Education for a Free Society

Paul Feyerabend and the Pedagogy of Irritation

by Karsten Kenklies (Volume editor) SEBASTIAN ENGELMANN (Volume editor)
©2024 Edited Collection X, 188 Pages
Series: Paedagogica, Volume 3


Paul Feyerabend was one of the most influential forces that changed the intellectual world in the second half of the 20th century. Based on his intimate knowledge of the history and of the contemporary state of the sciences, his background in philosophy, and his genuine interest in the arts, Feyerabend never missed an opportunity to challenge prevalent views on the sciences and philosophy. Feyerabend’s broad interest in cultural affairs included, of course, questions of education, of the ways people are educated (or: indoctrinated) into scientific beliefs and worldviews. He always was appalled by the ways in which sciences and philosophy are taught as truths and as facts rather than as imperfect, questionable theories or, even better, as practices of searching and philosophizing. His reflections touch on a wide range of pedagogical issues, from questions around the shape of educational theories or the role the sciences play or should play in education to the discussion around educational aims and methods. He proposed a unique and very much enlightening approach that relates him closely to Continental European discussions around Bildung in its broadest sense.
This volume explores some of the different educational perspectives to which Feyerabend’s thoughts make a highly original and creative contribution. In each section, different scholars from across the globe who are experts in the relevant fields of educational debates will present and discuss the way in which Feyerabend challenges prevalent and enriches future pedagogical discussions.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgements
  • Part I: Feyerabend and the Pedagogy of Irritation: An Introduction
  • Part II: Irritations: Paul Feyerabend in Education Studies
  • Theoretical Bystander? Paul Feyerabend’s Reception in Publications on Education
  • Limitations of Abundance? The Role of Concepts in Educational Discourse
  • Part III: Inclusions: Feyerabend and Science Pedagogy
  • Feyerabend, the Ally of Alternative Approaches to Science and Champion of Inclusive Science Education
  • Rethinking Science Education: Fostering Feyerabend’s View of Pluralism and Proficiency
  • The Place of Scientific Errors in Feyerabend’s Pluralism for Educational Purposes
  • Part IV: Performances: Feyerabend and Pedagogical Practice
  • The Tyranny of Truth and the Preservation of Human Happiness (à la Bertolt Brecht and Paul Feyerabend)
  • Feyerabend on Education, Professionalisation, and Intellectual Pollution
  • The Staged Cage? Education, Reality, and ‘Illusions’ of Freedom: A Dialogue
  • Notes on Contributors
  • Series Index


The editors wish to thank not only our authors whose unwavering faith and assistance carried us through the whole process of preparing this publication, but also Grazia Borrini-Feyerabend, who offered support and help with this project from its very beginning in 2021 to its conclusion in 2024. Special thanks are also due to Louis Waterman-Evans, Matteo Collodel, Mike Stuart, Susann Hofbauer, Clemens Bach, and Piotr Zamojski, all for varied but indispensably supportive contributions in moving this project forward.

Part I: Feyerabend and the Pedagogy of Irritation: An Introduction

Karsten Kenklies and Sebastian Engelmann

Feyerabend, the Salvador Dali of academic philosophy, and currently the worst enemy of science

Theocharis and Psimopoulos (1987, p. 596)

Paul Feyerabend was a free spirit – irreverent, brilliant, outrageous, life-enhancing, unreliable and, for most who knew him, a lovable individual.

Watkins (1994)

He was the enfant terrible of Philosophy, or more specifically: of the Philosophy of Science – Paul Feyerabend. It might not be an exaggeration to state that Feyerabend was one of the most influential forces that changed the Philosophy of Science in the second half of the twentieth century. He contributed to that seminal colloquium in London 1965, which – even though it was chaired by the more traditional Karl R. Popper – represented a new, historically and sociologically informed way of doing Philosophy of Science in discussing the ideas of Thomas S. Kuhn. Feyerabend, whose contribution is presented in Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge (Lakatos & Musgrave, 1970) arguably offered one of the highlights of that meeting in comparing modern science to organised crime. Based on his intimate knowledge of the history of the sciences and of the contemporary state of especially physics, his background in philosophy, and his genuine interest in the arts, Feyerabend never missed an opportunity to challenge prevalent views of the sciences and philosophy. Even though his seemingly anarchistic views often outraged the established circles of academia, it is, at least partially, to his credit that our understanding of the sciences and philosophy, of their proceedings and their influence in society, are viewed with a much more critical eye.

Born in 1924 in Vienna, Feyerabend was drafted into the German army in 1942, where he rose to the rank of Lieutenant. A battle injury received in 1945 would cause him health problems for the rest of his life. After the war, Feyerabend went to Thuringia to take on a job in the small town of Apolda and to study singing and stage-management in Weimar. Here he joined the ‘Cultural Association for the Democratic Reform of Germany’. He then returned to Vienna to study history and sociology but soon became dissatisfied and therefore transferred to physics. Here he met the physicist Felix Ehrenhaft, whose scientific practice would influence his later views on the nature of science. Changing his subject again – this time to philosophy – he submitted his final thesis on observation sentences. Meeting him for the first time in 1948 at the international summer seminar of the Austrian College Society in Alpbach, Feyerabend became a follower of Karl Popper – a fellowship that he would later renounce in strong words. While in Vienna, Feyerabend became the leader of the ‘Kraft Circle’, a student philosophy club centred around Viktor Kraft, a former member of the Vienna Circle, who was his dissertation supervisor. It was also during this time that Feyerabend met Ludwig Wittgenstein, who visited the Kraft Circle to give a talk, and Bertolt Brecht. An invitation to come to Cambridge for further studies under Wittgenstein was accepted. Unfortunately, Wittgenstein died before Feyerabend arrived in Cambridge, and so he went to London instead to study with Popper; he remained, however, very closely connected to Wittgenstein and would proceed to publish on his philosophy. Although Popper applied for an extension of Feyerabend’s scholarship, he decided to return to Vienna, while also declining an offer to become Popper’s research assistant. Instead, he became the assistant of Arthur Pap in Vienna. After his first academic appointment at the University of Bristol, Feyerabend accepted a visiting researcher position at the University of California in Berkeley in 1958, which was turned into a permanent position just one year later. In Berkeley, Feyerabend gradually increased the intellectual distance to Popper, so that in 1970, not only Consolations for the Specialist was published, in which he attacked Popper from the perspective of Thomas S. Kuhn (The Structure of Scientific Revolutions, 1962/19702), but also the essay version of ‘Against Method: Outline of an Anarchistic Theory of Knowledge’, in which he introduced for the first time his idea of an epistemological anarchism. After the plans to write a volume of For and Against Method together with Imre Lakatos had to be abandoned (Lakatos unfortunately died), Feyerabend published 1975 with Against Method his first book. He spent the following years defending the anarchistic epistemology and methodological plurality outlined here against his critics – attempts that culminated 1978 in the publication of Science in a Free Society, where he not only outlined his defence but also extended his argument into the political realm. The coming years saw a plethora of publications in which Feyerabend expanded and clarified his position, for example, through inclusion of reflections on the relation of the sciences and arts. In 1988, a second, revised edition of Against Method appeared. In 1989, after marrying Grazia Borrini, the couple left for Italy and Switzerland, and Feyerabend officially resigned from Berkeley in 1990. In between, he held several positions at different universities: University College London (1967–1970), the London School of Economics (1967), the FU Berlin (1968), Yale University (1969), the University of Auckland (1972, 1975), the University of Sussex (1974), the ETH Zurich (1980–1990); he presented lecture series at Stanford University (1967), the University of Kassel (1977) and the University of Trento (1992).

In 1993, Feyerabend developed an inoperable brain tumour, and was hospitalised. Paul Feyerabend died in Genolier, Canton Vaud, Switzerland, on 11 February 1994. Posthumously, three more books were published: Killing Time: The Autobiography of Paul Feyerabend (1995), Conquest of Abundance (1999), and Naturphilosophie (2009). Against Method was most recently re-published in 2010, accompanied by a preface written by Canadian philosopher of science Ian Hacking who calls the book ‘the Woodstock of Philosophy’. Feyerabend, one can take away from this, is as present as ever and people still engage with his work.

Feyerabend’s broad interest in cultural affairs touched, of course, questions about education and about the ways people are educated (or: indoctrinated) into scientific beliefs and worldviews. He famously argued that education is only then true education if its teaching includes a backdoor through which one is able to leave behind exactly those teachings. He was always appalled by the way in which sciences and philosophy are taught as indisputable truths, as facts rather than as imperfect, questionable theories or, even better, as practices of searching and philosophising. And he was appalled by the closed-mindedness of a scientifically grounded and philosophically defended education system, which seemed to exclude or belittle different ways of knowing and living. It is for those reasons that the editors decided for the main title for this volume: Education for a Free Society. Obviously mirroring the naming of one of Feyerabend’s own publications (Science for a Free Society), the title expresses our conviction that freedom represents one of or maybe even the most fundamental characteristics Feyerabend demands for education in its various guises; freedom, as the opportunity and capacity of accepting or rejecting the structures, opinions, perspectives that everybody is so forcefully invited to accept and share in a society, seems to lie at the very heart of everything Feyerabend thought about and practised as education.

In contrast to what he despised as traditional teaching and educating, Feyerabend in his own educational endeavours – in his books, his university seminars, his lectures and presentations – developed and practised a pedagogy of irritation that was based mainly on three approaches: (a) the demand of a historical consciousness, (b) the inclusion of intercultural-comparative explorations, and (c) a somewhat controversial way of communicating.

Unlike so many philosophers of science before him, Feyerabend was adamant that a true description of science must rely on investigations of those who are actually involved in doing science or regarded as scientists. Not only through his personal acquaintance with some of the most remarkable scientists of his age, but especially through his vast knowledge of historic figures in the development of the sciences – of their ways of working and thinking – Feyerabend was able to present to the astonished academic world in-depth accounts of lived science that seemed very different from the usually more normative than descriptive accounts the philosophers of science presented (Gillies, 2011; Heit & Oberheim, 2016). In this way, Feyerabend was able to prove that scientists and their predecessors are and always have been a lot more idiosyncratic, implausible, irrational than often acknowledged, and that the scientific work that is done results by no means in a straight line of progress. Feyerabend therefore must be considered as one of the predecessors of Science and Technology Studies as we know them nowadays. His historical explorations were irritating in the best ways possible: by grasping science as a situated practice, they questioned the status quo and the generally accepted narratives regarding the development and the nature of the sciences and, in doing so, he opened up the space for a much more honest and adequate understanding – and appreciation! – of one of the ways in which (at least some) humans attempted and still attempt to make sense of the world in which they live – an understanding that would, for example, also include awareness of the diverse aberrations that irritated and still irritate the development of scientific thought (as Queiroz & Garcia in this volume argue).

However, this irritation through engaging in diachronic comparison, that is, historical research, was not the only way Feyerabend chose to create moments of what can be seen as enlightening alienation (Kenklies, 2022). Also through synchronic comparisons, that is, intercultural encounters and social-anthropological research, he was able to irritate and question generally accepted truths and convictions (Donyavi & Moghaddam, 2016; Preston, 1998). Feyerabend’s explorations of different cultures did not only show that scientific thinking as it has developed over centuries in ‘the West’ (ignoring for a moment the Occidentalism ingrained in such a notion) was just one way of many to build a relation of knowledge with the world in which we live, but they also proved that there is no convincing reason to regard the scientific approach to world and life as the single-most successful one – given that concepts like success, truth and happiness are embedded into and are part of an individual culture and, as such, hardly evaluable from outside this very culture. Based on such insights, Feyerabend proposed a form of pluralism that remained a challenge not only for epistemological or ethical but also educational theory and practice – as Garcia in this volume is able to show. And it also meant that individual approaches to world-building and meaning-making should be taken much more seriously than in previous practices of (especially science) education. The discussions of Essex in this volume give a lively example of such considerations.

Based especially on his experiences in Berkeley, Feyerabend’s own pedagogical practice became nothing less than irritating and controversial at times. He


X, 188
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2024 (May)
Feyerabend Education Pedagogy Pedagogical Practice Pedagogical Theory Systematic Pedagogy Philosophy of Education History of Education Theory of Education Continental Pedagogy Philosophy of Science Karsten Kenklies Sebastian Engelmann Education for a Free Society Paul Feyerabend and the Pedagogy of Irritation
New York, Berlin, Bruxelles, Chennai, Lausanne, Oxford, 2024. X, 188 pp., 3 b/w ill., 1 color ill.

Biographical notes

Karsten Kenklies (Volume editor) SEBASTIAN ENGELMANN (Volume editor)

Karsten Kenklies, Dr. phil., Senior Lecturer at University of Strathclyde, Glasgow. He was professor at University Duisburg-Essen and University of Jena, research fellow at Tamagawa University, Tokyo. Research and publications in systematic & historical pedagogy in the perspective of an intercultural-comparative History of Ideas. Sebastian Engelmann, Dr. phil, Junior Professor for History and Theory of Education at the University of Education Karlsruhe. He was research assistant at the Universities of Jena and Tübingen. Research and publications in Historical and Systematic Pedagogy, Democracy Education and Progressive Education.


Title: Education for a Free Society