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By Phillip Johnson
"Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend." By Paul Feyerabend, University of Chicago Press, 192 pp.; $22.95
If I had to describe Paul Feyerabend in two words, "brilliant" and "irresponsible" are what would come to mind. Both qualities are on display in this engrossing autobiography, completed just before the author's death from a brain tumor in 1994.
Let's start with the brilliance. As a young man in Hitler's Austria, Feyerabend trained to be an opera singer and had a promising future in that profession when he was drafted into the army in 1942. He rose through the ranks to become an officer and ended up commanding a battalion in the last stages of the disastrous retreat on the Russian front. His physical courage earned him the Iron Cross and wounds so severe that for the rest of his life he was on crutches, in continual pain, and sexually impotent. Despite these incapacities he was fabulously successful as a scholar, a lecturer, a connoisseur, a lover, and a raconteur.
After the war, Feyerabend studied physics and then more or less drifted into philosophy of science. He started as a protege of Karl Popper, but he soon carved out his own position and became notorious as the leading voice for "epistemological anarchism," the precursor of what today we call postmodernism. In his most famous book, "Against Method," Feyerabend denied that there is any single form of reasoning that can be labeled "the scientific method," asserting brazenly that the basic rule in science is that "anything goes." Many scientists were not amused.
Although his irreverence outraged conventional scientists and philosophers (a 1987 article in "Nature," one of the foremost scientific journals in the English-speaking world, referred to him as "currently the worst enemy of science"), Feyerabend became and remained an academic superstar. He taught at the University of California in Berkeley for most of his career, but he was constantly wooed by other prestigious universities and accepted or ...