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Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend [Paperback]

Paul Feyerabend
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

7 Nov 1996
Killing Time is the story of Paul Feyerabend's life. Finished only weeks before his death in 1994, it is the self-portrait of one of this century's most original and influential intellectuals. Trained in physics and astronomy, Feyerabend was best known as a philosopher of science. But he emphatically was not a builder of theories or a writer of rules. Rather, his fame was in powerful, plain-spoken critiques of "big" science and "big" philosophy. Feyerabend gave voice to a radically democratic "epistemological anarchism": he argued forcefully that there is not one way to knowledge, but many principled paths; not one truth or one rationality but different, competing pictures of the workings of the world. "Anything goes", he said about the ways of science in his most famous book, Against Method. And he meant it. Here, for the first time, Feyerabend traces the trajectory that led him from an isolated, lower-middle-class childhood in Vienna to the height of international academic success. He writes of his experience in the German army on the Russian front, where three bullets left him crippled, impotent, and in lifelong pain. He recalls his promising talent as an operatic tenor (a lifelong passion), his encounters with everyone from Martin Buber to Bertolt Brecht, innumerable love affairs, four marriages, and a career so rich he once held tenured positions at four universities at the same time. Although not written as an intellectual autobiography, Killing Time sketches the people, ideas, and conflicts of sixty years. Feyerabend writes frankly of complicated relationships with his mentor Karl Popper and his friend and frequent opponent Imre Lakatos, and his reactions to a growing reputation as the "worst enemy of science".

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Product details

  • Paperback: 200 pages
  • Publisher: University of Chicago Press; New edition edition (7 Nov 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0226245322
  • ISBN-13: 978-0226245324
  • Product Dimensions: 21.6 x 13.7 x 1.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 634,306 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing free-thinker 16 Mar 1999
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
Paul Feyerabend's autobiography is remarkably open and frank, fitting with the way this man wrote, thought, and led his life. Feyerabend was the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, has clearly pointed out that science has become the religion of western culture. His autobiography let me learn a little about what made this man so unafraid of thinking differently from other people. I also found it to be poignant, particularly in the picture of a boy raised without love, who as an adult is captivated by his love of beauty in music and the theater, and who finally begins to grasp what love is at the end of his life.
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Scènes de la vie de bohème 26 July 2007
By Luc REYNAERT TOP 1000 REVIEWER
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
In his book `Reason and Culture', Ernest Gellner points his finger at certain philosophers of science for undermining reason. One of the culprits is Paul Feyerabend.
This autobiography is very revealing indeed. It gives an in depth view of Feyerabend's eventful life, his difficult character, his fierce philosophical battles, his profound (physical and intellectual) loves and his (self-) inflicted deceptions.
As a young soldier, he was physically heavily marked by World War II, but astonishingly his fighting spirit was enhanced. On the other hand, was this experience not the main reason for his deep pessimism: `Me? A family? Children? Not on this planet!' He called himself an `icy egotist'. All his life he had violent outburst of inner rage: `We shall act in a barbaric way. We shall punish, kill, meet violence with violence.'
During the war, he was lived, as Nietzsche said: `the aims of Nazism - I hardly knew what they were.' Already then for him, `a clean moral vision implies simplifications and acts of cruelty and injustice.'
After the war, he had to choose between a career as a professional singer (he had a beautiful voice and loved opera) or as a scientist. He became a philosopher of science.
But now the intellectual caste became the target of his violent attacks: `intellectuals prepare a New Age of ignorance, darkness and slavery.' His main foe was the man he saw as the new POP(p)E(r) of philosophy.
Overreactions and exaggerations made him even return to animism: `two types of tumors to be removed - philosophy of science and general philosophy (ethics, epistemology etc.) ... Nor is there one way of knowing, science.
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Amazon.com: 4.8 out of 5 stars  16 reviews
25 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The impotent Don Juan cared more for opera than philosophy 30 Sep 2001
By Anna Noehre - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
Typical Feyerabend arrogance, spiced with unbearable charm. Brimming with intimate details of his sexual experiences, fighting with the Nazi Army on the Western Front, his lifelong (almost) apathy toward academic philosophy, and his real passion: opera singing. Philosophy, it turns out, was "just a job." I had *no* idea that Paul Feyerabend once possessed a "world voice" for opera. It was opera he loved. About 1/3 of the story is about operas he'd seen worldwide, who sang the roles, his critical opinion of the singing!
Also includes his bookish, only-child upbringing; his horribly depressed mother and her suicide in his teens; his adult depressions; his affairs and marriages; and finally, his mature love for the beautiful Graziana, which allowed him some actual truth in this life. It ends with Graziana's reminder that most of Feyerabend's life was spent in chronic pain, the result of a gunshot to his groin during the Nazi retreat from Russia. That was the injury which rendered him sexually impotent at 20 - a recurring theme in the story.
By the last page, I was in tears. Imagine tears of compassion after reading the words of that anarchist maniac who wrote "Against Method"!! But tears there were. It's a very good book.
26 of 27 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Killing Time 9 Sep 2000
By Vladimir pintro - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
This is one of the most touching autobiography I have read. Paul Feyerabend was not only an important thinker or philosopher, I was also an interesting human being. It is not, however, so much his story that is intriguing as it is the moral we can draw from his experiences that is illuminating. Perhaps the most valuable counsel he gives us in this book is the following:"If you want to achieve something, if you want to write a book, paint a picture, be sure that the center of your existence is somewhere else and that it's solidly grounded; only then will you be able to keep your cool and laugh at the attacks that are bound to come"(147). I think any student of philosophy, literature and the arts should take this advice to heart. Feyerabend is one of the rare philosophers who realized that, after all, a worthwile life is not one devoted to abstract thinking but one devoted to love. As he says," There are strong inclinations after all;...they are not about abstract things such as solitude or intellectual achievements but about a live human being"(169). I cannot but recommend you to read this very enlightening autobiography. Vladimir Pintro, student of philosophy at S.U.N.Y.
18 of 18 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars An awesome spiritual odyssee 4 Nov 2001
By Philippe Vandenbroeck - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is a slim volume, barely 200 pages, but it charts an awesome spiritual odyssee. Paul Feyerabend - enfant terrible of late 20th century philosophy - looked ruthlessly in the mirror and painted an unadorned picture of himself. At the end of his life, he painfully recognised that its course had been shaped by absences, rather than by specific events or, for that matter, ideas: absence of purpose, of content, of a focused interest, absence of moral character, absence of warmth and of social relationships.
Only when Feyerabend approached the final fifteen years of his life and settled as a professor in the philosophy of science in Zürich - after having lectured four decades at Anglo-American universities - he started to relax. And eventually, a woman came and set things right. In 1983 he met the Italian physicist Grazia Borrini for the first time. Five years later they married. His relationship with Mrs. Borrini must have been the single most important event in Feyerabend's life. Reading his autobiography is an experience akin to listening to Sibelius' tone-poem 'Nightride and Sunrise': after 1983 the colours change dramatically and his prose is infused with warmth and immense gratefulness. It is a delight to read his rapt eulogies on the companion of the last decade of his life, on his most fortunate discovery of true love and friendship. Indeed, although Feyerabend is not interested in 'spoiling' his autobiography with an extensive reiteration of his philosophical positions, there are a few messages he clearly wants to drive home. The central role in life of love and friendship is one of them. Without these "even the noblest achievements and the most fundamental principles remain pale, empty and dangerous" (p. 173). Yet, Feyerabend clearly wants us to see that this love "is a gift, not an achievement" (p. 173). It is something which is subjected neither to the intellect, nor to the will, but is the result of a fortunate constellation of circumstances.
The same applies to the acquisition of 'moral character'. This too "cannot be created by argument, 'education' or an act of will." (p.174). Yet, it is only in the context of a moral character - something which Feyerabend confesses to having only acquired a trace of after a long life and the good fortune of having met Grazia - that ethical categories such as guilt, responsibility and obligation acquire a meaning. "They are empty words, even obstacles, when it is lacking." (p.174) (Consequently, he did not think himself responsible for his behavior during the Nazi period).
Contrary to someone like Karl Kraus, Feyerabend seems to think that men, at least as long as they have not acquired moral character, are morally neutral, whilst ideas are not. A question which remains, of course, is who is to be held responsible for intellectual aberrations and intentional obfuscation if this character is only to be acquired by an act of grace, an accidental constellation of circumstances.
There is an enigmatic passage in the autobiography which may shed light on this important problem. After having seen a performance of Shakespeare's Richard II, in which the protagonist undoes himself of all his royal insigna, thereby relinquishing not just "a social role but his very individuality, those features of his character that separated him from other", Feyerabend notes that the "dark, unwieldy, clumsy, helpless creature that appeared seemed freer and safer, despite prison and death, than what he had left behind." (p. 172) It prompts him to the insight that "the sum of our works and/or deeds does not constitute a life. These . . . are like debris on an ocean . . . They may even form a solid platform, thus creating an illusion of universality, security, and permanence. Yet the security and the permanence can be swept away by the powers that permitted them to arise." (p. 172) These ideas do not exactly solve the question about moral responsibility, but they do suggest a tragic 'Lebensgefühl' - an acknowledgment of the fact that the spheres of reason, order and justice are terribly limited and that no progress in our science and technical resources will change their relevance - which seems to underpin Feyerabends very earthbound philosophy.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A refreshing free-thinker 16 Mar 1999
By J. Williams - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Paul Feyerabend's autobiography is remarkably open and frank, fitting with the way this man wrote, thought, and led his life. Feyerabend was the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, has clearly pointed out that science has become the religion of western culture. His autobiography let me learn a little about what made this man so unafraid of thinking differently from other people. I also found it to be poignant, particularly in the picture of a boy raised without love, who as an adult is captivated by his love of beauty in music and the theater, and who finally begins to grasp what love is at the end of his life.
6 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A very surprising perspective on a great, original thinker. 26 Aug 1996
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Paul Feyerabend's autobiography is a surprising, wise
perspective on a life shaped by an extraordinary intellect,
chronic pain, and an overwhelming urge to mischief. Most
powerful is his late awareness of human connections, and his
passion for his new wife. Near death, he wrote: "My concern
is that after my departure something remains of me, _not_
papers, _not_ final philosophical declarations, but love....
That is what I would like to happen, not intellectual
survival but the survival of love."
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