Feyerabend and Latour: Must Philosophy of Science cleanse itself of Them?

I was teaching Paul Feyerabend and Bruno Latour earlier today in my MA class (Methodology in Political Science MA).

This followed the usual three defining figures in discussing scientific methodology: Popper, Kuhn and Lakatos. Feyerabend and Latour both develop thin gs which can be found in Kuhn. Like Kuhn, Lakatos rejected Popper’s view that all scientific theories are theories which have survived experimental refutation. Lakatos suggested that theories are part of a group of theories, he labelled research programmes. There is no sudden refutation of one theory because the ‘refutation’ can apply to any one of a large number of theories including theories assumed in make observational instruments. However, a research programme goes through a kind of refutation over time when observational anomolies can only be explained by reducing the empirical scope of the programme.

Kuhn emphasised the non-scientific motivations for accepting or rejecting theories tied up with relations inside the scientific community. Lakatos regards this very warily as social psychology to kept apart from Science Itself.

With Feyerabend the supposed logical consistency of science is dismissed along with any claims that science is justified by observation. There are always various theories which satisfy observations, observations themselves are interpreted as parts of theories, different methods can be used and none is better than another. This violates the concern Popper and Lakatos have with finding a logic of science, a way in which all science is beliefs justified by observations, and logical inferences from observations.

With Latour, it’s even worse from the point of view of mainstream philosophy of science. Relativism and contradiction in science? No problem for Latour. Science should be studied anthropologically to grasp the impact of power on scientists. Science can be explained by episodes in cultural history. E.g. 17th Century science is governed by the ideas painters had about the right distance from what is being painted.

Maybe we should try and rescue something from Latour for mainstream epistemology and philosophy of science.

  1. Latour is a direct realist. The objects of observation are real as they appear for us.
  2. Latour is denying the sources of the scepticism which has haunted epistemology since Descartes.
  3. Latour’s anthropological approach turns science into a vital human impulse.

And rescuuing Feyerabend

  1. The scope of science takes precedence over contradiction.
  2. Observations should be maximised.
  3. Possible explanations are miximised.

No need to dismiss this as social psychology, or worse. Surely some stuff here for the justificationist epistemologists and philosophy of science types.