Feyerabend against Science

In his lectures Theorien der Wahrheit


Prof Hoenen has considered also Science in a Free Society (Erkenntnis für freie Menschen) by Paul Feyerabend. I got interested as I like Feyerabend. I have found that one of the latest Feyerabend’s book was The Tyranny of Science and I have found in Internet a text

Paul Feyerabend, 1975
How To Defend Society Against Science

A few quotes from this text are below.

Science, of course, must be reformed and must be made less authoritarian.


I want to defend society and its inhabitants from all ideologies, science included.

Marx and Engels were convinced that science would aid the workers in their quest for mental and social liberation.

A truth that reigns without checks and balances is a tyrant who must be overthrown, and any falsehood that can aid us in the over throw of this tyrant is to be welcomed.

It follows that seventeenth- and eighteenth-century science indeed was an instrument of liberation and enlightenment. It does not follow that science is bound to remain such an instrument. There is nothing inherent in science or in any other ideology that makes it essentially liberating.

For example, consider the role science now plays in education. Scientific “facts” are taught at a very early age and in the very same manner in which religious “facts” were taught only a century ago.

In society at large the judgement of the scientist is received with the same reverence as the judgement of bishops and cardinals was accepted not too long ago.

Pursue this investigation further and you will see that science has now become as oppressive as the ideologies it had once to fight.

Heretics in science are still made to suffer from the most severe sanctions this relatively tolerant civilization has to offer.

My criticism of modern science is that it inhibits freedom of thought. If the reason is that it has found the truth and now follows it, then I would say that there are better things than first finding, and then following such a monster.

Against Method

This view takes the bull by the horns: theories cannot be justified and their excellence cannot be shown without reference to other theories.

To start with, no new and revolutionary scientific theory is ever formulated in a manner that permits us to say under what circumstances we must regard it as endangered: many revolutionary theories are unfalsifiable.

Applied resolutely, Popperian criteria would eliminate science without replacing it by anything comparable.

Now I have no objection to incompetence but I do object when incompetence is accompanied by boredom and self-righteousness.

Secondly, wherever one tries to make Kuhn’s ideas more definite one finds that they are false. Was there ever a period of normal science in the history of thought?

Against Results

Forms of life different from science either have disappeared or have degenerated to an extent that makes a fair comparison impossible.

We have learned that there are phenomena such as telepathy and telekinesis which are obliterated by a scientific approach and which could be used to do research in an entirely novel way (earlier thinkers such as Agrippa of Nettesheim, John Dee, and even Bacon were aware of these phenomena).

And in our own day we have seen how the interference of the state can advance science: when the Chinese communists refused to be intimidated by the judgement of experts and ordered traditional medicine back into universities and hospitals there was an outcry all over the world that science would now be ruined in China. The very opposite occurred: Chinese science advanced and Western science learned from it.

The lesson is plain: there does not exist a single argument that could be used to support the exceptional role which science today plays in society.

Science is just one of the many ideologies that propel society and it should be treated as such.

The most important consequence is that there must be a formal separation between state and science just as there is now a formal separation between state and church. Science may influence society but only to the extent to which any political or other pressure group is permitted to influence society. Scientists may be consulted on important projects but the final judgement must be left to the democratically elected consulting bodies.

Science is not a closed book that is understood only after years of training. It is an intellectual discipline that can be examined and criticised by anyone who is interested and that looks difficult and profound only because of a systematic campaign of obfuscation carried out by many scientists (though, I am happy to say, not by all).

Organs of the state should never hesitate to reject the judgement of scientists when they have reason for doing so. Such rejection will educate the general public, will make it more confident, and it may even lead to improvement.

Ideologies are marvellous when used in the companies of other ideologies. They become boring and doctrinaire as soon as their merits lead to the removal of their opponents.

Education and Myth

The method of education often consists in the teaching of some basic myth.

Knowing the myth, the grown-up can explain almost everything (or else he can turn to experts for more detailed information).

When teaching a myth we want to increase the chance that it will be understood (i.e. no puzzlement about any feature of the myth), believed, and accepted.

Given a choice many people may choose science, for a science that is run by free agents looks much more attractive than the science of today which is run by slaves, slaves of institutions and slaves of “reason”.

Of course, scientists will not play any predominant role in the society I envisage. They will be more than balanced by magicians, or priests, or astrologers.

The hardest task needs the lightest hand or else its completion will not lead to freedom but to a tyranny much worse than the one it replaces.