our usual idea of corroboration as requiring the successful prediction of novel facts...Darwinian theory was not strong on temporally novel predictions. ... however familiar the evidence and whatever role it played in the construction of the theory, it still confirms the theory.
Lakatos was born Imre (Avrum) Lipschitz to a Jewish family in Debrecen, Hungary in 1922. He received a degree in mathematics, physics, and philosophy from the University of Debrecen in 1944. In March 1944 the Germans invaded Hungary and Lakatos along with Éva Révész, his then-girlfriend and subsequent wife, formed soon after that event a Marxist resistance group. In May of that year, the group was joined by Éva Izsák, a 19-year-old Jewish antifascist Activist. Lakatos, considering that there was a risk that she would be captured and forced to betray them, decided that her duty to the group was to commit suicide. Subsequently, a member of the group took her to Debrecen and gave her cyanide.
Lakatos's own key examples of pseudoscience were Ptolemaic astronomy, Immanuel Velikovsky's planetary cosmogony, Freudian psychoanalysis, 20th century Soviet Marxism, Lysenko's biology, Niels Bohr's Quantum Mechanics post-1924, astrology, psychiatry, sociology, neoclassical economics, and Darwin's theory.
After the war, from 1947 he worked as a senior official in the Hungarian ministry of education. He also continued his education with a PhD at Debrecen University awarded in 1948, and also attended György Lukács's weekly Wednesday afternoon private seminars. He also studied at the Moscow State University under the supervision of Sofya Yanovskaya in 1949. When he returned, however, he found himself on the losing side of internal arguments within the Hungarian communist party and was imprisoned on charges of revisionism from 1950 to 1953. More of Lakatos' activities in Hungary after World War II have recently become known. In fact, Lakatos was a hardline Stalinist and, despite his young age, had an important role between 1945 and 1950 (his own arrest and jailing) in building up the Communist rule, especially in cultural life and the academia, in Hungary. Preceding his fleeing to Vienna he confessed he has worked as an informer of State Protection Authority.
After the Soviet Union invaded Hungary in November 1956, Lakatos fled to Vienna, and later reached England. He received a PhD in philosophy in 1961 from the University of Cambridge; his thesis advisor was R. B. Braithwaite. The book Proofs and Refutations: The Logic of Mathematical Discovery, published after his death, is based on this work.
Lakatos never obtained British citizenship. In 1960 he was appointed to a position in the London School of Economics, where he wrote on the philosophy of mathematics and the philosophy of science. The LSE philosophy of science department at that time included Karl Popper, Joseph Agassi and J. O. Wisdom. It was Agassi who first introduced Lakatos to Popper under the rubric of his applying a fallibilist methodology of conjectures and refutations to mathematics in his Cambridge PhD thesis.
On its first publication as a paper in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science in 1963–4, Proofs and Refutations became highly influential on new work in the philosophy of mathematics, although few agreed with Lakatos' strong disapproval of formal proof. Before his death he had been planning to return to the philosophy of mathematics and apply his theory of research programmes to it. Lakatos, Worrall and Zahar use Poincaré (1893) to answer one of the major problems perceived by critics, namely that the pattern of mathematical research depicted in Proofs and Refutations does not faithfully represent most of the actual activity of contemporary mathematicians.
With co-editor Alan Musgrave, he edited the often cited Criticism and the Growth of Knowledge, the Proceedings of the International Colloquium in the Philosophy of Science, London, 1965. Published in 1970, the 1965 Colloquium included well-known speakers delivering papers in response to Thomas Kuhn's The Structure of Scientific Revolutions.
In a 1966 text published as (Lakatos 1978), Lakatos re-examines the history of the calculus, with special regard to Augustin-Louis Cauchy and the concept of uniform convergence, in the light of non-standard analysis. Lakatos is concerned that historians of mathematics should not judge the evolution of mathematics in terms of currently fashionable theories. As an illustration, he examines Cauchy's proof that the sum of a series of continuous functions is itself continuous. Lakatos is critical of those who would see Cauchy's proof, with its failure to make explicit a suitable convergence hypothesis, merely as an inadequate approach to Weierstrassian analysis. Lakatos sees in such an approach a failure to realize that Cauchy's concept of the continuum differed from currently dominant views.
Lakatos saw himself as merely extending Popper's ideas, which changed over time and were interpreted by many in conflicting ways. In his 1968 paper "Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes", Lakatos contrasted Popper0, the "naive falsificationist" who demanded unconditional rejection of any theory in the face of any Anomaly (an interpretation Lakatos saw as erroneous but that he nevertheless referred to often); Popper1, the more nuanced and conservatively interpreted philosopher; and Popper2, the "sophisticated methodological falsificationist" that Lakatos claims is the logical extension of the correctly interpreted ideas of Popper1 (and who is therefore essentially Lakatos himself). It is, therefore, very difficult to determine which ideas and arguments concerning the research programme should be credited to whom.
In his 1970 paper "History of Science and Its Rational Reconstructions" Lakatos proposed a dialectical historiographical meta-method for evaluating different theories of scientific method, namely by means of their comparative success in explaining the actual history of science and scientific revolutions on the one hand, whilst on the other providing a historiographical framework for rationally reconstructing the history of science as anything more than merely inconsequential rambling. The paper started with his now renowned dictum "Philosophy of science without history of science is empty; history of science without philosophy of science is blind."
In January 1971 he became Editor of the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, which J. O. Wisdom had built up before departing in 1965, and he continued as Editor until his death in 1974, after which it was then edited jointly for many years by his LSE colleagues John W. N. Watkins and John Worrall, Lakatos's ex-research assistant.
Almost 20 years after Lakatos's 1973 challenge to the scientificity of Darwin, in her 1991 The Ant and the Peacock, LSE lecturer and ex-colleague of Lakatos, Helena Cronin, attempted to establish that Darwinian theory was empirically scientific in respect of at least being supported by evidence of likeness in the diversity of life forms in the world, explained by descent with modification. She wrote that
Lakatos and his colleague Spiro Latsis organized an international conference devoted entirely to historical case studies in Lakatos's methodology of research programmes in physical sciences and economics, to be held in Greece in 1974, and which still went ahead following Lakatos's death in February 1974. These case studies in such as Einstein's relativity programme, Fresnel's wave theory of light and neoclassical economics, were published by Cambridge University Press in two separate volumes in 1976, one devoted to physical sciences and Lakatos's general programme for rewriting the history of science, with a concluding critique by his great friend Paul Feyerabend, and the other devoted to economics.
The 1976 book Proofs and Refutations is based on the first three chapters of his four chapter 1961 doctoral thesis Essays in the logic of mathematical discovery. But its first chapter is Lakatos's own revision of its chapter 1 that was first published as Proofs and Refutations in four parts in 1963–4 in The British Journal for the Philosophy of Science. It is largely taken up by a fictional dialogue set in a mathematics class. The students are attempting to prove the formula for the Euler characteristic in algebraic topology, which is a theorem about the properties of polyhedra, namely that for all polyhedra the number of their Vertices minus the number of their Edges plus the number of their Faces is 2: (V – E + F = 2). The dialogue is meant to represent the actual series of attempted proofs which mathematicians historically offered for the conjecture, only to be repeatedly refuted by counterexamples. Often the students paraphrase famous mathematicians such as Cauchy, as noted in Lakatos's extensive footnotes.
However neither Lakatos himself nor his collaborators ever completed the first part of this dictum by showing that in any scientific revolution the great majority of the relevant scientific community converted just when Lakatos's criterion – one programme successfully predicting some novel facts whilst its competitor degenerated – was satisfied. Indeed, for the historical case studies in his 1968 paper "Criticism and the Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes" he had openly admitted as much, commenting 'In this paper it is not my purpose to go on seriously to the second stage of comparing rational reconstructions with actual history for any lack of historicity.'
While Lakatos dubbed his theory "sophisticated methodological falsificationism", it is not "methodological" in the strict sense of asserting universal methodological rules by which all scientific research must abide. Rather, it is methodological only in that theories are only abandoned according to a methodical progression from worse theories to better theories—a stipulation overlooked by what Lakatos terms "dogmatic falsificationism". Methodological assertions in the strict sense, pertaining to which methods are valid and which are invalid, are, themselves, contained within the research programmes that choose to adhere to them, and should be judged according to whether the research programmes that adhere to them prove progressive or degenerative. Lakatos divided these 'methodological rules' within a research programme into its 'negative heuristics', i.e., what research methods and approaches to avoid, and its 'positive heuristics', i.e., what research methods and approaches to prefer. While the 'negative heuristic' protects the hard core, the 'positive heuristic' directs the modification of the hard core and auxiliary hypotheses in a general direction.