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New Left Review I/94, November-December 1975

Roy Bhaskar

Feyerabend and Bachelard: Two Philosophies of Science

In 1934 when Gaston Bachelard published his Nouvel Esprit Scientifique [1] G. Bachelard, Le Nouvel Esprit Scientifique, Paris 1934, translated as The Philosophy of the New Scientific Mind, New York 1968. and Karl Popper’s Logik der Forschung [2] K. R. Popper, Logik der Forschung Vienna 1934, translated as The Logic of Scientific Discovery, London 1959. appeared few philosophers would have dissented from the view that science develops in a linear or monistic fashion, so as to leave meaning and truth-value unchanged, on the basis provided by common experience. Meyerson had even undertaken to show that the theory of relativity could be deduced from Newtonian principles [3] E. Meyerson, La déduction relativiste, Paris 1925. and it was widely held that, for their part, the concepts of classical physics were just a refinement of the concepts of daily life. [4] See e.g. W. Heisenberg, Physics and Philosophy, London 1959. Since then Bachelard, in France, and Popper, in England, have been more than any others responsible for the seeping into the general philosophical consciousness (which includes the consciousness of scientists in their reflection upon their work) of the fact, profoundly revolutionary for philosophy, of the phenomenon of scientific discontinuity (with respect to common sense or experience) and change. In strikingly similar terms Bachelard and Popper attempted to register this phenomenon. Yet neither of them, nor the theoretical traditions they inaugurated, have succeeded in grasping its full significance for philosophy. Dominique Lecourt’s Marxism and Epistemology [5] D. Lecourt, Marxism and Epistemology, nlb 1975. and Paul Feyerabend’s Against Method [6] P. Feyerabend, Against Method, nlb 1975. constitute in a sense extended commentaries on these traditions and their attempts to theorize scientific discontinuity and change—the one, a respectful tribute ‘from outside’; the other, a ‘wicked’ polemic from within.

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