Epistemological anarchism and Paul K. Feyerabend's relativism

Diametros:85-103 (2004)

This article is devoted to a position belonging to Paul Feyerabend’s later philosophical activity. Feyerabend’s epistemological anarchism is often identified with radical philosophical relativism: relativism in the philosophy of science and in the methodology of the sciences. The identification of epistemological anarchism with radical relativism or asserting that this sort of relativism follows from Feyerabend’s position is a false interpretation of his theory. Radical relativism presupposes the equivalence of all conceptions in a given area of knowledge by rejecting the possibility that any of them can achieve the status of an objective or true theory. This definition could serve as a superficial characterization of Feyerabend’s position, were it not often accompanied by assertions such as the following: within the context of relativism it is impossible to compare and assess a theory since, by rejecting all criteria which might make this possible, relativism rejects the possibility of discussion and makes progress impossible. The thesis of radical relativism contradicts the very foundations of Feyerabend’s conception. In order to prove this, I present a characterization of epistemological anarchism and its chief principle, anything goes, and I discuss Feyerabend’s relativism as it was presented in his publications, that is, with the distinction between epistemological, practical, and democratic relativism. In characterizing epistemological anarchism and the principle that anything goes, I refer to the example of Galileo’s theory, described by Feyerabend, and I present the principal critical arguments directed against the author of anarchism. In proving the falsity of thesis which identifies epistemological anarchism and Feyerabend’s whole relativistic conception with radical relativism, I also discuss the views of the author on the status of science and his concepts of knowledge and progress
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