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Lakatos, Popper, and Feyerabend: Some Personal Reminiscences Donald Gillies Department of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Talk at UCL on 28 February 2011 Contents 1. Introduction 2. First Meeting with Lakatos 3. Popper and the Popper Seminar 4. The Great Quarrel between Lakatos and Popper 5. Feyerabend at LSE 1. Introduction The aim of this talk is to give some personal reminiscences of three famous philosophers of science whom I had the good fortune to meet while I w
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  Lakatos, Popper, and Feyerabend:Some Personal Reminiscences Donald GilliesDepartment of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Talk at UCL on 28 February 2011 Contents 1. Introduction2. First Meeting with Lakatos3. Popper and the Popper Seminar4. The Great Quarrel between Lakatos and Popper5. Feyerabend at LSE 1. Introduction  The aim of this talk is to give some personal reminiscences of three famous philosophers of science whom I had the good fortune to meet while I was a graduate student working on my PhD. These were Lakatos, Popper and Feyerabend. But how did I come to know thesecharacters? I had better explain the background.In the period 1962-1966, I was an undergraduate at Cambridge. I studied mathematics for 2years and then philosophy for 2 years. My first year of philosophy, which covered generalphilosophy, was therefore the academic year 1964-5. Wittgenstein had already been dead for 13years by that time, but his spirit still haunted Cambridge. One of the lecturers (Michael Tanner)began his course by saying that the premise of his lectures was that Wittgenstein was the greatestgenius of the 20 th century. Note that he regarded Wittgenstein not just as the greatestphilosophical genius, but as the greatest genius of any kind. I spent much of that year reading the Philosophical Investigations  , and one of my contemporaries was rumoured to have learnt the whole work off by heart.My second undergraduate year in philosophy (1965-6) was devoted to Logic and Philosophy of Mathematics and Science. As the academic year drew to its close, I had decided to try to do aPhD in philosophy of mathematics. I therefore read a lot of the recent literature in philosophy of mathematics to try to find an interesting topic to pursue. Of all the papers published on thesubject in the last few years, one stood out as being easily the most brilliant and interesting. Ithink one of my lecturers (Tim Smiley) had recommended that I should read it. It was of course‘Proofs and Refutations’ by Imre Lakatos which was published in the British Journal for the Philosophy of Science  in the years 1963-64. I accordingly formed the plan of doing a PhD onphilosophy of mathematics with Imre Lakatos. I had in mind some further investigation along the lines of Proofs and Refutations. I therefore wrote to Imre Lakatos to ask him if he wouldtake me on as a PhD student. He wrote back suggesting that I should come to see him about it  Lakatos, Popper, and Feyerabend – Some Personal ReminiscencesDonald GilliesDepartment of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Talk at UCL on 28 February 2011 www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/gillies2in the London School of Economics. As this first meeting with Imre Lakatos marked a new erain my life, I will describe it in the next section. 2. First Meeting with Lakatos In the summer of 1966 when I first met Lakatos, he was 43 years old and a lecturer in thedepartment of philosophy at LSE. Yet he had not in fact been a professional academic for very long. This was because Lakatos had first planned to become a politician rather than an academic.Indeed Lakatos once told me that his first ambition had been to become prime minister of Hungary. Some details of his life in Hungary are to be found in Long (2002). In 1940 he startedat the University of Debrecen where he studied mathematics, physics, and philosophy. It wasduring his undergraduate years that he started studying Marxism, and joined the illegalcommunist party. One of Lakatos’ jobs in the party was to teach Marxism to new recruits whooften didn’t know much about it. This he did in an inspiring manner. After the war, thecommunists took power in Hungary, and Lakatos though only 23 became for a while a powerfulofficial. However, Lakatos’ years in power were not long. He suffered the fate of very many communist party officials. In the night of 20 April 1950 he was arrested and transferred to abasement cell of the secret police headquarters. From there he was sent in September to theRecsk forced labour camp, which had been set up on the Stalinist model. He remained a prisonerfor 3 years until 3 September 1953. After his release, it was obvious that his political career wasin ruins. Lakatos got a job as a librarian, and started studying problems connected with theheuristics and development of mathematics. Then in 1956 came the Hungarian revolution, andthe border with the West was opened briefly. Lakatos with his wife and her parents crossed theborder on 25 November having walked 12 miles carrying bags. According to Long (p. 291):“They heard gunfire (the border was rapidly being resealed by that point). The first snow beganto fall.”Once he arrived in the West, however, things went better for Lakatos. He obtained a RockefellerFellowship to do a PhD at King’s College Cambridge on philosophy of mathematics withProfessor Braithwaite. The thesis was completed in 1961, and Lakatos published his famouspaper: ‘Proofs and Refutations’, an extract from the thesis in 1963-4. (Photos of Lakatos getting his PhD and as a Professor at LSE). As soon as I met Lakatos, we plunged into a conversation about philosophy of mathematics andscience. This was the first of many such conversations which often would go on for hours. Whatsurprised me both at the time and later was how well I got on with Lakatos – at least initially,since we quarrelled later. This seemed odd since we had had such different experiences of life. Ionly found out many of the details of Lakatos’ life in Hungary much later, but it was obviousfrom the start that I had led a much more sheltered life than he. Perhaps the secret of ourrapport was just that we had a common interest in the history and philosophy of mathematicsand science.Lakatos was a most entertaining person with whom to discuss philosophy. I remember that atour first meeting, it was not long before I uttered the name: ‘Wittgenstein’. Lakatos immediately replied: “Wittgenstein was the biggest philosophical fraud of the twentieth century.” Naturally, asI was used to the Wittgenstein cult at Cambridge, this statement came as quite a shock to me. SoI replied: “Dr Lakatos, what you say is truly surprising for me because I have just finished writing an essay in which I maintain that there are close links between your concept of mathematical  Lakatos, Popper, and Feyerabend – Some Personal ReminiscencesDonald GilliesDepartment of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Talk at UCL on 28 February 2011 www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/gillies3proof and Wittgenstein’s.” (Initially I addressed Lakatos politely as ‘Dr Lakatos’, but after a few months, he summoned me to his office and uttered the following words: “Donald, I am oldenough to be your father, but still you must call me ‘Imre’.” This I did thereafter. Lakatos was 21years older than me, and so what he said was true, though I could not help reflecting that he didnot greatly resemble my own father.) At my next meeting with Lakatos, he took up the Wittgenstein theme again. He said: “Regarding  Wittgenstein, I looked though my copy of his Remarks on the Foundations of Mathematics  , and I wassurprised to find that I had written enthusiastic notes in the margins. But these notes were written in Hungarian which means that I must have written them ten years ago, just after I hadarrived in England.” What were Lakatos’ opinions at the time of our meeting? There is no doubt in my mind thatLakatos in the first two years I knew him (1966-68) was a sincere admirer of Popper and indeedregarded himself as a loyal follower of Popper. Lakatos probably made contact with Popperquite soon after his arrival in England – though I am not sure exactly when. He read an earlierdraft of Proofs and Refutations at the Popper seminar in March 1959, and in hisacknowledgements to the published version of the paper says (1963-64, p. xii): “The paper should be seen against the background of Pólya’s revival of mathematical heuristic, and of Popper’s critical philosophy.”  It is obvious, moreover, that the full title of the work: Proofs and Refutations. The Logic of   Mathematical Discovery  refers to two of Popper’s most famous books: Conjectures and Refutations  and The Logic of Scientific Discovery  . This is not to say that Popper was the only influence on Lakatos’Proofs and Refutations. There are clear signs of the influence of the philosophies which Lakatoshad studied in Hungary, namely Marxism and Hegelianism.I began working on my PhD with Lakatos in October 1966. The first thing Lakatos told me wasthat I should begin by reading the entire works of Popper, because they were essential. This isanother indication of the great enthusiasm which Lakatos had for Popper’s philosophy at thattime. Initially I objected to this advice on the grounds that I wanted to write a PhD thesis onphilosophy of mathematics and that Popper had written very little on this subject. However,Lakatos quickly disposed of this objection by saying that one could not do philosophy of mathematics properly without a through knowledge of philosophy of science. So I duly startedreading Popper’s works. In fact I had at that time read very little of Popper. I had attended alecture course on philosophy of science in my last year at Cambridge. It was given by HughMellor, then in his first year as a lecturer in the department of philosophy. Hugh Mellor hadrecommended the students on the course not to read Popper. This was symptomatic of the feud which existed at that time between Popper and Cambridge. I was to become all too aware of thisfeud as time passed. Despite Hugh Mellor’s recommendations, I read one small piece of Popperat Cambridge, namely Chapter V of  the Logic of Scientific Discovery  , entitled: ‘The Problem of theEmpirical Basis’. I remember thinking when I began the chapter that it would probably not bemuch good, but that I would look through it for the sake of completeness in the reading I wasdoing for my essay. To my surprise, I found the chapter extremely interesting and impressive. Itput forward a view on the subject which was new to me, and was quite different from what I hadbeen expecting. Still, until Lakatos gave his orders, I had not followed up on this initialfavourable impression. However, in obedience to Lakatos, I started reading Popper carefully, andsoon found myself completely enchanted by Popper’s philosophy.  Lakatos, Popper, and Feyerabend – Some Personal ReminiscencesDonald GilliesDepartment of Science and Technology Studies, University College London Talk at UCL on 28 February 2011 www.ucl.ac.uk/sts/gillies4I will return to Lakatos later, but it is time now to introduce another character of our drama. I was the PhD student of Lakatos when I arrived in the LSE philosophy department, but Lakatos was by no means the dominant figure in the department at that time. Lakatos, and everyone elsein the department, was very much in awe of the commanding figure of Popper. In the nextsection I will describe Popper and his activities in 1966 when I first got to know him. 3. Popper and the Popper Seminar In the autumn of 1966 when I first joined the department of philosophy at LSE as a PhDstudent, Popper was at the height of his fame. He had been knighted the previous year (1965),and, properly speaking, I should refer to him as Sir Karl, but I will continue all the same just tocall him: ‘Popper’. At that time, Popper was 64 years old, Lakatos was 43, and I was 22. So we were representatives of 3 generations of philosophers. Popper lived on the outskirts of Londonin Penn, Buckinghamshire with his wife. They were a devoted couple, but had no children. I visited Popper in his house in Penn on two occasions. It was a pleasant house surrounded by aspacious garden. I think it was also near open country where one could go for walks. However, it was a long way from the centre of London, and Popper only visited LSE on one day a week –  Tuesday. The rest of the time he spent at home working on his research and writing. Popper andLakatos were contrasting personalities, and even in this small initial detail we can see a markeddifference between them. Lakatos enjoyed coming into LSE and socialising with staff andstudents. If anything, Lakatos always seemed rather reluctant to go home in the evening, butthen he had no devoted wife to await him in his bachelor flat. Popper, quite to the contrary, wasreluctant to leave his rural home and to come in to LSE.Because Tuesday was the only day on which Popper visited the department, there was anoticeable air of excitement each Tuesday. Popper always gave a lecture in the morning, and Iattended these for two successive years. Waiting in the lecture hall for Popper to appear was not without some amusement, because a ritual was always performed before the great man enteredthe door. Two of Popper’s research assistants would come into the room before him, open allthe windows, and urge the audience on no account to smoke, while writing: NO SMOKING onthe blackboard. Popper had indeed a very strong aversion to smoking. He claimed that he had a very severe allergy to tobacco smoke, so that inhaling even a very small quantity would make himseriously ill. When his research assistants had reported back that the zone was smoke-free,Popper would enter the room. (Photos of Popper)Popper had a powerful and very deep voice. He always spoke slowly and deliberately, and histone was nearly always serious, even solemn. He also had a very marked Austrian accent. I laterlearnt from Bryan Magee that Popper had a complex about his accent, and was afraid that it would make him appear ridiculous. However, he had no reason for this fear, since, at that time,an Austrian or German accent lent authority to an intellectual in Britain. I think this was becauseof the many talented intellectuals who had fled to Britain to escape the Nazis. The intellectualpower of so many of these refugees led to the common idea that an intellectual with an Austrianor German accent must be a deeper thinker than an intellectual who spoke English with a nativeaccent. There is no doubt that Popper’s slow and serious Austrian tones carried great weight.Once again Popper’s solemn manner was in striking contrast to that of the lively and vivaciousLakatos who spoke rapidly and was always making witty remarks and cracking jokes.
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