Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason

Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason

Science and Cultural Theory

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Book Pages: 400 Illustrations: 14 photographs, 3 figures Published: April 2001

Author: John Kadvany

History > European History, Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science, Theory and Philosophy > Critical Theory

The Hungarian émigré Imre Lakatos (1922–1974) earned a worldwide reputation through the influential philosophy of science debates involving Thomas Kuhn, Paul Feyerabend, and Sir Karl Popper. In Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason John Kadvany shows that embedded in Lakatos’s English-language work is a remarkable historical philosophy rooted in his Hungarian past. Below the surface of his life as an Anglo-American philosopher of science and mathematics, Lakatos covertly introduced novel transformations of Hegelian and Marxist ideas about historiography, skepticism, criticism, and rationality.
Lakatos escaped Hungary following the failed 1956 Revolution. Before then, he had been an influential Communist intellectual and was imprisoned for years by the Stalinist regime. He also wrote a lost doctoral thesis in the philosophy of science and participated in what was criminal behavior in all but a legal sense. Kadvany argues that this intellectual and political past animates Lakatos’s English-language philosophy, and that, whether intended or not, Lakatos integrated a penetrating vision of Hegelian ideas with rigorous analysis of mathematical proofs and controversial histories of science.
Including new applications of Lakatos’s ideas to the histories of mathematical logic and economics and providing lucid exegesis of many of Hegel’s basic ideas, Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason is an exciting reconstruction of ideas and episodes from the history of philosophy, science, mathematics, and modern political history.


“An important contribution to the literature on Lakatos. It provides significant insights into the background, nature, import and implications of Lakatos’ thought. . . .The most important book that has appeared on Lakatos’ work to date, and it contains much that is novel and of real interest and importance to philosophers and mathematicians. Every university library should have a copy.” — Paul Ernest , Mathematical Reviews

“Extremely stimulating . . . . It should provoke a reevaluation of Lakatos’s work (especially on the history of mathematics), providing an answer to anyone who regards it as philosophically naive. It may also provide a route whereby those for whom German philosophy has been a largely closed book can begin to understand something of Hegel.” — Roger E. Backhouse , History of Political Economy

"Challenging and appealing. . . . Kadvany’s analysis is rich, broad, and articulated. . . . The book is well written, eminently readable, and stands out as a major contribution between the boundaries of continental and Anglo-American philosophy of science and mathematics."
  — Matteo Motterlini , Philosophia Mathematica

"A worthwhile contribution to the history of recent philosophy." — I. Grattan-Guinness , Recensioni

"In Imre Lakatos and the Guises of Reason, John Kadvany demonstrates the overwhelming importance of Lakatos's Hungarian background, and thereby also explains and illuminates Lakatos's philosophy. Kadvany's exposition does much to clarify and explain Lakatos's philosophy, thereby enhancing his reputation and also making his work, much of it still of vital significance, more accessible to a new public." — Jerome R. Ravetz , Inquiry

"John Kadvany has written a brilliant study of the English-language philosophy of Imre Lakatos, which should appeal to scholars interested in the philosophy of science and mathematics, Stalinist Hungary, and Hegelian historical rationality, as well as the individual of Imre Lakatos. Scholars in all subjects should welcome Kadvany's explanation of Lakatos's belief in three overlapping sequences of historical time. Even readers not versed in mathematical proofs and Lakatos's contribution to science, will not be disappointed with this well-written monograph." — John C. Swanson , Central European History

“I have rarely encountered a book with as many fresh and arresting ideas from so many seemingly disparate intellectual and historical contexts. With wit, verve, and concision, Kadvany combines an impressive command of the traditions of philosophy, science, mathematics, and economic theory with an impassioned and insightful mastery of the history of Hungary during the Communist era.” — Martin Jay, University of California, Berkeley

“Not merely a uniquely insightful account of the life and work of one of this century’s most original philosophers, this book provides a glimpse of a vanished intellectual world, that of Middle Europe before the catastrophes. Finding Georg Lukács and Hegel in Lakatos does more than elucidate Lakatos’s thought; it provides us with an entry to a whole different intellectual style. As interpreted by Kadvany, Lakatos functions as a sort of Rosetta Stone to that brilliant but now quite foreign intellectual culture. A brilliant tour de force.” — Jerome Ravetz, author of Scientific Knowledge and Its Social Problems


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

John Kadvany is a Principal at the mangement consulting firm Policy and Decision Science. He has published essays on Lakatos, the philosophy of mathematics, risk, and environmental policy.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Analytic Contents


I. A Mathematical Bildungsroman

1. The Mathematical Present as History

2. The Method of Proofs and Refutations

3. Mathematical Skepticism

4. Between Formal and Informal

5. Reason Inverted

II. A Changing Logic of Scientific Discovery

6. Kuhn, Popper, Feyerabend, Lakatos

7. An Historiographical Toolkit

8. Contradiction and Hindsight

9. Reason in History

10. A Changing Logic

11. Classical Political Economy as a Research Programme

III. Magyarország / Hungary

12. Hungary 1956 and the Inverted World


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Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-2649-6 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-2660-1
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