Review of Philosophical Papers, Volume 1: The Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes

After the enlightenment, people started to seriously make a distinction that how they distinguished what they really knew from what was really going on around them. The actual knowledge, epistemes, were favored over "opinions" or doxa. The debate that surrounded that distinction amid the turmoil of increasing technology and religious unrest eventually flipped around: doxa became the norm with epistemes being questioned as being attainable. With this flip, after the revolution of special and general relativity, scientific theory became the norm rather than dogmatic scientific truth.

The examination of the flip, and the proper aesthetic form that scientific theory can be generated -- namely via scientific method -- is the subject of inquiry in this short but very very dense book. Lakatos examines how different critiques determine how the line should be drawn, be the line negative through the lack of connection between phenomenon or should it be drawn through what degree of unfitting the phenomenon before we should consider the distinction wrong... the distinction that this piece of theory is justifiably an episteme and not doxa? Lakatos basically asks the question, through scientific inquiry: Can we know anything? And if we can, how can we think we know it (or at least feel justified that this is the best we can do)?

In short, this book is pretty packed with terminology and illustrations of those terminologies. To be clear, Lakatos highlights what moves thinkers and scientists made and perhaps why, and what moves they could have made and what meaning they generated distinguished from the meaning they didn't generate. You can imagine how much thinking, research and effort this must have taken. Lakatos also challenges other thinkers of scientific history, naming how their different explanations of scientific movement falls short, miss-explains theories and massages meanings and histories in service of their pet theory. He also explains how his teacher Popper formulated the scientific method through language rather than classical induction and why we should consider science as being more than formulations in language although Popper disagrees -- that scientific theories are only different consistencies in language (surprisingly much like Deleuze and Guattari's plateaus).

At times, Lakatos also slips into the terminology he uses, applies them to other scientific philosophers, although that is dependent on what other researchers think and find and eventually collaborate as well. Lol.

See, really, how we know things is pretty important, and why we should know one it through one theory vs another theory changes how we can coexist together in the final context, to best get along with one another. This is a sophistication far from what people are taught in school as being what a justifiable belief is. In a way, this book is more philosophical than metaphysics, or doxa or opinions... Lakatos is talking about how we might construct a view of the world around us that is reasonable, the most accurate view. Objects of science are assumed to have an existence and consistency independent of what we observe of them. People are also assumed to have an existence and will independent of what we observe of them. So in a way, this too is applicable to people, although we shouldn't experiment on them. What I mean to point out is that the forms of this book can be worked through a variety of life situations, as a kind of guide to how to understand what is going on. Simultaneously, this kind of deep examination is kind of a paranoia, where we need to look into every detail and possibility while also being a kind of hysteria, where we don't know what we are looking at/for... because of course, we deal with the limits of knowability, making it up as we go along... though if Lakatos is right, we only need to follow his general methods.

Really Lakatos falls into the idealist who believes that we can know everything (a positive maybe for Lakatos)... while he can't do science, or at least doesn't in this volume, he can help smoothen the irregularities of how scientific truth can be found out...through a kind of sophisticated justifiability... so we don't waste our time on distinctions that don't make any knowable difference, such as religion or critical theory... but that's really his opinion or doxa... although he hopes you'll find it to be as solid as an episteme. ;).

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Comment by Alexander Lee on April 22, 2014 at 2:19am

John

I was being kind of tongue in cheek.  I haven't read any of his other works, and while there is a small part in this very dense book where he steps out of academic writing to directly ask something to the effect of "can we know anything?  can we know everything?", most of what he writes in this book is to shore up where he stands in relation to others and where he stands different from Karl Popper.

If anything Popper is much more of an idealist than Lakatos in how scientific thought is constructed.. much of what Lakatos says about prediction is largely originated from what Popper says about prediction... you know, I thought that I had put this in the review, but maybe I missed doing so: Lakatos does say "weak induction" is needed for justificationism, whereas Popper says NO INDUCTION is needed.  So yes, I agree, Lakatos is not purely an idealist.  Popper is.

I would also add though, that Lakatos realizes that his writing is doxa, not episteme.  He does hope, and he hopes in a big way, given the amount of rigor and attention in his research, that by outlining how sophisticated justification has worked, should work, and where others followed and others did not, (to borrow Kantian terms) Lakatos writes to narrow the gap between Noumenon and Phenomenon.  In doing so, Lakatos does outline a method for science, one that must take into account distortions in discourse (and integration into existing discourse) that occurs, as he claims, regularly with people's beliefs and with scientist's beliefs in the face of creating theories about how things fit together.  If you take such distortions to be regularly occurring, that is to say, to be structural, you are inevitably writing to highlight the difference between contingency and universality.  Such a difference, if real, is pretty much as close to noumenal as one can get... which oddly enough is what Hegel's dialectics is about.  Absolute knowledge isn't where Total Knowledge = Human Knowledge... Absolute knowledge is the absence of distortion in Human Knowledge, where knowledge is pure consistency... in a way, the horror that pure consistency (be it mathematical, political or a scientific sheet/lifeworld) is all humankind can ever amount to, is what Lakatos finds objectionable in Popper's insistence that the scientific method need not account for any kind of induction.  As an aside, Bill Maher, Bill O'Riley and any other political thought-machine is only meant to highlight consistency REGARDLESS of facts.  An interesting aside I may write about another day... but it leads me say that Bill Maher really is just another Ann Coulter because neither can ever be wrong.

Pure consistency is also what people try to do on the internet, which is why others are suspect of what goes online.  Sounds good, but what are the facts!  What facts are useful and when are they ever?  In a way, we can argue that facts mean nothing, only the consistency that aligns them means anything since that's where meaning is generated.

Anyway, I'm not sure that Lakatos would find this thought useful, as he is a former Hegelian.  Hegel isn't science as it isn't predictive, but then again, neither is the philosophy of science.  

Comment by John McCreery on April 21, 2014 at 2:18am
Hi, Alexander. Thanks for the pointer. Just read the Wikipedia entry on Imre Lakatos, a fascinating man, indeed. But I think you misread him if you see him as an idealist who believes that we can know everything. His most intriguing idea to me is that to count as science, understanding must predict unknown facts. Understanding that only accounts for known facts or deduces the consequences of preconceived assumptions is not science (which rules out, I note with some amusement, he says, Ptolemaic astronomy, sociology, and classical economics).

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