Lakatos nasceu com o nome Imre (Avrum) Lipschitz em uma família judia em Debrecen, Hungria em 1922. Graduou-se em matemática, física, e filosofia da Universidade de Debrecen em 1944. ele evitou a perseguição nazista dos judeus mudando seu nome para Imre Molnár. Sua mãe e sua avó morreram em Auschwitz. Ele se tornou um communista ativo durante a Segunda Guerra Mundial. Ele mudou seu sobrenome mais uma vez para Lakatos (serralheiro) em honra de Géza Lakatos.
Lakatos nunca obteve a cidadania britânica, e com efeito permaneceu apátrida
O seu pensamento e propósta de harmonização de idéias conflitantes.
Lakatos’ contribution to the philosophy of science was an attempt to resolve the perceived conflict between Popper’s Falsificationism and the revolutionary structure of science described by Kuhn. Popper’s theory implied that scientists should give up a theory as soon as they encounter any falsifying evidence, immediately replacing it with increasingly ‘bold and powerful’ new hypotheses. However, Kuhn described science as consisting of periods of normal science in which scientists continue to hold their theories in the face of anomalies, interspersed with periods of great conceptual change.
Lakatos sought a methodology that would harmonize these apparently contradictory points of view. A methodology that could provide a rational account of scientific progress, consistent with the historical record.
For Lakatos, what we think of as ‘theories’ are actually groups of slightly different theories that share some common idea, or what Lakatos called their ‘hard core’. Lakatos called these groups ‘Research Programs’. Those scientists involved in the program will shield the theoretical core from falsification attempts behind a protective belt ofauxiliary hypotheses. Whereas Popper generally disparaged such measures as ‘ad hoc’, Lakatos wanted to show that adjusting and developing a protective belt is not necessarily a bad thing for a research program. Instead of asking whether a hypothesis is true or false, Lakatos wanted us to ask whether a research program is progressive or degenerative. A progressive research program is marked by its growth, along with the discovery of stunning novel facts. A degenerative research program is marked by lack of growth, or growth of the protective belt that does not lead to novel facts.
Falsificationism, (Popper‘s theory), proposed that scientists put forward theories and that nature ‘shouts NO’ in the form of an inconsistent observation. According to Popper, it is irrational for scientists to maintain their theories in the face of Natures rejection, yet this is what Kuhn had described them as doing. But for Lakatos, “It is not that we propose a theory and Nature may shout NO rather we propose a maze of theories and nature may shout INCONSISTENT“1. This inconstancy can be resolved without abandoning our Research Program by leaving the hard core alone and altering the auxiliary hypotheses.
One example given is Newton‘s three laws of motion, which define quantities such as force. Within the Newtonian system (research program) these are not open to falsification as they form the programs hard core. This research program provides a framework within which research can be undertaken with constant reference to presumed first principles which are shared by those involved in the research program, and without continually defending these first principles. In this regard it is similar to Kuhn‘s notion of a paradigm.
Lakatos also believed that a research program contained ‘methodological rules’ some that instruct on what paths of research to avoid (he called this the ‘negative heuristic’) and some that instruct on what paths to pursue (he called this the ‘positive heuristic’).
Lakatos claimed that not all changes of the auxiliary hypotheses within research programs (Lakatos calls them ‘problem shifts’) are equally as acceptable. He believed that these ‘problem shifts’ can be evaluated both by their ability to explain apparent refutations and by their ability to produce new facts. If it can do this then Lakatos claims they are progressive2. However if they do not, if they are just ‘ad-hoc‘ changes that do not lead to the prediction of new facts, then he labels them as degenerate.
Lakatos believed that if a research program is progressive, then it is rational for scientists to keep changing the auxiliary hypotheses in order to hold on to it in the face of anomalies. However, if a research program is degenerate, then it faces danger from its competitors, it can be ‘falsified’ by being superseded by a better (i.e. more progressive) research program. This is what he believes is happening in the historical periods Kuhn describes as revolutions and what makes them rational as opposed to mere leaps of faith (as he believed Kuhn took them to be).