, Volume 7, Issue 4, pp 385-409

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

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Abstract

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.

Parts of this paper are extracted from a longer work which concerns the interactions between philosophy and science throughout Haldane's scientific career (Sarkar forthcoming). The general conclusions reached here, from a consideration of Haldane's work only from 1922 to 1937 (see Section 6), remain the same for the rest of his life, as is detailed in the longer work. Thanks are due to R. S. Cohen, J. F. Crow, A. R. Fersht, J. Maynard Smith, R. C. Olby, D. Paul, M. Ruse, J. Stachel and S. Sturdy for helpful discussions and comments and criticism of the positions outlined in this paper. This is Contribution No. BTBG-92-4 from the Theoretical Biology Group, Boston University.