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the Complete Review
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John Preston

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To purchase Feyerabend

Title: Feyerabend
Author: John Preston
Genre: Philosophy
Written: 1997
Length: 211 pages
Availability: Feyerabend - US
Feyerabend - UK
Feyerabend - Canada
  • Philosophy, Science and Society

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Our Assessment:

B- : a useful, though fairly technical overview of much of Feyerabend's philosophy

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
Philosophy . 10/1998 Friedel Weinert

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The complete review's Review:

       John Preston's study is the first major book-length examination of Paul Feyerabend's philosophy. While Feyerabend himself has provided colorful accounts of his life in much of his work (notably in his autobiography, Killing Time -- see our review) we still await a comprehensive biographical study; Preston's focus is certainly more on the philosophy and the philosophical writings than the man. Much scrutinized (and often criticized), Feyerabend's philosophy is generally only considered piecemeal, attackers -- or defenders -- of his positions able to choose from the wealth of what is often perceived as inconsistent material that is available. Preston's volume usefully examines Feyerabend's entire career, touching upon most of his work -- though with a specific focus on Feyerabend's philosophy of knowledge.
       As Preston correctly emphasizes, Feyerabend's work "can be (roughly) divided into two phases" -- in essence, before Against Method and after. Feyerabend's thought -- and the focus of his work -- shifted, and Preston examines it both stage by stage and as a whole.
       Preston's historical survey places Feyerabend's work in useful context -- first with regards to Wittgenstein and Popper, later with, for example, T.S.Kuhn. Preston states that Feyerabend's "early work can be understood largely as an attempt to combine the insights of Wittgenstein with those of Popper," and he goes on to demonstrate this fairly convincingly. His analysis of it is fairly thorough, addressing most of the major aspects of Feyerabend's early philosophical work.
       With respect to the later Feyerabend -- what came with the publication of Against Method and the later works -- Preston seems a bit more wary. He offers a decent overview, touching on many of the major points (and consequences) of Feyerabend's later work, as well as comparing it to the earlier period. Nevertheless, given the (popular) attention paid to these writings, Preston perhaps devotes too little to them.
       A fairly careful and conscientious reader, Preston gives Feyerabend his due while not shrinking away from criticism of points where he feels Feyerabend's philosophy or argument is not convincing. Knowledgeable about modern philosophy, and having long occupied himself with Feyerabend's work, Preston does offer a far-ranging and fundamentally sound survey. Aspects of the book are fairly technical, but then so was Feyerabend's philosophy.
       Particularly noteworthy is Preston's awareness of Feyerabend's changing positions, and his careful reading of Feyerabend's work points out the numerous changes that the writings have undergone in their various incarnations. So, for example, numerous essays published in the first two volumes of Feyerabend's Philosophical Papers have been revised, changes that Preston notes. (Preston also went on to edit the third volume of the Philosophical Papers (Cambridge University Press, 1999).)
       Preston does seem to have neglected Feyerabend's German side. Feyerabend wrote in both English and German, revising his texts back and forth for new editions. Only one German-language text by Feyerabend is referred to in Preston's bibliography. We believe that Feyerabend's German texts would have offered useful additional points of comparison, adding insight into a further dimension to Feyerabend's philosophy
       In addition, a number of influential acquaintances find no mention in the text -- Hans Albert and Hans Peter Duerr, for example, both of whose correspondence with Feyerabend has been published (see our review of the Albert-Feyerabend Briefwechsel). Others, most notably Imre Lakatos, also seem underrepresented. While there are valid reasons for Preston not taking more into consideration for his study (as his focus lies elsewhere), the omissions should be noted.
       Preston's compact book is a useful survey, particularly of Feyerabend's philosophy of knowledge (Preston's focus in this book). As there are no other comprehensive studies of Feyerabend's work, one perhaps hopes for and expects more of this book than it can (or wants) to be. Preston discusses the philosophical issues he addresses clearly and explains them well. He does not mean to be comprehensive, but he does give a decent overview of Feyerabend's career. In lieu of alternatives the book is certainly recommended to all those interested in Feyerabend's philosophy (and in the philosophy of knowledge in general). In the future, however, we hope that this is just one book of many examining the many aspects of Feyerabend's life and philosophy, a small slice of the big picture.

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Feyerabend: Paul Feyerabend: Other books by and about Paul Feyerabend under Review: Other books of interest under review:

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About the Author:

       John Preston is Lecturer in Philosophy at the University of Reading

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