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the Complete Review
the complete review - philosophy

The Worst Enemy of Science ?
Essays in memory of Paul Feyerabend

edited by
John Preston, Gonzalo Munévar, and David Lamb

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To buy The Worst Enemy of Science ?

Title: The Worst Enemy of Science ?
Authors: various
Genre: Philosophy
Written: 2000
Length: 168 pages
Availability: The Worst Enemy of Science ? - US
The Worst Enemy of Science ? - UK
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  • Essays in memory of Paul Feyerabend
  • Preface by Gonzalo Munévar
  • Introduction by John Preston and David Lamb
  • Contents:
    1. Paul K. Feyerabend: An Obituary, Paul Hoyningen-Huene
    2. Time Well Spent: On Paul Feyerabend's Autobiography, Sheldon J. Reaven
    3. Sola Experientia? Feyerabend's Refutation of Classical Empiricism, Bas C. van Fraassen
    4. Proliferation: Is It a Good Thing ?, Peter Achinstein
    5. Feyerabend Among Popperians, 1948-1978, John Watkins
    6. A Réhabilitation of Paul Feyerabend, Gonzalo Munévar
    7. Science as Supermarket: 'Postmodern' Themes in Paul Feyerabend's Later Philosophy of Science, John Preston
    8. Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn, Paul Hoynigen-Huene
    9. Feyerabend, Mill, and Pluralism, Elizabeth A. Lloyd
    10. Two Concepts of Political Tolerance, J.N. Hattiangadi
    11. To Transform the Phenomena: Feyerabend, Proliferation, and Recurrent Neural Networks, Paul M. Churchland
    12. Paul K. Feyerabend: Last Interview, conducted by Joachim Jung
  • Six of these essays have been published previously.

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Our Assessment:

B+ : good overview of much of Feyerabend's life and work, varied selection of generally fairly informative essays

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Mind . 2001 (110) Robert Nola

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The complete review's Review:

       The title of this collection comes from a 1987 article in the magazine Nature that calls Feyerabend "the worst enemy of science" (though he is not the only one accused in those pages). This collection of "Essays in memory of Paul Feyerabend" does not solely address the specific question of whether Feyerabend is deserving of this title, but rather offers a variety of perspectives on many different aspects of Feyerabend's varied life and work.
       It begins with an obituary, a concise twelve page account of his life, work, and influence by Paul Hoyningen-Huene. This is followed by an appreciation of Feyerabend's biography, Killing Time (see also our review), by Sheldon J. Reaven that again provides a more personal account of Feyerabend. The book closes with the last interview given by Feyerabend, conducted only two weeks before his death. Sandwiched between these pieces are nine essays concentrating on various aspects of Feyerabend's philosophy.
       The range of the essays is fairly broad. Van Fraasen's essay looks specifically at Feyerabend's 1970 refutation of classical empiricism. Feyerabend uses the example of a seventeenth century Jesuit argument against Protestant fundamentalism, applying a similar argument against empiricism by substituting the Protestant fundamentalist insistence on sola scriptura (Scripture is the only thing to be relied upon) with the classical empiricist insistence on experience.
       Peter Achinstein's and Paul M. Churchland's contributions specifically look at the question of proliferation (of competing theories) -- with Churchland making an interesting neurocomputational argument for the idea. It is an unusual approach, but certainly of interest. Achinstein concentrates on the more familiar arguments, focussing in on Galileo and Newton in his discussion.
       John Watkins' piece, Feyerabend among Popperians, offers a section of a 1978 piece, along with a new piece introducing it, properly placing Feyerabend in his Popperian context. The 1978 portion is itself a response to Feyerabend's criticisms (to which he then also responded, though Watkins quotes only a short bit of this). A sliver of the debates in which Feyerabend was often caught up in, it is as valuable for the content as for the background and tone Watkins chooses in his presentation.
       Gonzalo Munévar offers a Réhabilitation of Feyerabend (the title itself an homage to Feyerabend's wish to write a similar piece about misunderstood Mach). "Few philosophers have been as misunderstood as Feyerabend himself," Munévar posits, and he hopes to clear up some of the misunderstandings, focussing on three particular points:

  1. Feyerabend's alleged claim that "anything goes";
  2. his alleged "incommensurability" thesis;
  3. his alleged relativism.
       Munévar clearly believes there is lots of alleging going on -- or rather, that Feyerabend isn't read closely and carefully enough, and his thoughts too often simplified far beyond his intention. As Munévar also points out (as do others in this collection) Feyerabend can be hard to get a fix on because he was willing to change his mind, take new approaches, and say practically anything if it might elicit a reaction or possibly held the promise of leading to something more fruitful. While the piece perhaps does not completely rehabilitate Feyerabend (a state of affairs that likely would not have appealed to the anarchic master in any case), it does point out common errors and oversimplifications made regarding his philosophy.
       John Preston, author of Feyerabend: Philosophy, Science and Society (see our review), takes on postmodern themes in his contribution. It is of particular interest also in that it focusses on Feyerabend's later work -- Three Dialogues on Knowledge and a variety of essays, many of which were included in the posthumous collection, Conquest of Abundance (see our review).
       Hoyningen-Huene's second contribution to the collection discusses the relationship between Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn, covering the main points of interest, both biographical and philosophical, surrounding it.
       Elizabeth Lloyd brings in John Stuart Mill and pluralism, a useful overview of this important influence on Feyerabend.
       J.N.Hattiangadi's essay on political tolerance centers on relativism, discussing Feyerabend's critique of Popper's theory of knowledge and proposing "a simple way of regaining liberal democracy from Feyerabend's critique".
       The final interview, conducted by Joachim Jung, covers a gamut of subjects, jumping about somewhat awkwardly but still offering a few interesting insights -- and still showing the true Feyerabend and proving that it's hard to keep a good man down, even when he is debilitatingly ill.

       Most of these pieces are very much in memory of Feyerabend, with many of them dwelling at greater length on biographical (and, in the case of students and colleagues, autobiographical) details. This, and the range of subjects covered, actually make it a very useful introduction to Feyerabend. So much of both the man and his work has attained a sometimes myth-like stature that these varied expositions of philosopher and philosophy can be helpful in presenting a clearer picture. The repeated and varied clarification of his use of the (in)famous notion that "anything goes" and questions of incommensurability are especially helpful -- examples that show how easily and often Feyerabend continues to be misunderstood.
       This volume is neither a thorough biographical survey, nor a comprehensive examination of Feyerabend's philosophy (two tomes that we hope will be written in the not too distant future), but the pieces collected here do offer a very good, broad review of both his life and work. The essays read fairly well, though some might be considered a bit plodding. The emphasis is decidedly on clarity rather than style (not the worst way to go), and only occasionally does the philosophy get out of hand. Overall it is certainly a very solid collection. Recommended.

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The Worst Enemy of Science ?: Paul Feyerabend: Other books by and about Paul Feyerabend under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Editors:

       John Preston is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Reading
       Gonzalo Munévar was a student of Feyerabend and has written several books.
       David Lamb is Reader in Philosophy at the University of Birmingham.

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