The Staged Cage? Education, reality and "illusions" of freedom: A Dialogue

Activity: Talk or presentation typesOral presentation


The philosophical dialogue, in our view, is in crisis. Rarely do we read them in academic journals; even less do we see them performed at conferences. In Three Dialogues on Knowledge (1991), Paul Feyerabend exhibited his unique wit and artistry in this forgotten craft, and it is from this we are inspired not only in the creation of our dialogue, but in a general rallying call for the revival of the dialogue in academic discourse.
We posit a hypothetical conversation between three contemporary female philosophers: Pauline Feu-d’un-Coude, whose name, and attitude, is loosely based on Feyerabend himself; Hina Arora, who is influenced by the life and work of Hannah Arendt; and Carmen Manusia - the quasi-Greek chorus of the piece - who represents those people who would be considered “not-philosophers” in an academic sense of the word but is very much a philosophiser in the most human sense; an intellectual dilletante. While discussing the storming of the Capitol building in Washington DC, January 2021, their thoughts turn to questions of reality, education, and freedom.
Central to this conversation is the model of the stage which Feyerabend introduces in his unfinished manuscript, Conquest of Abundance (1999). He makes the argument that artworks, and the aspect of “reality” that the artist seeks to represent, can be interpreted as a stage set. The stage is set by the artist who selects the aspects to be represented and creates the conditions which determine how the aspects are to be viewed; it is the viewer who makes the projection of [their] reality on to the stage.
While primarily concerned with artworks, Feyerabend also tells us that this model of the stage can be transferred readily to science – the scientist may set up a stage, an experiment, with resulting data interpretation a projection on a stage. In the case of both the sciences and art, external structures (social constraints, particular equipment) have an effect on the “reality” that is subsequently projected. These external structures are what he calls “projective devices” and include manufactured – as in his given case of Brunelleschi and the painting of the Baptisterium - and traditional/natural devices – such as beliefs, theories, and cultural norms.
Taking all of this into consideration and introducing notions from Arendt (1961) such as natality, and education as the older generation’s responsibility to the younger, the interlocutors begin by discussing the stage model of reality, before moving on to think about it in relation to education and how this ties in with notions of freedom and what (education in) a free society might look like (with some reference to Feyerabend’s own ideas about this from Science in a Free Society, 1978). All of this is loosely captured under the lens of the unfolding chaos of Trumpism and Republican unrest.
Our intention is to create a piece which at least captures some of what we interpret the spirit of Feyerabend might have enjoyed: a humorous, thoughtful, entertaining dialogue which disrupts generally accepted notions of the conventional academic presentation style. It is our hope to achieve this without affronting his memory.
Period20 Mar 2021
Event titlePaul Feyerabend - Education in a Free Society
Event typeWorkshop
Degree of RecognitionInternational