Imre lakatos

20th November 2020

Imre Lakatos on Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy

Sophisticated falsificationism

An idea of methodology of science which is able to retain falsification while reducing its limits.

How to make Popperian falsification better?

  1. in science very rarely, if not never we deal with one single theory at a time. We deal with sequences of theories, which in Lakatos constitute a research programme: a set of theories which all agree on something, called the hard core. The hard core is composed by the central theses of the program, which are irrefutable. To belong to this research programme, one needs to agree to its hard core. Often the hard core may even be of a metaphysical type.
  2. The hard core isn’t enough to define a scientific programme: there needs to be a bridge, a link, to a more practical method. Hence, a set of auxiliary hypotheses is defined.

How can we therefore be sure of what we’re actually falsifying? The best you can claim is that you falsify the hard core and the auxiliary hypotheses. By falsifying a research programme, we don’t know whether we falsified the former or the latter. Where to position the falsification?

Therefore, Lakatos introduces negative and positive heuristics:

Negative heuristics

Work with the auxiliary hypotheses only. Defend the righteousness of the hard core. We build then new theories with the same hard core but with different auxiliary hypotheses. We expose to falsification only the auxiliary hypotheses, by protecting in the best possible way the hard core’s principles.

The negative heuristics of the programme forbids us direct the modus tollens at this “hard core”. Instead, we must use our ingenuity to articulate or even invent “auxiliary hypotheses”, which form a protective belt around this core, and we must redirect the modus tollens to these. It is this protective belt of auxiliary hypotheses which has to bear the brunt of tests and gets adjusted and re-adjusted, or even completely replaced, to defend the thus-hardened core.


How do we make these auxiliary +++

Positive heuristics

A heuristics more open to critics, development, and improvements.

The positive heuristics consists of a partially articulated set of suggestions or hints on how to change, develop the “refutable variants” of the research programme, how to modify, sophisticate, the “refutable” protective belt.



Can we make Sophisticated Falsificationism to work as a criterion for demarcation?

To Lakatos, sometimes it is rational to persist with the hard core even with most of the auxiliary hypotheses are discarded.
Science actually behaves in this way.

Now, Newton’s theory of gravitation, Einstein’s relativity theory, quantum mechanics, Marxism, Freudianism, are all research programmes, each with a charateristic hard core stubbornly defended, each with its elaborate problem-solving machinery. Each of them, at any stage of its development, has unsolved problems and suggested anomalies. All theories, in this sense, are born refuted and die refuted. But are they [all] equally good?

S&P, 4-5

How do we distinguish good scientific research programmes from bad ones?

We have ways to distinguish when a research programme is progressive and when it is a degenerating one.

progressive programmes:

  • more empirical content
  • new facts or predictions

degenerating programmes:

  • no novel prediction
  • its novel predictions are false

Among the latters, Marxism: it started off a good footing, but nothing of its major claims was true, according to falsification.

Lakatos looks at history: both progressive and degenerating programmes are viewed in an historical context.

Departures from Popper

  • Lakatos has a more liberal interpretation of demarcation, a more forgiving criterion: if some research program is falsified, is not thrown away for good, but hibernated, until it acquires a new sense and value
  • being scientific is a matter of more or less, in Popper instead is a matter of yes or no
  • The focus is shifted from a logical perspective to an historical one:

    Philosophy of Science without History of Science is empty;
    History of Science without Philosophy of Science is blind.

Philosophy of Science and its Rational Reconstructions, 1971,91

The way in which Lakatos proposes such a shift is some sort of rational reconstruction, a rather idealistic one.
Lakatos started from an ideal structure and then realistically applying it.
Building a strong methodology and afterwards go out and interpret what’s going on in the world. A Hegelian in disguise.

Next topic: Thomas Kuhn



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