Biology and Philosophy

, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 385-409

First online:

Science, philosophy, and politics in the work of J. B. S. Haldane, 1922–1937

  • Sahotra SarkarAffiliated withDepartment of Philosophy and Theoretical Biology Group, Boston University

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This paper analyzes the interaction between science, philosophy and politics (including ideology) in the early work of J. B. S. Haldane (from 1922 to 1937). This period is particularly important, not only because it is the period of Haldane's most significant biological work (both in biochemistry and genetics), but also because it is during this period that his philosophical and political views underwent their most significant transformation. His philosophical stance first changed from a radical organicism to a position far more compatible with mechanical materialism. The primary intellectual influence that was responsible for this shift was that of F. G. Hopkins. Later, Haldane came to accept Marxism and its official metaphysics, dialectical materialism, a move that let him accept the materialist conception of the world while still maintaining a resolute distance from mechanism. Throughout all these changes, what is most obvious is the influence of science on Haldane's philosophical views. An influence in the opposite direction is far less apparent.

Key words

Haldane population genetics evolutionary biology science and politics