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Customer reviews

4.6 out of 5 stars

on 11 July 2003
This book has long been a favourite of mine and should be read by anyone with an interest in either thinker and a sense of humour to go with it. Opening with a dialogue concocted by the editor on the basis of Feyerabend's and Lakatos' work (as Motterlini reads it), it moves quickly into the meat of this with the lectures of Lakatos on scientific method. In these entertaining papers he explains ideas in the philosophy of science with a lucidity lacking in most writers on the subject. Running through the various proposed demarcation criteria, he deftly pulls each to pieces in just enough detail to make the reader want to seek out his deeper work, particularly his masterful "The Methodology Of Scientific Research Programmes", without leaving any doubt that popular concepts such as falsification and verification were in trouble from birth. It is easy to see on the basis of these lectures why Lakatos had such a wide-ranging influence on the philosophy of science (and mathematics), out of all proportion to the volume of his work; what's more, the tone throughout is that of a fireside chat with the wise old Lakatos showing the reader how to tease out the complications for him- or herself.
Just when Lakatos has pulled the rug out from under the demarcation problem, Feyerabend's brief paper provides a whistlestop tour of epistemological anarchism and why the lack of answers isn't such a bad thing after all. Although it would have been nice to see more of Feyerabend's work included (there are many smaller contributions to other books to choose from), the effect is again to provoke apoplectic Popperians and those nodding sagely in agreement alike to seek out more.
The real treat in this work, though, and that which makes up the bulk of it, is the correspondence between the two, lovingly arranged by Motterlini. Even the most rabidly anti-Feyerabendian reader cannot fail to be disarmed by their wit and this touching insight into the deep friendship between the two. Feyerabend had prepared his Against Method specifically for Lakatos, with the latter to fire off a rejoinder soon thereafter. It is obvious both in these letters and throughout his published work that Feyerabend considered Lakatos the finest thinker in the philosophy of science of their time and the admiration was both mutual and genuine. Nevertheless, while plenty of space is devoted to the arranging of their contest in print, the majority of the letters is made up of their amusing observations on the personalities of the time and - most importantly - girls.
Both men subordinated philosophy and science to their rightful positions and preferred to talk about girls they had met and the myriad buffooneries they and their fellows had engaged in. It quickly becomes obvious that priorities are important in the life of an academic: many letters consist in the sentiment "i'll annihilate your nonsense later, my dear Imre, but first i must tell you about a girl i met yesterday...", and when the expected discussion of research programmes fails to arrive until weeks later it is scarcely missed by the reader.
There are more than enough serious aspects to the letters to interest the scholar: both men were teaching through the period of student protests and offer their opinions of the actions of all parties concerned. Feyerabend considered Lakatos' research programmes to be either so vague as to be content-free or so shorn of methodological rules that there was little to choose between the two anarchists, as he styled them. Such remarks provoked Lakatos to try again and the reader can easily suspect that the latter was beginning to agree with his friend. The final letters recount Lakatos' early death which clearly devastated Feyerabend and which - on the evidence of his autobiography - he never really recovered from, documenting more than anything the regard in which Lakatos was held by his contemporaries and Feyerabend's suspicion that he would never again find an opponent worthy of his talents.
I recommend this book to anyone who reads this brief review because it exemplifies the kind of interaction i aspire to in philosophical discussions and elsewhere in life. Feyerabend and Lakatos began by disagreeing strongly about the lessons to be learned from the history and philosophy of science but came to realise that their friendship transcended all of it. Philosophy is something to do when we run out of girls (or boys) to talk about and disagreement is the perpetual aim of friends who care more about their opponent than some vague claim to being right.
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on 14 December 2014
I don't pretend to understand all the arguments here between Lakatos and Feyerband, but the letters are intelligent and witty conducted by two 'sixties clever clogs, as well as fun if you can forgive their appallingly infantile attitude towards women.
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on 30 October 2014
Witty, funny and insightful.
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