Imre Lakatos was a philosopher of mathematics and science who owes his fame today to his theories about the fallibility of mathematics and its ‘methodology of proofs and refutations’. He also contributed to the field of philosophical science with his famous concept about the ‘research programme’ and its contribution to scientific progress.
His philosophical contribution to the realm of science through his concept of the ‘research programme’ is significant as he sought to solve the dilemma regarding the correct methods through which to assess new scientific theories which is without doubt crucial for the validation of those particular scientific concepts. Lakatos’ idea of the ‘research programme’ helped direct the discourse of scientific philosophy towards effective justification and thereby convincing validation of its empirical evidence which is essential for the credibility of science as a whole.
Lakatos’s ‘research programme’ notion sought initially to resolve the conflict between the theories of two scientists: Kuhn and Popper. Popper’s theory of refutability or falsifiability rests on the simple belief that anything can be proven false through observation or scientific experiment. This means that anything can be proven false through research and experiments which does however not imply that everything is false but just that it is possible to be proven as such. Popper went very far in contesting scientific views.
For instance and despite his great admiration for Darwin he claimed that the latter’s theories were not scientific theories but metaphysical research programmes in evolution, meaning the findings of it are still open to critical assessment and refutation: “I have come to the conclusion that Darwinism is not a testable scientific theory, but a metaphysical research programme- a possible framework for testable scientific theories… One might say that it “almost predicts” a great variety of life. In other field its predictive or explanatory power is still more disappointing”(Rosenberg, p.
302) Kuhn on the other hand believed that science consisted of these periods or phases of critical assessment during which scientists should continue holding their beliefs against all criticism. Lakatos explains this in his book Criticism and the growth of knowledge: “Indeed for Kuhn the transition from criticism o commitment marks the point where progress- and “normal” science- begins. For him the idea that on ‘refutation’ one can demand the rejection, the elimination of a theory, is ‘naive’ falsificationism.
Criticism of the dominant theory and proposals of new theories are only allowed in the rare moments of ‘crisis’. ”(Lakatos, Musgrave p. 93)This meant that he regarded it essential for a good scientist to hold to his own views and not let other theories shake his certainty whereas Popper did not regard any scientific theory as factual and explained that anything is liable to be shown as false through experiment and research. Lakatos attempted to resolve this problem and with that increase scientific progress.
Lakatos tried to find a way through which to reconcile Popper’s and Kuhn’s seemingly contradictory views because he wanted scientific progress to be rational and valid which could only be achieved if the scientific experiments and continuously new researches conducted were based on a verifiable and logical foundation that gave validity and credibility to them. Lakatos believed that a consistency with historical research was essential to achieve this. Theory to him was just a combination of previously discovered theories that were developed over time.
What made them all linked to form this whole was the ‘hard core’ or the common idea that they shared. ‘Research Programme’ to Lakatos was thus this changing and developing notion of ideas. Lakatos also revised Popper’s theory of falsifiability by arguing that it was not bad for scientists to develop a protective shield or belt for their research. He based this statement on the belief that it would be better to not focus all the attention on whether a hypothesis is true or false but rather on whether the research programme through which that hypothesis was developed, is good or not.
To establish the credibility of the different research programmes he distinguished between the various research programmes he developed and tried to establish which one was better. Lakatos mentioned two types of research programmes. Te progressive research programme is, as the name might indicate, in constant growth and development whereas the degenerating research programme is stagnant. The theories and scientific findings within the degenerating research programme are usually overly protected and this leads to the lack of new findings or critical assessment.
This is how Lakatos managed to reconcile both the views of Kuhn and Popper while contributing significantly to the process of credible enhancement of the new scientific findings which ultimately meant that he was able as a scientific philosopher to find a way to strengthen the area of science through validating the methods of scientific research. Lakatos also asserted that progress in science is ensured through what he called scientific revolutions. He stated that scientific change should be explained in rational terms rather than psychological and sociological terms as Kuhn believed.
He also proved through tracing the evolvement of scientific theories that almost all new findings start as vague and incomprehensible new data and ideas that are only developed into coherent and convincing statements through the use of reason and continuous scientific research. These scientific theories are thus only able to grow in the light of the research programs that help back their process of development and growth through providing suggestions and advice on the accurate and most effective methods through which to develop and strengthen.
This aim is usually achieved by the research programmes because they are themselves based on experience with a strong historical background comprising all the old theories that are linked together through the ‘hard core’ or the common idea between them. Lakatos notion of the ‘research programme’ is thus based on a few essential concepts. First of all there is the ‘hard core’ that has already been mentioned and that comprises the common idea or the general concept that makes up a certain research programme.
In addition to this there is the protective belt that consists of what he termed as auxiliary assumptions and statements that can be changed even if they are part of the research programme. This whole theory is well explained by A. F. Chalmers in his book What is this thing called Science? “Any inadequacy in the match between an articulated program and observation is to be attributed to the supplement assumptions rather than the hard core. Lakatos referred to the sum of the additional hypotheses supplementing the hardcore as the protective belt, to emphasize its role of protecting the hard core from falsification.
According to Lakatos (1970, p. 133) the hard core is rendered unfalsifiable by “the methodological decisions of its protagonists”. By contrast, assumptions in the protective belt are to be modified in an attempt to improve the match between the predictions of the program and the results of observation and experiment. “(Chalmers, p. 132) Thereby the research programme is also based on the notions of positive and negative heuristics. The positive heuristic is made up of rough principles that attempt to change the protective belt while the negative heuristic states that the hard core of the research program should remain the same.
Lakatos theory of research programmes deals with the theme of scientific growth through the different types of programmes that are in a constant state of competition to better themselves. His theory gives, as has been mentioned before, credit to the historical perspective. Experience and previous scientific findings are thus very important in all scientific theories including Lakatos’. What also makes Lakatos’ research program theory so significantly essential to the development of scientific research as a whole is its assessment of the validity of those research programmes based on certain criteria that they had to comply to.
The program had to be progressive and in constant change and development through the introduction of new scientific findings and research while remaining coherent in order to continue being one research program based on one hard core or general concept. This methodology leads to scientific theories that approach the ultimate truth with the increase and discovery of more scientific research. This was his way of guaranteeing accuracy and continuity of research and thus ensuring scientific progress.
In fact, his concept of the research programme has revolutionized the domain of scientific research because Lakatos was eager to create a method that ensures the objectivity of scientific research. As James Ladyman put it in his book Understanding Philosophy of Science: “The scientific method is supposed to be rational, and to give us objective knowledge of the world. To say that scientific knowledge is objective means that it s not the product of individual whim, and it deserves to be believed by everyone, regardless of their other beliefs and values.
“(Ladyman, p. 93) The research programme is a method of scientific research that guarantees objectivity and therefore credibility of scientific development because it is comprised of competitive programs that seek constant change and new findings while basing themselves on one common factor to facilitate the flow of information and allow for historical experience and a variety of views to affect the discourse of the research. Various authors have since then contested or analyzed the views of Lakatos. A. F.
Chalmers in his book What is this thing called Science? states in the first chapter of how academic work that Lakatos was right in asserting that the common views don’t accommodate or encompass all the dimensions of science because the philosophy of science is concerned with answering questions in constant development and change corresponding to new data that continues to be found on almost a daily basis. Change is he key and understanding the source of the problem is essential to ensure direction towards right and effective change.
But change is only successful if a certain scientific objectivity is applied that ensures an inclusion of diverse opinions, findings and critical assessments to guarantee truth. Lakatos’ research programme theory provides scientists with that objectivity and certainty to conduct research in an atmosphere of competition and development backed by historical data, rationality and experience. Chalmers discusses the importance of science in answering philosophical questions related to human life and the design of the universe.
He presents Lakatos’ views in chapter nine of his book and through linking the importance of correct scientific knowledge to the enhancement of human knowledge and understanding he manages to give critical importance to Lakatos’ views about the research programme that in many ways, as has been shown, reconciles between the previously opposing and dominant scientific research theories of Popper and Kuhn. This reconciliation between the opposing views of falsifiability and ‘protectivism’ is without doubt very important to the realm of scientific research.
We rarely stop to reflect on whether our theories and beliefs are factual and completely correct. Religious people will recount stories of angels and God and the devil as if they had witnessed all these things with their eyes. The same thing can be said of those who recite scientific statements that have come to be part of daily life. ‘The earth revolves around the Sun and human beings evolved from animals. ’ Human beings believe in all these things because they have heard them from their fellow people.
We don’t however swallow whatever we hear. Most people will be for instance more inclined to use medicine than to resort to witchcraft for medical purposes. (Ladyman p. 13-14) This is interesting to observe because it raises the question of what exactly makes a certain aspect of life more factual than the other. To some the answer lies in the book of God while to others scientific research is the only real truth of life. The importance of the objectivity and effectiveness of scientific methodology is hence very important.
Keeping in mind that anything is contestable and in need of both historical data as well as new findings to grow, is essential to ensure this scientific objectivity. “The hallmark of dogmatic falsificationism is then the recognition that all theories are equally conjectural. Science cannot prove any theory. But although science cannot prove, it can disprove… Scientific honesty then consists of specifying, in advance, an experiment such that if the result contradicts the theory, the theory has to be given up”(Lakatos, Musgrave p.96)
Bibliography. Balashov, Yuri. Rosenberg, Alexander. Philosophy of science: contemporary readings. Routledge, 2002. Page 302. Chalmers, Alan Francis. What is this thing called science? University of Queensland Press, 1999. Page 132 Lakatos, Imre. Musgrave, Alan. Criticism and the growth of knowledge. Cambridge University Press, 1970. Page 93 Ladyman, James. Understanding philosophy of science. Routledge, 2002. Page 13-14 Ladyman, James. Understanding philosophy of science. Routledge, 2002. Page 93
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