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Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Reason vs. Irrationality

The pivotal theme of Feyerabend's essay is the necessity of the preservation of all theories:
We must retain the new cosmology until it has been supplemented by the necessary auxiliary sciences. We must retain it in the face of plain and unambiguous refuting facts.
 As he emphasizes constantly, a new theory which "contradicts" an old idea or system should not be automatically discounted, as
The contradiction only indicates that the old and the new are different and out of phase. It does not show which view is the better one.
This brings up a very important question, which Feyerabend points out in chapter 11:
How can we persuade people to follow our lead? How can we lure them away from a well-defined, sophisticated and empirically successful system and make them transfer their allegiance to an unfinished and absurd hypothesis?
It would make sense that people would be very reluctant to change from the status quo; after all, who wouldn't choose to believe in theories supported logically and empirically? In addition, who would want to replace such beliefs with those that are inconsistent with so many observations?

To this Feyerabend offers a surprising approach:
It is clear that allegiance to the new ideas will have to be brought about by means other than arguments. It will have to be brought about by irrational means such as propaganda, emotion, ad hoc hypotheses, and appeal to prejudices of all kinds. We need these 'irrational means' in order to uphold what is nothing but a blind faith until we have found the auxiliary science, the facts, the arguments that turn the faith into sound 'knowledge.'
 This, undoubtedly, is the only means of achieving the far-fetched goal that Feyerabend dreams of. Yet how can anyone argue that we should follow an approach that follows from irrationality and "blind faiths"? Wouldn't it be better to stick with rationality and reasoning?

To this, Feyerabend responds by saying that,
What our historical examples seem to show is this: there are situations when our most liberal judgments and our most liberal rules would have eliminated a point of view which we regard today as essential for science, and would not have permitted it to prevail - and such situations occur quite frequently.
The main example that he cites refers (again) to the heliocentric model from Copernicus. He regards Copernicus as "a symbol for the ideals of a new class that looks back to the classical times of Plato and Cicero and forward to a free and pluralistic society." Although we currently hold the heliocentric model as a fact, at his time the proposed system was ridiculed. Numerous arguments-- such as the tower argument (which I mentioned a few days ago)-- had caused almost all scientists to reject it. At the time, the geocentric model was "established," with "facts" and "observations" supporting the idea. This example supports Feyerabend's warnings and reveals the possibility of our current beliefs to be erroneous as well.


Furthermore, he mentions how Galileo, another scientist at the time, had used the exact methodology that is mentioned above-- by using "tricks, jokes, and nonsequiturs of his own."

In essence, Feyerabend contends that we must break the cycle of using only (ignorant) reason and maintain the possibility of any alternatives to rise up.Thus he concludes the argument by declaring that,
[These ideas] survived because prejudice, passion, conceit, errors, sheer pigheadedness, in short because all the elements that characterize the context of discovery, opposed the dictates of reason and because these irrational elements were permitted to have their way.
But should we really hold onto such "blind faiths"? Should we support a scientific "method" which relies on deceit and propaganda? And most importantly, are such revolutionary breakthroughs like those from Copernicus and Galileo important enough to replace reason with irrationality?

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