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the Complete Review
the complete review - science/philosophy

For and Against Method

Imre Lakatos
Paul Feyerabend

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To purchase For and Against Method

Title: For and Against Method
Author: Imre Lakatos and Paul Feyerabend
Genre: Philosophy
Written: 1968-74
Length: 408 pages
Availability: For and Against Method - US
For and Against Method - UK
For and Against Method - Canada
  • Edited, and with an introduction by Matteo Motterlini.
  • Includes:
    • Lectures on Scientific Method, Imre Lakatos (1973).
    • Theses on Anarchism, Paul Feyerabend.
    • A large selection of the Lakatos-Feyerabend correspondence between 1968 and 1974.
    • On Rearing Scholars, Imre Lakatos (1956, trans. Ninon Leader).
    • Letters to the Director of the Department of Philosophy, Paul Feyerabend (1969).
    • The Intellectuals' Betrayal of Reason, Imre Lakatos.
    • Letter to His Editors, Imre Lakatos (1973).
    • Useful biographical sections on both authors, and a good bibliography

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Our Assessment:

B+ : an excellent, varied introduction to the lives and thought of two fascinating philosophers

See our review for fuller assessment.

Review Summaries
Source Rating Date Reviewer
The British J. for the Phil. of Science . 12/2000 Brendan Larvor
London Rev. of Books B 20/1/2000 Ian Hacking
The New Criterion . 5/2000 James Franklin

  From the Reviews:
  • "There is no new philosophy here, and little news about the opinions, or even the development of ideas, of either author. (...) The letters themselves do not add much, but they do convey some of the flavour of those days. (...) I found no new philosophy (in the lectures) but people who did not know Lakatos may be fascinated by the way in which he baited all and sundry, and marvel at his arrogant jokes." - Ian Hacking, London Review of Books

Please note that these ratings solely represent the complete review's biased interpretation and subjective opinion of the actual reviews and do not claim to accurately reflect or represent the views of the reviewers. Similarly the illustrative quotes chosen here are merely those the complete review subjectively believes represent the tenor and judgment of the review as a whole. We acknowledge (and remind and warn you) that they may, in fact, be entirely unrepresentative of the actual reviews by any other measure.

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The complete review's Review:

       Paul Feyerabend's text, Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge, remains among the more contentious and influential philosophical works of the past decades. Feyerabend was already a well-known philosopher of science by the time it first appeared in essay form (1970; the book version was published 1975), a one-time student and sometime follower of Karl Popper at the London School of Economics, and a lecturer (and then professor) at Berkeley since 1958. A free spirit in mind and action, he moved radically away from Popperian theories of scientific progress and formulated an anarchic theory of his own. His approach has -- somewhat too simplistically -- been reduced to the idea of: "Anything goes." (Though, in fact, he expressly states that "'anything goes' does not express any conviction of mine".)
       Feyerabend argued "against method," insisting that science must be far more open and willing to examine all possibilities -- none of which were, per se, better than any other. It made for a fun class he taught, especially in the tumultuous late-60s, as he took to inviting Creationists, Darwinists, witches, and anyone else with an opinion to spar in front of his students -- scenes that are nicely described both in his autobiography (Killing Time) and in many of the letters to Imre Lakatos included in this volume.
       Imre Lakatos, one-time Communist Party member in Hungary, spent his whole career in the West (from 1956 until his untimely death in 1974) at the LSE, coming under the influence of Popper there, and befriending Feyerabend. Lakatos' position, best detailed in his splendid Proofs and Refutations (see our review), was more traditional, in that he suggested a methodology to scientific advancement -- though acknowledging more complexity to it than Popper's "conjectures and refutations" and constant harping on falsifiability suggested.
       Kindred spirits, if not always of the same mind, Lakatos and Feyerabend seem to have gotten along famously, engaging in scholarly banter as they tried to demolish each others work. As Feyerabend was fleshing out his anarchic ideas Lakatos suggested that Feyerabend collect his thoughts "against method" and Lakatos would write a reply, "for method." This book is very much the history of that debate between them, providing in the extensive correspondence a detailed history of the progress of Feyerabend's work and Lakatos' response. Unfortunately, the project was never completed as planned, due to Lakatos' death in 1974.
       What might have been is suggested mainly in the transcribed lectures of Lakatos' course in Scientific Method, given in the Lent term, 1973. They are literally what Lakatos said, hardly tampered with (and unfortunately not gone over by Lakatos personally). They lack the tight focus of Lakatos' carefully presented written work, but make up for this to some extent by giving a good feel for how he taught. Regrettably, also, one of the eight lectures was not recorded, leaving a gap in the series.
       For and Against Method begins with an imagined dialogue between Lakatos and Feyerabend, written by Matteo Motterlini, offering an introduction to their views, methods, and characters. It is well done, weaving in their actual words, and serves as a good starting point for what follows.
       Lakatos' lectures, though unpolished, give a clear view of how he saw scientific method. Beginning with a discussion of the demarcation problem (reducible to the question: when is one scientific theory better than another ?), Lakatos essentially dismisses Popper's notion of falsifiability as too strict, and Feyerabend's relativism as too lax. Using numerous examples Lakatos points out that other generally accepted notions are, in fact, implausible and he tries, for example, to explode the myth of inductivism. Strong in the specific arguments used to undermine many commonly held views (and particularly some of Popper's), Lakatos does not fully develop his own theory of a method, though it can be pieced together from much of what he says. Less bound to absolutes and rules it defies being put simply, but Lakatos conveys what he is after fairly well. (An Editor's Note on The Value of Novelty also serves to reiterate Lakatos' main points.)
       Much of the book is then devoted to the Feyerabend-Lakatos correspondence from 1968-1974. In his autobiography Feyerabend writes that "Cambridge University Press wanted to publish our letters, but could not: as usual I had thrown away Imre's part of the correspondence. Only a few postcards survived as bookmarks, or to cover holes in the walls of my house." Fortunately the University of Chicago Press and Matteo Motterlini were not put off by this. Lakatos carefully filed his correspondence, and a fair number of letters he wrote to Feyerabend were also recovered. The correspondence included here is voluminous, but many letters were apparently left out, keeping the focus on the continuing debate around Against Method.
       Though some of what is discussed is obscure, and certain details are hard to follow without referring to the works being discussed, it is still a valuable selection. It serves as a marvelous introduction to the characters and minds of both men, generous, playful souls whose banter was clever and fun. There is serious intellectual debate here as well, but rarely is there true personal tension (though once or twice it does flare up). Though often in disagreement, they seemed to genuinely like one another and both gained in their work from the criticism and comments of the other.
       There is a fill of fun titbits here, including endless remarks at the expense of their "lapis irae", Sir Karl Popper, and many interesting asides on the events of the day (both Berkeley and the LSE being in the thick of things in those years).

       The volume is well-presented, from Motterlini's imagined dialogue through the useful variety of pieces presented. The editing is solid, if not ideal. The footnotes to the letters are useful and generally well done, but certain people, subjects, and events are left unnoted, a source of minor annoyance in places. Similarly, the index is not truly comprehensive, with mentions of a surprising number of (admittedly generally minor, or referred to in passing) figures inexplicably left out. More troublesome are the occasional misspellings (or typographical errors), especially in the German quotes. From "Bertholt Brecht" (in the biographical section on Feyerabend) and "Redwig Courts-Mahler" to notions such as "kritischen Detrachtung" (in a passage where we find variations on a word both misspelt ("eingesschüchtert") and correctly spelled ("Einschüchterung")) this is the sort of thing that should not happen in a semi-scholarly volume such as this. (Possibly some of the mistakes can be ascribed to Lakatos and/or Feyerabend -- but then they should be noted with the useful sic !)

       For anyone interested in Feyerabend or Lakatos, or the philosophy of science, this volume is highly recommended. A welcome complement to Feyerabend's autobiography and useful introduction to Lakatos, it also makes a marvelous read. There is something here even for those who are not particularly interested in the issues raised here, though they may find parts not quite so engaging.

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For and Against Method: Reviews: Imre Lakatos: Paul Feyerabend: Other books by Imre Lakatos under Review: Other books by and about Paul Feyerabend under Review:

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About the Authors:

       Imre Lakatos was born in Hungary as Imre Lipsitz in 1922. Active in the Communist Party in Hungary after World War II he worked in the Ministry of Education. He earned his Ph.D from Debrecen University in 1947. Expelled from the Communist Party in 1950, he was interned for three years. He fled Hungary in 1956, and was awarded a Rockefeller Fellowship to study at Cambridge, where he completed another Ph.D. He became a lecturer at the London School of Economics where Karl Popper was a great influence on him. Lakatos died in 1974.

       Paul K. Feyerabend was born in Vienna, Austria, in 1924. He received his Ph.D. in 1951, and went on to study at the London School of Economics. From 1958 to 1990 he was a lecturer and then professor at the University of California at Berkeley, while also teaching at numerous other academic institutions. The author of such works as Against Method and Science in a Free Society he was among the most influential philosophers of the second half of the 20th century. He died in 1994.

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