Science & Philosophy in the Soviet Union

Graham, Loren R

Within the Soviet Union in the period since World War II there have been a number of important discussions concerning the relation of dialectical materialism to natural science. Many outside the U.S.S.R. are familiar with the genetics controversy and the part played in it by Lysenko, but few are aware of the details of other debates over relativity physics, quantum mechanics, resonance chemistry, cybernetics, cosmology, the origin of life, and psychophysiology. The present volume, which treats each of these topics in its own full chapter, is a first attempt, an initial sketching-out, of what is the largest, most intriguing nexus of scientific-philosophical-political issues in the twentieth century. The thousands of Soviet books, articles, and pamphlets on dialectical materialism and science contain all sorts of questions deserving discussion. Historians and philosophers of science will long argue over the issues raised in these publications: Were they real issues, or were they only the artificial creations of politics? Did Marxism actually influence the thinking of scientists in the Soviet Union, or were their statements to this effect mere window-dressing? Did the controversies have effects that historians and philosophers of science outside the field of Russian studies must take into account? I have posed tentative answers to these questions, based on information I have been able to obtain in the Soviet Union and elsewhere: Much of this voluminous Soviet discussion was the immediate result of political causes, but the debates have now gone far beyond the political realm into the truly intellectual sphere. The political influence is neither surprising nor unique in the history of science; it is, rather, part of that history. Marxism is taken quite seriously by some Soviet scientists, less seriously by others, disregarded by still others. There is even a category of Soviet philosophers and scientists who take their dialectical materialism so seriously that they refuse to accept the official statements of the Communist Party on the subject; they strive to develop their own dialectical materialist interpretations of nature, using highly technical articles as screens against the censors. Yet these authors consider themselves dialectical materialists in every sense of the term. They are criticized in the Soviet Union not only by those scientists who resist any intimation that philosophy affects their research (a category of scientist that exists everywhere), but also by the official guardians of dialectical materialism, who believe that philosophy has such effects but would leave their definition to the Party intellectual spokesmen. I am convinced that dialectical materialism has influenced the work of some Soviet scientists, that in certain cases these influences helped them to arrive at views that won them international recognition among their foreign colleagues. All of this is important to the history of science in general, and not simply to Russian studies

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