ANARCHISM, EPISTEMOLOGICAL—the methodological position of Paul K. Feyerabend rejecting the existence of a “scientific method”.
In Feyerabend’s opinion there are no methodological rules for scientific conduct that can be formulated independently of the context in which they are applied. The only rule that can be applied at such a general level is the rule that “anything goes”.
Epistemic anarchism is part of Feyerabend’s anti-positivistic position. It is directed in particular against the views of the logical empiricists and K. Popper who says that the philosophy of science should be practised as a rational reconstruction of the logic of science. Feyerabend regards these philosophers’ rational reconstructions of science as inadequate with respect to how science is actually practised and especially inadequate with respect to the history of science. Feyerabend thinks that if we were to grant a normative role to a “scientific method” reconstructed by logical tools, we would destroy any possibility of seeking alternative theories in science and by the same token we would make scientific progress impossible. The history of science shows that very few theories meet Popper’s criterium of falsifiability, according to which the demonstration by rigorous tests that there are facts in disagreement with the tested theory is sufficient grounds for rejecting the theory. Feyerabend observes that there are anomalies in disagreement with almost every theory, and all newly formulated theories are much worse when measured by some methodological standards than were their predecessors. Consent to the functioning of such theories is connected with the violation of almost all methodological rules. Feyerabend acknowledges that if a theory wins a place for itself in science, one can select a certain set of methodological rules to show its superiority over its predecessors. This set of rules, however, cannot be used in the character of universal rules of scientific research. The only binding rule in scientific research is “anything goes”.
Feyerabend repeatedly says that he is not an irrationalist in the question of the development of science. When one knows the context of research, and so when one knows the problem in question, the results of experiments, the social interaction of the researcher, etc., one may be tempted to formulate a “scientific method” for this case. All formulations, however, of “scientific method” that do not refer to a concrete context will be so general that they may be basically reduced to “anything goes”.
Epistemological anarchism is a position that brings Feyerabend close to the “historicized” philosophy of science of T. Kuhn, H. Hanson, and S. Toulmin. The rejection of the existence of a single distinct scientific method is directed against the normative cultivation of the philosophy of science whose effect is a historically inadequate image of science. Yet Feyerabend gives his principle of “anything goes” a distinctly Popperian character. According to Popper, the culmination of science consists in posing daring hypotheses and then subjecting them to rigorous tests. Feyerabend also thinks that we should not limit in any way the posing of alternative theories in science. The tension in Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism between normative and descriptive cognitive pluralism, that is, between recognizing a plurality fo methodological standards as a norm or as a fact, clearly sets him apart from the “historicized” philosophers of science.
Epistemological anarchism is also the basis of Feyerabend’s critique of science as the model of knowledge and rationality. Since there is no “scientific method”, science does not possess any special criteria of rationality. Magic or charlatanism are thus just as legitimate as science as ways of approaching the world. As epistemological anarchism considers constructivistic and conventional in science it provides, along with the works of T. Kuhn, an epistemological foundation for the contemporary position of social constructivism in the philosophy of science which treats scientific knowledge and scientific facts as the product of scientists’ social interactions, not as the result of learning about the world. We may find the primary model in J. S. Mill’s political philosophy. J. S. Mill developed the position of methodological pluralism, that we should create conditions favourable to the greatest possible variety of opinions in public debates and meanwhile the more probable is an approximation of the truth.
Epistemological anarchism appeared already in Feyerabend’s early works, but was formulated in its mature form in Against Method. Feyerabend further clarified his position in Science in a Free Society in response to reviews of Against Method. He formulated his last arguments for epistemological anarchism in Three Dialogues on Knowledge
P. Feyerabend, Against method, Lo 1975, 19933; idem, Science in a Free Society, Lo 1978; idem, Jak być dobrym empirystą [How to be a good empiricist], Wwa 1979, 200–250; A. Couvalis, Feyerabend’s Critique of Foundationalism, Aldershot 1989; Beyond Reason: Essays on the Philosophy of Paul Feyerabend, Dor 1991; P. Feyerabend, Three Dialogues on Knowledge, Ox 1991; Ł. Dzisiów, Paul K. Feyerabend a tendencja modernistyczna [Paul K. Feyerabend and the modernist tendency], Szczecin 1996; J. Preson, Feyerabend: Philosophy, Science and Society, C 1997.