Tomas Petricek on The Against Method

Tomas Petricek on The Against Method by Tomas Petricek.

From the webpage:

How is computer science research done? What we take for granted and what we question? And how do theories in computer science tell us something about the real world? Those are some of the questions that may inspire computer scientist like me (and you!) to look into philosophy of science. I’ll present the work of one of the more extreme (and interesting!) philosophers of science, Paul Feyerabend. In “Against Method”, Feyerabend looks at the history of science and finds that there is no fixed scientific methodology and the only methodology that can encompass the rich history is ‘anything goes’. We see (not only computer) science as a perfect methodology for building correct knowledge, but is this really the case? To quote Feyerabend:

“Science is much more ‘sloppy’ and ‘irrational’ than its methodological image.”

I’ll be mostly talking about Paul Feyerabend’s “Against Method”, but as a computer scientist myself, I’ll insert a number of examples based on my experience with theoretical programming language research. I hope to convince you that looking at philosophy of science is very much worthwhile if we want to better understand what we do and how we do it as computer scientists!

The video runs an hour and about eighteen minutes but is worth every minute of it. As you can imagine, I was particularly taken with Tomas’ emphasis on the importance of language. Tomas goes so far as to suggest that disagreements about “type” in computer science stem from fundamentally different understandings of the word “type.”

I was reminded of Stanley Fish‘s “Doing What Comes Naturally (DWCN).

DWCN is a long and complex work but in brief Fish argues that we are all members of various “interpretive communities,” and that each of those communities influence how we understand language as readers. Which should come as assurance to those who fear intellectual anarchy and chaos because our interpretations are always within the context of an interpretative community.

Two caveats on Fish. As far as I know, Fish has never made the strong move and pointed out that his concept of “interpretative communities is just as applicable to natural sciences as it is to social sciences. What passes as “objective” today is part and parcel of an interpretative community that has declared it so. Other interpretative communities can and do reach other conclusions.

The second caveat is more sad than useful. Post-9/11, Fish and a number of other critics who were accused of teaching cultural relativity of values felt it necessary to distance themselves from that position. While they could not say that all cultures have the same values (factually false), they did say that Western values, as opposed to those of “cowardly, murdering,” etc. others, were superior.

If you think there is any credibility to that post-9/11 position, you haven’t read enough Chompsky. 9/11 wasn’t 1/100,0000 of the violence the United States has visited on civilians in other countries after the Korea War.

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