|Table of contents|
2 Research Programs
3 Selected Works
He was born Imre Lipschitz in Hungary. He received a degree in mathematics, physics, and philosophy from the University of Debrecen in 1944. He became an active communist during the second world war.
In 1956, during a time of upheaval in Hungary, Lakatos fled to Vienna, and later reached England. He received a doctorate in philosophy in 1961 from the University of Cambridge. The book Proofs and Refutations (ISBN 0521290384), published after his death, is based on this work.
In 1960 he was appointed to a position in the London School of Economics, and remained there until his death. He wrote on philosophy of mathematics, and more generally on the philosophy of science. The LSE philosophy of science department at that time included Karl Popper and John Watkins.
Parts of his correspondence with his friend Paul Feyerabend have been published in For and Against Method (ISBN 0226467740).
Lakatos’ contribution to the Philosophy of Science was to attempt a to resolve the perceived conflict between Popper’s falsifiability and the revolutionary structure of science described by Kuhn.
Kuhn had described science as consisting of periods of normal science interspersed with periods of great conceptual change, backing up his case with evidence from the history of science. Popper had presented falsificationism as a way to overcome the problem of induction and also to distinguish scientific from non-scientific propositions. Popper’s prescription implies a smooth progress from one hypothesis to another as they are falsified and replaced with increasingly bold and powerful hypotheses. This is 'prima facie' at odds with the history of science as described by Kuhn, in which scientists defend their doctrines, even when the evidence against them becomes overwhelming.
The problem for Lakatos was to defend the presumed rationality of scientific method against the frivolity of the apparent behaviour of scientists. For Lakatos, science progressed by developing complex research programs that include testable hypotheses, and also an untestable ‘core’ of doctrine, which those involved in the research program would not permit to be falsified.
A research program consists of, in Lakatos’ terms, a negative heuristic or 'hard core' that is not open to negotiation, and in effect lays down the foundations of the program. One example given is Newton’s three laws of dynamics, which define quantities such as force. These are not open to falsification within the Newtonian system, but are defended at all cost by the positive heuristic, a 'protective belt' of statements that are open to falsification. When falsified, these are replaced by variations that are also falsifiable, but which continue to protect the hard core. Thus a research program provides a framework within which research can be undertaken with constant reference to presumed first principles which are shared by those involved in the research program, and without continually defending these first principles.
Lakatos claimed that research programs could be evaluated by comparing their ability to produce new facts, and by their ability to explain apparent refutations. In effect, a research program grows as its positive heuristic extends its applicability into new areas. A research program that is in a state of constantly defending its hard core, and which appears not to be extending itself into new areas, becomes degenerate. Such research programs are in danger of being superseded by more vigorous competitors.
Lakatos, I., 1970. Falsification and the methodology of Scientific Research Programs. in Lakatos, I & Musgrave, A, (Eds) Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge London: Cambridge University Press. pp. 91-196. Available at