AF Chalmers - What is this thing called Science?

Chapter 10 - Feyerabend's anarchistic theory of science



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Chapter 10 - Feyerabend's anarchistic theory of science



Chalmers begins with a summary of his book:

We seem to be having trouble with our search for the characterization of science that will serve to pick out what distinguishes it from other kinds of knowledge.

Chalmers got his problems as he has to conclude that the three philosophers he has tried to promote were unsuccessful in their critic of science.

It is completely clear that science consists of that observations and relation between observations are reported in a manner that increases the possibilities to estimate the probability that they are in accordance with our perceived reality.

The term “knowledge” cannot be shown to have any content, as has been discussed in the comments to the introduction and chapters 1-4.


Paul Feyerabend, whose controversial but nevertheless influential "anarchistic" account of science…

Feyerabend appears to have been a good entertainer.

Another very good entertainer is Eddie Izzard.

None of them has given any influential account of science.


Feyerabend argued that there is no scientific method and, indeed, that science does not possess features that render it necessarily superior to other forms of knowledge.

There is a scientific method, and it was accepted during the 18th century.

When Feyerabend uses the term “knowledge” he is not demonstratively erroneous, as this term without definition is empty of content. See comments to Introduction and chapters 1-4.


Feyerabend's main line of argument attempts to undermine characterizations of method and progress in science offered by philosophers

As seen in chapters 5-9, Feyerabend appears to be on the right path in this opinion. Philosophers’ characterizations of science are not in accordance with our perceived reality.

Feyerabend, like Wittgenstein, hence argues that philosophy as a discipline is without value.

On the other hand, the description of the scientific method applied by scientists is in accordance with our perceived reality.


Given the failure of attempts /by philosophers/ to capture the special features of scientific knowledge … he drew the conclusion that the high status attributed to science in our society, and the superiority … over such things as black magic and voodoo, is not justified.

As commented on p.149, the use of “knowledge” is erroneous. Something without content cannot correctly be used in comparisons.

Within science observations and relations between observations are reported in a manner that increases the possibility to estimate the probability for that they are in accordance with our perceived reality. Such possibilities to criticism are not given within black magic and voodoo.

Black magic and voodoo are created by dogmatic theses that a priest, with reference to higher evil powers, uses to scare the audience to obedience. These belief systems create compulsion and fear, the opposite to human freedom.

A belief in scientific methodology is the major force that has decreased such types of compulsion, fear and obedience.


Feyerabend claims that he supports the cultivation of individuality which alone produces, or can produce, well-developed human beings.

His anarchistic account increases the freedom of scientists by removing them from methodological constraints and, more generally, leaves individuals the freedom to choose between science and other forms of knowledge.

Within science no methodological constraints exists, but a constraint not only to describe what, but also how something was observed or inferred.

Science is based on a manner to report what we have observed, and nobody is forced to trust this. If scientific reports are experienced as more reliable than other tales, it is not logical to assume that this confidence would be diminished due to the type of arguments proposed by Feyerabend.


In Feyerabend's image of a free society, science will not be given preference over other forms of knowledge.

If “knowledge” would exist (see comment to p.149), any detailed description of such knowledge would be similar to science.

In societies that have lacked, or still lack, descriptions and criticism of a proposition’s reliability, dogmatic theses have restricted, and are still restricting, human freedom.

In our society we have freedom from arbitrarily judging gods and demons that never has been seen before.


Citation of Feyerabend about that philosophers’ discussions are subjective wishes.

Feyerabend does not include himself in the list of philosophers that only express subjective wishes.

See also comment to p.150.


Chalmers criticizes Feyerabend using weak arguments.

One approach to “philosophers” that denies benefits of experience using vague or erroneous terms, is to refer to that his own theses should be valued by his own criteria:

If anything in what he claims should be interesting at all, what he claims is without significance.




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