Penn State

Sandeep Purao - Professor of Information Sciences and Technology , College of Information Sciences and Technology

Book Title: Against method :outline of an anarchistic theory of knowledge

Author: Paul Feyerabend

Book Description:

At its heart, science is an anarchistic enterprise. It is, therefore, shocking to see how modern society legitimizes the work of scientists. Universities allow researchers to pursue their interests relying on the invisible hand of peer review. The scientific enterprise ensures that ideology and organizational hierarchy do not dictate the direction of progress. The sanctuary of the university allows these independent-minded scientists to come together to deliver quality education and also, every now and then, shake the very foundations of knowledge and culture. We should, therefore, find it amazing that society tolerates, supports and even celebrates this institution. Even now, it is startling to witness it every time it occurs: when a university awards tenure or promotion to a scientist based largely on the endorsement from the scientific community. It reinforces the trust that society has placed in the scientific enterprise. As a recent recipient of just such a promotion at Penn State, I am simultaneously proud and humbled. Proud to see the scientific community work in this manner without regard to ideology and organizational hierarchy. And humbled to recognize that society has entrusted me with both the opportunity to continue my research, and the responsibility to educate the citizens of tomorrow.

I have chosen the book 'Against Method' by Paul Feyerabend because it captures the essence of this anarchistic audacity. He demonstrates the impracticality and improbability of legislating and controlling scientific practice within philosophical and methodological norms as well as within societal and organizational straitjackets. In Feyerabend’s words: "The idea that science can, and should, be run according to fixed and universal rules, is both unrealistic and pernicious." What he outlined almost forty years ago has been an inspiration to many. I want to acknowledge how his words have goaded me to question established dogma and develop new directions within my own discipline.


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