Volume 55, Issue 3, 2018
William T. Lynch
Imre Lakatos and the Inexhaustible Atom
The Hidden Marxist Roots of History and Philosophy of Science
Recent work on Imre Lakatos’s missing Hungarian dissertation on the historical sociology of science sheds new light on his mature philosophy of science. Remembered primarily as an “internalist” defender of the autonomy of science, and a Cold Warrior in politics, commentators have mistaken his contribution as primarily a rearguard action against the followers of Thomas Kuhn and the “externalists” influenced by Boris Hessen. It comes as a surprise, then, to find that he developed and retained a fully general sociology of scientific knowledge, with Marxist roots that articulated Lenin’s “inexhaustible atom.” He carried forward this emphasis on the fallible, changing, and incomplete nature of our engagement with the natural world by a dialectical account of how research programs advance and recede historically. In his effort to develop a synthesis of Popper and Kuhn, and via his engagement with Paul Feyerabend, he continued to develop a distinctly dialectical approach to science.