In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Imre Lakatos

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Politics
  • Philosophy and History of Natural Sciences

Philosophy Imre Lakatos
Brendan Larvor, Colin Jakob Rittberg
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 August 2020
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 August 2020
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195396577-0205


Imre Lakatos (b. 1922–d. 1974) was a philosopher of mathematics and science. Having left Hungary in 1956, he made his first appearance on the international stage with a series of four papers during 1963 and 1964 in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science, later published together posthumously in Proofs and Refutations (1976), in which he discusses the formation of mathematical concepts by proof-analysis. This radical break with classical approaches to the philosophy of mathematics attracted sufficient interest that Kitcher and Aspray deem Lakatos to have started a new and “maverick” tradition in the field (“An Opinionated Introduction,” in History and Philosophy of Modern Mathematics, 1988). By 1959, Lakatos had become an assistant lecturer in the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method at the London School of Economics and Political Science. This department was still under the direction of its founder, Karl Popper, and Lakatos’s evolving and ultimately antagonistic relations with Popper and the Popperians conditioned much of his work. The chief part of this work was a series of influential papers on the philosophy of science. These are included in the two books of his work that two of his former students, John Worrall and Gregory Currie, published after his death (Lakatos 1978a and Lakatos 1978b, cited under Posthumously Published). In 1974, Lakatos died of a heart attack, leaving his projects in philosophy of science and mathematics incomplete.

General Overviews

Lakatos’s philosophy played a seminal role in the debates about science of the 1960s and 1970s. However, few philosophers of science adopted Lakatos’s methodology of scientific research programs wholesale (see Lakatos), and he did not found a school of philosophy of mathematics. Larvor 1998 gives an accessible introduction to Lakatosian philosophy. The papers in Cohen, et al. 1976 add up to a comprehensive picture of the problems and insights of his philosophy, while Fox 1981 is a critical answer to the volume. Feyerabend 1975 criticizes Lakatos’s philosophy of science from the point of view of a personal friend and a philosophical rival. Kadvany 2001 develops its thought while taking his political life into consideration, whereas Jha 2006 stresses the influence of the Hungarian school of mathematics on him. Technical critique can be found in Agassi 2002 (cited under Philosophy and History of Social Sciences). Kampis, et al. 2002 shows how his philosophy was received by contemporaries and those who followed, and can be considered essential. Bandy 2009 is an exhaustive biography. Musgrave and Pigden 2016 is an encyclopedic introduction to Lakatos’s life and thought.

  • Bandy, Alex. Chocolate and Chess (Unlocking Lakatos). Budapest: Akadémiai Kiadó, 2009.

    Exhaustively researched biography, with particular focus on Lakatos’s political life in Hungary. Includes material on the death of Éva Izsák. The subtitle is a Hungarian pun; lakatos means “locksmith.”

  • Cohen, Robert S., Paul K. Feyerabend, and Marx W. Wartofsky, eds. Essays in Memory of Imre Lakatos. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Reidel, 1976.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-010-1451-9

    This extensive collection of essays contains papers by Lakatos’s friends, his former students, and his philosophical allies and enemies. The articles treat his three main interests, philosophy of science, philosophy of mathematics, and politics, and their underlying current: rationality. In the preface, the authors write “[Lakatos] was a person to love and to struggle with,” and this is what this book does.

  • Feyerabend, Paul. “Imre Lakatos.” British Journal for the Philosophy of Science 26 (1975): 1–18.

    DOI: 10.1093/bjps/26.1.1

    Feyerabend offers a personal view. He argues that, in spite its flaws, the methodology of scientific research programs is a research program in the history of science, and it will yield more detail and insight than its rivals can offer. He summarized Lakatos’s approach thus: “If reason is to have a point of attack in this world . . . it must be both sly and sophisticated” (p. 1).

  • Fox, John. “Critical Notice: Appraising Lakatos.” Australasian Journal of Philosophy 59.1 (1981): 92–103.

    This is a critical note on Cohen, et al. 1976 that presents some of Lakatos’s ideas. Available online for purchase or by subscription.

  • Jha, Stefania Ruzsits. “Hungarian Studies in Lakatos’ Philosophies of Mathematics and Science—Editor’s Introduction.” In Special Issue: Hungarian Studies on Imre Lakatos. Edited by Stefania Jha. Perspectives on Science 14.3 (2006): 257–263.

    DOI: 10.1162/posc.2006.14.3.257

    This article is included here as a representative of the whole special issue of Perspectives on Science, which deals with Lakatos. Jha criticizes Koetsier 1991 (see Methodology of Mathematical Research Programs) for underestimating the influence that people like Kalmár, Szabó, Karácsony, and Pólya had on Lakatos, and she puts him in the historical context of the Hungarian school of mathematics.

  • Kadvany, John. Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason. Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2001.

    DOI: 10.1215/9780822380443

    Like Bandy 2009, Kadvany’s book on Lakatos explores the political and intellectual history of mid-century Hungary. The book presents his thought as shaped by Marxist Hegelian themes. It has three sections: first, a reprise of Kadvany 1989 (cited under Philosophy and History of Mathematics); second, philosophy of science (including a chapter on classical economics); and third, Hungary. On pp. 294–295 there is a table mapping elements of Lakatos’s thought to ideas in Hegel and/or Marx.

  • Kampis, György, Ladislav Kvasz, and Michael Stöltzner, eds. Appraising Lakatos: Mathematics, Methodology and the Man. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Kluwer Academic, 2002.

    DOI: 10.1007/978-94-017-0769-5

    This collection records workshops on Lakatos held in 1997 in Vienna and Budapest. It includes contributions from Hungarian contemporaries, colleagues, and students from his time at the London School of Economics; scholars working on his life and philosophy; and philosophers of science and mathematics. It also includes early photographs of Lakatos supplied by Éva Pap and an English translation of Lakatos 1947a (cited under Political Writings).

  • Lakatos.

    This website by the London School of Economics includes a brief introduction to Lakatos and a variety of useful links, as well as audio recordings from two lectures he gave.

  • Larvor, Brendan. Lakatos: An Introduction. London and New York: Routledge, 1998.

    This introduction to Lakatos discusses his life, his philosophy of mathematics, and his philosophy of science. Larvor brings to the surface the Hegelian undertone in his philosophy, discusses the limitations of the methodology of scientific research programs, and considers his scholarly reception.

  • Musgrave, Alan, and Charles Pigden. “Imre Lakatos.” In The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Edited by Edward N. Zalta. Stanford, CA: Stanford University, 2016.

    This entry contains brief discussions of Lakatos’s life, of his main philosophical ideas, his publications, and his debate with Feyerabend. It provides an accessible introduction to Lakatos as a philosophical figure and gives a broad overview over the most salient features of his thought and their criticisms.

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