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Paul Feyerabend: biography of this philosopher

Paul Feyerabend: biography of this philosopher

May 9, 2024

When we think of science as a whole, we can usually get a somewhat romantic idea of ​​something unified in its conception despite being able to divide into multiple disciplines, there being great coincidences in how data are interpreted and what methodology is used with the order to try to explain the reality. However, this is not the case: throughout history there have been numerous ways of seeing and doing science , passing among others by empiricism, rationalism or scientific realism.

Each of these perspectives has different implications at the level of research and has different considerations regarding what things are, how they should be investigated and even what effect a belief has on a certain theory about the phenomena observed. One of the most critical visions is Paul Feyerabend's epistemological anarchism. It is about this author that we are going to talk about in this article, in which we are going to make a little biography of Paul Feyerabend .

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Brief biography of Paul Feyerabend

Paul Karl Feyerabend was born in the city of Vienna in 1924, being the only son of a middle-class family at a time characterized by famine after the First World War and the inflation that weighed on the economy of the country. As an official father and seamstress mother, he was held at an advanced age due to the difficulties of life at that time.

Since childhood he showed great intelligence. He studied at a Realgymnasium in his hometown, learning natural sciences, Latin and English and obtaining very high grades. Also, in some subjects such as physics and mathematics he seemed to have a greater mastery even than his own teachers. As well would show off certain eccentric, ironic and sarcastic behavior , to the point of being expelled from school.

During this same vital stage he began to acquire a great taste for reading (including philosophy books, a subject that would begin to interest him and in which he would stand out many years later), theater and singing (getting to do classes in the latter and participating in choirs).

When in 1938 Germany annexed Austria to the third Reich , his parents were happy about it and the young Feyerabend (then a teenager) was impressed by the oratory of Hitler, although he would never become an extremist supporter of the Nazis. According to his own autobiography, those years prior to the Second World War, when he observed political changes and ethnic persecution, were confusing for him.

The Second World War

World War II would break out in 1939, a year before Feyerabend graduated from high school. Once graduated, in 1940, was incorporated into the compulsory labor service introduced by the Nazis, the Arbeitsdienst . After being trained in Pirmasens he would be sent to France, performing the task of digging and preparing ditches. At that time I would begin to value the idea of ​​joining the army, specifically the SS, asking to join the front.

After leaving compulsory service, he returned to Vienna but immediately enlisted in the army. He joined the Wehrmacht Pioneers Corps, receiving military training and subsequently volunteering at the officer school in Yugoslavia, in 1942. There he would receive some hard news, which, however, did not generate an intense response: his mother had dead, committing suicide. His autobiography indicates that he hoped that the war would have ended before finishing his training, but it was not like this: Feyerabend would be sent to the battle front in Russia .

He received the Iron Cross of second class in 1944, after having successfully occupied a village under enemy fire, the same year being promoted to lieutenant. After that he would be sent to Poland in 1945, where the Nazi army had to start retreating while the Soviets advanced. There he would receive several shots in the hands and in the gut, affecting one of them to his spine and leaving him paralyzed. He was sent to a hospital in Apolda, where he would spend the rest of the war recovering from his injuries. However, although he walked again the impact of the bullet caused that in future he needed cane the rest of his life.

After the war and still recovering, he would work temporarily as a playwright in Apolda and work in the local education department. As he was improving his health status and his abilities he moved to Weimar. There he entered various centers such as the Weimar Academy to perform different courses of singing, theater, Italian, piano, stage direction and vocalization.

University studies

In 1947 Feyerabend He returned to Vienna, where he would start university studies . Initially he studied History and Sociology since another of his favorite branches, physics, seemed far from reality after the experiences in the war. However, his studies did not seem satisfactory and he decided to leave History and start studying Physics at the University of Vienna.

During his studies he also received philosophy classes , that would deeply call your attention. Initially, he would embrace a positivist and empiricist view of science, even though contact with professionals such as Ehrenhaft influenced his later vision. He wrote his first article in 1947, about illustration in physics.

In 1948 met Karl Popper at a seminar at the Austrian Society in Alpbach , something that would awaken the germ of a change in its position regarding science. He continued attending the meetings and seminars of that society, at first as a mere spectator but little by little getting to expose and even to act as scientific secretary. There he would also meet Hollitscher, who would convince him that it is realism that guides and allows the progress of research in science and not positivism or empiricism. That same year he would marry for the first time an ethnography student named Edeltrud, although they would soon be separated.

In addition to the above, in 1949 also became part of the Kraft Circle , a group of students and philosophers gathered around the figure of the only survivor of the members of the Circle of Vienna, Víctor Kraft, whose activity was based on the discussion of philosophical issues from a scientific perspective. In this circle he met numerous personalities of great relevance.

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Development of his philosophy

Finished his studies Feyerabend began to develop a doctoral thesis focused on electrodynamics, but failed to solve a number of problems in that field and chose to vary the subject of his thesis from physics to philosophy. Thus, and under the direction of Kraft, he received his doctorate in 1951 with the thesis Zur Theorie der Basissätze, in which discussed the basic statements that underlie scientific knowledge according to logical positivism .

After this and after rejecting an offer to become secretary of Bertolt Brecht, he tried to be accepted as a disciple by another author of the Kraft Circle, Wittgenstein. Although he accepted, unfortunately died before Feyerabend could work with him, in 51. Despite this he managed to work with Karl Popper, whose defense of falsificationism (belief that you can not prove the veracity of a theory but its falsehood through experimentation) and critical rationalism convinced him initially, abandoning empiricism and positivism definitely.

In 1952 Feyerabend presented his ideas regarding scientific change. A year later he would return to Vienna, where he would work in several universities and later as an assistant to Arthur Pap. This would introduce him to Herbert Feigl, who would influence Feyerabend's ideas with his realistic stance (in line with Popper's point of view). He wrote several philosophical articles on quantum mechanics , of great relevance, he considered that the quantum theory was not unquestionable.

In 1955 he was appointed Professor of Philosophy of Science at the University of Bristol. A year later and after knowing and being influenced by professionals such as David Bohm, Joseph Agassi or Philipp Frank, he would marry for the second time an ex-student named Mary O'Neill who would also be separated after a year (it would not be the last of his wives, having married a total of four times throughout his life). They began to publish some of his most critical works with empiricism, embracing scientific realism and Popper's vision and considering that the interpretation of a relationship is determined by the theories used to explain them.

Relocation and life in the United States

In 1958 he also received an offer to work as a professor at the University of Berkeley, an offer he accepted. In 1959 he was nationalized as an American, and in 1960 he joined the University of California where, under the influence of Kuhn, he began to use historical examples in his work. In his works of this time the concept of incommensurability arises , which determines the impossibility of comparing two theories that do not enjoy the same theoretical language.

He participated in the student revolts and began to be born in him some interest in politics, making various types of protest and was even about to be expelled from the University of Berkeley after approving students without having finished the course as a method of protest. Also the contact with the hippie movement that prevailed in those years influenced his thinking.In 65 he participated in a seminar in Hamburg, in which his thought would end up being derived to what he would later call epistemological anarchism, which is one of his main contributions.

In this context, and alternating his work in Berkeley with those of California (to which he would end up resigning in 1968) and later with others that he would realize in London, Berlin, Yale and Auckland, the author's thought went away more and more from the traditional positions and was also moving away from falsificationism and rationalism.

He met Imre Lakatos in London , with whom I would have a great friendship that would last until the death of the latter. With him he had planned to make a publication as an intellectual debate called For and Against Method, making Lakatos a defense of the rationalist conception of science while Feyerabend would attack it.

However Lakatos died in 1974, without completing his part of the work. Feyerabend would finish and publish his in the book Against Method, a year after the death of his friend. In this publication I would fully embrace epistemological anarchism , considering that there are no universal methodological rules that always generate the progress of science and that it is necessary to vary the methodology to be able to carry out an authentic development of knowledge. Deep criticism of this publication was made, something that despite actively responding led to a fall in depression (as happened after the death of Lakatos).

In the 80's I continue to work in Berkeley, as well as in Zurich , mostly as a philosophy professor.

His death and legacy

Feyerabend's health had several ups and downs throughout his life, but it would be in the nineties when the author suffered a final deterioration. In 1991 he retired, thinking about enjoying his retirement and writing a final book. However, unfortunately in 1993 he was found a brain tumor. He continued and finished the writing of the book, his autobiography, with the title of Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend. In 1995, after several problems such as suffering from a stroke, the tumor would end up killing him on February 11, 1994, at the Genolier clinic in Switzerland.

Even though his ideas were highly controversial and criticized , the legacy of Paul Feyerabend is of great interest to science, given that his idea of ​​epistemological anarchism and its contributions throughout his life allow a different view of science and stimulate the need to vary the general methodology that applies face to generate new advances.

Bibliographic references:

  • Feyerabend, P. K .; (1996) Killing Time. University of Chicago Press. Chicago
  • Tejada, J.A. (2017). Paul Karl Feyerabend: an anarchist proposal against scientific rationalism. Pural, 1 (1): 3-52.

Paul Feyerabend Interview (1993) (May 2024).

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