Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Paul Feyerabend, fully Paul Karl Feyerabend

Austrian-born American Philosopher of Science, Professor of Philosophy at University of California, Berkeley who also lived in England and New Zealand

"There is not a single idea, however absurd and repulsive, that has not a sensible aspect and there is not a single view, however plausible and humanitarian, that does not encourage and then conceal our stupidity and our criminal tendencies."

"Knowledge is not a series of self-consistent theories that converges toward an ideal view; it is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth that is part of the collection forcing the others into greater articulation and all of them contributing, via this process of competition to the development of our consciousness."

"Given any rule, however 'fundamental' or 'necessary' for science, 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 soon. "

"It is clear, then, that the idea of a fixed method, or of 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. "

"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. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them. "

"No theory ever agrees with all the facts in its domain, yet it is not always the theory that is to blame. Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress. It is also a first step in our attempt to find the principles implicit in familiar observational notions. "

"The only principle that does not inhibit progress is: anything goes. "

"All religions are good 'in principle' - but unfortunately this abstract Good has only rarely prevented their practitioners from behaving like bastards. "

"Unanimity of opinion may be fitting for a church, for the frightened or greedy victims of some (ancient, or modern) myth, or for the weak and willing followers of some tyrant. Variety of opinion is necessary for objective knowledge. And a method that encourages variety is also the only method that is comparable with a humanitarian outlook."

"Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise: theoretical anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage progress than its law-and-order alternatives. "

"The separation of state and church must be complemented by the separation of state and science, that most recent, most aggressive, and most dogmatic religious institution. "

"The best education consists in immunizing people against systematic attempts at education. "

"Progress has always been achieved by probing well-entrenched and well-founded forms of life with unpopular and unfounded values. This is how man gradually freed himself from fear and from the tyranny of unexamined systems."

"Without a constant misuse of language there cannot be any discovery, any progress. "

"A free society is a society in which all traditions have equal rights and equal access to the centers of power. A tradition receives these rights not because the importance the cash value, as it were) it has for outsiders but because it gives meaning to the lives of those who participate in it."

"A scientist, an artist, a citizen is not like a child who needs papa methodology and mama rationality to give him security and direction, he can take care of himself, for he is the inventor not only of laws, theories, pictures, plays, forms of music, ways of dealing with his fellow man, institutions, but also entire world view, he is the inventor of entire forms of like."

"A Universal Good should reflect the reality of the individual benefits that are collected under its name, not the other way around."

"All religion may be centered around a generally good idea, however, this has not stopped its adherents from acting like bastards."

"Arguments hardly affect the faithful — their beliefs have an entirely different foundation."

"Every profession has an ideology and a drive for power that goes far beyond its achievements and it is the task of democracy to keep this ideology and this drive under control. Science is here no different from other institutions."

"Early Chinese thinkers had taken variety at face value. They had favored diversification and collected anomalies instead of trying to explain them away."

"Experts have a vested interest in their own playpens, and so they will quite naturally argue that 'education' is impossible without them (can you imagine an Oxford philosopher, or an elementary particle physicist arguing himself out of good money?)"

"Experience arises together with theoretical assumptions not before them, and an experience without theory is just as incomprehensible as is (allegedly) a theory without experience."

"Facts are constituted by older ideologies, and a clash between facts and theories may be proof of progress."

"I do not see why I should be polite to tyrants, who slobber of humanitarianism and think only of their own petty interests."

"I want to defend society and its inhabitants from all ideologies, science included. All ideologies must be seen in perspective. One must not take them too seriously. One must read them like fairy-tales which have lots of interesting things to say but which also contain wicked lies, or like ethical prescriptions which may be useful rules of thumb but which are deadly when followed to the letter."

"Humane science must be adapted to the requirements of a balanced and rewarding life."

"Many "educated citizens" take it for granted that reality is what scientists say it is and that other opinions may be recorded, but need not be taken seriously. But science offers not one story, it offers many; the stories clash and their relation to a story-independent "reality" is as problematic as the relation of the Homeric epics to an alleged "Homeric world.""

"Not only are facts and theories in constant disharmony, they are never as neatly separated as everyone makes them out to be."

"My intention is not to replace one set of general rules by another such set: my intention is, rather, to convince the reader that all methodologies, even the most obvious ones, have their limits. The best way to show this is to demonstrate the limits and even the irrationality of some rules which she, or he, is likely to regard as basic. In the case that induction (including induction by falsification) this means demonstrating how well the counter-inductive procedure can be supported by argument."

"One can show the following: given any rule, however "fundamental" or "necessary" for science, there are always circumstances when it is advisable not only to ignore the rule, but to adopt its opposite."

"One knows quite well that harmony can be a harmony of appearances."

"The progress of science, of good science, depends on novel ideas and on intellectual freedom: science has very often been advanced by outsiders (remember that Bohr and Einstein regarded themselves as outsiders)."

"Taking experimental results and observations for granted and putting the burden of proof on the theory means taking the observational ideology for granted without having ever examined it."

"There is no "scientific worldview" just as there is no uniform enterprise "science"- except in the minds of metaphysicians, school masters, and scientists blinded by the achievements of their own particular niche... There is no objective principle that could direct us away from the supermarket "religion" or the supermarket "art" toward the more modern and much more expensive supermarket "science." Besides, the search for such guidance would be in conflict with the idea of individual responsibility which allegedly is an important ingredient of a "rational" or scientific age."

"Rational discourse is only one way of presenting and examining an issue and by no means the best. Our new intellectuals are not aware of its limitations and of the nature of the things outside."

"The purpose of education, so one would think, is to introduce the young into life, and that means: into the society where they are born and into the physical universe that surrounds the society. The method of education often consists in the teaching of some basic myth. The myth is available in various versions. More advanced versions may be taught by initiation rites which firmly implant them into the mind. Knowing the myth, the grown-up can explain almost everything (or else he can turn to experts for more detailed information). He is the master of Nature and of Society. He understands them both and he knows how to interact with them. However, he is not the master of the myth that guides his understanding."

"Rationalism ... is a secularized form of the belief in the power of the word of God."

"Today science prevails not because of its comparative merits, but because the show has been rigged in its favor... It reigns supreme because some past successes have led to institutional measures (education; role of experts; role of power groups such as the AMA) that prevent a comeback of the rivals."

"Those who violate the rules of a language do not enter new territory; they leave the domain of meaningful discourse. Even facts in these circumstances dissolve, because they are shaped by the language and subjected to its limitations."

"Traditions are neither good nor bad, they simply are... Rationality is not an arbiter of traditions; it is itself a tradition or an aspect of a tradition."

"What is surprising is that almost all the trends that developed within the sciences, Aristotelianism and an extreme Platonism included, produced results, not only in special domains, but everywhere; there exist highly theoretical branches of biology and highly empirical parts of astrophysics. The world is a complex and many-sided thing."

"It is evident, on the basis of our considerations, that this appearance of success cannot in the least be regarded as a sign of truth and correspondence with nature. Quite the contrary, suspicion arises that the absence of major difficulties is a result of the decrease of empirical content brought about by the elimination of alternatives, and of facts that can be discovered with their help. In other words, the suspicion arises that this alleged success is due to the fact that the theory, when extended beyond its starting point, was turned into rigid ideology. Such Ideology is "successful" not because it agrees so well with the facts; it is successful because no facts have been specified that could constitute a test, and because some such facts have been removed. Its "success" is entirely man-made. It was decided to stick to some ideas, come what may, and the result was, quite naturally, the survival of these ideas. If now the initial decision is forgotten, or made only implicitly, for example, if it becomes common law in physics, then the survival itself will seem to constitute independent support., it will reinforce the decision, or turn it into an explicate one, and in this way close the circle. This is how empirical "evidence" may be created by a procedure which quotes as its justification the very same evidence it has produced."

"When Western civilization invaded the Near and Far East and what is now called the Third World it imposed its own ideas of a proper environment and a rewarding life. Doing this, it disrupted the delicate patterns of adaptation and created problems that had not existed before."

"All methodologies, even the most obvious ones, have their limits."

"By now many intellectuals regard theoretical or 'objective' knowledge as the only knowledge worth considering. Popper himself encourages the belief by his slander of relativism. Now this conceit would have substance if scientists and philosophers looking for universal and objective morality had succeeded in finding the former and persuaded, rather than forced, dissenting cultures to adopt the latter. This is not the case."

"At all times man approached his surroundings with wide open senses and a fertile intelligence, at all times he made incredible discoveries, at all times we can learn from his ideas."

"And where is the boundary-if there is a boundary-between a collective outlook and "the world"? Many cultures assume such a boundary, but they set it in different places. Divine appearances once were real- they are mere fantasies today. Where shall we, who examine the phenomenon, set the boundary?"

"Copernicanism and other "rational" views exist today only because reason was overruled at some time in their past."

"Combining this observation with the insight that science has no special method, we arrive at the result that the separation of science and non-science is not only artificial but also detrimental to the advancement of knowledge. If we want to understand nature, if we want to master our physical surroundings, then we must use all ideas, all methods, and not just a small selection of them. The assertion, however, that there is no knowledge outside science - extra scientiam nulla salus - is nothing but another and most convenient fairy-tale. "