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Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Is Science Just a Tradition?

In an interesting chapter, Feyerabend describes how scientists now perceive current standards of science as measurements of excellence. He points out and asks,
Modern science arose from global objections against earlier views and rationalism itself, the idea that there are general rules and standards for conducting our affairs, affairs of knowledge included, arose from global objections to common sense...Are we to refrain from engaging in those activities that give rise to science and rationalism in the first place? Are we to rest content with their results? Are we to assume that everything that happened after Newton (or after Hilbert) is perfection? Or shall we admit that modern science may have basic faults and may be in need of global change?
He then moves on to describe the act of choosing a particular field of research not because of its intrinsic "perfection" but because he/she wants to see where it leads, which he labels as the pragmatic philosophy. He claims that such a philosophy can only flourish if
The traditions to be judged and the developments to be influenced are seen as temporary makeshifts and not as lasting constituents of thoughts and actions.
So what is the issue here? The problem lies in the fact that one cannot see his/her own, cherished tradition in perspective, as "parts of a changing and, perhaps, absurd tradition." Such a mindset, Feyerabend claims, is the reason for the illogical process of maintaining one specific "tradition" and disregarding the rest. We preserve these standards, when actually they should be attacked with varying, alternate beliefs.

But how do we never notice these alternative beliefs? Surely, if they are significant enough to make such a difference, then they ought to pop up! Feyerabend, in response, explains how we do notice these different traditions-- in a different form: when critics of a certain practice "discover" flaws and limitations that contradict another set of beliefs, they are merely noticing that the two bodies of ideas-- the one being criticized and the one used in the criticism-- simply do not fit each other.

He provides a simple example:
Many arguments against an out-and-out materialism are of this kind. They notice that materialism changes the use of 'mental' terms, they illustrate the consequences of the change with amusing absurdities (thoughts having weight and the like) and then they stop. The absurdities show that materialism clashes with our usual ways of speaking about minds, they do not show what is better - materialism or these ways. But taking the participants' point of view with respect to common sense turns the absurdities into arguments against materialism.
He jokes that "It is as if Americans were to object to foreign currencies because they cannot be brought into simple relations (1:1 or 1:10 or 1:100) to the dollar.

Rather than seeing the situation as a comparison between two traditions, the participants of a tradition blindly follow theirs as the truly "objective" belief. Thus, when they defend the "objectivity" of such values, they only use their beliefs instead of examining and analyzing it. This does not make the tradition an "objective measure of validity," nor does it show that the specific tradition is any good.

Therefore, in order to break this cycle and critically examine all "standards" and traditions, Feyerabend argues that we must be able to recognize these different traditions instead of using one to reject another.

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