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Pluralism and the 'Problem of Reality' in the Later Philosophy of Paul Feyerabend

KIDD, IAN,JAMES (2010) Pluralism and the 'Problem of Reality' in the Later Philosophy of Paul Feyerabend. Doctoral thesis, Durham University.

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Feyerabend’s later philosophy was a sustained defence of cultural and epistemic diversity. After Against Method (1975) Feyerabend argued that his rejection of methodological monism challenged the presumed unity and superiority of scientific knowledge and practices. His later philosophy was therefore dedicated to a reassessment of the merits of a wide range of ‘non-scientific’ traditions present throughout non-Western indigenous cultures. Feyerabend drew upon the resources of anthropology and environmental and development studies to argue that the cognitive and practical merits of a variety of indigenous medical, environmental, and classificatory systems had been denied or disregarded. The consequence of these reassessments was epistemic pluralism. Western scientific and cultural practices represent many but by no means all of these and attempts to assert their cross-cultural value have resulted in enormous environmental, social, and intellectual destruction. Feyerabend here drew upon John Stuart Mill’s claim that both human wellbeing and the growth of knowledge are best served by a diversity of forms of life and modes of inquiry. Such diversity is threatened by the cognitive and cultural authority of the Western sciences and Feyerabend therefore insisted that moral and political concerns are an essential component of the philosophy of science. Throughout the thesis I argue that the later Feyerabend anticipated many subsequent themes in the philosophy of science, such as pluralism, values in science, and political and postcolonial philosophies of science. The irreducibly pluralistic character of the sciences arises from the diverse values and concerns of human beings, on the one hand, and the complexity of the natural world, on the other, and this claim is developed at length in Feyerabend’s final book Conquest of Abundance (1999). Feyerabend’s work served to unify these contemporary philosophical and political concerns and also to demonstrate their continuity with the older ‘post-positivist’ philosophies of science. I conclude that the later Feyerabend presented an optimistic and humane vision of global cultural and epistemic diversity and of the role of the Western sciences in the modern world, rather than lapsing into the ‘anti-science’ polemics and ‘cultural relativism’ with which his work has come to be associated.

Item Type:Thesis (Doctoral)
Award:Doctor of Philosophy
Faculty and Department:Faculty of Arts and Humanities > Philosophy, Department of
Thesis Date:2010
Copyright:Copyright of this thesis is held by the author
Deposited On:02 Jun 2011 16:17

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