Time to bring to an end my ongoing series on Paul Feyerabend’s posthumously published Philosophy of Nature. (Here you will find part I; part II; part III; part IV; and part V.) I don’t know how many people had the fortitude to actually follow me and read the book, rather than just my commentary, but if you are among them, congratulations, it wasn’t easy!
The latest conversation with my friend and colleague Dan Kaufman (he of The Electric Agora) was on what, exactly, science can tell us about morality, meaning not the trivially misguided notion that somehow ethics can be reduced to neuroscience, or evolutionary biology, or whatever, but rather the more nuanced question of whether and how science can inform philosophizing about ethics.
We now get to the next to the last chapter in Paul Feyerabend’s recently (and obviously posthumously published) Philosophy of Nature. (Here you will find part I; part II; part III; and part IV.) Recall that the point of this rather idiosyncratic book is to provide a broad account of the transitions among three major “forms of life” representing three ways in which humans have made sense of the world: myth, philosophy, and science. This chapter is about the pre-Socratics until Parmenides, while the last (very long) chapter will cover everything that has happened over the past couple of millennia, up to modern physics. (Yes, I know.)
Let’s resume our discussion of Paul Feyerabend’s recently (posthumously) published Philosophy of Nature, an idiosyncratic analysis of the evolution of Western culture via the succession of the “forms of life” aimed at making sense of the world: myth, philosophy, and science. (Part I; Part II; Part III) The fourth chapter is about the transition between myth and philosophy, or what Feyerabend refers to as the shift toward a conceptual (as opposed to a poetic) understanding of nature.
We come now to a discussion of the third chapter of Paul Feyerabend’s posthumously published Philosophy of Nature, on the universe as perceived by the Ancient Greek poet Homer. (My treatment of chapter 1 is here and of chapter 2 here.) Remember that Feyerabend’s goal is to compare and contrast three different ways — or forms of life — in which human beings make sense of the world: myths, philosophy, and science. We are then continuing to explore the mythological approach. Homer’s epics represent a concrete example of what Feyerabend discussed in chapter 2.
Robert Wright, the author of The Moral Animal and a visiting professor of science and religion at Union Theological Seminary, has written a provocative article recently in the New York Times’ Stone column, entitled “Can evolution have a higher purpose?” His answer is a qualified and rather nuanced yes. Mine, as we shall see, is a decided no. But my no also comes with some qualifications. Our differences might be useful to those who want to think about the nature of science (the subject matter of philosophy of science) and the nature of the world (the subject matter of metaphysics).