Unspun Logo


Posted by Rick · September 12th, 2003 · No Comments

A little philosophy now and then never hurt anyone. Due to my harried schedule and not getting enough sleep, combined with a desire to post more than a trite blurb at least daily so as to encourage your return visit, I’ve been looking through some of my old journals (saved in massive notebooks from the days before blogs…some from before the Internet even) for things that might still be timely and potentially interesting.

I found this entry on Feyerabend, “objective knowledge,” and relativity.

At the end of the third chapter of Against Method, Paul Feyerabend says:

To sum up: Unanimity of opinion may be fitting for a church, for the frightened or greedy victims of some (ancient, or modern) myth, or for the weak and willing followers of some tyrant. Variety of opinion is necessary for objective knowledge. – Feyerabend, p. 46.

One of the things that has struck me to this point in the reading is what I had perceived as a reinforcement of the idea that “objective knowledge” was not really objective. Knowledge, it seemed (seems), is always perspectival and relational; it depends upon who is doing the knowing, and what their relation is to both a set of pre-existing beliefs and to a situation which they are knowing (i.e., a “fact”). What sense, then, does the phrase “objective knowledge” have? None, I thought; it is a mythological creature on part with unicorns.

The absence of (or the impossibility of) any real objective knowledge does not, however, seem to necessitate rabid relativism. It only should serve to ameliorate any tendency towards dogmatism. The impossibility of objective knowledge is not the same as, or does not justify a belief in, the impossibility (or absence) of objective reality (realities?).

The goal of science, which is sometimes mistakenly put forth as “to know/understand the world/reality,” is to effect predictive power—the power to make things happen which we desire and to block those we do not desire. (This latter is really only another way of stating the former; we desire not to have some things happen. [Today, I would add that “predictive power” doesn’t require the drive to “effect” something; it could also just be the ability to predict what will happen; i.e., if we don’t intervene.]) Examples of things we want to have happen include increased crop yields, more powerful weaponry, new energy sources, and various “creature comforts,” to name only a few. Things we don’t want are to be blown up by enemies, to overmuch damage our environment, to starve to death, etc.

The problem is that, besides the fact that some of us have an unpragmatic fetish for “objective knowledge” which, like many fetishes, is a kind of compulsive disorder, [many of] the rest of us have been duped into thinking that “objective knowledge” is necessary to our real goals of making things happen which we desire and blocking those we do not desire.

In the passage quoted above, Feyerabend, too, seems to have succumbed. This is especially odd in view of his statements regarding anarchism. The claim that “anything goes” (p. 28) seems more important when the goal is the pragmatic one of predictive power over the world in which we live [rather] than any impossible dream of objective knowledge.

I’m just a little puzzled, I guess, because Feyerabend seems to have presented excellent reasons for the anarchistic methodology for the exploration of a supposed objective reality which does not necessitate the aspiration to objective knowledge (a fact which, as it seems to me, explains why objective knowledge ought not to be aspired to) and yet, at the same time, he seems to aspire to objective knowledge.

According to the notation I made, this was written on either May 6 or 7 of 1994 at 10:50 a.m. I still find this interesting, although I might state some things a little differently today; for one thing, I can never be certaint that back then I properly understood Feyerabend!

I used to write like this daily (for hours at a time). To help “flesh things out” here, I’m going to occasionally throw in some old entry like that on a topic that’s still interesting to me, mixed with things like I’ve been writing here the last several weeks. That way, there should always be something worth reading (hopefully!) here.

Categories: Philosophy


0 responses so far ↓

  • There are no comments yet...Kick things off by filling out the form below.

Leave a Comment