Paul Hoyningen-Huene

Feyerabend's habilitation supervisee at the ETH Zurich (1988)

Professor Emeritus of Philosophy, Leibniz University of Hanover

Letter to Paul on his 65th Birthday


Dear Paul,

although this letter comes to you in a somewhat unusual, time-consuming, and rather mediated way, I have no fear that its content will thereby become obsolete, for the propositions here expressed are timeless, both in general and in their specific content. Since you are in the habit of remembering many things that I have long since forgotten and I still remember things that have long since left your long-term memory (if they were ever in it), so I thought it might be an amusing pastime for me to reconstruct some older stations of our friendship and to urge you to read them on the occasion of your jubilant birthday (an urge that you could easily resist, however, as I have to admit with a touch of melancholy).

Well, my oldest reasonably clear memories of you go back to 1977 (or was it 1978?) when I offered a reading course on "Against Method". In accordance with my fantasies of getting out, which were radical in different degrees, I considered at the time whether I shouldn’t get up from my apparently very comfortable little bed at the Philosophical Seminar at the University of Zurich and move my butt and head to Berkeley to get out of there to let you shake me philosophically again. I didn't do it (probably because it was too well established) - but if the prophet doesn't go to the mountain, this one will.

However, after your trial lecture at ETH, I didn't give you much of a chance: someone who, at the end of his lecture, waves his scarf over his head like a lasso and says he's tired and hungry and therefore wants to stop and go now, someone like that, thought I would not appoint the distinguished ETH. I was quite surprised when the NZZ reported very positively on the lecture two days later - and I revised my judgement: if it wasn't too provocative for the NZZ, then probably not for the ETH either.

I also remember your inaugural lecture: a huge crowd in the Audimax, and I was pretty mad at you (by the way, Ursi didn't exactly like you because of the lecture either). I was holding an event on Fleck around this time, and told myself that you could have quoted him before, because a number of things seemed to come straight from him.

I probably spoke to you for the first time in 1980 or 1981 after one of your events. I introduced myself as an ex-physicist and now a philosopher of science (usually that ensures spontaneous sympathy from philosophers with a scientific background), but the first thing you told me was that it was a nice descent. Well, I got over it and then tried to address you as stupidly as possible with a question in the next event. I don't remember exactly what I said - I certainly had a few laughs, but if I remember correctly you (more or less elegantly) pulled yourself out of the affair.

I worked on your seminars with guest speakers for the first time in the summer semester of 1981. Christian contacted me about conceptual questions as part of his preparatory work (I gather this from a draft for the seminar), and he also wanted me to be the discussion leader for either "The State of Science and the Atomic Industry" or "On the Status of Quantum Theory". But I had other things to do during the seminar and was therefore mostly unable to come.

But that changed in the summer semester of 1982 with "Science and Tradition". I was there regularly, and despite the reluctance that is probably inherited from me genetically, I often opened my mouth there. I actually discussed more about my image than the thing there, i.e. for the audience and for you, to start a conversation with you - apparently you were quite impressed - at least I was delighted when Müller-Herold told me, you you thought a lot of me. Well, then we would have made it, I thought to myself. I also chaired a panel discussion with you in 1982, with nothing but theologians, one of whom got on my nerves terribly because he gave me (and others, but that was less important to me) some really stupid, aggressive answers. You said afterwards that that was just his way, but I didn't really know what to do with this kind of (expression of) tolerance. 

In June 1983 we started corresponding: you really noticed me, you asked me what I had recently done wrong, in other words: what I had written, I had sent you an essay, and we immediately started arguing about Aristotle . I was very proud that you sent me your Mach paper and wrote that you were curious what I would think of the choice. These confirmations from you were very important to me, because they came as part of my first extensive personal scientific-theoretical debates at the top level and offered me certain points of reference in my assessment of my philosophical abilities, which was still quite fluctuating at the time.

You came to our house for the first time for my birthday party on July 31, 1983, and that was really jolly, as I remember. In any case, there was no more wine at the end of the party. Since then we've been on first name terms. And shortly thereafter I called on you for the first time for the hitherto uninterrupted series of letters of recommendation, the letter to Tom Kuhn, which was intended to help me a great deal in gaining access to him (Tom also writes that in his final letter, by the way Foreword to my book - you will see shortly). Then, in September 1983, you met Tom, and to my delight you wrote to me that he would stand up for me. Meanwhile - a praise of technology! - the production of letters of recommendation is highly rationalized for me. It's a pity that nothing came of your purchase of our neighboring house - this attempt also falls in the summer of 1983. By the way, we then continued to discuss the concept of natural law in letters until 1984.

In the summer of 1984 we went to see Tom in Boston, and even then we corresponded vigorously, often of course also because of the positions you suggested me for. After I had discussed the task(s) of philosophy with Tom for many hours, we exchanged a few letters about it. From January 1985 came reductionism, incommensurability, rationalism, relativism, truth and the constitution of the world, and of course we haven't completely agreed on these topics to this day - but it was, at least for me, extraordinary fruitful and stimulating. And in February I got your first reaction to my Kuhn book, more precisely the first chapter, about the quality of which I was actually quite unsure. Your letter begins: "Dear Paul - I have read the first, learned chapter of your Kuhn work and am enthusiastic. Each page is a nail in the coffin for books and articles that have been written and are still being written about Kuhn..." That was for cause me to dance for joy. For me, 1984/85 was a wonderful time intellectually, the intensive and long discussions with Tom and the letters with you with the quite different perspectives. This reached a certain climax for me in June 1985 in Zurich, when Tom travelled from Paris and I travelled from Boston for your special seminar session on Kuhn and the intellectual lake cruise, as you called it.

Now this is also a good stopping point - not only in terms of content, but also because Christian urgently demands that the matter be sent to him in good time, and I've already run over a few days anyway. Of course I didn't mention a few things - the meals at our place, where time always flew by, the wines that were drunk, their vintages and serving temperature, and much more. But what I would like to say indirectly and now directly is that I am very grateful for our friendship, and therefore expect that as soon as you are back in Zurich, you will come to us (then in the new domicile) fairly quickly for the purpose of income of food and drink, and not just once.

I send you warm regards, and Ursula and Sarah follow,