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Mary Brenda Hesse

Professor of Philosophy of Science, Cambridge

Mary B. Hesse was born on 15 October 1924 in Reigate England. She was educated at the Imperial College of Science and Technology London and received her PhD there in 1948. She also earned a MS from University College London in 1949.

Her university career began as lecturer in mathematics in 1951 at the University of Leeds in England. From 1955 until 1959 she taught at the University of London as a lecturer in the history and philosophy of science. In 1960 she joined Cambridge University England where she was first appointed lecturer in history and philosophy of science. In 1975 she was appointed professor of philosophy of science at Cambridge which she held until the 1990s.

Hesse became familiar to American scholars by accepting invitations to serve as visiting professor at numerous universities in the United States. She was a long-standing member in the following societies: Philosophy of Science Association the British Society for the Philosophy of Science and the British Society for the History of Science. She was a member of the British Academy and was elected president of the Philosophy of Science Association in 1979.

As a philosopher of science Hesse was concerned with the nature methods foundations and human implications of natural and social sciences. Furthermore if philosophy of science could be somewhat artificially divided into its ‘critical’ and ‘speculative’ aspects then Hesse’s critical philosophy of science could be defined in terms of her famous attack on the hypothetical deductive theory of scientific justification. Hesse consistently argued that this H-D picture of science did not correspond with how actual scientists justified their hypotheses. It was she argued inaccurate with respect to both contemporary science and the history of science. Numerous case studies as well as logical shortcomings were presented throughout her work to demonstrate the inadequacy of this viewpoint.

Her speculative or creative philosophy of science focused on the development and articulation of the inductivist view of science which had fallen out of favor with many scientists and philosophers of science during the middle part of the twentieth century.

According to Hesse these inferences were obviously more complex than deductive inferences. However they were she argued essential for scientific argumentation. Furthermore while inductive inferences have many forms Hesse emphasized three particular types of inductive inference that have played a vital role in both contemporary science and the history of science. These three forms may be referred to as inferences based on analogies inferences based on models and inferences based on metaphors.

In the 1980s Hesse turned away from purely logical questions about science and focused on social analyses of science. In effect she argued for the view that there is no rigid criterion like falsifiability that distinguished science from other forms of human belief. Consequently she was quite happy with the notion that science was best viewed as ‘one among many’ forms of human knowledge. Hesse believed that science was as subject to the same biases as these other ideologies.

Her books include Science and the Human Imagination (1953) Forces and Fields (1961) Models and Analogies in Science (1963) The Structure of Scientific Inference (1974) Applications of Inductive Logic (1979) Revolutions and Reconstructions in the Philosophy of Science (1980) and The Construction of Reality with Michael Arbib (1987).

  • J. Douglas Mastin