Imre Lakatos: theory as a limiting process?
Via philphys list, I have just learned that
An extensive archive of Imre Lakatos’s papers and letters – mostly in English, but some in Hungarian – is held in the British Library for Political and Economic Science at the London School of Economics. Thanks to the generosity of an anonymous donor, Research Fellowships to a total amount of US$ 25,000 will be available in the calendar year 2007 for scholars wishing to pursue some research project on Lakatos and/or his contemporaries that requires consultation of the archive. The Fellowships will be held at the LSE Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method which will also provide facilities for the Fellows.
And also, to make thinks more interesting:
Notes for prospective candidates: The LSE Lakatos Archive contains Lakatos’s notes and working papers dating from 1945 and other personal documents, including his correspondence from 1956 with some 1000+ correspondents including Agassi, Carnap, Feyerabend, Kalmar, Koestler, Kuhn, Polanyi, Polya, Popper, Quine, Szabo, Tarski, and many other figures of the philosophical, intellectual and academic establishments of the time.
I think this is an interesting opportunity for a good candidate willing to go a little deeper on the ideas of Lakatos. Since I really knew very little about them, except for a few glimpses from memory about this philosopher, I checked out a Wikipedia article on him, which has a nice summary of his life and ideas.
An interesting passage is:
For Lakatos, what we think of as a ‘theory’ may actually be a succession of slightly different theories and experimental techniques developed over time, that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called such changing collections ‘Research Programmes’. The scientists involved in a programme will attempt to shield the theoretical core from falsification attempts behind a protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses. Whereas Popper was generally regarded as disparaging such measures as ‘ad hoc’, Lakatos wanted to show that adjusting and developing a protective belt is not necessarily a bad thing for a research programme. Instead of asking whether a hypothesis is true or false, Lakatos wanted us to ask whether one research programme is better than another, so that there is a rational basis for preferring it.
So would the conception of a theory be a limiting process? I do not refer here to the process of developing a theory per se, like the struggling years that took Einstein to construct his general theory of relativity. But to the behaviour of paradigm shift: would it be a limiting process, even though sometimes pumby, uneven?
More links on Lakatos:
- Science and Pseudoscience: you can hear the mp3 file or read the transcript.
- Lakatos award: given for an outstanding contribution to the philosophy of science, widely interpreted, in the form of a book published in English during the previous six years. (From this site I have learned about an interesting book, whose author was awarded part of the 2006 Lakatos prize — Harvey Brown, Professor of Philosophy of Physics, University of Oxford, for his book Physical Relativity: Space-time Structure from a Dynamical Perspective).