The Department was founded in 1946 by Sir Karl Popper and is renowned for doing philosophy in a manner that is both continuous with the sciences and socially relevant. It is widely recognized as a world-leading place for teaching and research in philosophy of the natural and social sciences, logic, moral and political philosophy, epistemology, decision and game theory, and social choice. The Department embodies LSE’s long tradition of analytic, interdisciplinary, and socially engaged philosophy. This tradition, and the fact that to become part of it, all you need is a critical, independent mind-set and a desire to do empirically informed philosophy, is exemplified by some of the world’s leading thinkers and social reformers from diverse backgrounds who have worked or studied at LSE.
Those great thinkers include (among others):
Beatrice Webb (1858 –1943), one of LSE’s founders in 1895, was a self-taught sociologist, economist, labour historian, political philosopher, and social reformer. She participated in Charles Booth’s pathbreaking empirical investigation of the quality of life of working classes in London, and wrote widely on industrial democracy, poverty, and equality between men and women. She also advocated for research-based social reform. For four years, Webb was a member of the Royal Commission on the Poor Laws and Relief of Distress 1905-09, founded by a Conservative government. She disagreed with the Report’s “timid” conclusions, and instead authored the dissenting minority report, which became famous for sketching the outlines of a Welfare State which would: “secure a national minimum of civilised life … open to all alike, of both sexes and all classes, by which we meant sufficient nourishment and training when young, a living wage when able-bodied, treatment when sick, and modest but secure livelihood when disabled or aged.”
Bertrand Russell (1872-1970), one of the founders of analytic philosophy, supported the LSE’s establishment, and lectured here on social democracy in 1895-6 and on the nature of power in 1936-7. He made signal contributions to logic and the foundations of mathematics; he also was a passionate advocate of pacifism and denuclearization, for which he was twice imprisoned. His writings as a public intellectual championing humanitarian ideals and freedom of thought won him the 1950 Nobel Prize for literature.
B.R. Ambedkar (1891-1956) was born into a Dalit—“untouchable”—family in India. The searing instances of exclusion he and other Dalits were subject to motivated him to, in his words, “annihilate” the caste-riven society he was born into. Education was his path to the knowledge and influence he required for this reformist project. He became the first Dalit to enrol in the University of Bombay, where he took a degree in Economics and Political Science. He went on to complete his PhD at LSE, The Problem of the Rupee, in 1923. Ambedkar also devoted considerable time to studying philosophy and law. On his return to India, he joined and came to lead organizations for the independence of India and the liberation of Dalits. Following India’s independence in 1947, he became the country’s first Law minister, and was charged with drafting the Indian Constitution. His philosophical writings, legal acumen, and political action earned him widespread recognition as the “father of the Indian constitution.”
Lionel Robbins (1898 – 1984) was a renowned economist and public servant whose Essay on the Nature and Significance of Economic Science made key contributions to the philosophy of economics, including on the role of empirical confirmation (or disconfirmation) of economic theory, and on questions of the possibility of comparing people’s well-being.
Friedrich Hayek (1899-1992) was a liberal social philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning economist whose work illuminated the concept of “spontaneous order”, or the way in which individuals, acting on their own limited information and their interests, can generate unplanned but reliable patterns of interaction that meet people’s needs efficiently. His work focused not merely on the way markets can do so, but also on the way that social and moral norms can develop “spontaneously”, that is, as a partly unintended product of the free interaction of individuals. He was sceptical of the power of governments to contribute much to social justice beyond their role in guaranteeing basic rights and sustenance. He worked at LSE from 1931 to 1950, and was central in bringing Karl Popper to LSE, and thereby to the creation of the Department of Philosophy, Logic and Scientific Method.
Karl Popper (1902-1994) is widely seen as one of the 20th century’s foremost philosophers of science. Much of his work focused on the question of what distinguishes science from non-science; his famous answer was, in a word: falsifiability. Science embodies a clear commitment to being refuted by empirical observations that do not correspond to its predictions; non-science eschews such refutation. This importance of openness to criticism and revision also characterized his social and political philosophy, which offered an extended, passionate defence of an “Open Society”: a society which respects individuals’ rights, in which policies are based on the best evidence available and always subject to public scrutiny and revision, and in which rational argument is the mode through which individuals seek to resolve their differences.
Imre Lakatos (1922-1974) is another of the great philosophers of science. His work considers in detail that falsification of a scientific hypothesis is not straightforward, because no hypothesis confronts the facts “on its own”; any attempt to test it is in fact a test of an interconnected web of ideas. His famous Methodology of Scientific Research Programmes is a sophisticated account of how scientific research in particular fields can respond productively to predictions that are at odds with empirical findings. Our main building is named after him.
Amartya Sen (b. 1933) is a philosopher and Nobel Prize-winning economist who has made signal contributions to how to conceptualise and measure freedom and quality of life, the definition and measurement of inequality, social choice theory (the theory of how societies should choose among feasible policy options), and to development economics (especially the prevention of famines). He taught at LSE from 1970 to 1977 and is a regular visitor.
Nancy Cartwright (b. 1944) is Professor Emeritus in the Department. She is a renowned philosopher of science whose work focuses on scientific practice to inform debates in the philosophy of science. Cartwright has made key contributions to debates on the laws of nature, causation, the nature and use of models in the natural and social sciences, objectivity and the unity of science. Her recent work focuses on evidence and its use in informing policy decisions.