Who Was Imre Lakatos? Ki volt Lakatos Imre?
Two souls, alas, are dwelling in my breast
And one is striving to forsake its brother.
—goethe, Faust
Imre Lakatos, who died in 1974 at the age of fifty-one, was one of the most
original philosophers of science of the twentieth century. Though not as well
known outside philosophy as his contemporaries Thomas Kuhn and Paul
Feyerabend, or his mentor Karl Popper, Lakatos was a central figure in the
philosophy and history of science debates of the 1960s and 1970s that created
a sea change in received views of scientific method and practices throughout
the humanities, social sciences, and science itself. Lakatos was Popper’s
most assiduous disciple and greatest critic. He surprisingly extended Pop-
per’s idea that scientific theories can never be proven to mathematics in his
masterpiece Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery,
originally part of his 1961 Ph.D. thesis at Cambridge, where Lakatos had
arrived as a superannuated graduate student after fleeing Hungary and the
failed 1956 Hungarian Revolution. Lakatos’s philosophy of science similarly
broadened Popper’s view that science is marked not by foundational truths
but by ‘‘conjectures and refutations,’’ or the creation of scientific progress by
the continual proposal and elimination of successively improved theories.
Theories are never proven true in Popper’s view, but they can be falsified, and
progress through such falsification is the key idea of Popper’s The Logic of
Scientific Discovery, published originally in Vienna in 1934 as Logik der
Forschung. Although in Proofs Lakatos appears to seamlessly continue Pop-
per’s notions, in the philosophy of science Lakatos ravaged Popper’s philoso-
phy with incisive criticism even as he built on it, earning his illustrious
teacher’s enmity as his own fame grew. The son turned against the father,
and the father recognized the wicked turn against him even as it fulfilled the
spirit of his very own critical rationalism. Twenty-five years after his death,
Lakatos is still being read in several languages. Criticism and the Growth of
Knowledge, the 1970 volume Lakatos edited with Alan Musgrave at the
height of the debates over Kuhn’s Structure of Scientific Revolutions—itself
one of the most important postwar works of English-language philosophy—
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