International Society for Philosophers

International Society for Philosophers

Wisdom begins with wonder

PHILOSOPHY PATHWAYS                   ISSN 2043-0728


Issue number 125 28th February 2007


I. 'A comparative analysis of 20th Century exemplars in philosophy of
  science' by Herman J Pietersen

II. 'Dualism, consciousness, and self-identity in Descartes and Sartre'
  by Richard Grego

III. 'Work based learning educational philosophy: some thoughts of Epicurus'
  by Fotis Vassileiou and Barbara Saribalidou



In his latest contribution to Philosophy Pathways, Professor Herman Pietersen reviews the work of four major thinkers: Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. Pietersen applies a dual typology, Materialist vs. Empyrean (or 'Idealist' in the Platonic sense), and Objectivist vs. Subjectivist. The result is an integrated and coherent account which students of the philosophy of science will find invaluable.

Richard Grego is Associate Professor at the Department of Philosophy and Culture at Daytona Community College, USA. 'After reading/ enjoying Philosophy Pathways and sharing many articles with my students for several years, I'm finally submitting one of my own.' His article comparing the dualism of Descartes and Sartre highlights the paradoxical nature of Sartre's thought about the self, that which 'is not what it is and is what it is not'.

Fotis Vassileiou is an experienced work based learning tutor, who is starting his BA in Philosophy via the University of London External Programme under my mentorship. Together with Barbara Saribalidou he has provided a novel take on the Stoic philosopher Epicurus. For Epicurus, to sift through one's memories and recollections and try to make sense of one's life is paradigmatically the work of the philosopher. This view of philosophy as a practical means to the attainment of happiness coincides beautifully with the practice of work based learning.

Geoffrey Klempner



1. Introduction

The aim of this paper is a meta-theoretical comparison of the thought of some leading modern philosophers of science, namely, Karl Popper, Imre Lakatos, Thomas Kuhn and Paul Feyerabend. It does not as such engage in a substantive discussion of the field itself, neither does it specifically take issue with the ideas of the chosen exemplars. Rather, the purpose is to juxtapose the four figures in terms of their unique but also complementary approaches to the subject, considered from a meta-philosophical perspective.

Historically, philosophy of science (the branch of philosophy dealing with the nature and elements of scientific enquiry, its principles, methodology, procedures, validity, and role in society) reflects basic intellectual divides at the core of ancient Greek philosophy. The first and enduring bifurcation occurred with respect to empiricist and idealist or empyrean conceptions of reality -- what Plato referred to as the continuing battle of the Giants (empiricists) and the Gods (idealists).

Plato (Theaetetus) describes this basic opposition of philosophical types, of the clash between the 'friends of matter' and the 'friends of form', as follows:

     246A. What we shall see is something like a Battle of Gods
     and Giants going on between them over their quarrel about
     reality... One party is trying to drag everything down to
     earth out of heaven and the unseen, literally grasping
     rocks and trees in their hands... and strenuously affirm
     that real existence belongs only to that which can be
     handled and offers resistance to the touch. They define
     reality as the same thing as body...
     ...their adversaries are very wary in defending their
     position somewhere in the heights of the unseen,
     maintaining with all their force that true reality consists
     in certain intelligible and bodiless Forms... On this issue
     an interminable battle is always going on between the two
     camps' (Cornford, 1935/ 1979: 230).
Another basic distinction concerns the nature of truth, first found in Parmenides' distinction between the 'way of truth' and 'way of opinion' as two separate (and mutually exclusive) philosophies. This, in turn, provided a basis for Plato's own more sophisticated and integrative scheme of four 'states of certainty' (truth) and the subsequent separation of thought into Philosophy and Sophism, a phenomenon that also re-surfaced in 20th century philosophy of science. The turning point was Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1962), which forcibly brought the social-historical dimension of scientific knowledge development to everyone's attention (far beyond the confines of philosophy of science itself). This is the bifurcation of objectivist (rationalist, logical) and subjectivist (pluralist, historicist, social-constructionist) approaches to knowledge. In the 20th century it was described (see, for instance, Rorty, 1979) and discussed as the issue of foundationalism (Plato's: episteme or Reason) versus anti-foundationalism (Plato's: doxa or mere opinion, shadows of truth).

Currently, philosophy of science takes a more realistic approach to the scientific endeavour, away from what can be described as the previously 'legislating' (externally authorizing) posture of logical positivism, and philosophers of logic. By and large, the attitude of philosophy of science during the first half of the 20th century was rather condescending towards scientific practice. It had, so it reckoned, a better understanding of what scientific knowledge is and how scientists should best go about obtaining it -- practitioners of science merely had to pay heed to what philosophy of science had to offer. But the situation changed quite substantially during the second part of the century. As Fuller states: 'They [philosophers of science] no longer defend an ideal conception of science that would call in question much of what scientists normally do. Rather, they function as advocates and 'under-labourers' for practicing scientists' (Fuller, 2002: 394).

Ross sums up the long-standing debate as follows: '...logic cannot provide a platform of certainty from which a philosopher may legislate as to sound and unsound scientific practice' (Ross, 1999: 5). As a result, logical positivism (including -- to lesser extent -- Popper's negative variant) was eventually eclipsed by a more balanced, epistemologically moderate, approach to scientific knowledge. However, a group of Popper followers (including Bartley, Watkins, Agassi, Radnitzky) who wished to continue and extend the philosophy of critical rationalism, became active in developing and promoting a Darwinian approach to knowledge, called evolutionary epistemology (see, for example, Radnitzky & Bartley, 1987). This movement seemed to have fueled some interest, as well as the ongoing application in biology and the social sciences such as psychology and sociology.

2. Fundamental predispositions in human thought

A re-consideration of Plato's theory of knowledge led to the development of a general framework of four fundamental orientations or modes of knowledge, which seems to underpin human intellectual endeavour (Pietersen, 2000).

Within the meta-framework (Figure 1), Plato and Aristotle appear as arch-exemplars of rationalist-objectivist thought; Plato with his preference for visionary theorizing (the turning toward a distant heaven of Forms), and Aristotle the first scientist, who spent much of his life analysing the substances of nature (the turning toward earth).

Following Plato's distinction between episteme and doxa, the areas below the horizontal box-line in Figure 1 can be seen to fit the type of thought of the Greek Sophists (and, perhaps surprisingly, also of Plato as ideologist-reformer). Rationalist thought (meta-types 1 and 2) essentially pursue the question: what is this? Subjectivist thought (meta-types 3 and 4) in varying degrees revolves around the humanistic question of: how should we live?

Figure 1: The meta-paradigmatic framework

                      Objectivist (episteme)

                           WHAT IS THIS?

              (Aristotle)                    (Plato)

              TYPE II                        TYPE I


                        HOW SHOULD WE LIVE?

              (Protagoras)                   (Plato)

              TYPE III                       TYPE IV

                       Subjectivist (doxa)

The combined epistemological-ontological distinctions made here should not be reified as totally divisible and separate spheres. What the framework does is to identify unique orientations or predispositions in human thought that manifest itself in different combinations in various fields of endeavour.

One would, therefore, expect the work of each thinker or group of thinkers to contain all these archetypal dimensions. Furthermore, although every body of thought possesses objectivist (rationalist); subjectivist (humanistic); transcendent (idealist/ empyrean) and immanent (realist) characteristics, no two aspects manifest itself in identical ways in the intellectual products of different scholars and writers. Hence, also, the existence of ongoing debates between thinkers and movements of thought, which more often than not can be traced back to conflicting epistemological-ontological orientations.

An important rationale and interpretive key to the meta-theoretical set is that the four knowledge types are quite intimately related to one another in pronounced ways. The first level of distinction is between the four primary knowledge orientations (indicated in Figure 1).

At the second level of analysis, secondary or adjunct styles of thought can be identified. For instance, a meta-type 1 philosophy (Plato, speculative, theoretical) is premised to be closely linked to, alternated by, or interwoven with either the meta-type 2 (scientist) or meta-type 4 (ideological-reformist) mode; whilst the more critical-poetical knowledge orientation of a meta-type 3 philosophy, frequently favours or supports the reformist (social development; political) orientation of meta-type 4; and so on.

At the third level of analysis the framework contains, for each knowledge type, its diagonally opposite or conflicting orientation. Fourthly, the same basic configuration also appears within each of the primary types, in a further, second-order differentiation of the knowledge paradigms.

Figure 2 provides, by way of sketchy summary, a profile of meta-theoretical approaches in philosophy of science, while Figure 3 describes the general framework, and Figure 4 positions the meta-orientations of leading 20th century philosophers of science.

The meta-philosophical approach to knowledge that is followed in the present discussion needs to be distinguished from Thomas Kuhn's perspective of intra-scientific paradigm change. Kuhn uses various definitions for what he primarily takes to be guiding basic models of empirically established puzzle-solving knowledge within a scientific community. By contrast, the meta-framework used in the present paper has its origin in philosophical thought and identifies enduring and distinguishable epistemological-ontological positions. Kuhnian paradigms change (hence his model of 'normal science', 'crisis', 'revolution', and new 'normal science'), usually after long periods of time and as a result of new solutions to previously intractable problems in a scientific community. The meta-framework in the present essay represents third order explanations (at a level beyond Kuhnian paradigms), twice removed from the direct knowledge of phenomena generated by the natural and human sciences.

The meta-framework underpins intra-scientific paradigms across the sciences and scholarly disciplines (including philosophy itself), and includes but is not limited in its scope to specific intra-disciplinary knowledge traditions.

Figure 2: Meta-paradigmatic contrasts in philosophy of science

    * Plato (Parmenides) FORM
    * Idealism (Descartes, Kant)
    * Logical positivists (conceptual bias; logical coherence,
      with scope of arguments as the main requirements for
      scientific validity)
    * Theoretical physics
    * Aristotle (Democritus) MATTER
    * Materialism (Bacon, Locke, Hume)
    * Logical empiricists (empirical bias; rational
      correspondence, with prediction the highest test of
      scientific validity)
    * Applied physics
    * Historicist
    * Ideological
Figure 3: Knowledge archetypes -- general characteristics

    * Essential truths (Ideas)
    * Impersonal / SPECULATIVE INQUIRY
    * Theoretical / mystical
    * Generalist / 'boulder-building' / Integration
    * Encompassing concepts ('patterns that connect')
    * Determinist / foundational / transcendent

    * Empirical truths (Facts)
    * Impersonal / CONTROLLED INQUIRY
    * Observation / measurement
    * Specialist / 'Pebble-picking' / Differentiation
    * Systematic analysis and prediction
    * Determinist / foundational / immanent

    * Existential truths (symbols, linguistic)
    * Expressive -- revelatory -- poetical
    * Personal -- engaged
    * Values (humanism) -- empathic
    * Voluntarist / contextual / immanent
    * To praise, eulogize, tell inspiring STORIES; to unmask,
       debunk, critique and tell 'sad' stories
    * Ideological truths (concepts; principles)
    * Political -- advocacy -- action
    * Communal -- engaged
    * Values (humanism) -- reformist
    * Voluntarist / contextual / transcendent
    * To influence and ENGINEER life/ world/ society according to
       valued ideals and principles

Figure 4: Meta-paradigmatic exemplars in philosophy of science

             META TYPE II                         META TYPE I
                Lakatos                              Popper
     (rational research programs)              (logic of science)          

             META TYPE III                        META TYPE IV
           Kuhn/ Feyerabend                    Popper/ Feyerabend
     (social psychology of science)           (science and society)

3. The meta-orientations of Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend

Although Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend, all had training in the sciences (physics, mathematics) and philosophy during their formal education, as far as could be ascertained, none of them practiced as scientists (except for briefest of periods, perhaps).

The four exemplars considered here were not scientists reflecting on (or philosophizing about) science from the inside, but were, respectively: a logic-inclined philosopher (Popper), a mathematics-inclined philosopher (Lakatos), a history-inclined philosopher (Kuhn), and what, for lack of a portmanteau word, can be described as the encyclopedic intellectual cum critic-philosopher (Feyerabend). All of them tried to account for the nature of science, from the outside looking in. They are thus logicians/ theorists/  historians/ commentators, not scientists-reflecting-on-science.

The four exemplars prove, upon inspection, to be quite an interesting ensemble of individuals: Popper with a doctorate in the psychology of thinking (but did not practice as psychological scientist); Kuhn with a doctorate in physics (but did not practice as physicist); Lakatos with a doctorate in philosophy of mathematics (but did not practice as mathematician); and the enigmatic and roving intellect Feyerabend, who (as student) by chance got interested in the arts, physics and philosophy. He later became a professor of philosophy who objected to being called a philosopher (see Parascandalo & Hosle, 1995).

All four profess to be scientific realists and fallibilists although Feyerabend often slips into a relativist position, and Kuhn at times seems to straddle two worlds (scientific rationalism and social constructionism). Popper became the moralizing Critical Rationalist (the methodological purist who emulated Socrates, or -- less flatteringly -- the 'logical negativist', as in Bunge, 1996); Feyerabend seems to have become the Critical Non-Rationalist (of methodological anarchism); Lakatos chose the more conventional route as Rational-Realist (the methodological positivist-empiricist); whilst Kuhn may be described as the Rationalist cum Subjectivist (the methodological historicist who wished to retain the traditional view of science as a rational-logical undertaking).

Popper is concerned with the logic of science, Lakatos with research programs that have predictive value, Kuhn with unmasking the foundationalist pretensions of the textbook view of science as a cumulative, linear, context-free process, as well as the corresponding introduction of a social-psychological account of science as consisting of changing paradigms, and Feyerabend with the debunking of elitist conceptions of science and promoting the democratization of science as element of society.

3.1 Popper: Objectivist-Empyrean philosopher of science (Type I)

Regarded as one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century, and a foundational presence in philosophy of science, Karl Popper's theory of science is rooted in a purist (empyrean/ idealist) approach to knowledge. He proposes a logical, deductive, hypothesis-testing structure for the sciences as the only defensible way to achieve truth. His philosophy is based on the premise that all knowledge and scientific theories are flawed (there is also no external criterion of truth), and posits the ideal of arriving at the best possible (unflawed) scientific theory of phenomena of interest to the scientist. Verification by induction does not lead to objective truth (any set of observations can always result in another inductive solution to the same data), thus calling for a different approach.

With some similarity to the Socratic approach, he proposes a principle of falsification, which is designed to show up the mistakes in our theories (something which Socrates never tired of doing in Plato's dialogues). We can never establish scientific certainty (all our theories and ideas about phenomena are conjectures), but we can strive to attain objective truth by deliberately searching for errors in our theories, and so weed out weaker ones (those that do not correspond as well with the empirical evidence). Popper rejects naive objectivism (absolute truth) as well as naive realism, as do probably most modern thinkers and scientists, but his meta-type I inclination shows up in his strong support for objective knowledge provided by what he describes as the 'logical theory of truth' (Popper, 1992/ 1945: 378). He rejects what he calls 'philosophical absolutism', but accepts another type of (objectivist-idealist) absolutism that he calls 'fallibilistic absolutism' (1992/ 1945: 7) -- an approach of 'truth by approximation', of trying to get rid of weaker theories by consistent application of the falsification principle.

Experience or observation, although important for providing the empirical component of scientific truth, can never be the arbiter of truth. For Popper, the methodological purist (meta-type I) and Kantian philosopher, all truth is theory-laden, there is no Lockean empty mind (tabula rasa). '... It is a serious believe that we can appeal to anything like an authority of experience...' (Popper, 1992/ 1945: 388).

Popper's philosophy of Critical Rationalism (his own term) posits the following as some of the central characteristics of scientific knowledge (Popper, 1996: 3-6):

     It begins with problems, practical as well as theoretical
     It consists in the search for 'objectively true theories'
     It is conjectural and 'the method of science is the
     critical method: the method of the search for and the
     elimination of errors in the service of truth' (p4)
Contrary to Kuhn's philosophy, which explicitly makes provision for the subjective (social-psychological) dimension of scientific thought, Popper favours the objectivist approach. He makes this clear with his declaration that: 'As a philosopher... ng ago I gave up as superfluous the search for subjective certainty. The problem that interests me is that of the objectively critical rational grounds for preferring one theory to another, in the search for truth' (Popper, 1996: 5).

Popper's metaphysics consists of a three-world ontology: the world of physical things (world 1); the 'experiences of human beings' (world 2); and world 3, the world of the 'objective products of the human mind' (1996: 7). And here Popper's strong empyrean (Platonic, meta-type I) orientation and the similarity of his world 3 to Plato's 'intelligible realm' becomes clear: 'I assume that there exist immaterial inhabitants of world 3, which are real and very important; for example, problems...' (1996: 9).

Lastly, in line with the characteristics of the type I meta-orientation, Popper also did not accept expressionism in art (Heyt, 1999: 12), something that, by contrast, is typical of the meta-type III (subjectivist-realist) orientation. For Popper the individual scientist did not really figure -- he was concerned with the social and public (macroscopic and impersonal) character of the scientific method (Heyt, 1999: 23).

3.2 Lakatos: Objectivist-Empiricist philosopher of science (Type II)

Strongly sympathetic to Popper's deductivist approach to scientific knowledge, Imre Lakatos nevertheless eschewed the falsificationist principle as simply not a good reflection of what really happens in science. In typical rationalist-realist fashion (and in an effort to reconcile aspects of both Popper and Kuhn's philosophies), he proposed his own, verificationist, approach of 'research programs'. A research program consists of a hard core of main hypotheses (conjectures) and an outer protective (flexible) belt of secondary hypotheses and propositions that are more likely to change and be modified over time in scientific investigations.

In contrast with Popper's focus on logical purity in scientific theories, Lakatos' research program contain: '...clusters of hypotheses, evaluated not by the refutation of any one but rather by their ability to predict new observations, and for rational reconstruction as a method for understanding the history of theories...' (Long, 1998:1). In further contrast to Popper's approach, which can be characterised as a metaphysical research program, Lakatos opted for an empiricist-objectivist (meta-type II) scheme of scientific research programs (Kresge, 1996), preserving logical rigor and adhering to a realist conception of truth (Miner, 1998).

Similar to Popper, Lakatos views the objectivity of scientific theories as independent from individual human minds -- in other words, scientific theories should be objectively and rationally true, not subjectively and inter-subjectively as in Kuhn's (meta-type III) approach. He also agrees with Popper in regard to the theory-ladenness of truth and his hypothesis-testing approach.

At the same time Lakatos rejects what he perceives to be Kuhn's drift toward scientific truth as irrational faith or belief commitments, which for Lakatos (as for Popper) creates the spectre of not being able to separate science from pseudo-science or subjectivity (the so-called demarcation problem). Like Popper, his philosophy of science also has the great (Einsteinian) scientific achievement (and explanations for that event) in mind -- but for Popper's isolated, conjectural statements and hypotheses he substitutes the research program of clusters of hypotheses as recommended approach for the sciences.

In sum: Lakatos is the objectivist-empiricist (meta-type II) philosopher of science, viewing science as a process of seeking rational confirmation of the predictive value of research programs. As he formulates it: 'The time-honored empirical criterion for a satisfactory theory was agreement with the observed facts. Our empirical criterion for a series of theories is that it should produce new facts' (1970: 5).

3.3 Subjectivist-Empiricist philosophers of science (Type III)

(a) Thomas Kuhn

It would probably be true to say that Thomas Kuhn's Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1970/ 1962) upturned the whole philosophy of science apple cart in the 20th century. In terms of the meta-theoretical approach followed in the present paper, the whole tone and emphasis of Kuhn's exposition is in marked contrast to the impersonal and abstracted form of theorizing found in the work of Lakatos, and especially Popper.

In sharp contrast to the preference for deductive theorizing by Popper and Lakatos, Kuhn's methodology for arriving at his socio-historical conception of science, as well as his explanation of how he came to be interested in the history of science, reflects a radically different approach. Kuhn is the inductive researcher and theorist in the Aristotelian mould. Similar to Aristotle's process of data collection and reporting (in the Politeia) on the actual details of a variety of political systems and forms of government from which he (inductively) developed his own philosophy of politics -- Kuhn, inter alia, conducted a range of interviews with prominent scientists and scholars, before coming up with his own theory of paradigms.

The opening lines of Structure establishes the main theme of Kuhn's philosophy of science: 'History, if viewed as a repository for more than anecdote or chronology, could produce a decisive transformation in the image of science by which we are now possessed' (1970/ 1962: 1). This is followed by a statement that clearly shows Kuhn to be the critical, unmasking, thinker in the subjectivist-empiricist (meta-type III) tradition: 'This essay attempts to show that we have been misled by them [the sanitized textbooks of science] in fundamental ways. Its aim is a sketch of the quite different concept of science that can emerge from the historical record of the research activity itself' (1970/ 1962: 1). There can be little doubt about what Kuhn mainly intended (and dramatically succeeded in) doing, namely: debunking and overturning the typical (naive) account of science as a fully rational undertaking that unfolds in a cumulative and linear fashion.

Kuhn is concerned with the (seemingly) incommensurable ways in which different schools of thought (in both natural and social sciences) view scientific truth, hence his choice of the term paradigm to refer to these different knowledge traditions within the various sciences. His subjectivist-realist (meta-type III) orientation clearly comes to the fore when he says: 'Observation and experience can and must drastically restrict the range of admissible scientific belief, else there would be no science. But they cannot alone determine a particular body of such belief. An apparently arbitrary element, compounded of personal and historical accident, is always a formative ingredient of the beliefs espoused by a given scientific community at a given time'  (1970/ 1962: 4).

He openly favours an interpretive (subjectivist) approach, frankly admitting that: '...many of my generalizations are about the sociology or social psychology of scientists...' (1970/ 1962: 8). But his very next statement reflects a (later much debated) ambivalence in his philosophy, when he immediately harks back to the rationalist tradition with the words: '...yet at least a few of my conclusions belong traditionally to logic or epistemology' (1970/ 1962: 8). This points to a problematic aspect of his thought that is also reflected in his public rejection (see De Gennes, 2001; McGrew, 1994) of the social constructivist approach to scientific knowledge.

Kuhn's debate with Popper (in Lakatos & Musgrave, 1997/ 1970) gives abundant evidence of how philosophically far apart these two figures were (despite Kuhn's attempts, in his own address, to identify commonalities in their views). The title of Kuhn's address states the difference in philosophical outlook between them succinctly: 'Logic of discovery [Popper] or psychology of research [Kuhn]?' (p1).

Interestingly, Andresen (1999: 28) reports that Kuhn also enjoyed reading Freud, even confessing that his own psychoanalysis sharpened his skill as historian. Here one finds again the contrast with Popper and Lakatos, who (in their turn) spoke derisively about what they viewed as the pseudo-sciences of Marx and Freud.

In a more pronounced manner than Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend became the leading example in 20th century philosophy of science of the subjectivist-empiricist (narrative-poetical) approach in human thought -- the story-teller and critic of other philosophies of science, who deliberately wanted to shock. The next section therefore briefly profiles Feyerabend's meta-type III approach to philosophy of science.

(b) Paul Feyerabend

Formerly an admirer of Karl Popper's philosophy, Paul Feyerabend made a radical break with Popperian orthodoxy, proposing (and propagating) an anarchistic ('everything goes') philosophy of science. Rorty (1995) mentions that Feyerabend already made the historicist turn in his writings in the early 1950s. Yet, he remained a loyal participant in the field (maintaining cordial relations with, especially, Lakatos), all the while supporting the scientific fallibilist and realist convictions of the others, because: 'it makes very good sense' (Parascandalo and Hosle, 1995: 39). He later made an even more pronounced turn toward the advocacy (meta-type IV) mode, calling for the democratisation of science as just another co-equivalent tradition of knowledge and thought in society (see next section).

His main thesis (contra Popper, Lakatos and also Kuhn) is that: '...the events, procedures and results that constitute the sciences have no common structure...' (1993: 1). For Feyerabend a theory of science embedded in objectivist thought and using: '...Reason or Rationality may impress outsiders -- but it is much too crude an instrument for the people on the spot, that is, for scientists facing some concrete research problem' (1993: 1).

Key features of Feyerabend's subjectivist-realist (meta-type III) theory of science are as follows (1993: 5-19):

     Science is an essentially anarchic enterprise. Theoretical
     anarchism is more humanitarian and more likely to encourage
     programs than its law-and-order alternatives;
     Proliferation of theories is beneficial for science, while
     uniformity impairs its critical power. Uniformity also
     endangers the free development of the individual;
     Neither science nor rationality serves as universal
     measures of excellence. They are particular traditions,
     unaware of their historical grounding;

     The distinction between a context of discovery and a
     context of justification, norms and facts, observational
     terms and theoretical terms must be abandoned. None of
     these distinctions plays a role in scientific practice.
     Popper's critical rationalism fails for the same reasons;
     Interests, forces, propaganda and brainwashing techniques
     play a much greater role than is commonly believed in the
     growth of our knowledge and in the growth of science;
     There is only one principle that can be defended under all
     circumstances and in all stages of human development. It is
     the principle: anything goes.
Similar to the neo-pragmatism (meta-type III) of Richard Rorty, Feyerabend's philosophy of science is essentially a narrative-poetical philosophy. Its modus operandi is the intellectual re-description based on a prolific recourse to events and examples in the history of science. As in the case of Rorty, Feyerabend is deliberately critical, provocative and aim to deconstruct -- in his case of the purist (foundationalist) picture of science painted by Popper and (to lesser extent) Lakatos.

Feyerabend follows a pluralist approach to knowledge development that goes beyond Kuhn's historicist cycles. Kuhn still wants to hold on to a rational-logical structure of thought, even though his socio-psychological explanation of the growth of knowledge pulls the rug out from under the standard conception of science as a purely objective-logical endeavor. For Feyerabend knowledge development is thoroughly unpredictable in terms of clear procedures and processes -- there is no standard structure.

On the charge of relativism (any position or argument is as good or bad as any other), Feyerabend's response seems to vacillate between praise and rejection: '...I say that relativism gives an excellent account of the relation between dogmatic world-views but is only a first step towards an understanding of live traditions... relativism is as much of a chimaera as absolutism (the idea that there exists an objective truth), its cantankerous twin' (1993: 268). Yet, he also comes out in strong support of Kuhn's rejection of the social constructivist program in the sociology of science, depicting it (in clearly anti-relativist terms) as: '...absurd: an example of deconstruction gone mad' (1993: 271).

In interviews reported by Parascandalo and Hosle (1995), Feyerabend's personal and emotive style (typical of the subjectivist, meta-type III thinker) is unmistakeable. He talks of his aggressiveness against philosophers: '...who started talking about the sciences without really knowing much about them' (1995: 5) and unapologetically states that: '...if I can argue something or tell a story, I do so. If I can say something softly or a little more wickedly, I prefer to do so...' (1995: 6). Thus, Feyerabend is a clear example of the deconstructionist philosopher of science, the proponent of what he describes as 'intercultural poetry' (1995: 33) and the enemy of any scientific and philosophical one-upmanship. For Feyerabend a scientific philosophy (e.g., Popper) that makes generalised abstractions about what scientists do is: 'sheer fairy tale' (1995: 44).

Interestingly, when confronted in an interview (Parascandalo and Hosle, 1995) with the question about his seemingly contradictory respect for Plato (the proto-typical objectivist-empyrean, meta-type I, thinker), Feyerabend points to Plato's other (meta-type III) side, namely, his literary excellence in the dialogues, as well as the fact that Plato in his dialogues always ends with a return to mythos (the poetical-narrative form of the meta-type III).

Lastly, it should be noted in passing that even Popper, the more purely objectivist philosopher of science, could also be the emotive critic (type III mode). Janik (2002) informs us that: '...Popper was a bundle of contradictions: a champion of criticism and openness but with a penchant for vituperative denunciation of those he criticized, anxious to demythologize culture heroes past and present -- Plato, Hegel, Marx, Wittgenstein...' (2002: 613).

3.4 Subjectivist-Empyrean philosophers of science (Type IV)

(a) Karl Popper

Popper, like his intellectual forebear Plato (of which he is so critical), also engages in the ideological-political mode characteristic of the subjectivist-empyrean paradigm (meta-type IV). In the present paper this dimension will briefly be considered for his philosophy of science (and not his social philosophy, as in The Open Society).

Popper's writings are, throughout soaked in what can only be described (Kuhn also observed this) as constant moralising. Almost every sentence reflects an either thinly veiled or direct exhortation, appeal, proposal, or hint about how scientists (and philosophers of science) should go about their task, about the 'right' attitude and approach toward scientific knowledge. Popper seldom seemed to have missed an opportunity to engage in a promotional style of expression in his work. Some examples are:

     'I shall first suggest that a dose of Tarski's theory of
     truth stiffened perhaps by my own theory of getting nearer
     to the truth, may go a long way towards curing this malady
     [relativism]' (Popper, 1992/ 1945: 369);
     '...critical rationalism -- and critical empiricism which I
     also advocate -- can be regarded as an attempt to carry
     further Kant's critical philosophy...' (1996: 48);
     'Problems connected with the meaning or the definition of
     words are unimportant. Indeed, these purely verbal problems
     are tiresome: they should be avoided at all costs' (1996:  49).
(b) Paul Feyerabend

Although Feyerabend's writings and distinctive style clearly places him in the narrative (subjectivist-realist) tradition of thought, he later on (especially with his Science in a Free Society) adopted a strong political-ideological approach. His declared aim was: ' remove obstacles intellectuals and specialists create for traditions different from their own and to prepare the removal of the specialists (scientists) themselves from the life centres of society' (1982: 7). The political Feyerabend is also described by Benvenuto (1995), who writes that: 'Feyerabend's 'radical propaganda' sought a double emancipation: of scientists from epistemologists, and of citizens from scientists' (1995: 3)

4. Concluding remarks

The above analysis highlights the unique as well as common elements in the philosophies of science of Popper, Lakatos, Kuhn and Feyerabend. Taken together, their philosophies represent four distinct ways of looking at and theorizing about the nature of scientific knowledge. As in the case of other disciplines, philosophy of science is not a unitary intellectual enterprise, but reflects (from a meta-theoretical vantage point) both oppositional and complementary tendencies in human thought.

5. References

Andresen, J. 1999. 'Crisis and Kuhn.' ISIS: Journal of the History of Science in Society, 90: 43-68

Benvenuto, S. 1995. 'Paul K. Feyerabend (1924-1994) -- search for abundance.'
Telos. 102: 107-15

Bunge, M. 1996. 'The seven pillars of Popper's social philosophy.' Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 26 (4): 528-557

Cornford, F. M. (1935) 1979. Plato's theory of knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Feyerabend, P.K. 1993. Against method. 3rd Edition. London: Verso.

Feyerabend, P.K. 1982. Science in a free society. London: Verso

Fuller, S. 2002. 'The pride of losers: A genealogy of the philosophy of science.' History and Theory. 41: 392-409.

De Gennis, P.G. 2001. 'The Road since Structure/ Thomas Kuhn.' Physics Today. 54: (3): 53-55

Heyt, F.D. 1999. 'Popper's Vienna. A Contribution to the History of the Ideas of Critical Rationalism.' Innovation: The European Journal of Social Sciences. 12 (4): 525-542

Janik, A. 2002. 'Karl Popper -- The Formative Years, 1902-1945.' Central European History. 35 (4): 613-617

Kresge, S. 1996. 'Feyerabend unbound.' Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 26 (2): 293-304

Kuhn, T. (1962) 1970. 'The structure of scientific revolutions.' International Encyclopedia of Unified Science. 2 (2): Chicago: University of Chicago Press

Kuhn, T. 1970. 'Logic of Discovery or Psychology of Research?' in Lakatos, I and

A. Musgrave (Ed) (1970) 1997. Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press

Long, J. 1998. 'Lakatos in Hungary.' Philosophy of the Social Sciences. 28 (2): 244- 312

Lakatos, I. 1970. 'Falsification and the methodology of scientific research Programs.' in Lakatos, I and A. Musgrave (Ed) (1970) 1997. Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge: University of Cambridge Press

McGrew, T. 1994. 'Scientific progress, relativism, and self-refutation.' EJAP. 2 (2).

Miner, R.1998. 'Lakatos and MacIntyre on incommensurability and the rationality of theory-change.' Philosophy of Science. 20th World Congress of Philosophy.

Parascandalo, R. and Hosle, V. 1995. 'Three interviews with Paul K. Feyerabend.' Telos. 102: 115-149.

Pietersen, H J. (2000) 'Meta-paradigms in philosophical thought', The Examined Life, Vol. 1, (4). [].

Popper, K. (1945) 1992. The open society and its enemies Volume II: Hegel and Marx. London: Routledge

Popper, K.1996. In search of a better world. London: Routledge

Rorty, R.1979. Philosophy and the Mirror of Nature. Oxford, London: Blackwell.

Rorty, R.1995. 'Untruth and consequences.' New Republic. 213 (5): 32-37

Radnitzky, G and Bartley, W.W. (eds). 1987. Evolutionary epistemology, rationality, and the sociology of knowledge., La Salle, Illinois: Open Court.

Ross, D. 1999. 'The philosophy of science at the turn of the millennium', South African Journal of Philosophy. 18 (2): 91-100.

(c) Herman J Pietersen 2007





Jean Paul Sartre's existentialist phenomenology was in many ways an attempt to eliminate Rene Descartes' dualism with respect to consciousness and self-identity. As illustrative of the 'post-modern' intellectual-cultural ethos that they did much to configure, Sartre's ideas represent a radical transformation of Descartes' 'modern' conception of the ego. However, a close examination of Descartes' and Sartre's ideas in comparative perspective suggests that this transformation involves more of an inversion of Cartesian dualism than the simple elimination of it.

This essay will compare perspectives on the ontological structure of consciousness in the respective writings of Descartes and Sartre. Specifically, it will examine their views on the relationship between self-awareness and conscious life. It will focus on the critical discussion of this relationship in Descartes' Discourse on Method, Meditations, and Principles of Philosophy and in Sartre's Transcendence of the Ego and Being and Nothingness. Since each considered the issue of self-identity and consciousness to be foundational to his own thought, examining their contrasting views on this issue may reveal much about how basic assumptions regarding the 'ego' or 'self' have changed since the inauguration of modernity four centuries ago. Moreover, their contrasting ideas may also say much about the differing intellectual/ cultural contexts from which these ideas have emerged.

Descartes' concept of a self-aware ego, and Sartre's notion of an ego-less self-awareness, reflect contrasting intellectual/ cultural paradigms in the history of western civilization. Descartes' self-concept reflects modernity's idea of self-identity and -- insofar as Sartre's self-concept reflects the nature of the post-modern self -- exploring the similarities and contrasts between Descartes and Sartre illustrates how self-identity in the postmodern milieu can be understood paradoxically as both the culmination of modernism and as a reaction against it. For, though Sartre's concept of the ego differed from that of Descartes in many respects, Sartre (like Husserl and other phenomenologist) still took Descartes' Cogito as a philosophical point of departure. Sartre's thinking on this issue was thus heavily influenced by Descartes and can be interpreted on different levels as (however unsuccessfully) both confirmation of and rejection of the Cartesian legacy.


Basic similarities are evident, for example, in both thinker's philosophies of 'mind'. Both view mental activity as essentially non-material. While Descartes grounds his non-material mind in the spiritual 'substance' of God, and Sartre grounds his non-material consciousness in the radical 'freedom' of 'nothingness', both still view conscious experience as fundamentally different from the physical or extended reality that it 'inhabits'. Consequently, both also view mind or conscious experience as one aspect of a dualistic reality. Though Sartre's phenomenology was an attempt to overcome Cartesian dualism and there are profound differences between them regarding the nature of dualism, both envision reality as constituted by a thinking, free, self-aware subject in ontological opposition to a material, static, and unconscious object. Descartes and Sartre both also agree that subjective consciousness is a uniquely human activity. Although Descartes includes God as conscious (actually as the source of consciousness), both concur that the objective or factual reality 'outside' of human subjectivity does not and cannot 'think' in a conscious sense. Most importantly perhaps, both view the capacity for self-awareness as essential to conscious experience. The larger ramifications of this are ultimately different for each, but both agree that this capacity grounds and delimits the scope of human understanding.

Thus Descartes uses his own capacity for self-awareness to arrive at the Cogito:

     'But immediately I noticed that while I was endeavoring in
     this way to think everything false, it was necessary that
     I, who was thinking, was something. And observing that this
     truth, 'I am thinking, therefore I exist' was so firm and so
     sure that... I decided to accept it without scruple as the
     first principle of the philosophy I was seeking' (DM, 36).

Essential to this experience of consciousness is the 'I' that does the 'thinking' -- A 'self' that remains a persistent and substantial locus of conscious awareness. This self is the 'substance' constituting thought. 'From this I knew that I was a substance whose whole nature is to think' (DM, 36).

Yet the Cartesian 'I' also seems to exist in a sense that somehow transcends its own thoughts: 'I' consist of my thoughts, but also collect, possess, and witness them. Although thinking constitutes my 'nature', 'I' seem to also exist in some critically detached way that simultaneously transcends the very thoughts that I am observing. I exist independently from my thoughts as an ego that contains them.

This Cartesian ego (which has plagued philosophy of mind ever since) is the ontological excrescence that Sartre considers the source of a false dualism -- and that he attempts to rid philosophy of. He is successful in eliminating the Cartesian ego, but not dualism. In fact, his attempt to eradicate Cartesian dualism arguably results in a more thoroughgoing Sartrean dualism.

Though, like Descartes, Sartre posits self-awareness as essential to consciousness, he also rejects Descartes' idea of a transcendent ego reflecting somehow on its own thinking. 'Of course consciousness can know and know itself', Sartre writes, 'But it is in itself something other than a knowledge turned back on itself' (BN, LXI) Although consciousness exists in a very definitive sense and can be self-aware, it does not consist of thoughts contained in or belonging to an 'I' or ego in the Cartesian sense. Since 'existence precedes essence', thinking or consciousness can have no 'substance' or 'nature'. Consciousness for Sartre is radically 'free' or unconditioned mental activity without any transcendent 'ego' from which it emanates. The subjective experience or sense of a 'self' IS this activity and cannot have any existence apart from this activity. (BN, LXV-LXVI)

Therefore, as Sartre states in The Transcendence of the Ego: '... the consciousness that says 'I think' [in Descartes' Cogito] is precisely not the consciousness that thinks... There was no 'I' in the unreflecting consciousness' (45-46). Sartre removes the Cartesian ego from consciousness via the concept of 'intentionality': Conscious activity consists solely in the positing or apprehension of its objects. It is a subjective directedness toward the objective world external to itself. It is aware of its activity, but not as any activity issuing or deriving from an ego that transcends this activity. Consciousness is only conscious of itself as 'consciousness-of' something. (BN, LXI-LXII)

Thus Sartre conceives of subjective consciousness as primarily a 'pre-reflective' or dynamic process. When one is actively engaged in an experience, the 'I' or ego does not appear and one is not aware of one's 'self': 'When I run after a streetcar... there is no 'I'. There is only consciousness of the street-car-having-to-be-overtaken'. (TE, 49) It is only during 'reflective' mental activity (thinking about experience in retrospect -- objectively) that consciousness posits its prior thinking as unified by or issuing from a transcendent ego. However, this ego is itself just another object external to the subjective consciousness that posits it. There is no transcendent or objective ego to which consciousness belongs or from which consciousness derives. In fact, the opposite is true: 'For most philosophers, the ego is an inhabitant of consciousness... We would like to show that the ego is neither formally nor materially within consciousness: it is outside, in the world' (TE,1).

For Descartes in contrast, the self or ego, which DOES exist in direct relation to consciousness, can reflect upon itself as it thinks. The ontological structure of Cartesian consciousness (following the Scholastic tradition) is configured by the relationship between mental 'substance' which is characterized by its primary essence or 'attribute', which is thought ('To each substance there belongs one principle attribute; in the case of mind, this is thought... ' (PP, 177). Thinking belongs to a mind. Since the mind or ego exists in transcendent relationship to its thoughts, it can direct these thoughts back upon itself or upon its prior thoughts.

     'But what then am I? A thing that thinks. What is that? A
     thing that doubts, understands, affirms, denies, is
     willing, and also imagines and has sensory perceptions.
     This is a considerable list, if everything on I belongs to
     me. But does it?... The fact that it is I who am doubting
     and understanding and willing is so evident that I see no
     way of making it any clearer' (MP, 83).


Sartre's rejection of this Cartesian ego, and his idea instead of an intentional consciousness, leads to an attempted (and unsuccessful) rejection of Descartes' subject/ object dichotomy between the conscious ego and the unconscious world. Descartes' idea of consciousness is predicated upon the assumption that the thinking subject is fundamentally different from the objective physical world -- that 'I exist' (as mind) and 'there exist things distinct from myself' (physical or extended objects). Insofar as the human mind participates in the Divine mind, in fact, the subjective conscious 'soul' remains separate from the objective 'fallen' physical world (PP, 182-189). (For the former Jesuit student, the 'City of God' is distinct from the 'City of man'). 'I exist, I find in my mind the idea of God who must -- by his very concept -- exist; God being good, will not deceive me in my clear and distinct ideas. Hence my belief in an external world must be true idea' (PP, 189).

Sartre, on the other hand, deliberately tries to eradicate any distinction between the ego and its world. Though he accomplishes this, he does not overcome the dualism that separates consciousness and its reality. To effect a fundamental interdependence between conscious experience and the world that it apprehends, Sartre empties consciousness of substance entirely. He asserts that, not only is intentional mental activity in no way the 'attribute' of any mental 'substance', but that it is also nothing more than an insubstantial 'striving toward' its objects of apprehension. In itself it is 'nothing' -- insubstantial and possessing no attributes. It is an empty and insubstantial activity. A pure subjectivity through which objectivity is revealed. 'All consciousness ... transcends itself in order to reach its object' and 'Nothing is the cause of consciousness' (BN, LI-LVI). So in this sense, intentional consciousness and the objective world are co-extensive: Consciousness needs its objects in order to exist, such as it does, because it is nothing in itself without them. The objective world needs consciousness in order to be revealed as existing.

Thus Sartre tries unsuccessfully to unify subjective consciousness and the objective world via the empty or perpetually transcendent activity of intentionality. However, the very activity through which this union is attempted obviates its own possibility. The two 'worlds' cannot be reconciled. The subjective nihility of consciousness, opposed to the object substance of its world, makes any such union impossible. The objective world of factual reality simply 'is' in the most concrete sense. Subjective consciousness perpetually 'is not what it is and is what it is not' (BN, LXI)

So while Sartre attempts to eliminate subject/ object dualism by making the conscious 'self' interdependent with its world -- but actually seems to make the conscious subject less existent than or ontologically subsequent to the objects it reveals, Descartes posits a dualism in which the thinking subject is more existent than or ontologically prior to the worldly objects that it perceives. The Cartesian ego, via the Cogito, first establishes the indubitable truth of its own existence, which is its most 'clear and distinct' knowledge. From this self-certainty it then (with the assistance of God, whose 'substance' is intrinsic to its own) deduces the existence of an objective external world -- whose 'substance' is physical 'extension', as opposed to the thinking substance of the ego. The existence of an objective world is only established after the existence of the thinking subject is established. Moreover, this subjective ego does not need the objective extended world in order to establish its own existence. It exists, in a sense, as a self-contained entity. A non-physical soul. Grounded securely on the self-sustaining existence of God, its existence is not contingent upon the world. He writes:

     'On one hand I have a clear and distinct idea of myself,
     insofar as I am simply a non-extended thing; and on the
     other hand I have a distinct idea of the body, insofar as
     this is simply an-extended non-thinking thing. And
     accordingly it is certain that I am really distinct from my
     body and can live without it' (MP, 114).

In contradistinction, for Sartre the conscious subject is utterly contingent (so much so, in fact, that that contingency almost seems like the 'substance' of Sartre's consciousness, though his characterization of consciousness as 'free' or as 'nothingness' would preclude this possibility). It could not exist without its objects since the intentional activity that constitutes it occurs only as a 'striving toward' these objects. It is therefore less existent than the substantial 'facticity' or concrete existence of the objective world.


For this reason Sartre regards the mental act of imagination -- integral to intentionality -- as essential to consciousness. Imagination is the aspect of conscious experience in and through which possibilities are projected. The projecting of possibilities is the very activity by which intentional consciousness engages the world of objective facticity. Unlike the determined and static character of the factual world (called 'being-in-itself'), conscious activity (called 'being-for-itself') is perpetually and relentlessly moving -- striving toward and beyond this world. It is perpetually transcending all objective facticity by projecting possibilities each and every moment. Consciousness, or being-for-itself, IS this perpetual movement , which is 'freedom'.

Because of its imaginative character, consciousness or being-for-itself is radically free -- unlike the determined world of being-in-itself, toward which it projects but with which it can never attain consummation. The freedom of being-for-itself to project possibilities for being-in-itself is what makes being-for-itself 'nothing' in itself and irreconcilable with being-in-itself. Since being-in-itself is precisely 'just what it is' (determined), and being-for-itself is always 'beyond what it is' (free), the freedom of consciousness perpetually negates the very reality that it is contingent upon. Freedom, as 'the ability of consciousness to destroy, ignore, or go beyond its objects' via imagination, thus separates consciousness from its world. Yet consciousness is this freedom (BN, 25).

For Descartes however, neither imagination nor freedom are as significant or as ontologically problematic. He views imagination as an essentially superfluous dimension of experience, connected as it is to the senses and the extended substance of the physical body. A product of the visceral emotions rather than of rational thought, it is not essential to mind or consciousness.

     'I consider this power of imagining which is in me,
     differing as it does from the power of understanding, is
     not a necessary constituent of my own essence, that is of
     my mind. For if I lacked it, I should undoubtedly remain as
     I now am' (MP, 111).

Imagination is thus relegated to the level of sensory knowledge -- which is neither true knowledge nor thinking in the essential sense. Imagination for Descartes is therefore also not connected to freedom in the way that it is for Sartre. Freedom for Descartes is integral, instead, to mental autonomy of an exclusively rational nature. Only this dimension of consciousness qualifies as 'thinking' and hence, as essential to consciousness (MP, 112).

The contrasts between Descartes' and Sartre's notions of imagination -- and hence, of freedom -- perhaps illustrate most effectively the basic distinction between their respective conceptions of dualism and self-identity. Sartre conceives of consciousness as subjective freedom, which is nothingness, while Descartes views consciousness as an extension of the objective being of God. For Sartre, consciousness is freedom as being-for-itself, which is 'condemned' to perpetually project toward and beyond the the determined being-in-itself upon which it is contingent. However, the ontological opposition of being-for-itself and being-in-itself makes a being-for-itself-being-in-itself union impossible, and consciousness must always for this reason, negate or nihilate the very objects with which it seeks consummation.

One of these objects turns out to be consciousness itself. Since the objective ego becomes becomes being-in-itself by the very act of reflecting upon it, it remains external to the subjective being-for-itself in pre-reflective consciousness. By positing and identifying with its ego, consciousness attempts to become a being-for-itself-in-itself. It attempts to give its freedom substance while still remaining unconditioned and free. It tries to give its nothingness valid being. It tries to objectify its subjectivity. This is impossible however, and the free subjectivity from which conscious experience emerges remains alienated from any objective self-identity.

This is not the case with Descartes. Though consciousness and the external world are indeed distinct, consciousness still remains the locus of self-identity. Since it participates in the absolute being of God, the thinking substance of consciousness gives the ego concrete being. 'My' existence as a thinking subject is identical with my self-identity. This is the 'clear and distinct' self-evident character of conscious experience. Consciousness for Descartes is thus the opposite of nothingness -- whereas for Sartre 'consciousness is freedom is nothingness'.


Thus, far from eradicating Cartesian dualism by de-substantializing the ego, Sartre actually intensified this dualism and perpetuated much of the Cartesian legacy that he sought to supplant. For, although Descartes separated the ego from the world to a relatively greater degree than many of his classical and medieval predecessors, it nonetheless retained a place -- however precarious -- in the cosmic continuum encompassing all reality. ('I realize that I am, as it were, something intermediate between God and nothingness, or between being and non-being', MP, 99.)

However, Sartre not only separated consciousness from the world absolutely and inalterably via the being-for-itself/ being-in-itself dichotomy, but he further separated self-identity from its own originating ground by making the free subjective 'nothingness' of pre-reflective consciousness irreconcilable with the objective ego of reflective consciousness. Unlike the Cartesian ego, with a place in the universe, the Sartrean consciousness is nowhere. Thus the modernity's Cartesian dualism appears to have culminated in post-modernity's existential alienation. Far from being overcome, the problems associated with Cartesian dualism are more prominent than ever.

In this way Sartre's inversion of the the Descartes' Cogito represents one of the most problematic and ironic philosophical developments in the recent history of ideas. In a post-modern culture where issues related to individual freedom, personal isolation, social alienation, etc, are increasingly prominent in public life, this development exemplifies what may be an important transition in western civilization generally. Where future philosophers may take this trend remains as open a prospect as Sartrean freedom itself.


Descartes, Rene. Selected Philosophical Writings. J. Cottingham. trans. (Cambridge: University Press) 1988

Sartre, J.P. Being and Nothingness. H. Barnes, trans. (New York: Philosophical Library) 1956

Sartre, J.P. Transcendence of the Ego. F. Williams, trans. (New York: Octagon Books) 1972

(c) Richard Grego 2007

Dr. Richard Grego Associate Professor Department of Philosophy and Culture Daytona Beach Community College




Reading Epicurus (based on saved copies of his work) we realise that we can extract some important points relevant to the 'work based learning' (WBL) educational theory.

It his book Kyriai Doxai, chapter 2 ('on knowledge theory') Epicurus says:

     It is necessary to consider the real purpose of life... or
     else, everything will seem confused and not sure.

In work based learning, whatever you have done in the past counts and has its purpose. An Accreditation Board will examine your past activities portfolio and will give you APL (assessment of prior learning) credits. Finally every past activity is valued as a contribution to a WBL course.

At the next chapter 'Epikourou prosfonisis', we read:

     We cannot count young man as blessed. Blessed is the old
     man who lived a good life. The young man is ruled by his
     luck, the old man is not. He relaxes with his nice and
     happy memories and with all the goods he gained for which
     he was once scarcely confident of.

In work based learning, the 'old man' with 'memories' equals the 'professional' with her/ his 'experiences'. The 'young man' is the average student who is trying, studying and hoping to get good grades. The 'old man' is the WBL student which now can 'retrieve her/ his memories' and gain credits.

Epicurus writes:

     In everything but philosophy, the result comes after the
     end. In philosophy... your happiness comes simultaneously
     with learning'.

We can say that WBL studies provide a philosophical background when we have to discuss a student's past. At this specific moment, students realise that everything they learned counts for something. Retrieved knowledge comes together with happiness. You can see the realization in their eyes.

On another page we read:

     To respect the wise man is the greatest good for the one
     who respects him.

This is actually a basic rule for the WBL tutor and adviser. WBL tutors and advisers are usually characterised by their respect for the 'professional experts' (as usually their students are). At the start of their careers maybe they do not realise that one day a University will select them for having this characteristic.

Many times tutors face expert scientist-students of this or that science area in their class. WBL tutors must have the strength, ethical background, flexibility, positive thinking, high level of multi-disciplinary scientific knowledge, studies of many subjects and most of all respect to the professional/ scientist student. You have to love WBL philosophy in order to keep working on it. It might seem easy but it is in fact very demanding work.

A few pages further on we read:

     You must not wish to have what you not have, but you must
     think that everything you have was a past wish.

This is how WBL works. You can gain credits for these areas you learned before through experience or other studies.

     Let's make our travel the most beautiful of all travels
     during the time we are on the road. When we touch the end
     we can be happy.
In WBL we have a 'travel in the student's past'. This is an enjoyable 'travel' in order to complete a portfolio and take the best results (gained APL credits).

     In human debates the real winner is the man who loses,
     because he learned something more.

It is a reality that the WBL tutor who can listen to his student will take back respect and simultaneously will help her /his student achieve a better result in his academic progress.

Maybe all of the above are just thoughts. But think for one moment about the next phrase of Epicurus (saved by Sextus Empiricus):

     Philosophy is that human activity which with speeches and
     thoughts makes our life to be a happy one.

Ethics Epicurus, Exantas Publications, Athens, 1992, ISBN:960-256-091-6

Kyriai Doxai Epicurus, Epicouros Publications, Athens, 1998

Epicurus Hutchinson, Avramidis, 2000, Athens, Thyrathen Publications, ISBN:960-8097-01-0

(c) Fotis Vassileiou and Barbara Saribalidou 2007


© Geoffrey Klempner 2002–2020