Preface to Karácsony’s evaluation of Lakatos’s doctoral thesis
Lakatos took his doctoral examination on the 1st July, 1947. He answered the following questions:
  • Philosophy:

  • Scientific conceptualization in presocratic philosophers.
    Modern times: the intrusion of social and historical into scientific concepts.
    The system of scientific concepts in Descartes.
    Optimism in the rising and pessimism in the declining capitalist literature.
  • Physics:

  • Conservation of mass. Materialization, annihilation.
    The experimental bases of relativity theory.
    Mechanistic world view and causality.
    Quantum theory and natural philosophy. Elements from Schrödinger’s theory.
  • Mathematics:

  • Different (and still identical) definitions of complex functions and their analycities.
    Isolated singularities and related theorems. The principle of analytic continuation.
    Measure theory of point sets according to Jordan: Lebesque-type generalization.
    The notion of measurable functions. Blaire-type function classes.
    He received the “excellent” grade for every answer.

    His doctoral thesis was entitled “On the Sociology of Scientific Concept Building”. The dissertation had two opponents: Sándor Karácsony, who was a very popular philosophy professor at Debrecen University at that time, and he was the most influential teacher of Lakatos (besides the later world-famous Árpád Szabó). The other opponent was Ottó Varga, professor of mathematics.

    We have two evaluations from Karácsony. The first one was enclosed with the dissertation when it was handed in. In this document Karácsony tells us that the dissertation consists of three independent parts: The first part is nearly identical with the text of the paper Modern Physics, Modern Society. In the second part Lakatos deals with the “sociology of knowledge”, lead by the ideas of Scheler and Mannheim. The third part (most important and most fundamental, according to Karácsony) discusses scientific concept building as a relation between nature and the social system.

    Here is presented a literary translation of the document that contains Karácsony’s second evaluation read out at the University Session at 8 July, 1947. (Kept in the archives of the Debrecen University Library, file XXVI. - 3/b, 217/1947-48.) The text also summarizes Lakatos’s intellectual activities at the time of his doctoral studies. Explanations are given as endnotes.

    I would like to thank Dezsõ Gurka for hunting up the original documents concerning the dissertation, and László Ropolyi for helping with the information in endnotes.


    from the Record for the 15th Session of the Faculty of Humanities, Debrecen University, held on 8 July 1947.
    No. 182

    Dr. Sándor Karácsony, full university professor, presents the following proposal: “Honoured Faculty! In our university, Imre Lakatos took the doctoral examination on 1 July of present year with summa cum laude [1] qualification, of philosophy as main subject and mathematics and theoretical physics as secondary subjects [2]. The topic of his dissertation is: “The socio-historical aspects of scientific concept building” [3]. Both the dissertation and the oral examination proved that the candidate’s knowledge is rich, at high quality, above the average.

    I got interested in the foregoing scientific activities of this young man, partly because I read most of them soon after they were published, partly because my fellow opponent [4] formed the opinion at the oral exam that, as it was wished and asked by the candidate, he would be appointed to sub laurea Almae Matris [5] doctor. At this moment I can see all of Imre Lakatos’s work in unity, and I deem that it comes up to the standard. His dissertation is not based on sudden idea, it was matured by two previous publications, both published in very serious journals. The first in Athenaeum [6], under the title “Physical idealism” [7], and the second came out in a thick volume written to teachers: ”Further education and democracy” [8], entitled “Modern physics, modern society” [9]. He published most of his papers in Valóság [10], in the following temporal order: “Molnár Erik: Dialectics”, “Citoyen and working class” [11]. The latter is a dispute with Imre Csécsey’s book, the “Enlightened moment” [12]. Both essays are much more than a simple book review. In the first you can read corrections of this kind: “It’s not a mere coincidence that Molnár is fighting against the physical vulgar-materialism, when the fight against the Jeansian physical idealism is so timely now.” - so he has this purpose to repeat in its original form the proletariat’s message which is distorted by the censorship into an esoteric jargon. The other essay becomes more than a review even by its form. It is a polemic divided into four chapters between the radical citizens and the proletariat, in which polemic the author takes part at the latter side. He is answered by Imre Csécsey who respects his adversary as someone at his own level. The situation is the same in their second polemic. In the journal Forum Lakatos examines the role of Huszadik század [13] in the past, and he criticises its role in the present. Csécsey, the editor of the magazine [14] gives his reflection to this article in the same magazine, and it is evident from his style that he feels a high respect towards the young author. Valóság also published another paper by Imre Lakatos, entitled “Eötvös College - Györffy College” [15]. This essay has provoked a lively debate from many of former and present members of Eötvös College (Valóság, Március Tizenötödike, and twice the Válasz, also twice Szabad Nép, Tiszatáj, Köznevelés, Ember-nevelés) [16], but this debate has been wholesome and fertile, and even when they expressed strong opposition to the motivating essay, they didn’t despise or revile it. This article is a criticism of the past and present education, though it is a bit biased, meaning that it is slightly dogmatic, class-struggle minded, and it demands today’s aspects already from yesterday, but it is consequent, high-standard and moderate.

    The journal Embernevelés [17] also published a paper by Lakatos, which had the title: “Democratic education and scientific world view” [18]. Its most essential statement is: democratic education teaches humbleness towards the facts, it teaches the desire to face reality instead of mere views. The original democracy of natural sciences is to be emphasised: their facts and theories can be controlled by anyone, and this control drives them forward.

    The foregoing scientific works of Imre Lakatos are based on dialectic Marxism, but in its modern and not in the orthodox form [19]. And it is only a base, since he himself has original and particular things to say, and more now than earlier. His originality is increasing. The philosophy behind all his opinions is consistent and systematic. [20] Considering all that has been said I recommend him warm-heartedly for the sub laurae Almae Matris doctoral degree.”

    The Faculty accepts the proposal and, as Imre Lakatos satisfies all the demands and conditions prescribed by the related instructions and by the Faculty itself, the doctoral appointment of Imre Lakatos is submitted to the Council.

    This extract is authentic:

    Debrecen, 12 July 1947.


    1. summa cum laude: it means that the candidate received the best possible grade from every subject.

    2. There was a rule that every philosophy student had to choose aesthetics and pedagogy as secondary subjects for the doctoral examination. Ottó Varga, however, filed a petition with the Faculty (on the 30th of May, 1947) that Lakatos be allowed to take mathematics and physics, because "the subject of his dissertation belongs to natural philosophy, which is a border field between physics and mathematics".

    3. As we know, the real title was “On the sociology of scientific concept building” [In Hungarian: A természettudományos fogalomalkotás szociológiájához].

    4. Ottó Varga.

    5. sub laurea Almae Matris: it means that both the exam and the dissertation were summa cum laude.

    6. Athenaeum: Philosophical journal of the Hungarian Philosophical Society and the Hungarian Academy of Sciences

    7. The real title is “Criticism of the physical idealism” [A fizikai idealizmus birálata].

    8. [Továbbképzés és demokrácia] This volume consisted of a collection of scientific and philosophical papers written for teachers.

    9. [Modern fizika - modern társadalom]

    10. “Reality”: A journal for social sciences.

    11. [Molnár Erik: Dialektika and Citoyen és munkásosztály]

    12. [A világos pillanat] Imre Csécsey was the president of the Hungarian Radical Party.

    13. “Twentieth Century”: An old journal for social sciences.

    14. This is a mistake: Imre Csécsey was never an editor of Fórum.

    15. [Eötvös kollégium - Györffy kollégium] These colleges represented two very different kinds of educational institutes in Hungary. The Eötvös College was (and is) an exclusive and elitist educational institute, while Györffi College presented a high quality popular education. Lakatos suggested that Eötvös College be transformed following the model of Györffy College, because Hungary needs a new kind of popular elite.

    16. The English titles of these journals are: “Reality”, “Fifteenth of March”, “Reply”, “Free People”, “Tisza-country” “Common Education”, “Human Education”.

    17. “Human Education”: A journal for pedagogy.

    18. [Demokratikus nevelés és természettudományos világnézet]

    19. By the “modern” form of Marxism Karácsony probably means Lukács’s philosophy.

    20. On the other had, Karácsony writes in his other evaluation: “In Imre Lakatos’s thinking there is not much systematic character yet, and there is a very lively intuition. (Why, he is so afraid of it!)”