Paul Feyerabend

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Paul Feyerabend in Berkeley

Paul Karl Feyerabend (born January 13, 1924 in Vienna ; † February 11, 1994 in Genolier in Vaud, Switzerland ) was an Austrian philosopher and scientific theorist . From 1958 to 1989 he was a philosophy professor at the University of California in Berkeley and lived temporarily in England , Germany , New Zealand , Italy , and most recently in Switzerland, where he was a professor at the ETH Zurich .

Feyerabend became known for his epistemological anarchism . According to Feyerabend, no universal and ahistorical scientific methods can be formulated, productive science must rather be allowed to change, introduce and abandon methods at will. In addition, there are no general standards with which different scientific methods or traditions can be assessed. The lack of general evaluation standards leads him to a philosophical relativism , according to which no theory is generally true or false.


Childhood, youth, war

Paul Feyerabend was born in Vienna in 1924. The son of a middle class family attended a secondary school and was a student with above-average performance. As a result of the First World War and inflation, the parents had waited a long time before they had their only child: Paul Feyerabend's mother was already forty when he was born.

According to his own account, Feyerabend came into contact with philosophy by chance: “If you looked around for literature intended for sale, you could buy tons of books for just a few groschen. […] I could not avoid the occasional volume by Plato, Descartes or Büchner (the materialist, not the poet) among them. I then read these unwanted additions out of curiosity or simply because I paid for them. "

In March 1938 Austria became part of the German Reich, on September 1, 1939 the Second World War began and also changed the life of the 15-year-old. Feyerabend's parents welcomed the annexation of Austria , Feyerabend describes his relationship with the Nazis as naive and relatively unemotional. He did not become an ardent supporter, but did not react with indignation to the atrocities experienced during the war. In 1940 Feyerabend began the Reich Labor Service , in 1942 he became part of a pioneer corps, and in 1943 he attended an officers' school. He was sent to Yugoslavia for training; According to Feyerabend, the officers' school was in particular a way of avoiding the war effort. In Yugoslavia he learned of his mother's suicide, an event that did not affect him very much at the time. Feyerabend was sent to Russia in September 1943, where he said he behaved recklessly and theatrically and was promoted to lieutenant .

In the last year of the war, Feyerabend was hit in the stomach and hand by several bullets while retreating. “I felt no pain, but I was sure that my legs were hit. For a moment I saw myself driving along an endless wall of books in a wheelchair - I was almost happy. The soldiers who wanted to get out of the combat area as quickly as possible stood around me, lifted me onto a sled and pulled me away. For me the war was over. ”Feyerabend's serious injuries meant that he was in severe pain all his life, had to walk with a stick and became impotent. He was taken to a clinic in Apolda ; After the end of the war he studied singing in nearby Weimar for a year .

Study time

In 1947 Feyerabend returned to Vienna from Weimar. His previous passion - physics - seemed alien to him after the end of the war, and so he began to study history and sociology. Soon, however, he was bored with his lectures, and in the same year he switched to physics. Among the physicists at the University of Vienna , Felix Ehrenhaft in particular made an impression on Feyerabend. Soon, through Victor Kraft, he also came into contact with academic philosophy. In contrast to the other well-known members of the Vienna Circle, Kraft had stayed in Austria and had a group of philosophers and students gathered around him - the so-called "Kraft-Kreis". Among them was Feyerabend, who was given the opportunity in the Kraft Circle to discuss with philosophers such as Walter Hollitscher , GEM Anscombe and Ludwig Wittgenstein . During this time Feyerabend took over the central convictions of logical empiricism : "Incidentally, that was the attitude in all of my contributions to the discussion: science is the basis of knowledge, knowledge is empirical, non-empirical considerations are either logic or nonsense."

The Forum Alpbach , in which he took part for the first time in 1948, was decisive for Feyerabend's further development . In Alpbach, Feyerabend met Hanns Eisler , Bertolt Brecht and, last but not least, Karl Popper . Feyerabend turned down the offer to work as an assistant at Brecht. Instead, after his doctorate in 1951, he wanted to study with Wittgenstein in Cambridge on a British Council scholarship . But since Wittgenstein died in 1951, Feyerabend went to Popper at the London School of Economics and Political Science . Popper's influence was decisive for Feyerabend's philosophical development in several ways. First he adopted falsificationism and was deeply shaped by Popper's thinking. Later, however, he turned away from Popper's critical rationalism and made him the main opponent of his own epistemological anarchism.

From Bristol to Berkeley

In 1955 Feyerabend got his first academic position at the University of Bristol , where he had to give a lecture on philosophy of science. The position was probably due not least to Popper's influence, however, after Feyerabend, the first breaks appeared: John Watkins [...] went up and down with a serious face and gave me a sermon because I was a bad Popperian: too little Popper in Text of my essays and certainly no popper in the footnotes. When I explained to him in detail that you could still read out a bit of Popper in some places, he gave a sigh of relief, led me into the living room and allowed me to eat. ” Feyerabend's writings from the 1950s and early 1960s are nonetheless strongly influenced by Popper's falsificationism . During his time in Bristol, Feyerabend married for the second time, but the marriage, like the first, quickly divorced. In this situation, Feyerabend was happy that in 1958 he was made an offer to spend a year at the University of California, Berkeley .

Berkeley became Feyerabend's primary residence for over 30 years. The move from Europe to the USA was formative in various ways: First, Feyerabend quickly came into close contact with the American philosophy scene, particularly through his visits to the Minnesota Center for the Philosophy of Science . Among the acquaintances were, on the one hand, many old representatives of the Vienna Circle such as Herbert Feigl , Rudolf Carnap and Carl Gustav Hempel , and on the other, younger representatives of American analytical philosophy such as John Searle and Hilary Putnam . In 1965 Feyerabend published his first detailed epistemological paper, Problems of Empiricism . This long essay already contains many radical considerations, but is based on a philosophical realism and did not yet lead Feyerabend to an unconditional confrontation with the contemporary philosophy of science.

The political climate in Berkeley and the San Francisco Bay Area was also influential: in 1964 the Free Speech Movement made Berkeley the left-wing revolutionary center of the United States, and three years later the hippie movement in neighboring San Francisco reached its peak with the Summer of Love . Feyerabend has repeatedly emphasized in his writings that his experiences with the political movements and the multiculturalism of the Bay Area had a strong influence on his philosophical thoughts. For example, with reference to the multicultural student body, he explains: “Who was I to explain to these people what and how they should think? I had no idea about their problems, even though I knew they had many problems. I didn't know their interests, their feelings, their fears, their hopes […]. For this task [what is meant is the teaching of the tradition of Western rationalism] was that of an educated and distinguished slave owner. And I didn't want to be a slave owner. "

Feyerabend's long time in Berkeley did nothing to change his restlessness and dissatisfaction with his new home. Over the years he has accepted many (visiting) professorships, but without being completely satisfied in one place. He spent a long time in London and Berlin, where he also came into contact with the student movements. Further stations were Auckland, Kassel, Sussex and Yale.

The anarchist in philosophy of science

In the 1960s Feyerabend had published some unconventional ideas, slowly broke away from critical rationalism and made enemies in Berkeley with his unsteady teaching style. Overall, however, he had earned a reputation as a serious and respected scientific theorist. The following years should change this situation. In 1970 Feyerabend published an essay entitled Against Method in which he attacked the well-known epistemological methodologies. His position evolved from a liberal and realistic methodological pluralism to a relativistic attack on methodology in general.

With his friend Imre Lakatos , Feyerabend planned a joint publication on the methodological debate in the theory of science. Lakatos was supposed to defend the method of falsification against Feyerabend's furious attacks on any form of methodological rules. Lakatos died in 1974 and Feyerabend published his review under the title Against Method. Outline of an anarchistic Theory of Knowledge as a monograph. Feyerabend made the book known with the slogan " anything goes " beyond the boundaries of the theory of science. In one of the more positive reviews of the book, there are frequently cited concerns: “Against the method constraints, a good book, maybe even a big one. It's full of contradictions, exaggerations and understatements, and enough ad hominem attacks to give even the most liberal student a rhetorical stroke. "

Suddenly Feyerabend found himself in the role of the main opponent of the established scientific-philosophical approaches. Obviously he had not expected such a broad and violent reaction and found the often sharp rejection of his work hurtful: “My private life was in ruins, I was without protection. I have often wished that I had never written this damn book. ” In response to the criticism, there was Knowledge for Free People , a book that itself contained sharp attacks and a passionate commitment to relativism. In addition, Feyerabend deepened his political considerations, which were directed against the power of modern technology and science.

Late years

He himself describes Feyerabend's late years as his happiest. Throughout the 1980s, Feyerabend taught alternately at Berkeley and at the ETH Zurich, a situation that he enjoyed very much. He also met Grazia Borrini in 1983 at a lecture. They married six years later and stayed together until Feyerabend's death. It was Feyerabend's fourth marriage.

After the 1989 San Francisco earthquake , Feyerabend finally withdrew from California, and a year later he also retired from ETH Zurich. “I forgot the 35 years of my academic career almost as quickly as I forgot my military service. Today I find it hard to believe that five years ago I was teaching at two academic institutions, one in Europe and one in California. ” In the 1980s and 1990s Feyerabend published a large number of articles, his last major work The autobiography should be a waste of time (original title: Killing Time ), on which he wrote until shortly before his death. In 1993 Feyerabend was diagnosed with a brain tumor; on February 11, 1994 he died in a clinic on Lake Geneva . He received an honorary grave in the Südwestfriedhof (group 10A, row 3, number 17) in Vienna. In 2016 the asteroid (22356) Feyerabend was named after him.

Philosophical views

At the beginning of his epistemological career, Feyerabend represented the views of Karl Popper and critical rationalism. His contributions criticized the dualism of theoretical and observational language claimed by the positivist side and the assumption that there are atheoretical, i.e. H. Not theory-soaked observation terms. From the requirement of counter-inductive and counter-intuitive attempts at refutation, he deduced that the examination of alternative theories required a theoretical pluralism.

Around 1968 Feyerabend's conception of science became radicalized; henceforth he understood certain common sense criteria only as one possible alternative among many ("anything goes"). After this epistemological catharsis , Feyerabend appeared as a critic of rationalism, especially the prevailing theory of science and methodology. For example, he sometimes referred to critical rationalism as “law-and-order rationalism”. Feyerabend rebelled against what he perceived to be an orthodox dogmatism of science, in which he deliberately stated provocatively that rain dances were just as good as weather forecasts, election forecasts no better than astrology. Feyerabend saw science, alongside religion or art, for example, as just one of many ways to gain knowledge . According to Feyerabend, it is not possible to assign a fixed value to the various approaches to truth, partly because these approaches to truth are mutually incommensurable .

According to Feyerabend, the conclusion can be drawn from the history of science that the practice of gaining knowledge and changing knowledge in an often irrational and anarchic way violated existing theoretical principles and was therefore successful. Feyerabend emphasizes the importance of intuition and creativity as a prerequisite for gaining knowledge and progress in knowledge, both should not be subject to a certain dogmatic rationality and epistemological-methodological rules and constraints, which in turn are not sacrosanct, but rather are subject to change in the cognitive process, useless and in a misleading way be restricted. He coined the term anti-rule, which is intended to designate a rule that contradicts induction . The scientist should not be afraid to set up methodological rules that lead to hypotheses that contradict recognized theories and observable facts. For this radical line of Feyerabend there were already points of contact in the history of science, for example David Brewster when he critically examined the methodology of Francis Bacon in 1831:

"The process of Lord Bacon was, we believe, never tried by any philosopher but himself. ... This example, in short, of the application of his system, will remain to future ages as a memorable instance of the absurdity of attempting to fetter discovery by any artificial rules. "

Feyerabend called for a sharp separation between state and science, and he also opposed any claim to superiority by scientists over “ordinary people”. His goal was a free society in which citizens and politicians participate directly in the process of knowledge without further administrative detours via abstract theories. An objective rationality, separated from life and experience in a free society (and thus the previously prevailing) rationality - in the form of logic, scientific theory and certain social theories - should be replaced by the participation of citizens.

Feyerabend's Critique of Critical Rationalism

Feyerabend takes a different view of the term “rational” than Popper. According to Feyerabend, science also works differently than Popper's methodological studies suggested: Scientists determine for themselves the standards by which a certain science has to proceed and when it is necessary to change or replace not only theories but also methodological principles and rules. Feyerabend reads the history of science against Popper's “line”; He uses many examples to show that, in reality, scientists often do not adhere to fixed rules and still or precisely because of this succeed. Better than concentrating on creating the best possible methodology, be it to behave in a fundamentally opportunistic way, to put it bluntly this means: Anything goes! Feyerabend's anarchism not announced the randomness or chaos as an objective, but demands besides a theory pluralism just a pluralism of methods under the flag of epistemological anarchism .

Feyerabend rejects Popper's preoccupation with the problem of demarcation as a direct route to dogmatism:

“No rationalist, no critical rationalist has an insight into the limits of the sciences - to do that he would have to know what is going on outside of the sciences, he would have to know myths, he would have to understand their function [...] Show a critical rationalist an object that is outside his experience lies - he can't do anything with it, he behaves like a dog who sees his master in unusual clothes; he doesn't know if he should bite him, should he run away, or should he lick his face. This is also the reason why critical rationalists begin to rant at the limits of science - for them the end of their belief has been reached and the only thing they can say is: 'irrational nonsense' or 'ad hoc' or 'unfalsifiable' or 'degenerate' - terms that have exactly the same purpose as the earlier terms 'heretic' etc. etc. "

Response of critical rationalism to Feyerabend's criticism

According to David Miller, Feyerabend did not notice how much his criticism actually conforms to Critical Rationalism and does not contradict it at all. Feyerabend overlooks the fact that the goal of methods in critical rationalism is not at all to justify a choice of theories or methods, i.e. no theories or methods should be excluded from the discussion by drawing boundaries. It is therefore correct in that the choice of a method cannot be justified, but it is wrong in the assumption that they must therefore all be of equal importance. The choice of a method has objective consequences, because the method it is supposed to solve solves better or worse according to its own standards. The method of trial and error, which tries nothing to justify, therefore also works in the method selection and can also be applied to itself. Performative contradictions do not arise because the goal is not self-justification, but self-criticism.

In fact, according to Miller, Feyerabend himself takes a similar position, but goes so far as to want to allow methods that go against logic and are therefore difficult to criticize and to sort out if they fail. This is where Feyerabend's method anarchism differs from the critical method pluralism of critical rationalism. Miller is of the opinion that Feyerabend has no real argument against logic and - to use his own words - is a thief who first steals logic from his opponent in the discussion and then criticizes the stolen person for not having it anymore.



Sound and image documents

  • Philosophy today: Dear Heaven - what is a person? Paul Feyerabend in conversation with Rüdiger Safranski . VHS video. Junius, Hamburg 1994 ( online ).
  • Philosophical chats. Original sound recordings 1971–1992 , ed. v. Klaus Sander. Audio CD, 60 minutes and booklet, 24 pages. Supposé, Cologne 2000, ISBN 3-932513-15-0
  • Stories from Paolino's Tapes. Private Recordings 1985-1993 , ed. v. Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend and Klaus Sander. Audio CD, 68 minutes. Supposé, Cologne 2001, ISBN 3-932513-19-3


  • Bibliography Paul Feyerabend. Journal for General Philosophy of Science. Vol. 28, No. 1 / Jan. 1997. Springer Netherlands. doi: 10.1023 / A: 1008200922400
  • Eberhard Döring: Paul K. Feyerabend for an introduction . Junius (Introduction 180), Hamburg 1998, ISBN 3-88506-980-6
  • Klaus Hentschel : On Feyerabend's Version of Mach's Theory of Research and its Relation to Einstein . In: Studies In History and Philosophy of Science . A, no. 16 , 1985, pp. 387-394 ( online ).
  • Paul Hoyningen-Huene: Paul K. Feyerabend . Journal for General Philosophy of Science 28: 1-18 (1997).
  • Paul Hoyningen-Huene: Paul Feyerabend and Thomas Kuhn . Journal for General Philosophy of Science 33 (1): 61-83 (2002).
  • Paul Hoyningen-Huene: Three Biographies: Kuhn, Feyerabend, and Incommensurability . In: Randy Harris (Ed.): Rhetoric and Incommensurability. West Lafayette: Parlor Press, 2005, pp. 150-175.
  • Friedrich Stadler / Kurt R. Fischer (eds.): Paul Feyerabend. A philosopher from Vienna . Springer (publications of the Institute Wiener Kreis 14), Vienna 2006, ISBN 3-211-29759-6
  • Martin Ludwig Hofmann: Paul Feyerabend (1924–1994) - culture of knowledge as culture of freedom , in: Hofmann, Korta, Niekisch (ed.): Culture Club II. Classics of cultural theory . Suhrkamp, ​​Frankfurt am Main 2006, ISBN 3-518-29398-2
  • Eric Oberheim (2007): Feyerabend's Philosophy . Berlin: de Gruyter.
  • Thomas Sukopp: Anything goes? Paul K. Feyerabend as an elephant in Popper's china shop . Enlightenment and Criticism , 1/2007 14th year ISSN  0945-6627
  • Ursula Schmidt: How scientific revolutions come about: from pre-Copernican astronomy to Newtonian mechanics. Würzburg, Königshausen & Neumann, 2010, ISBN 978-3-8260-4255-3
  • Thomas Kupka: Feyerabend and Kant - can that work? Paul K. Feyerabend's ›Naturphilosophie‹ and Kant's polemics against dogmatism . In: Journal for General Philosophy of Science 42 (2011) pp. 399-409, doi: 10.1007 / s10838-011-9170-0

Web links

Commons : Paul Feyerabend  - Collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

Paul Feyerabend's autobiography The Waste of Time is abbreviated to time .

  1. ^ Zeit , p. 43 f.
  2. Zeit , p. 74 f.
  3. Time , p. 95.
  4. Time , p. 101.
  5. Time , p. 149.
  6. A good example is the following criticism of positivism: An Attempt at a Realistic Interpretation of Experience. 1958.
  7. ^ Problems of Empiricism. Beyond the Edge of Certainty: Essays in Contemporary Science and Philosophy , ed. RG Colodny (New Jersey: Prentice-Hall, 1965), pp. 145-260.
  8. EffM, p. 233 f.
  9. ^ Paul Feyerabend: Against Method . In: Minnesota Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Theories & Methods of Physics and Psychology . 1970, pp. 17-130.
  10. ↑ In 1999 the book For and Against Method was published by Matteo Motterlini , in which the debate between Lakatos and Feyerabend was reconstructed on the basis of their letters, Lakatos' lectures and the essay Theses on Anarchism .
  11. ^ Translation of: Against Method is a good book, possibly a great one. It's full of contradictions, over- and understatements, and enough ad hominem statements to give even the most liberal student rhetoric apoplexy. " In: Ian Mitroff: Review of: Against Method, Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge . In: Contemporary Sociology 1976, p. 347.
  12. Time , p. 200.
  13. Time , p. 229.
  14. Minor Planet Circ. 101206
  15. on the question of disposition terms: Paul Feyerabend: The problem of the existence of theoretical entities, in: Ernst Topitsch (Ed.): Problems of the theory of science. Festschrift for Viktor Kraft . Vienna 1960
  16. ^ Paul Feyerabend: How to be a Good Empiricist , in: Bernard Baumrin (Ed.): Philosophy of Science, The Delaware Seminar 2 . New York 1963
  17. To this Thomas Kupka: Philosophy of Science Art. In: Reports on the history of science . 36, 2013, pp. 57–82 abstract and PDF
  18. As formulated in his book Life of Sir Isaac Newton (London 1831). See Franz Graf-Stuhlhofer : David Brewster - a "precursor" by Paul Feyerabend , in: Communications of the Austrian Society for the History of Science 27 (2010) 167f.
  19. ^ Paul Feyerabend: About the method. A dialogue. In: Gerard Radnitzky, Gunnar Andersson (ed.): Requirements and limits of science . Mohr, Tübingen 1981, ISBN 3-16-942722-9
  20. ^ Miller, David (David W.): Critical rationalism: a restatement and defense . Open Court, Chicago 1994, ISBN 0-8126-9197-0 , pp. 27 .