, can judge another tradition because the values and beliefs of each tradition are different; this is a form of Kuhn's incommensurability thesis. You can't even damn a tradition on the basis that it is internally contradictory. Contradictions are not necessarily signs of a weak argument. The idea "that we do not live in a paradoxical world" so that our "knowledge must be self-consistent ... loses it authority the moment that we find that there are facts whose only adequate description is inconsistent and that inconsistent theories may be fruitful."

OK. These are serious issues. We have to acknowledge that science is 'just' another tradition and that it is difficult to make an objective judgement about whether as a tradition is is one of the best. But Feyerabend then appears to assert that this difficulty therefore means that anything ought to go.

He asserts that "a free society is a society in which all traditions are given equal rights, equal access to education and other positions of power." (p 30). Thus Hopi creation myths should be taught alongside the Big Bang Theory, astrology with astronomy, homeopathy with scientific medicine (he doesn't like scientific medicine!). Thus far he is relativist; he is also anarchist is the sense that "rules have their limit" (p 32) though he probably doesn't go on to assert that "all rules and standards are worthless and should be given up." (p 32). 

He appears to advocate the Socratic view that everything should be examined (although he places a significant restriction on the ability to examine if we can only examine any one tradition from inside). But Feyerabend does not appear to examine his basic assumption which seems to be that we 'should' live in a 'free' and 'democratic' society. 

Because if he is right that a 'free' society must give all traditions equal rights then it would follow that a 'free' society must give "equal rights, equal access to education and other positions of power" to 'traditions' such as racism and Nazism and Aztec human sacrifice. I don't think I want to live in such a society.

The second half of the book is dedicated to vitriolic attacks on those who have dared to criticise him, suggesting that he has been misunderstood. He seems hurt by the violence of the reaction to what he thinks are reasoned views but the section in which these protestations are made is entitled "Conversations with illiterates" which doesn't sound either friendly or reasoned. 

Some interesting points but the overall conclusions seem ridiculous. September 2016; 217 pages

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