Imre Lakatos, Modern Physics, Modern Society
“Imre Lakatos’s philosophy of science is rooted in a number of different fields, and not all of them are purely scientific. During his years of education, he was influenced by mathematics and natural sciences as well as by philosophy, but the role of political ideologies cannot be denied. His basic philosophical ideas – such as the rationality of science, the continual growth of knowledge, the social determinism of scientific activities, and the indispensable role of historical attitude in the philosophy of science – are definitely in accordance with his early devotion to Marxism (and Lukacs’s philosophy) both in theory and in practice.
One can easily find clear evidences that Lakatos saw basic connections between the theoretical sciences he studied and the practical principles he followed in politics. This is clearly demonstrated by the early papers he published in different journals, and it must have played an important role in the doctoral dissertation he wrote in 1947. Unfortunately, no copy of this dissertation can be found now. There are several assumptions as to when and why the paper disappeared, but most probably Lakatos himself might have “stolen” it some time before leaving Hungary in 1956. Later he hinted several times that he was rather unsatisfied with it, regarded it as “immature”, and he also said that he would not have minded if nobody had ever seen it. After some failures to find it, we have good reasons to believe that the dissertation is lost for ever.
Fortunately, we are not left without traces of the contents of this work, because it seems that important parts of it were published while it was being written. Sándor Karácsony, one of the most influential of Lakatos’s teachers in the university, the opponent of the dissertation, evaluated it in July 8, 1947 with the following words:
“I got interested in the foregoing scientific activities of this young man, and not least because I read most of them at the moment they were published. Now I see all of Imre Lakatos’s work in unity, and I deem that it comes up to the standard. His dissertation is not a sudden idea, it was matured by two previous publications, both in very serious journals. The first was published in Athenaeum under the title A fizikai idealizmus bírálatai, and the second came out in a thick volume written to teachers: Továbbképzés és demokráciaii, entitled Modern fizika, modern társadalomiii.”
Here we can skip a list of Lakatos’s early publications cited by Karácsony in the evaluation. We continue the quotation, however, with mentioning another important paper, since its topic – education – was extremely important for Lakatos at this time, and formed the subject of a lot of his investigations. Karácsony writes:
“The journal Embernevelésiv also published a paper by Lakatos, which had the title: Demokratikus nevelés és természettudományos világnézetv. Its most essential statement is: democratic education teaches humbleness towards the facts, it teaches the desire to face reality instead of mere views. The original democracy of natural sciences is to be emphasised: their facts and theories can be controlled by anyone, and this control drives them forward.
The foregoing scientific works of Imre Lakatos are based on dialectic Marxism, but in its modern and not orthodox form. And it is only a base, since he himself has original and particular things to say, and more now than earlier. His originality is increasing. The philosophy behind all of his opinions is consistent and systematic.”
Now, if we compare the two papers mentioned by Sándor Karácsony as the preliminaries of the dissertation, we come to see that the essential body of the earlier one (The Criticism of the Physical Idealism) is almost literally identical to a great part of the longer paper (Modern Physics, Modern Society). The small differences are either stylistic or explanatory, since the journal Further Education and Democracy, an ideological collection of writings for supporting teachers (published by the Ministry of Religion and Education), served more popular purposes than the rather scientific Athenaeum, the journal of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences and the Hungarian Philosophical Society. Naturally, it is very likely that this text contains most of young Lakatos’s essential thoughts and ideas concerning the position, the development and the function of science, and it is reasonable to suppose that it formed an important part of the lost dissertation entitled A természettudományos fogalomalkotás szociológiájárólvi.
The Criticism of the Physical Idealism is a critical essay discussing Susan Stebbing’s book Philosophy and the Physicists (London, Pelican, 1943). Lakatos, however, criticises not only Stebbing’s analyses of Eddington’s and Jeans’ idealism, but he also adds his own criticism of the two scientists’ world views that he considers as typical examples of the “bourgeois” science. Instead of focusing on the immanent development of science, he decides to look for explanations outside of science. He emphasises the indispensable role of sociological and economic influences on scientific concept building, and he concludes that the world view of a given scientific age or community is nothing more than a historical category. The whole argumentation appears again in Modern Physics, Modern Society, supplemented by some further ideas and more loose associations: the context becomes broader and the investigations more fundamental. Here we are given a deeper (Marxist and Lukacsian contra Hegelian) analysis of the “dialectical structure” of the modern scientific view determined by social relations and motions. And if we imagine that we go further in this direction, then we must be very close to the text of the lost dissertation.”