Paul Feyerabend Anarchist

Doyle Saylor djsaylor at
Sat Dec 11 13:45:31 MST 1999

Title: Paul Feyerabend Anarchist
Greetings Comrades,
    First of all I noticed the response of the group,  Ghebremichael
Woldeselassie, to Louis ejecting Jamal Hannah.  My question would be do you ever
eject anybody from your group?  What are your criteria for belonging to your
group?  Can I belong?  A discussion of that sort of problem for an e-list is
useful concerning how we do relate to someone who is incommensurate to our
    I raise Paul Feyerabend as an anarchist to discuss because he is of these
times (though he is dead now also) rather than historical personages of the
nineteenth century.  Also the other famous anarchist (in the English language
world) of our times, Noam Chomsky, is much less juicy a figure to contemplate (I
mean Feyerabend is a more difficult figure because of his history).  Feyerabend
was a soldier in the Nazi armies that attacked the Soviet Union.  Feyerabend
fought and killed for Nazism, but seems to have drifted even in this period away
from the National Socialist point of view.  According to his autobiography, he
stood by when some members of his own unit tossed a grenade into a basement full
of helpless civilians.   I think I would have shot that monster right there and
then, but I don't know, and I don't think I would have been in the Nazi armies
in the first place.  Such extreme moments of real war, and real choices are hard
to fathom from a safe distance.  And I mean I don't know if in combat my own
fear would have prevented me from acting when I thought kill the bastard.
    I don't think there is a social root in the U.S. for a working class
anarchist movement.  I know working class people with anarchist views.  Mainly
they think of that as libertarianism, but there is not a way in a class forum to
advance that view though these same people would definitely do that if they
could.  The anarchist in the Pacific Northwest are outside work, not related to
work.  That makes sense because of the ecological underpinnings of their views.
 It is hard to understand ecology when working though not impossible.  But it
also points at the tremendous distance between anarchist now and the mass
movements of workers who called themselves anarchists both in this century, and
the last.
    Feyerabend was an Academic Philosopher with a special interest in the
sciences who clashed with various groups in Berkeley California and around the
world during the uprising of social movements of the sixties.  The role of an
anarchist theorist like Feyerabend is well worth looking at closely both in his
life trajectory and what his thinking led to.  Feyerabend has been a source of
theses about the human mind that the philosopher, Paul Churchland, has cited as
central to understanding how the human mind works. "On the Contrary, Critical
Essays, 1987-1997, Chapter 15; A Deeper Unity: Some Feyerabendian Themes in
Neurocomputational Form.   Starts page 257. pps 257 through 279
1. Perceptual knowledge, without exception, is always an expression of some
speculative framework, some theory: it is never ideologically neutral
(Feyerabend 1958, 1962).
2. The commonsense (but still speculative) categorical framework with which we
all understand our mental lives may not express the true nature of mind, nor
capture its causally important aspects.  This commonsense framework is in
principle displaceable by a matured materialist framework, even as the vehicle
of one's spontaneous, first-person psychological judgments (Feyerabend 1963a).
3. Competing theories can, and occasionally are, incommensurable, in the double
sense that (a) the terms and doctrines of the one theory find no adequate
translation within the conceptual resources of the other theory, and (b) they
have no logical connections to a common observational vocabulary whose accepted
sentences might be used to make a reasoned empirical choice between them
(Feyerabend 1962).
4. Scientific progress is at least occasionally contingent on the proliferation
and exploration of mutually exclusive, large--scale conceptual alternatives to
the dominant theory, and such alternative avenues of exploration are most needed
precisely when the dominant theory has shown itself to be "empirically adequate"
(Feyerabend 1963b).
5. The long-term best interests of intellectual progress require that we
proliferate not only theories but research methodologies as well (Feyerabend
    I would say that the above points supports what the Ghebremichael group
thinks about including the anarchist Jamal.  But I would say also that a group
determines itself.  So that I asked the Ghebremichael group about how they
constituted their own group.  Because the key issue for any group is
incommensurate differences.  Fundamentally an anarchist would find Marxist
interested in organizing social structure to the highest level.  In our times to
the state level, and possibly someday to the global level.  The anarchist would
be fundamentally opposed to this.  Jamal, it seems to me, was not amendable to
the serious contradiction that goes between the diametrically opposed aims of
these two groups.  Feyerabend was able to discuss with communists the nature of
science.  He was seriously influenced by communists but retained his anarchist
views to the end of his life.  I would guess at the minimum Feyerabend was a
pain in the ass also.
    In my own life, I am similar in my responses to Louis.  I don't think I
would have been even as tolerant as Louis about Jamal.  But I usually try to put
my views in the context of my larger community.  So that my wife often will tell
me that someone is worth listening to and I try to have an open mind when my own
community counsels me that way.  And so forth.  I have anarchist friends.  I try
to respect their views.  Sometimes I try to make my views known to them, and not
break with them when they say something I think is not good.  But I would feel
quite differently about an e-list, which is completely open to unknown actors.  And
to whatever anyone wants to do unless someone actively sets boundaries and
limits to what can come up.  I think Louis would allow Jamal to stay on if that
person were willing to abide by Louis' rules.  Sometimes those rules feel so
constraining to what that person believes they can't help themselves and must
break Louis' rules. But then they can form an e-list of their own and deal with
the problem of disruption from incommensurate views themselves.  And that is
fair enough.  There is latitude within that for someone such as myself who has
some occasional differences with Louis to function quite well.
Doyle Saylor

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