Paul Feyerabend: biography of this philosopher

When we think of science as a whole we can, in general, get a somewhat romantic idea of ​​something unified in its conception although it can be divided into several disciplines, there are great coincidences in the how the data is interpreted. the methodology is used to try to explain reality. However, this is not the case: throughout history there have been many ways of seeing and doing science, Passing by, among others, empiricism, rationalism or scientific realism.

Each of these perspectives has different research implications and has different considerations about what things are, how they should be studied, and even what effect belief in a given theory has on observed phenomena. One of the most critical views is that of Paul Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism. It is this author that we are going to talk about in this article, in what we are going to do a short biography of Paul Feyerabend.

    Brief biography of Paul Feyerabend

    Paul Karl Feyerabend was born in the city of Vienna in 1924, being the only child of a middle-class family at a time characterized by famine after World War I and inflation weighing on the country’s economy. As a civil servant father and a seamstress mother, he was taken into old age due to the hardships of life at that time.

    From childhood, he showed great intelligence. He studied in a Realgymnasium in his hometown, learning natural sciences, Latin and English and obtaining very high qualifications. Likewise, in certain subjects such as physics and mathematics, he seemed to have greater mastery even than his own teachers. too much would show 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 books of philosophy, a subject which would begin to be interested and in which he would stand out many years later), the theater and singing (coming to take lessons in the latter and participate in choirs).

    When in 1938 Germany annexed Austria to the Third ReichHis parents rejoiced, and the young Feyerabend (then a teenager) was impressed by Hitler’s Oratory, although he never became an extremist supporter of the Nazis. According to his own autobiography, the years leading up to WWII, in which he observed political changes and ethnic persecution, were confusing for him.

    The Second World War

    In 1939, World War II broke out, a year before Feyerabend graduated from high school. After graduating in 1940, was incorporated into the compulsory labor service introduced by the Nazis, the Arbeitsdienst. After being trained at Pirmasens, he would be sent to France, performing the task of digging and preparing ditches. At that point, he would begin to appreciate the idea of ​​joining the army, especially 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 Pioneer Corps, received military training and then volunteered at the officers’ school in Yugoslavia in 1942. There he received harsh news, which did not, however, arouse an intense reaction in him: his mother died in committing suicide. His autobiography indicates that he hoped the war would be over before his training was over, but it was not: Feyerabend would be sent to the battle front in Russia.

    He received the Iron Cross of second class in 1944, after having led to successfully occupy a village under enemy fire, being the same year promoted lieutenant. After that, he will be sent to Poland in 1945, where the Nazi army is to begin to withdraw as the Soviets advance. There he received several blows to the hands and intestines, hitting one in 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 bullet impact made him need a cane from now on the rest of his life.

    After the war and still recovering, he will work temporarily as a playwright in Apolda and work in the city’s education department. As his health improved and his abilities improved, he moved to Weimar. There he entered various centers such as the Weimar Academy to take various courses in singing, theater, Italian, piano, directing and vocalization.

    University studies

    In 1947, Feyerabend returned to Vienna, where he would begin to carry out university studies. At first she studied history and sociology, as another of her favorite branches, physics, seemed to be far from reality after the experiences of war. However, his studies did not seem satisfactory to him and he decided to leave History and start studying physics at the University of Vienna.

    During his studies he also received courses in philosophy, Which would deeply grab your attention. He would initially embrace a positivist and empiricist view of science, although contact with professionals such as Ehrenhaft would influence his later view. He wrote his first article in 1947, on illustration in physics.

    In 1948 he met Karl Popper during a seminar at the Austrian Alpbach SocietySomething that would awaken the germ of a change of position with respect to science. He continued to attend meetings and seminars of this company, initially as a simple spectator but gradually coming to exhibit and even act as scientific secretary. There he would also meet Hollitscher, who would convince him that it is realism which guides and enables the progress of scientific research and not positivism or empiricism. That same year he married for the first time an ethnography student named Edeltrud, although he soon separated.

    In addition to the above, in 1949 he also became a member of the Kraft Circle, A group of students and philosophers gathered around the figure of the sole surviving member of the Vienna Circle, Victor Kraft, and the activity was based on the discussion of philosophical topics from a scientific perspective. In this circle meet many personalities of great importance.

      Development of its philosophy

      After completing his studies, Feyerabend began to write a doctoral thesis focusing on electrodynamics, but failed to solve a number of problems in this area and chose to vary the subject of his thesis from the physics to philosophy. Thus, and under the supervision of Kraft, he obtained his doctorate in 1951 with the thesis Zur Teoria der Basissätze, in which discussed the basic statements underlying scientific knowledge according to logical positivism.

      After that and after rejecting an offer to become Bertolt Brecht’s secretary, he tried to get himself accepted as a disciple by another of the Kraft Circle authors, Wittgenstein. Although he agreed, he sadly died before Feyerabend could work with him, in 51. Despite this, he managed to work with Karl Popper, the advocate of falsification (a belief that the veracity of a theory but its falsity through experimentation) and critical rationalism initially convinced him, definitively abandoning empiricism and positivism.

      In 1952, Feyerabend presented his ideas regarding scientific change. A year later he returned to Vienna, where he would work at several universities and later as Arthur Pap’s assistant. This one would present / display to him to Herbert Feigl, that would influence in the ideas of Feyerabend with its realistic position (according to the point of view of Popper). He wrote several philosophical articles on quantum mechanics, Of great relevance which considered that quantum theory was not incontestable.

      In 1955 he was appointed professor of philosophy of science at the University of Bristol. A year later and after having met and having been his thought influenced by professionals such as David Bohm, Joseph Agassi or Philipp Frank, he will marry for the second time a former student named Mary O’Neill from whom he would also separate after a year. (would not be the last of his wives, having married four times in total in her life). They began to publish some of their most critical works on empiricism, embracing scientific realism and Popper’s vision and whereas the interpretation of a relationship is determined by the theories used to explain them.

      Moving and living in the United States

      In 1958 he also received an offer to work as a professor at UC Berkeley, an offer he accepted. In 1959 he was nationalized as an American, and in 1960 he went to work at the University of California where, under Kuhn’s influence, he would begin to use historical examples in his work. In his works of this period, the concept of incommensurability appears, Which determines the impossibility of comparing two theories which do not benefit from the same theoretical language.

      He participated in the student riots and began to have some interest in politics, organized various protests and was even on the verge of being kicked out of UC Berkeley after overtaking the students without completing the course as a method of protest. Also the contact with the hippie movement which predominated in those years influenced in his thinking. In 65 he attended a seminar in Hamburg, during which his thinking would eventually lead to what would later be called epistemological anarchism, which is one of his main contributions.

      In this context, and by alternating his works in Berkeley with those in California (which he would eventually abandon in 1968) and later with others in London, Berlin, Yale and Auckland, the author’s thought shifted away. Everytime. positions and also moved away from falsificationism and rationalism.

      He met Imre Lakatos in London, With whom he would have a great friendship that would last until the latter’s death. With him, she planned to do a scholarly debate publication titled For and Against Method, making Lakatos a defense of the rationalist conception of science while Feyerabend attacked him.

      However, Lakatos died in 1974, without finishing his role in the play. Feyerabend would finish and publish his own in the book Against Method, a year after his friend’s death. In this post, I would fully embrace epistemological anarchismConsidering that there are no universal methodological rules which always generate the progress of science and that it is necessary to vary the methodology in order to be able to achieve an authentic development of knowledge. This post was heavily criticized, which despite an active response led to a fall in depression (which happened to her after Lakatos’ death).

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

      His death and his legacy

      Feyerabend’s health experienced several ups and downs throughout his life, but it would be in the 1990s that the abuser suffered a final deterioration. In 1991, he retired, hoping to take advantage of his retirement and write a final book. However, unfortunately, in 1993, a brain tumor was discovered. He continues and finishes writing the book, his autobiography, titled Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend. In 1995 and after several problems such as a stroke, the tumor ended up causing his death on February 11, 1994, at the Genolier clinic in Switzerland.

      Again his ideas were very controversial and criticized, Paul Feyerabend’s legacy is of great interest to science, as his idea of ​​epistemological anarchism and his lifelong contributions allow for a different view of science and stimulate the need to vary the general methodology . advances.

      Bibliographical references:

      • Feyerabend, PK; (1996) Killing Time. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.
      • Tejada, JA (2017). Paul Karl Feyerabend: an anarchist proposition in the face of scientific rationalism. Pural, 1 (1): 3-52.

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